Mae Clarke — She Laughed Death Away (1933) 🇺🇸

Mae Clarke — She Laughed Death Away (1933) 🇺🇸 |

March 20, 2023

How inspiration came to Mae Clarke — Hale Horton's sketch of the spunkiest girl in Hollywood.

Every possible misfortune seems to have come to her, in a bunch, but she keeps on laughing and fighting.

First, an illness that kept her flat on her back in a hospital cot for three months. Six times doctors have given up hope of sparing her life.

Then slow recovery; then an operation for appendicitis.

But Mae has come back laughing, and with an astonishing new philosophy of life.

For years a breakdown had been sneaking up on Mae.

It happened one evening after a hard day's grind at the studio. She had returned home feeling blue and depressed. Possessing a wild imagination and a brutal inferiority complex, she usually wore out her depressions by writing poetry, deeply introspective, suppressed and involved with her amazing sense of humor.

Her rather morbid outlook on life can be traced to the fact that subconsciously she felt herself ill-equipped to accept a lasting spiritual and material success even though it should come within her grasp.

A few days later she called in a doctor who discovered that she was suffering from influenza. After a week had passed and Mae had shown no signs of recovery, she motored to Palm Springs, hoping the desert air would prove efficacious. The influenza, however, persisted and her nerves became rapidly worse.

During this period Mae's nights were filled with horror. Sleep was impossible. The thought of being alone left her terrified.

"I kept my friends around as much as possible," she now recalls, "begging them to amuse me, to make me laugh... for I felt that death would pass me by providing I could fight through the dark hours... "I remember one night in particular that a gray fog crawled around me, up to my very eyes. It seemed as though I were soaring above this fog, as though I were a spirit or a soul, lost.

"For a moment I tried to laugh these fears away... 'I'm all right,' I told myself. 'I'm all right if I can only keep myself talking 'til dawn...'

"Then, I wasn't so sure, so I called to a girl friend. After the two of us had made jokes for a while I managed to calm down. I thought I had conquered my fears... when shortly before dawn I felt that gray fog creeping over me again... so I pulled on some clothes and rushed down into the lobby to await the sun. "I happened to be in my riding outfit, so I explained my odd conduct to the hotel clerk by telling him that I was off for an early morning canter. After chatting for a while I picked up a notebook and pencil and walked into the desert."

Here was this distraught girl, then, wandering aimlessly across the desert, her soul crying out its hurt, begging to be told just what it all meant and if she were not to find peace and happiness... At times she would lift her pencil and book as though to jot down some poetry, only to find herself utterly devoid of thought. So it was that a moment before dawn her entire being was acutely passive, and perhaps it was due to this receptive state of mind that she was able to absorb the following spiritual immensity: While wearily dragging her feet through the desert sand, she noticed that dawn was beginning to tint the distant mountain peaks as though each were being given a halo of rose and gold. And Mae thrilled to a strange and life-giving ecstasy as she gazed, wide-eyed with wonder, at the glory of those distant peaks. They seemed to personify the heights to which her spirit would yet ascend. And a great exultation swept over her as she felt the nearness of some Holy Presence and a voice reverberate throughout the heavens with all the solemnity of an organ's rich whisper. "Peace. Be still and know that I am God," it said.

And before the last sigh had faded into the blue of the morning sky Mae had sunk to the sand in an exhausted little heap. This transformation from stark futility to an ecstatic realization of her nearness to God had come all too suddenly. Her spirit failed to stand the strain. Something snapped within her.

Roused finally by the beating sun, she struggled back across the sands to the hotel. The immensity of her experience had left her all but numb. As a result she was rushed back to Los Angeles and immediately put into a rest home.

"The next morning," her mother tells, "I received Mae's indefinite suspension from the studio without pay, although I didn't tell Mae about it. And on top of that the rest home felt that Mae was so seriously ill that we had best rush her to a hospital. As a result I was frantic."

Thus it happened that Mrs. Clarke bundled Mae into an ambulance bound not for a hospital but for a medical rest sanitarium. As the ambulance wove its way through the Los Angeles traffic, Mae, (to all appearances lying in a profound sleep), never one to pass up a new experience, ill or well, suddenly popped to an elbow. "Say!" she inquired of the driver, "isn't this an ambulance?"

When the startled driver admitted as much, she added: "Well it's probably the only ride I'll ever have in one and I want it to be good! What's the matter with the speed? Where's the siren?"

"We're going as fast as we can," the driver soothed. "And we haven't a siren."

"Don't tell me that!" Mae hooted.

"I've been in the movies! And if you don't step on it and use the siren, I'll get up there and drive, myself!"

A moment later Mae lay back on her couch smiling contentedly, for the ambulance was speeding through the tangled Los Angeles traffic with its siren screaming full blast.

As time wore on she was transferred from sanitarium to sanitarium, a period which Mrs. Clarke recalls reluctantly: "Finally we went through Mae's nest-egg and found ourselves destitute, unable even to buy food, much less pay our nurse and sanitarium bills. When Mae would ask: 'Is the old check coming through regularly every week, mother?' I'd always answer, 'You don't have to worry at all, dear'. And, of course, we never could have managed had not our friends come to our rescue."

To the studio's credit I doubt exceedingly if they realized the seriousness of Mae's illness. Very likely they were just as confused about it as was Mae, herself. Briefly, she suffered from a toxic psychosis, or a severe nervous breakdown, complicated by a vicious attack of influenza and a raging fever. She was, unquestionably, a terribly sick young woman, and one would rather not dwell upon what might have happened to her had her mother given up hope, even once, or if Mae had refused to fight...

"I fought, all right!" Mae now admits with a shudder. "I guess there were several times when I came pretty near dying, and each time I'd see those golden peaks before me and hear that Divine Voice whispering: 'Peace. Be still and know that I am God,' until I felt that if only I got rid of the wretched poison in my system I'd finally attain a lasting joy and peace.

"So you see I didn't want to die. Oh, how I loathed the thought! And because something told me that I'd pull through if I kept talking and joking, I chattered incessantly about anything that came into my head. And believe it or not, I vividly remember every detail concerning my illness!"

There finally came a morning when Mae was wrapped in gray blankets and bundled into a limousine with her one faithful nurse. And when she inquired plaintively as to where they were going this time, the nurse replied: "We're going home, dear, because you're almost well..." But no sooner had Mae been placed on a cot, in her own room, at her home in Westwood, than she suffered a relapse.

Her influenza grew worse, her fever raged and she frequently lapsed into comas. This lasted for about two weeks, and then due to her mother's prayers and care, as well as her own fierce fighting spirit, Mae suddenly took a turn for the better. And before long she was well.

Nowadays while resting in the patio of her pleasant Westwood home, Mae gives most of the credit for her recovery to her mother and to that one faithful nurse whom she affectionately calls "Flatfoot." But to this day the doctors are frankly amazed by the fight she put up against death. And they should be, for on six different occasions they informed Mrs. Clarke that her daughter would not live through the night, only to return on six different mornings, regularly as clockwork, and find Mae very much alive and kicking.

"And I'm so happy it's all over with!" said Mae, her eyes glowing with health. "Now that I've thrown all that frightful poison from my system I feel as though I had experienced reincarnation. No longer am I afraid of life. Nowadays I welcome it. For at last I know that I'm close to a magnificent, spiritual peace, and that life really holds something very lovely for me.

"Out of it all," she concludes, "I've developed a philosophy. Mortals are born in darkness; they know neither where they come from nor where they're going, but nevertheless they crawl through the world to the best of their abilities, some growing, finding the light, evading the dangers of life, while others are trampled to death.

"And as the snake each season throws off a flimsy skin and faces the world in a fresher raiment, so we mortals throw off our past years of disappointments and hard lessons and continue to crawl through our short span of years with new hope and with an enlightened spiritual understanding. Like the snake I shed my old crinkly skin of futility and poisonous inhibitions and now face life fearlessly, filled with hope and a true belief; for when I dwell on the glory of those sun-touched peaks I know, deep down inside me, that some day I shall attain that peace and joy of which I've always dreamed."

Mae will find that peace and joy, for such bravery deserves reward. And this writer shall never cease to marvel that such an amazing combination of experiences could transform an unhappy and inhibited little girl into a poised young woman of the world, sure of herself and imbued with a calm yet thrilling comprehension of human existence.

In the New Movie Album — Photos of the Stars, Stirring Scenes from their Favorite Films

Do you remember  Richard Dix in that great picture, Cimarron? Did you see that other famous Richard — Dick  Barthelmess— fly in The Dawn Patrol? If you saw Anna Christie, will you ever forget the thrill of hearing Greta Garbo speak? You'll do a lot of remembering as you turn the pages of The New Movie Album. Besides the many unusual photographs, it shows you a dramatic moment in each star's favorite role.

Canadian Orders 15c

Tower Books Incorporated

55 Fifth Ave. New York

Collection: The New Movie Magazine, April 1933