Sunday, February 28, 2010


Jealousy of the Other’s Stage Success and the Exalted Worship of Their “Careers” Usually Destroy Marital Affection and Make Married Life Unendurable

April 17, 1932

Ann Harding, screen star, and Harry Bannister, actor, recently made the surprisingly frank statement that they were being divorced simply because the husband’s career and personality were being absorbed by those of the wife until he had become known as “Ann Harding’s husband.”

This honest explanation throws light on why it has become an axiom that actors and actresses should never marry each other, and that when they do, they are, with certain notable exceptions, almost certain to be unhappy.

Perhaps only among stage folk could such a plight as that of the Bannisters be possible. They have been married five and a half years, are still in love, without a single breath of scandal, they have a four-year-old daughter, Jane, a $100,000 house they built together, they can’t stand it any longer because of almost irresistible forces that work upon people of the stage and screen.

For two and a half years they had been happy working their way to success on the spoken stage on Broadway. Then both went to Hollywood with beating hearts. Would either or both make good? The wife got her chance first and the husband loyally did the sensible thing. He stopped looking out for himself to help put his wife over. And when she made good the logical thing was for him to bend every effort to help make her next picture even better.

At the end of three years Miss Harding is one of the firmly established screen stars, commanding a salary that is said to be $6000 a week. They have nothing to worry about except one thing. In that short time, while his wife has shot upward, he has dropped from leading man to playing occasional bits, and realized his situation when he found that Hollywood was calling him “Ann Harding’s husband.” The trouble was he had given Ann every bit of the spotlight for three years. No doubt she would have gladly tried to share it with him at the start, but now he can never get in there with her, and they both know it. His one hope is to go out and, all by himself, capture a spotlight of his own and not let anyone else in it.

If Mr. Bannister had been a lawyer, a real estate man, or most anything except an actor, the trouble would never have arisen. He would probably have been proud and delighted at his wife’s triumph and glad to have people point him out as Ann Harding’s husband. It may be a little late for Bannister to win his spotlight, for he is 43, while she is only 30.

If husband and wife appear in the same play they fight with the author to make sure one does not get better lines, more laughs, bigger situations, better entrances and exits than the other. They fight with the management about the size of type in which their names are printed in the billing and the electric lights. They drive the press agent crazy if the paper prints an inch more space about one than the other.

On stage there are a number of mean tricks, known to every actor, by which he can divert attention from the actor who should legitimately have it and thereby spoil his speech, kill his laugh or make ineffective whatever he is trying to accomplish. These tricks range all the way from moving during another’s speech to looking inanely over the speakers head instead of into his eyes. These foul blows are not often perpetrated on the stage, because they invite a call-down from the management and, if persisted in, discharge. But in private life there is no such restraint between married stage people. So the little battle of tricks to steal the attention of everyone else at the party from husband or wife goes on unhindered and often unnoticed.

In a play a star must have a “star’s entrance.” That is, he or she must appear in a striking, effective and flattering manner. Going to a party the ordinary couple gives no thought to entrances and exits. But a theatrical husband and wife each wants a star’s entrance and a star’s exit from that party, a matter that must be fought out in the taxi going over and perhaps again on the way home. Only a few have managed to rise above all this pettiness.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks are still husband and wife. They had the tact to keep from treading on each other’s toes. Yet each had been married before to a theatrical person and made a failure of it. Perhaps that is where they learned their lesson.

Compare this with Madame Jeritza sobbing over the footlights of the Metropolitan Opera House to the audience: “Gigli is not nice to me.” This meant that she considered that the Italian tenor had “stolen one of her curtain calls.” And Gigli was so upset over this curtain matter that he almost hurled the big blonde prima donna into the orchestra. Fortunately Jeritza is not married to Gigli or any other rival operatic singer.

Instead, this temperamental prima donna is quietly and happily wed to Baron Leopold Popper, who, though he has a title, is not at all annoyed when he hears everyone whisper “There goes Jeritza’s husband.” He is the son of a noted singer and the grandson of a singing teacher, but fortunately his talent runs to the violin and piano, so there is no bloodshed.

However, theatrical pairs do not have to appear on the same stage in order to get jealous and behave like cats and dogs. Geraldine Farrar was a grand opera pima donna who had seen her best days when she met Lou Tellegen, a young matinee idol in no way her rival.

He had come to America as the great Sarah Bernhardt’s leading man and was known as the “perfect lover,” a role that he seems to have played off the stage as well as on.

He had left behind him in Europe a wife, the Countess de Brouchere, who seems to have understood him and might have gotten along with Tellegen if they had been left alone. But Geraldine had always had the best of everything and here was what was advertised as the world’s most perfect lover. She just had to have him, and she got him, but not for long. Their bickerings could be heard across the street, and soon she threw his clothes out the window, locked the perfect lover out and then, to make herself perfectly ridiculous, sued him for divorce, naming a co-respondent in nearly every state in the Union.

From that Mr. Tellegen should have taken the hint to marry outside the profession, but he didn’t. Two days after Miss Farrar obtained her final divorce decree Tellegen married Isabel Craven, who had been one of his leading ladies. The marriage lasted six years, when Miss Craven obtained a divorce on much the same grounds as Miss Farrar had. Tellegen consoled himself for her loss by promptly marrying another leading lady, Miss Eva Casanova.

Gloria Swanson, as an extra girl in Hollywood, married Wallace Beery, at that time a “screen villain.” Such spotlight as there was in the family was his. But presently Miss Swanson became a member of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties and the ususal theatrical matrimonial scuffle began. Result: divorce.

Her next husband was Herbert Somborn, wealthy producer of motion pictures. But theatrical managers are usually as vain about hogging the lime light as any prima donna. Therefore, when Gloria signed her first big contract she also contracted for another divorce. No more actors or producers for Miss Swanson. At the height of her career she picked for her third experiment the Marquis James Henry la Baily de la Falaise de la Coudraye, who had more noble lineage than money.

Alas, she found that French noblemen are as much actors as any on stage or screen. They expect and usually get the center of the spotlight by right of inheritance. So there was competition in the household of the Marquis, but the marriage lasted five years at that. For a fourth husband Miss Swanson has chosen a young man who is neither theatrical or noble – just a rich playboy. Theoretically this marriage should last, because the star should have no difficulty in training him from the beginning to keep out of her spotlight, shine only by reflected glory and to look flattered when they call him “Mr. Gloria Swanson.”

Undiscouraged by his experience with Gloria, the noble Marquis promptly married Constance Bennett, another film star.

Rudolph Valentino, most famous of all screen lovers, had been reasonably happy although married to Jean Acker, a competent actress, who for a time showed as much promise as her husband did. Suddenly, from a non-entity, he became the world’s most celebrated sheik. There was no room, even in the fringe of his spotlight, for a wife, so she divorced him.

It is perhaps understandable how a wife would resent seeing a mere husband suddenly swell up to a sort of god. But Valentino’s next wife, Natacha Rambova, married the sheik after she knew he had become the most adored actor in the world. When a poor girl marries a millionaire, he can at once turn over to her half of all his fortune. Miss Rambova seems to have thought that the great and only Rudy would somehow divide his success and popularity with her about fifty-fifty. It could not be done, so there was bitterness almost from the first day. All she got out of it was wonder and congratulations that she had landed such a superior husband.

Willard Mack, another stage lover and matinee idol, was married and divorced by Maude Leone, Marjorie Rambeau and Pauline Frederick. His direction boosted all three into the limelight. Then came the usual trouble and divorce.

Robert Ames, who died a few months ago, had been in succession the husband of Alice Gerry, Frances Goodrich, Vivienne Segal and Murial Oakes. The three former ladies were all connected with the theater, but Miss Oakes had been a society leader. However, she could not get along with Mr. Ames any better than the theatrical wives. It is said that Mr. Ames’ untimely death prevented him from taking a fifth bride, Helen Lambert, a night club entertainer.

Of course, the greatest record of them all is held by the late Nat Goodwin. He accumulated and lost five beautiful wives and was about to marry for the sixth time. His wives in the order named were: Eliza Weathersby, Nellie Pease, Maxine Elliott, Edna Goodrich and Margaret Moreland. Miss Georgie Gardner, another stage star, was to have been Mrs. Goodwin number six.

How quickly the jealousy of stage people springs to the surface even on a honeymoon is revealed by the classic remark attributed to Miss Ina Claire, stage star, just after she had married the famous John Gilbert, $10,000 a week screen lover. A guileless girl reporter asked the bride how it felt to be married to a great star.

“Why don’t you ask Mr. Gilbert?” she replied, evidently much annoyed, it was reported. That marriage lasted less than two years.

Yet people of the stage as well as the films can marry happily once in a while. E. H. Sothern, famous Shakespearean actor and his equally famous wife, Julia Marlowe, have been happily married for more than twenty years, and up to within the last year or so were generally co-starred. Several years ago Miss Marlowe sustained an injury which forced her to retire from the stage.

But the marriage of these two distinguished stars was not the first for either. Mr. Sothern’s first wife was Virginia Harned, his leading lady, whom he married in 1896. The marriage was dissolved in 1910 and the next year Sothern married Miss Marlowe, with whom he had been appearing for seven years. Her first husband was Robert Tabor, who had been her leading man. This marriage was also dissolved.


Amanda said...

Fabulous post!

Anonymous said...

Please tell me this article was written in 1932 and re-printed here - because the inaccuracy is unbelievable.
Rudolph Valentino's 2nd wife, Natacha Rambova, came from an extremely wealthy family (her step-father, who legally adopted her, was millionaire perfume mogal Richard Hudnut) but she insisted on earning her own way in life. Her film contract designing sets and costumes in Hollywood (Camille, Salome, etc.) earned her an income much higher than her husband's acting contract (which was said to have been badly negotiated by him). After their marriage, she worked diligently to get him a new agent and re-negotiate his studio contract.
This article insinuates that she was a gold-digger, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
After Valentino died in 1926, she was a very successful clothing designer with her own boutique in NYC.

GAH1965 said...

Thanks for sharing the corrections. This was indeed written and printed in newspapers in 1932, so it is what some journalist decided that the public should believe as truth at that time.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I am trying to track down the photograph of Willard Mack you posted, for a biography of Barabara Stanwyck I am publishing this fall.

Would it be possible to send me the file, or let me know where you downloaded it?

Please get in touch at

Many thanks!