Here are 10 things you should know about Esther Muir, born 118 years ago today. She enjoyed success on Broadway, in films and, later, in real estate.
Here are 10 things you should know about Jack Holt, born 132 years ago today. He’s a familiar face to most movie buffs, but it may surprise some to learn that he was a bigger star than they knew, especially in silent pictures.
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.”
The sixth 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), includes anecdotes of such star clients as Ramon Novarro, Ernest Torrence, Jack Holt, Neil Hamilton and Lawrence Tibbett.
Why shouldn’t he be? He sleeps in a coffin.
That’s a fact. Ramon’s bedroom in the immense house he occupies with an old grandee of a Spanish father, his mother, and ten—count ’em—ten brothers—Ramon’s bedroom is a replica of the burial crypt of some saint in the Vatican City in Rome. The bed itself, high, narrow, and set on a pedestal, is a sarcophagus, under a purple canopy crowned with a wreath of thorns. A funny idea, this. All I can say is that Ramon seems to want to hurry his Cecil B. De Millennium.
Sylvia says that the daily massage she gave Ramon at 7
A.M.—waking him out of his embalmed slumbers with the laying on of her hands—always felt spooky. It was too uncomfortably like a miracle.
The boss promoted the job with Novarro herself, one day when she had finished touching up Elsie Janis and gone down into the Janis back yard to see what was going on in the swimming pool. Quite a bunch of actors were splashing about, showing off; and as Sylvia came along Ramon Novarro dived in and came up floating on his back. Right away the boss’s eagle eye noted something that promised a new customer and she thought up a salemanship scheme.
“Can you float like that indefinitely” she asked Novarro.
“As long as I want,” he modestly asserted.
“While you smoke a cigarette?”
He lit up and puffed away, and was good for ten minutes, stomach up, under a broiling California sun. Sure enough, when he puffed the last puff and called Sylvia to witness that he had accomplished the feat, the nice round central part of him was dried by the sun, making a cute little dry island in the middle of his bathing suit where it had been raised above water level by an undeniable protuberance.
Neat, what? All Sylvia had to do was kid him about the watermark and he had to say the expected thing and invite her to undertake the removal of the island.
“How could I help it?” he alibied. “I’m just back from a trip to Germany—and who can resist Münchener beer?”
ERNEST TORRENCE is a contrast to the soft and delicate Ramon Novarro, but not such a tremendous one as you’d think. What I mean is, all the boys get girlish and skittish when they have to take a professional interest in their looks, and Big Ernest is no exception.
Like all those oversize fellows, Ernest has a small, firm-minded wife who bosses him around as if he were a young St. Bernard. Elsie Torrence had been taking treatments from Sylvia, and she reported that her husband was threatened with nervous breakdown and ought to let Sylvia treat him.
“But he’s so shy,” Mrs. Torrence said, “and he just has fits when I suggest that he call in a female masseuse.” She set her jaw and added: “I’ll bring him round, though.”