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She's Dancing Again!
The Personality And Charm Of Joan Crawford Are Clicking Once More. These Are Happy Days.
Her New Picture, "The Shining Hour," Is Well Named.
Originally appeared in Silver Screen, January 1939. By Elizabeth Wilson.
When an insurance agent with all kinds of twenty-pay-lifes and double indemnities asked Charlie Ruggles the other night what he would like to take out, our Charlie promptly answered, "Joan Crawford." And from what I can gather from my spies (Mata Hari hasn't been heard from since I gave her that assignment on Clark Gable) Mr. Ruggles' unsuppressed desire is rather representative of the desire of all American manhood.
I'm considerably annoyed about the whole thing, you can be sure of that---but I have to admit that Joan really is a swell person, so I shall be big about it just this once. Unless, of course, Mata Hari phones in that Clark Gable too wants to take out Joan Crawford. Then I will be a bit catty. Iím not as gallant as all that.
Maybe it's Joan's figure that gets them. The Crawford chassis with the broad shoulders and slender hips and perfect weight is by far the best in Hollywood. Or maybe it's that aura of domesticity that hovers around her. (I hear that strong brave men are pushovers for needlepoint and ginger cookies.) Joan's domesticity is really on the level, and not just a little something her publicity department dreamed up for the Sunday supplements. If you drop in on Miss C. unexpectedly at her Brentwood home, it's a safe bet that she will be dusting the knick-knacks in the living room, putting away the laundry, or running up new draperies. The egg-beater she leaves to the cook---though, caught in an emergency, she knows what to do with it, too.
Well, anyway, whatever it is that attracts men, Joan seems to have it. Ever since she and Franchot broke up, the Hollywood boys have been desperately trying to date her. Cesar Romero, Randy Scott and Dick Cromwell seem to be making pretty good time.
And just to show you how universal this Joan Crawford mania is, a couple of weeks ago Hymie Fink, local photographer, discovered that Charlie Rhodes, another Hollywood photographer, was about to have a birthday. "What do you want for your birthday?" Hymie asked. "Joan Crawford," said Charlie, just as you and I and any other gal would say "A million dollars." So Hymie said he would settle for a party and invited Charlie and his wife and two other photographers, Jack Albin and Bob Wallace, with their respective wife and girlfriend to dinner.
Well, when Joan heard that Charlie had asked for her for his birthday present you couldn't keep her away, and so when Charlie walked in that night expecting only the gang, there sat Miss Crawford grinning away like mad. "Here I am," said Joan. "Everything but the ribbons and cellophane."
Now there is something like five thousand dollars or more difference in the weekly pay checks of Joan Crawford and the poor photographers who have to chase around Hollywood all hours of the day and night getting pictures of the stars for magazines---and so quite, quite naturally there came that long awkward pause when no one could think of a thing to say. But Joan, a swell person (or did I say that before?) took matters in hand and soon had all the wives gabbing away as if they had known her for years. After dinner (cooked by Hymie's sister) Joan poured the coffee, cleared the table and helped dry the dishes.
The boys were so pleased over Joan coming to their birthday dinner that immediately they invited her and Cesar Romero to a party to be given in her honor at the Cocoanut Grove. "I never ate such a good dinner," said Joan, "and when the cake came on all inscribed to me, I nearly cried." Joan danced with the boys to the tunes of Wayne King's orchestra, swapped knitting secrets with the wives, and had herself a grand time.
During the evening Don Ameche, at the next table, leaned over to Joan and said, "I think this is the sweetest tribute I have ever seen in this town." It certainly is the first time anything like it has happened in Hollywood. There must be something awfully swell about a star when such down-to-earth people as the camera boys like her. They usually don't.
Joan has just finished emoting in "The Shining Hour" which you can catch any day now. She saw the play in New York several years ago and liked it so much she asked Metro to buy it for her and adapt it into a picture. Metro was quite surprised by the request, as the play has two lesser roles in it which are so written that if they are half-way decently played they will definitely steal the picture right from under the star's nose. "Joan," said Metro, "we must find someone for the roles of the sister and young wife. Have you any suggestions?" "Sure," said Joan, "I think Margaret Sullavan would be simply grand for the young wife, and Fay Bainter would be perfection itself for the sister-in-law."
"But Joan,"gulped Metro, "Sullavan and Bainter are top-notch stars. Sullivan's a great dramatic actress and Bainter has been sweeping all before her ever since 'White Banners.' Don't you think, perhaps, two actresses less important?" "It's all right with me if Margaret and Miss Bainter swipe the picture," said Joan. "They undoubtedly will. But I don't want to sacrifice a good story to poor casting. It's all right with me if you put a star in every part. I'd rather be a supporting player in a good picture than the star of a bad picture." And that was that.
Whatever you say about Joan, and people always seem to find plenty to say, she is one of the few stars who never hogs her pictures. (Claudette Colbert is another. In "Zaza" Claudette was quite delighted when they wrote added scenes for little Mary Todd, pink-cheeked baby girl, though she knew full well that little Mary with her lisp would steal every scene she was in.)
Margaret Sullavan and Joan had barely met when "The Shining Hour" went into production, and there were those who would take odds that Temperamental Maggie and Glamorous Joan would fight it out if it took all winter. Joan and Maggie hated to disappoint their dear, dear friends but they got along beautifully from the very start. The second day of shooting, a Saturday afternoon, there was a knock on Joan's dressing room door and Maggie said, "Joan, may I come in?" "Why of course, Maggie", said Joan. "You can come into my dressing room any time. You know that." Whereupon she opened the door and in stumbled little Brooke Hayward (Margaret's eighteen month old daughter) who seemed to recognize in Joan a kindred soul because, although ordinarily a very shy child, she walked right up to Joan and held out her arms.
When Margaret returned from the set she found Joan and Brooke with a couple of lipsticks scribbling on the wall papering. "The stationary gave out, and we didn't want to stop," Joan confessed guiltily. "I won't get mad," laughed Margaret, "until she starts marking up my walls. Then I'll sue you." Joan and Maggie and Brooke became the best of pals after that. As a matter of fact, at the end of the picture when Joan produced her autograph book (Joan, like any other avid fan, collects autographs of people whom she admires), Margaret wrote in it, "Joan: To be truthful I dreaded this picture. But it's been the nicest yet. Thanks to you. Maggie."
No, it wasn't Joan and it wasn't Maggie, nor was it Fay Bainter who came forth with a temperamental outburst in "The Shining Hour." It was, of all people, Frank Borzage, the director, and one of the kindest, most gentle men in Hollywood. All one morning Mr. Borzage had rehearsed one of the most difficult scenes in the picture---a scene between Margaret and Joan, who are both in love with the same man, Robert Young---but somehow it just didn't seem to come out right. At last he changed a few lines and it seemed much better. "We'll take it right after lunch," he said.
Right after lunch (it was a Saturday afternoon) Brooke arrived with her agent father and they took a seat on the stage to wait for Mamma to finish acting. There also arrived with Bennett, the Crawford chauffeur, Pupschen, a very well-mannered dachshund. Pupschen covered his mistress with doggy kisses and then settled down for his afternoon nap. Mr. Borzage summoned his artists and started the "take." Just then, Pupschen discovered a cat, or maybe he only dreamed it, but he went "bow-wow-wow" right in the middle of Joan's big dramatic moment. Pupschen was removed from the set. "Now," said Mr. Borzage , "we've been on this for hours and I'm sure we're awfully tired of it. Let's make this the perfect take. Camera."
Once more Joan and Margaret filled their eyes with tears and started their dramatics. "Da Da, Bye Bye," interrupted Miss Brooke Hayward. "I love him with all my heart and always shall---please don't let that be my child,"said Margaret as the scene came to an abrupt end. Brooke was removed from the set. "Please, dear God," said Mr. Borzage, "in my next picture give me actresses without dogs and babies."
All you have to do is make a picture in Hollywood and sooner or later the entire world shows up on your set. Unless of course you are one of those snooty stars who always sticks up an "Absolutely No Visitors" sign on her stage door. Joan is not a snooty star. She loves tourists on her sets. She'll give autographs with a smile, and if you ask her she will have her picture taken with you---which is indeed a souvenir of Hollywood that will make the boys back home turn green with envy.
One day on "The Shining Hour" set she noticed what looked like a goodly portion of the U.S. Army hovering in the background. After the rehearsal Joan went over to meet them (you just ought to see how they have to beg some of the stars to say a civil word to visitors) and was informed they were General Sam T. Lawton, his wife, and staff, on their first visit to Hollywood. Mrs. Lawton looked vaguely familiar. "Haven't we met somewhere before?" Joan asked. "We certainly have," said Mrs. Lawton with a smile. "You took my place in Ernie Young's revue when the show moved from Chicago to Detroit about sixteen years ago. I left the show to get married. Remember? I was Margarite Dahlquist then. Ruth Etting and Ted Healy were stars of the show. I gave up show business in favor of army life."
"Well," said Joan, "then I'm really indebted to General Lawton for my first dancing job. Thank you, General." Joan's last dancing job (she's come a long way since the General helped her out sixteen years ago) is with Tony DeMarco of the famous DeMarcos in the opening sequence of "The Shining Hour."
Joan has a superfluity of nervous energy and can get more done in a month than most people in a lifetime. She is an early riser---the only movie star, with the exception of Carole Lombard, who calls you over the phone before eight thirty in the morning. She plans all the meals, does the ordering, and when you are invited to have dinner at Joan's you know that she will have something you like very much. She keeps a mental list of her guests' likes and dislikes. She goes over her accounts regularly and pays all her bills promptly on the first of the month---which makes her so popular with the shopkeepers of Hollywood that they are planning to canonize her. She has no secretary, and personally answers all her mail. Besides her numerous household duties, she takes French lessons and voice lessons regularly. Right now she is working hard on her ice skating lessons as her next picture will be "Ice Follies," in which she both skates for the first time, and sings opera for the first time. What a field day that will be for the Joan Crawford fans.
You'd think that a person who has her days so well scheduled would be awfully dull. But not Joan. Her conversation is always amusing, sometimes brilliant, and she loves a good "dish" over the luncheon table, or before the fire after dinner, as well as the rest of us. She likes to tell jokes that are slightly naughty but not dirty. She smokes cigarettes and spills the ashes on the floor. She doesn't drink. I donít know if it's because she doesn't like the taste of anything stronger than tea, or whether it's because several years ago she walked into the Trocadero Cellar and saw ten women sitting at the bar with their backs to her. The contours where each lady met the stool frightened Joan. Since then, no one has ever been able to lure her to a bar stool, even to sip a tomato juice.
At the baby shower given for her very good friend Julie Murphy the other day, the hostess, Venita Oakie, announced that the donor of the seventh present Mrs. Murphy opened would be the next mother in the group. The seventh present was Joan's. "Maybe it will be our best scandal of the year," cracked Joan.
A big thanks to James for contributing this article and photos!