Piecing together a Hollywood life
Camden — In the 1980s after moving to Maine from the West Coast, Patrisha McLean and her husband, singer/songwriter Don, would watch movies on a 16mm film projector. They showed each other their favorite movies, Don's being "Shane" and Patrisha's being "The Member of the Wedding." As it turned out, both movies starred the same child actor, Brandon deWilde.
"He was so compelling in both movies and we kept surmising what had happened to him," McLean said.
Prior to moving to the East Coast, McLean worked as a feature writer for a daily newspaper in Contra Costa County in northern California.
"I needed something to do as I was so used to meeting daily deadlines and I had all this creative energy," she said.
So she set out to learn more about deWilde and after discovering no books had been written about the boy, she decided to write one. She learned deWilde had a fascinating life and was among the who's who of Hollywood when he was between 8 and 12 years old, "when theater and Hollywood were glamorous," McLean said. The child star won Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Shane."
In deWilde's early 20s, he got into the music scene and really became involved in the 1960s psychedelic era, McLean said. He died in a car crash in 1972 at 30 years old.
The Camden woman interviewed people who had worked with deWilde, including Paul Newman, and continued to track the boy's life through his childhood friends and relatives. In total, McLean said she interviewed about 75 people, but couldn't locate his second wife — a person McLean said was vital to her book because she had little information on the last two years of deWilde's life.
McLean attempted to find the woman by placing ads in Hollywood papers, to no avail. This was in the late 1980s. She then decided to put the manuscript aside for a while. It sat in a drawer at her Camden home for 25 years. McLean's daughter, who is now in college, kept asking her about it.
"I had talked to all these people and they gave me their time," McLean said of the interviews all those years ago, so she decided to go ahead with the book.
In late 2011, the day before McLean was to send the manuscript to the printers, she got a random email from a priest in Italy. It was in broken English and gave McLean information about how to get in touch with deWilde's second wife. McLean said she was really nervous to talk to the woman but it turned out the couple had such a wonderful love story.
"She was so lovely and was surprised (when McLean called) but said she would talk to me," McLean said.
The woman, Janice Gero, said she had recently lost her parents in a car crash and taken a job as a stripper to support herself when deWilde met her in a Hollywood club. In the beginning of their marriage both were addicted to drugs, but they decided together to change their lives for the better.
"The last year and a half of his life, he got back into acting, off drugs and was in love," McLean said. The couple were married four months before deWilde died.
McLean interviewed Gero several times by telephone and she said the two have grown close and are planning to meet in person. The book is dedicated to Gero — for trusting McLean. The book, titled "All Fall Down The Brandon deWilde Story," was printed locally by Maine Authors Publishing and is available at Reading Corner and Hello, Hello in Rockland; and Jane Alden, Owl & Turtle and Sherman's Books in Camden.
On Thursday, Aug. 16, McLean will sign copies of her book at Rockland’s downtown Strand Theatre, followed at 7 p.m. by a screening of the 1953 “Shane.” Copies of the book will be on sale for $17.95 (cash or check).
Camden Herald Reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 207-236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.