Searching The Sky

Irene Rich stands like a subdued bride.

She holds a silken bouquet behind her, drooping yet hopeful. The coat she wears is of white mink, and there are three rows of severed tails at the hem, decorative and barbaric.  Hidden shoes – satin, undoubtedly, with curving Cuban heels – tap the floor with delicate impatience.  The floor bearing the brunt of Irene’s disquiet bears the terse design that typifies the beginnings of Art Deco.


The photo must therefore date before 1925, before L’Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes.  This was Paris’ months-long introduction of the new symmetries to a world still dreaming in the Ophelia-like embrace of Art Nouveau.  The old sentimentality and weak femininity had expired on the killing fields of Europe and the Middle East, and in the choking factories of the home front.

Irene has not cut her hair – not yet – but the curls have been piled into a soft volcano, until neck, back and shoulders show white and bare, an anthem to the new exposure of the 1920’s. She is not a beauty – there is a thickness to the neck, and a suspicion of fullness to the torso which might have been harbored within a corset in her younger days.  For Irene was born in 1891 and her body would therefore have known fashion’s shackles as well as its liberation.  She would be in her late 20’s when she stood for this photo and an actress for almost 10 years.  Later she worked in talkies, in radio, on the stage.  Her acting career would span three decades.

But Irene had another career, albeit a more emotional one. She had a marital calling; one that was more lengthy than her dramatic one.  Her first marriage was in 1909, a pre-emptive jump to the altar to presumably escape the plans of boarding school which her parents had for her.  One daughter and two years later, she divorced.

There quickly followed another wedding, in 1912. The end of this marriage led to Irene seeking work in the new frontier of Hollywood in order to support her family.  This fortuitous decision would promise that bauble in southern California a future of selfish hostesses, gallant frontierswomen, and strong-willed housewives.

When this curiously bridal photograph was taken, Irene stands waiting for her third husband, whom she would wed in 1926. Once more, it would not last long.  But finally, in 1950, she married a New York business executive; a union that lasted until the end of her life, in 1988.

But shortly before this final, stolid relationship; there was one more – a volatile and deadly one.

In 1949, secretary Agnes Elizabeth killed her employer: politician and business owner John Edwin Owen.  According to the sheriff’s report Garnier shot Owen and blamed Irene Rich for coming between them.  According to Garnier’s story the gun had gone off accidentally, as she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed.  Rich claimed an innocent friendship, Garnier plead innocence.  In the end, Garnier was convicted of manslaughter, serving one and a half years out of her “one-to-ten” year sentence.  And Irene by then was very happily married.

I had found Irene some time ago, I forget where. I was taken with her face, her slightly debauched cloak, her sprite’s modesty.  So I bought her and framed her, and so she has hung in sepia glory in my hallway for many years.  Her photo was one of a few that I own where the image comes with an autograph – a key ready-made for any owner to use who is willing to research the past of a new possession.

So I had only recently decided to find where her name led me: a history of unions – most unsuccessful – one calamitous relationship based on conflicting stories, explanations and affections…and a body of work in television and radio which led to her two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

In a way, I think, such research is like looking into the sky – the things that suddenly come into view when you look into vistas that most people will ignore.



3 responses to “Searching The Sky

  1. The experience you describe is precisely what I came to when I found a dedication written in a book I purhcased. On thing leads to another, and suddenly a world opens.

    I must say, however: a world marked wtih garments bearing three rows of mink tails is — well, remarkable. I’m not one who’s opposed to nice warm fur for protection, but those tails are a but over the top. Or, a bit too much around the bottom.

  2. So true. If I’m lucky to find a photo that places a name to a face, or a book with a name and autograph, this sense of adventure becomes irresistible.

    Those tails I think are another throwback to an earlier time – they’ll show up in a lot of fashion drawings from the teens (Erte was mad about them) but not so much in Art Deco designs.

  3. Fatal attraction Irene Rich indicated in the palm print :
    Her palm print is that of an extrodinary upper spatulate An enmity line as per her palm print crossing the fate line breaking it distorted it for some time. She was predicted this disturbance early by Cheiro.With a dominant head line separated increased her almost level headed between heartline and headline indicated her level headed way of looking at life, her sound judgment and mental control overherself..On account of high position of headline on the mount of Jupiter she would think quickly, but inclined to be too impulsive in her actions and decisions, which called for repetitive failure in her married life. She married four times.
    At about the center of her career or what may be called when she comes to her fifties, she will be destined to pass through a very difficult troublesome period. The influence of some members of opposite sex will during this time will cause her great anxiety ,and a considerable amount of worldly loss shown by the enmity line crossing an islanded formation in sun line at the same time breaking the fateline for some time. She will be thrown back on her own resources,(OBSERVE A SQUARE NEAR THE FATELINE)and will strike out new direction that will eventually be distinctly successful. She would be likely to make great changes in her later life.
    Ire Rich became involved in a deadly love triangle in 1949 when Agnes Elizabeth Garnier shot and killed wealthy businessman John Edwin Owen (1881-1949). Owen, formerly a businessman and politician from Michigan, was president of the National Apartment House Owner’s Association, among other business interests, including cattle and horse ranching in Gunnison, Colorado and Riverside, California. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department investigator said that Garnier killed Owen (who was married, but estranged and separated from his wife) and blamed Rich for coming between them. Garnier, Owen’s personal secretary, told the district attorney that the gun went off accidentally and she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed. Rich said that she was not in love with Owen and that they were just friends.[9] Garnier, plead innocent,[10] the prosecutor decided not to try for first degree murder,[11] and she was found guilty of manslaughter, and received a sentence of “one-to-ten” years.[12] Gernier, after losing her appeal in January 1950,[13] was released from Tehachapi Prison after serving less than a year-and-a-half, in May 1951.[14] She died in San Diego in 1990 at the age of 93

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s