LAWRENCIA BEMBENEK, “BAMBI” PLAYBOY BUNNY CONVICTED OF MURDER
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: November 21, 2010
Lawrencia Bembenek, a former Playboy bunny and Milwaukee police officer whose conviction for the murder of her husband’s ex-wife and audacious escape from prison became tabloid and TV-movie fodder and a cause célèbre for supporters who insisted on her innocence — as she always did — died Saturday in a hospice in Portland, Ore. She was 52.
Lawrencia Bembenek at her murder trial in 1982.
The cause was liver failure, said Ms. Bembenek’s lawyer, Mary Woehrer.
Known as Bambi, Ms. Bembenek (pronounced bem-BENN-eck) joined the Milwaukee Police Department in March 1980 after a stint as a waitress at a Playboy Club. Within a year she was married to Elfred Schultz, a Milwaukee police detective.
Then, on May 28, 1981, Detective Schultz’s former wife, Christine, was found dead in her bedroom, bound, gagged and shot in the back at point-blank range. Three months later Ms. Bembenek was arrested, and the case immediately became a media sensation.
Ms. Bembenek contended that vindictive colleagues had framed her because she was assisting a federal investigation into corruption and sex discrimination in the Police Department. She had also caused a storm by giving supervisors photographs of off-duty officers (including her future husband) posing naked at a party.
During her two-week trial, some of the most damaging testimony showed that Ms. Bembenek, who married Detective Schultz four months before the killing (they later divorced), had bitterly complained about the $700-a-month alimony he was paying his former wife. Ms. Bembenek was sentenced to life in prison, and her appeals were rejected by appellate courts and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Eight years later, Ms. Bembenek squeezed through a laundry room window, climbed a seven-foot barbed-wire fence and fled from the Taycheedah Correctional Institution, about 60 miles north of Milwaukee. Aiding her escape was her fiancé, Dominic Gugliatto, whom she had met while he was visiting his sister, an inmate at the prison.
Again Milwaukee was electrified by the case. A rally celebrating her escape attracted 300 people. Bars and restaurants named menu items after her, including a Bembenek Burger. T-shirts reading “Run, Bambi, Run” proliferated. Television stations conducted call-in polls asking viewers if they believed she was innocent.
On Oct. 17, 1990, three months after the escape, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Ms. Bembenek and Mr. Gugliatto in Ontario after she was recognized by a restaurant patron who had seen her on the Fox television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Within a year, supporters produced a low-budget documentary, “Used Innocence.” And in a three-hour television movie, “Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story,” Tatum O’Neal played the title role.
Another television movie about Ms. Bembenek, starring Lindsay Frost, was called “Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer?” And a 1992 book by Kris Radish titled “Run, Bambi, Run” was subtitled “The Beautiful Ex-Cop and Convicted Murderer Who Escaped to Freedom and Won America’s Heart.”
A reinvestigation of the case followed, and in December 1992 a judge reduced Ms. Bembenek’s life sentence to 20 years after she struck a deal with prosecutors in which she pleaded no contest to second-degree murder. She was immediately released for time served.
Lawrencia Bembenek was born in Milwaukee on Aug. 15, 1958. She is survived by two sisters, Melanie and Colette.
On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Pardon Advisory Board declined to consider Ms. Bembenek’s petition for a pardon. It remained unclear whether the board, which meets twice in December, will reconsider her petition before Gov. James E. Doyle leaves office. The final decision is up to the governor.
Ms. Woehrer, her lawyer, said that she would continue to seek a pardon, and that she believed newly uncovered ballistic and DNA evidence would exonerate Ms. Bembenek.
Last month Mike Jacobs, a news anchor at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, interviewed Ms. Bembenek at her home in Vancouver, Wash.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Jacobs said: “I asked, ‘If you are innocent, why did you plead no contest to second-degree murder in 1992?’ And her response was that her parents were in failing health and the only way that she could be guaranteed that she would be able to spend time with them was to plead no contest. Her father’s dying wish was that she get the family name cleared.”
In the televised interview, Mr. Jacobs asked Ms. Bembenek whether her attractiveness had hurt her credibility during her murder trial. “All they did was talk about what kind of blouse I wore,” she said, referring to the news media. “I would do it a lot differently now.”
BABY MARIE OSBORNE, CHILD STAR OF SILENT FILMS
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Published: November 17, 2010
Baby Marie Osborne in her heyday, when she made nearly 30 movies by the age of 8.
She was a toddler when she made her debut in “Kidnapped in New York,” a 1914 potboiler with a tinkling piano to cue the drama. She made 28 more films in five years, including the memorable “Little Mary Sunshine,” her 1916 portrayal of a motherless 5-year-old whose love for a drunken father turns him away from the devil brew.
She retired at age 8, and might have lived happily ever after.
But her mother and father turned out to be foster parents who never told her she was adopted and frittered her fortune away before splitting up. She grew up fast, married twice, had a daughter and was divorced and widowed. She worked in a dime store, became a stand-in for Ginger Rogers in the 1930s and wound up draping actors in Hollywood wardrobe departments. She retired — for real — in 1976.
One of America’s earliest child stars, long forgotten except for Internet nostalgia buffs and silent-film aficionados, Baby Marie — Marie Osborne Yeats — died Thursday at her home in San Clemente, Calif. She was 99. Her daughter, Joan Young, confirmed her death. Five grandchildren also survive her.
With its triumphs, setbacks, poignant struggles and unpredictable turns, her life churned with the stuff of silent films. She was born Helen Alice Myres in Denver on Nov. 5, 1911, the daughter of Roy and Mary Myres. She soon became — under mysterious circumstances — the child of Leon and Edith Osborn, who called her Marie and added the “e” to the surname, apparently to obscure the adoption.
In 1914, the Osbornes moved to Long Beach, Calif. She was an actress calling herself Babe St. Clair, and he was a theatrical promoter. They rented a room and, unable to afford a baby sitter, took Marie along to the Balboa studios, where they had found work in silent films.
The cute kid was spotted and cast in one of the hundreds of forgettable silents made in 1914. In 1915, the actor-director Henry King put her in “The Maid of the Wild.” She was talented, and Balboa signed her to a contract. Mr. King had “Little Mary Sunshine” written especially for her.
The picture, one of her few that survive, was a huge success and made her an international star. She soon had her own production company and was churning out Baby Marie films. She was cast as an orphan, a child of social climbers, the charmer of a crotchety millionaire, a diplomat, a cupid. She could register fear, shock, delight, pity, sorrow; could cry real tears — and always made things turn out right.
Behind the scenes, her parents squabbled over custody, money and infidelities. In 1919, Baby Marie’s career waned. She made a last film, “Miss Gingersnap,” and retired. In 1920, The New York American ran a cautionary tale of lost money and bitter divorce under a banner headline: “How Baby Marie’s Big Salary Ruined Her Happy Home.”
The trauma faded, Baby Marie grew up, silent movies became talkies in the late ’20s, and in 1931 Ms. Osborne married Frank Dempsey. They had a daughter, Joan, in 1932, but were divorced four years later. In 1945 she married Murray Yeats, who died in 1975.
In 1933, as her first marriage deteriorated, Ms. Osborne took a job in a dime store. It was a low point. Then came an astonishing call from the superintendent of the Colorado Children’s Home, who informed her that she had been adopted as an infant by the Osbornes! And that a man who said he was her real father, H. L. Shriver, had become a tycoon!! And that he had left her a substantial inheritance!!!
Next, with the help of her old mentor, Mr. King, now a major Hollywood director, she got minor parts in a dozen films from 1934 to 1950. She also became a stand-in for Ginger Rogers in “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), “Swing Time” (1936) and “Shall We Dance” (1937), and for Deanna Durbin and Betty Hutton.
In 1954, she joined 20th Century Fox as a costumer. She later became a wardrobe supervisor. Over two decades she draped Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Rock Hudson, Robert Redford, Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor. Her work appeared in “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “How to Murder Your Wife” (1965), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) and other films.
She was featured in Michael G. Ankerich’s 1993 book, “Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars,” and in 1999 she was interviewed by Billy Doyle for ClassicImages.com.
“It means little to her that she is regarded by film historians as an icon of film history,” Mr. Doyle wrote. “We cannot share her modesty. For historians, her contributions to the film industry give her an almost legendary status as one of the last living witnesses of the crucial early years when Hollywood rose to a position of international importance.”
HELEN BOEHM, THE PRINCESS OF PORCELAIN
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: November 19, 2010
Helen Boehm, a self-made businesswoman known as the Princess of Porcelain for her company’s elaborate sculptures, which have graced the coffee tables of royalty and heads of state for six decades, died on Monday at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla. She was 89.
Helen Boehm in 1993, with a porcelain owl created by Boehm porcelain studios.
Mrs. Boehm had been ill with cancer and Parkinson’s disease for some time, said Sharon Lee Parker, the current president and chief executive of Boehm Porcelain, the Trenton-based company Mrs. Boehm helped found and indefatigably promoted.
With her husband, Edward, Mrs. Boehm (pronounced beam) founded the company, known early on as E. M. Boehm Studios, in 1950. At the time, neither knew a thing about porcelain. He was a veterinary assistant trained in animal husbandry; she was an optician.
But Mr. Boehm was a gifted sculptor and Mrs. Boehm a natural pitchwoman. After all, she had once persuaded a customer named Clark Gable to buy a pair of sunglasses, and who in his line of work would not already own one?
Considered highly collectible, Boehm porcelains often depict flora and fauna and are known for their handpainted colors and lifelike detail. The current line ranges in price from $125 for a tiny lamb to $20,000 for a three-foot-high eagle. Rare vintage pieces have fetched in the neighborhood of $100,000, Ms. Parker said.
Boehm sculptures can be found in museum collections, including at the Metropolitan Museum and the Vatican. They have been owned by luminaries like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Pope John Paul II and Sophia Loren.
In a marketing coup scored by Mrs. Boehm decades ago at the cost of 3 cents, Boehm pieces have been presented to every United States president from Eisenhower to Obama. For years they have been the de facto state gift from the White House to foreign dignitaries, as in 1972, when President Richard M. Nixon presented Mao Zedong with a pair of life-size porcelain swans.
After Mr. Boehm’s death in 1969, Mrs. Boehm continued to run the company with characteristic savvy. No sooner was someone in the headlines, it seemed, then a commemorative piece was made and bestowed on the recipient with all attendant fanfare.
For Diana, Princess of Wales, Mrs. Boehm created a porcelain copy of her wedding bouquet. After Diana’s death in 1997, she issued a limited-edition white rose, sending one each to Princes William and Harry and offering the rest for sale at $350 apiece. (A pink rose honoring Diana can be purchased on the company’s Web site for $395.)
Under Mrs. Boehm’s stewardship, Boehm grew into a multimillion-dollar business with studios in Trenton and Malvern, England. Boehm porcelain was sold in high-end stores like Bonwit Teller, and the company had its own showrooms in New York and other cities.
In consequence, Mrs. Boehm kept (simultaneously) a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes and a Duesenberg; maintained a constellation of homes in the United States and abroad; owned a prizewinning polo team; and cheerfully dripped Harry Winston.
All this Mrs. Boehm, the daughter of working-class Italian immigrants, built from a business begun in a cellar with a $1,000 loan.
Elena Francesca Stephanie Franzolin was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 26, 1920, and grew up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood there. Her father, a cabinetmaker, died when she was 13, and Helen, as she was known, worked as a dressmaker to help support the family. As a young woman, she became an optician.
In 1944, she married Edward Marshall Boehm. An experienced livestock breeder, he made realistic clay sculptures of animals as a pastime. Mrs. Boehm encouraged him to pursue his art professionally, and eventually, with a loan from one of her eyeglass clients, they started a porcelain studio in a Trenton basement.
She often said that Mr. Boehm cared nothing for business. So she took matters into her own hands and was soon on the telephone to the Met, which purchased a Hereford bull and a Percheron stallion. In the mid-1950s she wrote to the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower.
Before long, a reply came from the White House inviting her to lunch. (The letter had 3 cents postage due, which Mrs. Boehm promptly paid.) She arrived in Washington with bull in hand, the first in a long line of presidential Boehms. And thus, president by president and prince by prince, Boehm bloomed.
Mrs. Boehm sold the company in 2003. When, several owners later, Ms. Parker took over last year, it was in brittle shape, its staff of more than 400 reduced to four. Today, Boehm pieces can be purchased on the company’s Web site and through several dozen authorized retailers.
Mrs. Boehm leaves no immediate survivors. She was the author of a memoir, “With a Little Luck: An American Odyssey” (Rawson, 1985, with Nancy Dunnan), with a foreword by Letitia Baldridge.
Not all of Mrs. Boehm’s marketing schemes worked out happily, at least not at first. There was the time, in 1958, that she brought a flock of exotic birds — real ones — to Tiffany’s in New York to promote her company’s bird figurines. The birds slipped out of their cage and were pursued through the store, gingerly, by employees brandishing small blue boxes. Some fled into Gotham’s wild blue yonder and were never seen again.
The story made the papers, and Mrs. Boehm appeared on television for days afterward.