With her dark flashing eyes and ingenuous manner, actress Lila Lee caught the fancy of moviegoers and Hollywood greats such as Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin as a star of silent films and action movies during the 1920s and '30s.
On screen, Lee was popular as the romantic companion of some of the most idolized film stars of the era. But her affairs off-screen with Valentino and Chaplin were at least as well publicized in fan magazines.
Her son, James Kirkwood Jr., was the Pulitzer-prize winning co-author of the play "A Chorus Line." Over the years he drew on his childhood as an inspiration. His work included a fictionalized account of his youth, during which he attended 18 schools by the time he was 17.
A boyhood tragedy would eventually produce another novel.
In 1936, when Kirkwood was 12 and living in one of Manhattan Beach's first cottages, his mother's boyfriend, Reid Russell, was shot to death on the home's garden swing. Young James discovered the body. Authorities never determined whether Russell's death was murder or suicide.
In 1960 Kirkwood wrote about Russell's death and the difficulty he and his mother had coping with it. The novel, "There Must Be a Pony," was turned into a play in 1962 and a television movie in 1981.