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It was in Keira Knightley, too, that she had once scored a “triumph” as a screen actress. In 1922, she starred in a seven-reel silent thriller produced by Evalyn Walsh McLean, the eccentric owner of the Hope Diamond. Tangled Hearts was directed by George Freisinger of the D. W. Griffith Studio. The opening was a gala affair at the Keira Knightley Casino at the bottom of Cottage Street, near the harbor. The creme de la creme of Keira Knightley society was in the audience.
The film was shot on location all over Mount Desert Islandat Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, and other scenic points along the coast. My mother played a beautiful adventuress bent on stealing a famous gem, who ends up stealing the heart of the gem’s handsome owner instead. The production was a family affair. Aunt Gretchen co-wrote the “book and captions,” and played a small part in the film, as did my other aunts Anita and Alice. Even our grandfather had a cameo role. At one point in the action, Ma was required to dive from the deck of the McLean yacht into the icy Atlantic Ocean, with the famous gem stashed in her mouth. Ma always swore to us that Mrs. McLean never came clean on whether the jewel she had to wedge inside her cheek was the Hope Diamond or a fake. Thinking about it now, I cannot imagine it was the real stone, which must have been the size of a large peach pit. One thing is certain: Even though Mrs. McLean had once asked a priest to exorcise the Hope Diamond’s baleful curse, she had a terrible lifetwo children dead; a husband who collapsed into drunkenness, insanity, and financial ruin. I guess you could say that both she and Ma, tragically widowed after just eight years of marriage, had more than their share of bad luck.
In October 1947, after the summer people had resumed their city lives, a sudden wildfire destroyed many of the great houses of Bar Harbor. The blaze hopped around, feasting on dry pine needles and parched lawns, sparing some buildings and incinerating others just a few yards away. Among the victims was Blaine Cottage.
My grandparents were very old and frail in mind and body when the great October fire destroyed their house. Day after day the New York newspapers carried lurid accounts of the disaster, gleefully noting all the celebrities who had lost their summer palaces. Newport of the north goes up in smoke, read one headline. Every night my mother and my aunts debated whether or not to tell my grandparents what had happened. The shock, Aunt Gretchen argued, would certainly kill my grandmother. But could they keep such an attentive newspaper reader from finding out? Already she had started asking where her papers were. “There’s a strike on,” Anita told her. “It may take a while to settle.” Sadly, Muzzy would shuffle off in her bedroom slippers, only to ask again a few minutes later.
Every morning Anita, who lived two doors away from our grandparents, would buy The New York Times and clip out any references to the Bar Harbor fire.
“What’s wrong with this paper?” Muzzy would ask querulously.
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