Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Thirteen

The thirteenth 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), reveals how a feud between the queen of the Pathé lot, Gloria Swanson, and young upstart Constance Bennett began.

BATTLE ROYAL

Gloria Swanson, Marion Davies, Constance Bennett, Jean HarlowAND then, one day, Bennett had to wait because Sylvia was busy on Swanson. That was the match that touched off the fireworks.
They were waiting to be touched off, according to the rumors of a private difference between the two. Anyway, it was plain on the lot, from the first, that Connie and Gloria weren’t going to get along. It’s dangerous putting two such high-powered belles in the same county, let alone on the same movie lot, where all everybody ever does in idle hours is try to steal one another’s water coolers, jobs, mascara, and boy friends.
One thing you’ve got to say for Bennett: she doesn’t avoid a fight when she sees it coming. On the contrary, she sticks to the good old principle—applied equally by school kids, prize fighters, Napoleon, and professional belles—that the first sock is likely to win.
From week to week Bennett was getting more and more restless about the one thing on the Pathé lot that no one had ever yet dared to contest—the admitted fact that the sun was a big Klieg light created for the purpose of making a camera halo around Gloria Swanson’s hair, and that any of its light that happened to fall on anyone else was graciously permitted to do so by Swanson Productions, Inc.
It’s about time to take a side glance at one of the elements of this general situation which has been neglected—the snatching and grabbing of boy friends that went on under the surface. If you go back to the moment when all these ladies were in different parts of the earth, satisfied with their respective lots and loves, you find that, in the way of pairings, all were contented.
Ina Claire had her Gene Markey. Gloria Swanson had her Marquis Henri. Greta Garbo had her Jack Gilbert. Connie Bennett had her health.
Ina started the war when she busted up the combination by grabbing of Jack Gilbert. That left Gene Markey a lone wolf, and the long moonshiny nights in the Beverly foothills were filled with baleful bachelor bayings.
 
ANOTHER thing Ina did when she swooped out of the East and rustled herself a branded bull out of the contented herd was to set up a sort of self-conscious stir among the other females. Example is contagious.
And the wisest ones saw at a glance what was the trouble, the chronic Hollywood trouble, cause of most of the ructions that set the news wires periodically to humming.
Out here there aren’t enough Class A-1 boy friends to go around. What I mean is blue-ribbon boy friends with stars in their foreheads, the kind that throw sod over into the next pasture when they start snorting and pawing the ground.
At the time of Connie Bennett’s arrival there were only two real pedigreed prancing papas on the prairie—Jack Gilbert and the Marquis Henri de la Falaise. Others? Oh sure, there are others. But I don’t mean others. I mean sirloin. I mean the kind that can flip a hoof and shoot sand right over the Rockies into the Eastern public eye.

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Twelve

The twelfth 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 the special challenge she faced in treating actress Constance Bennett, who needed to gain weight, not lose it.

THE TORTURE CHAMBER

Constance BennettTHE boss’s bungalow on the Pathé lot got to be a hangout. Rumors got around about what went on in there. The little stucco shack got christened the Torture Chamber.
Ann Harding and her husband, Harry Bannister, were a bit responsible for the reputation of the inner chamber where the boss did her pounding. At the time, Ann was pretty unfit, meaning somewhat overweight, and she was pretty vocal about letting the world know it when Sylvia was pinching pleats out of her.
Moreover, Ann refused to see that a movie career and all the money were worth the bother and would intimate that, any time she got fed up, she would leave the movies flat and go back East.
So the Pathé executives would sneak over and implore Sylvia to do two things: take flesh off Ann but not hurt her. Which two things don’t go together. So Sylvia would compromise by taking the flesh off Ann and hurting her, same as with anyone else. Bannister would hang around outside the shack while Ann was getting her treatment, smoking cigarettes nervously, like a man waiting to hear if it’s a boy, and when Ann let out a yell, he would bust in with his hair bristling and his jaw set and stop the horrible proceedings.
As a matter of fact, a vigorous massage, when the client’s trouble is fat, does hurt a bit. But the reason for the howls that arose in Sylvia’s operating room was more that pampered sensitiveness of the patients than any agony connected with the method.
The real reason for the phenomenal success of massage in the film colony is that’s a short-cut to physical conditioning, without which beauty turns into so much lard, and it’s a method where the responsibility is shifted to other shoulders. The victims on Sylvia’s slab in the back room of the Pathé bungalow took punishment—plenty! But not without howls and shrieks of agony that drew the attention of the executive department. On a hot, quiet day the outcries from the bungalow would reach the street outside the lot.
It wasn’t the public scandal the Pathé executives minded. What worried them was the possible effect on morale on the lot. It was getting so that the frightened actors made up all sorts of excuses to get out of taking their turns on the slab. So the Pathé people went into conference and decided to put a radio set with an oversize loud-speaker in Sylvia’s bungalow. The plug for switching on the music was put handy to the slab. When Sylvia was ready to go to work on a pair of bulging hips or an inflated tummy, she just gave the radio switch a slip and the loud-speaker started a squawk that drowned out the cries of the victim.

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Eleven

The eleventh 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 of a close call experienced in treating actress Norma Shearer.

FAT CHANCE

Norma ShearerGLORIA runs quite an establishment—butlers, footmen, and the rest. Down on the Pathé lot she rolled up her sleeves and did her day labor like an old trouper. But at home she was La Marquise de la Falaise et de la Coudraye, and had the big soft rugs, uniformed servants, and all the dog to prove it.
The house staff gave Sylvia the works, which is to say that she passed through about ten pairs of hands, to land finally in an upstairs den. There time passed in great chunks without any sign of Gloria Swanson. The boss was dead tired and had to pinch herself to keep awake. Whereupon a footman ambled in with a clinking tray, and she tried just one for luck and was sunk.
She had no idea what time it was when, presently, someone shook her out of a sound sleep and said: “Here I am—all ready for you.”
It was Gloria in her nightie. A clear case of overwrought nerves, with the inevitable results of facial lines and general puffiness. The treatment for that is delicate. If you start in pounding and pummeling at the start, the subject’s nerves get worse and worse, and the result you’re likely to get is the kind of weight reduction that is ruin—a stringy, jumpy body and a cavernous, drawn look about the face.
In the first few minutes Gloria admitted that the new sound-movie racket had her half-crazy. It took the boss two hours of gentle, soothing rubbing to get the overexcited star to sleep. Meanwhile she was that the job would take time; that, for a start, she’d have to reconcile herself to getting maybe a little fatter than she was; that the real work on her hips, chin and arms would have to wait. Gloria saw the point and said:
“Then I’ll have to have you all the time. You’ve got to give up your other people and work for me alone.”
Right away the boss remembered how that hook-up had worked out with Mae Murray—and even with Mary Duncan. It meant having to build up her clientele all over again when the contract died.
 
The offer from Gloria was flattering enough. But the boss had got past the point where the name of a movie star, whispered, was enough to jerk her out of a sound sleep. She was able to keep her head when Swanson made her offer, because, for one thing, the savings account was doing nicely, and, for another, she had just taken on Norma Shearer, whom she had been angling to get for months.
Hedda Hopper steered Norma Shearer into Sylvia’s hands. At that, the boss nearly lost the M.-G.-M. star after the first treatment, which was given in Shearer’s home. Norma had been playing a lot of tennis, and had got stringy and muscular and jumpy, the way women always do when they go crazy about any sport. The first thing to do was to calm her down and get her to sleeping regularly as a preliminary to softening her. So the boss rubbed her for nearly two hours and left her sleeping like a child. The next morning we got a phone call from Hedda Hopper, who said:
“I don’t know what you did to Norma Shearer, Sylvia, but my name is mud in the movies if you’ve ruined her.”

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Ten

The tenth 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 silent vamp Carmel Myers came to be thought “high-hat” by the rest of Hollywood and how Sylvia came to sign an exclusive service contract with Gloria Swanson.

THE TOLL OF A BELLE

Carmel MyersTO GIVE an idea of the semiroyal atmosphere that surrounded Gloria Swanson when the boss went to work on her in the summer of 1929, an adventure that happened to Carmel Myers, an old patient of Sylvia’s, is a good illustration.
Carmel once had a rep around Hollywood of being high-hat. Now, being “superior” is the one unforgivable sin in Hollywood. You’ve got to qualify that, of course. You can high-hat some, and you can’t high-hat others. It’s very complicated, like irregular verbs in French. On the lot you can high-hat writers, dialogue directors, the man who takes orders for custom-made shirts, people who act in Westerns, and Spaniards. Just now you can also high-hat musicians; but that isn’t safe, because nobody knows when musical comedy will come back on us like the seven-year itch. Outside of these few, you can’t high-hat anybody. As for all the free territory that is not a studio lot—even the novice knows that there you can’t high-hat a soul. Because everybody outside the profession is Public, and King.
Well, Carmel must have forgotten to say please to a taxi chauffeur once, or something terrible like that, and it got said around that she thought high of herself. The rumor started small, you understand—just a few whispers among the insiders. And Carmel could have stopped it at once. But, as luck would have it, poor Carmel was laid up at the time.
In fact, she had to get out of bed a few days later to answer a summons to the Pathé lot to talk over a rôle with a director. She had the chauffeur drive her down to the old Culver City lot, with its colonial portico, lawn and carriage drive, and guarded gate in the fence. At the gate Carmel’s driver came to a stop, and it looked as if Carmel would have to walk the length of the private drive.
At this time Gloria Swanson was making her United Artists pictures on the Pathé lot, as what you might call a paying-guest artist. In other words, Joseph Kennedy, her production manager, paid the Pathé people for the privilege of using the Pathé stages. So Gloria was in the position of star boarder in the old colonial homestead—and never was star boarder treated better than was Gloria by everybody, from highest executive to humblest doorman, on the Pathé lot.
As has been mentioned, the entrance to the lot is a curved driveway leading up to the executive offices in a building of colonial design. There was a tacit understanding, which the old gateman administered like a commandment carved in stone, that Gloria was the only hired hand whose car had the privilege of passing the grilled gates and depositing its passenger in the pillared portico.
On the day and the minute of Carmel Myers’ arrival before the Pathé doors, Gloria’s car happened to shoot out of a side street and dash through the quickly opened gates. Carmel, who was about to get out of her car and start up the driveway on foot, saw the gates swing open and, breathing a sigh of relief, sank bank in her seat and ordered her chauffeur to follow the other car in.
The old gateman almost fainted when the strange car dashed past and up the drive. He gesticulated and howled. But by this time Carmel was out of her car and across the porch into the Pathé building. Poor Carmel never knew, until some time afterward, that she had been guilty of a crime of desecration. Who did she think she was—Will Hays or somebody? That was what the scandalized people on the Pathé said.
A few weeks later, Carmel was lying on the slab in our back room resting up from a treatment. It’s the moment for confidences in a massage parlor. Lying there with all the bones loosened up, the patient’s jaw gets likewise and begins to chew over the secret troubles.
“Sylvia,” says Carmel all of a sudden, “have you ever heard them say that I’m high-hat?”

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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.

HER WEDDING NIGHT

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.

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