"The Greats of Silent Film Still Restlessly Roam"

by Donna L. Wilks


Settle yourself in a comfortable chair. Dim the lights. Are you alone now? I have some tales to tell you - tales of ghosts, haunts, spectres, spirits from early Hollywood; the golden era of silent film.

Years pass, and the images from those glorious films fade in the hearts and minds of both moviegoers and moviemakers. But still in the dark catwalks and stages of Universal, Paramount and Culver Studios the greats of silent film still restlessly roam, reminding us of their presence. The fabulous homes that once resounded with the sounds of glamorous parties and shocking secrets now echo with the sibilant whispers of the past.

Could these tales be true? Are they just the wishful thinking of those who do not want to forget the greatest era of cinema?

You decide.


Sadly we can no longer visit this home, the "palace" of the King and Queen of Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. However, there are stories of several memorable haunts at Pickfair.

One of the ghosts was said to be Douglas Fairbanks himself. He was frequently spotted in the gorgeous entrance near the hand-painted murals. Another famous ghost was Mary Pickford. After her death in 1979, she was seen by many witnesses, including Buddy Rogers, in a ruffled white dress in the den.


Lon Chaney, Sr. is one of the most active apparitions from the silent era . . . possibly only outdone by Valentino himself! This tale began in 1913 when Chaney was working as an extra in the cinema. He would wait on a bench at the corner of Hollywood and Vine at the bus stop. This was how he got to the studios in those days. After he became a star, it was his habit to drive by that particular bench and give rides to other aspiring stars who were waiting for the bus so they, too, could go work as extras in the movies. After his death, Chaney's ghost was often seen sitting on that bench. Eventually, a spot was reserved for Chaney which no one else sat on. The bench was removed in 1942 and the sightings ended at that time.

However, Sound Stage 28 at Universal Studios is rumored to be a habitual haunt of Chaney's now. A caped phantom has been spotted there on frequent occasions running the catwalks above the stage. This stage was used for the infamous Phantom of the Opera set. Many sets are sometimes built there, but the Opera set still remains mostly intact. Other phenomena reported by employees and other witnesses include lights that turn on and off and doors that open and close by themselves.


Silent screen idol, Ramon Novarro, was brutally murdered in his Laurel Canyon home on October 31, 1968. Visitors to the home following his death spoke of an "eerie feeling" surrounding it, and many think it was caused by the restless spirit of Novarro himself.

This home has since been torn down, but the reports of the eerie sensations still continue to this day.


The setting is Culver Studios. The star this time is a man in a funny bowler hat. However, there is something odd about that. First, because the man was never an actor and second, because the man has been dead for seventy-five years! Yes, we are all familiar with the legends and rumors surrounding the untimely death of Thomas Ince, but are you familiar with the legends that have surfaced SINCE his death?

Ince has been spotted on the sound stage catwalks of his beloved Culver Studios, ostensibly grumbling about the changes that have been made to his studio, walking through walls, and climbing stairs to the executive screening room (which was Ince's private projection room during his heyday), among other spooky happenings. On one memorable occasion Ince appeared to a worker during remodeling of the studio. According to the worker, it was on Stage 2-3-4, and the man in the odd bowler hat appeared and, turning to the worker, stated uncompromisingly, "I don't like what you're doing to my studio." Then the spirit vanished through a wall!

Quite a bit of Ince's original lot has survived until this day, and we hope that Mr. Ince is happy with that and the fact that it is one of the busiest and most successful lots in town!


Santa Clarita is the home of the Hart Mansion and the ghostly presence of William S. Hart. However, he is quite picky about the people he will appear for and seems to favor the docents. Both he and his sister (another phantom) are the only people to have ever lived in the home. Other ghosts include a nurse as well as Mr. Hart's dogs. Another interesting occurrence is that coffee is frequently smelled in the museum.


Hollywood Memorial Park is the home to phantom sobbing at the grave of Virginia Rappe. Rappe was the infamous girl whose death ruined the career of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Although Arbuckle was completely exonerated in his third trial with an unanimous acquittal, he was unable to ever regain his place in the silent film world. The question is what exactly causes Virginia's sobbing? Guilt, sorrow over dying so early? Or something we don't know? It forever will remain a mystery.


If the accounts of ghostly activity are true, John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore still remain in their earthly home. They have been seen and heard in several instances.

Another odd story concerns a cuckoo clock that was enjoyed by John. A friend, Gene Fowler, planned to position the nonworking clock's hands to the time of John's death when that unhappy event should occur. However, fate settled that for him. John Barrymore passed away at precisely 10:20 P.M. There was no need for Mr. Fowler to reposition the clock's hands. They already pointed at 10:20 P.M. Coincidence?


It is only fitting that one of Hollywood's most well-known actors, even to this day, should also be its most active ghost! Rudolph Valentino and his entourage (the Lady in Black and a pet dog) have been sighted many times.

Falcon Lair is one of Valentino's favorite haunts. First off, it is located in Benedict Canyon which is rife with ghostly activity of all kinds. After his death, the house was auctioned off for $145,000. However, the owner never moved into the house. Falcon Lair stood empty for eight years before selling again in 1934 for the ridiculous sum of $18,000.

He has been seen wandering the property, touring the stables, and looking out his favorite window on the second floor. However, he does not linger only at Falcon Lair. He has been sighted at his beach house in Oxnard. Also, the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria is another one of Valentino's haunts. Room 210 has been beleaguered on occasion by mysterious knocking and an invisible presence that likes to recline on the bed.

Another favorite haunt is at Paramount Studios. The Sheik himself has been seen floating among the old clothes and props in the costume department. He is also suspected of being the spirit who roams the catwalks above Studio Five.

Part of Valentino's entourage include his late Great Dane, Kabar. The dog died in 1929 and was buried in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery. However, the playful pooch hasn't quite figured out he is dead yet. He has been caught panting and licking people who wander near his grave.

The last spirit we shall discuss here is the infamous "Lady in Black." Long after she must have passed on she has been spotted hovering near Crypt 1205 at Hollywood Memorial's Cathedral Mausoleum where the legendary Sheik was laid to "rest" in 1926. Such a legend as Valentino apparently inspires undying loyalty!


Now you have been introduced to these spectres. Do you hear them? The best way to keep them happy is to enjoy their many fine films. Keep the legends alive!

And now you can turn on the lights!


Haunted Hollywood: A Ghostly Tour of Filmland by Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wanamaker, 1994, Santa Monica, Angel City Press.

This Is Hollywood by Ken Schessler, 1993, Redlands, CA, Ken Schessler Publishing.

"Hollywood Hauntings Web Page" - http://gothic.vei.net/hollywood/hhome.htm

"Haunting Visions" - http://www.eonline.com/Hot/Features/Haunted/park.html

"Hollywood's Ghosts" - http://www.vaportrails.com/USA/USAFeatures/Ghost/Ghost.html

copyright 1999 by Donna L. Wilks. All rights reserved.

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