NAME: Katherine Walsh
DIG SITE: Episode 1.1 of The Monkees, September 12, 1966
I’ve spoken before about my Seasonal Interest Syndrome. At certain times of year, I’m drawn to certain types of media. To wit, comes the spring and I get a hankering for The Monkees. I enjoy listening to their music and watching their TV show. One spring, I got out my DVDs and started at the premiere episode of The Monkees, a show that ran for two seasons, from 1966 to 1968. While watching this episode, called “Royal Flush”, I was reacquainted with the doe-eyed actress featured therein, Katherine Walsh. Well, you know me; I looked her up.
Katherine Victoria Walsh was born April 11, 1947, the eldest daughter of five children to Thomas and Martha Walsh in Kenton County, Kentucky, the very northern tip of the state. Tom was an executive in the insurance business until November 8, 1965 when he boarded American Airlines Flight 383 in New York City bound for Cincinnati, only about a 20-minute drive from his home in Kenton County. Unfortunately, Tom never made it home.
The Boeing 747 that carried 57 passengers and 5 crew that day crashed on final approach to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The 132-day-old aircraft had travelled uneventfully that day up until it was cleared for landing in fine weather with the exception of storm clouds that were gathering to the northwest of the airport. The Boeing inexplicably descended too rapidly – to 3 feet above the airport – and crashed into a wooded area 3 kilometres north of the runway. Of the 62 on board, 58 were killed, including Katherine’s father, Tom. One of the four survivors was Israel Horowitz, a classical music record producer who would live until 2008 when he passed away, aged 92.
The family had already known some hardship. It seems there had been a rift in the Walsh marriage around 1963 causing Mrs. Walsh to take four of her five children to live in Beverly Hills where Katherine was taken on by the William Morris Agency and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. Katherine was an 18-year-old student at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts when she learned of her father’s death. She returned home to her family, reeling from the loss of their patriarch. Tom had at least had the pleasure of knowing that his daughter was a working actress when she won the role of Verna Dee in The Chase, a film shot in the spring of ’65 and that starred Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and many others. The Chase opened in February of ’66 and later that fall Katherine appeared as Davy Jones’ love interest in the first episode of The Monkees. Later that year, Katherine was seen in an episode of Daniel Boone (“The Lost Colony”, December 8th; watch it here).
Perhaps Katherine’s earnings were not enough to keep the family solvent, though. In 1967, the state of Kentucky seized the family property via eminent domain. Mrs. Walsh and Katherine’s siblings would relocate in the summer of 1969 to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a ski resort town that has produced more Winter Olympians than any other town in North America. Katherine stayed behind in Hollywood where she appeared in an episode of The Virginian; “Without Mercy”, airdate February 15, 1967. Six weeks later, Katherine was hired by American-International Pictures and went before the cameras for The Trip.
AIP’s founders Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson were sitting around one day thinking of which world was next for them to conquer. Horror flicks, sci-fi, beach party, biker; American-International had done it all. There had been lots in the papers at the time about the rising drug culture so the two – with Roger Corman – decided to make a picture about LSD. One of their stable of artists, Jack Nicholson, was wondering if perhaps his future lay more in writing and directing than acting and was hard up for cash so Jack took on the job of scripting what would become The Trip. Corman would direct but felt he needed to do some research first. Roger took acid and laid face down in the dirt under a tree for hours – doing research.
The Trip is actually a great film owing to some excellent location shooting and cool effects. Kathy Walsh plays Lulu, a spaced-out chick who hangs out at Max’s (Dennis Hopper) house. Her character seems to be that of an angelic drug queen who indicates to Paul (Peter Fonda) the type of beautiful girl that populates this scene, free of any and all inhibitions. Her role is brief but effective. She’s not called on to emote much and embodies the character accurately. The Trip was released at the end of the Summer of Love and did great business though it did raise the ire of many who were concerned about its drug depiction. (Watch The Trip here)
From here on in, I’m left to make some assumptions about Kathy’s movements. Details are sketchy and there are scant details to be found about her. She apparently moved to London in 1968. Her sister, Susan, appears to have spent some time there living with her. Kathy seemingly had put acting on the back burner and worked on productions in small theatre. She wrote for English Newsweek, covering the theatre and art shows. Enter the Baron.
Somehow, somewhere and at some time – the details are lost to the mists of time – Kathy met Frederick Patrick Piers Baron von Westenholz. Born in Beaconsfield, England on December 10, 1943, Piers, as he was known, was an Austrian nobleman and horseman who was also a skier who had competed unsuccessfully for Great Britain in the 1964 Winter Olympics held in his home country. According to The Peerage website, on June 17, 1964, Piers married Sarah Arabella Marjorie von Hofmannsthal. By 1969, when Piers met Kathy, that marriage was on the rocks. Piers was part of London’s hip café society and how the two met is unknown but one can assume it was socially at a party or a club. Piers must have gained a divorce early in 1969 as this much is known; on June 28, 1969, Kathy and Piers were wed with Susan Walsh serving as bridal attendant. According to newspaper reports from Kathy’s hometown, the couple married in a small chapel in Much Hadham, England and were setting up housekeeping in a guest house on the baron’s father’s estate there, some 35 miles north of London. Questions persist.
What their marriage was like no one seems to know though it was cited later that Kathy quit acting to be a wife. And start a family? Conjecture abounds. Especially since, inside of their first year of marriage, things were not going well. In fact, there is a suggestion that the pairing was ill-fated from the outset. By 1970, the marriage was over; they were not divorced, the marriage was annulled. Did Piers’ family object to his marrying a simple American actress?
ThePeerage.com lists von Westenholz’s first marriage in 1964, citing 1969 as a divorce date. It then lists the Baron’s “second” marriage – in 1979 to one Jane Leveson. Not much else is known of Piers von Westenholz. Apparently today he remains close friends with Prince Charles and you Royal watchers may recognize the name; Piers and Jane’s daughter, Violet von Westenholz, apparently set Prince Harry up on his first date with Meaghan Markle. The Westenholz family today is prominent in antique dealing.
In 1970, then, Kathy Walsh’s fairy tale marriage was over before it began. She had left America and was living in London. That’s about all we can be reasonably sure of. The young 23-year-old was working with a small theatre group and had a clutch of hip friends and perhaps had a bit of notoriety. Expatriated American actress living in London, marries a baron but only months later is living alone again. Was Kathy a party girl? A newspaper back home in America described her as “piquant” which can mean “spicy”, “intriguing” or “colorful”. Her sister described her as confident and “wickedly witty”. Again, we can only guess. Was she a social butterfly living a fast life? Was she a popular part of London’s night club scene? The parties in her flat; were they well-populated, out-of-control affairs? Was Kathy close with royalty? What of drugs?
Wednesday night, 7 October, 1970. London had experienced a slight dip in temperatures but for Kathy the thought of the impending gathering with a few friends in her flat in fashionable Kensington warmed her. Who was at this gathering no one knows. It is not out of the realm of possibility that well-connected members of London’s young society were present. Young Royals? Any newspaper reports that exist today are woefully short on details.
The party apparently had been going on for some time. It was after 3:00 Thursday morning, London time, that Kathy “began acting strangely”. She began choking. Friends summoned an ambulance but Katherine Walsh was dead when it arrived. Or she was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. The former seems more likely as she had suffocated “within minutes”. And that is all that anyone seems to know. Adding to the confusion is the fact that her death date is given as 7 October, which it was; in her hometown in Kentucky. But having been in London at the time, she actually died 8 October. Just one of the many confounding things that muddy the water.
In the days that followed, a London court official said that Kathy “may have died of an overdose of sleeping pills” which was cited as a “possible cause of death”. I picture Kathy that night up and around. After all, it was described as a small party that she was hosting. Choking on an overdose of sleeping pills sounds like something that a distraught person does alone in their room. But maybe the party had petered out and guests were crashing for the night. Days later, a coroner’s court “returned an open verdict” because of “insufficient evidence”. A court official ruled Kathy “had died of alcoholic and barbiturate poisoning but it had been impossible to establish whether the death was suicide or accident”.
Through the years, questions have remained. Questions of foul play and even murder. This seems unlikely as it is hard to imagine Kathy having an enemy so bent on destroying – or silencing – her. Problem is, we know so little about her life at this point that perhaps she did. While foul play may seem farfetched, the silence of those at the party cannot be denied. It is easy to conceive of the well-connected members of young society clamming up or being told not to get involved and provide any details. Subsequently, we now know very little.
Kathy’s 22-year-old brother, Timothy, took on the difficult task of identifying his sister’s body and of providing details to the press. Apparently it was a “family friend” that notified Tim. Who this was or why they were tasked with calling no one knows. “A friend called us about 11:30 last night”, Tim told Nancye Moncrief of the Kentucky Post. “The friend said Kathy was at a party with close friends and was feeling fine. Then she became ill and an ambulance was called. In 15 minutes, she was dead”. Timothy took Kathy’s remains home to her mother in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Tim Walsh passed away July 5, 2010.
Martha Walsh had suffered the loss of her husband. In the aftermath, she struggled to provide for her family and relocated to Colorado. When her actress daughter married a baron, she was quoted in hometown papers looking forward to the Christmas of 1970 when she would meet her new son-in-law. Mrs. Walsh seemed keen to introduce the Olympic skier to the local conditions in Colorado. Martha finished by listing some of her daughter’s recent activities and concluded with “she’s just a happy married girl now”.
Susie Walsh had been very close to her sister. Kathy’s death – when Susie was 19 – caused the younger Walsh girl to reassess her life and career. Susie decided to study acting as well but opted for New York City and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As if we didn’t have enough mystery, a brief bio I read on Susie Walsh cites credits like The Last Tycoon (1976) and The Amazing Howard Hughes (TV, 1977) but I cannot find her name among the cast or crew of anything but a 1983 episode of CHiPs. I was able to confirm that she later became a stage manager and worked on a show that utilized the music of Stephen Sondheim called Putting it Together that starred Carol Burnett, Bronson Pinchot and Kathie Lee Gifford and opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on November 21, 1999.
Martha Walsh lived quietly after Kathy died. She never got over the losses she had suffered and died in July of 1980.
The whole point of my UnEarthed series is “look what I found!”. The story of Katherine Walsh has proved the exception. This one is more about “look what I couldn’t find”. I recall looking Katherine up years ago and reading an article on her death at Wix.com. I remember that as being the most – and, really, the only – source of info on Katherine on the internet. Recently when I went looking for that article, I learned the link is inactive, that information seemingly gone forever. Scott Michaels’ Find a Death forum has some limited info and pictures. Included in the pictures there is the article from the Kentucky Post by Nancye Moncrief I mentioned earlier. I hoped to get in touch with the author of that piece – but she passed away six months before I started researching Katherine Walsh. And never mind how challenging it’s been to search the internet for someone with such a common name. I also learned some hard lessons about newspaper archive websites. Aside from storing information that was once available to the pubic for two bits and making it available to the public for years to come, these sites seem inextricably linked with ancestry websites, as if the only reason you’d want to read an old newspaper was to find info on your grandpapa. I did start a couple free trials at these sites – which I must remember to cancel – and it was satisfying to find some article I could use. But having said all that, this is the first subject I’m presenting here that leads me to conclude that there is much more out there not known about Katherine Walsh and how she died than there is known. I’m lead to say also that I must assume that every last ounce of information available on the internet on Katherine Walsh can be found here, in this article, at Your Home for Vintage Leisure. I honesty think that there is nowhere else where you can find more info on her.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there’s one, final mystery to add. Katherine Walsh of Kenton County, Kentucky, who lived and died in London and who’s mother relocated to Colorado – is buried in Canada. Sainte Anne Cemetery in Danville, Quebec is a Catholic cemetery established in 1865. “There are quite a few English speaking Catholics buried here and many of them were born in Ireland”. Kathy’s father, Thomas, rests here in the same plot as his daughter. The impressive stone seems a patchwork of names of Walsh people, most of whom were born and some who died in the 1800’s. No doubt Thomas’ father rests here with his siblings. While Katherine’s name is on top, above the WALSH name, a Sarah Ann Walsh (1901-1987) is the most recent addition; no doubt Katherine’s aunt. This resting place makes sense more so when you consider that Kathy had attended Villa Madonna Academy, a private Catholic school in Villa Hills, Kentucky. Kathy’s funeral service took place in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Quebec seemed an odd place for Kathy to rest but obviously her father’s Catholic family had settled in this area.
Well, Daddy’s back is killing him. A lot of digging here with little to show for it. And what I could find was pretty depressing. I just recently got over reporting on Edie Sedgwick, who died of alcohol/barbiturate poisoning like Katherine did. Katherine’s death though is shrouded in mystery – there are not many people left alive who would be able to shine any light. Makes me wonder though who was at the party the night Kathy died. Surely someone knows something – but if no one has said anything in the last 50 years, it’s unlikely they will now. Katherine Walsh, the actress, may not be in the same league historically as Carole Landis, Sharon Tate or Edie Sedgwick. After all, she only has two films and three episodes of television to her name. Probably no one would be talking about her at all if she hadn’t died under mysterious circumstances. Not only can I say there is no story too small to tell here but I can also say in the case of Katherine Walsh, some stories deserve to be dug up and to see the light of day.