Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Nine

The ninth chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker), relates how Sylvia found herself in the middle of a whirlwind (if short-lived) romance between actress Ina Claire and matinée idol John “Jack” Gilbert.


Ina ClaireTO GET back to Ina: She moved presently into a house in Beverly Hills and, about the same time, began to be rushed by Jack Gilbert.
Jack, one day, called Ina “boyish,” meaning it as a compliment—meaning that a tomboy was to his taste. Right away, Ina began to worry a bit—because Jack’s calling her a tomboy didn’t prove anything except that he was maybe nearsighted. True, she has square shoulders and a husky, boyish voice, but at the time she was wearing a few curves that were about as masculine as a bustle. And sooner or later Jack was bound to watch her going up some stairs or something and wonder what on earth had ever made him think she resembled a boy. But a woman in love isn’t stopped by anything so temporary as a fact. Ina had a heart-to-heart talk with Sylvia and said she didn’t care how much it hurt, she wanted to get spanked loose from about ten pounds of accumulated femininity.
In a little while, Ina’s campaign developed to a point where she decided for a show-down. And she selected a certain evening as the zero hour. On that evening there was to be a big masquerade ball given by Basil Rathbone and Ouida Bergere in the Beverly Hotel. And Ina decided to go as a boy.
For a week she conferred and argued with the costumer, until a costume, consisting of form-fitting pink velvet pants and a boyish blouse, was settled on. And Ina was still, after several weeks of violent massage, frankly feminine and hippy.
With tears in her eyes, she begged the boss to go to it, to double, to triple her fury—to do anything, just so Ina could go to that party with the silhouette of a boy.
Sylvia gave a characteristic answer: “Tell that costumer to make the size of pants you want to wear. Tell him he doesn’t need to fit the pants to you. I’ll fit you to the pants.”
Well, in the next five days Sylvia delivered a flank attack that Ina won’t forget in a hurry. Ina never whimpered. Ah, love! What sufferings we support in thy name! If some artist wants to substitute an arrow at Beauty’s heart, let him draw a pint-size Norwegian straw-blonde letting fly a fist at beauty’s mid-section.

The slamming marathon was a hot success. On the night of the ball, Ina slid into those little gentleman-size shorts like a foot into a sock. The pink velvet pants actually flapped, and Ina hurried forth to the fray in a mood to march through Georgia and points south. Jack Gilbert never had a chance. Not that he wanted to make a second guess. He took one look at this pink human eel gliding around under the seductive lights of the hotel patio and let his feet skate out from under him.
Sylvia’s guess is that the famous elopement of the pair to Las Vegas wo weeks later was figured out that night.
For, the very next day, Ina began to worry about a matter she had tucked away in the back of her mind during the excitement. She had come to Hollywood engaged to her eastern beau, Gene Markey, the writer. And Gene was due any day with flowers and a ring.
It was funny to watch poor Ina try to dope out what to do about that one. In the end she did what most women do in a similar situation—nothing.
At the last minute, with the plane chartered in which Jack was going to fly his bride and the witnesses to Las Vegas for the ceremony-on-the-wing, Ina got an attack of little-girl-itis. Maybe she thought she was in a tough spot, with no mother to guide her—or something. Anyway, she confided to Sylvia that she had wanted to take her along as her witness. “I had a sort of feeling there was nobody on my side,: was the way she put it. “And, anyway, in a way you’re responsible, Sylvia. You make me into what Jack likes.”
If Sylvia wasn’t in on the elopement flight she was in on what followed. It was this way. The flight to Nevada was so timed as to bring the newlyweds back to Jack’s house by dusk. Five minutes after Ina was inducted into her new home, Sylvia’s phone was ringing. Sylvia being out on her rounds, I answered. Ina was on the wire, all fussed and upset. Sylvia must come over right away—right away! Did I understand? I did, but had to answer that the boss was out on her rounds and wouldn’t be where the message could reach her until late in the evening.
“Oh, dear!” came a sigh from Ina. “And I’ve never needed her so badly as right now! Well, tell her to get over here the first thing in the morning, without fail!”
So it came about that Sylvia awakened the new bride. Reporting at Jack Gilbert’s house early next morning, she was promptly ushered into a charming bedroom, where she found Ina alone.
“Have you the papers?” was Ina’s first excited, high-pitched question. “What are they saying about me?”
Sylvia shrugged. She hadn’t thought to bring the morning papers. Ina fretted, but a maid brought in a pile of papers just then and she dived into them.
Breakfast was brought in and the bride was still Oh-ing and Ah-ing over the headlines and the telegraph items from Chicago telling about how Gene Markey, on his way West to take a wife, had stopped off in his home town and taken a temperature instead.
Jack, all spruced up and swathed in a silk gown, came in from his dressing-room and added to the excitement. The newly-weds tore the papers from each other’s hands. Someone thought to set a third place at table for Sylvia, and soon all three were hard at it combing the press for further items, while the coffee—and who knows? maybe love too—were getting cold.
For an odd incident made a sudden coolness over that frantic breakfast table.
Sylvia, gleaning, noticed a report of the elopement that had not been read. Over the report was the heading: INA CLAIRE MARRIES JACK GILBERT. Sylvia passed the sheet to Ina, reading the headlines aloud, and Ina grabbed—but not as quickly as did Jack.
The bridegroom cried, “What?” and tore the sheet from Sylvia’s hands. “Isn’t that silly?” he exclaimed. “They got that headline wrong.”
“How, darling?” inquired the bride.
“Why, for news value,” declared Jack, “they should have turned it around: JACK GILBERT MARRIES INA CLAIRE.”
He carried it off with a laugh. But Ina didn’t laugh. And Sylvia had to rush in and fill a conversational pause.
A funny angle on the Gilbert-Claire marriage, which Sylvia heard about later as she went from one to another of the film folks on her rounds, was that the duration of the romance became a matter of speculation and finally of a gambling pool. The film people, standing on the side lines and watching Ina and Jack struggle, got up a money pool just as they do on shipboard about the ship’s daily run. Only, in this case, instead of miles it was times; instead of knots added, it was the reverse—when would a knot slip? Each one who joined the pool bought a certain month. The one who held the slip corresponding to the month in which the marriage went caput was to collect.
And now the pool members are much embarrassed. When, exactly, did the romance end? On exactly what day of what month were Ina and Jack unjoined?
For the betters neglected to stipulate that the date of an overt act, such as the filing of a divorce plea, was to settle the issue, and the consensus now is that what was meant was the day on which the principals decided to kick love out of the house.
Ina was making “The Awful Truth” at Pathé when a sudden series of events, involving Gloria Swanson and confronting Sylvia with the necessity for the most momentous decision in her life, ended by establishing the boss as contract masseuse on the Pathé lot. As will appear, Sylvia’s Pathé job was to give Gloria Swanson first call on her services, with the other Pathé stars taking whatever time Gloria did not demand.
Well, Ina was one of those who decided not to take Gloria Swanson’s leavings. She did not come near Sylvia’s workrooms on the Pathé lot.
And then, presently, Gene Markey came out to Hollywood, apparently cured of infatuation for the belle who had given him such a tough break. Gene unconsciously published the fact that he was cured in the way that would annoy Ina the worst. He turned up as one of Gloria Swanson’s gallants and paid Ina’s Pathé-lot rival open and assiduous court.
It’s only feminine for a women to expect a discarded lover to go and picturesquely pine away somewhere. And when Gene perked up so rapidly and began to part his hair and carry flowers to a new shrine, why, Ina got miffed.
Somebody had to be the goat. Sylvia was elected, and has suffered under a degree of banishment which has deprived her of Ina as a patient ever since.

< Read Chapter 8 | Read Chapter 10 >

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