Fanchon Royer (1902-1981)
EVER SO OFTEN SOME ONE DRIVING
"ONE OF OUR old Des Moines girls" down its west Sixth
Avenue indicates a venerable red brick six-flatter to disclose:
"And that's where you were born, Fanchón, right there
in that building!" And again, I muster an appreciative smile
over a mentally ughed "the first of them!" while forgetting
to ask in which flat or even on what floor thereof happenstance
made me the January 1902, first-born of a two-child marriage
fated to barely survive my fifth birthday.
By the logic that holds for
the "suitable" union, for example, between persons
of similar background, my parents' marriage should have worked,
especially in a day that divorce had yet the power to scandalize.
Both were United Presbyterian reared, second generation Iowans
of much older "American" stock, from "tolerably-"
if not "well-fixed," Republican-voting families to
which an occasional inability to "see" an offspring
"through college" was bemoanable as a class failure.
Presupposed, then, their shared ambition, it remains but to aver
that Father and Mother were moreover mutually endowed with that
species of intelligence, the animation and good looks so useful
in the realization of this world's dreams.
So maybe it came of having
too much in common, that state of unremitting strife which, in
another Sixth Avenue red brick, by now a commodious duplex, "blew
up" our household during 1907. (Somehow no one ever points
out the duplex but I can identify it on my own!)
Whether because it had been
Father's idea or that from us he went on to an impressive business
success and a second marriage, the divorce embittered Mother
who proceeded to employ his provision in the indulgence of a
resultantly augmented natural restlessness. Began for us a decade-long
trek through an indistinguishable series of red and other "bricks"
varied by but an infrequent bungalow and recurrent interludes
in "the home." "The home" was Grandma Havens'
1885 "eastside property" which periodically welcomed
our returns from the more drastic flights-to Minneapolis ...
Oak Park .
Glen Ellyn. (The only place
"our" phobia against being "tied down" ever
allowed Mother to own was a summer home, itself soon disposed
of for the facilitation of bigger and better Rocky Mountain vacations.)
Upon my nine and-a-half-year
sail the Iowa-Minnesota-Illinois public education systems this
addiction to transience imposed enrollments in ten schools, multiple
reenrollments in those serving Grandma's district. But finally
a blessed consecutive while back again in East Des Moines High
(where I succeeded Bruce Gould as editor of its monthly Quill)
brought me, on June 8, 1918, to graduation.
Need it be said that this was
all we'd been waiting for?
But for once, our nextday's
"take-off"-to Hollywood!-wasn't all-chargeable to Mother's
boredom-allergic nerves. I, too, had found my "hit"
in the senior play decidedly more titivating than the Quill editorship.
So the tacitly recognized "clincher" underrunning the
overt argument for California, the delights of plucking roses
and oranges while our native section shivered out the blizzards,
was the infinitely more delectable prospect of the opportunities
awaiting blue wide-eyedness plus Pickford coiffing and "proven"
dramatic ability in the world's film capital. ,
Sixteen-year-old naivete? Yes,
but at least it fell short of expecting Hollywood's divination
of my destiny. In fact, it barely extended to posting the note
I'd not have written Douglas Fairbanks had I been aware he was
holidaying in Europe. But it was a lucky ignorance. Because this
little-logical bid for a -break" evoked a return-mail proffer
by the absent star's manager-brother Robert of a personal
presentation to their casting chief, Lou Goodstadt! Now all
I had to do was prove myself as persuasive in grease paint as
My August first "debut"
as an extra in a Fred Stone vehicle and comparable "re-engagements"
by LaskyFamous Players for Cecil de Mille's The Squaw Man,
Don't Change Your Husband, et cetera, wedged me into the
profession; whereupon I went forth to Metro, Universal, Goldwyn,
and the rest as a sometime bit player. So why, with my career
thus "definitely determined," did I, come September
1919, crowd it and its "vital" Riding Academy and Denishawn
courses with those others, English Lit., Journalism, and Short
Story Writing at U.S.C.? Maybe this deviation, unconfessed to
"sell-educated" Hollywood, was a final concession to
Iowa. In any case, it too was fun while it lasted.
The abrupt interruption of
both studio and scholastic activities was "merely temporary."
Otherwise I shouldn't have let the intense young actor-publisher
of the industry's then-best trade sheet, Camera!, whisk
me into its editorial chair (from which the regular occupant
had been dispatched by a chronic malady to Arizona). But thus
conditioned, there had seemed no reason, during a production
slump, to refuse a friend this favor and myself a sure $75 weekly.
The sacrifice of the ensuing
three years to movie reviewing, p.a. adjective killing and stormy
editorializing was not because I had succumbed to the flattery.
Indeed, I remained almost as impervious to the Literary Digest's
frequent reprintings of my editorials as to the ecstatic
trouper following vouchsafed by my left and right lambastings
of bad performances whether or no by Camera! space-buyers, my
coveted hailings of even the most confirmed non-advertisers'
good ones. (This adamant impartiality burgeoned from neither
the "nobility" to which my fans attributed it nor the
"polite subtlety" suspected by the competition; from
nothing more complicated than 18-20s' forthright ego, conceivably
dashed with resentment of having to review films
I might have been "making.") What, then, held me in
a job I had never desired? A pair of life's larger exigents:
death-that of the man I had replaced-and marriage, my own, to
the persuasive publisher whose "baby" Camera! was.
Was it the real baby or the
papa's acquisition, through a switch from acting to scenario-writing,
of another "literary" outlet that eventually downgraded
the paper's indispensability? To whatever credit, it was sold
in 1922, whereafter I--incredibly?--opened my own publicity agency,
soon expanded into artist representation. A healthy roster of
established names prospered; the "discoveries" fulfilled
their promise in featured credits. All was admirably reflected
in the swelling familial bank accounts.
By her twenty-sixth birthday
the erstwhile extra-girl and $75 editress was a thriving Hollywood
"old-timer" possessed of a swimming-pool chalet hilltop-perched
above fifteen San Fernando Valley acres; while "to show
for" eight years of matronship there were two handsome,
husky, small sons. And, if this wasn't enough, she would, during
this same 1928, become the industry's only woman producer.
Life's Like That, critic-paged as a smashing independent
experimental, served its purpose in capturing a major directorship
for the scenarist-husband who had megaphoned it. But I couldn't
let it go at that. Not only the distinction, the work, itself,
the building of something out of nothing, was too fascinating.
Besides, wasn't high tension endeavor the reputed best antidote
for these ills that success has a way of inflicting upon Hollywood
domesticity? I signed the contract committing me to turn out
a head- and back-breaking dozen melodramas per annum. And if
this all-absorbing program failed to save the marriage, was even
the likeliest explanation of a second "matrimonial mistake,"
it didn't prevent their justification in a total of five children.
It was in Mexico City that
the birth of the last baby coincided with overweening ambition
(which had already run "Mommy's" business onto the
rocks) losing husband number two in a labyrinth of millionaires
ses. The only perceptible recourse was to lead the progeny- and
Indian nana-jammed car for the Los Angeles bankruptcy court,
the fresh start. It wasn't that, by now, "Hollywood's only
woman producer" wouldn't have gleefully relinquished the
title. She couldn't! The future of that antiquated Pierce Arrow's
load hung upon it. Written off must be the Mexico she'd come
And so they began all over
again, the tense toilings, the ups and downs, the silly little
triumphs of a "game" that, glamorous to 26, was slightly
nauseating to 34. But they paid the military academies and uniform
houses; kept the pool filled through the not too-altered vacations.
Came a war to claim the lads,
pass the word "servant" into obsolescence, empty the
gas tank. Onto the block went the "exclusively" isolated
home, the transportation; into the convent, a trio of little
daughters. Alone in a hotel room, a twice-divorced, five-times
mother examined without gratification the sum of her forty years'
If success vied with failure
in laying waste the human heart and was, in any case, the most
ephemeral of things created, if the dream of whatever security
was life's most tawdry joke, with what did one cure, even mitigate,
despair? Religion? For as long as I could recall I had regarded
"all that" as either interested hypocrisy, the cowardly
refuge, or futility's shoddy consolation. And while the personal
batterings had persuaded my heart that the little ones must be
protected by the Faith that bulwarked against divorce and remarriage,
that couldn't be the answer for the however miserable,
"fully formed" adult agnostic. Or could it? Were there
but a one percent possibility, was it intelligent to give
up before making sure? But to ask the gamble of a kindly padre's
time on an almost certain fiasco? No, I told myself, and then,
the veteran newsman and "incurable" crusader for Christ's
charity, my staunchest friend ever since the Camera! days,
that I could not do. To which Ted LeBerthon, now gone
to God in a Franciscan habit, replied mildly: "Bother a
Catholic priest? Believe me, Fanchón, the fathers aren't
easily bothered." Actually? To somebody, failure was acceptable?
The erudite and holy "somebody"
who gladly risked failure with me was the pastor of St. Basil's,
Monsignor Edward R. Kirk. And when he had received me into the
Church (July 1943), he quietly began to nudge my thinking writingward.
Now that I had something to say, it was an idea worthy
of the ponderation which, while producing Catholic pictures,
I gave it. And when the filming eventually returned me to my
spiritual home on earth, Latin America, the decision was reached
In her blandly lovely hinterland,
among her touchingly devout peoples, I settled down to interpret
Mexico in articles and then in the book I called The Mexico
We Found (Bruce, 1948). But it was her and her sisterlands'
salvific "finding" by their spiritual titans that cried
much louder for the telling. As, of these, The Franciscans
Came First (St. Anthony Guild, 1951), under that title I
did their moving record. The Tenth Muse: Sor Juana Ines de
la Cruz (St. Anthony Guild, 1952), St. Francis Solanus,
Apostle to America (St. Anthony Guild, 1955), Padre Pio
(Kenedy, 1954), The Power of Little Children (Academy
Library Guild, 1954), on the founder and the beginnings of the
Association of the Holy Childhood, and St. Anthony Claret
(Farrar, 1957) followed. And after time out for a translation
of Yo Pecador (I, Sinner), the autobiography of a cherished
"old Hollywood days" friend, the Fox Film and Chicago
Opera star who became Fray Jose de Guadalupe Mojica, O.F.M.,
it is now that Servant of Mary, Blessed Mother Soledad Torres.
The love of all these in His
Own has wrought, against a cliff- and spire-girt preview of Beauty
Itself (locally alluded to as "the American senora's Ranchito
Santa Catalina") "an old Des Moines girl's" once
despaired-of and, of course, by no means merited Security.
Catholic filmaker and author purchased a fruit farm in Teziutlan,
Mexico in 1957. She lived on the farm until her death in 1981.
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.