Friday, June 3, 2011

Paulette Goddard: 5 Things You (May or) May Not Know

Vivacious, gorgeous, intelligent and bedecked with both jewels and men (one often contingent upon the other), Paulette Goddard led one of the most fascinating lives during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Upon the 101st (or 100th or even the 106th, depending on what source one accepts) anniversary of her birth, I’d like to bring to light a few interesting facts about the comely and much married star that you might not know.

1.) Three of her four husbands were celebrities, that’s fairly common knowledge, but her first marriage while still in her teens, was to a lumber tycoon from North Carolina. Much out of character with the glamorous image of Paulette wining, dining and being squired around Hollywood and New York, Goddard actually lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Although a beautiful city and surrounding area (the filthy rich Vanderbilt family constructed their castle, Biltmore House there), it wasn’t exactly the place in which she hoped to live out her days. Her tenure of rural living didn’t last long though, as two years later, she headed to Reno for divorce and a healthy financial settlement, then onto California.

2.) Before Vivien Leigh was signed, Paulette was the leading contender in the race to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind (1939). Other top candidates who were considered were Joan Bennett and Jean Arthur but Paulette was at the top of the heap. Her inability to produce a marriage certificate proving her domestic status with then husband (?) Charlie Chaplin, along with the entrance of Miss Leigh into the “Scarlett” pool, was enough to dismiss any hopes of securing the role. The strength of her screen test, along with all the publicity the part generated for her, did however help her snag a long term contract with Paramount Pictures. (The clip above shows several screen and make-up tests for Paulette and others. The portion dealing with Goddard begins at about three minutes in.)

3.) While still in her teens, Goddard landed a job with the famous Ziegfeld Follies in New York. Half a decade later, she was one of the original troupe of Goldwyn Girls, along with Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. The irony is not lost on me, when as Miriam Aarons in the classic comedy The Women (1939), Goddard is asked about her days in the chorus and all the material baubles she‘d accumulated, she replies: “If you mean diamond bracelets and boxes of orchids, that breed died out just before my time.” But it hadn’t! In real life she was right in the thick of the “chorus girl” heyday.

4.) Cast often in Cecil B. deMille’s color spectacles of the 1940’s Paulette fell out of favor with the infamous adventure director during filming of 1947’s Unconquered. The following has been drawn from an earlier article I wrote about the making of that film.
“But the big stink regarding Goddard was her refusal to appear in the big “Siege on Fort Pitt” scene where real firebombs were being hurled about the set. DeMille, who demanded bravery and complete cooperation from his actors, under any circumstances, was livid at the actress, berating her in front of the entire cast and crew, but to no avail. Paulette’s stand-in did the scenes instead, and in an ironic twist, suffered minor burns, to which Goddard felt all the more vindicated. It was the last time the actress was in a Cecil B. DeMille production, being discounted by the director for the role eventually given to Gloria Grahame in his extravaganza, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), a film she let DeMille know in no uncertain terms that she greatly wanted to be involved with.”

5.) Paulette Goddard had no children, although she miscarried in the mid 40’s while married to actor Burgess Meredith. Upon her death in Ronco, Switzerland, where she had retired, she left $20 million to New York University. As a result, Goddard Hall, a freshman residence dorm located on Washington Square is named in her honor.


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