William Shakespeare once wrote that " Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage." I used to chuckle at that line, who wouldn't, but today, well, today I'm feeling some serious pity. Today, I feel pity for a man I did not know. I feel pity for a man who lived his life so back ass wards that you would have to be made of steel not to pity him. The man is non other than Jack Griffith Lee. Jack the drunkard. Jack the wife beater. Jack the psychologically broken.
As many of you are aware I had a substantial breakthrough with the legacy of Jack Lee yesterday. I discovered he was married a second time. I discovered his mother's last name and that his second wife was so totally devoted to him that she did not remarry after his death despite the fact she was 17 years his junior. I mulled all this over last night and decided that an entire story cannot be told about anyone without all of the puzzle pieces. I thought about Jack and Agnes. I ruminated on how dysfunctional they were as a married couple and why Jack never sought to question it, ever. If you really think about it he seemed to be totally blindsided by Agnes filing for divorce. For years I wondered how he pulled off that completely stunned, holy shit I never saw this coming performance and today, with out any hesitation, I can say I got it. I totally got it.
I Dote On His Very Absence
In this world only the very talented are able to convince people that they feel this way or that. Let's face it Jack was not talented and when compared with Agnes he was even less so. What can replace that talent is having actually experienced what you're living through previously. Jack did this with great aplomb.
Those of us looking in from the outside have been aware for ages that Agnes and Jack lived separate lives. When they were together in public it was always a photo opportunity, period. In a normal marriage where two people were deeply in love prolonged absence often drives a wedge between the couple very quickly. You see it happen every day in Hollywood. Two people divorce over irreconcilable differences. In the aftermath interview both lament on how being away for extended periods of time as a result of work created a chasm that could not be bridged. With Agnes and Jack it was the reverse that created a chasm that could not be bridged. They remained successfully married while he was in New York and she in California or while he was in Ohio and she in California. They both toured with various and sundry shows when they were both in New York rarely, if ever, spending any extended time together. It was when Jack moved full time to California and they had to live together that their lives began unraveling. Why oh why do you suppose?
Well, I'll tell you because the marriage was an illusion to begin with. Agnes flourished when she was away from Jack, she bloomed, she blossomed and her career took off like a bottle rocket. Jack, on the other hand, had lived this illusion of an existence his entire life. His father, Robert Marshall Lee, was an actor as well. His father toured all over the place all the time and was rarely around to inconvenience his wife, Susan, with his presence. She lived, she flourished and she reared her child or children, the existence of his sister is not documented with all the appropriate facts yet, so anyway, she reared her offspring on her own. His father was an absentee parent and he was mamma's boy.
They Stumble That Run Fast
As I began to plumb the depths of Jack's family I began to uncover some very peculiar things. I have documented through voting registrations what Mr. and Mrs. Lee claimed were their residences. While actually hunting them down I discovered that in one instance in 1923 Susan Ping Lee listed her address as 29 Belcher. Today I discovered that 29 Belcher was never her residence but that of her sister Eva. I also found that in 1914 Susan is listed as living at 2466 California, yes indeed, address for her sister Virginia. Honestly, I thought, could it get any stranger? Yes, yes it could and did.
In 1916 we find one of the rare instances of Susan and her husband being listed on the voter registration list together at 1633 Webster. By 1918 living at the same address is one Harry O'Neill. Not strange until you realize that Harry is the man that Susan marries after Robert M Lee dies around 1934. In fact the Lee's disappear from San Francisco between the end of 1918 to 1922 or there about. Susan is registered as living at an address in Modesto oddly enough there is no record of her actually having lived there but you know what Harry disappears around the same time and returns to San Francisco around the same time as well. We have, ladies and gentlemen, a triumvirate, a trio, a threesome. Wither thou goest so goest I!
In 1918 Robert was in Chicago and lists his home address as 1633 Webster. In 1918 Susan is god knows where and gives her home address as 418 13th Street Modesto! Harry, well I'll be damned if I know where Harry is but one thing is for sure he is not in San Francisco! Am I the only one here sensing a pattern? I think not. Shakespeare says " They stumble that run fast" and oh how right he is! A person can get ahead of themselves and then impale themselves on the the truth accidentally! If the age of information had never come about we would know none of this at all. I'm not saying whose lover Harry was but you don't migrate with people unless you're in love with one of them! By the time of the 1930 census Harry O'Neill lists himself as married, he never was..there is simply no record of it anywhere, and he is significantly well off in terms of the Depression. Harry owned 841 Corbett and was worth $7000.00. Living with him in 1930 while her husband was in a hotel in New York with his son Jack was Susan. She is identified as "border" but nobody else lives there my friends, nobody. Voter registration still lists it as her address in 1934 but she is still Susan Lee....hmmm, scratching head vigorously...hmmmm.
Nature Hath Framed Strange Fellows In Her Time
Okay, so now I've reached the epitome of odd, right? Wrong, oh soooo wrong! By 1940 Susan has married Harry O'Neill and they live at 841 Corbett. Harry is ridiculously well off, although he is listed as a "taxi driver", and Susan is reaping the reward of having dedicated herself to Harry, or not.....By 1944 Harry is living at 841 Corbett all on his lonesome and Susan, well, Susan is practically next door, actually sort of literally next door. Susan lives by herself at 853 Corbett but she's still Mrs. Susan O'Neill and she's still a "housewife" for someone anyway.
No wonder her son grew up with no idea what in the name of blue blazes a marriage was! His family apparently put the "fun" in "dysFUNctional." It appears that Jack grew up in a very, very, very liberal home...or an idea of a home because you cannot bloody tell where these people really lived until after 1930! Of course he would pick out a woman who had as much use for him as a fish does a bicycle because that is exactly who he had lived his whole life! Of course he would have no idea that things weren't right because he had no idea what "right" meant. Jack was a twisted wreck of a man before he ever got married and it most likely was a result of his gypsy like rearing. I don't find his drinking all that odd now because I can tell you this if I had grown up like that I'd be drinking everything I could get my hands on. Who knows what kind of crazy temperamental outbursts he witnessed and I'm sure the violent side of him has its roots in this disaster area of a childhood as well. Jack was a product of his environment plain and simple.
He dealt with some seriously stressful stuff his whole life and the end of his marriage to Agnes was not one bit different. I have dealt with several traumatic deaths over the last 5 years but I never managed to pull this off, ever. The year is 1949. Jack has been separated from Agnes once on record that we know of in 1946.
On February 28, 1949 after 8:10 pm Jack's mother dies at Saint Luke's Hospital in San Francisco. On Thursday March 3 the funeral for Susan O'Neill is held and she is buried at Cypress Lawn. Three limousines are used in the funeral. One car is arranged for simply to carry flowers. An organist is requisitioned to play at the funeral and a clergyman asked to perform the service. The entire funeral is billed to Jack Lee at a cost of $1018.50 and the bill is sent to him at Monte Mar Terrace in Los Angeles. I know it doesn't seem like a lot but think of this way:
In 2009 we buried my mother at a cost of $6500.00 and we had to have her remains flown to Pennsylvania.
In January of this year we buried my father in law at a cost of $7500.00 and it was a modest funeral that didn't involve travel of any kind. My mother's funeral would have been over $10,000.00 today. An increase of $4000.00 in 3 years. That averages out to $1333.00 per year. Jack's mother died in 1949 that is 64 years ago. In those terms his mother's funeral would have cost around $85,000.00 today.
Mother has died and is buried on March 3rd. The Academy Awards are on March 24, 1949. Agnes is not only the first woman to act as co host but she is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. That is 3 weeks between the death of Jack's mother and the Academy Awards. Keep in mind the size of the funeral. It was his tribute to Susan. He's stressed and he's drinking. Unbeknownst to him in slightly less than 3 months his wife is going to file for separation from him. This is Jack unrehearsed and captured candidly on March 24 1949 at his wife's side on the red carpet.
There's a smile on his face but his eyes are completely blank, at least that is how they look to me. So, here I sit feeling sorry for him. Was he a victim of his own upbringing, most likely. Is that an excuse? No, because we are all victims of something that happened to us. Do I feel for the man? Yes I do. I have also have a whole new respect for the level of the knowledge that Paul Gregory had about Agnes. Paul said she was a meat grinder and that Jack never stood a chance with her at all. Paul said Jack was actually a nice guy away from Agnes. Nobody will ever really know for sure but...here's some sympathy for the poor devil and may he rest in peace!
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