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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Hollywood madam

Ronnie_quillan_1943

May 15, 1957
Los Angeles

The papers called her an actress, but she was never in anything but trouble and her only talent was for raising hell. Even the gossip magazines quit working with her because they didn't trust her. She was only famous for being infamous.

Her name was Ronnie Quillan. At least that was the one she used  in court to testify about feeding stories to Confidential magazine.  The police had a dozen names for her: Mary Wolfe, Ronnie Blair, Cynthia Ainsley and all sorts of variations on them. Even her death records list two names: Veronica Ainsley and Mary Quillan, as if nobody could make up their mind what to call her.

The other little boxes on her death records are vacant: The year, month and day she was born or even where. All we have are what might be her mother's name--Zwebels--and when she died: Oct. 5, 1962.

She was married at least twice. Her first marriage, to Joe Quillan, who worked on the script for "Son of Paleface," was in Greenwich, Conn., in 1939. The second, to 21-year-old Daniel E. O'Reilly, was in Tijuana in 1956 and annulled a year later.

She brawled with her husbands and her boyfriends. One of the worst fights was in 1949, when she and French singer Roland Gerbeau slashed each other with razor blades and her right ear was nearly severed. The next year, she slashed singer Billy Daniels' face with a butcher knife and it took 35 stitches to close the wound. He told police she had been taking pills all evening.

In early 1957, she used a 2-by-4 to smash a picture window at her former mother-in-law's home in a fight over a TV set. Two days after she got out of jail for that rampage, a cabdriver picked up her at 6 a.m. while she was wandering in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, wearing pajamas and a coat. She was carrying a stuffed dog named Bowie and a stolen .38-caliber Colt. She said she wanted to go to a pawnshop--but he got one look at the gun and took her to the police.

It's not clear exactly when she turned to prostitution. Her only documented arrest was in April 1955. In August of that year, Whisper magazine ran a story calling her "Hollywood's No. 1 Madam."

About the same time, she began feeding stories to Confidential magazine, receiving $1,500 (10,747.93 USD 2006). One of them, which appeared in the January 1955 issue, concerned an encounter she supposedly had with Desi Arnaz in Palm Springs during World War II. She was also the source for information on a story about Billy Daniels in the July 1955 issue. She may have also contributed to stories about Ava Gardner and Herb Jeffries.

Ronnie_quillan_1957_sepia01

Testifying in the 1957 criminal libel trial against Confidential, Quillan said Confidential Publisher Robert Harrison was after dirt on Hollywood figures. Her face etched with lines of hard living, The Times said, she testified: "He told me he wanted stories primarily dealing with ... activities of people in the Hollywood movie colony, and the more lewd and lascivious, the more colorful the magazine." But after a few stories, former Confidential editor Howard Rushmore fired her because he thought she was too unreliable.

During the Confidential magazine trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. William L. Ritzi asked: "What was your occupation?"

"I was engaged in prostitution," she said.

The next year, she tried to kill herself. Then she dropped from sight.

In 1962, Paul Coates found a letter in one of his files that she had written from jail:

"All the scandal magazines and newspaper characters should be very happy," she said. "They prophesied that I'd wind up in the gutter and here I am. They really ought to have some sort of organization for ex-Hollywood glamour girls, because I'm petrified with fear. I've never been so friendless in my life. When I got out of Norwalk after recovering from a nervous breakdown, I thought maybe I could change my life. But here I am back in County Jail. I guess it can't get any worse than this for me."

 

Ronnie_quillan_1957_sepia02

And sometime on Oct. 5, 1962, she stumbled into a doctor's office after receiving a vicious beating. She died before she could say what happened. Veronica Ainsley/Mary Quillan was 44. Maybe.

A google map of Ronnie Quillan's life.

Bonus fact: On Jan. 3, 1958, in New York City, Confidential editor Howard Rushmore killed his wife and committed suicide after he forced his way into the taxicab in which she was riding. He once testified: "Some of the stories are true and some have nothing to back them up at all. Harrison many times overruled his libel attorneys and went ahead on something." 

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Comments (3)

An incredible story! The whole Hollywood tragedy told in a few newspaper clippings. I'd love to hear more.

--a very sad life. Larry

A great resource for anyone researching the thug-tough underbelly or the high and mighty of moviedom.I use it regularly as inspiration in characterizing the "critters" in my books.

LW Fugett, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Adieu LA"

The "dates" don't work, but Ronnie Quillan looks like she could be a young Madam Alex, (Heidi Fleiss' madam) who died in 1995.

--I find it painful to go through the Ronnie Quillan photos because her disintegration is so apparent. She was apparently quite a volatile, temperamental woman, but she had a tragic end.

--Larry


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