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).
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!