Eve Golden: The Interview

When I started thinking about interviewing Eve Golden about her new book, John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars, I had to stop and think how long we’ve known each other.  Would you believe 20 years?  At least.  We got acquainted when we both wrote  columns for Classic Images magazine.

Eve and Michael at the Iroquois Hotel in 1995.

Eve and Michael at the Iroquois Hotel in 1995.

We first met in 1995 when I was in New York to interview Barbara Barondess for The Sound of Silence. Eve and I had tea at the Algonquin and later strolled around the theater district.

I was an instant fan of her work and still aspire to someday write like her.

When I was planning to tie the knot in New York City in December of 2011, I thought of Eve as the one I wanted to “give me away.”  She didn’t hesitate to be part of one of the happiest days of my life.

My wedding party.  Eve and author Terence Taylor are front row left. Mae Murray's granddaughter is pictured beside me in blue.

My wedding party. Eve and author Terence Taylor are front row left. Mae Murray’s granddaughter is pictured beside me in blue.

When I told Eve I was writing a biography of Mae Murray, I think she let out some expletive that translated, “Damn you, I was planning to write that book.”  After realizing that I had tracked down Mae’s kin and was interviewing her son, Daniel, Eve offered me her research material, including her priceless interview with Jane Ardmore, Mae’s first biographer. She gave me one warning, “You’d better do right by Mae.”

When it came time to dedicate Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, I knew it was Eve’s book.  “For Eve Golden — A Haughty Dowager with a Heart of Gold.”
eve14Michael:  John Gilbert was a huge star in his day, but yours is the first critical study of his life and career. Why have writers avoided him as a subject?

Eve: There is no logic about who gets written about and who doesn’t—I can just as well ask you why no one had written a Mae Murray book till you did, or why did no one get to Kay Kendall before I did?

Michael: What drew you to him?

Eve: Gosh—a gorgeous, screwed-up, self-destructive alcoholic, what’s not to love? If only he were gay, too, he’d be most of my ex-boyfriends. Also, of course, he was immensely talented and likable, and self-aware, which makes him utterly charming.

Michael: Was he a fun companion along the way? Would he be someone you’d want to have as a dinner guest?

Eve: Loved him. He was smart and funny and self-deprecating. Of course, he would see me as one of those silly, middle-aged lady scribblers—and he’d be right.

Michael: Gilbert’s daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, wrote about her father in Dark Star. What is your opinion of her book?  How cooperative was she with your project?

Eve: Leatrice was fabulous, told me she was totally in favor of another book, and did not ask for “power of veto,” which was important. I am very nervous about her opinion of this, as she and I do not always agree on everything. I love her book, but of course it is a “daughter’s book,” which is different from a disinterested party. She interviewed people who are now long-gone, which was important to me, as well. eve15

Michael:  I remember Eleanor Boardman telling me that Gilbert had some pretty violent mood swings. What were some of the demons that haunted the actor?

Eve: I think today he would be diagnosed as bipolar or manic-depressive—he self-medicated with alcohol, which is not unusual. He admitted himself that he was always too up or too down. He did have a lousy childhood, but so did a lot of people, you can’t blame everything on that. And his career was charmed till things started going wrong at MGM in the late ‘20s.

Michael:  How close did The Artist, the recent silent film, compare to Gilbert’s life?

Eve: I was nervous about The Artist, as of course I am very protective of Jack and his story, but I loved the film. It is really more “Gilbert and Crawford” than “Gilbert and Garbo”—the romance plot has nothing to do with him.  And Jack jumped agreeably right into talkies, unlike George Valentin. But Jean Dujardin looked as much as possible like Jack, and his character had the same persona—and of course Jack was the biggest male star to plummet when talkies hit.

Michael: One of the lingering rumors about Gilbert revolve around his voice and whether the coming of sound ended his career. Were you able to validate or dispel these stories through your research?

Eve: As much as one can. There are so many reasons why people did or did not succeed in talkies, and I go into that at length. Why did Ruth Chatterton make it but not the Talmadges? Why Warner Baxter but not Jack Gilbert? Sometimes there is no logic. Jack did not have a great voice for talkies, but he could have become a successful, busy character actor like Adolph Menjou if he had not made so many enemies and destroyed his health.

Michael: A classic Hollywood quote came when a reporter asked Gilbert and his new wife, Ina Claire, how it felt to be married to a star. Ina speaks up,” I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.” Is this lore or fact?

Eve: Like Mae Murray’s dubious “none of us floozies was that nuts!” quote. I love that story: I told it, of course, but admitted it is probably apocryphal. You can’t not tell it, though—I adore Ina Claire, such a bitch. eve17

Michael:  What is the main point you want to get across about Gilbert?

Eve: I don’t know if there is a “point”—it’s just an interesting story about an interesting man who did interesting things! Publishers do not like to hear that, but I think it’s all that is necessary in a book. I was surprised to find that the Gilbert/Garbo romance was nowhere near as interesting and moving as the Gilbert/Dietrich romance.

Michael:  I’m a huge Eve Golden fan. I’m intrigued by the subjects you choose for your biographies: Anna Held, Theda Bara, the Castles, Kay Kendall, Jean Harlow, and John Gilbert. I look for a common thread, but nothing stands out. How do you select your subjects?

Eve: Oh, thank you, darling! I have to like my subject, or at least admire their work. Who can spend all those years with someone you dislike? There cannot already be a definitive book about them, and no other writer can have “dibs.” If there is a family, I want their cooperation. I don’t know why one person grabs me; for instance, I love Carole Lombard, but I have no desire to write a book about her. eveg6 Michael: Your biography of Jean Harlow, Platinum Girl, was one of the first books to set the record straight about Harlow’s life after Irving Shulman’s 1960s biography. How factually flawed was it? Did you literally go through the book and address every lie and misrepresentation?

A genuine Eve Golden autograph

A genuine Eve Golden autograph

Eve: Omigosh.  What did Mary McCarthy say about Lillian Hellman? “Every word he wrote is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Some of the stories I repeated to disprove them; others were so silly I did not bother to even address them.

Michael: In the Rise and Fall of Theda Bara, you write that Bara was one of the few actresses to survive intact from being a sex symbol, unlike Monroe and Clara Bow. What made her different? eveg7 Eve: I think she grew up with a stable, supportive family, had a good sense of herself, a happy marriage, and had a lot of outside interests. And she did not take herself—or her career—too seriously. Colleen Moore said that Theda Bara did the funniest Theda Bara imitations.

Michael: You later jumped from silent film vamps and blonde bombshells to Kay Kendall, another era all together.  What intrigued you about her? eveg8

Eve: I loved Kay since the first time I saw her—she was so bright and sparkling and funny; I don’t know why no one had written about her. I was so lucky to get the cooperation of her wonderful sister, Kim, and Maraday Wahlborg, who had already interviewed a lot of friends who’d since died. I can tell you that looking at photos of Kay Kendall for two years will give you one helluva inferiority complex.

Michael: As a writer who has worked for many years in New York City and who has felt an affection for the silent film era, have you ever known or crossed paths with those actresses who lived out their lives in the city: Garbo, Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Aileen Pringle?

Eve: You and I were both friends with Anita Page—wasn’t she a delight? Lillian Gish was practically my surrogate grandmother for 20-some years, she was much funnier and warmer than her interviews imply. We never talked about her career; just what we were doing from day to day.  And—name-dropping alert—I had tea with Olivia de Havilland in Paris last year, she and I have kept in touch since she helped me with the Jean Harlow book. She is still gorgeous and witty and has more marbles than I do.

Michael:  Do you care to take a stab at commenting on some of the interviews you’ve had when researching your books? Which do you treasure? Who were pains in the asses or really difficult? Or, can you say?

Eve: Well. Stanley Donen and Mitzi Gaynor and Blake Edwards refused to get back to me, so they can all go . . . well, no, I am too ladylike to say it. Other than the movie people, I loved talking to the Society Swans for the Kay Kendall book. My favorite call was from Suzzie Dillon: “Darling, I’m so sorry it’s been so long, but we just closed up the Florida house and opened the New York house and we’re breaking in a new cook, and well, you know what that’s like.” How can you not love that?

Michael:  If you could transport yourself to 1920s Hollywood, who would you seek out first to interview? What question would you ask him or her?

Eve:  The heck with 1920s Hollywood, I want to go back to New York in 1900 and become a Girl Reporter, and write about theater and the beginnings of the motion-picture business!

Eve, a glamour girl herself

Eve, a glamour girl herself

Michael:  You have an almost perfect imitation of Adela Rogers St. Johns. How did you capture her, and what others do you do?

Eve:  Ha! If only there was a market for Adela Rogers St. Johns impersonators. I actually do a pretty good Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, too.

Michael:  Novelist Terence Taylor was planning to write you into the third of his vampire novels. How did that turn out?  Did he let your character wear her pearls? eve18

Eve: Terry has two books on the burner now, I will have to ask him how it is going. I loved his first two, Bite Marks and Blood Pressure, and I am not even into that genre, usually.  I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters from the first two books!

Michael:  What’s next, my dear?

Eve: Oh, dear. Most of the people I’d like to write about are either taken by other writers, there is not enough documentary material to make a book, or they are too unmarketable to interest a publisher. If I cannot find another bio to do, I have a comic suspense novel and a true-crime book I am contemplating, if I can find a good publisher.

The next time you see Eve, ask her to do her famous Adela Rogers St. Johns for you.

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The real Adela Rogers St. Johns.

 

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Mae Murray’s 1960 Radio Interview

As I celebrate the publication of my new book, Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips, I wanted to share with you an interview Mae Murray gave in 1960 as she celebrated the release of her first biography by Jane Ardmore, The Self-Enchanted.

The interview can be found on YouTube in three parts.  Follow the links below.  Enjoy!  It is great to hear her voice!

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part I)

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part II)

Mae Murray Radio Interview — 1960 (Part III)

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Barbara Kent: My Last Silent Film Interview

Barbara Kent was the last of the silent personalities that I had the pleasure of interviewing. I thought she might the final one, because there was pratically no one else living that I hadn’t already spoken with.

My favorite Barbara Kent photograph.

Since Barbara never talked to anyone about her career, I had little faith that she would talk to me. She did! It turned out to be her only extensive interview after her career ended in the 1930s. Barbara was very generous with her time and photographs.

I wrote extensively about Barbara and our interview in my book, The Sound of Silence, but I wanted to share some details with you  around the interview and some of her memorable quotes.

Next month will mark the one year anniversary of Barbara’s death at 103. Here is her obituary. I had intended to publish this entry in mid-October, but, alas, this time next month, I will be bound for Morocco (not Bound in Morocco, as in the silent film) for a long, much needed excursion. As it turns out, sharing this information with you today is perfect.

Last week,  The New York Times had an article about the release of one of Barbara’s finest films, Lonesome.  Check it out. It’s one my Christmas wishlist.

With Glenn Tryon in Lonesome.

I contacted Barbara Kent by mail at her home in Palm Desert in 1996. I was doing some research on her film with Marie Dressler, Emma (1932), and wanted to ask the former actress what memories she had about the film. I told her that I would call on such-and-such a day and time. I made it a practice to never call anyone without first testing the waters. (Well, Billie Dove was an exception, but that’s another story).

On the appointed day, I rang the number. Barbara’s husband, Jack, answered the phone.  Barbara was expecting my call, he said, but she was out on the greens playing a round of golf.  I was to call back later in the evening and she would be happy to chat.

Before that, however, Jack wanted to tell me about the woman he’d called his wife for over 40 years.

“She’s amazing,” he said. “You should see some of her pictures now. This coming year, she will be 90. She plays golf three times a week. When we’re in Washington (they had a home there) in the summer, she goes crabbing with me. She’s the most agile gal you ever saw.”

Barbara Kent Monroe

Not long before they married, Jack taught Barbara how to fly a plane. “I was a flyer. Barbara said to me, ‘I’ve got to learn to fly if we’re going to get married.’ I gave her some lessons and she was flying before I knew it.”

Jack didn’t remember Barbara from the movies.  He didn’t recall ever seeing her on the silver sheet. In fact, when they met, Barbara wasn’t anxious to talk about those years. Her first husband, Harry Edington, died in 1949. Edington, an agent for such stars as Garbo, John Gilbert, and Marlene Dietrich, was her final connection to Hollywood. She put the movie business behind her and rarely talked about the flickers.

“It’s so long ago. You forget all those things when you’re not with picture people any more, and I haven’t been with them in ages,” Barbara explained to me early in our conversation.

Barbara Cloutman had her parents to thank for getting her into the movies. They’d moved to Hollywood from a small town in Canada when Barbara was a teenager.

“There was a beauty contest and my folks sent my picture in to the newspaper and didn’t tell me,” she said.  “I won the contest.”

Barbara wins the contest.

Part of the responsibility of winning the contest was modeling a piece of jewelry for a Hollywood department store. Agent Paul Kohner introduced himself and invited her to Universal for a screen test. The rest, as they say, is history.

Her first film was Prowlers of the Night (1926), a Western with Fred Humes.

Barbara Kent in her first film, Prowlers of the Night, with Fred Humes.

Then she was loaned to MGM, where director Clarence Brown cast her as Hertha in Flesh and the Devil (1927). The film became a personal favorite.

Barbara, John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, and Lars Hanson in Flesh and the Devil.

“John Gilbert was very nice to work with,” Barbara recalled.  “Garbo was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.  She was absolutely gorgeous. She was a very quiet person. More than aloof, she was shy. So was I.  I was very timid.”

The cast of Flesh and the Devil.

Clarence Brown, the director, was especially patient with his star. “He directed her (Garbo) in a whisper,” Barbara said. “He was so careful with her. That’s the way he directed all of us. He had the same style when he directed me in Emma. He was a quiet man anyway.”

Her other two favorite films were comedies with Harold Lloyd: Welcome Danger (1929) and Feet First (1930). They met at a party after Christmas in 1928.

With Harold Lloyd in Welcome Danger (1929).

“I remember him standing up beside me,” Barbara recalled. “I didn’t know why. Afterwards, I realized he was sizing me up to see how tall I was, because he wasn’t a very tall men himself.  I’m only 5′ 2”.

Welcome Danger was shot as a silent film when talkies were revolutionizing the industry. Fearing it would be a box office failure, Lloyd had the cast dub dialogue straight into the film.

Another scene from Welcome Danger.

“Lloyd was very easy going, and as an independent producer, if something went wrong, we just did it over and over until we got it right,” she said.

After her contract ended, Barbara began freelancing. Her career took a downward turn in the early 1930s. “I preferred being under contact,” she said. “You didn’t have to worry about working or getting a job.”

Barbara Kent, early 1930s.

After she left Universal, she missed the family atmosphere at the studio.  “Carl Laemmle was a very nice man. He spoke quite broken English in a German accent, but he was very nice and respectful of me.”

Freelancing, Barbara found herself working in low-budget films on Poverty Row. After she met and married Harry Edington, Barbara worked in a handful of other films.

She called it quits in 1941 after her work in Under Age.

“It was a short career, and I was never terribly enthusiastic about being an actress,” Barbara admitted. “I think I was too shy. You have to be an exhibitionist to be in pictures.  That wasn’t me.”

Barbara Kent, 1927.

Barbara Kent was a patient interview subject, but about 30 minutes into our second conversation, she called a halt to further reminiscing that day. “Please excuse me, but I really have to go.” She was late for a hair appointment, after which she was meeting friends for dinner at the country club.  They were friends who never knew she once had a career in Hollywood.

When I asked about photographs, Barbara said she had boxes of stills out in the garage.  “I’ll make it a point to get out there and dig some out for you.” She did!  I’m sharing many of these in this blog. They are from her personal collection.

I’ve included the highlights of my conversation with Barbara Kent in this entry.  To read the full story, including her memories of working with Gloria Swanson in Indiscreet, check out The Sound of Silence.

Barbara, Gloria Swanson, and Arthur Lake in Indiscreet (1931)

Barbara Kent’s biographical sheet at MGM.