In the Shadows: The Tales of MGM’s Fixer, Eddie Mannix

Back in the old days of Hollywood, MGM studios hired a man by the name of Eddie Mannix. Let’s just say that his involvement in Tinseltown is pretty murky. Some people write the man off as a gangster, while others embrace him as “the only honest man in Hollywood.” Regardless of what people think, there’s one thing for certain: Mannix was one dangerous guy.

Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer head of production at MGM / Full-length studio portrait of American actor George Reeves in costume as the Man of Steel / Actress Mary Nolan Riding Ferris Wheel with another man / A still of John Gilbert and Mary Nolan for the filmDesert Lights' / Clark Kent and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane in the American television series 'Adventures of Superman', circa 1952 / Norma Shearer, MGM Vice President Eddie Mannix

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His work as a “fixer” kept MGM financially afloat. He had a hand in covering up everything from misdemeanors to some of the most horrible scandals Hollywood’s Golden Age has ever seen. This is Eddie Mannix’s story from his shady past and his wife’s mysterious death to the circumstances surrounding actor George Reeve’s death.

Jack of All Trades

Several of the people who became the first-ever movie moguls were first- or second-generation immigrants. These men rarely finished school and, for the most part, had other businesses that they abandoned because Hollywood was more lucrative than any other industry at the time. So, back then, it wasn’t that strange that a former Jersey carnival worker became MGM’s secret muscle in the studio’s self-sustaining society.

A portrait of Eddie Mannix.

Source: Pinterest

Mannix’s relationship with the studio’s executives began in the late 1910s. After dropping out of school to provide for his family, Mannix was eventually hired at Palisades Amusement Park. He first worked as a builder and then picked up shifts at the ticket booth before being promoted as the park’s bookkeeper.

Gaining Their Trust

However, Mannix was more of a “book-creator” than anything else. More often times than not, Mannix fudged the accounts of the company’s cash-only business. The owners were impressed with how much money Mannix made them and eventually promoted him to general manager.

A view the entrance of Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Circa 1940.

Photo by R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images

From there, he became the park’s problem solver—taking care of everything from broken rides to shady deals that went on behind the scenes. At the time, Palisades was owned by the Schenck brothers, and when they went on to form what would be known as MGM, Mannix was one of their most trusted workers. One of the brothers, Nicholas Schenck, didn’t trust that Louis B. Mayer would have the Schenck family’s best interest in mind.

A Spy With a Mission

To ensure no funny business was going on behind the scenes, Schenck sent Mannix to Hollywood to keep taps on Mayer. But a funny thing happened when the Schenck brothers’ most trusted man was in California—Mannix and Mayer became close friends. The two guys were both brass managers, and there are several stories in which the two appear to be the bad guys.

Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer head of production at MGM.

Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

But truth be told, many people in town loved them. As head of the studio’s police force, Mannix kept a detailed ledger of every MGM production’s cost and profits. He was the first person Mayer met with in the morning, making sure to keep the co-founder up-to-date with MGM’s financial status.

Moving On Up

Within a year, Mayer promoted Mannix to MGM’s general manager. This meant that Mannix became more of what he was at his previous job at the amusement park: an all-around fixer. Mannix worked closely with the studio’s head of publicity, Howard Strickling, and the two had their own ways of making sure that Hollywood scandals didn’t make the papers.

Howard Strickling and other executives from MGM at a Hollywood event.

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Strickling would frequently feed reporters false stories or steer them in a different direction with less-scandalous stories about another actor. While Strickling worked the reporters, Mannix made sure that the scandals themselves went away. This meant bailing actors out of jail, paying off call girls, and even victims of the studio’s stars’ antics.

MGM’s Dynamic Duo

On the rare occasions that Mannix failed to scare an actor straight by himself, the MGM powerhouse would put in a call to an old childhood friend from Jersey (aka a mobster) to make sure his message was read loud and clear.

Norma Shearer, MGM Vice President Eddie Mannix (aka E.J. Mannix), Bernice Mannix, Clark Gable at Marie Dressler's birthday party.

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Mannix also took it upon himself to read every single telegram that was sent and received by the studio—including intimate messages sent by MGM’s stars. This helped both Mannix and Strickling to be prepared for any scandal that might have been brewing. The dynamic duo had the power to respond to the scandal before it happened, or more importantly, to prevent it from happening in the first place.

His First Cover-Up

One of Mannix’s earliest cover-ups had to do with old Hollywood’s version of an adult film. By the time actress Lucille LeSueur (aka Joan Crawford) signed with MGM studios in 1925, she had allegedly starred in at least one adult film.

American film actress Joan Crawford wearing a patterned blouse worn high to expose her midriff at the time of her starring role in 'Mildred Pierce.'

Photo by Bert Six/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Biographer David Bret claims that the film was called Velvet Lips. Crawford’s FBI file later revealed that she had been filmed in compromising positions. Fast forward to the late 1920s, and rumors began swirling about the actress’s involvement in the scandalous film. When the whispers became too loud for MGM to handle, they send Mannix to take care of it.

Destroying the Evidence

The studio’s fixer reportedly formed a team to track down and destroy all copies of Velvet Lips. After collecting nearly all of the film’s copies, Mannix stumbled upon the film’s negative. He used the studio’s funds to buy it and have it destroyed.

A rather bored-looking Joan Crawford wearing a full-length evening dress and sitting on her fur-trimmed coat.

Photo by George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

When the actress wished to leave MGM in 1943, she handed over $50,000 to be released from her contract. Some people believe that this lump sum was hush money to ensure that Mannix or anyone else at the studio wouldn’t leak information regarding the truth.

Turning a Blind Eye

Most of Mannix’s scandal policing helped maintain the allusion that Hollywood marriages were faithful. However, Mannix himself was completely incapable of being in a committed relationship. The MGM fixer married Bernice Fitzmaurice—a nice Irish girl from his hometown—way back in his amusement park days.

A portariat of Bernice Fitzmaurice

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Fitzmaurice was well aware of her husband’s affairs, but she was Catholic. So she put up with Mannix’s adulterous ways to avoid getting a divorce. As long as Mannix stuck to one-night stands, Fitzmaurice turned a blind eye. But in the mid-1920s, her husband began a relationship with another woman.

He Found a Keeper

Her name was Mariam Robertson, and she had previously worked as a Ziegfeld girl under the stage name Imogene “Bubbles” Wilson. Let’s just say that Bubbles had a pretty devastating backstory, and after she met Mannix, her life only got worse.

Imogene

Source: Reddit

While working as a dancer for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York City, Bubbles began having an affair with married comedian Frank Tinney. But then, in 1924, Tinney discovered that Bubbles was cheating on him with another man. Outraged, he physically took his anger out on the dancer. She tried having the comedian arrested, but reports vary as to what happened next.

Full-Fledged Relationship

However, we know that Bubbles was forced to flee the city and move to Europe for work. Tinney, on the other hand, remained a free man. By 1927, Bubbles had moved back to the States and was now under contract with United Artists. To cover up her scandalous past, the dancer turned actress changed her name to Mary Nolan.

Actress Mary Nolan Riding Ferris Wheel with another man.

Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

It was around that time that she met Mannix and their relationship became serious. Nolan later claimed that the two were basically living together at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel for four years.

A Tumultuous Affair

At the beginning of their relationship, Mannix helped Nolan find work with MGM. However, by 1932, her film career was over. You see, being Mannix’s girl came with a price, which usually meant showing up for work with bruises. Then, in 1929, the MGM fixer tried to end the affair, to which Nolan responded by threatening to tell Mannix’s wife everything.

A still of John Gilbert and Mary Nolan for the filmDesert Lights'.

Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

He then reportedly messed her up so badly that she wound up in the hospital. Various reports say that Nolan underwent between 15 and 20 surgeries as a result. To make matters worse, the actress became addicted to painkillers following her long hospital stay.

The Next Level

In 1935, Nolan decided to sue Mannix, claiming that he was the one who ended her career. While Mannix tried his best to keep the real story out of the tabloids, he made sure to remind reporters that Nolan was an adulteress who changed her name several times to escape her past.

A portrait of Mary Nolan.

Photo by Emil Otto Hoppe/ullstein bild/Getty Images

When Nolan refused to drop charges, Mannix took his intimidation tactics to the next level. He reportedly had an LAPD detective threaten to arrest Nolan on drug charges if she didn’t drop her lawsuit and leave town. Feeling powerless, the actress packed her bags and left.

Back to Normal

With Nolan finally out of the picture, Mannix’s life went back to normal. By now, he was number three at the studio, behind Meyer and producer Irving Thalberg. Mannix often accompanied the producer to union meetings, where he stood in silence and cracked his knuckles when a wise guy would say something out of line.

Samuel Goldwyn, Goldwyn Studio; Joseph M. Schenck, 20th Century-Fox; Allen Wilson, Republic; Herbert Freston, Warner Bros. attorney; B.B. Kahane, Vice President, Columbia; Eddie Mannix, MGM; Leon Goldberg, RKO; Jack L. Warner, Warner Bros.; Y. Frank Freeman, Paramount; and District Attorney Fred N. Howser signing documents in a Hollywood office.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

As for his personal life, Mannix quickly returned to having one-night stands with random women around Hollywood. Most of these ladies were aspiring actresses hoping that Mannix could help them make it in Tinseltown.

The Patricia Douglas Scandal

From Greta Garbo’s same-sex relationships to Clark Gable’s car accident and Thelma Todd’s mysterious death, Mannix’s most disturbing cover-up was the story of Patricia Douglas. In May 1937, MGM decided to throw a sales convention that was meant to outdo all other sales conventions in history.

A still of Patricia Douglas from a film she appeared in.

Source: Reddit

The salesmen on the East Coast boarded a private railcar for the cross-country trip. With nothing else to do, the salesmen spend three whole days drinking. When they arrived in Pasadena, California, the salesmen were greeted by Mayer himself (along with a crowd of hired ladies), who promised them the trip of a lifetime.

The Wild West Show

The jam-packed itinerary included a dinner at the Ambassador Hotel, a luncheon with stars like Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow, and finally, a raging party at producer Hal Roach’s ranch. MGM called the party the “Wild West Show,” and according to the schedule, it promised “a stag affair, out in the wild and woolly West where ‘men are men.’”

A man sitting on the couch surrounded by young women.

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Before the party, MGM put out a casting call for aspiring actresses and dancers. Twenty-year-old Douglas had previously worked as an extra, but by 1937, she was living with her mother and barely working.

Answering a Casting Call

When she answered the casting call requesting that the women show up at MGM at 4 p.m. on May 5th, Douglas just assumed that she was going to be hired as an extra for a movie. Douglas later said that had she known she was being cast for a private party for 300 men, she would have never had shown up.

A head portrait of Patricia Douglas.

Source: The New York Times

When she arrived at MGM, Douglas and the other girls were given cowboy-themed outfits and camera-ready hair and makeup. After being promised a mere $7.50 for a day’s work, the women boarded a bus and headed towards the ranch.

What a Creep

It wasn’t until Douglas and the rest of the ladies got off the bus that they realized what they had been hired to do. At some point in the night, Douglas found herself in the company of David Ross, a 36-year-old salesman from Chicago.

Patricia Douglas facing David Ross.

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She excused herself and then complained to the bathroom attendant that she didn’t know what to do about this man, whom she called “an annoying creep doing his best to cop a feel.” When she walked out of the bathroom, Douglas spotted Ross waiting for her.

The Alleged Incident

With the help of another partygoer, Ross allegedly forced alcohol down Douglas’s throat. Douglas threw up and then ran outside so she could get some fresh air. Ross, however, was relentless. He found Douglas outside and forced himself onto her.

Douglas being comforted by her mother

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After the incident, Douglas was taken to the hospital, but little did she know that the Culver City Hospital (much like the Culver City Police Department) worked hand-in-hand with MGM. The studio couldn’t have someone like Douglas ruining their reputation. When Douglas arrived at the hospital, she was examined, but the doctor claimed that he found no evidence of intercourse.

The First to Sue

Douglas was most likely not the first person to have been taken advantage of by a studio employee, and she was most likely not the only woman who was put in that position that night. She was, however, the first woman to use the legal system against MGM.

Patricia Douglas looking at a photograph of David Ross.

Source: Pinterest

The actress filed a complaint with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. But little did she know that the DA was a close friend of Mayer. When the DA refused to do anything, Douglas went to the press, but her plan backfired.

Damage Control Mode

MGM went into complete damage-control mode. Mannix hired a private detective to dig up dirt on Douglas. When the PI couldn’t find anything, Mannix then encouraged other girls at the party to say that Douglas was drunk. Long story short, MGM had a pretty good team of lawyers.

A group of Hollywood men enjoying drinks.

Source: Pinterest

They stalled the case, and it was eventually dropped. Crushed, Douglas was forced to give up. MGM erased all records of the Wild West Party, and Douglas’s story disappeared for decades. That is until historian David Stenn pieced the story together for an article in Vanity Fair in 2003.

Meeting Toni Lanier

While 1938 was a horrible year for Douglas, it was a great year for Mannix in more ways than one. Not only did the Patricia Douglas scandal go away, but his long-suffering wife mysteriously passed away.

Ronald Coleman noted picture star Mrs. Coleman and Toni Lanier, pictured as they attended the Annual Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Awards. March 9, 1943.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Three years after Mannix cut off the affair with Mary Nolan in 1929, he met another woman by the name of Toni Lanier. Within weeks of meeting one another, Lanier was living in a Hollywood apartment that Mannix paid for. When his wife Bernice Fitzmaurice moved to Palm Springs by the end of the year, Lanier moved in with Mannix.

Suspicious Circumstances

The two lived happily together for the next three years. But then Fitzmaurice finally decided to file for divorce. This would have been fine, but she claimed that Mannix was unfaithful and abusive in her petition. She was also suing him for property and pretty steep alimony.

Eddie Mannix looking over a document with an unhappy look on his face.

Source: Pinterest

But just before Mannix was set to face his soon-to-be ex-wife in court, she died in a car accident. Fitzmaurice was being driven home by the Palm Springs casino owner when his car veered off the road and crashed.

Was There Foul Play?

The driver was left paralyzed, and Fitzmaurice sadly died at the scene. What’s interesting about the wreckage is that there were two sets of tire marks and marks on the casino owner’s car, which is consistent with being side-swept by another car.

Motorcar with damage to the rear following an accident, USA, circa 1940.

Photo by The Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images

Despite this evidence, there was no investigation, nor were charges filed. After the car accident, Mannix and Lanier resumed their lives together. Everyone began calling her Mrs. Mannix, although reports vary as to whether the two officially tied the knot. Regardless, the couple lived as man and wife who tolerated each other’s affairs for 14 years.

Meeting George Reeves

That all change when Lanier met actor George Reeves. Her good friend Jack Larson had just been cast as Jimmy Olsen in the new Superman TV series, in which Reeves played the title role. It’s important to note that Reeves had spent the past decade bouncing between studios, and he was not too thrilled to be headlining a superhero show.

Actors George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane in the American television series 'Adventures of Superman', circa 1952.

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Remember, this is back in 1951, long before lucrative superhero storylines dominated studios and TV networks. Not only did Reeves feel overlooked as an actor, shooting Superman was dreadful.

Unhappy as Superman

According to The Telegraph, the Superman suit was made of wool, and the actor would get so hot that he lost up to 10 pounds a day from sweat. But it wasn’t just the suit that made Reeves’s life miserable. When Superman first premiered, the storylines were dark and violent.

Full-length studio portrait of American actor George Reeves in costume as the Man of Steel

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The script had to be adapted because the show’s audience turned out to be children, not “hardened consumers of pulp fiction.” The episodes that aired from 1954 were watched by a whopping 91 percent of American households with kids under 12 years old.

It’s for the Children

To make matters worse (well, as Reeves saw it), Superman was sponsored by Kelloggs, which forced him to make personal appearances to tens of thousands of children. He initially arrived in his superhero costume, but that ended the day a young boy approached him, wielding his father’s gun.

American actor George Reeves, from the television series 'Superman,' smiles and holds his hands out as a group of children applaud him at a school classroom appearance.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The kid apparently wanted to see if the bullets would bounce off his suit. Thankfully no one was hurt. Then other kids tried to fly. So, Reeves was then forced to do “safety tours,” during which he explained that humans could not, in fact, fly.

Love at First Sight

It’s safe to say that Reeves was miserable. But all that began to change the day he first laid eyes on Lanier. The two were instantly attracted to one another and began an affair. Lanier, who was a decade older than Reeves, visited the actor on set every day.

Toni Lanier and George Reeves at an event

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Pretty soon, the two were spotted in public together. People began whispering about their relationship as if it was forbidden. However, some reports say that Mannix not only knew about his wife’s affair with the Superman actor, but he approved of it.

Table for Three?

By then, Mannix and Lanier were sleeping in separate bedrooms. Apparently, Mannix was having another affair with a Japanese woman who worked as the couple’s maid. Other sources claim that Mannix was fully aware of his deteriorating health and knew that Lanier was just preparing for when he wasn’t going to be around.

Eddie Mannix and Toni Lenier.

Source: Pinterest

Lanier and/or Mannix bought Reeve a car and a house. The three also reportedly vacationed together, along with Mannix’s mistress. It was a strange dynamic, but it worked for them. By 1958, Mannix was 67-years-old and suffering from emphysema.

A Phone Call Away

The long-time fixer no longer wanted to work for MGM, but in the event the studio needed him, Mannix was just a phone call away. Meanwhile, Reeves began to lose interest in Lanier. Then, while drinking at a bar in New York City, the Superman actor met a socialite and party girl named Leonore Lemmon.

Lenore Lemmon, Now Mrs. Jakie Webb, is pictured at her mother's home, looking out a window.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

One thing led to another, and after spending two weeks together in the city, Lemmon and Reeves returned to his home in Benedict Canyon—the home that Lanier paid for. Let’s just say that Lanier was not happy with this turn of events.

Losing the Love of Her Life

Reeves’s now ex-girlfriend tried everything in her power to get her man back. She called him at least a dozen times a day and even tried getting his friends involved. Eventually, the actor hired a lawyer who relayed the message to Lanier that she better back off.

A full-body portrait of Toni Lanier.

Source: Pinterest

But even that didn’t stop her. Hoping that Reeves would change his mind, Lanier continued to pay for his bills and even parked her car outside of places she knew he’d be. Over the next couple of months, the actor narrowly escaped three car accidents.

Strange String of Coincidences

Strangely enough, cars or trucks tried to run Reeves off the road each time. This is eerily similar to the car accident that took Mannix’s first wife’s life during their divorce proceedings. A few weeks after Reeves’s dog was stolen out of his car, in yet another strange incident, the actor was involved in a serious car accident.

George Reeves is getting licks on the face from his dog.

Source: Reddit

While driving down Benedict Canyon, Reeves noticed that his brakes weren’t working. Unable to stop, the actor’s car eventually hit a pole, and Reeves smashed into the windshield, nearly killing himself.

Seriously Unhappy

The mechanic who examined the actor’s car after the accident noted that Reeves’s brakes had been drained of fluid. By now, Reeves was extremely unhappy. Not only was he dealing with the aftermath of his relationship with Lanier, but he reportedly felt lonely in the house that he shared with his now-fiancée.

George Reeves is working on his car engine.

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Lemmon spent her nights having parties with people that Reeves didn’t know or care to know and spent her days sleeping off her hangovers. Then, one night in June 1959, Lemmon and some friends were drinking at home when they heard gunshots upstairs.

He Said She Said

Reeves was dead. His death was ruled a suicide, despite the fact that that detectives found the bullet in the ceiling, which was an odd place for a self-inflicted wound. When the detectives asked Lemmon’s friends why Reeves would do such a thing, they all said it was because he hated playing Superman on TV.

George Reeves posing for a publicity picture in which he is dressed as superman crushing an object with his bare hands.

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

However, nearly all of Reeves’ co-workers and friends who weren’t there the night of the incident said that Lemmon and her friends’ explanation was bulls**t. This was mainly because at 4:30 a.m., his co-star Phyllis Coates received an alarming phone call just a few hours after Reeves’ death.

“He’s Been Murdered”

Years later, Coates told authors Nancy Schoenberger and Sam Kashner that Lanier had called her and she was absolutely beside herself. “She was hyperventilating and ranting,” Coates recalled. “She said, ‘The boy is dead. He’s been murdered.'” Reeves’s mother, Helen, hired famed Hollywood attorney Jerry Giesler to help her find justice.

Frank Doherty (Attorney); Jerry Giesler (Attorney); Judge Stanley N Barnes (Superior Court) shaking hands.

Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis/Getty Images

However, a few weeks in, Giesler abruptly quit. He reportedly told Helen that some dangerous people were involved, and he advised her to drop the case. But the actor’s mother was distraught and refused to bury her son until she had an explanation for his death.

What Really Happened?

Forensic evidence wasn’t going to help her case. Instead of being taken to the morgue and tested for gunpowder residue, Reeves’s body was instead taken straight to the funeral home. Some reports claim the home was owned by Mannix, but we have been unable to confirm that fact. Under Public pressure, the LAPD chief at the time, William Parker, ordered a second autopsy.

 Chief William parker is standing beside young African American boys.

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Besides noting unexplained bruises on his body, the report’s conclusion was still the same: Reeves took his own life. A suspicious Sargent took it upon himself to visit the actor’s home and found two additional bullet holes covered by a carpet.

People Have Their Theories

However, Parker, who was reportedly friends with Mannix, refused to allow another investigation. Reeves’s assets were left to Lanier, not his fiancée Lemmon. This got the press talking. Mannix, however, worked on squashing any rumors that arose.

Lenore Lemmon, the fiancee of TV Superman George Reeves, leaves Reeves' home following the actor's suicide here, June 16th.

Photo by Bettman/Getty Images

In the years since people seemed to be divided on who killed George Reeves. Some people believe that either Mannix or Lanier had something to do with the actor’s death by either killing him themselves or hiring someone else to do it. It makes sense, given Mannix’s murky background. Other people disagree.

Was Mannix Involved?

They think that if Mannix wanted Reeves dead and gone, he would have taken care of it a long time before. Others believe that Lemmon did it because she was after his money and that Mannix orchestrated the cover-up to protect Lanier from suspicion.

A portrait of Eddie Mannix

Source: Facebook

He also wasn’t too keen on letting the police or the press into his private life. It seems that we’ll never know what happened to George Reeves that night. But we do know that Mannix’s days as a fixer were over. He died a few years later, in 1963.

After Reeves’s Death

As for Lanier, she lived in Mannix’s home for the next two decades, among the things she had inherited from Reeves. Friends reported that once the technology became available, she would watch and re-watch episodes of Superman while sitting at home alone.

The outside of George Reeves house in Beverly Hills, CA.

Source: Pinterest

She passed away in 1983 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was 77-years-old. As for Lemmon, she packed up her things and moved to New York City, where she passed away in 1989. She was 66 years old. Neither one of the ladies had any children.

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