The Trials of a Hollywood Ex-Wife
By Dorothy Calhoun
Movie Classic, June 1932
Does Clark Gable realize how his ex-wife, Josephine Dillon, has been persecuted by reporters because she will not tell, even for a price, the intimate details of their life together? Does Boris Karloff realize what his ex-wife has similarly suffered by remaining silent? No one can realize—until reading this story!
The names of Clark Gable and Boris Karloff are on everybody’s tongue to-day. Overnight, after years of struggle, they have taken the movies by storm. Everybody wants to know what they are like in private life, where they came from, how they got their start. Someone discovers that both men have been divorced. The Press rushes to find the ex-wives—to get their stories.
And if the ex-wives claim they have nothing to tell, and object to being asked impertinent questions? They will be forced to tell, they will be persecuted! This is no idle statement. They have already suffered this persecution. For months.
Reporters for sensational newspapers, feature writers for Sunday supplements, not satisfied with the prosaic details handed out by publicity departments, are vying with each other to unearth the most startling stories possible about these suddenly famous Unknowns. They realize that the ex-wives of these men know intimate details about these men—and they expect ex-wives to tell.
The lively curiosity of the public demands colorful facts about their favorites, particularly about their pasts. “You Americans!” Valentino once said bitterly, “You set up idols for the fun of tearing them down!”
In the search for color and sensation, everyone who has known the new stars intimately in the unknown past is sought out. But the brunt of the attack falls on the women they have put out of their lives and who, the sensation-hunters argue, must be anxious to get even with them. If these self-appointed investigators were right, these women would be prosperous to-day. Thousands of dollars have been offered to them for their stories—and indignantly turned down. And so they have been persecuted, bitterly, cruelly.
Refused Story; Lost Work
Josephine Dillon Gable, as a result of refusing a well-known magazine writer a vindictive story about her ex-husband, Clark Gable, has lost many of her voice training pupils—because of statements the writer made about her. Pauline Karloff, ex-wife of Boris, has had her telephone disconnected and has finally been forced to change her address to escape scandal-hunters. Both of these women, almost distraught, half-sick with anxiety, have come to MOVIE CLASSIC as their friend, and have cried out their sense of the injustice of such persecution in almost the same words:
“I am so unimportant. I ask nothing except to be allowed to earn my living in peace and quiet. I don’t know how to deal with such people—they frighten me. If they would only leave me alone…”
As long ago as last autumn, Josephine Dillon Gable told me of the persecution she was enduring. She was desperate to find a way to stop it. She wondered if a story of Clark Gable’s fight for fame, during the time they were married, would not satisfy the curiosity about their life together. She told me this story, and it was published in the December 1931 issue of MOVIE CLASSIC. But its appearance only added fuel to the fire. If she had given a story to MOVIE CLASSIC, why couldn’t she give one to them? They could not understand her reticence, did not want to understand it.
Neither of these women has any desire to capitalize on the sudden rise to fame of her ex-mate, or on the name she has a legal right to bear. And neither has any desire to harm, by any unwise word or by any statement to an irresponsible reporter, the men whom they once loved and married. As a consequence, they have been subjected to insults, bullying, threats and actual reprisals. They have been forced to wonder if they could trust even their friends. These ex-wives have had to ask for protection!
Clark Gable had lived in Los Angeles for seven years of struggle before he suddenly found fame. Every shabby side street in that part of Hollywood known as “below the Boulevard” has just such handsome, hopeful and often hungry actors who—once in a while—leave their unpretentious bungalows in make-up and rented tuxedos to play a bit in a society scene. Nobody knows their names, nobody knows how they live. A few gas station employees and garage mechanics (pals of his) knew of Gable’s hopes and fears, his habits and his history—and they were the only ones. Except—the woman who was his wife for six years of struggle.
So the bloodhounds of the yellow press tracked Josephine Dillon Gable down to the humble little backyard house she had rented, in the shadow of Hollywood’s own “Grand Hotel”, the Roosevelt. Here she earned a living by teaching hopeful youngsters to move and speak correctly, as she had once taught Clark. (That was how they met.) One of the best dramatic coaches in Hollywood, she did not have the money to advertise or move into an imposing “studio.” She asked no help from anyone. For two years she had not seen, or heard from, her ex-husband.
Josephine Dillon, herself, is a graduate of Stanford University, and reflects culture and good breeding. But she was a woman alone and poor and therefore (thought the sensation-gatherers) easily dealt with. The studio biography of Clark Gable made dull reading; the man himself, though pleasant and charming, was “bad copy.” So the sob sisters, the headline-hunters, the correspondents for the sensation syndicates set out to get “the lowdown” about Clark Gable from his ex-wife. They got exactly nothing.
Tried to Play on Her Emotions
The story of Josephine Dillon’s persecution by yellow journalism is almost incredible. In a civilized community, with policemen pacing the Boulevard not a hundred feet away, she was threatened and browbeaten, terrified and insulted. In her inexperience, she trustingly admitted these wolves in writers’ clothing into her plain, prim, clean little living room. But her gentle answers to their questions, her mild little reminiscences of hours of hard work with Clark Gable, and her generous praise of him were not what they were looking for, not what they wanted.
They tried devious and diabolically clever ways to get their stories. Some of them—of the feminine gender—sympathized with her disarmingly, a process known as “taking down their back hair.” Others tried to trap her into statements that would lend sensational color to their articles. One seasoned newspaper man, who had exhausted every trick in his repertoire to get her to reveal some of the secrets of her married life, decided to arouse her anger against Clark.
“Look at yourself!” he shouted. “A poor, miserable woman, living in this wretched shack, while he has a fine apartment! Look at your shabby clothes! Look at your shoes!” He pointed a scornful finger. “How do you feel when he rides by in a limousine? Why, I’ll bet you haven’t the price of a square meal in the house this minute!”
But for all her quiet voice and ladylike ways, Josephine Dillon is a clever woman. “Oh, I’m not so poor I can’t buy a ticket to see a Clark Gable picture!” she answered, smiling.
Mostly, however, they tried bullying. They threatened her. They told her that they would find ways to take away her pupils, unless she gave them “hot” stories. When she said with dignity that she had no complaints to make against Mr. Gable, that she had only kind things to say of him, praise for his persistence and determination to succeed, and admiration for his work on the screen, one man sneered in her face.
How She Was Threatened
“Listen, you can’t tamper with a reporter this way!” he snarled. “You can’t make a fool out of me! You know you weren’t his first wife, don’t you? Why don’t you admit it? Who was his first wife? Where is she now? Tell me, do you hear me?”
“I know only one thing,” she answered. “I was Clark Gable’s wife.”
His face was actually red with anger.
“If you don’t talk, you are going to be sorry! Has he a son? The public wants to hear everything about Gable. Give me something worth reading—has he a son?”
She stood her ground. “All I can tell you,” she said, “is that I have never had a son.”
As he left, he shouted back at her, “You’ll be sorry for holding out on me. Read my article and see how I am going to treat you. Maybe next time you’ll talk.” When, several weeks later, she did read the article he had written, she discovered that he had made damaging insinuations about her teaching ability—so damaging that she lost several pupils on account of it.
A woman who had been a lifelong friend and had known her during her six years of marriage called her u one day and asked permission to write an article about her methods of voice training, signing her name to it. Unsuspectingly, she consented, and thought no more about it, until a month or two later the same woman came to see her.
“The magazine wouldn’t take the article.” she told her. “They said it was too dangerous.”
“Dangerous!” said Josephine, shocked. “Why, what do you mean? What did you write? You told me it was to be about my teaching methods.”
“Yes, of course I did,” admitted her friend, coolly. “But they wanted inside gossip about your marriage and I needed the money—“
Had to Ask Studio’s Help
Without friends to trust, without protection, or money to hire lawyers, she at last turned for help to the studio where Clark Gable was working.
“There was a writer for a newspaper syndicate who came to me,” She relates. “He didn’t ask for a story. He had a story already—had obtained it in New York. All he wanted was for me to admit that his story was true. I denied it, over and over. He was so violent I was terrified. He went away, and came back the next evening—late. I told him again that his story wasn’t true. Finally, he looked at me. ‘Miss Dillon,’ he asked, ‘your father was a lawyer, wasn’t he?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He looked at me bitterly and said, ‘I thought so. Because you are the most artful dodger I’ve ever met. But how long do you think you can get away with it?’
“After he had left, I couldn’t sleep. The next day, I went to the studio and told them they must protect me. I told them that I had never said anything unkind about Clark and that I never intended to do so. But I couldn’t stand this persecution any longer. Since then they have dealt with the people who came to interview me.”
But even this plan did not spare her.
In the March 12 issue of a national weekly appeared a purported “close-up” of Clark Gable by a writer of some reputation. In it were cruel references to Josephine Dillon. Her ability as a stage teacher was subtly, cuttingly doubted. “You probably remember your elocution teacher in high school,” the author sneered Fun was poked at her methods, and credit for Clark’s training was flatly denied her in these words: “If anyone made Clark Gable a good actor, it wasn’t Josephine Dillon.”
Josephine’s Costly “Mistake”
Thousands read this, but none knew of the telephone conversation that preceded it. One evening he writer of that “close-up” called Josephine Dillon on the telephone and asked for her story of Clark Gable.
“You will have to see the studio,” she told the writer. “I’m not giving out any stories on Clark.”
The author argued and urged her, ending finally with a veiled threat. “I am a well-known writer,” she said. “I think you are making a mistake not to talk to me.”
Later, reading the writer’s story, Josephine Dillon saw the consequences of her “mistake”—consequences that struck at her very means of livelihood, her teaching.
After “Frankenstein” had set the public to talking about the new mystery man of the screen, Boris Karloff, Josephine Dillon Gable had a caller one day—a young and pretty woman whose card bore the name, “Pauline Karloff.” She told her that she was a dancer, an artist, and the ex-wife of the new screen star.
“Reporters are after me to tell them sensational stories about Boris,” she said. “I knew that you must have been bothered the same way—so I came to ask you what I should do to stop them.”
No motion picture scene that movie-star Gable or movie-star Karloff is ever asked to make can be more dramatic than that meeting of these ex-wives in Josephine Dillon’s plain little living room. There they sat, two women who had known and still knew the pinch of poverty, discussing earnestly how to protect the men they had married—and lost.
Wouldn’t Talk About Boris
Pauline Karloff’s story of persecution by the prying yellow press is very similar to Josephine Dillon’s. Ever since “Frankenstein” was released, she has been besieged by sensation-mongers, on the trail of a startling story of her life as Mrs. Karloff (or, to be entirely correct, Mrs. William Henry Pratt). She, too, had an intimate friend come to her and beg her for a story. When she refused to give her one, the friend became defiant.
“After all, I’ve got enough already to make a good article,” she said. “You know the things you’ve told me. And you know how hard up I am!”
“I’m hard up, too,” said Pauline, “but not hard up enough for that. If you dare to print one word I’ve ever told you, I’ll sue you for libel!”
Ever since her divorce from Karloff three years ago, his ex-wife has supported herself precariously by painting charming and fantastic women in the modern manner and renting her pictures to studios for modernistic settings in films. There have been times—she laughs a little mirthlessly—when she literally did not know where her next meal was coming from. But when one of the largest Sunday newspapers in the country recently offered her five hundred dollars, and then increased the offer to one thousand, for a personally signed story about Boris Karloff, she refused.
“As an artist, I wish success to a fellow artist,” she says. “But why must they drag me into this? I have been out of his life for three years. When we meet on the Boulevard, we don’t speak.”
Boris Karloff had lived in Hollywood twenty years before his ghastly, unforgettable characterization of Monster in “Frankenstein” aroused any public curiosity about him. And yet so completely are the struggling unknowns submerged and lost in Hollywood’s teeming life that there are few who know what manner of man he was in those years of struggle. His ex-wife was, perhaps, the only one who really knew. So she is being threatened, persecuted by sensation-hunters—who are trying to make her tell.
Sudden success on the screen may mean caviar and pheasant for the tables of the new stars, but it often means taking the bread away from their generous ex-wives who refuse to tell. Josephine Dillon Gable and Pauline Karloff will tell anybody THIS!