The legend of Evie Everheart

 

Donna Allen-Figueroa & Tony Figueroa

Experts in the paranormal field agree that Hollywood, California is one of the most haunted cities in America.  Apparently those who never achieved Hollywood success in life have refused to leave after death. For every successful Hollywood career, there have been at least a thousand failures, which means that there could be many, many Tinseltown ghosts wandering the city...if you buy into that type of thing. 


For decades a hotbed of paranormal activity has been Sound Stage 28 at Universal Studios.  The stage was built in 1925 to house the elaborate Paris Opera House sets that were used in The Phantom of the Opera, the film that starred Lon Cheney, the Man of a Thousand Faces. This is what the tour guides on the Universal Studios Tour tell thousands of tourists every year. "No one has dared disturb the Paris Opera House sets because they are believed to be haunted by the ghost of Lon Cheney, the Phantom himself.  Mr. Cheney is said to have loved these sets so much in life that he has vowed to protect them...forever!" That's totally ridiculous. 


Those in the know say that if the stage is haunted, it’s probably by the ghost of a workman who was killed in an accident during the construction of the stage. Cement was being poured and he fell in.  They removed him of course. You'd hope so, right?  Sometime after his death strange things started happening. There were mysterious drops in temperature, lights blinking on and off, voices that seemed to come from nowhere, heavy lighting fixtures falling and barely missing cast, crew and executives, footsteps in the catwalks, and shadowy figures in the opera boxes... the usual.  These things are still happening today. There are several employees mostly in security who refuse to work in 28 because of these occurrences.  In fact there is a type of Stage 28 "X File" that details all strange activity. 


But some say that there is another ghost that visits Universal’s Sound Stage 28. On several occasions a little girl's laughter can be heard coming from the opera house sets.  At one time these sets were a favorite play spot for child actress Evie Everheart.  Most have never heard of her as any record of her at Universal was destroyed during the 1940's.  It's as if she never existed.


Everything about Evie Everheart was a lie beginning with her name.  Evie was born Eva Eisenberg.  When she was signed to a contract with Republic Studios she was five years old.  When she arrived at Universal two years later, she was also five years old. Evie had the reputation of being quite well spoken for a child of her age, which in reality could have been anywhere from nine to eleven at the end of her career.  It's said that not even Evie knew how old she really was.


Changing a child's age was commonplace in Hollywood at the time.  The feeling was the younger the child, the cuter and more marketable the child would be. Even Shirley Temple's mother kept her true age a secret.


Hollywood was filled with hundreds if not thousands of little blonde Shirley Temple lookalikes.  Shirley Temple was becoming a young lady and many an ambitious stage mother was hoping that her "little darling" would become America's next sweetheart.  One of these overly ambitious mothers was Ingrid Eisenberg who was willing to do anything to insure that her daughter would become a major star.


Ingrid had come to Hollywood years before to become an actress.  She had no success.  If films had remained silent she may have had a career, but her thick German accent (and the anti German sentiment that existed at the time) prevented her from ever landing a role in any legitimate production.  The birth of Ingrid 's daughter Eva caused her to abandon her own career and put all of her energy into her daughter and eventually her daughter's career.  Eva was a cute "little" girl, who seemed to stay that way.  Eva was personable, funny and endearing.  In Ingrid 's eyes she was perfect for Hollywood.  She took on the role of Eva's manager. If Ingrid couldn't have the fame and fortune, then her “little” girl would. 


Did Eva Eisenberg have any real talent?  Perhaps later.  It’s rumored that Eva was signed with Republic Studios because of...a favor, that Ingrid granted a Republic executive.  This same executive is also credited with giving Eva the stage name of Evie Everheart.


At the time the top studios in Hollywood were Warner Bros. and MGM.  The lowest ranked studio was Republic.  Evie may have had a contract but she was hardly working.  There were few roles for a child so young.  The few projects that Evie did do were forgettable.  After a few years at Republic, Ingrid learned that Universal Studios was looking to put more children under contract.  This was around the time that the teenage songstress Deanna Durbin came to the studio.  Little blonde Evie accompanied by Ingrid was first told no by Universal.  Several days later, a newly brunette Evie came to the studio, and that meeting ended in a contract. 


Little Evie was an adorable little girl.  She had curly dark brown hair, her natural color, sparkling brown eyes, and a laugh that could best be described as intoxicating.  And she was so, so tiny.  It was if her growth was stunted at age five. Evie's age was not the only secret that Ingrid Eisenberg kept hidden from the world.


During the 30's all children working for the studios had to have a certificate certifying that the child was in good health.  Republic Studios referred her to a private pediatrician, one who treated several Hollywood children.  The doctor discovered that Evie had a heart condition that was preventing her from growing.  While Evie appeared healthy then, he was afraid that as she grew older she would have problems.  He instructed Ingrid to prevent her from doing anything strenuous or taxing to prevent any strain on her heart.  He told Ingrid that the worst thing she could do to Evie was to put her in the movies.  He would not be giving her a Certificate of Good Health. Ingrid thanked the doctor and left his office.  Knowing that everything in Hollywood could be bought, she obtained a falsified Certificate of Good Health from a less reputable physician


Evie's days at Universal were so different from her days at Republic.  She attended school on the lot in the studio’s schoolhouse.  In addition to traditional classes, she studied acting, singing and dancing.  There were etiquette and elocution classes that Evie excelled in.  She was the perfect  “little lady.” Like all of the other contract players Evie made personal appearances and posed for studio publicity photos.  She did whatever the studio, and Ingrid, told her to do. Evie was happier than she had ever been.


Evie's angelic exterior was the perfect camouflage for her true devilish nature.  She was a prankster playing tricks and practical jokes whenever the mood struck her.  She once locked her teacher in a cloakroom allowing one of her classmates to take the blame and the punishment.  If she ever came upon site were tools were neatly laid out, she had no problem rearranging, moving, or hiding them.  She like everyone else on the lot knew about the strange occurrences in Stage 28.  She enjoyed hiding in the sets and scaring people, especially late at night.  All she had to do was walk unseen in the balconies.  She was not the best influence on her fellow child actors.   See convinced them to do things that were clearly against the rules.  The property department was off limits to the kids, but that didn't stop Evie from arranging games of hide and go seek there.  Evie was never blamed for anything.  How could anyone so little, cute and innocent looking do anything mischievous?  There was a fire of a suspicious nature in Stage 28 one afternoon.  The studio kids were suspects.  It was said that one boy brought up Evie's name.  The boy's mother slapped him across the face saying that lying was just as bad as setting the fire itself.  The boy said nothing more.


Evie attracted attention almost immediately, probably because of her size and speech that were well "beyond" her years. She landed small roles in B films before landing a role in a holiday short where she played a living doll. The public adored her. Ingrid thought this role was going to take Evie from the obscurity of a contract player to bona fide star. And it should have.  Little Evie Everheart was going to star in a new series of films.  She along with her cast mates would be going on a nationwide tour to introduce themselves to America.  Everything was falling into place.


The Treehouse Troupe was to be a series of short films depicting the adventures of a group of typical American kids.  The studio executives denied that there was any similarity to the Our Gang comedies.  There was no little black boy.  They had a Mexican.  And this series had two girls.  Evie was cast as Dolly, the perfect little lady.  Dolly would be perfectly groomed costumed in the frilliest party dresses (in contrast to the other girl who wore tight braids, glasses, plain jumpers and blouses).  The studio had hoped to roll out the first Treehouse Troupe shorts around Thanksgiving.  The problem was that it was already mid October.  The Treehouse Troupe went into production immediately.  The pace could best be described as accelerated.  Each episode began early in the morning and wrapped late in the day.  The kids were still expected to attend classes daily, and in the evening attend rehearsals for The Treehouse Troupe's live show.  This was a singing and dancing spectacular designed to introduce the Troupe to America as the shorts premiered in theaters.  They'd begin in Los Angeles, travel to San Francisco and Seattle where the Troupe would do a weeks worth of performances. Afterwards they'd board a train to Chicago.  In route they'd do one or two night stints in cities and towns across the heartland.  After a week in Chicago they'd be off to a week of shows in New York City.  The Troupe would then return to Hollywood to resume production on the series.  The work was grueling.  Everyone associated with the production was exhausted, so nobody noticed just how tired Evie was.  At times she struggled to keep up, but being the ultimate professional, never let this show.


It was during the filming of the 4th short when tragedy struck the Treehouse Troupe.  The episode entitled Boys vs. Girls, involved the boys challenging the girls to compete against them in several traditionally boy activities.  A predictable story line had the girls winning everything from a fishing contest to a foot race.  Evie of course would do everything in a frilly blue party dress.  The first shot of the day involved Evie climbing the 12 feet into the Troupe’s treehouse, which stood near one of the manmade lakes on Universal’s lot.  Specifically it stood in the clump of trees that once made up Tarzan's jungle.  For whatever reason Evie made this climb several more times than what seemed necessary.  The last scene shot that morning involved the foot race. The gang was shot running at full speed as Evie and the other girl pulled ahead of the boys winning the race.  The director insisted on plenty of coverage shooting the race from many different angles.  All of the kids were worn out and begging for a break, but the director assured them, "Just one more take." This one take turned in to a least four or five. The child labor laws that are strictly enforced today were nonexistent then.


The production finally wrapped for the morning.  The kids went to class for an hour before breaking for lunch.  Lunch for the kids was always a fast affair.  Before returning to the set the kids had to get in some play time.  By 1:00 they had returned to the set.  All but Evie.  After a few minutes her dressing room was checked.  They found Ingrid there who had not seen Evie since morning. Ingrid joined the search for Evie at the schoolhouse and commissary.  Evie was nowhere to be found.  Several people remembered seeing her at lunch, but not afterwards.  That's when the kids had gone off to play.  It was Ingrid who approached the children.  They had said they'd played but never mentioned where.  The story goes that the kids were terrified of Ingrid.  Soon one child reluctantly revealed that Evie had convinced them to play in the "forbidden" prop warehouse.  The production was temporarily halted as several adults went to the warehouse to search for Evie. The rest of the Treehouse Troupe returned to school.


Evie loved to play hide and go seek in the prop warehouse because she had the ultimate hiding place.  Nobody had ever found her.  For the next several hours the warehouse was searched.  Finally as darkness began to fall over the studio, they found her.  On a shelf on the third floor were several life-size dolls.  Evie had climbed in and arranged herself with them.  This proved to be the perfect hiding place as several searchers had simply walked past this shelf, the dolls, and Evie's lifeless body.


Those there knew it was too late, but an ambulance was called and Evie and Ingrid were taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead.


Hollywood is in reality a small town.  The pediatrician on duty that night thought that he recognized this tiny little girl.  Earlier in his career he treated several Hollywood kids.  Perhaps he'd treated her. He went to speak to the girl's parents.  He was told that only the mother was waiting.  He recognized Ingrid 's deeply accented voice before recognizing her face.  It started to come back to him.  The little girl now on her way to the morgue was a blonde when he'd last examined her.  She was unusually small for her age due to... a heart problem?  Yes.  He'd instructed her mother to take her away from Hollywood and the stress of a career.  She had told him that she would.  What sort of mother would go against doctor's advice on something so serious?


Maybe shock prevented Ingrid from recognizing the doctor.  She instead wanted to know what the studio had done to her daughter.  How was she going to punish them?  How much should she demand? She was going to make them pay. The doctor disgusted left without saying anything.  He heard her yelling, "What can you tell me?  They killed her!"  All he could think was, "No. They didn't. This child was worked to death.” The doctor made a phone call.


The next afternoon Ingrid was summoned to the studio.  Once there she was presented with a large check.  She was told, "While we're very sorry for you loss, it has come to our attention that Evie never should have been working here or at any other studio.  She was a very weak little girl."


"Her health certificate is in your records."


"That physician has lost his license.  We've spoken to another physician who is willing to testify under oath that he examined Evie and would not give her a health certificate. Her heart was weak.  But we think you know that already. Our advice is that you take the money, leave town immediately, and never speak of the circumstances of your daughter's death.  We'll take care of the burial.  Our attorneys are sure that charges including child neglect and homicide can be brought against you."  This last part was a bluff to frighten Ingrid. It worked. By the end of the week she had left town.


With Ingrid out of the picture, there was much more to do.  The studio had to make sure that Evie's death was kept quiet. The death of a child would not sit well with the American public. The rest of the Treehouse Troupe was told that Evie had gotten ill.  She would be back the next week to resume filming.  After the intense breakneck schedule, perhaps all involved in the production could use a few days of rest.  The kids had no reason not to believe this.


After reviewing the footage of the first few Treehouse Troupe shorts, the entire project was scrapped and all footage destroyed. Studio heads felt that it was better to cut their losses sooner than later.  This and the fact that the shorts were devoid of quality production values, were badly written, and were not funny.


But the studio didn't stop there.  They erased Evie Everheart from the studio, destroying her few B movies, publicity stills, employment and school records. In 1943 this was easy to do. It was if she'd never existed.  Studio employees under the threat of termination were ordered never to speak of her.  Remember this was a different time and the world was a very small and simple place. No one spoke of Evie... until a couple months later.


By January things had started to return to normal at the studio. Lilly, Evie’s favorite makeup girl was back at work.  She’d left in early November to tend to a family emergency (Which in reality was time away due to a love affair gone bad. It was easier to leave town than see her ex- lover, an actor, everyday until she'd sufficiently recovered.) True to form Lilly was the first makeup girl to arrive at the studio's central makeup room. Shortly thereafter she went into the makeup department's office looking for paperwork. She had no information for The Treehouse Troupe. The supervising makeup artist realized she knew nothing of the tragic events of November. "That project was suspended indefinitely." Lilly nodded.


"That explains that.  What's Evie working on now?  She's in my chair wanting to be made up." The man stopped, then turned to examine Lilly.


"Evie Everheart?" Lilly nodded. Was this girl hallucinating?  Did she need more time away?  But Lilly looked just fine. He spoke gently and deliberately. "Let me see if I understand you. Evie Everheart is sitting in your makeup chair. Right now?" Again she nodded, yes, this time noticing her supervisor's strange demeanor when he said, "But, Lilly...that's impossible."


Lilly left saying, "Oh, you know she's like me and usually the first one here.  Oh and would you call a maintenance man.  I think the heaters' broken.  It's freezing in there."    


But this was only the beginning. Shortly there after an Evie sighting was also believed to have taken place in the property warehouse where Evie died a short time later.  The children had stayed away from the warehouse after Evie's death, so a newer worker was surprised to see a little girl in a blue party dress skipping through the third floor.  He called after her to stop.  Instead she ran toward the back of the floor.  He claims that he heard her laughing and followed the laughter to a shelf of large dolls where the laughter stopped abruptly. The temperature seemed to drop fifteen to twenty degrees.  Confused he reported the runaway child and an open vent to his supervisor who was clearly unnerved.  He was told that it was best to forget what he'd seen.  Coworkers reluctantly told him the story of the little girl who'd died there the year before.  When they described her, the new employee quit on the spot.


Over the next several years there were many alleged Evie sightings, primarily in places where she'd spent the most time.  Stage 28 already had a reputation for being haunted by the ghost of Lon Cheney, but it was a series of strange events taking place over a day that sent an entire construction crew out of the stage late one night. It seemed that the workers couldn't keep track of their tools.  A hammer would be put down and vanish, only to appear on the other side of the stage.  Tools would be set out in an orderly fashion, only to be mysteriously rearranged.  When several of the missing tools appeared in a pile on the floor in the middle of the stage a worker became irate and demanded to know what was going on.  Sixteen men heard the unmistakable sound of a little girl's intoxicating laughter coming from the opera house sets.  The stage suddenly became cold.  These men were familiar with the Evie story and left the building. The set under construction was already behind schedule.  When a studio executive came to order the crew back to work, he yelled that he didn't want to hear another word about that “dammed little girl.”  Within minutes, a fire of a still unexplained nature broke out.  The fire department said that another unexplained fire had broken out in the exact same spot a few years before the one that those kids may have started. One of the crew mentioned that what was happening all day with the tools was annoying but harmless.  It was only after the executive had yelled did something destructive happen.  “Perhaps Evie had gotten angry.” he rationalized. This worker was threatened with termination for bringing up something so ludicrous.


A few months after this incident the executive who'd yelled at the workers quit unexpectedly.  His wife revealed the reason after his death. Late one evening the man was heading home.  As he walked past the studio’s schoolhouse toward the main gate, he saw the silhouette of a small girl sitting on a bench.  School would have ended hours ago so what was this girl still doing there?  Wanting to get home and not really wanting to deal with a potential problem, he reluctantly moved toward her.  As he got closer he saw the frills of a blue party dress. Damn it! Someone was pulling a practical joke. Once he was practically beside her, he froze. This was no joke.  As impossible as it was, Evie Everheart was directly in front of him.  The man's wife says that her husband told her that the girl reached out and touched him. A chill went through his body.  He could move only when she evaporated in front of him.  He told the studio that he was resigning for "personal" reasons.


It appeared that while the studio wanted all traces of Evie Everheart gone, Evie did not want to be forgotten.


As the years passed the studio started to change drastically.  In the 1960’s the schoolhouse was closed and demolished so the new Universal Plaza could be constructed.  The large tree that once held the Treehouse Troupe’s treehouse was cut down in order to build new sets for a television comedy about the crew of a Navy PT boat set during the Second World War. One of the greensmen reported seeing a young girl in a blue party dress observing them.  She looked sad.  She disappeared before he could speak to her. The original prop warehouse was torn down in 1989 to make room for a theme park ride.  Evie Everheart's name wasn't known to many of the newer employees.  For awhile she seemed to lose her name altogether, simply becoming, "that little girl."  Many people began to question her existence altogether.  After all there was no evidence of a child actress named Evie Everheart ever working at Universal.


Perhaps what was left of Evie Everheart's memory would vanish altogether had it not been for Joanna, a librarian at the Research Department.  This department is a library for the studio.  They have an extensive collection of photographs, newsreels, books, journals and other archival information.  The department is staffed by four librarians.  Joanna (no last name by request) joined the staff of the research department as a librarian in 1988.  Soon after she first heard the story of the legend of soundstage 28.  A true librarian she began researching the strange occurrences there.  As she learned of the supposed Lon Cheney hauntings, she accidentally stumbled onto the Evie Everheart story. Her fascination with the story grew when she was not able to find any information on her.  In the late 1980's there were a handful of employees that were familiar with the story. Joanna interviewed them.  Their stories inspired her to dig further.  While Republic Studios no longer existed, Joanna was able to go through some of the old Republic archives.  There she uncovered an early photograph of a blonde contract player by the name of Eva Everheart that was taken sometime in the mid to late 1930's.  She also found a photograph in the Universal archives that she believed to be Evie Everheart.  The handwriting on the back of the photo only identifies the girl as a juvenile contract player.


Joanna no longer works for Universal. She's moved on to the library at the Motion Picture Academy, the top rated motion picture research facility in the world.  She still has an interest in Evie Everheart, her career...and afterlife.  She was called to the studio earlier this year to conduct an interview pertaining to what some believe was the most recent Evie sighting.


Joe, a retiree was a newer member of the security staff. Last April he was assigned to stage 28 to watch a set under construction for a new feature.  It was late, at around 11PM when Joe had an unexpected visitor.  This account comes from Joe's captain.


"I had been trying to contact Joe by radio for last ten minutes or so.  I wanted to know if he needed anything.  He was on a brand new radio so I thought it was strange when I couldn't reach him.  I grabbed another radio and headed over to the stage.  When I arrived I could hear Joe laughing, like he was talking with someone.  I came in to find Joe by himself.  He says that he was getting ready to call me to get someone to take this little girl back to the stage where she was working.  There was nobody there.  Joe claimed she'd been right there.  He told me that she had to be working on the "period" piece, as this little girl's wardrobe was right out of the 40's.  I told him that all productions on the lot had wrapped for the night.  I also reminded Joe that the law prevented children from working this late.  Joe maintained that the little girl told him she was working here on the lot. She liked it here better than the other studios because she had fun here. He then described a tiny little girl with dark hair and the most "unusual" laugh.  She was dressed in what appeared to be an old fashioned blue party dress.  She was so funny and personable that she'd kept him entertained for the last ten minutes.  I asked him if her name was Evie. He looked at me surprised and asked me how I knew that.  I said that she'd been here before.  I then asked him if could identify her.  He assured me he could since he'd spoken to her for at least ten minutes.  I then told him that I was going to have him talk to someone about this incident the next day before he began his shift.  I was going to contact Joanna the next morning at the Motion Picture Academy.  I knew that she was still interested in the Evie Everheart story and would probably like to speak to Joe.  I purposely didn't say too much to Joe, as I didn't want to tarnish his story in any way. As I left he asked me to look around for the little girl.  I told him I would.  I prayed I wouldn't see her.  The last thing Joe asked me to do was to please cut off the air conditioner.  It had suddenly gotten very cold.  That stage was chilly, but I knew it wasn't air conditioning. Joanna arranged to come to the studio at 4PM, the same time that Joe was due to arrive. Joanna hoped that Joe could identify a photo of a young girl.  Well the meeting never took place. When Joe didn't show up to work the next day, I got worried.  Joe had never been late to work. Worried, I decided that we should go to his apartment. Once there we found that Joe had passed away in his sleep. 


Then there have been one or two reports of the fuzzy image of a little girl appearing in photographs on one of the theme park's rides.  The one standing on the former location of the old property department. A child this tiny would never be allowed to ride. While she's appeared in photos, employees have never seen her board or exit the ride.


Joanna did track down a nephew of Ingrid Eisenberg in Long Island, New York. The nephew barely knew his aunt, but was aware that she'd had a daughter, Eva, who'd died as a child in California.  The nephew eventually came up with one piece of information; the name of the cemetery where he thought his cousin Eva might be buried.  While the cemetery still exist, it's been neglected. Joanna spent one Sunday afternoon there pulling back weeds and removing caked dirt from grave markers. She found a tiny tin grave marker that was about the size of a cigar box. There was no first name or dates.  Just a last name; "Eisenberg."


Joanna’s research created a new interest among other studio employees.  The most senior employees began to tell of the exploits of a spirit by the name of Evie Everheart.  That’s when many employees realized that they had seen and in some cases even talked to a little girl that they believed had to be Evie.  She was often looking for the rest of her “Troupe,” or was trying to find her “perfect hiding place.”  One August employees started to complain about extreme cold in certain places despite the fact that Los Angeles was in the middle of a heat wave. And then many started to quit, and many more were talking.  When a reporter from a local paper called to do research for a story about the little girl’s ghost that was haunting the studio, management decided to take action. First they flatly denied that there was a ghost, just the overactive imaginations of some employees that had too much time on their hands. Then quietly, a medium was hired to come in to see if there was any evidence of paranormal activity. The official story says that nothing was found, though to this day there are odd unexplained fluctuations in temperature in certain parts of the studio.  And in stage 28, more than one sound technician has heard a little girl’s intoxicating laughter on a soundtrack, forcing reshoots. You see the unofficial story says that the medium did talk to a little girl named Evie who had no intention of ever leaving the studio. The medium told her she could stay as long as she allowed people to do their jobs. The sightings diminished shortly thereafter. When the studio asked the medium why she didn’t just get rid of her. She replied, “What do think this is? A movie?” Joanna’s theory is that Evie Everheart refuses to be forgotten.  She has no plans on ever leaving the place where she was the happiest.


The further we go back in history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined.  This is especially true here in Hollywood, a small town with a short but colorful history.  It's hard to say where the truth really lies.  Some believe that the truth refuses to lie quietly.


Donna Allen-Figueroa and Tony Figueroa are writers living in California.

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