Here are 10 things you should know about John Gilbert, born 123 years ago today. He was a huge star in the silent era, but his career waned quickly with the ascent of talkies and he died far too young.
This is our final offering 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).
The second part of the book comprises Sylvia’s dietary and nutritional theories, and we weren’t going to share those here (they’re a little on the dry side), but we decided to say goodbye to Sylvia with the first chapter of that section of the book, which shares daily menus from the diets Sylvia assigned her various and sundry celebrity clients. “Who wouldn’t want to eat like Gloria Swanson or Constance Bennett for a day?” we asked ourselves.
DIET AND WHOLESOME COOKING
1. FOOD AND ITS PREPARATION
BELIEVE it or not, the object of a first-class masseuse’s business is to get rid of patients. If she’s on the level, the masseuse aims to send the patient away in good condition and hopes never to see her again. In this respect, massage is like the medical profession. The doctors too (the decent ones) do their level best to ruin their own racket and nothing is so satisfactory as a patient cured—which is a patient lost.
In Hollywood, Sylvia is reaching the point where her hob, for having been done too well, shows diminishing returns. Which is as it should be. And Sylvia, far from moaning over the fact, is as pleased as the kid who broke up the game by slamming the only ball into the river for a home run. Bit by bit, one by one, the respectable and representative percentage of Hollywood film people who are listed on the boss’s books have been made over and educated to the point where they are the caretakers of their own waistlines and do not need professional supervision at thirty dollars an hour.
If the boss can take it that way, far be it from me to show a meaner spirit. So—
Hurrah! I got fired.
It isn’t the massage that makes these people their own conditioners. The pounding can, and does, effect a speedy correction of overweight, underweight and some of the other deviations from the beautiful normal. But we can’t give any mileage guarantees in our business. A waistline bought on the massaging slab won’t last from now until next Sunday unless the buyer coöperates in the upkeep. With every treatment given in our back room goes a lecture on diet. The boss spiels it out while she’s working, something like this:
“No more fried food—“
“Cut out sea-food.”
“Turn over. And listen: lay off the liquor.”
Our customers all go through the same phases. At first they pay no attention to the diet instructions, figuring that the treatments will be absolution for their sins of the table. Sylvia’s invariable procedure, after a week or so of this kind of dishonesty, is to lock the patient out. It makes no difference who the patient is. Some of our most famous patients have been through the disciplining experience of being refused treatment. They eat, drink, live and, to a certain extent, dress as Sylvia prescribes, or they are locked out until they come back in penitent mood—which they all do. Thereafter, there are frequent backslidings. But Sylvia screams and threatens, periodically refuses treatment, and the backslidings become fewer and farther between. The great time to complete the dietary education of a Hollywood movie girl is during one of those interludes (they all pass through them) when the last picture contract is dead and the new one hasn’t been offered. Then, living on credit, running up bills, frightened, chastened, ready to listen to reason, the over-size babies can be taught something. In the long run, invariably, the knowledge is finally appreciated. Good dieting is good eating. When they find that out, the boss has done all she can do for a patient. Good-by patient.
The proposition, here, is to sum up Sylvia’s diet knowledge as it was brought to bear on the people of Part One, taking them in order of their appearance in these pages. As will become apparent as we go along, the boss handles diet problems with a dual point of view: the elements of the diet, and their preparation. Of the two, the latter is much the more important. A pork chop, properly cooking, would be a much better diet dish than a chicken wing fried in fat and ignorance. The place where the chemistry, quality and suitability of your food is decided is not in a scientific tract setting forth the calorie, protein, vitamin contents of this and that raw product; it is not in the package from the patent food manufacturer; it is not in test-tubes, treatises and tabulated statistics; it is over the burner of your kitchen range. There you may negotiate the miracle of your physical regeneration. There also, you may concoct an assortment of deadly poisons from the evil effects of which not even Sylvia’s fists, pounding at their merriest, can deliver you.
2. MARIE DRESSLER’S “AS IS” DIET
MARIE DRESSLER, as has been told, went through a period in Hollywood when, for business reasons, she put up a million-dollar front. By way of awing the financial executives of a company which was trying desperately to circumscribe her salary demands, she set up a semi-royal establishment in a turreted castle of the Hollywood hills. An unexpected result of this purely political maneuver was that idleness, plus a Filipino cook with an oriental imagination, began to tell on her midsection. Sylvia had to put her foot down.
The fifteenth 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 how actress Grace Moore tried to steal Sylvia away from Gloria Swanson.
THE MOORE, THE MERRIER!
IN ALL Sylvia’s experience, Grace Moore is the only client who has ever managed to undress in a massage parlor without shedding her dignity. The general atmosphere of Sylvia’s bungalow being what it was, and the quarters being cramped, our paying guests were usually about as mannerly as dogs in a pound. During business hours, the premises usually looked like the bank of the ol’ swimmin’ hole on a hot Saturday afternoon. People’s clothes dropped wherever they stepped out of them, and every so often Sylvia was asked to start a movement whereby everybody traded shirts and stockings until all had their own back again.
But Moore carried her manners with her, as she did everything else expect a grand piano—and she would have had the piano brought along if she’d thought of it. The two handmaidens screened Grace into a corner of our two-by-four dressing room and put her through an act like a queen getting ready for bed.
Well, you can put on all the front in the world, but sooner or later you’ve got to turn around. Five minutes later Sylvia was looking Grace anywhere but in the eye and asking her if opera singers sit a lot between shows.
Grace took it high and mighty at first.
“You must be mistaken,” she came back, as loftily as she could. “That sort of thing would show up in a camera test, wouldn’t it?”
“You bet it does,” assured Sylvia.
“Well, my tests at M.-G.-M. were pronounced perfect,” asserted Grace. “And I did one whole scene in profile.”
Sylvia didn’t argue. But what Grace had said didn’t jibe with the confidential call Sylvia had had from the M.-G.-M. lot that morning—an appeal from headquarters to do something about—quarters elsewhere.
Sylvia didn’t say anything, but maybe she looked a lot. Anyway, the prima donna went away from the first treatment in a mood of silence that tipped Sylvia off that she might as well expect trouble.
When the trouble came—a “misunderstanding”—the boss made short work of it, and then called M.-G.-M. to cancel dates for their singing star’s further treatments.
And when Grace herself got on the phone a little while later, and apologized for the misunderstanding and said everything was lovely, Sylvia froze up like a fjord. Grace’s olive branch took the form of an invite to attend a Sunday party up in her hilltop house, and she promised Sylvia some fun.
“I’m going to have M.-G.-M. send over the trade-mark lion, and Bee Lillie will be there—” she ballyhooed.
“And I’m supposed to be part of the menagerie?” shouted Sylvia, and hung up the receiver.
But after a while the boss remembered that dough is dough, and the Moore the merrier. Grace came back into the fold. But she continued to act cool and distant. Except, of course, when the boss was beating her lobster red; everybody is near and hot then.
Grace was getting hot in more places than Sylvia was responsible for. The reason for a steadily mounting temperature in her case was that Gene Markey, whom she had lured away from Gloria Swanson, was showing signs of a relapse.
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.
AND 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.
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.
GLORIA 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.”