De Courville played supporting roles in several 1930s movies, including "Easy Loving" and "Danger Street."
An autopsy determined that death was due to heart failure, and the coroner's office took charge of the body when no relatives or friends came forward to claim it.
Although I never met June de Courville, I knew a woman who once knew her very well, had often talked about her, and might be able to connect her childhood friend with an abandoned house in a remote canyon. In fact I wondered why Amy Crumble, in the absence of any relative or other friend, hadn't come forward to claim the body. Had she read the item in the Los Angeles Times?
Presumably not. When I called Amy, a recorded voice informed me that the number was no longer in service. During the past twenty years, Amy had disconnected her phone without leaving a referral at least eight times, and always explained later that she'd found it prudent to leave Los Angeles very suddenly when "something went wrong," or she needed "to keep a low profile for a while."
In her (relative) youth, by the way, Amy Crumble was a convicted murderess; and for a long time I'd wanted to write her story. At first I thought of making her a fictional character, changing all the names in her story and inventing her death. But she's a person who somehow demands to be allowed the last word, and I felt obliged to wait and see how her story ended. But the end can't be delayed much longer. Amy must be almost as old as her friend.
I didn't read the obituaries of June de Courville because she died while I was on vacation with a friend in the south of Morocco, and the news didn't appear in the International Herald Tribune. Nine days later, her unclaimed body in the County Morgue didn't make Page One or even Section A of the April 27, 1999 Los Angeles Times--which I bought at one of the airport newsstands on the afternoon of my return. I only bothered to flip through Section B (Metro) because rain and heavy traffic made the taxi ride to West Hollywood exceptionally slow. And during a long wait at a stop light, I noticed the headline on page 4. BODY OF FORMER ACTRESS was sandwiched between FATAL STABBING AT TEEN PARTY and KIDNAPPING SUSPECT SEIZED, and neighbor to a quarter-page ad for LIPOSUCTION AND TUMMY TUCK, with before-and-after photographs of a bloated belly and a perfect waistline.
At the Morgue, I pretended I'd met de Courville a few times and wanted to pay my last respects. An attendant led me to an ice-cold room and opened a drawer. Her face above the sheet looked very pale and surprisingly young, in spite of her wispy white hair. Before I left, the attendant handed me an opaque plastic trash bag. "The clothes she died in," he said. "And her purse with a few personal belongs."
She died wearing black knitwear pants, dirty white sneakers, a white nylon blouse, turquoise silk jacket, and a quartz wristwatch. No jewelry. The purse contained a pair of dark glasses with prescription lenses, an empty pack of Carlton cigarettes, a disposable butane lighter and a special "Stars of Tomorrow" issue of ScreenTime for March 1938, with June de Courville among several other forgotten faces on the cover.
The attendant told me she'd been carrying other identification, and tried to burn it. Among charred plastic in a corner of an empty room in the derelict house, the police had found remains of a MasterCard, driver's license, a $10 bill, and a long silver-blond wig with a fringe. There was no car outside the house when her body was discovered, and no record of any vehicle registered in the name of June de Courville, so presumably she arrived by cab.
She lived, it turned out, only two blocks away from my apartment in West Hollywood. A long way from Hidden Valley Lane, which the attendant said was a dead end street in a canyon in the mountains beyond Glendora, and the nearest house almost a mile away.
Gavin Lambert is the author of the unpublished novel "Mixed Feelings." His previous works include "Nazimova," "On Cukor" and "The Slide Area."
Under the Hollywood Freeway, at the Gower Street ramp, there's a place where runaways squat. The road is their roof. Sometimes at night the boys climb out on the overpass and piss on the traffic below. That ramp was once the site of a dusty bungalow court called Gower Gardens. I spent part of my childhood there. My father was away in the Navy and my mother worked the day shift at Lockheed in Burbank, so I was in the care of a neighbor who was old and not always attentive. I roamed free, unsupervised and unafraid in what were then the wilds of the Cahuenga Pass. There were coyotes and rattlesnakes in the chaparral and the tall grass. It was probably dangerous, though it didn't seem that way. Gower Gardens is long gone but the Mexican palms that framed the entrance are still there. They still tower and bend in the wind but now they stand over other children who live under the freeway and face their own risks. *