Pursuit of the Hollywood He-Man
By Adela Rogers St. Johns
Photoplay magazine, June 1936
It started, this idea, about the time Clark Gable and his wife separated. And about the time Robert Taylor became the rage on the screen.
I first encountered it at a dinner party where a world-famous psychologist said to me that all Hollywood females were predatory in the extreme and that they pursued the Hollywood he-men much more than they were pursued by them.
Not being too sure about “predatory,” when I got home that night, I sought my biggest Webster’s, where I found that predatory was defined as: “Of, pertaining to, or characterized by plundering. Practicing rapine. Given to plundering.”
This upset me quite a good deal. Then I made a flight out to Hollywood from New York, where I had been working, and became aware that there was a good deal of gossip going on which might check with the eminent professor’s idea. His idea, simply stated, was that sex selection in Hollywood was done by the women stars, the great screen beauties, and that the poor man didn’t have much of a chance. The Hollywood whispers were that half a dozen world-renowned screen sirens had suddenly noticed young Robert Taylor, as he emerged from obscurity into the hearts of American women, and that they were hot upon his trail.
All this startled me a little. I had never thought much about it one way or the other, but it had always seemed to me that the glamorous women of Hollywood—and they are the most fascinating women on earth—were pursued by the men, that they were sought by men and admired by them and wouldn’t have the slightest trouble getting any man on earth they wanted.
Yet it was whispered to me across the teacups and luncheon tables that the moment the beautiful Rhea Gable left her husband, a dozen Hollywood stars and near-stars had marked him for their own and set out to capture him.
That made me pause for thought, because I know Clark very well and he does not like to be pursued. He will, thank you very much, do his own pursuing and if, now that he is free, he wants to do any of it, he will probably be very successful. But as a strict matter of fact, Clark is not so very much interested in women. He likes hunting and fishing and horses and lots of things besides women and he works hard and doesn’t have an awful lot of time.
But the stories of the pursuit of Gable and Taylor—they seemed at the moment to be the most sought-after males in Hollywood—convinced me of a lot of very interesting things about that most fascinating place. For Hollywood has become very fascinating again. After a rather drab and commercial era, while we were all scared to death after the advent of the talkies, it is full of opera stars and foreigners and temperament again, and love affairs and glamour. I left it, a few years ago, because nobody was having fun anymore. But they are having plenty of fun now.
The lady most openly and frequently mentioned as pursuing Mr. Gable was Carole Lombard.
Some of the other ladies who are pursuing cannot be mentioned by name because they wouldn’t like it, and I can’t prove it. I dislike very much to put down on paper anything I can’t prove.
But I mention Carole because she won’t mind, because she has the most glorious sense of humor of any woman I have ever known, and because she has an open and frank attack upon life and its problems as they apply to her. You may have guessed from the foregoing that I am pretty crazy about Carole and you will be right. She is one of those rare women who never give anybody, including herself, a dull moment.
Carole would definitely say that if she wanted anything, whether it was Mr. Gable or a job or a new ping-pong table, she would go out and get it if she could. Anything else would seem stupid and antiquated to Carole, who is modern from her flaming head to her polished toes.
And the thought of Carole made me realize that Hollywood is about the only place I know on the map today where men and women are really equal. Stop and think a moment and you will see that this is true. Therefore, if the men all pursue Marlene Dietrich and the women pursue Clark Gable and Robert Taylor, all it means is that they are actually equals and that either way it is done is quite all right with everybody.
In spite of our much vaunted woman’s freedom and the equality of sexes that is exploited so much these days, certain inequalities and certain Eve-like tendencies have persisted in most woman. Girls wait for the boys to telephone and the ladies wait for the gentlemen to ask them out for dinner, and proposals, honorable and otherwise, are supposed to come from the men. I don’t say that the women don’t pull the strings and do a bit of phenagling now and again. But that’s the basic principal.
But in Hollywood it is and must be different.
When I began to think about it, I discovered that I had actually seen a good deal of what my friend the professor calls the predatory female of Hollywood. I began my Hollywood career some seventeen years ago and I have watched the parade ever since.
I think the first time I ever noticed the pursuit at its height was when Ronald Colman first arrived in the cinema capital from England. He was then, and is now for that matter, a retiring soul, fond of privacy and given to chuckling rather than laughing. Being English, he was used to the deeply engrained idea of masculine dominance and freedom. He was, however, amazingly attractive and about that time there hadn’t been a really new and attractive man around for quite a while. (It’s a very small town you know, and the advent of a fascinating new man is not so much different than the advent of somebody’s roommate who is handsome and plays on the football team.)
There were times in those first months when I thought Ronny was going to give up the whole picture idea and go back and raise sheep or something on his farm in England. The way I happen to know how deeply it affected him is this: The first time we ever met, or maybe the second, Ronny and I had a very violent and edged difference of opinion about something or other. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but Ronny was very English and very superior and cutting and sarcastic about it and I was very Irish and violent and unpleasant. Later, in the evening, I thought what a fool I had been because I liked him very much and now he would avoid me like the plague. But it turned out exactly the opposite. Ronny always seemed glad to see me, liked to be my partner at tennis, and sought me at evening parties, where we continued to fight and disagree on almost every subject that came up in the conversation.
It was quite a whole before I realized that Mr. Colman thought I disliked him and therefore he was perfectly safe in my company. And he didn’t feel very safe in Hollywood just then. For often even in the late hours when he returned home he would find some charming lady whose name rated electric lights, waiting for him, having just dropped in for a moment on her way home. Jack Gilbert used to swear that in those days Ronald always looked under his bed before he got into it.
Perhaps young Mr. Taylor is having somewhat the same experience now. The rumor around the clubs, which I haven’t been altogether able to confirm, is that young Mr. Taylor really prefers Irene Hervey to all other women there are, but that there are several irresistible ladies who render his choice difficult.
Then, of course, I remember the advent of Gary Cooper. Gary happens to be my own personal favorite masculine star. On the screen, he is literally everything that I find attractive in a man. But when I first men Gary he was a shy, awkward, very unhappy young man from the wide open spaces and he was trying to learn to act. I had written the picture and I had to witness some of it, and it was pretty painful. I think of it with a thrill when I see him turn in such a magnificent and finished performance as that in “Lives of a Bengal Lancer.” But in those early days he was shy of women, he was always a silent young man, but he was just as attractive as he is now.
If you will remember he was reported engaged first to Clara Bow, the flaming “It” girl of the silent films, then Evelyn Brent, then to Lupe Velez. I don’t think it’s unfair to anybody to say that in all those cases it was a game of lady’s choice. Not that Gary wasn’t willing, but he was shy and he didn’t quite know what the score was. As for Lupe—now there is a young woman who glories in being predatory, if you life. What Lupe wants, Lupe gets.
Of course, in the end Gary quietly, and in his usual efficient manner, selected a young and beautiful society girl from New York and married her. But he had been among the pursued in his time.
As for Gable!
I remember a producer telling me in the days when Clark had just registered his sky-rocket success that he had completely disrupted the lot. I asked why and the producer said that he had a file of demands, impassioned requests and tears from practically every female star on the lot to have Gable in her next picture as leading man. Now most female stars do not wish to be overshadowed by a startling young man who is just hitting his peak. So there may—I don’t say there was—but there may have been, in a few cases at least, something a little personal in those requests. But Clark was in love with his wife –I think he still is—and escaped unscathed.
But—but—let’s be fair. Wasn’t practically every other woman in America, at that time, pursuing Mr. Gable? If not in fact, in fancy. Weren’t they just as eager to have Mr. Gable play leading man for them as any of the Hollywood beauties? Merely lack of opportunity makes the difference in their procedure. They wrote fan letters. The Hollywood stars wrote demands for a new leading man.
But to come back to the idea which all this suggest to me that only in Hollywood is there real actual equality between the sexes.
In the first place, there so-called predatory females of Hollywood who pursue the he-men, are in every possible way complete and independent units on their own accounts. More so than any women I know anywhere else in the world. They are famous. They are all without exception either beauties or great personalities—or well, at least they have something that attracts millions of people up to a little window to pay money to see them.
They earn as much—often more—money than the men.
Carole Lombard, for instance, has one of the most beautiful houses in Hollywood. Her parties are famous. As a hostess she has no superior in the brilliant film colony. She earns a huge salary; she is admired by millions; she has a life of her own and is a complete and famous individual herself.
Therefore, it isn’t at all strange that she acts about as a man would act when personal matters engage her attention.
The false pride, the feeling of insecurity, the general feminine feeling that she must wait to be sought, isn’t present and can’t be present in women who have already conquered half the modern universe. They naturally assume that people are going to like them and they proceed along these lines.
The lady who owns a beautiful home, who has a charming setting of her own, doesn’t think anything of inviting a man to dine with her.
There is, as a matter of fact, a “new sex” today. The independent and famous woman who makes her own living, pays her own income tax, is sought after and run after, who has to compete with other famous women—her outlook on life cannot possibly be the same as that of the average woman. And I can tell you now that it jolly well isn’t.
In the case of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, I would like to bet you a lot of money that Carole is having a lot of fun and getting a lot of laughs and that she will give Mr. Gable plenty of fun and excitement before she is through. The pursuit, if any, will amuse her and that will probably be all there is to it. Unless somewhere along the line she and Clark should discover something more than a little game which helps keep life happy.
There is another angle to be considered where motion picture stars are concerned.
One of them, who for ten years has been at the top of the list, once told me that she absolutely had to make the advances where men were concerned.
“If I didn’t,” she said, laughing, “I wouldn’t ever have a beau.”
It isn’t difficult to understand that. The average man, who doesn’t like being overshadowed, isn’t as a rule seeking a love affair or marriage or anything else with a woman who is more famous and has a greater earning capacity as he has.
The average men wouldn’t, for instance, think of attempting to date up Garbo, or Dietrich, or Carole Lombard, or Katharine Hepburn. Even in Hollywood, these ladies seem somewhat inaccessible. Their glamour burns very brightly. Men are afraid of them, for many reasons which my friend the eminent psychologist explained to me. They are afraid of being turned down, of being laughed at, of being inadequate. That’s quite understandable.
In many cases where famous screen stars have married men not so well known to the public, even though those same men were able and highly paid and all that, I have seen the results of the woman’s fame break up homes. I remember, too, how those women have fought to use their husband’s names in private life. Usually without success.
So, as this famous star said to me, she has to make the advances. She has to break down the barriers that her fame places between her and most of the men she meets, even other screen stars. They are, after all, but men—these he-men of Hollywood and I have seen them as tongue-tied and fascinated in the presence of some of these glamorous ladies as any other men would be.
I don’t think Hollywood women are predatory exactly.
I admit they pursue. I admit they select.
But I think they do it simply because they regard themselves quite naturally as being on exactly the same footing as men. They have had to discard the protection and the privacy and the helplessness of woman. They have had to compete for place and success, and most of them have done it alone. They have met the world face to face, Isn’t it pretty natural that they should neither ask nor give quarter?
They aren’t the happiest women in the world, this new sex. The struggle between their feminine instincts and their trained equality is pretty great sometimes. They have, the majority of them, masculine minds and outlooks, and feminine emotions and instincts. They get torn apart.
But personally I’m not much worried about the he-men. I guess they’re having a pretty good time, and getting a break that that.