Just What Makes Them Tick
By Carl Vonnell
Photoplay magazine, April 1932
Have Garbo and Gable really a mysterious “something” that other people haven’t?
Or is it possible that you, yourself, have within you the same things that these two have—the only difference being that they know how to use it, and you don’t?
You’ve wondered that, haven’t you?
You’ve watched them on the screen, felt and envied them their colossal and strange appeal.
You’ve witness the idolizing movie public’s reaction to these two individuals.
And certainly you’ve wondered what are the ingredients of these two personalities that make their possessors—just ordinary, everyday mortals like yourself—two of the most famous people in the world today.
Well, Science has an answer.
Science—the science of psycho-analysis, of human emotions and reactions—can take those two creatures, Garbo and Gable, apart, and tell you what makes them click. What’s more, it can tell you how that same something can be cultivated, to a greater or lesser degree, by you, and the girl or boy who sits in the seat next to you at the movies tonight.
Offhandedly, you dismiss the Garbo-Gable matter by saying they have “personality”. You might even say it’s “It,” or “S.A.” or any of the other patent phrases with which mortals pass of a matter that’s a little too deep.
But science can go much deeper than that, and analyze the very ingredients that make up “personality”. So let’s see what one of the most famous psychiatrists and psycho-analysts of the Pacific Coast can do about it—
Dr. Cecil Reynolds is his name. British by birth, he studied the human mind and its ramifications abroad and in this country. He has become a recognized leader in his field. He has written many scientific treatises on human emotions and reactions. He is among the famous psychiatrists who have appeared as state witnesses in scores of court proceedings where the strange mysteries of the human mentality needed clarification. He is at present head of the department of psychiatry at one of Los Angeles’ foremost clinics, and further than that, he enjoys the intimate friendship of many of filmland’s most famous.
Dr. Reynolds has studied Garbo and Gable on the screen. He has studied the fan reaction to these two players. He has tried to answer the questions that naturally arise—what makes Garbo Garbo?—and what makes Gable Gable?—and how can you, and you, be like them?
Here are his answers:
The appeal which Garbo exerts from the screen is not a fluke. It is real, because Garbo is, fundamentally, a great artist, a great actress—comparable even to Bernhardt and Duse, in her more inspired moments. Those who clamor that she is, after all, “just a dumb Swede woman” are wrong.
In the first place, there is about her that sense of mystery which is one of the most attention-compelling, admiration-arousing characteristics any human can possess. With Garbo, it is natural, due to the very fact that she is a great artist, and all great artists “feel” more deeply than other people. Many people cannot reach those depths of feeling. Vitality is essential to an artist even in moments of complete repose—that is, psychic vitality. Yet this air of mystery can be cultivated—by such as you, mind you! On your own desires, your own aspirations, you can build a bluff that will make some people believe you have fathomed the unfathomable mysteries of life, and know all about it.
Garbo gives the immediate impression of a woman who has suffered, and attained knowledge and strength by that suffering. Maybe she has, and, on the other hand, maybe she has not. The fact remains that anyone can cultivate certain external appearances that will give the same effect. Jennie Jones can artificially achieve much of Garbo’s allure, if she is intelligent enough.
If you must be a “poseur”, the rules are these: First, learn a complete self-control of expression and action. Studiously avoid putting everything you are or feel in the show window. Try to understand your own emotions, while concealing them. See it in Garbo’s face; watch, particularly, the complete obedience of her mouth to her control of emotion. If you watch her mouth right through, you find you’ll never be offended, and that’s rare, for everyone’s mouth nearly always offends sometime or other.
That asset, on Garbo’s part, is unquestionably cultivated—studied control. Any girl can do it, who has sufficient quality of feeling.
Control of facial features is a huge Garbo asset. Not alone hiding true feelings, but substituting the artificial facial evidence of emotions that do not exist. Garbo’s face telegraphs every thought she wants to put over, always with restraint—but whether it actually exists within her is another question. It did at some time. And that, too, is an asset than any woman can cultivate. Try it out before your mirror, and see if it’s not true (and add to the gayety of nations!)
Now, there’s another thing—and though it seems unimportant, its effect is great. Garbo’s walk. She walks with a “quasi-oriental, loose-limbed motion.”
Dr. Reynolds doubts if Garbo consciously is aware of that walk. He believes it is hers naturally. But that does not prevent other women from profiting thereby. That does not mean, purely, imitation. It means, rather, realization of the effect of a graceful, unusual walk and carriage gas—and the profiting by that knowledge.
Garbo’s voice is another case in point. It is always quiet, deep, restrained. How few women are there whose voices do not rise shrilly under excitement or emotion? Garbo’s does not—so she is different—being different is mysterious—to be mysterious is to interest, fascinate others.
Garbo’s appeal is not alone to men, nor to women. She appeals to both—to women because they want to be like her, knowing and envying her power; to men because Garbo’s appeal is to the mother complex in man!
This Dr. Reynolds states positively. “The sex reaction in the great majority of men, to a greater or lesser degree, is tied up with a kind of mother complex,” he points out. “Any woman knows that, although she may not express it likes that in the psychiatrist’s language. Women merely know that the vast majority of men ‘are just little boys.’ Garbo appeals to that in men particularly. Her whole personality makes men want to be, subconsciously, mothered by her. Certainly men do not want to father her, as they do the opposite type! She appeals, also, to the masochistic man, the man who wants to sense strength—not necessarily physical, but moral strength—in his woman. And be mothered by her.”
“You can sum up Garbo’s personality then, in general, as follows: (1)—Great self control, leading to (2)—the impression that she has a great understanding of life through suffering, which creates, in turn (3)—that sense of mystery that makes a person fascinating, dominant. (4)—The physical attributes of an extraordinary, yet graceful walk, and a vibrant, low voice always under control. (5) As a result of these, a form of sex appeal which plays upon a man’s mother complex. She has great psychological vitality.”
And that’s Garbo. Now for:
Gable may be summed up in a two-word characterization—he is a “civilized brute.”
“It has taken man a long time to evolve out of the jungle brute into the civilized man of today,” says Dr. Reynolds. “In that process, he has most many of the physical qualities which made the brute, and substituted for them an outward weakness, and approach to femininity. It is becoming rare then, today, to find a he-man who is, withal, kindly, good-natured and tolerant.”
“Clark Gable, on the screen, presents exactly this picture. He presents the picture of a true he-man, a splendid physical specimen radiating strength and force and power, and who has, nevertheless, acquired the assets of civilization. He appears happy and honest.”
“And it is a fundamental truth that the majority of women today, wanting that sort of man subconsciously, also want, when they find him, to strip that veneer of civilization from him and reawaken the brute beneath. It is that which Clark Gable challenges, more or less, in every woman. And that is why, if it were so, that Clark Gable’s appeal to women has been so sudden, so great and so widespread—as was Valentino’s, in a different way.”
The keynote of Gable’s appeal, it seems, is not only that the observer knows that he is possessed of physical strength, but also that he has that same restraint that speaks of a moral strength behind the physical.
Moreover, he has the Garbo trick of facial emotional control. He can mask his true reactions and assume, instead, the evidence of an emotion that does not exist within him. Like Garbo, he has learned not to put everything in the show window.
And does this mean anything to women?
“Hundreds of women,” answers Dr. Reynolds, “have told me, in the course of professional relations, that the only reason they ever married their husband was because of the apparent indifference he displayed during their first three months’ acquaintance!”
Well, any intelligent male need but read that to know what to do.
Now here are some specific facets of Gable’s appeal; as Dr. Reynolds, knowing the twists of the feminine human mind, observes them:
“He has a habit, when smiling, of raising his eyebrows. It engenders in the observer an impression of sympathy, understanding and tolerance. The effect on a woman is that, cognizant of the physical brute strength before her, she nevertheless feels safe because she senses a protection in those qualities.”
“Like Garbo’s appeal to man’s mother-complex, Gable’s attitude is one of ‘fathering’ his girl. There is a kind of paternal note in his actions and reactions toward her that intrigues her and yet gives her a sense of trust in him.”
There is much in common between Dempsey and Gable, says the psycho-analyst. “Gable has much that Jack Dempsey has, besides which Gable is a good actor. Gable has all the glamour and attractiveness of Dempsey. Some of this is purely physical. Both carry their head in a peculiar manner—which I can only describe as reminiscent of the gladiator of old—chin down, a little arch to the neck so that one notices the corrugation of the chin line. Subconsciously it reminds the watcher of the Grecian athlete—or some other atavistic memory, perhaps—resulting in an impression of great physical and moral strength as well as alertness.”
Strange it is, certainly, and seemingly simple what tiny and unmysteriously mechanical and physical things stir within us the subconscious emotions and reactions that make rabid Garbo-Gable fans, isn’t it?
And atop all else, Gable has this prime handicap, as far as screen appeal goes, according to Dr. Reynolds:
“He has less of the feminine streak that is present in every man than there is in any other screen male today!”
Summing up Gable, then, he has (1) definite physical strength and a splendid body, (2) the effect of great moral strength, communicated by such physical habits as the way he holds his head, the way he smiles. Like Garbo, he has (3) self-control and avoidance of “putting everything in the show window.” And the result is that he appears as the “civilized brute” whose appeal to womanhood is tremendous, especially to those with a “father-fixation”.
Well, you’ve read what Dr. Reynolds had to say. A lot of it may sound a bit abstruse, “deep”. But it isn’t. Read it over again, and it’s quite simple. But you may wonder, discouragedly, if there’s anything in it to help you—you who want to capture some of the personal charm that makes Gable and Garbo so admired.
Well, Dr. Reynolds tells you this:
“Studiously applied, it is easy in the present state of mob hysteria that exists, to put over a bluff, of sorts. In the field of sex, thanks to Freud and his followers and imitators, and the present openness of sex discussion, sex has become so absolutely phlegmatic and dull that most men and women are longing, by very nature, for a little mystery.”
“So a little practice and thought spent in applying bluff that will make others believe you have experience, that you have plumbed great mysteries of life, will go far today. People are looking for leaders today as never before—small circle leaders as well as national and international. The ‘different’ person can become a leader, merely by intelligent care and bluff, but it cannot be sustained without the necessary vitality. That’s why so many French valets get away with posing as lords.”
And if there are many such attempts, the world will be a funnier place than ever to live in.