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There was a day after moving to Beverly Hills when I truly realized that I could actually marry someone famous.
When Marcia Lynne Bertrand and her family moved to the Hollywood she and her mother had always dreamed about, neighbors in their hometown of Riverdale, Illinois, were more skeptical than jealous. “We couldn’t believe someone we knew was actually moving to Beverly Hills,” recalls Marianne Follis Angarola, a classmate of Raleigh “Rollie” Bertrand’s. “There was some taunting of Rollie, because the idea of moving to Beverly Hills surely had to be a lie!”
Not only was it true, but the family, which shipped out of Riverdale in September 1966, was moving in some style. They had bought a new, four-bedroom, ranch-style home on an exclusive private estate in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, which was developed by Paul Trousdale in the late 1950s. While the parents would have been impressed by the acres of marble floor and the full-height windows that looked over the pool and on to downtown Los Angeles in the distance, as well as by the spacious backyard at 515 Arkell Drive, the Bertrand children were thrilled to be able to write to their friends back home that they lived on the same estate as Groucho Marx, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley. Of course, no one in River-dale believed them. Local legend has it that Debbie Bertrand even mailed her former school friends some loose change she had taken from the actor Don Adams—then the star of the TV hit Get Smart— to “prove” that she babysat for his children.
Marcia Lynne’s younger brother, Rollie, quickly embraced the Hollywood lifestyle. For his fifteenth birthday his parents, aware of his ambition to be a Formula One racing driver, gave him a red Ferrari sports car—even though he was too young to drive. That little inconvenience did not put the brakes on the young roustabout. When he went on a date with Gina Martin, a daughter of Dean Martin’s, he asked his friend Peter Martini to take the wheel. He clearly enjoyed life in the fast lane. As his friend Randy Alpert, the son of jazz musician Herb Alpert, recalls: “Raleigh was a great guy and a good friend. We had a million fun times in Beverly Hills. Girls, cars, girls, cameras, Wild Turkey, girls, Rainbow Bar and Grill, racing, girls, Martini House, parties, and very often some girls.” A far cry from life in Riverdale.
In her own way, Marcia Lynne was at least as starry-eyed, if not more so, as the rest of her family. Like her mother, she avidly read the tabloids, soaking up the stories about the stars. There was a vicarious thrill about living in the midst of so many celebrities.
Nevertheless, her exciting new life had its social costs. Marcia Lynne was careful to conceal her family’s unglamorous origins from her classmates at Beverly Hills High School, talking vaguely about one day living in New York. Fellow student Adriane Neri remembers Marcia Lynne as “quiet, inconspicuous, one of those artsy people on the edge of things.”
It didn’t take long for Marcia Lynne to absorb the overarching dictum of life in Hollywood: You can be anyone you want to be. After graduating from Beverly Hills High in 1969, she joined the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and signed with the William Morris Agency to pursue modeling and acting work. She began to affect a more exotic persona, calling herself Marcheline, which she explained was the way her French-Canadian grandmother, Marie-Louise Angelina, pronounced her name. Her family still called her Marcia.
She took to drinking French vanilla instant coffee and collecting French crockery and other artifacts. Just to add an exotic frisson, the family believed that there was a dash of Iroquois Indian in the bloodline, dating back to their French-Canadian settler roots. Certainly with her swooping dresses, embroidered headbands, and long hair, she was a poster child for the hippie generation. As she left her teenage years behind, something changed inside her. She later told a close friend: “There was a day after moving to Beverly Hills when I truly realized that I could actually marry someone famous.”
Marcia Lynne was born on May 9, 1950, to Lois and Rolland Bertrand. Roland had just been named manager of his father-in-law’s bowling alley in Riverdale, Illinois. “Bowling was a heck of a business at the time,” observes local historian Carl Durnavich. “Everybody bowled. You couldn’t get a lane sometimes. People either played baseball or they bowled.”
The nearby industrial town of Harvey was the largest manufacturing base in the country at the time; jobs were plentiful, crime was unheard-of, and everybody knew everyone else in the town of four thousand people. The Riverdale where Lois was raised was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with white picket fences and roses around the door. Durnavich compares it to the setting of the movie Pleasantville, the story of a saccharine-sweet small town where uncomfortable and unruly thoughts and ideas were shuffled under the sidewalk.
Life in Riverdale was comfortable, secure, and recognizable—if a tad dull. Lois June Gouwens dreamed of getting out, of becoming a star on the silver screen. The highlight of her week was when the glossy movie magazines arrived at the grocery store across the street from the tavern her parents owned. The moment the magazines were unloaded, she would dart to the grocery, reaching up to the rack on the front counter for the latest issue of Movie Mirror and Motion Picture. Then she would curl up in a chair in the family’s apartment above the bar and pore over the photographs of Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, and other Hollywood stars of the day.
Lois’s father, Roy Gouwens, had earned his wealth the hard way, working as a cement laborer to save up for the down payment on a mom-and-pop ale house that he and his wife, Virginia, known by everyone as Jean, called the Gouwens Tavern. In the community they had a reputation as straight dealers, honest, hardworking, and dependable. In 1941 they sold the tavern to Jean’s sister and her husband, a deal that enabled Roy and a partner to open the ten-lane Parkview Bowling Alley just as the craze for the sport was taking off.
An only child indulged by doting parents, Lois had a dressing table in her bedroom decked out with a halo of lightbulbs just like in the magazine pictures she had seen of a typical Hollywood star’s dressing room. At night she would spend hours in front of the mirror, carefully pinning her dark hair for the following morning’s cascade of curls, as was the fashion of the day. As she pinned and brushed, brushed and pinned, she made her plans and dreamed her dreams. “One day I’m going to be a movie star,” she told anyone who would listen, including her cousin Don Peters.
After she finished high school in 1946, just after the end of World War II, her parents paid for her to enroll at a modeling school in downtown Chicago run by Patricia Stevens. As she waited for the call from a Hollywood agent or pictured herself on the cover of Vogue, Lois worked in the typing pool of the upmarket Chicago department store Marshall Field. Even the commute into the big city provided an ersatz glamour and a cosmopolitan appeal when contrasted with the familiar faces and unchanging rhythms of her home village. Lois had been born and raised in Riverdale, like her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, her ancestors having sailed for America from Holland during the early nineteenth century.
As a big fish in a small pond, Lois was quite the catch, her family being long established and well-to-do, the nearest thing to aristocrats in a town like Riverdale, where hard work and decorum went hand in hand.
So it was perhaps no surprise when Lois started stepping out with bona fide war hero Rolland “Rollie” Bertrand. It didn’t hurt that he was cute, too, short but with huge, expressive blue eyes. One of three sons of local farmer George and Marie-Louise Angelina, who were descended from the first French settlers in Quebec, Canada, Rolland had served with distinction during World War II, fighting with the First Army in the bloody combat through France and Germany. In November 1944 he was wounded in both legs during the advance on the Rhine and was taken to a military hospital in France.
On returning to Riverdale, he got a job in the bowling alley and soon afterward started dating Lois, their courtship helped by their mutual love of bowling and shared memories of Thornton Township High School in Harvey. When the couple married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on June 4, 1949, Lois was twenty-one, Rollie four years her senior. For Riverdale society, it is no exaggeration to say that this was the wedding of the year.
After the make-do and mend and rationing of the war years and beyond, the fact that the bride’s Colonial-style satin gown was trimmed with Chantilly lace and had a three-yard train was worthy of note, as was the fact that there were no fewer than seven bridesmaids and seven grooms-men, along with a ring bearer and a flower girl. That her father was able to afford a reception for six hundred at the Steel Workers Club in nearby Harvey, as well as a wedding dinner and breakfast at Fred’s Diner, was a sign that bowling equaled big bucks—with social ambition to match. Even Lois’s wedding shower was attended by more than a hundred local ladies, and the festivities were enlivened by an accordion recital by Hank Slorek. While not quite the Busby Berkeley production Lois might have dreamed of, it certainly made headlines in the local press.
It was not long after the couple’s monthlong honeymoon touring Florida and Canada that Lois became pregnant. For a time after Marcia Lynne was born in May of the following year, they lived with Lois’s parents, Roy and Jean, Rollie learning the ins and outs of the family business. In short order they were able to buy a home of their own, a modest white clapboard house on South Edbrooke Avenue typical for this lower-middle-class community.
If Lois’s dream of becoming a model had been put on hold with marriage and motherhood, it was all but forgotten the following year, when her father, the driving force behind the Gouwens fortune, died suddenly. He was only forty-five. From then on his widow, Jean, was vice president of the family business concerns. Rollie ran the bowling alley, with Lois an active player in the ladies’ league, although her second pregnancy, which brought them another daughter, Debbie, in 1952, hampered her bowling technique for a time. They completed their family in February 1955 with the arrival of their only son, Raleigh.
Around then the expanding Bertrand family moved from their wooden property to a sprawling brick home at 13840 South Wabash Avenue—on the right side of the tracks—that occupied two forty-by-ninety-foot plots. Even in a neighborhood in which no two houses were alike, their new home was a standout because of its size. Lois had had her eye on the five-bedroom mansion since she was a girl. At the same time, their new home was only four blocks from their bowling alley, close to Lois’s extended family and, most important, large enough to house her mother, Jean, who came to live with the family when she was diagnosed with cancer. Lois, who is remembered as a devoted daughter, shouldered much of the nursing burden. The family business was expanding, too; in 1958 Rollie opened another bowling alley, on South Halsted Street in Chicago, where he played host to a national bowling tournament.
As for Lois’s modeling ambitions, from time to time she did make an appearance on the catwalk at local charity events. At one ladies’ luncheon in the summer of 1959, she joined nine other models in a fashion show in aid of the Knights of Columbus. Guests were advised that hats were by Beverly Hats and hairstyles by Ye Olde Haag Beauty Shop. Like many other mothers, however, she was content to channel her thwarted ambition through her daughters, particularly her older girl, Marcia Lynne.
While Marcia Lynne’s father is remembered as “easygoing,” a warm and generous man who liked a drink, Lois was the driving force in the family, an astute businesswoman and an ambitious mother. She wore the trousers in the partnership, brooking no opposition at home or at work. Her husband, passive and unassertive, did not command the respect from his children that was customary in the era of Father Knows Best. Nor did Lois’s behavior toward her husband encourage deference to the patriarch. “Lois was very aggressive and goal-oriented,” recalls her cousin Don Peters. “She had what we call in business a type A personality.” She could chill with a look and knew how to hold a grudge. It was a quality known in the family as the “Bertrand freeze.”
Although Lois was determined that one of her children would make it in the theater or in movies, only Marcia Lynne was as keen as her mother; her younger sister, Debbie, always wanted to be a nurse. Every Saturday morning Marcia Lynne and her mother would catch the electric tram into Chicago for acting, singing, and dancing lessons, and shopping trips to fashionable downtown stores. In time Marcia Lynne signed with modeling agencies. When the Drury Lane Theatre opened in Evergreen Park in 1958, Marcia became a member of the troupe of youngsters.
With her long dark hair and big, wistful blue eyes, Marcia Lynne was seen by many—not just her doting mother—as a naturally pretty young girl. “She was the beauty of St. Mary’s,” recalls Denise Horner-Halupka, who attended the local Catholic school with her. Remembered by her fellow pupils as quiet, unassuming, and pretty, but otherwise undistinguished, Marcia Lynne glided through elementary school and junior high, leaving barely a trace before moving up to Elizabeth Seton High School in South Holland. There is a tinge of envy in the recollections of her classmates, several recalling that she lived in a large house on the right side of the tracks. Friendly but not forward, Marcia Lynne kept any dreams she had to herself.
As the sixties dawned, the Bertrands seemed destined to remain a well-to-do, influential local family whose every social event, from New Year’s Eve dinners to recreational outings to places like Paw Paw Lake, was worthy of note in the local press. They were particularly remembered for their charitable efforts. For example, in August 1959 Rollie took a group of young local bowlers to watch the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox in the company of Hall of Famer Ray Schalk. As a friend of the family explained, it was something of a trade-off: The Bertrands were well aware that they were wealthier than most of the neighborhood but did not wish to appear aloof; they wanted to give back to the community that had made their fortune.
The death of Rollie’s father, George, on September 18, 1962, and Lois’s mother, Jean, just five days later seems to have jolted the family out of their routine. Perhaps there was talk around the family dinner table of new pastures. Certainly when Rollie flew to Oakland, California, in 1964 for a bowling tournament, the wonders of life out West gained a new intensity. It was not long before the Bertrands were California dreamin’. They went on vacation to the Golden State—and liked what they saw.
Of course, they were not the only ones. Thousands of young men who had enlisted during World War II and later the Korean War had enjoyed a taste of paradise out West at the military camps. So many had left the area that there were annual Harvey Day celebrations in various California towns. Several members of Jean’s family—the Kashas—had moved to Arizona. As the thermometer touched thirty below outside, inside the bars and drinking joints of Harvey and Riverdale the talk often turned to how different life could be in California, a fabled place of endless sunshine, the Beach Boys, beach blondes, and peaches ripening by the roadside. More than that, the Golden State was somewhere to make a fresh start, to reinvent your life, to live your dream.
For the great majority it remained just that, a pipe dream. The death of Lois’s mother gave the Bertrands the opportunity to live that dream. In her will, Jean Gouwens left all her properties, bowling alleys, and other commercial ventures to her only daughter. As the family discussed, idly at first and then with greater focus, the possibility of selling up and moving west, the voice of fifteen-year-old Marcia Lynne was pivotal. In school she kept thoughts of modeling to herself, probably worried about being teased by her contemporaries. In family lore it was now accepted, much to her mother’s satisfaction, that Marcia Lynne wanted to pursue an acting and modeling career.
After high school she said she wanted to attend the Theater Arts School (now the School of Theater, Film and Tele vi sion) at UCLA on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. It was a seductive vision; Lois could imagine her own dream of showbiz success being fulfilled through her daughter.
Opportunity came knocking when a consortium made a substantial offer for the family bowling business. While Rollie and Lois eventually planned to retire, it helped crystallize this momentous decision—and augment their finances—when Rollie secured a managerial job at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles. So the Bertrands decided to move to Hollywood. As Lois’s cousin Chuck Kasha recalls: “They wanted to get out of the business. They had worked hard and wanted to live the American dream.”
When Jon Voight dreamed, he dreamed big. When he was just three years old, he saw himself becoming a great painter. It helped that his parents, Elmer and Barbara, dreamed big, too. On the eve of America’s entrance into the First World War in 1917, the sports-crazy eight-year-old Elmer had gathered up all his youthful courage, marched into a golf club in Yonkers, just north of New York City, and asked for work as a caddie. He happened to be in the right place at the right time. Yonkers was the site of the first golf course in the United States—in 1888 Scottish immigrant John Reid had founded the Saint Andrews golf club—and in 1913, the local Jewish community had joined together to open their own course, which they named Sunningdale, after the historic course outside of London.
Not only was Elmer, the son of a Slovakian miner, given work as a caddie, but members also took the personable youngster under their wing, teaching him correct English and the proper use of a knife and fork, as well as the mysteries of the great game itself. Elmer—universally known as “Whitey”—flourished, and but for a back injury would have been, according to Jon Voight, “one of the greats.” Instead he ended up as the club pro, a dapper, ebullient man, always ready with a funny story or a gag. The woman he married in 1936, Barbara Kamp, the daughter of a German immigrant, was also a keen golfer who knew how to enjoy life. At some point she founded the You’re a Nut Like Me society, dedicated to overcoming everyday stresses through humor and imagination. “She was the most fun-loving person I ever knew in my life,” recalled her longtime friend Susan Krak.
With three boys born in five years—Barry in 1937, Jon on December 29, 1938, and finally James in 1942—Barbara had to run a strict house hold, ruling her boisterous brood with a touch of Prussian discipline. Every Sunday she took the three boys to the local Catholic church, but at times it was like herding cats. As Jon’s kid brother, James, recalls: “We were usually the last ones there. We would have to go and sit up by the altar.”
Just as well. As Jon recalls, “As a kid I was always up to no good.” When he was not dreaming of becoming a great artist, he spent his days climbing the highest trees he could find.
The real world of the imagination began at bedtime when Elmer arrived home. For a time he convinced his sons that he was an undercover FBI agent rather than a golf pro. As they sat on their bunk beds in their home off Lockwood Avenue, the curtain would go up on their father’s nightly theatrical per for mance, Elmer spinning endless tales that he would make up on the spot.
“My father was a wonderful storyteller,” recalls Jon Voight. “Those were magical experiences. I still have vivid memories of those times. And I think those experiences had a lasting influence on me. He would tell us stories about the Mississippi River and the riverboats. I think that’s why I became an actor, to be like my dad. I was so thrilled to listen to him tell these tales.” His father’s imagination and his mother’s chutzpah opened up a world of possibilities for their sons. As James recalls, “My dad would wake me and my brothers up in the morning and say: ‘Boys, the world is your oyster.’ Mom and Dad were encouraging us to hop our own fences.” By the time he was six, Jon had already hopped one fence, having swapped thoughts of painting professionally for those of a career in the movies. Later, he dallied with the notion of becoming a professional comedian.
What ever the future held for Jon and his brothers, in the Voight household there was one overriding passion: golf. All three boys took up the sport, Jon and James excelling. Indeed, James’s later stage name, Chip Taylor, came about because for several Sundays in a row he had holed out from off the green. On one occasion Jon and Gene Borek, the assistant pro at Sunningdale, played in a national caddie tournament in Columbus, Ohio. It was not a successful venture. “When we got home on the train in Grand Central,” recalled Gene, who later enjoyed fleeting fame as the club pro who scored a sixty-five at Oakmont, “we had eleven cents between us. I had the penny.” While he never turned pro, Jon credits his father for instilling in him the balance and grace a good golfer needs—a point that Elmer never tired of making to his pupils. “The trouble with the average woman golfer is that she is too lazy; the trouble with the average male golfer is that he is too tense,” was his stern mantra.
In addition to their love for golf, Elmer and Barbara were also keen movie-and theatergoers, Elmer finding inspiration for some of his bedtime yarns from films they saw at the local Roxy. Jon was not the only one who was inspired by his parents’ love of the arts: James vividly remembers “the chill factor”—the sense of joy in performance—he experienced as a youngster. In the late 1940s, when he was seven, his parents took him to see the musical My Wild Irish Rose, about the life of New York Irish tenor Chauncey Olcott. He had been so reluctant to go that his parents had brought him along only because they couldn’t find a babysitter. Looking back, he is glad they did. “I fought them the whole way,” he now recalls. “But I’m sitting in the theater, the music comes on, and my body was, like, on fire. At the end of the performance I didn’t want to talk to my parents. I just wanted to hold on to that wonderful feeling.” The chill factor was the inspiration that eventually took him into a highly successful career as a lyricist.
As for Jon, he got the chill factor designing and painting sets for his school’s theater productions. Though he did also take to the stage—his mother, a part-time teacher, was his first director, when he was in sixth grade—at that time he had no thoughts of taking up the profession.
Like his brothers, Jon attended the Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, and in between classes was an enthusiastic and talented stage designer. “We were in a real safe place to be creative, experiment,” he recalls. It was the school’s longtime drama teacher, the Reverend Bernard McMahon, now retired, who convinced a baby-faced Voight to move from stage design to playing the comedy lead of Count Pepi Le Loup in the school’s annual musical, Song of Norway, an operetta about the life of composer Edvard Grieg. In his senior class the next year, Voight took the part of the valet Lutz in The Student Prince. The 1956 yearbook raved: “Complete with German accent and whiskers, Jon surpassed his amazing triumph of last year with a masterful handling of the play’s main comic role.” His leading lady was Barbara Locke, a student at the all-girls Good Counsel Academy High School in White Plains. “Oh, he was talented and charismatic,” recalls Locke, who still gets the occasional surprise telephone call from her onetime leading man. “He was charming and always a nice-looking young man. The girls were crazy about him.”
Excerpted from Angelina by Andrew Morton.
Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Morton.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.