Today tabloid magazines and television shows have made the "Where Are They Now?" concept common place. The internet has made answering questions about one-time celebrities easy to answer. But it wasn't always like this and most of the credit for creating the concept must go to a catty man with an eccentric writing style named Richard Lamparski. Starting in the late sixties Lamparski wrote a series of pamphlet-sized fanzines titled Whatever Became Of... where he tracked down his favorite former stars from old time radio, Republic serials, and silent pictures.
Lamparski had initially been a PR man for Paramount Television, CBS Radio, and the Ice Capades. He used these connections (well, not so much his Capade connections) to track down his favorite old stars. He scored himself a Whatever Became Of...? radio series on WBAI New York and eventually a long running series of hardcover books on the same subject. As fascinating as it is to find out whatever became of these various stars, the real pleasure in reading Lamparski's books often comes from the anomalous writing style he employed. It is often flippant, ambiguous, vulgar, and more often than not, condescending. Because of this, his books are laugh-out-loud enjoyment. Sometimes Lamparski's subjects themselves display these same characteristics with amusing results. The 1974 entry for the late Hollywood B-movie actress June Lang states: June lives in a small, very neat house in North Hollywood. Her biggest disappointment in recent years came when her only child Patricia preferred working with retarded children to a movie contract. "I don't understand people today," she told an interviewer. "I don't like these times and I do not wish to be a part of them." June does not like modern movies or the people who make them. She feels their long hair and beards probably affect their work.
If you've never had the pleasure of thumbing through one of Richard's books, I encourage you to hit up your local library book sale or thrift shop as they remain common and cheap. Any of the eleven Whatever Became Of...? volumes are quintessential bathroom reading. Lamparski had a talent for pinpointing the weirdest aspects of these celebrity's new lives and for capsizing their more bizarre interests, outrageous statements, and occasionally offensive opinions. Lamparski aside, the information provided is often fascinating (and very weird) all by itself. His approach occasionally offended his subjects, who didn't believe they were as washed up as Lamparski suggested. He also had a tendency to tease the reader with bizarre out-of-left-field statements that could have benefited from elaboration, but turn hilarious when stated so casually. For instance, the write-up on Miss America of 1943: She has hosted her own TV series It's a Woman's World and Focus on Women. In 1949 she helped the CIA to apprehend a Nazi operating out of Lebanon under the guise of an impresario. She was the first TV journalist to interview Sweden's Princess Christina in the Royal Palace in Stockholm, and she produced and narrated The 5 Faces of Madame Ky for NET ... The former Miss America is a Christian Scientist.
Wait a second! What was that part about weeding out Nazis in Lebanon!? Of course, no additional information is provided, which for some reason makes it doubly awesome. Here are some of the tastiest excerpts out of the pages of Richard Lamparski's eleven volume series:
Burt Ward, Adam "Batman" West's sidekick on the nineteen sixties television series: Burt has real Boy Wonder enthusiasm about his future. His apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean is filled with books on the occult, and Burt believes he is a medium with healing powers ... He is also marketing a felt-tip pen called "Lollipens." At present he spends his time in Malibu with a former Miss France and her mother ..."
John Carroll, MGM character actor: He has a collection of guns including the one that killed Billy the Kid and the one that killed Russ Columbo. Another trophy is an autographed copy of Mein Kampf ...
Mickey Cohen, famous gangster: Asked recently if the four years he spent in solitary was the worst aspect of his confinement he replied: "No. The most degrading part of jail for me was having to be close to homosexuals and other degenerate elements.
Billy Curtis, Hollywood's most beloved little actor: Billy believed he was most frequently recognized by blacks for the part he did in the Clint Eastwood starrer High Plains Drifter (1973) and that Latinos usually know him for appearances in Hal Roach comedies ...
Leo Gorcey, star of the Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys films: Asked what he does with his time he said recently that he thoroughly enjoys his outdoor life and liquor ... When the New York boy who hadn't been in his hometown in over twenty years visited Manhattan in 1968, his clothes were so outlandish he was refused service in a neighborhood bar. Nowadays he just makes a joke of it and goes on his way without bothering to show them the loaded revolver he keeps tucked inside his belt.
Tim Hovey, child star of the nineteen fifties: He tried to join the air force as a helicopter pilot but was too short (5 feet 5 1/2 inches) to be accepted. He toured Europe for several years and then went to Asia, where he worked for a while as a photojournalist and then for the CIA, dropping propaganda from helicopters. From Vietnam he went to Africa where he spent two years. At one point he was detained and beaten up by members of the Ugandan army.
Hedy Lamarr, famous movie star: Just before Hedy's autobiography ... was published in 1966, she was denied a court injunction to stop it. Since then she has denied much of its contents and has been suing everyone concerned for $21 million ... In 1969, her adopted son, James, a policeman in Omaha, shot and killed a fourteen-year-old black girl. Her behavior, which is guided greatly by her horoscope, has long baffled close friends, who claim she is more intelligent and amusing than her performances ever indicated.
Jerry Mathers, star of Leave it to Beaver: At the height of the Vietnam War, a wire service story reported Jerry Mathers killed in action, and Shelley Winters reported the news on a network talk show. Although the Mathers had a retraction out within twenty-four hours, many fans still believe Jerry is dead.
Alan Napier, character actor best known as Alfred on the Batman TV series: "As to my heart: I discovered at a crucial point in my life that my first wife was a lesbian. That sort of thing has a very discouraging effect on a young man."
Ken Osmond, the actor best known as Eddie Haskell on Leave It to Beaver: Ken Osmond lives with his wife and two sons in the Shadow Hills area of the San Fernando Valley. He has repeatedly denied the persistent rumor that he works in porno movies... Ken is a traffic enforcement officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Donna Reed, wholesome sitcom icon: The warmth that Donna brought to all those wholesome roles is nowhere evident today ... She feels the image of woman [sic] in [film and television] is a complete male fantasy. If she ever returns to the screen it most likely will be with a woman as her producer.
Tommy Rettig, child star of Lassie and 5000 Fingers of Dr. T: By 1966 Tommy had to face the fact that he simply could not make a living as an actor. His agent couldn't even get him bit parts ... Along with his wife and two sons he farms organically on fifty acres ... One of his crops was marijuana; a few days before Christmas 1972 Tommy and Darlene were arrested by police acting on a tip from neighbors ... TV star Richard Deacon, offered to post bail.
Beverly Aadland, one of Errol Flynn's many teenage lovers and his co-star in the legendary turkey Cuban Rebel Girls: For over two years Beverly has been living in Springfield, Massachusetts. Why? She likes the town and the newspapers are friendly. Before they print something they check it out with her for accuracy.
Harry Richman, former vaudeville star and lover of Clara Bow: He has been single since 1954 ... He is in excellent health, has the companionship of a pet squirrel, and rehearses constantly...
Charles Atlas, body-builder, comic book advertisement icon: Some years ago Charles Atlas took over an abandoned Coast Guard look-out station on Point Lookout, Long Island, where he spends most of his time. He has converted it into a most unusual house, and furnished it with furniture he built himself from the driftwood that floats up on the shore.
WHATEVER BECAME OF ... THE BABY JESUS?
Using Lamparski's book as a guide, an overwhelming amount of former stars choose to spend the remainder of their lives chilling with God instead of fame:
Henry Armstrong, three time world championship boxer: Is he tired of people asking him why he left the ring? "Not a bit," he says. "That's when I get the chance to tell them what I found in Jesus."
John (Drew) Barrymore, famous son and father, unsuccessful actor: The last few years Barrymore has spent completely alone in a shack in the California desert fasting and meditating. He did one Kung Fu TV episode in 1974 as a favor to his very close friend David Carradine. Not only has he stopped drinking but he claims to be a yoga [sic], vegetarian, and celibate. In his solitude he told an interviewer, "I have found God and myself. It is pure bliss."
Debbie Drake, one of the earliest television exercise personalities: "I go to various churches now and am interested in all religions, but I feel deeply committed to Christ..." Debbie is very complimentary of Jane Fonda`s exercise technique and professionalism, while emphasizing that they are at opposite poles politically.
Dixie Dunbar, featured dancer in countless Hollywood musicals: The last the public saw of Dixie Dunbar was her legs. From 1949 to 1951 she danced in television commercials wearing a huge Old Gold cigarette box as her costume. Asked if she missed the limelight, Ms. Dunbar replied: "Not a bit .. I find the work I do today for our hospital and church very fulfilling." Dixie teaches Sunday school at the Congregational church in Miami Beach...
Lash La Rue, star of low budget westerns: In 1956 he was arrested in Memphis for receiving stolen property. In 1958 he took an overdose of sleeping pills when his wife at that time refused a reconciliation ... In 1965 he was reported selling furniture in Atlanta ... One year later he was arrested for vagrancy in Tampa, Florida ... He became an evangelist after "The Lord opened my spiritual eyes." When police in Georgia arrested him in September 1974 for public drunkenness, Lash had a large black whip in his car. Although the original charge was dropped, he later was tried and convicted of attempting to exchange one of his Bibles for the marijuana owned by two teenage hitchhikers he had picked up ... He claims to be an ordained minister of the Universal Christian Church ... A few years ago he played a role (with his clothes on) in a hardcore porno movie, Hard On the Trail ... Still dressed in black, Lash drives around Hollywood in a 1968 Cadillac hearse with his bed in the back and a bumper sticker that reads: GOD LOVES YOU. He lives on Social Security and "love offerings."
Vaughn Meader, star of The First Family comedy LP(s): "I didn't identify with JFK like a lot of people thought. I never met him. It wasn't until Bobby was killed that the full impact hit me. I had a serious drinking problem. I lived in windowless shacks in the woods and in other people's basements. It was through LSD that I found peace. It was a spiritual medicine for me but I no longer use it." Vaughn had rebelled against the Christianity that was drummed into him as a boy but now feels differently. Says the former humorist, "Jesus is the only sense I've been able to make out of this confused world. I'm a Jesus freak."
Eleanor Powell, beautiful movie star and dancer: Eleanor retired shortly after her marriage to Glenn Ford in 1943. The only work she did after that was a TV series entitled "Faith of Our Children" which ran for three years starting in 1955 ... Formerly a Presbyterian, Eleanor is now a member of a religious group called The Symposium. As associate preacher she advocates their creed of "faith-a-go-go..."
WHATEVER BECAME OF ... CONDESCENSION?
Today the books are not much help in finding out "where are they now?" primarily because the answer is obivious. Most are dead. Since the majority of the entries were written over thirty years ago they are, as you might imagine, out of date. Doesn't matter. Lamparski's books are gold. One can only wonder what some of the interviewee's reactions were to what were potentially uncouth questions. Actress Gale Storm's profile is one of many that ends with a sentence like, "... Gale by no means considers herself retired and greatly resents being considered a has-been." I think it's safe to assume she also greatly resented Richard Lamparski and his Ice Capading audacity for (presumably) referring to Storm as a has-been over the course of the interview.
Richard Beymer, marginal Hollywood pretty boy: He sees no one from the old days ... He goes about unrecognized in the city that once hailed him as a new star. Nor do the movie and TV people who work out in the same gym with him know who he is, or else they don't care.
Nick Kenny, newspaper columnist: Nick's poetry, dismissed decades ago as hopelessly corny, is still in print and is a particular favorite with the elderly and sick. [His] favorite restaurant is Howard Johnson's.
Johnny Sheffield, child actor who played Tarzan's son: After leaving school he married, became a father, and added a great deal of weight ... Other than looking after his holdings Johnny does not do much these days...
Gene Tierney, 20th Century Fox star of the forties and fifties: Many of her films were wrong for her. But even when the parts suited Gene she was never more than adequate. She was never really bad, however, and was always so pretty almost everyone forgave her lack of talent ... Gene contracted German measles and gave birth to a retarted daughter.
An episode of Richard Lamparski's 1970 WBAI radio show can be heard here - this edition featuring an interesting interview with America's first noted transsexual Christine Jorgensen. Listen for the cuckoo clock going off mid-interview and the dinging bell that seemingly goes on forever near the end.
In 1986, Crown Publishers, the company that releases the Lamparski series arranged a party for every personality ever profiled in Whatever Became Of ...? Ah, to be a fly on the wall. Lamparski released a new book in September 2006 published by small time book label Bear Manor Media (the company was previously mentioned here). The book, Manhattan Diary, has Lamparski expanding on his meetings with twelve of his most significant subjects. It has been a long time since he has published a new installment of Whatever Became Of...? but he does not consider himself retired and greatly resents being considered a has-been.