Why I will never write my memoirs
“The trouble with us” said Grant Clarke to me in 1930, “is that we are too degenerate for one part of Hollywood and not degenerate enough for the other”.
This sour observation covered the fact that we were both Midwesterners born in the Bible belt of Anglo-Saxon farmers who prayed in the parlour nd practised incest in the barn. And, although our sexual education had been conducted by the élite of Paris, London and New Yor, our pleasure as restricted by the imbred shackles of sin and guilt. Thus at the same time our reputation for immorality excluded us from the parties of respectable Hollywood which devoted itself to presenting a picture of moral beauty to the world, our reputation for sudden attcks of puritanism excluded us from the delights of the carefully arranged parties which ended for us after lunch or dinner when we were dismissed with a firm goodbye.
I am not speaking of those vulgar brawls publicised s Hollywood orgies, nor of those parties composed of a herd of extra girls infiltrated by proucers and actors stimulated by stag movies, nor of those drunken parties that spread into bedrooms and out upon lawns. I am speaking of those rare entertainments which, so far as I know, have never been recorded in any memoir.
Also unrecorded in Hollwood memoir is the name of Grant Clarke. Although his bitter witticisms are woven into film history – “Hollywood is like floating through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat” – they are always attributed to Wilson Mizner, the famous raconteur whose gold rush stories, manifactured after five years of larceny in the Klondike, were longer than an arctic night. He held his audience with the combination of his great phisical size and the command of an army general. T my house in 1927, during a repeat fo the story of a miner who froze to death while stopping to tie his shoe lace and had to be buried in a bass drum, s I rose to mix a cocktail Wilson circled me with his arm and set me upon his knee, imprisoned till the end of the story.
In New York in 1939 at thirty three, he was selling gambling anecdotes to playwrights and cultivating his fame as a prize fight manager with sports writers when he adopted Grant Clarke, the eighteen year old boy-wonder of lyric writers who kept Wilson in fresh jokes until his death from an overdose of morphine in Hollywood in 1931. When Wilson died in 1933 Warner Brothers was paying him to tell underworld stories to its writers at the same time he continued to collect his basic oncome from the gambling joints to which he steered his friends.
One night I was sitting in the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel with my truest and most adoring friend, Fred Levy, when I saw Wilson and asked him to join us. Although I detested gambling and knew nothing about it, I was so bored with Fred that I asked Wilson to take us to a gambling house. There, while Fred played twenty-one, I was entertained with champagne, perched on a stool a the dice table. Later, breakfasting at the Brown Derby with Wilson and Fred, I flourished my astonishing winning of $ 200 without relating them to Fred’s loss of $2,000. A year after this incident, at the Chez Paris, a night club in Chcago, the waiter handed me a note addressed to “the come on girl of Wilson Mizner”. Looking up, I saw Fred Levy at a table across the dance floor. He waved and smiled and never saw me again.
Wilson Mizner was a creator of nothing films.Nevertheless his fame expands yearly in film books. The obliterated Grant Clarke wrote songs still heard in films. He wrote songs for Al Jolson in The jazz singer, and for Fnny Brice he wrote her greatest song, Second hand rose. The Hollywood literary code, which requires authors and publishers to substitute the names of celebrities for the lesser known names of the originators of jokes and anecdotes, increasingly distorts film history. Soon only the authors’ names will distinguish one memoir from another.
The obliteration of the great director Edmund Goulding in film history returns us to se in Hollywood.
When I was preparing to write this article I could find scarcely a trace of Edmund Goulding in my biographical notebooks. At the library, Bill Cuseo found him unlisted in The readers’ guide to periodical literature and The dictionary of national biography. His 1959 obituary was carried only in “The New York Times” and the trade paper “Variety”. No other nationally read publication found his life and death news-worthy. This incomparable film director who was also a successful actor, singer, song writer, novelist, playwright and screen writer. This incomparable human being who, when he learned in 1932 that his close friend, the English dancer Marjorie Moss, had given up her fight with tuberculosis, married her and filled the last three years of her life with beauty and the loving attendance of friends.
In June 1977 when Kevin Brownlow went to Hollywood to interview old film-makers for the Thames TV series on silent pictures, I asked him to question them about Eddie Goulding. Two weeks later he reported that no one would talk about Goulding. His name evoes a vision of sex without sin which paralyses the guilty mind of Hollywood. All for love he directed his sexual events with the same attention he gave the directing of films. His clients might be the British aristocracy, bankers or corporation executives. His call girls might be waitresses or movie stars. During a thirty-eight career he touched the lives of many people who subsequently withdrew from his name. In 1925 after directing Sally, Irene and Mary, how his blue eyes sparkled as he told Walter Wanger and me that he had discovered a new star in Joan Crawford. He taught her the fundamentals of acting, and wrote and directed Paris for her in 1926. Yet her numerous autobiographical writings brush him aside with a bare, necessary acknowledgement. What a contrast is Bette Davis’ uninhibited praise in The lonely life. Writing of Dark victory – “my favourite and the public’s favourite part I ever played” – she calls Edmund Goulding “one of the few all-time gret directors of Hollywood”.
I first met Eddie Goulding at lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York when I was seventeen, separated by just two years from the Kansas prairie. As an English gentleman he must have found me a startling little barbarian. He had seen me in the 1924 edition of George White’s Scandals and wanted to make a screen test of me at the Paramount studio. When I said “No”, after staring at me in a peculiar fashion, he went on, “Well then, how would you like to spend the afternoon with me?”. To this I said “Yes”, because I was not such a dunce as to dismiss the most joyful being I would ever meet.
We drove first to a house in the west Sixties where he left me in the cab for a half hour while he visited the ‘girls’. Next we drove to the Hotel des Artistes to see Mrs. Novello, Ivor Novello’s mother, who had become a singing coach in New York. After she and Eddie sang duets for an hour we then drove to his apartment where he was expecting Mae Murray for tea. Having written several films for her, he knew exactly how to set the scene. “She will sit here” he said, moving a small table close to a grey valour chair. “And Mae is pure – pure and eternally young”. On the table he set a silver vase holding a single white rose bud. Then with a wicked smile, beside he placed a book of pornographic drawings. “And she is regal” he warned me as she rang his door bell “You must curtsy when you are introduced”. Mae Murray came in looking exquisitely pure and young, wearing white organdie with a pale blue sash and tiny matching blue pumps. Unfortunately, after I curtsied and she noddedd regally, I had to leave for a theatre rehearsal, so I never knew how she felt about the dirty pictures.
I last saw Eddie i Beverly Hills in 1938 when he was fourty-seen. He had become a master of direction with Grand Hotel which won the 1932 Academy production award. (Ludicrously, the direction Oscar was presented to Frank Borzage for Bad girl). Yet he remained most like an ebullient, slightly mad social director on a cruise ship. He had not withdrawn into the clouds of godly genius along with other successful directors, some of whose skeletons still rattle on lecture platforms and TV screens.
Eddie had invited me to lunch at a charming house rented for our host. Fulke, the handsome young earl fo Warwick who had come to Hollywood to heal the wounds inflicted by a recent divorce. The other guest was Jinx Falkenberg who moved in a atmosphere of exalted ‘class’. Hollywood producers worshipped ‘class’ and for a time believed that this pretty, big, healthy girl was a potential star. That morning Eddie had seen a test of Jinx which he had directed at Warner Brothers. At the luncheon table she asked how it was. “Terrible” he said, suddenly coldly professional. Then in response to her expression of outrage he added “But your behind in that nightgown was delectable – like two grapefruits tied up in a napkin”. She did not join in our laughter but predictably, since I was a profictable woman, gave me a look of hatred and got up and left the table.
In writing the history of a life I believe absolutely that the rader cannot understand the character and deeds of the subject unless he is given a basic understanding of that person's sexual loves and hates and conflicts.. It is the only way the reader can make sense out of innumerable apparently senseless actions. To paraphrase Proust: how often do we change the whole course of our lives in pursuit of a love that we will have forgotten within a few months. We flatter ourselves when we assume that we have restored the sexual integrity which was expurgated by the Victorians
Brooks, Why I will never write my memoirs, "Focus on Film", nr. 15, March