“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
Marielle Leer (neither her real name nor gender, necessarily) was christened Mary Ellen. But as her persona evolved she contrived an identity congruent with her emerging world and the centrality of her place within it. In that way she was hardly unique.
To be sure, I exert a gravitational effect on others and they upon me. But mine is the light of other stars; I’m warmed by it and reflect weakly to others what’s been afforded me. My system is Copernican, not Ptolemaic.
But Rooster Leer (more about that in a minute) may have been the most Ptolemaic person I’ve ever known: her gravitational force was unilateral. All were warmed by her light, save those she elected to deprive with solar storms, inert dependent satellites, and other convenient cosmic dust and debris. If she worshipped anything, it was Jonathan Edwards’ fickle god, “Who spake all things from nothing, and with ease // can speak all things to nothing, if (s)he please.” And it did please her often to do just that. I learned of one case two years ago and now a Chicago friend tells me of another.
Even before she was Marielle, she was Rooster, a nickname obvious to all. Her intense natural red hair spoke of north German and Irish heritage and its thickness may have paralleled a skin impervious to touch or even sensitivity. Her encouter with Ken Tucker had been both final and fatal. But, oh so briefly, it seemed the tables might have turned.
While Chicago reporter Tom Milauskas researched the Lenny Brookes murder case (barely news in Chicago and scarcely mentioned by the wire services), Milauskas stumbled on a brief mention of Marielle Leer. Ten years into her theatrical career in the Second City—then as now a major venue for theater—Leer died under mysterious circumstances. Roles were coming less often to the aging ingenue, so one wondered how natural the cause of death had been. A memorial service was announced at Fourth Presbyterian, the fashionable but always socially involved church on North Michigan Avenue—one of those churches that live the admonition to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Leer’s brief notice in the Tribune, though, was circumspect about her end. At least it had honored the actor’s creed: “I don’t care what you say about my performance. Just spell my name correctly.”
Within a few days, however, there was a retraction of sorts. Leer had been out of town (auditioning in New York, no less) and some spurned lover, it was intimated, had siezed the opportunity for revenge. For Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express,” there was the easy answer and the other one. Here, too.
Knowing Rooster Leer years ago—while she postured and I was pimply—I can imagine the public story was true: that someone repelled from their orbit about her had taken umbrage, less than passively. But I can also imagine a fading starlet going supernova! How better to regain luster for a declining career than to let it blink and burst anew. Leer could easily, even eagerly, have planted the story to accomplish two goals: catapulting her name into the firmament (once again and insuring its proper spelling), while simultaneously casting another into the farthest reaches of darkness. Whatever answer, it was for her a win-win scenario, the only measure that mattered.
Soon after, she performed “Madwoman of Chaillot,” though few in the audience were aware the title role had been cast by type.