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.


  1. Thanks for all the wonderful information about the lovely Paulette Goddard. A wonderful actress and a real Hollywood legend. I've always enjoyed her work and glad to see she is getting the recognition she deserves. Thanks!

  2. I really loved reading this a lot. I didn't know much about Paulette before, only that I love her vivacity and personality on the screen, even in Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin in which she has no lines :) And haha, who could forget the catfight in The Women with my personal favorite? ;) Which I think is pretty funny because Paulette was totally winning that fight, even though she was smaller. She was my second favorite character in that film, so I do like her a lot. Happy birthday, Paulette :)

  3. what a tribute to Paulette Rupert. I always loved her movies and even though vivian made Scarlett I don't think it would of been a bad movie with Paulette playing her. I can't see anyone else but those two in the part but Paulette always seemed sweet but knew what she was doing in her parts. Loved her and great blog.

  4. It's good to see you back here, Rupert! Very interesting facts about Goddard's life, and her run-in with DeMille. Reminded me of Vincent Price, who was terrified of fire, and yet so many of his horror films end with him running through fire! Come on, Paulette, toughen up!

    I didn't know she had been married to Burgess Meredith, one of my favorite actors. I also never knew she had been a Ziegfield and Goldwyn Girl.

    I may be in a bit of a minority, but I never thought Paulette would have fit as Scarlett. Her look is wrong, and I just didn't think her audition tape was convincing. If beautiful and fiery Susan Hayward had been just a few years older and had come into her own, I think she would have been able to rival Vivien Leigh.

    I just love Paulette in movies like The Women -- pretty, sharp-tongued, worldly and hilarious. This was a great post to begin with on your always-good blog, Rupert.

    1. I'm a big Hayward fan and once read that her GWTW screen test was very good but she hadn't learned to hide her Brooklyn accent yet

  5. For Pete's sake, Rupert - I had to come back and tell you that you are responsible for making me spend about 45 minute watching the next 2 parts of Youtube clips as well as the one you posted. I couldn't help it -- it just drew me in. I DO have other things to do, you know! LOL! Don't you love that documentary?

  6. Thanks for this post! I don't know much about Paulette Godard and definitely cant imagine her playing Scarlett O'Hara, but the politics surrounding the casting of that role are really strange/interesting.

  7. Hi Rupert...Was putting together a post on Catalina Island and discovered that Paulette and Chaplin often partied and fished for Marlin there...that led me to reaquainting myself with Paulette. I've seen her screen tests for Scarlett O'Hara and she was fine but I much prefer Vivien. Paulette was great in "The Women" and memorable in "Reap the Wild Wind" (a Scarlett-ish part). She seems to have ended up a very wealthy woman from her various marriages and career. Enjoyed reading more about her here, Rupert...she was a very interesting woman.

  8. I was recently introduced to Paulette in the movie, The Women. I was glad to see someone talk about her...

  9. She was my father's favorite actress. Funny, because my mother looked a bit like Vivien Leigh as a young girl...

  10. She was my father's favorite actress. Funny, my mother looked a little like Vivien Leigh...

  11. Rupert,
    Another wonderful article, informative and entertaining.
    I can honestly say I have enjoyed every role I have seem the beautiful Paulette in.

  12. She got to play a Southern Belle in Reap the Wild Wind with Wayne and Milland. A good movie well worth seeing!

  13. She is one of my very favorite actresses...and I will go down saying she should have been Scarlet.

  14. I've also read that while Leigh, like every breathing actress of her age in 1939, knew the importance of Scarlett, her higher priority at the time was to be as closely situated to Laurence Olivier as she could.

    Both married to others at the time, the two British stars were madly in love, and he was also in Hollywood to play Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn's "Wuthering Heights." But in Hollywood they would be safely away from their respective spouses and (relatively) free to play.

    It's been too long since I actually read this, but the suggestion or outright assertion of the author was that had Goldwyn been willing to cast Leigh as Catherine Earnshaw (Merle Oberon was already set), she might very well have forfeited Scarlett to be all the nearer to Olivier, and we might well have seen Gable playing opposite Goddard, or someone else.

  15. I am with you, ClassicBetty. I didn't think Paulette had the look of or feel for Scarlett. However, she was PERFECT in THE WOMEN!

  16. Paulette has always been my favorite star of all time. Lest not forget she WAS nominated for supporting actress in SO PROUDLY WE HAIL.



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