Oct 25, 2017

An obituary

Eloise Hardt, a long-time, largely television actress, died on June 25th.  She may have been 99, although there is some question as to her date of birth.  She is known for her work on The Dennis O'Keefe Show (1959); as well as performances in Incubus (1966); and Save the Tiger (1973).  She also won praise for her performance as the debauched but ever sympathetic character Rita Beacon in The Days of Our Lives in 1970.  Ms. Hardt got her start in Hollywood through her mentor, patron, and for a time, her lover, director John Huston.

Ms. Hardt, often known in Hollywood by her nickname, Cherokee, was the daughter of a Cherokee Indian and a German electrical engineer. The family, which included her six brothers and one younger sister, lived in Lawton, Oklahoma. During the Great Depression, after an attempted suicide, the father left the family and moved to Texas.  In the spirit of Steinbeck’s Joad family, Cherokee, her mother, sister and younger brothers made their way to California in the back of a flatbed truck hired for the trip. The story, however improbable it sounds, was that this little party of Okies, out of money and resources, stopped at a filling station just across the Arizona-California border only to find that the station attendant was the eldest brother, "Indian Joe.”

Cherokee started off in Hollywood as a model, under the tutelage of photographer Tom Kelly, and then got a one-year contact with Howard Hawkes.  During World War II she worked at the Hollywood Canteen, where she met a young flyer, the “true love of my life”, who was later killed in the Pacific theater.  She was married three times: including a marriage to the prominent Austrian writer and journalist, Hans Habe, with whom she had a daughter Marina, born in 1951. 

In the early hours of December 29th 1968, Ms. Habe was kidnapped as she entered her driveway on Cynthia Street in West Hollywood — she was home for Christmas vacation from the University of Hawaii and staying with her mother. Two days later her body was found at the bottom of a ravine off Mulholland Drive. The murder has never been solved, but has attracted much speculation over the years.  According to police, the most likely suspect, a biker who may have seen Marina by bizarre coincidence earlier in the evening, died some years ago.

Ms. Hardt married publicist and producer Paul MacNamara in 1971; the marriage lasted until he died in 1991.  She died after a long illness at an assisted living facility in Palos Verdes.

She will be remembered as a no-holds-barred woman, a sometime comedienne, alternately sweet and difficult, always willing to risk, and at the most critical moments in a life fearless and compassionate.  Her one regret was that she wasn’t more focused on her career. In the end, she was less an actress than a Hollywood character whose life should have been made into a film in which she could star.

In the years afterward, she went through a religious conversion, away from Catholicism to ‘Born Again’.  “I’ve committed every crime in the book,” she once said.  “But Jesus has forgiven me and now all I want is to be with my daughter.”

Feb 8, 2017


It was the last time we would see each other.  But which of us was more aware of that and what did that mean?

I hadn't seen her in years.  Hadn't talked to her in a year.  I found her in the lunch room, in 'the facility'.  The dying facility as she once called it. She was sitting at a table with another woman.  I had hoped to meet her in some other less abrupt way.  There was no empty chair.  I finally approached her, sliding into her field of vision.  She recognized me.  "You were in an accident," she said.  I shook my head.  "Well, you will be."   I shook my head and pulled up a chair.

"You must learn to be less arrogant," she said following up just where we'd left off. I could hardly hear her.  I made her repeat it. "Less arrogant and listen to the Lord.  Don't talk so much."  All true, I thought, although it applied to both of us.  And that brought to mind those nights at the backgammon table, hour after hour, year after year, throwing down the dice from the leather shakers and sometimes in the frenzy, the martinis, on and on, turning the cube on the bar regardless of the consequences.  Did we learn nothing from the metaphors?

"You should leave," she said finally, although i'd only been there for a couple of hours.  I had imagined spending the whole afternoon.   But of course it was too much.  I stood up.  "Send in the next person," she said, with the authority of the autocratic priestess.  I moved toward her, to kiss her on the forehead.  "Don't touch me," she said.  Was that to make the most of a dramatic moment, which was her nature, although now, I don't know, I don't know if in that moment it was some reflex action.  Create one last vaccum. Or was it simply to prevent the dam from washing away?  And to allow the flood to include every last bit of sadness and horror.

"You must let Jesus into your life," she said still again and once more, as it always happens between us, the words seemed canned. The truth of the moment was suddenly disingenuous.  I told her I loved her and repeated that three times, but it was too late.  Any good director would have shaken his head, waved his hands, and cut the take.  "Tell the next person to come in," she said again. "Next," she said, and this time I left.  Even then I could hear her repeat it.  "Next!"  

As always, I was never able to establish equality.  Not since a day on the beach at Zuma.  On a dead calm afternoon.  "I couldn't resist," she began.

On the one hand, so what?  Why one earth would you think of something like that at such a moment.  I tried.  It worked or it didn't.  There was closure or there wasn't.  No one could ever say.  But still now, even now when it's still not too late, I'm thinking if we just had a few more minutes to make things right....