Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Gig Young

A Tale of Two Ill-Fated Hollywood Stars

As Hollywood hopefuls Gig Young and Inger Stevens would learn, Hollywood is a dream factory; but it produces nightmares, as well.

Funny. How many memories you connect with a place. I always thought if I ever came back here—it’d probably be all changed. But it’s just as if I’d left yesterday. Just as if I’d been away over night.

— from “Walking Distance”, The Twilight Zone

There are nearly as many stories in Hollywood as there are stars and galaxies in the night sky. Hollywood is a dream factory; but it produces nightmares, as well. Still, the town draws new dreamers. And the ones who make it there and taste success sometimes awake to find themselves walking alone. The best faces: the ones that pass over film and television screens, leave a trail and a ghostly image. Their eyes ask viewers for a single favor: remember me.

Gig Young and Inger Stevens have been gone for over 30 years. What remains of their lives is their work, their performances, and the questions surrounding their deaths. Whether the root of their destruction was home or Hollywood, there are still photos, and films, and mysteries, to consider.

Gig Young died on 19 October 1978. Young’s body now resides at the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina, under the Barr Family plot. There lies his mother, Emma Clements Dingman Barr, his father, John E. Barr and his older brother, Donald Earl Barr, who died in 1949, beating Young to the grave by 29 years.

Byron Elsworth Barr became Gig Young after the war, to avoid being mistaken for the other Byron Barr (Double Indemnity) working in Tinsel Town at the time. Though he was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, his youth was spent in Waynesville; so when he died, his sister Genevieve returned him to the family on Green Hill. These parts of Young’s history were uncovered by Alan Parker, while gathering research for his Nosey Parker article, “The Bizarre Death and Mysterious Burial of a Hollywood Oscar Winner” (March 2011). Parker took a road trip down South to write travelogues, along the way he found out where Young was buried, and why.

In the summer of 1978, Young joined the cast of Nobody Loves an Albatross. It was a summer stock production of Ronald Alexander’s Broadway play; there would be a brief run in Canada, and the possibility of more stage work for Young. This was his second time working on Albatross. In 1970 Young played the lead, an unscrupulous television writer with three ex-wives, and no new ideas. By September of 1978 he was back in New York and newly wed. On 20 October 1978, The Reading Eagle reported that authorities had found Young’s open diary by his bedside. The entry, dated 27 September, read: “We got married today.”

Young’s life ended at the barrel of a revolver; and beside him lay the Oscar he won for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), along with his fifth wife from a marriage only three weeks old, Ruth Hannelore Schmidt. Young last appeared in Bruce Lee’s final film Game of Death (1978): he met Schmidt while working on Spectre (1977), she was an extra in the film and a script girl by trade. In marginally better times Mel Brooks cast Young as the Waco Kid, Gene Wilder’s starmaking role in 1974’s Blazing Saddles. Young was replaced by Wilder after he suffered an alcoholic fit on the first day of filming. It was near 9AM when the DT’s took hold of Young. According to an account from the set, Brooks and the crew were horrified by the episode:

We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking… And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.’

Young’s strength as an actor was the naturalness of his performance. He became a “face” in pictures after he shined as the third star billed behind Spencer Tracy (as Richard Sumner) and Katharine Hepburn, in 1957’s Desk Set. Desk Set followed Tracy as he tried to convince Bunny Watson (Hepburn), that an IBM could do things for the network no human researcher could do; and that he could do things for her, emotionally, that Mike Cutler (Young), could never do. EMERAC, the supercomputer, didn’t replace the network’s research department, but Sumner did win out over Cutler in the end. Right before the credits, Young walked out of the frame alone as Sumner and Watson embraced. He gave the flowers he’d brought for Bunny to Sumner, so that he could give them to her. And as he walked away, silently, he placed his hat on the computer’s console. Young performed that small gesture with great commitment.

Journalist Thomas P. Mackin compiled interviews and profiles of celebrities, he’d spoken with over his 60-some years in the field, for the novel Brief Encounters: From Einstein to Elvis. Mackin encountered Gig Young around 1971, when he was the promoting the NBC television movie The Neon Ceiling. Again, Young was starring as a morose, misunderstood man, haunted by drink and the past. This time, he was the leading man and love interest of both Lee Grant (who played a wandering housewife) and Denise Nickerson (the housewife’s teenage daughter). Inside the roadside diner where Young’s character lived alone, he painted a mural on the ceiling, piece by piece. Young told Mackin how he readied himself for each role:

I always step on the set with the same problem:how to achieve perfection. There is always the knowledge that there is somebody better. Is it hard work? Only when the work turns out lousy. How do you survive? You inhale and you exhale. If you forget one or the other, you’re in big trouble.

Young often played a “man of convenience”, the second banana: never the one that stirred the leading lady’s imagination, he was always that steady, stable guy she’d pass time with, until her leading man arrived.

Warner Bros. Presents premiered in September of 1955, Young was chosen to host the program. Each week, a different episode of Casablanca, Cheyenne, or King’s Row would fill the time slot. It was a “wheel show”, designed to court the growing television market. Instead of fighting television’s ascendance, Jack Warner brought the Warner Brothers experience straight to American homes.

The last segment usually featured tours of the backlot, vignettes, screen tests, and interviews. A few weeks before his fatal accident on Route 466, James Dean filmed a segment with Young on the importance of auto safety. While Young was hosting the program, Elizabeth Montgomery was shooting The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955). It was Montgomery’s first feature film and her marriage to Young would be her second. She was 22 at the time, but she didn’t let the 20-year gap between her and Young slow their courtship.

He was one marriage ahead of her as well; his previous wife Sophie Rosenstein died of cervical cancer in 1952. Rosenstein was an acting coach, she trained Young when they were both under contract at Warner Brothers. Rosenstein was the older woman in that relationship. Montgomery had the misfortune of starting up with Young soon after Rosenstein’s death, and his brief engagement to Elaine Stritch. Stritch and Rosenstein were arguably, two of Young’s great loves. Stritch was a giant on Broadway, but she was also well-known for her drinking. Stritch and Young drank and fought with equal passion, numbing the hours and loss Young faced without Rosenstein, with debauchery. What could a starlet do to measure up to the women Young had had before her?

Today, Montgomery is remembered for twitching her nose and riding her broomstick into countless American living rooms, and hearts as Samantha in the television series, Bewitched. Her first big role for ABC was Iris Hecate, the Devil’s secretary in the Alcoa Premiere teleplay “Mr. Lucifer”. Fred Astaire played Lucifer. Her father was television producer Robert Montgomery. Some of Elizabeth’s friends noted the similarities between her father and the new man in her life, he so despised. Ironically enough, Young and Montgomery first met when he costarred on an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents entitled “The Sunday Punch”( 19 October 1953). When his daughter married Young in December 1956, Robert Montgomery did not attend the ceremony. Montgomery’s opinion of Young hadn’t changed, he couldn’t see the value in marrying someone: “almost as old and not one quarter as successful as I am.”

Young’s only child, Jennifer Young, was considered a miracle by some and a fluke by her father. As reported by The Pittsburgh Press on 23 February 1971, Young filed a counter-suit against his fourth wife, Elaine Williams, contesting the child support judgment she’d received to care for their daughter, who was six at the time. Young contested the ruling on the basis of paternity. Before he served in the Coast Guard as a pharmacist’s mate during WWII, Young got a vasectomy in 1938 at age 25, to address an undisclosed medical issue. The case was dismissed.

Young still had to pay but in his own way, he’d have the last laugh several years later. Jennifer Young’s name came up again in the press when the Heidi Fleiss scandal broke. For a time in the mid-’90s, Young had roomed with Fleiss. There is no concrete evidence that Young worked for the prostitution ring, but the association with Fleiss was less than favorable. When he died, Gig Young left behind a $200,000.00 estate. Jennifer Young received $10 from this estate, as stipulated by her father’s will.

George Eells wrote the only complete biography of Gig Young that exists today, Final Gig: The Man Behind the Murder (Harcourt, 1991). Young told Eells his birth was the result of what his father called, “a leak in the safe”. Although this was disguised and repeated as a joke by John Earl Barr, the thought stayed with Young through his adolescence, affecting him enough that he shared it with a stranger. If he viewed himself as an accident, just the sum of a broken condom and unintended consequences; his decision to get a vasectomy warrants closer examination.

Like a good biographer, Eells showed the depth of Young’s relationship with his father. Their closeness was a necessity brought on by his mother’s illness, which came early in Young’s life. This forced John Earl to employ a number of nannies and nurses to help raise the children. The absence of his mother and the “uncertainty” of his own parentage, rationalizes the man Gig Young became. As to why he drank the way he did, those who knew him, wondered about that, too. From Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery (Taylor Trade, 2012):

And that was always a mystery to me how that horrible, horrible thing happened with him later. I (Sally Kemp) was never around him that much and I never knew him that well. So I never saw that side of him. But anyone who drinks like that has to have major demons.

Imagine the terror Young experienced when booze began to eat up his home and working life. Better yet watch his portrayal of lawyer Edgar Holt in “Jacob and the Angel”, a teleplay from the CBS anthology Climax! Holt was a defense attorney with a spotless record and a clear conscience. He never failed a client: regardless of their guilt or innocence with Holt behind them, they always went free. Holt enjoyed personal success too, as he was engaged to marry Irene Mitchell, the daughter of a powerful circuit court judge. Holt was the ideal, functional alcoholic. Drink finally snared Holt when it lost its pleasure; he no longer got drunk off the stuff, but his body began needing it, to maintain balance.

“Jacob and the Angel” showed more of the physical reality of withdrawal than They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. Pink elephants didn’t appear when Holt declined; each time his psychosis started, the screen filled with the sound of ringing bells, and an image of a paper kaleidoscope. The lens fogged, representing the distance between Holt and his desk, his tumbler, the jury and the judge. Holt’s trouble didn’t come while he was drinking, it came when his body was drained of the alcohol it needed to function. “Jacob and the Angel” let viewers see what a drunk sees, through a wet, misfiring brain. It was unclear whether Holt was closer to God or Hell, when he bottomed out while lecturing the jury about “The Sermon on the Mount”. The judge thanked Holt for repeating “sermon on the mount” no less than five times, but Holt couldn’t hear him. His hearing was gone, and so was the floor beneath his feet.

It’s called perseveration, and it’s what a brain does when the body loses hydration. Even before your heart pounds from a lack of fluids, the brain spirals as it repeats words and phrases until they become meaningless. Flailing for an anchor, the mind fights for it’s physiological balance. Like a clock’s mechanism with all gears and wheels running dry: eventually those wheels seize.

“Jacob and the Angel” raised an important question: how can a man imprisoned by his own mind, free a man imprisoned by society? Remember how Dean Martin spoke of his once proud gunfighter’s-hands in Rio Bravo (1959), when they shook and could no longer shoot straight. “What can a man do with hands like these?” The answer was appeals court for the man Holt failed, and disbarment for Holt, once he admitted his wrongdoing.

“Jacob and the Angel” meditates on the state of alcoholism, as a second childhood. Was drink Gig Young’s albatross, or was there something else, that slowed his growth and breathing? Alcohol and its fast, warming effect, is sometimes compared to a blanket by the people it catches. A warming blanket, which provides assurance and certainty, against the chill of aging and time. In 1963’s A Ticklish Affair, Young won the love of a Navy widow played by Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family, Carousel). Jones had three children in the film, and her six-year-old son sent the distress signal that attracted Young (Commander Key Weedon). The family lived by a San Diego dock. Young was given the choice of loving this widow, and the children she already had. Red Buttons played Uncle Simon: he was the one that gave the kids that toy signal lamp. Buttons was a personal friend of Young, and had this to say about him: “Down under that light-hearted sophistication, Gig’s a big baby, and needs an arm around him. He needs a lot of loving.”

“Walking Distance” was the fifth episode of The Twilight Zone’s first season. It aired one day before Halloween, in 1959. Young played Martin Sloan, an advertising executive from New York. It opened with Sloan turning off a dirt road into a service station. The state Sloan had driven through was not mentioned, only the name of the town he grew up in, “Homewood”. Sloan told the station attendant that he’d left Homewood 20 or 25 years prior; he couldn’t recall when, with any accuracy. Like many of the other male leads Rod Serling wrote, Sloan was 36 years old. He was out of cigarettes, so he bought a new pack, and set off for Homewood on foot. His car needed servicing which would take an hour and a half, but he had time and Homewood was only a mile and a half down the road. As he left the station, his reflection passed over the mirror on the cigarette machine. Young walked into the distance, growing smaller as the camera tracked his movement, by shooting the mirror tightly until its edges filled the frame.

At each point in his journey, he saw fragments of himself. He saw himself at age 11, scratching his name into a gazebo post in the park from his childhood. At his childhood home, he saw himself in the driveway beside his first car, a 1934 Ford Roadster fresh out of Detroit and “the first of its kind”, at age 16. The carousel at his childhood park took him back further still, to age eight; as the carousel turned, he chased himself, injuring the boy he once was. The pain the boy felt shot out from the past and Young felt it too, as it coursed up his leg and brought him to his knees.

Sloan spoke to his father three times. The second time his father warned him to stay away, but the third time, his father showed him the way to move forward:

Robert Sloan: Martin. Is it so bad, where you’re from?

Martin Sloan: I thought so Pop. I’ve been living at a dead run, and I was tired. Then one day I knew I had to come back here. I had to come back here, and get on the merry-go-round, and eat cotton candy and listen to… band concerts. I had to stop… and breath, and close my eyes, and smell… and listen.

Robert Sloan: I guess we all want that. Maybe when you go back Martin… you’ll find that there are merry-go-rounds, and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right place. You’ve been looking behind you Martin. Try looking ahead.

Martin Sloan: Maybe.

Robert Sloan: Goodbye, son.

Martin Sloan: Goodbye, Pop.

Inger Stevens — the Farmer’s Daughter Goes Home


Inger Stevens

Inger Stevens was born on 18 October 1934 in Stockholm, Sweden. Her maiden name was Stensland and she had two younger brothers, Ola and Peter. When she was six years old, her mother Lisbet divorced her father Per; the family split as Inger and her brother Peter went to live with their aunt Karin Stensland Junker in Lidingö for four years. Lidingö was the birthplace of May Britt, Sammy Davis Jr.’s second wife. Karin Junker was a stage actress. Lisbet kept Ola, the youngest child and started over with Harald Rubinstein, the man she’d recently married.

Before WWII, Per Stensland emigrated to the United States on an academic fellowship. He secured work at Columbia University, so when he sent for the children they stayed in New York for a brief time. He later took a job as a university professor at Kansas State. He remarried and brought his children to Kansas, there Inger spent her youth living in a town called Manhattan. One day she’d make it to the “real” Manhattan, but first she ran away from home to Kansas City, at age 15. She joined a burlesque show and danced on the chorus line under the stage name “Kay Palmer”, before her father caught her and brought her home. She didn’t intend to work the stage when she left for Kansas City; the first ad she answered was looking for a concession stand counter-girl (“popcorn girl”), at a pay rate of $30 a week.

Living in the city and being on stage changed Stevens. When she graduated high school in 1952, her father planned to move the family to Lubbock, Texas, to accept a job offer from Texas Tech. Stevens chose to stay in Kansas, she took a series of odd jobs until she saved enough money to return to Kansas City.

“Affective memory”, is a mental exercise created by Director Konstantin Stanislavsky. Stanislavski believed that actors could evoke stronger emotional responses from the audience and achieve truer performances by accessing their own internal emotions while performing. According to Stanislavski, when an actor is acting, he/or she should react in the way that is most emotionally “sincere”, to whatever action the script demands. “Affective memory” inspired Lee Strasberg’s transference (“personal substitution”) and “sense memory” techniques, that he developed during his time at The Actor’s Studio.

Stella Adler studied under Stanislavski, but the system she taught at The Stella Adler Conservatory deviated from the concept of affective memory and discouraged emotional recall: “(emotional recall) landed them in the booby-hatch and shattered them. You couldn’t be on the stage thinking of your personal life. It was just schizophrenic.” The distinction between emotional and sensory practices was this: emotional recall mined an actor’s past for the emotional content of his/or her experiences; sense memory recreated the emotional character of an experience, through the tactile, auditory, and visual impressions it left behind. When she finally made it to New York, Inger Stevens felt limited by the modeling and commercial work she was able to get. She applied to The Actor’s Studio, and was accepted along with 20 other students.

Stevens married Anthony Soglio in the summer of 1955. Soglio was her manager and the one who suggested she change her last name to Stevens. Soglio helped Stevens land her first major commercial placement. It was an ad for Vel Detergent, that told consumers how marVELous it was not to have to scrub dishes by hand. Stevens played a housewife. As an agent, Soglio got her steady commercial work but as a husband, Stevens found him lacking. Their marriage suffered and before she even reached Hollywood, Stevens added one divorce to her credits.

It would be five years before she married again. Her divorce from Soglio was finalized in 1958, but by 1956 they were already separated. Man on Fire was released in 1957, and it was Stevens’ first feature film. She starred alongside Bing Crosby and this was first time Stevens was rumored to have an on-set, off-set fling. Whether or not she and Crosby had been together, the rumors persisted and grew when he married Kathryn Grant that same year.

The film’s plot holds more relevance to Stevens’ narrative. Crosby played a recent divorcee, fighting for custody of his son. Crosby’s character was adamant about keeping the child away from his ex. Stevens was one of the 14 “fallen angels” Kirk Crivello wrote about in his novel Fallen Angels: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of 14 Hollywood Beauties; it contained Stevens’ account of how her relationship with Crosby ended, and the effect it had on her:

One day he called me up and told me to go buy new drapes and curtains for the Palm Springs house… He wanted me to decorate it to my taste. He even told me that it was going to be my house so I had better fix it up the way I liked it. It may not have been a proposal but I sure took it as one. Believe it or not, I was down in the house… when I heard the news announcement over the radio that Bing had married another girl. I went into a state of shock. It took me months to recover. I actually became physically sick from all the distress… After you go out with Bing, you’re spoiled for young men of say 25 or 26. Being with an older man is a secure feeling for me. There was a big age difference, too. Also I was guilt-ridden because I was dating a man and I wasn’t yet divorced.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) was a film about fear. Fear of the Cold War, fear of Otherness, and fear that even after the “end of the world”, prejudice would remain so long as humans did. The film followed three survivors of this apocalypse: Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte), Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), and Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Burton spent the first 30-minutes of the picture wandering the deserted streets of Manhattan. He believed that he was alone and his sanity began slipping.

He moved into an apartment building above a department store, where he gathered supplies and talked to two mannequins. He named the mannequins. He called the woman “Betsy”, and the man “Snodgrass”. Crandall watched Burton, peeking around corners and shadowing him, until she felt he was safe enough to meet. Burton strummed a guitar and sang to the mannequins; foreshadowing his conflict with Crandall and Thacker, he confronted “Snodgrass”:

What’s so funny? I’m lonely and you’re laughing. Do you know what it means to be sick in your heart, from loneliness? You don’t care do you? No sense, no feeling. You look at me but you don’t see me. You don’t see me and you wouldn’t care if you did.

Burton hurled the mannequin over the balcony. When it hit the sidewalk, Crandall screamed because she thought Burton had jumped. The two characters connected quickly. There was chemistry between them and it seemed that in a simpler world, Ralph Burton and Sarah Crandall would have lived together happily.

The film was released in 1959, so it conformed to the standards of its day. The tension between Burton and Crandall was evident, but having them kiss to settle things, was out of the question. In his essay “Inger Stevens: Wounded Butterfly”, Gary Brumburgh claimed that Stevens and Belafonte had an affair while working on the film. Belafonte was then married to his second wife Julie Robinson, so if this was the case, it would’ve been Stevens’ third high-profile affair. What is known, is that she attempted suicide for the first time on the morning of 1 January 1959. Hours after returning to her Gramercy Park apartment from a New Year’s Eve party, she mixed Seconal with alcohol, and ammonia. When building manager John De Santis keyed into the apartment, he found Stevens in the gown she’d worn to the party, with a bottle of kitchen cleaner by her bed. She survived, coming off lightly, considering what she took; there was minor clotting in both her legs, and temporary vision impairment in both her eyes.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil was the second and last feature length film produced by Harry Belafonte’s company, HarBel Productions. Ike Jones was the vice president of the company and Belafonte’s close friend. Jones is known for three things. In 1966 he became the first African-American credited as producer of a mainstream Hollywood film. A Man Called Adam (1966) starred Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Armstrong. In the early ’60s he managed Nat King Cole’s production company. And in the fall of 1961, Jones and Inger Stevens traveled to Tijuana, and exchanged vows before returning to the United States, where their marriage would remain an open secret until her death in 1970. For nine years their marriage was strained by long separations and total silence from the prying press.

Stevens was wary of the backlash she’d face if the secret got out. Her career was more established than May Britt’s had been, when the world learned Britt and Sammy Davis Jr. were together. But Stevens knew, that she wasn’t teflon. After Dr. Thomas Noguchi (“Coroner to the Stars”), conducted his “psychological” autopsy of Stevens, Jones signed for the release of her body. Jones’ status as her husband and next of kin gave him the right to do this. When the matter of Stevens’ $171,000.00 estate came up in court, Jones’ claim to a portion of it was supported by Ola, Inger’s youngest brother. Her attorney Leo Branton, shared his thoughts on the marriage with Jet magazine, three weeks after Stevens’ death:

The simple but disgusting truth is that Hollywood would not have tolerated the marriage of an Inger Stevens to a black man… this disgraceful and bigoted attitude of our society added to the burden and pressures which hastened the death of this wonderful human being.

Her attorney referred to her as “an Inger Stevens”. An “Inger Stevens”, means a “type” or model. This model that she fit had a commercial reality, shown by the way she was marketed in her film career; but there was a second reality, where her type and assumed character, was tied to the way her blonde hair and blue eyes made her look. An actress that looked like Inger Stevens, could easily play an “ice queen”. The “ice queen” archetype emerged with Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich; over time the archetype evolved and refined itself, showing variation in the careers of Veronica Lake, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak. Blonde hair and a bit of suggestiveness behind a woman’s eyes, stoked a social desire to possess this detached, promiscuous, kind of blondeness.

Stevens appeared on The Twilight Zone twice. Her second appearance was in an episode called “The Lateness of the Hour”. She played Jana Loren, the daughter of a reclusive scientist/inventor. Her father, Dr. William Loren, kept a full staff on his property and they took care of every need the family had. There was a butler, two maids, a cook, and a groundskeeper. None of the workers were human. They were machines created by Dr. Loren. Jana (Stevens) lived with her parents in a cocoon; while the workers worked with the precision of machines, establishing a stifling, crippling, routinely perfect life for the Lorens, or at least that’s what she was designed to think. Jana was a machine, too.

She’d forgotten this fact, because Dr. Loren built her the same way he built the other machines, with a “memory track”. Each memory track contained a machine’s “complete” backstory: its youth, earliest memories, and talents were recorded on the memory track, and each machine could access this information at will, like a real person. Jana spent most of the episode searching one of the Loren’s photo albums for a picture of herself, as a child. She couldn’t find one because she never had a childhood. She’d come out of her father’s basement laboratory as a fully-formed adult woman, but she wasn’t a woman, because machines can’t give birth to children.

After Dr. Loren decommissioned all the other machines, Jana rejoiced over the things she’d be able to do now that the family was free to live normally. When she asked her parents if they looked forward to her meeting a man and giving them grandchildren, Dr. Loren told her the truth. Consider the fact that a child of divorce like Inger Stevens played this role. She was six when her mother left; at that age even a very mature child, lacks self-knowledge. Was there a woman in her life, she could’ve drawn her sense of self from? Much of what she’d grow to become, would reflect her father’s identity and what she learned from caregivers and relatives. Inger Stevens was the creation of her mother and father, but there were large portions of her “memory track”, that they left blank.

Dr. Ralph R. Greenson was Inger Stevens’ psychoanalyst, he also treated Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. To Greenson, his most loyal clients were like children, virtual dependents under his fatherly influence. He saw great potential in the use of pharmaceuticals, as a kind of parental support and source of comfort: when he was unable to have regular contact with these patients.This quote describes an adjustment he made to Marilyn Monroe’s prescription for Dexamyl, and his reasons for doing so:

When I left for a five-week summer vacation, I felt it was indicated to leave her some medication which she might take when she felt depressed and agitated, i.e., rejected and tempted to act out. I prescribed a drug which is a quick-acting anti-depressant in combination with a sedative — Dexamyl… The administering of the pill was an attempt to give her something of me to swallow, to take in, so that she could overcome the sense of terrible emptiness that would depress and infuriate her.

Some of Dr. Greenson’s public lectures are collected in the book On Loving, Hating, & Living Well (International Universities, 1992). He wrote letters to Stevens, and she wrote back. After her death, he reopened her file and looked over one of the letters she’d sent him. In it Stevens talked about the course her life took:

I live in a constant state of insecurity and crippling anxiety that I try to hide by appearing cold. People think I am aloof, but really I am just scared. I often feel depressed. I come from a broken home, my marriage was a disaster, and I am constantly lonely… I don’t want to die thinking all I’ve been doing is passing time, heading on down the road until I crawl off into my grave. I’d like to leave something behind me, to contribute to my generation’s legacy, and I’ll do that through my work as an actress.

These women were the lotus-eaters of Hollywood, who ate red pills instead of pink flowers: and were delivered to a land of eternal sleep. In Valley of the Dolls (1967), Neely O’Hara told Anne Wells that liquor made the pills work faster. On 30 April 1970, Inger Stevens found this to be true. After her second try at suicide, Stevens succeeded, and died from a combination of Seconal (2500 mg or 25 pills), Tedral (an asthma medication that contained Phenobarbital), and alcohol. Shortly before her death, Stevens shot a pilot for Aaron Spelling’s crime drama The Most Deadly Game, it was the last project she’d ever sign onto. The series was originally pitched under the title Zig Zag. Twenty three days before her death on 7 April 1970, the 42nd Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles. Gig Young won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, he had played Rocky in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the year before. Stevens was offered the role of Gloria, she passed and Jane Fonda took the role and the nomination for Best Actress that year.

“The Hitch-Hiker” aired on 22 January 1960. It was the 16th episode of The Twilight Zone. Stevens played Nan Adams, a buyer from a Manhattan department store, traveling west to Los Angeles. At the opening, Nan had already had her accident, and her blown-out tire was being replaced with a new one. The mechanic was in awe of the fact that she survived the blow-out, when she told him she’d been doing sixty five miles an hour. He summed up how lucky she was by telling her: “Lady, you’re on the side of the angels. By rights you shouldn’t have called for a mechanic, somebody should have called for a hearse.”

Nan followed the mechanic back to a service station to settle the bill for her repairs, and that is when she saw The Hitch-Hiker, standing beside the road. Nan had a mirror on the inside panel of her travel case, when she went to close the case after paying the mechanic, The Hitch-Hiker was reflected in the case’s mirror. She was startled so she didn’t turn around to confirm that he was really there, she simply asked the mechanic if he had seen the man. He hadn’t.

Nan met a second hitch-hiker on her way to Los Angeles. He was a sailor played by Adam Williams. The sailor was heading to San Diego, where he’d rejoin his ship and naval company. Nan told the sailor she would drive many miles out of her way and take him right to the docks, if only he’d stay with her. He gladly agreed, until she ran the car onto the shoulder of the road twice; she had seen The Hitch-Hiker both times, and was attempting to run him over. Feeling that his life was in danger, the sailor grabbed his shoes and left Nan. Nan tried to make him stay by telling him that she liked him, and hoped that he’d make a pass at her. Because Nan was so beautiful, the sailor paused to consider her offer, but he decided to leave anyway. She would have to travel onward, alone.

French intellectual Romain Rolland coined the term “oceanic feeling” in 1927, while corresponding with Sigmund Freud. Freud discussed the idea in his 1930 novel Culture and Its Discontents. Before Rubashov was executed in 1956’s Darkness at Noon, he experienced an “oceanic sense” of connection with this eternal, limitless character of the universe. This feeling was conceptually religious, but accessible to every human being. The feeling didn’t require faith, just engagement; engagement with moments where the individual stands small in relation to the universe, or source of life. Contemplation, dissociation, and death free the individual from mortal experience and the body; and afterwards some rejoin this infinite space, and rejoice in the ecstasy of “non-being”.

In the same way that the universe is a constituent of whatever force or circumstance that created it, the individual belongs to the universe, and exists as a particle or ripple in its cresting wave. Compare Rolland’s description of the oceanic feeling from his biography of Sri Ramakrishna, The Life of Ramakrishna (Advaita Ashrama, 1984), to Nan Adams’ thoughts after she failed to reach her mother over the phone, and learned of her own death at the end of “The Hitch-Hiker”:

I belong to a land of rivers… Now of all rivers the most sacred is that which gushes out eternally from the depths of the soul and from its rocks and glaciers. Therein lies primeval force and that is what I call religion. Everything belongs to this river of the soul, flowing from the dark unplumbed reservoirs of our Being, the conscious, realized, and mastered being… From the source to the sea, from the sea to the source, everything consists of the same Energy, of the Being without beginning and without End.

…the fear has left me now. I’m numb, I have no feeling. It’s as if someone had pulled out some kind of a plug in me and… everything, emotion, feeling, fear has drained out. And now I’m a cold shell. I’m conscious of things around me now. The vast night of Arizona, and the stars that look down from the darkness. Ahead of me stretch a thousand miles of empty mason. Mountains, prairies, desert. Somewhere among them, he’s waiting for me. Somewhere, I’ll find out who he is.