The fourteenth 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), tells the tale of how actress Grace Moore, upon her arrival in Hollywood, tried to knock Gloria Swanson off her Tinseltown pedestal.
THE PLOT THICKENS—AND SOME MIDRIFFS!
IT SEEMS that the first thing for a high-power beauty to do when she gets into the movies and comes to Hollywood si to go up and give Gloria Swanson a big shove and say: “Yah!”
I don’t know why this is, but they all do it. They don’t pick on Garbo, or Chatterton, or Shearer. No; they all come into town and go up to the hotel and wash their faces, and beat it out to Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Drive, where Gloria’s front lawn comes down to the sidewalk, and get out and walk up and down and sneer and yell: “Come out and fight! I can lick you!”
Why, even Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the London actress who is so veteran that she used to play for one of the Edwards—the VII, I think—even this old-timer had to get a rush of rivalry to her venerable head and take a fall out of Gloria. It was a rather nasty fall, too.
Mrs. Pat saw one of Gloria’s films and was all excited about it and went around Hollywood begging to meet “that perfectly charming gel.” And Gloria’s friends began to set up the drinks and celebrate, because Mrs. Pat knows Bernard Shaw and that makes her opinion worth its weight in salt. They threw a reception for the woman who has been the toast of London so long, and were tickled to death—until Mrs. Pat, who had been waiting for this spot, added to her honeyed flattery of Gloria the little bit of wormwood which she had been waiting to spill all the while.
“Yes, a dee-lightful creature, this Swanson girl; really a pippin, as you Americans say. You know, I’ve been wondering what it was that struck me most about that gel and her most striking smile, and I’ve just hit on what it is. Really, my dears, she ought to be told to file down her teeth!”
I GUESS the reason for all the resentment is Gloria’s pull with men. Other movie queens in Hollywood can give Gloria their arguments on picture grosses and the size of their fan mail, but Gloria’s front porch is the place where all the boys go on the night off. And Hollywood hostesses have learned not to give parties in competition with Gloria, because if they do, they only men they’ll get are local movie critics and assistants in the Hays office.
So the newcomers hear about this and decide that it’s about time to make a change. And they set out the drinks and the sandwiches, and put on the low-back gowns, and light up the front parlor and leave the shades up, and turn on the radio, and say to themselves: “This’ll fetch the boys.” And give a sigh for poor old Gloria and think that she’s going to be pretty lonesome up in that big old house when the sports get wise to the new attraction—but it serves her right for hogging the trade.
But the same thing happens every time. Along about midnight the newcomer puts the sandwiches in the ice box and crawls into bed and lies there wide awake for the next few hours, gnawing her knuckles and listening to the male chorus doing Sweet and Low in twelve verses on Gloria’s veranda.
Usually the newcomers calm down after a while and leave Gloria alone, figuring, who wants to take her bunch of amateur tenors away from her, anyway? But every once in a while a born scrapper comes to town who picks herself up after the first knockdown, shakes her head, and squares off to make a finish fight of it. Then Gloria, according to the rules of the game, has to put up her Most Popular Girl championship and accept the challenge.