Anita Loos, the actress-writer behind the comic novel, stage version and screen edition of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” — and a woman who knew a thing or two about luxurious living — put it best.
In her 1954 memoir “Fate Keeps On Happening,” Loos wrote this about one of her closest friends: “To Paulette, no occasion is festive without champagne and caviar.”
Hello, everybody, Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to appreciate the most famous of Erich Maria Remarque’s two wives, Paulette Goddard, one of the most financially savvy actresses Hollywood ever spawned.
The “All Quiet on the Western Front” author and the beautiful — and very smart — actress began their 12-year, later-in-life marriage in 1958. He was 60. She was said to be 48, although estimates of her age varied since throughout her life (which ended in 1990) Goddard never came clean about her actual birth date.
By most accounts the Remarque-Goddard union was a success. It lasted until the author’s death in 1970. She was gregarious and a gadabout. He was sedentary but understanding. Both were rich.
By this stage of his life, Remarque — a man of many affairs in every sense who once romanced fellow German Marlene Dietrich — was “bored by the physical and more interested in a woman’s mind.”
DISCLOSURE — That last quote comes the 1985 biography “Paulette: The Adventurous Life of Paulette Goddard,” co-authored by Edward Z. Epstein and Classic Movie Chat’s own Joe Morella. If I may say so (Frank speaking) the book is a wonderful read, and an essential reference on Goddards’s adventurous life.
She was born Pauline Marion Levy, the only child of a Long Island couple whose marriage rapidly fell apart.
Paulette and her mother were financially pressed, and moved around a good deal when she was very young. A child model by 13, she soon found herself cast in producer Flo Ziegfeld productions, including the 1927 musical “Rio Rita” in which she was widely noticed perched on a cutout of the moon being serenaded by a the baritone leading man. Her movie career actually began in New York in 1927, when she appeared in a four shorts for Ziegfeld.
From the beginning — and perhaps because of her beginnings — Goddard had a finely developed taste for luxury, jewelry, clothes, cars, the works. At 16, she married a Palm Beach socialite who undoubtedly catered to her expensive tastes. The marriage was short lived, and at its conclusion in 1929, Goddard was awarded a $100,000 settlement — worth about $1.3 million in today’s dollars.
After her divorce Paulette arrived in Hollywood and in 1932, she appeared as a blond “Goldwyn girl” in “The Kid From Spain” starring radio personality Eddie Cantor.
Goddard’s stunning good looks caught the attention of 43-year-old Charlie Chaplin that same year, and their romance began. Chaplin was intrigued not only by her seductiveness but by her keen business sense, unusual for a young starlet. He co-starred her in 1936’s “Modern Times,” and then somewhere, somehow, they secretly married. The couple separated in 1940, and divorced two years later.
Goddard’s unsuccessful screen test for the Scarlett O’Hara role in 1939’s “Gone With The Wind” is recalled by playwright-screenwriter Garson Kanin in a chapter of his 1974 memoir, “Hollywood,” titled “Mae’s: A Very Hollywood Whorehouse.” Seems patrons of this “alluring oasis high in the Hollywood Hills” were regularly afforded private screenings of studio previews and screen tests.
“The girls, along with the rest of us, were quite impressed,” wrote Kanin. “When, eventually, Vivien Leigh was signed to play Scarlett, the girls were stunned…” Well, Goddard did have her avid fans.
Her career shifted into fifth gear in 1939, and on through the Forties with Goddard appearing with Bob Hope in “The Cat and the Canary” (one of three hit films she made with the comedian), Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap The Wild Wind” and Jean Renoir’s “Diary of a Chambermaid,” in which she costarred with her third husband, Burgess Meredith. Her performance in 1943’s “So Proudly We Hail!” won Goddard a best supporting actress nomination.
But by 1949 — the same year her five-year marriage to Meredith ended — it was largely curtains on Goddard’s career. She was dropped by Paramount studios, and by the time she connected with Remarque in New York City, she had been living mostly in Europe as a wealthy expatriate.
The two collected art, lived quietly but lavishly and from appearances, happily. After Goddard died — outliving Remarque by two decades — her estate made a bequest to New York University (a favorite cause) of some $20 million. Champagne and caviar, indeed.