“On June 22 of 1974, about 10:15 pm, a small airplane with three passengers departed the Punta Chivato Hotel, heading to the Serenidad Hotel, about 11 minutes away. After ceased radio contact, a witness watched the plane lights disappear. It wasn’t possible to find the plane, the pilot, or its passengers. However some seats remain, and some shoes were found near the Hotel Beach.” – Hotel Serenidad Manager, Baja, CA
The doe-eyed Beverly Hills socialite never has been found. The once-opulent house where Beverly Woron spent many years, however, fabled to have been owned for a time by Burt Lancaster, still sits on a quiet sun-filled street called Linden Drive, not far from Santa Monica and Wilshire. Lined outside by lush palms, filled inside with sixties and seventies artifacts, its abundant foyer has changed little since she left. Its chipping alabaster walls display countless photos of the model, wife and mother of three.
Shot in the late sixties, the haunting black and whites of this ravishing woman on the Santa Monica beach seem more like movie stills from the forties. In them, the elegant woman runs extravagantly past the expanse of shore, lifting her white chiffon gown as if to save it from waves, laughing with the sky, so regal, determined, in love with everything. With her satin brunette hair twisted high to reveal breathing skin and vibrant, dark eyes, one could imagine she owns this beach that masquerades as the Cornish shore, her castle waiting in the distance for its celebrated mistress.
According to Vicki Krell, her younger sister with the large autumn eyes, Beverly embodied the spirit of Beverly Hills, the sparkling city that had inspired her name, taught several forms of artistic dance, painted, swam at night like a firefly, and that June promised her husband Harold she’d come back. Bevie lived in the full of motherhood, chasing her sun-haired daughter and two spirited sons across the Santa Monica sands. Featured in a 1960s issue of Sunset Magazine for her artful decorating ingénue, “Bevie just had so much more she wanted to do.” Vicki explained, “She needed to make more happen with her life.”
Over the past four decades, countless women have disappeared. Many exclusive blocks in Beverly Hills sit lined with unkempt mansions, testimony to the past, marked by a collective unwillingness to conform to the here-and-now. Why is it that this missing woman, the grand house that once belonged to her late mother Rose and this story remain so enduringly captivating?
Amid speculations that she’d called from Tijuana wanting to come back early, that she never boarded the Cessna June 22, that a photographer stalking her had sabotaged the plane, or that she simply chose to run away, her children, husband, sister and brother are still left imagining what went terribly wrong.
“I’ll tell you one thing about Bev.” Beverly’s brother Rod Krell, a retired professor, stood in the late afternoon sun amidst the busted cupboards and chafing kitchen counters. “She was steadfast. She was steady—anything she wanted to do. She just did it. We all looked to her.
“Bev was a great admirer of original and unique art. Like Salvador Dali. She loved surrealism and Francisco de Goya, who some called the father of modern art. She wanted to design clothes. And this guy flying the plane knew a lot of people in those circles who could help her into that line of work.
“So tell me, why is it you want to know all this about my sister?”
Why is it we spend our time in search of icons? I have often asked this question. Much like Amelia Earhart, Beverly inspired us to pick up and move forward, conquer our fears, to make life rich and real. Like Amelia, Beverly boarded a small plane and never returned, leaving countless around her searching, unable to continue their lives. An incalculable loss no one wanted to imagine.
Always fascinated by houses rich with history, I grew up following mysteries of celebrities who’d left us early, of missing planes, of lost ships. The unfinished stories of these two powerful women trapped in time, however, continued to haunt me on a personal level.
Having shared the same birth date as the elusive legend, I grew up searching for Amelia Earhart. She connected with each of us in an odd way; rising high above us all, accomplishing feats we’d never imagined, then leaving us.
Taking risks she knew might separate her from this world, Amelia fought from the life of women around her. Because of this, women looked to her. She lived her life in a public space, cursing through the thirties like a sailor, despising marital confines, and turning all of this vogue. For this we all looked to her. We still look to her.
Even men look to her. My uncle Bob Thelen, a World War II fighter pilot, had served as a Blue Angel in ‘47. He spoke of Amelia often with dreamy eyes. After settling near the Coronado Air Force Base, he rose at five each morning to park his motor home by the sea. Between games of Jarts and watching Aunt Rose paint her nails a crimson red, he would barbecue on a hibachi and dance to the tune of “Shine Little Glow Worm, Glimmer Glimmer,” then tell us all about Amelia. “Hey there, don’t grow dimmer, dimmer…”
We celebrated each July 24 near the moody sea with my aunt and uncle, hearing all about the missing legend, watching planes fly overhead, sometimes so loud, we could barely hear him sing. So I read her name, imagined a determined woman still traversing the skies in search of a safe spot to land. One day, I mused, I will learn all about her. One day, I learned no one knows all about her. We all still search for Amelia.
In each of us lies the desire to accomplish something heroic. Amelia soared across the Atlantic in a tiny Lockheed alone on a stormy night. First woman ever. Chasing a name, a reputation, a place of honor women don’t normally get to imagine. She knew what I was trying to understand. What Beverly must have also known. That heroicness carried with it great risk, little respect, even much less support.
Only it seemed that each other heroine who disappeared or met too early an end was shared with the world as a gift, in the form of a book, a movie, a legend to share. These figures assumed a gilded place in society forever etched with honor. Beverly, our imaginative icon, artist, estranged wife and society figure earned not even so much as an explanation.
Was she shedding off broken dreams, uncompleted desires, rising ethereally above the conflicts, refusing to be bound by the worldly weights that trap us all? Perhaps it was the fear of not growing, of being bound by fear itself that caused this woman to rise and discover her true strength, to dance heroically in those lustrous skies.
Through my search for this unsung heroine, I sometimes like to imagine I’ve caught a glimpse of the powerful artist running from the dream most American women spend their lives pursuing. Running far past that vision into a lofty expanse most of us never begin to understand.
“She loved this painting de Goya had done.” Rod stared reflectively from the sunlit kitchen into her past. “She was so amazed to see a woman as a bunch of drawers. I mean, one was out, the other was in. And Bev was like that. So original.”
Originally appeared in Interstices: an Anthology, May 2010