Friday, September 11, 2009
THIS IS THE AGE OF REAL ROMANCE
By Alice L. Tildesley
April 3, 1932
That another romantic period is upon us is asserted by those who like to think they know.
Women’s clothes have gone completely feminine. She has abandoned the severe boyish bob and no longer starves herself into a sticklike imitation of her brother. Magazines reflect the current feeling by devoting pages to varying aspects of love instead of business.
Romance and not realism is emphasized as the best avenue of escape from the deep hole of depression. But what is romance?
“I think excitement over an idea, any idea, no matter what; that’s the essence of romance,” decided Rose Hobart, her blue eyes ashine.
“We are more romantic than we have ever been. A hundred years hence people will look back on us as the romantic generation. We think of ourselves as very realistic, but we’re not. We’re too easily moved.
“Romance is the ability to be tremendously thrilled. And boredom is death to romance.”
She sat at our table in the studio café Indian room, clad in the gingham dress and checked green apron of her current role, her soft brown curls pinned high, plum-colored makeup outlining her expressive lips, and managed to look the epitome of that quality she discussed.
“When we are thrilled over anything, we are keenly alive. It makes no particular difference what the thing is, if we care enough. Look at the unworthy sweethearts men and women love. It isn’t the object of our devotion that must be perfect, it’s the feeling in us.
Enthusiasm is the key to life. If we can keep our enthusiasm over anything, whether it is a person or a career, we usually succeed.
“The catch is, I suppose, to find the person and the work that can hold our interest. Nobody can advise us about that, because no one else sees that strange excitement that lies for each of us in the other person, or one other type of person, in one kind of work above another. We have to recognize these for ourselves.
“My parents adore music. My father is first cellist of the New York Symphony orchestra, and my mother, Marguerite Hobart, was a well-known opera singer when I was born. Naturally they felt that I should also adore music.
“My sister followed their path and is a wonderful musician. I studied music for years as a child and still enjoy it, but I knew I’d never be more than another pianist if I spent my life at the keys.
“At first I thought dancing was what I wanted to do, so the family let me study that, but it all boiled down to acting at the end. Acting was the thing that fired me; music and dancing were merely helps to learn rhythm and timing for my real career.
“My father opposed it because for him all romance lay in music and he hoped that his children would find it there, too. My mother, when she saw that I was really in earnest, did what she could to help me.
“Mother happened to be staying with Vivians, a talented English family who used to bring the Ben Greet Players to this country every year, when Percival Vivian mentioned that he was looking for an ingénue to play over Chautauquas with his company. He wanted to pay very little, which may explain his willingness to take me when mother sent for me.
“We played one night stands for 18 weeks, and I still loved it when we finished the run.
“Mother knew no theatrical people, but she heard of the Shuberts, so she took me to their offices.
“’This is all I can do for you,’ she told me, ‘If they won’t have you, I’m afraid you’ll have to do as your father wishes and be content.’
“I was only 15 and I had had 18 week’s work. I thought I must succeed because I loved it.
“I remember I was wearing a plaid skirt and a woolly white sweater with a roll collar and no hat. I looked at all the smart actresses in their furs and satins and wondered if I would ever be like them. While we waited, a little dark man came out of an inner office, glanced around and said to me: ‘What’s your name?’
“I stammered, ‘R-r-rose Hobart!’ and he sent me into the private room. Afterward I found out that he was one of the Shuberts. The other sat at a desk and hardly looked at me as he asked what I’d done. I proudly told about the Chautauquas. ‘Same as nothing,’ he commented. ‘Can you act?’
“I think so. I d-don’t know.’
“If you don’t know you can act, don’t bother me,’ he returned. So I assured him I did know, and he gave me a note to Eva Le Gallienne, who was casting ‘Liliom’ at the time.
“Miss Le Gallienne told me later that when she saw me she cried: ‘At last they show some sense!’ They had sent her dozens of small blond chorus girls for the part, which was that of her 14-year-old daughter. I played it for more than a year.
“There I was, launched on the work that means romance to me. I can’t imagine any other taking the place of it.
”That, in my opinion, is the way one should feel about the person one marries. Not having been married so far, perhaps my ideas on the subject don’t count.
“According to the studio, you know, I have no sex appeal, so maybe I am out of order in discussing romance. I haven’t discovered how they know I lack the essential quality, but I notice that whenever any official meets me out socially with an escort, he can’t conceal his surprise. He gazes at the man with a ‘Just what is the matter with that one?’ expression.
“I believe it must be because my collar bone shows. They like soft and squashy necks.
“But whether or not I am an authority on romance between two persons, I stick to my ideas on romance in everyday life. People who are easily bored miss it altogether.
“Sometimes I think there should be special education against boredom. Children should be taught to interest themselves in something; in many things.
“There’s a big thrill in lines outside our own if we investigate them. I’m terribly interested in psychology. Before I came out here I studied for a year with a famous doctor, who has done marvelous things by psychoanalysis for patients who seemed hopeless under other medical care. I wanted to know why people behave as they do and what it is that changes them. I thought it would be valuable to me in depicting character, but it was also valuable because it was so thrilling.
“It was like witnessing miracles. Men and women who couldn’t get along in life were made over new when they were shown that there was no reason for them to fail.
“If I had time to find them, no doubt I could be just as much moved by other subjects. It would be rather a good thing if we could educate children to search for worthwhile occupations for spare time.
“I’m told that there is no necessity to search after the kind of romance that culminates in the altar. That is supposed to come out of its own accord.”
Roland Young’s eyes crinkled with mirth until they were mere slits of blue in his suntanned face. He is slender and fair, not very tall, and looks exactly like his photographs.
“What is romance?” he repeated in his pleasant English voice. “What a question to ask a man at 4:30 in the afternoon.
“I think romance is a different thing to each of us. To me, life is romance. Or perhaps I should put it that romance is life as we live it, a mixture of adventure, hard work, luck and sentiment.
“Enthusiasm is a grand thing, but I don’t think it is all of romance. Life isn’t all high spots.
“Romantic periods are like measles; they come along every so often in the history of the world, for no particular reason. They are good for us. All art and poetry is created during these periods, not during the hard stretches of realism between them. I don’t know why it should be considered that to be romantic is to be soft. I don’t agree with that idea.
“Everything that happens to us can be romantic, in a certain light. That is, if we look back on it from a safe distance. We don’t remember how bored we were with poverty. Supposing that we have arisen from the gutter to greatness, it looks to us from the pinnacle of success that the days when we had to stretch a penny to make it cover half a dollar’s worth of goods were exciting. We didn’t find them so at the time.
“If we look on romance as an adventure, then the dangerous moments of life are romantic; but when we are living them, the romance is not so apparent.
“Some of the most exciting moments of my life have passed during the making of pictures, but I can’t say that I enjoyed them.
“While we were filming ‘Madame Satan,’ the action called for a group of us to be dropped from a Zeppelin. Most of the cast were permitted to leap, but I was to be thrown out.
The idea, as explained to me, was that I would be tossed out while the ship was quite low into a net spread to catch me, but when the time came the ship was high and the net far, far below. The expert suggested that I remember to keep my feet high, my head forward, and land on my back so as not to break a leg or my neck. The advice was not easily followed. I took the drop about a dozen times, and why I escaped intact is still a matter of amazement to me.
“In a late picture with Pola Negri, she as queen and I as king were being driven to our coronation in a coach drawn by four white horses. The horses used were coyboys’ mounts, accustomed to perform in rodeos, and I presume the scene was too tame for them. They bolted. They plunged off to the edge of a cliff, where the side of the coach got jammed against the two rear animals, while the leaders attempted to climb each others’ backs. There we were caught in a jam.
Pola was yelling, ‘Save me,’ and I couldn’t do a thing. Fortunately, we were rescued from our perilous position in due time. I can’t look back at it yet with any particularly romantic feeling, but in due time I suspect I will catalogue it in my memory as one of my romances.”
The walls of Roland Young’s den are covered with pictures of penguins; the shelves are stocked with hundreds of tiny reproductions of the bird that walks like a man; there are doorstops, book-ends, paper weights, penholders, ashtrays, cigarette boxes and bottle-stoppers made in the image of the fascinating bird.
“Penguins are romantic,” asserted the hero of many screen plays. The male is always faithful to his choice. He courts her just as a human being courts his mate. When his eye and lays it at her feet. Rocks are used to make nests so that the eggs shall be in safe, high and dry spots.
“If the female bird like him, she give him a peck on the chest; if she doesn’t like him, she probably gives him a jab in the eye.
“If she peck him, he has to fight several other contestants for her favor, and if he comes out the victor, even though bloody, they go off together in triumph and build their nest. And he is true to her forever.
“That’s romance, isn’t it?”
Roland should know. He met his wife when she was a child of 10 and lover her and her only, though he had to wait until she grew up before they could be married.
When the now Mrs. Young was in her teens, she and Roland played together in a comedy written by her mother, Clare Kummer. In one scene the girl had to pluck a pink carnation from a basket of these blooms and hand it to the young actor.
Pink carnations are still his favorite flower.
He believes in sentiment and thinks there can be no romance between two persons without it.
A pretty bit of sentiment set their wedding ceremony on the back porch of the girl’s summer home “because the sun was setting and the light looked so beautiful on the garden.”
“A caterpillar got down the neck of one of our bridesmaids and we had to halt the ceremony to get it out,” he remembered, whimsically.
All of that was a dozen years ago.
What is romance to you?
Whatever it is to you or to me, it’s coming back in style!
(Copyright 1932 for the TRIBUNE)