Hollywood Diary: First Report on a Movieland Holiday
by Harry Evans
The Family Circle magazine, May 20, 1938
For four weeks I have had the privilege of visiting in Hollywood homes. And the experience has been so varied and so colorful that I find it difficult to describe. Any person who gets a close-up of the Hollywood scene is likely to do at least one of three things: Drool from over enthusiasm, gossip because of intimate glimpses of stars during unguarded moments; or criticize, because that is always the easiest thing to do. Before I’m through I’ll probably do all three.
In this article, the first of a series on the movie colony, I want to tell about a dinner party given for Mrs. Charles S. Payson and myself on the evening of our arrival in California. Joan Payson and I arrived on the same train because we were both to be guests in the house of her brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. John Hay “Jock” Whitney. Mr. Whitney, as you may know, is chairman of the board of Selznick International, the company which recently produced “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. As far as picture people are concerned, however, the kinship between Jock and Joan is incidental. The affection of Hollywood for Joan has nothing to do with the movie business, because years ago the folks in this crazy, temperamental, delightful community took Joan into their hearts, accepted her as one of their family, and rated her No. 1 visitor from the East.
Here’s why: Most people who visit Hollywood (particularly eastern socialites) get a highly superficial impression of its inhabitants during a brief stay and then go out and tell the world about all the extravagances, immorality, and general unhealthiness of the motion picture business. Ask them about Dietrich, Lombard, Garbo or Gable and they will give you the lowdown–despite the fact that they may have never seen any of these stars more than once. But Joan Payson made no such stupid mistake. She found Hollywood interesting and liked the people because she took time enough to know and understand them. Consequently, when she comes to town, there are dozens of movie personalities rearing to entertain her, and her visits are usually a succession of grand parties.
When the train pulled into Pasadena, we were met by a welcoming committee which included three of my oldest friends in pictures–Kay Francis and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Barthelmess–and one of my best friends from the East–Mrs. Ottavio Prochet, whose husband is on the board of Universal Pictures. Jessica–that’s Mrs. Barthelmess–immediately told us she was giving a dinner for us that evening, and that Carole Lombard and Clark Gable were to be there. Naturally, I was excited. Carole is an old friend, but I had met Clark only once, and then just casually.
When [we] got to the Barthelmess home, I was struck by a style note which is apparently characteristic of Hollywood. The women were dressed formally but the men were not. It seems that the boys out there hate to put on a dinner coat or tails. The girls, on the other hand, appear to be more clothes-conscious than in any other place I have visited, and they really go in for the fancy duds.
It is always a joy to see Carole Lombard. For her friends she has genuine affection conveying that certain something which cannot be faked. And the moment you shake her mitt you know you are going to do a lot of laughing–which to me assures the success of any evening. She has that rare quality of not only being amusing herself but also of inspiring people around her to be a darned slight more amusing that they usually are. In analyzing Miss Lombard’s ability to attract men (and boy, does she!), I rate the above mentioned quality on a par with her physical assets.
The first thing you notice when you meet Clark Gable is his smile. It is my belief that Mr. Gable’s grin is about the most effective expression to be observed on the pan of man–either on the screen or in person. And there’s no trick t it. Anyone can put on a prop smirk, and learn to do it the prettiest way by a twist of the face or mouth. But Clark smiles with his eyes. It is a direct, sincere smile, with no trace of affectation. No fewer than four ladies mentioned this smile to me during the evening, and in each case the burden of their song was the same: “I wouldn’t blame any girl who fell in love with that Gable.”
Yes, sir, that lad has everything: Looks, charm–and a sense of consideration which you can best appreciate by going over on the Metro lot and talking to the directors, cameramen, electricians, and others with whom he has worked. They will all tell you that they have never met a more regular fellow than Clark Gable. (Now, now, Evans–don’t forget about over enthusiasm!)
A goof many people (some of whom live right in Hollywood) have asked me what I think of the friendship between Carole and Clark. What does it amount to? What will come of it? Are they really in love? (Look out–now you’re flirting with the gossip angle!) All right, still, small voice–I heard you the first time. Nevertheless, here is my answer:
To begin with, Carole and Clark have obviously arrived at a conclusion which, to this hardened cynic, augurs well for their relationship. They do not overestimate the value of “glamour” as a basis for a mutually agreeable companionship. And for this tenuous, deceptive, will-o’-the-wisp element they have substituted a sense of fun, foolishness, and good humor that makes a foundation which apparently grows more durable and dependable with each laugh thrown into the mixture.
More romantic souls than I may gasp at the idea of two such famous stars–two such glittering figures as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable–relying on giggles instead of glamour to sustain their regard, friendship, affection, love, or whatever properly describes their state of mind. And perhaps my guess is wrong. At best, it’s only one man’s opinion. But I do remember, most distinctly, one statement which Carole made to me that evening. We were sitting on the floor talking. (Carole is the kind of girl who likes to sit on the floor and talk.) I said, “I’ve often wondered about the close kinship of love and laughter.”
And Carole replied, “It probably depends on the individual. All I can say is that I’m not one of those females who associate love with a long face and a heaving chest. You know–that stuff about love and suffering go hand in hand–about reaching emotional heights through misery. Who started all that, anyway?”
Carole reached over and touched me on the arm. “Maybe I’m missing something,” she said with great seriousness, “but if I can laugh often enough, I’ll take everything that goes with it–and they can have their ecstatic miseries!”
Which makes me want to add that if Carole is missing anything, I hope that same thing may be eliminated from y existence. For if ever there was a person who seems to me to enjoy life to the very brim, it’s Miss Lombard.
And while we are on the subject of Carole and Clark, here is a statement from Mr. Gable which may be of interest. We were discussing some of the scenes in “Nothing Sacred” and “True Confession” and Joan Payson had commented to Carole’s lack of concern about being photographed at a disadvantage.
“For example,” said Joan, “that time you fell in the river and were shown with your hair soaked and stringy and water dripping down your face.”
“That’s easy to explain,” Clark cut in. “Carole has no false pride. She gets away with scenes like that because an ounce of personality is worth a pound of makeup.”
And there, my friends, is a real compliment.
beginning with her performance in “My Man Godfrey” and carrying on in “Nothing Sacred” and “True Confession”, Carole has established a new type of Hollywood heroine–the ga-ga, fast-talking, irresponsible comedienne who goes in for the sort of fun which is created by ridiculous incongruities and which includes the broadest slapstick.
When Mrs. Payson said that she thinks Carole is the most amusing actress on the screen, Clark again dipped in. “Yes,” he said, “there’s no question about it–Carole IS the CUTEST!”
“Well,” said Carole, rolling her eyes ceiling-ward, “I may not be the cutest, but goodness knows I try to be the gayest–even if it kills me!”
When I asked Carole how she likes keeping up the gay characterization she has set for herself, she let me in on a secret. She is, she said, fed up with being typed as the rattlebrained screen zany. Being funny, Carole thinks, is the hardest thing that she has ever attempted in the movies. What’s more, Carole intends to do something about it–and when Carole decides to do something, she generally does it. So don’t be surprised if you see her soon in a picture in which she gives out with a mess of serious dramatics.