Friday, June 5, 2009
AMERICAN WOMEN AFRAID TO BE ORIGINAL, SAYS CAROLE LOMBARD
Tied Up With the Red Tape of Convention, They Live Their Lives According to What People Will Think and Say;
They Have Yet to Acquire Poise and a Sense of Proportion, Says Petite Film Star
In an Interview With:
Alice M. Tildesley
The modern American woman is used to having adjectives such as hard, cold, fickle and temperamental hurled at her by representatives of other nations or by the opposite sex. To these she merely shrugs and smiles. But now comes Carole Lombard, one of her fairest sisters, and makes another charge.
“American Women are afraid to be original,” declared Carole, holding a slim white hand toward the fire leaping in her living room hearth.
“Perhaps it is because we are new and haven’t acquired poise and a sense of proportion; but whatever the reason we are tied up with the red tape of convention. We live our lives according to what people say and whether or not it is the ‘thing’ to do what we should like to do.
“Abroad, people are much freer. They do as they please in everyday life without bothering about how, when or where their neighbors would behave under the same circumstances.
“For instance, if it is the ‘thing’ in our set to have luncheon at 1 o’clock, we have luncheon at that time, no matter how inconvenient, or whether or not we are hungry. The time to serve this meal is at one hour after noon, and that’s that.
“In Europe or in England, if a woman felt like having the meal served at 12 or at 2 or even at 5 o’clock, she would do so and think no more about it.
If it is the ‘thing’ to be seen walking in the park at a certain hour in the town where we live, that is the time we will walk in the park. It may be sunnier at an early time, or cooler later on, but no, we will go when everyone else does.
“If we see a woman wearing a black satin dress, a gray fox fur and a small black hat, we all rush out and buy black satin dresses, gray fox furs and small black hats. That is, if we have been told authoritatively that such a combination is smart. It doesn’t occur to us to regard ourselves in the mirror and decide if we shall look well in the costume, or if something green or blue or a larger hat would suit us better. There we go, a parade of women all alike.
“We’re not original. We’re too used to doing what we’re told, too accepting as true any statement made with the ring of authority.
“If it is the ‘thing’ to dine at a certain hotel or restaurant, that is where you will find the so-called smart American woman. It won’t matter that the charges are exorbitant, the food is inferior, the service casual, all that counts is that ‘everybody’ goes there.
“Yes it may be true that many American women wear the clothes they can afford, or those they happen to find in their local shops, but the same lack of originality is shown by women who can and do buy their garments in Paris.
“French women never take gowns, hats or wraps that are given them by their modistes simply because ‘it is all the rage this season.’ They insist that the line and the color and the silhouette become them, that the garment will enhance their charm and set off their personality.
“When American women go to the great clothes designers in Paris, they take whatever these experts are pleased to give them.
“At the studio, Travis Banton, who is to my mind one of the best clothes creators in the business, uses discretion for us. If he is dressing Ruth Chatterton, the browns set off Ruth Chatterton’s personality; if he is dressing me, the style will be entirely different, since I am not at all like Ruth; if Anna May Wong is to be outfitted, his ideas for her will be tinged with her exotic individuality. Thus the garments for the three of us will really belong to our separate selves.
“But if Ruth and Anna May and I were all well-to-do residents of any American city, or any three American cities, and we all went to Paris for our clothes, we should very likely come marching out of Lanvin’s or Patou’s or Schiaparelli’s exact duplicates of one another, like three puppets of a toy theater, every trace of individuality gone.
“European women are sure of themselves. We are not.”
The firelight gleamed on the ivory satin and lace of Carole’s pajamas and brightened her blonde hair; it struck tiny flashes from the silver and glass on the table between us; it sent tiny shadows flickering across her serious young face.
“It takes daring to be original. I am not so myself and I don’t wish to be, because to be original is to be conspicuous in a sense, and picture people are conspicuous enough as it is. We are made to do foolish and startling things for publicity purposes; we are stared at all the time; when we can blend in with the scenery we find it a grateful relief.
“But the average American woman would do well to study herself, to develop originality in dress, to try to set off her personality.
How few women could wear the Eugenie hat – and how many tried to do so! Don’t be a Eugenie addict unless you are the Eugenie type.
“Decide for yourself. Don’t believe all people tell you, even if those people are experts in their line.”
Charges hurled against American women by the American Circle of the London Lyceum club find Carole undertaking the defense.
“They say American women haven’t as much emotion as European women,” she recollected, her cigarette making a faint blue haze between us.
“That may be true, if you mean that we are not so likely to show the emotion we feel. We are used to independence, to taking what we want instead of asking for it; we are used to managing our own lives. Husbands are not omnipotent, and we accept without question things that European women would consider favors. Perhaps we grow hard in the process of fighting for our living, but too much softness is not good for anyone.
“Temperament, which is showing emotion, has no place in a home. I have seen actresses use it as a weapon. I’ve seen them put it in as an act to get their own way; I’ve even done it myself in isolated instances when it seemed necessary for business reasons. But it isn’t to be tolerated as a domestic accomplishment.”
She laughed over the Circle’s statement that American men have hard-and-fast rules as to what constitutes the ideal wife, and then they marry an exception to their own rules.
“I have to admit that one. I think every man, American or not, believes that what he likes is a nice, domestic, docile, modest young female, whose entire world is centered on her husband, who will sacrifice herself for him, give in to him on every point and spend her life catering to his slightest whim.
“Faced with just such a woman, however, what does he do? Turns around and marries a girl who has none of those traits but who can amuse him, look well and hold her own in an argument. It is no longer fashionable to be a doormat, and I doubt if it ever paid.”
That all American women are devoted mothers may be stretching the truth a bit, according to Carole.
“But I have a most satisfactory parent,” she confided. “Her idea on bringing me up was that I should be permitted to have and to do the things that would make me happy.
“So many girls have had to fight their families in order to follow stage or screen careers. But my mother never made it difficult for me.
“When I was 10, our next door neighbor, who happened to be Al Kaufman, a director, asked me how I’d like to play Monte Blue’s little sister in a picture he was about to make. Would I like to play Monte Blue’s little sister? I nearly went mad with joy. My mother rejoiced with me, and I had a glorious time for a few weeks. After that, somehow or other, that marvelous woman persuaded me to go back to school.
“It was shortly before this opportunity came along that I had my name changed. A numerologist, a friend of my mother’s worked out my numbers because she knew how much I hated my name. I was Jane Alice Peters then. I never felt like a Jane, and was I pleased when I was presented with the name of Carole!
“Jane seemed to me a most girly sort of girl, who did girly things, and I was a tomboy of tomboys. I wasn’t interested in dolls or playing house. I played on the girls teams at school in baseball, basketball and track, but I preferred to play with boys. Girls weren’t rough enough for me.
“My model mother never once remarked that little girls might do well with a few less bruised knees and battered noses. She was always there to cheer when I won.”
Though Carole hates the term “lucky break,” she feels that her real entry into pictures was the result of just such a stroke of luck. She was 15 and in high school. Invited to a private dinner party, she was seated next to an executive of one of the larger studios.
“How would you like to be in a picture?” he enquired.
Since everyone knows the answer to that one, Carole was presently taking a screen test, as the result of which she began her career as a leading woman, never once having had to play extra roles.
“I was dreadful,” she confessed, candidly. “Even I knew that. But they let me make three more films; nobody knows why.
“I loved the work. It was fun, especially the Westerns I did with Tom Mix and Buck Jones. But I felt that I hadn’t enough experience and I saw no way to get there, so when Mack Sennett offered me a contract I accepted.
There was no training better than Mr. Sennett’s in silent-picture days. Look at the stars who graduated from that comedy lot – Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin, Marie Prevost – dozens of them!”
Luck isn’t a term to use about romance according to Carole.
But her own romance was as sudden and unexpected as any lucky break could be.
She had been called back from a season of picture-making in New York to play a part in William Powell’s starring film, “Ladies’ Man.”
“Perhaps you’d better meet Mr. Powell,” somebody suggested, when Carole arrived at the Hollywood studio.
“Perhaps,” said Carole, who has a reputation for causing less trouble and being a better sport than any one else on the payroll.
She was ushered into an office. Someone mumbled the two names, moved out and closed the door. She and the star talked about the picture. They must have gone on to other topics, for after an interval they discovered that it was 6 o’clock and four hours had passed since the closing of the door.
“I haven’t said half I had to say,” complained Bill. “Couldn’t we have dinner together?”
They had it together.
Other dinners following. Presently all Hollywood knew that Bill Powell was “that way” about Carole Lombard.
Once upon a time, when I asked Bill’s opinion on time-limit marriages, he scoffed: “Sure, I believe in them. The time limit should be 24 hours.”
That was before he met Carole.
After he had seen her fragile-looking loveliness, that isn’t really fragile at all, he changed his mind. “When will you marry me?” was the recurring burden of his conversation. At length Carole decided the only way to make him talk about something else was to set the day.
She calls him “Junior” or “Willie,” and refuses to chant: “We’re so happy!” according to regulation Hollywood custom. It’s bad luck. Most of those who rave about Hollywood bliss land in divorce courts before the year is ended.
“No woman is very original in love,” she laughed. “I’m not finding fault with my sex on that score. We all think our choice in husband’s can’t be improved upon; we all believe our man is the man; some of us keep our illusion through life.”
Bill Powell, who had refused to come down to share the little table before fire, appeared as I was saying goodbye.
“I left you alone because this was Carole’s story,” he explained. “I remember times when I’ve been supposed to be interviewed on the set, and along would come another actor and sit beside me and I’d let him talk. When the story came out, I would be merely mentioned and the other actor would have the whole thing. Don’t take chances, Carole.”
“Is that original?” smiled Mrs. William Powell.