First a brief bio. Claire Evans was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1885, the second of the three children of Charles and Mary Evans. Shortly after Claire was born, the family moved to Columbus. In 1904, she married for the first time, divorcing her husband in 1909. A few weeks after the divorce was finalized, she married again. This marriage was a bit more successful, not ending until sometime in the mid-20s. She married her third and final husband, Olympic medalist and real estate developer James Donahue, in 1929 (although not before settling a lawsuit filed by Donahue's ex-wife for alienation of affection). Claire and James remained together until March of 1966, when they both passed away, James just one week after Claire.
|Claire Evans in 1918|
I'll save the details of Claire's life for later, but there is one part of her story that I thought was worthy of it's own article. It started when I found this small piece in the May 10, 1934 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Although only a single paragraph, there was a great deal of information for me to unpack. Oddly, the first thing that struck me was: yet another Evans lawsuit! Of course, the next thing was to start researching what I could. I began by looking at the film in question, Supernatural, with which I surprisingly unfamiliar.
Supernatural, which was released almost exactly a year before Claire's lawsuit, stars Carol Lombard and Randolph Scott. Although the details of Lombard's dislike of the film and it's director, Victor Halperin, are minor legend, I want to talk more about the plot of the film. Credited to Garnett Weston, who wrote Halperin's more famous White Zombie, Supernatural's plot concerns Roma (Lombard) a young woman whose brother has recently died. When a fake medium claims that her late brother has a message for her from beyond, Roma agrees to attend a seance. During the seance, she becomes possessed by the spirit of a just-executed murderess, who happens to have once been the lover of the phony medium.
Several things about the story jumped out at me. First, it seemed to me much too lurid to have come from Claire. However, there was something familiar about part of it. Like Roma, Claire had a brother who had recently died, at least in relation to her initial submission in 1924. And the Evans family did try to contact Nelson during a seance shortly after his death. Also, the title of her story, "An Exiled God", suggests that it may have dealt with possession.
Another aspect of the newspaper piece that raised questions was the claim that Claire was a playwright. Several searches uncovered exactly nothing. So, why did she claim to be a writer? Well, as chance would have it, as it often has during my Evans research, the answer came when I wasn't looking for it. A few months after I began looking into the matter, someone contacted me about a collection of Claire's writing they had in their possession. I've only seen a few photographs of some of the collection, but it does mostly consist of film treatments. Remember when I said that I initially thought that there was no way Claire could have been responsible for a story as lurid as that of Supernatural? Well, among the titles of the her treatments that survive are "The Bunko Racket" and "The Twin Stilettos", the latter of which I have partially read. Lurid would be an apt description of what I read.
So, was Supernatural really based on Claire's story? And was her lawsuit successful? We may never know. While part of the film's plot does seem to parallel Claire's own life, we don't know if that was also part of "The Exiled God". As for the lawsuit, I would not be surprised if Paramount settled even if they felt there was no merit to her claim. The Donahues were wealthy, even during the height of the Depression, and could afford to push the studio into settling out of court. Maybe some day I will have an opportunity to examine Claire's writing more closely and perhaps find the answers there.