Monday, December 13, 2010
CENTER OF ATTRACTION FOR CELEBRITIES SHIFTS TO HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Wayfarer May See All He Ever Knew or Heard of Among Them If He Gets by Outer Portals to Holy of Holies and Has Patience to Wait
By Wood Soanes, May 1, 1932
The Rue de la Paix in Paris and Forty-second and Broadway in New York were at one time supposed to be the two places in the world where you would see everyone you ever knew – if you waited long enough.
Today you may not see everyone you know in Hollywood’s studios, but you will at least come across most of the celebrities of the world. The only trick is to get entrée to the studios, because it requires much more than the price of an aperitif in a French sidewalk café, or the stamina of bucking the Broadway crowds to worm your way past the ogres of the outer offices.
At Radio I ran into Jack Sheehan, once of Oakland and more recently of New York, emerging from a successful interview with George Archainbaud, who was looking for a certain type of player to appear in support of John Barrymore in “State’s Attorney,” then in the making. A few moments later I saw Irving Pichel, returning from a stage where he had been at work with Ann Harding in “Westward Passage.”
Pichel is up in the money now, but I think that when his heart gets the best of his head it is not in Hollywood at all but in the ramshackle old church in Berkley that he converted into the Berkley Playhouse.
As we were talking Captain Jack Robertson appeared, lean and hardy in appearance and bubbling over with vitality. Time was when Robertson was a dreamy-eyed ticket clerk for the Western Pacific here, thinking of daring deeds. He nearly lost his life getting pictures of an eruption on Lassen peak. Later he came into prominence with his motion pictures of the Arctic. Now he is photographer-explorer de luxe.
The day before I had had a similar experience at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and First National. I was watching chubby Archie Mayo try to make a picture and experiment with a new practical joke handshaking device at one and the same time when Allan Vincent appeared. Local theatergoers will remember him from a memorable season when he appeared in ‘The Vortex” and other dramas.
Vincent, like the others, is unchanged. He still regards the world with a jaundiced eye, and can see little that is momentous in Hollywood’s hurly-burly. He had been imported from New York for a line of roles at Paramount, found he wasn’t getting them, and departed. When the contract difficulties were settled he began to free lance. He plans to do two or three pictures and then return to Broadway, where a new play awaits him.
The man who provided him with so many good roles and whom he replaced on several occasions for road tours, Noel Coward, was, perhaps at that very moment, telling the bigwigs at Fox that he didn’t care to have any part of Hollywood as a working arena. He had sold them three plays for the screen, and he would be glad to answer any technical questions, but, really, he had to be going.
It was all quite shocking to the smaller fry at Fox Hills because, after all, here was a man who had been given an exorbitant price for his product, who had been furnished with a handsome limousine and a liveried chauffer, and who could have made a tidy sum by acting as adviser or something. But no, all he could think of was the appalling state of affairs that demanded that an artist begin to work at his art at 7 a. m. and keep at it all day.
The morning I arrived at M-G-M my first sight was of Clark Gable, who had just steamed from the studio with a handsome patch over his left eye that made him look like Captain Kidd Junior. It was, so the oculists told him, nothing more serious than a foreign body in the eye, collected either while driving his car, riding a polo pony, or walking along Hollywood boulevard.
“It’s so small, they can’t see it with a magnifying glass,” Gable complained, but it feels like a load of coal to me.”
Well, as small as it was, this foreign body in right eye of famous leading man – as the entry may read in the log book of the “Strange Interlude” efficiency expert – was costing M-G-M plenty of money. Gable was willing to go on with rehearsals but neither the directors or Norma Shearer would hear to it. So the company was dismissed and the production waited, while the star and leading man went to their several homes.
Gable has gone further into the money since I interviewed him last October, but if he wore a hat I am satisfied that it would be the same size. Even if you don’t like his acting, you must give him credit for keeping his balance in a distinctly trying situation. It is not an easy chore to have feminine stars literally fighting for your histrionic services, and raising bob if they don’t get you.
Yet it was less than two years ago that I happened on a set where this recruit from the stage was working in a picture with Anita Page. His face was similar and I asked the press agent accompanying me what his name was. The press agent didn’t know, and, strange as it seems, the director when questioned couldn’t remember it either. I really ought to expose these two indifferent prophets, but they are good fellows at heart, so I’ll close the books.
Robert Montgomery was also in evidence on the M-G-M lot, not a whit changed over the six months, although he, too, has been elevated to starring proportions. He was a work on “Letty Lynton” with Norma Shearer and was putting in his spare time listening to the reminiscences of May Robson and Louise Closser Hale, who had been having a grand time of it for days talking about the stage as it existed in pre-movie era.
Montgomery, like Gable, is a stage recruit who has been catapulted into fame by the movies. But he never has lost his hankering for the stage. Gable, a different type, feels that he had enough hard knocks in the theater to do him for a while and is quite content to be a picture star for the duration of his contract, which is one of those seven-year ones.
“I was just thinking the other day,” he told me, “with one eye closed, that in seven years I may be an old man with a gray beard and there won’t be any stage jobs for me, just as in the past. So I should worry about that part of it. I like this work, I like the money, and I like my leisure and comfort.”
That was the day – March 24, if I remember – that Joan Crawford had a surprise birthday party. She had been working all morning and into the early afternoon on a scene in “Letty Lynton,” wherein Montgomery, as the gay young blade, outwits Lewis Stone, as the stern but wise District Attorney, and in which Miss Robson and Miss Hale appear in important roles with Emmet Corigan and Edward Hearn in smaller parts.
Finally, Brown dismissed Miss Crawford with a suggestion that she go to her portable dressing room and get ready for the close ups on the crying scenes. Obediently, she left while the studio orchestra ground out its routine of sentimental tunes, and the rest of the company rehearsed the scenes to be shot. Presently, Brown left for the Crawford dressing room, on the set, and there was great activity.
Actors began to dash about on their tip toes getting tables and chairs, electricians and mechanics showed more signs of life than they had all day, a table bearing a huge cake was carried over from the commissary and adorned with candles. Coffee and ice cream were carried in by the studio waiters. All this paraphernalia was placed on the darkened stage in front of the dressing room.
Finally Brown emerged, the candles were lighted, and a hue and cry went up for the star. She stepped down from her dressing room all prepared to do some first class crying and was startled into a real exhibition of joyful tears. I imagine that Brown secretly cursed the ill luck that prevented him from having a camera there for his desired close-up. The spectacle of Joan Crawford crying over a birthday cake would have been an ideal substitute for Letty Lynton crying over an averted murder trial.