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Thursday, January 6, 2011


William Haines in Are You Listening?

William Haines was no phony. While he may have enjoyed the privileges that a life of luxury could afford, he also never took any of it seriously. It was all a joke really, and while he liked nice clothes and a fancy home, he could just as easily have walked away from it all at any given moment... which he essentially proved when he left the movies. Perhaps this stems from his good, old-fashioned southern roots. Integrity was everything to Billy, and those who lacked it or shirked it for superficial reasons annoyed him. He found the dramatic mannerisms of Pola Negri hilarious. Some found Greta Garbo "mysterious;" he found her stuck up. Others fell for Louis B. Mayer's tearful rages, Billy just laughed. He wanted people to be real: if you had class, you didn't have to invent it, nor cram it down anyone's throat. Thus, it comes as no surprise that one of his greatest foes was the ever exaggerated Elinor Glyn, who sent his BS detector flying off the charts.

Billy wasn't the only one who found the authoress to be an over-the-top, full-of-baloney diva. Clara Bow would jokingly refer to her as "that sh*t head." Chaplin too openly laughed at her feigned, worldly knowledge. But, for the most part, people tolerated her condescending invasion into the Hollywood lifestyle as her erotic books were adapted into screenplays. Billy didn't give a hoot who a person was as long as he or she was honest about it, but he saw Elinor as a walking nightmare of garish concoctions, both physical and mental (see right). The two never got along. Indeed, he called her "Baby Peggy." When Elinor passed out her great stamp of "It" on various actors like Clara, Gary Cooper, and Wallace Beery, Billy did not make the list. In fact, she blatantly told the world that he did NOT have "it," which theater-goers obviously disagreed with in ticket sales. (Others not making the "it" list were: Ronald Colman and Ramon Novarro). This was a jab that Elinor took at Billy specifically because he was immune to her charms, refusing to fall for her ruse of grandeur and grace. Too, he refused to flirt with her, as many men did in the hopes that her public approval would enhance their careers. When Elinor came sniffing around Billy, he just raised an eyebrow, threw off a quip, and ignored her. The insecure Elinor was enraged.

Their battle was quite public, and Billy showed his open irritation, if not contempt, refusing to support the image of Elinor's supreme intellectual and sexual perfection. He made fun of it-- and her snubbing of him-- by saying: "Elinor... said I was a big ham. I replied that the best hams in the world came from Virginia." However, the most memorable confrontation Billy and Elinor had was at the illustrious San Simeon, home of William Randolph Hearst and Billy's good friend, Marion Davies. A frequent guest, Billy was not too jazzed to see Elinor in attendance at one particular party. He happened to overhear her rattling on and on about "It." Who had "it," who didn't, and finally he got fed up. After hearing her list off all the reasons that he himself did not have "it," Billy marched right up to her and said, "Madame Glyn, you, of course, certainly do have 'it,' but you left the 'sh' of it." Elinor's face turned bright red. Billy, undoubtedly, turned on his heels and sauntered off with a smirk and a whistle. Final score: Billy- 1, Elinor- 0.

Another minor rivalry existed between Louella Parsons and Veronica Lake. Ronni (right) could really care less what Louella Parsons thought about her, and she didn't ever get involved in any of the petty gossip that seemed to keep Hollywood spinning, but for some reason Louella took a particular interest in her. Perhaps out of jealousy, Louella often made Ronni the subject of her articles, spreading the slanderous rumors that Ronni was both hard to work with and a temperamental diva. These allegations are strange, as in looking back I find it difficult to find any accounts of unprofessional behavior or rage-fueled tantrums displayed by Ronni on the set. Most of the rumors harken back to her first big movie, I Wanted Wings, when Constance Moore started spreading it around set that Ronni kept late hours and was always up partying. Ronni was actually always home in bed while Connie was engaging in this behavior. However, director Mitchell Leisen believed the tales and gave Ronni quite a roasting. Stories were spread, and soon every one believed that Veronica was causing trouble on this and every set she ever stepped on. Louella caught wind and chose to believe that Ronni truly was the troublemaking brat Hollywood had labeled her as. In her columns, she often reference Ronni was "overrated," either in acting ability or in the looks department. Ronni tried to ignore the negative press, but it did at times get her down. One day, she got a little bit of revenge. She happened to bump into Louella at a beauty parlor. Louella didn't recognize her, which was common since in her off time Ronni dressed down and without makeup. Looking simple and soft, like the girl next door, she overheard Louella comment to her attendant, "What a pretty girl." Not letting the opportunity pass her by, Ronni piped in: "Why don't you write that in your column!" Whoops, Lolly.

 Louella takes aim...

Of course, some of the slanderous portrayals of celebrity naughtiness are true, or at least based on some kernal of the truth. For example, William Haines was rightly referenced as a bit of a party-boy, enjoying nights on the town, get-togethers with friends, and good-natured shenanigans. One of his partners in crime was BFF Joan Crawford, his number one fan and lifelong ally. Joan had a rep of her own, mixing together her own ferocious ambition and unstoppable diligence with her raw and uninhibited sexuality. Joan always got what she wanted, whether it be a role or a man, but her career always came first. For this reason, she rarely got into trouble. She did get others into trouble, however. Case in point: West Point, in which she starred with Billy (left). The story takes place at the legendary military academy, and indeed this is where the cast and crew shot many of their scenes. Joan was already causing a stir on the set by NOT wearing stockings and baring her legs to the world, but she would take her rebelliousness further when flirting with the entire student body. In fact, the erotically charged Joan had no qualms about enjoying her time on campus, so she accepted (or perhaps even made) a date with one of its students. When it was discovered that the cadet skipped his classes to go out with Joan Crawford, he was immediately expelled. However, I doubt he regreted it, and Joan certainly had a good laugh.

Another naughty boy was Montgomery Clift, whose chosen salve for his personal demons was the age old trick of inebriation. Marring his classic good looks in his notorious car wreck of 1956 only propelled him deeper into his personal misery and an addiction to pain pills. Meanwhile, Monty had an ongoing rivalry with Marlon Brando, though they both truly respected each other. They would never be close friends, as competing egos rarely are, but they spent their lives privately inspired by each other, openly criticizing each other, and always trying to out-do each other. In truth, they were very different talents, with Marlon bursting forth on the screen like a lightning bolt and Monty insinuating himself more like an ominous storm cloud. In life, they came off the same way, with Monty being more elegant and Marlon more brash. Not surprisingly, Marlon found Monty stuck up and serious; Monty found Marlon just plain sloppy. Both were fairly quirky characters, though Monty often appeared much more "normal" than the exaggerated Marlon. This made it all the more shocking to learn that Monty was the one in greater personal danger, as Marlon himself would witness. 

Marlon showed his respect for Monty shortly after the latter completed Raintree County, the film which notoriously shows the "before" and "after" of Monty's car crash face. Monty went into a deep depression after the film bombed and he was snickered by audiences aghast at his lost beauty. Marlon surprised him when he drove to his house and begged him to get off the drugs and alcohol. Monty was touched (and surprised) by the concern, but insisted that he was fine... as he downed another vodka. The two buried the hatchet, admitting how impressed they were by their respective performances in A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire. It was quite a moment. Marlon explained that he didn't want Monty to kill himself-- it was a waste of talent. Sacrilege! He also couldn't lose his top competitor, his "challenger," who kept pushing him to better his own performances. "You have to stop this nonsense, if not for your sake, then for mine!" he pleaded. Still, Monty was unmoved. But he was inspired enough to get to work on his next picture, ironically with Marlon. The two made The Young Lions, their only mutual movie, though they didn't even have any scenes together. Occasionally Monty would see Marlon lurking around the set, watching him work. Even in this, his darkest moment, he saw that he hadn't lost his touch. If he could impress Brando... Well, 'nuff said.

 A true actor, Monty insisted on creating truthful 
characters from the inside out, such as for 
his role as Noah in The Young Lions,
for which he distended his ears
and put putty on his nose.

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