Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reconsidering: Paulette Goddard

I've had to change my mind about quite a few performers as I get smarter (notice I didn't say "older"?). Stars or films that left me cold when I was dumber (read "younger"), now are more intriguing to me. In fact, some are downright fascinating.
The lovely Paulette Goddard is one of those stars. There was more to "the Girl With the Champagne Smile" than initially meets the eye. Being a rabid Chaplin admirer, I wrote her off as one whose career would not have blossomed without him. Maybe it's true, but as I look at her now, I think maybe she would have been a bigger star. She clearly is delightful and probably was too much for Charlie to handle.

Paulette's story is well known. As a young woman who struggled financially, she helped support herself and her mother, first as a child model and then as a fetching member of a Ziegfeld show. She hit the jackpot early and married into wealth, but decided the life of a grande dame was not for her, ditched the husband and headed for Hollywood. You gotta love a girl with spunk.

Once in Hollywood, in her blonde cutie phase, she added decoration to such Goldwyn productions as "Roman Scandals" and "Kid Millions."
It's not hard to believe that, just by looking at her, this girl was going places. However, having a famous husband upped the ante.

Shortly after her arrival in Hollywood, Paulette met Charlie Chaplin. Their relationship has been well documented, and Paulette is the one Chaplin woman who went on to have an important Hollywood career on her own. But, it was Charlie who convinced her to go from bleached blonde to her natural brunette shade and starred her in two of her most important roles. While the legal status of their relationship was always in question, there is no doubt they did, for a time, make each other very happy.
Paulette's performance in "Modern Times" is probably the most powerful given by all of Chaplin's leading ladies (sorry dear Edna, sorry Claire). Her gamin is a total joy and, while Chaplin painstakingly coached her, it comes off as totally natural and spontaneous. 

"The Great Dictator," filmed while the relationship was grinding to a halt, offered Paulette a role in a great and courageous film. Chaplin tried to make "an actress" out of Paulette, but it was a role against which she rebelled.

Paulette also was a leading candidate for the part of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind." Some say that Selznick was nervous about her possibly non-legal union with Chaplin, but in all probability, Vivien Leigh just blew the competition away (Leigh was also living "in sin" with Olivier at that time).

Paulette Goddard's career after Chaplin went into high gear during the pre-war and war years. Just as pretty as the other pin-ups, she had a verve and wholesomeness that the others lacked. Outside of the Chaplin films, these are the films in which Paulette has cast her spell over me (so far):

"The Women": as the brassy chorus girl Miriam Aarons, she is smartest of all of those hens out on the Reno ranch. Straight forward and wise, she's a smarty-cat who lands on her feet.
"The Cat and the Canary": In a little haunted house tomfoolery with Bob Hope, Paulette is as cute as a button and a great sparring partner for professional coward Hope.
"Hold Back the Dawn": as the dancer who loves Charles Boyer but always has her head on her shoulders, I keep rooting for her schemes to come to fruition (in spite of the true love of Olivia de Havilland getting in the way).
A Woman of Substance
One of the reason I loved "The Artist" this year is because it was, in part, a story about a man whose creation was his personality. In that respect, Paulette Goddard was an artist. While her screen performances might not have been of the highest art, her off-screen live was. 
Some Paulette Goddard facts:
She was extremely well read, and a great collector of art. Her jewelry collection was legendary.
Her third husband was Burgess Meredith
Her fourth (and final) husband was the writer Erich Maria Remarque.
She had affairs with George Gershwin and Diego Rivera (who painted this mural of her):
Upon her death in 1990,she bequeathed $20 million to New York University (Goddard Hall is named in her honor).

Irene Selznick, in her autobiography "A Private View" relates a very funny story about Goddard (called "Sugar" by her friends) and a flesh colored bathing suit that she skillfully nabbed from Irene. Charles Chaplin, Jr. wrote warmly of her as his step mother. And finally, when fate dictated that both she, as Remarque's wife, and Chaplin, in exile, lived in Switzerland, she was asked if she and Charlie ever saw one another. Her reply? "We live on different mountains."

A great gal and a sparkling presence, I am now in Paulette Goddard's corner!


monty said...

From a fellow Paulette lover..welcome!

Aubyn said...

There's something irresistible about Paulette, isn't there?

Kimberly J.M. Wilson said...

Paulette lived a wonderful personal life. Perhaps if she had channeled some of her off-screen persona into her acting she could have soared. Ah, but at least she was happy.

FlickChick said...

Hi Monte - I know you are a Paulette fan. I'm glad I finally saw the light!

FlickChick said...

@ Rachel - she sure does have that certain something. I always kind of wrote her off as not iteresting, but I guess it was me, not her.

FlickChick said...

Kim - she was a fascinating woman. She lived a very full life and I think being a movie star was only a small part for her.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I've enjoyed Paulette Goddard in THE WOMEN, THE GHOST BREAKERS, and MODERN TIMES, but now that I've read your fascinating and affectionate account of Goddard's life and times, I think I've already become a fan of hers! I'll definitely make it a point to watch her films when they come on TCM and such!

DorianTB said...

Oh, and speaking of Paulette Goddard, FlickChick, you and everyone else here might enjoy Paul Castiglia's review of THE GHOST BREAKERS over at SCARED SILLY:

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dorian, and thanks so much for the link. She and Bob Hope were great together. She was prettier and smarter and he was funnier.

Martin Turnbull said...

I am so glad to read that you've revised your views on Paulette Goddard. I've been a fan of hers since forever and have always wondered why her career wasn't bigger. She always struck me as being the type of gal who had it all and could do it all. Welcome to the Paulette Fan Club!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Martin! I don't think that Paulette was overly concerned with being a big star - she was having too much fun in "real" life to worry about her "reel" life. She alays looks as though she is the smartest cookie in the room!

Samantha said...

Ummm, you made me reconsider her also.

ClassicBecky said...

Chick, You and Dorian mentioned my favorite Paulette Goddard movie -- "The Ghostbreakers." I think she showed her best comedic acting, she was fresh and cute and tough. It's also my favorite Bob Hope movie (of course The Road To movies are a given!) I haven't see a couple of the movies you mentioned, and I'll have to watch for them. Like you, I didn't love Paulette until I got "smarter" -- LOL!

FlickChick said...

Becky - she was so smart that she had to wait for us to catch up!

Paul Castiglia said...

Martha - great blog - I'm looking forward to exploring it further!

Dorian - thank you for plugging my "Scared Silly" project and "Ghost Breakers" review! I'll review "The Cat & the Canary" at some point, too.

I invite "A Person in the Dark" readers to peruse my other reviews as well - you can find an alphabetical listing of my posted-reviews-to-date on the upper right hand side of the page at

Robert said...

As a kid, my paternal grandpa was a big Chaplin fan and so I was always interested in him. As a teenager I gorged on his films and I always had a soft spot for Paulette. She was so natural, so luminous, and had a beauty that wasn't intimidating or distant like, say, Hayworth. Even now, nearly fifty, she still appears to me tobe one of great screen beauties, sadly largely forgotten now, it seems. Of that era, only Carole Lombard had a screen presence as natural and appealing.