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Forgotten actress burns to death

May 14, 2007 |  7:45 am

 

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Dorothy_dale_1918

May 14, 1957
Los Angeles

Forlorn and alone, cast off by the industry that gave her fame, 74-year-old Dorothy Dale, forgotten star of the silent era, died when a gas heater set an old sofa on fire in her tiny Hollywood bungalow, which was crammed to the ceiling with memorabilia of a career that ended when the makeup she wore for the 1923 version of "The Ten Commandments"  scarred her face so badly that she always wore a veil.

This has all the makings of a Kenneth Anger story, doesn't it? Something to put in "Hollywood Babylon III" with Karl Dane, the silent star who ended up selling hot dogs outside the gates of the studio after talkies ended his career.

But it's not so simple. There's no disputing Alida Hyman was a recluse and that her home at 1517 N. Gordon Ave. was a firetrap that was filled, according to The Times, with "old books, movie magazines, cartons of mementos, statuettes and other personal possessions." Rooms were "piled high with mothy costumes [and] cartons upon cartons of personally autographed photos of such early day movie stars as Tom Mix and Mabel Normand."

In fact, although the newspaper stories call her a stand-in and virtual twin for Mabel Normand, this is hard to envision. The few photos I've found of an actress named Dorothy Dale show very little glamour--to be polite, a character actress at best who, judging by The Times, had some stage appearances and quite modest film experience.

Imdb is very little help in seeking out the real story, except to note that she's uncredited in "The Ten Commandments."

She had two sisters who were also actresses, according to The Times: Gladys Valencia and Lola Gill, but there's very little about them in The Times and nothing on Imdb.

However, her husband, Jacob Hyman, who died in 1942, sounds like a fascinating fellow. At one time, he and Harry Houdini performed in vaudeville as the Houdini Brothers, according to The Times. The act eventually split up and while Houdini went on to fame and fortune, Hyman entered medical school and built a successful practice in Beverly Hills.

In addition, Hyman converted from Judaism to become a Baptist minister and frequently preached at the Church of the Open Door.

 

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No, I'm not making this up.

None of this dilutes the tragedy of her death, of course. If anything, her modest film career, inflated upon her death to make her a star, makes her passing all the more poignant.

Here's the Church of the Open Door's famous neon sign:

 

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Bonus fact: "The Ten Commandments" premiered at the Egyptian Theater, Dec. 4, 1923.

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