THE LIFE OF PAULETTE GODDARD

 

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After spending her chilhood with her mother doing a few little jobs, Paulette Goddard started her career as a chorus girl with the Ziegfeld Follies. A comfortable pension given by her first husband enabled her to stay in Hollywood, where she got a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and Hal Roach. But it was only when she met Charles Chaplin that she became a star. She then pursued a prestigious career at Paramount Studios until the beginning of the fifties. After her fourth marriage, she settled in Switzerland and left her luxurious retreat only to act occasionally. At the end of her life, she became more and more discreet and withdrew, by the Lago Maggiore

 

Luxurious retreat Photos of her tomb

 

photossaviebA difficult childhood

Marion Goddard Levy may have been born on June 3, 1910 in New York, two years after the episcopal wedding of her parents, Joseph Russell Levy and Alta Mae Goddard.

Her real age remains a mystery. The actress Claire Trevor, born in 1910, who had her first schooling in the same school as Paulette, in Manhattan, declared that she was a year older than Paulette was. Paulette always took pleasure in casting doubts about her age, but the most probable date seems to be 1910 (and not 1905, according to her Swiss death certificate, or even 1915 according to some biographies and various official documents). It is the same with her birth place : New York. It could have been in the northern part of Long Island, whether in Whitestone (Queens) or in Great Neck (Nassau).

Marion is the only first name entered in her birth certificate, in honor of her grandmother on her father’s side. That of Pauline, the name of her great grandmother on her father’s side, appeared a few years later. The mystery remains as to the choice of Pauline for her daily life.

photossaviecThe Gozard family, later Goddard, emigrated in 1846 from England to Hartford, Connecticut, then to Watertown in South Dakota around 1880, where Paulette’s mother, Alta, was born in 1887. Then the family left for Salt Lake City, Utah, a growing city. Leslie Goddard, Paulette’s grandfather, first an accountant, tried his luck as a property agent around 1900 but he failed and went bankrupt three years later. His wife, Nellie Hatch left him and left her daughters Alta and her younger sister, Helen, with their father and his new bride. During her studying, Alta met Dollie Levy who introduced her to her brother, Joseph, who would become her husband.

Paulette’s father, born Jewish in 1880, is - with his brothers - one of the inheritors and landowners of one of the first manufactures of cigars in Salt Lake City, called Sam Levy’s Sons, named after Paulette’s gandfather, Sam Levy, who founded the firm.
While she was growing up, her father was away on business most of the time for he directed a chain of picture houses owned by the Warner Brothers. He was often accompanied by his wife, leaving Paulette in the care of her grandparents or near relatives.
Soon enough, her parents broke up. Paulette was then brought up by her mother and did her first schooling in Caldwell, New Jersey, then in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After a detour through Canada, she settled with her mother in Great Neck, a New York suburb, in 1923.

photossaviedHer parents officially divorced in 1926. Her mother, twice remarried, would follow her daughter throughout her career and her amorous life. Paulette’s mother died in Switzerland, in her daughter’s villa, in 1983. Paulette’s father refused to give her the financial support to raise her daughter, which amounted to $10 a week, but re-entered in her life at the end of the thirties. They would definitely split when he sued her for lying in her past and making deffamatory statements in an article written in 1938 (The perils of Paulette, Collier’s magazine). Paulette reinvented her life in this article by saying, in particular, that he was her stepfather.  She settled with him and agreed to give him $75 a week. But she soon stopped giving him the money. When her father died in 1954, he left her an inheritance of only one dollar proving then the tumultuous and complicated relationship they had ! All that explains very clearly why Paulette had the strong desire to find in the men she loved her father who failed her in her youth !

Soon after the divorce of her parents, Paulette abondoned her studies to help her mother to make ends meet. She worked as a seamstress and a model for Hattie Carnegie’s hats. Around 1925, she was hired by Saxs as a model wearing clothes for adolescents, but her ambition remained to be an actress and make her way in the cinema adventure.pghautdepageb

 

Chorus girl and first wedding

Impressed by the beauty of her young niece, now a blonde, her great-uncle on her mother’s side, Charlie Goddard, enabled herto join, in 1926, The Ziegfeld Follies, one of the most famous musical companies on Broadway, directed by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., the master of musicalcomedies of that time. That revealed to be the strategic step to become an actress as Florenz Ziegfeld only accepted the epitomy of female beauty in his sumptuous photossavieecompany.

Given the antisemetic spirit of the time, she decided, like many other actors wishing to work, to hide her Jewishness and to take on a more common name like John Garfield (Jacob Julius Garfinkle) or Edward G. Robinson (Emmanuel Goldenberg). She was now called Paulette Goddard, taking the family name of her mother and transforming her name Pauline .

The company was renamed No Foolin’ for the opening of the Globe Theatre in New York, in June 1926. The show would run until September of that year. In February 1927, she started acting in Rio Rita before taking on the leading role in the musical comedy, The Unconquerable Male in Atlantic City, but it was a flop and it lasted only three days !

The same year she got married in New York to a notorious playboy, the very rich industrialist Edgard James whom she met in Palm Beach. She was not seen on stage for two years, during which time she lived in Asheville, North Carolina, where the headquarters of her husband’s company was located. She lived a busy social life and discovered Europe with him, in particular Cannes and Paris. She divorced him in Reno, Mexico, in 1929, and decided to leave for Hollywood with her mother and a comfortable pension of $375 000. pghautdepageb

 

photossaviefHollywood and the glory

Very soon she made a name for herself.
On 1929, she signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and Hal Roach, the discoverer of Laurel and Hardy. She acted in small roles often without credit, in particular with Laurel and Hardy (Berth Marks, 1929, and The Bohemian, 1936). But most important, she was one of the famous Goldwyn Girls in three films with Eddie Cantor, including Roman Scandals (1933).

After a few years of uninteresting roles, chance finally turned up thanks to her meeting one of the most famous men in the world, the legendary Charles Chaplin who fell for her charm one night in July 1932, on a yacht on its way to Catalina Island. He would become her second husband and mentor. She broke her contract under his influence and signed, in 1934, a new contract with the Chaplin Studios.
Now a brunette, she played with him two classics of the Seventh Art, which propelled her to stardom and enabled her to enter as cinema legend. Thanks to roles such as the joyful and blooming young girl walking hand in hand with « Charlot » in The modern times (1936), or the sweet fighter Hannah in love with the modest barber in The great dictator (1940). A rarity in the master’s filmography, she was the only actress to become Charlot’s alter ego, as Charles Chaplin always had a tendancy to dominate the screen.
He married her in June 1936 in Canton in China, as they cruised to Asia. Their marriage remained secret until they had an amicable divorce in Mexico, in June 1942, after actually breaking up in 1940.

photossaviegIn order to avoid the control of her pygmalion she started to negotiate her own contracts and in so doing acted in a few successful films for MGM (Dramatic school in 1938, and the classic Women in 1939), and for United Artists (The young in heart in 1938 or Pot O'Gold in 1940). She was even the favorite for the much sought after role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind for quite a long time until her only rival, Vivien Leigh, was eventually chosen. She then lost what would have been the role of her life.

But strong with her new celebrity and a few public successes, she succeeded in attracting the attention of Paramount Studios which gave her an exclusive contract in 1939. Preferring comedies and adventure films, she then became one of the most important stars of Paramount for over ten years.
Soon she made a hit thanks to the comical couple she formed with Bop Hope, in three comedies including The ghost breakers (1940).
Realizing the immense impact of their new star with the public, Paramount gave her a series of successful roles : entertaining, strong and dynamic women with prestigious partners such as Fred Astaire (Swing Romance in 1940), Charles Boyer (Hold back the down in 1941) , Fred Mac Murray (Standing room only in 1944) or Ray Milland (Kitty in 1946, one of her best films).

In this same period, she became the favorite actress of the most powerful producer of Hollywood, Cecil B. de Mille, with whom she had tumultuous relationships, but who offered her three epic roles with John Wayne (Reap the wild wind in 1942), and Gary Cooper (North west mounted police in 1940, which was the major success of that year for the Paramount Studios, and Unconquered in 1947). She was splendid and very entertaining in it.

She was at the top of her career when her talent was finally acknowledged with an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her contribution in So proudly we hail (1943), a film about nurses during World War II.

During this tragic period she contributed to the war effort and, to support the morale of American troops, decided to perform in a few entertaining films (Star spangled rhythm in 1942), and to leave in 1944 for an acting tour on the Eastern front (in particular in Burma) for shows sponsered by the United Service Organizations Inc. with the two actors Keenan Wynn and Pat O’Brien.

photossaviehShe was then seeing the comedian Burgess Meredith whom she met on the shooting of Swing Romance. He became her third husband in May 1944. With him she set up that same year the Camden Productions Inc., which produced The diary of a chambermaid (1946) by Jean Renoir, in which she showed the extent of her talent in the role of Celestine, the ambitious maid using tricks to climb up the social ladder.

Later she tried to produce other films by setting up a new production firm, Monterey Pictures, with John Steinbeck as an associate, but it did not lead to any productions. Yet, she managed to co-produce the Mexican film The Torch (1949). Wishing to diversify her activities, she opened in 1947 an antique shop and an art gallery in New York State (High Tor Associates), with Burgess Meredith. But they broke up with a consentual agreement in 1948, and divorced only in 1949 in Mexico. She had a miscarriage during the years of that marriage.
At the end of the forties, she continued to act for Paramount Studios but in films less spectacular (Hazard in 1948). She then turned to independant American films (On our merry way in 1948) and foreign ones (An ideal husband, in 1947, certainly her last major role which was not a public success). She also participated in numerous radio productions and occasionally acted in the theater (Caesar and Cleopatra in 1950).

At the beginning of the fifties, she encountered many problems with Paramount Studios after a few failures at the box office, and because of opinions concerning the Anti American activities Committee of the House of Representatives, which lead to enquiries on the impact of communism and its propaganda in the film industry at the beginning of the cold war. After she helped the famous painter Diego Rivera to leave Mexico in 1940, following the attempted assassination of Leon Trotski, the FBI sought her opinions and investigated her political activities. She was mentioned on many FBI lists, in particular for her membership in the Committee for the First Amendment which included many personalities of the leftist Hollywood, who challenged the Committee of anti American activities for its right to interview anyone concerning their participation – but also for her courageous statement on the radio in September 1947, withEdward G. Robinson, for defending a free press and opposing the policy of the Committee. Moreover her being the ex-photossavieiwives of Burgess Meredith and Charles Chaplin did not help her, for they were both unjustly targeted by the witch hunt. But while she claimed herself a democrat, she was never accused of being a communist. Paramount Studios however put an end to her contract after the painful failure of Bride of vengeance in 1949.

Her career gradually lost ground in the fifties. Yet, she acted in B films with, nevertheless, renowned directors : Edgard G. Ulmer (Babes in Bagdad in 1952) and Terence Fisher (Stranger came home in 1954).

From 1954, she lived most of the time in Europe giving a break to her career, but without regret. However she participated in a few Television series (The case of the Lady Beryl in 1954, or Lady from South Chicago in 1959), and made one last comeback in a cinema studio in 1964, as the mother of Claudia Cardinale in the Italian film Gli indifferenti. She was last seen in 1972 in the TV film Female Instinct, preferring to make full profit of a golden retirement thanks to her last marriage, which assured her financial comfort. pghautdepageb

 

A luxurious retreat but a painful and lonely end

photossaviekIn 1951, at last she met the man who would bring her the most fulfilling love relationship : the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque who became her fourth and last husband. They married in 1958 and resided permanently in Switzerland, by the Lago Maggiore in Porto Ronco.

She was an astute manager of her fortune, large enough to permit her a grand life style - a sign of a brilliant social success, up to her ambitions. Together with her husband, she enriched her fabulous collection of antique furniture and oriental carpets, masters paintings (Degas or Renoir) and jewels. At the end of the seventies, she decided to auction a part of her prestigious collection.

She travelled widely and shared her time between her apartment in New York and, her splendid villa in Switzerland : The Casa Monte Tabor.

In the sixties and seventies she even became one of the mainstays of the New York scene, and always dressed by renowned fashion houses, such as Jacques Fath or Yves Saint Laurent. She was seen with Truman Capote and Andy Warhol with whom, in 1974, she tried in vain to write her biography (Paulette Goddard talks to Andy Warhol), after the failure of her collaboration with her faithful friend Anita Loos (The perils of Paulette).

Following the death of Erich in 1970, her health became unstable.
After a life of hard smoking, she struggled in the 70’s against melanoma and breast cancer ending in a complete mastectomy in 1975, a very heavy and painful surgery at that time with dramatic psychological consequences. She then became more and more solitary and avoided her friends.

Unwillingly, she came back to the limelight because of a news item, when she was contacted in March 1978 for a ransom concerning the corpse of Charles Chaplin, stolen in Vevey cemetary in Switzerland (the grave was to be found untouched sixteen days later in a field near Noville).

All those difficult moments led her to an addiction to alcohool and drugs. A severe depression, in the beginning of the eighties, tempted her to put an end to her life with an overdose of narcotics. But it was emhysema that would kill her a few years later.

photossavielFor the last five years of her life she remained in her villa by Lago Maggiore, a place to which she always tried to flee out of boredom since Erich’s death, despite devoted servants.  

She died there of a heart attack on the 23rd of April 1990, after a year of respiratory assistance caused by her emphysema. She was then 79 years old. Her belongings amounted then to more than $20 million and were given to New York University .

According to her last will, she was cremated and buried in the private cemetary of Ronco sopra Ascona, next to her last husband and her mother. Only her close collaborators participated in the farewell ceremony, and the burrial at which a few sumptuous bouquets were sent in particular by Lady Oona O’Neil, the widow of Charles Chaplin who had been Paulette’s pygmalion. She had succeeded in emancipating herself from him, yet he had also chosen to end his days in Switzerland, just a few kilometers from Ronco.

Here are a few photos of her tomb pghautdepageb

 

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