Corinne Griffith Tells Her Untold Tale (1929) 🇺🇸
Corinne Griffith has been pretty consistently publicized us the orchid type and other analogous terms. Which, translated, means that a lovely, aloof and precious lady rnoves with an apparently detached serenity among the more flamboyant growths of Hollywood.
by Gladys Hall
As Mrs. Walter Morosco, she is one of that charming inner circle who have given pride to the screen by being, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion and beyond reproach. A circle crested with such names as the Antonio Morenos, the Jascha Heifetzes, the Conrad Nagels and others. She lives in an exquisite and recently built home, which is a home as well as a repository for such exquisitudes as Lalique glass, jades, rose quartz, priceless laces, etchings, prints and books.
All of which is orchidaceous, we'll admit — but Corinne was born in Texas of hardy stock. Her father was a railroad man and her childhood, while comfortable enough, was rough and ready with the necessity of breaking camp and following the father from place to place. After his death, there was poverty, disillusion, hard work and heartbreak. And from such a start has Corinne come today to be the most enviable person in filmdom, commanding a salary of ten thousand dollars a week, making but two specials a year with long leaves of absence in between, selecting her own vehicles and having her productions managed by her own husband. An orchid? Maybe, but an orchid who still grows in hardy soil, who can and did exist without the hothouse and who can decorate and love the hothouse now that she has earned it.
There are always reasons why people are as they are. Corinne Griffith is going to give you hers. She speaks with diffidence. It is difficult for her to tell of the things closest to her life. She has worn the veils of reticence for sound and valid reasons, and it is painful for her to cast them aside. So that these revelations are the more valuable because they are so hard to get, so hard for her to give.
Corinne Griffith, in her own words:
"I have had a poison in my life. A noxious sort of poison lurking in my heart and half killing all of my hopes and dreams and will-to-live. It might very well have ruined my entire life. It very nearly did. It is called an inferiority complex.
"And because of that complex I never knew a happy day in all my life. Moments, yes. Thrills, gaiety. Excitement. Something I once took for happiness. But until I married Mr. Morosco I was never actually at peace. When you have found the real happiness, it is very easy to detect the false.
"This complex is, really, the story of my life up to a very few years ago. It explains me as nothing else can or does. It motivated most of my actions and is accountable for my supposed coldness, indifference and reserve. When you are afraid of yourself, you are afraid of all mankind, too. Self-consciousness, perhaps, is the true name for it.
"Three months before I was born my mother lost two of her children. A boy and a girl. That, I think, began this poison of mine. There is supposed to be nothing left to the myth of pre-natal influence. Perhaps not. But it seems to me that a child born in the very presence of great sorrow must somehow be touched by it. I know that I was.
"For I was the saddest child on earth. And the loneliest.
"I never had any friends. And I wanted them, desperately. But I was shy, and timid about making advances and there was never time for anything but advances, considering the fact that we no sooner settled in one town than we had to move on to another. My father was a railroad man and that necessitated frequent trekkings on the part of the family.
The Ugly Duckling
"I was the ugly duckling of the family. My mother was Italian, my father English; and the enormous brown eyes of my mother's people were the distinguishing marks of beauty in our family. My eyes were blue and smaller than my elder sister's. I was thin and tall and awkward, and when I was thirteen my legs were as long as they are today.
"My sister, several years older than I, was my mother's pal and confidante. I was constantly being dressed up, put on a chair in some strange hotel or house and told to stay there. I felt out of things. I didn't seem to belong anywhere or to anyone.
"When I was nine or so, they sent me to boarding-school in New Orleans. My chief recollection of those days is roller skating along the embankments, loving in some dark, obscure way, the storied old city; and desiring passionately to be a portrait painter. That, I had decided, was to be my great work in the world. Of course, I occasionally draped myself with a sheet and postured before a mirror, fancying myself as a great actress. But that doesn't mean very much. Most children, I think, play-act.
"During what proved to be my last year in school, the end of my formal education — I never went to school again after I was thirteen — I began an ambitious canvas. It depicted the form of a nude woman clinging, precariously, to a rock. Being thirteen and with the Puritan strain still operative somewhere in my blood, I later added a filmy wrap to the lady's anatomy, and felt better about it.
Visions of vindication
"It must have been an awful thing, that painting. But to me it was marvelous. It was more than a painting, it was the justification of my whole existence. I had been lonely, inconspicuous, the ugly duckling — but never any more. I had visions of my triumphal return to my parents, their astonishment at discovering that they had had a genius in their midst all these years and had never known it.
"They would, of course, hang it in the place of honor in the dining-room or living-room. Friends and neighbors would come in and my family would point with shining pride to this masterpiece. I would be important. I took the thing home, heart thudding, hands and feet like ice, My hour had come. I presented the canvas, trying not to look too elated with myself and — they hung it on a back wall in a back room. They spiked it with a nail so that the edges curled and it flopped over. No one paid any attention to it. No one was asked to come in and view it. They said, 'Well, well; that's very nice.'
"'Very nice': it was my life-work to me. To the grown-ups it was simply another childish daub to be got as much out of the way as possible.
"These are the tragedies that break so many childish hearts and scar them for life. These are the things that loving parents do to their own children and never know that they have done them.
"Later on, my old teacher in New Orleans sold the painting for me for fifty dollars. But it was too late. I never touched paint or canvas again.
Thirteen — and Engaged
When I was thirteen I had my first love affair. I fell in love.
"The boy was twenty-one. He made love to me, kissed me, acted as all lovers do. He asked me to marry him when I should be fifteen. I accepted the proposal. And wondered how I should manage to live through the two long years between. My mother tabooed the idea. My father and the boy's family thought it was fine. Thirteen.
"I went back to school after the proposal. I felt sacred and set apart. I had discovered Galahad, the pure and spotless knight. The world was a shining place, beautiful to live in. The high hour of every day was dedicated to him. The hour in which I wrote, pouring out page after page of the green rapture in my young heart.
"The facts of life were as veiled to me as they are to a year-old babe. No one had ever told me anything. I didn't know what life was all about. But I knew what love was all about. You can, at thirteen.
"My mother discovered that this very human young god was running about with undesirable women. She told him that he would have to tell me what he was doing. He would have to find some delicate way of letting me know that he was not the perfection I thought he was. He did write me. He didn't tell me the truth in so many words, of course. He couldn't. But he did pour forth an incoherent tale of a motor ride with an older woman, an accident, kisses in the dark, not knowing how it had all happened, and so on. It didn't make much sense to me, that story. I only knew that he was not the Galahad I had thought him; I knew that he was telling me that I was not the only girl, as I had thought I was. I didn't know just what he had done, but I knew that he was not what he had seemed. This was my first disillusion. I returned his fraternity pin, tore up his letters and tried to forget. Of course I succeeded — after six months or so.
Poverty and Injustice
“Shortly after this happened the family fortunes crashed. My father died. My sister had married in the last whirl of glory the family knew — and we were left alone in a world stripped of everything but poverty. Real poverty, it was, too. Nothing fictional about it. Days when we wondered where heat and food and clothing were to come from. The kind of poverty that cannot pay rent, or grocer bills and has gas and electric light and all services cut off.
"Under the homestead laws of Texas we lost our home. I had to go to court and testify, and I remember that the judge made me out a liar and I was miserable and bewildered with shame and resentment.
"And once again, so early, I learned how swiftly humans will desert a sinking ship. People who had cultivated us when they thought something was to be got for their pains, persons for whom my father had rendered services, in cash and other ways, forgot us when the crash came. Never said so much as, 'Thank you' or 'Too bad.' We had lost what the world counts as ‘of primary importance. I have never forgotten that lesson. I never shall.
"The beauty contest I won after coming to Hollywood, my start in pictures, has all been told many times before.
"Then my first marriage — so sordid that it is a memory I cannot bear to dwell on more than to point out how it contributed toward making me the sort of person I am today.
"I was ignorant as well as innocent when I married that first time. And I was, or [ had been, very gay and very full of fun. Something it seems hard for people to believe of me. But it was so. I never smoked and I had a horror of drinking, but I did go out with boys and loved it. I danced and spooned and went to parties and did all the things a girl does do when she is on her own for the first time in her life.
Marriage and Lost Faith
"My first marriage knocked the joy of life right out of me. I came out of it at last, dazed, cynical, hard and hurt. Hurt. I had lost my last vestige of faith in men and in women. I didn't trust one living soul. I didn't even trust myself. I was disillusioned and embittered, through and through.
"You see, I had loved him. And that love had made those dreadful, faith-breaking years all the more hideous.
"During those years I was working and working hard, day after day, at the old Vitagraph studio in the East. I went to a few theaters. I went to a night club just twice. I took dancing lessons three nights a week. That was all.
"I never saw the color of my own money. I seldom saw my family. I had no time and little inclination to make friends. I didn't know what it was all about, didn't realize that there was any man in the world but that man or that any other condition of living might exist for me.
"It nearly did for me completely, that experience. It has only been recently, very slowly and painfully and with the help of Walter, that I have worked myself out of it and of the bitter aftermath it left for me.
"It was my danger zone. That was the time when I stood the frailest chance of survival. The time when my old inferiority grew apace and nearly strangled me. For my husband would say to me, 'You would be nothing without me.' He couldn't have said a more fatal thing to me. For I believed him.
"And then, when things grew too dark and horrible, I came back to Hollywood. I came fully determined to be bad, to live a life of gay and scarlet sin. I thought, why bother with ideals or dreams if life is like this. What does anything matter? Certainly, I don't matter.
Marriage and New Faith
"I couldn’t seem to get into the swing of it. I was deathly tired with that chilling tiredness that is not of the body. And very soon I met Walter — and was saved.
"I met him one night at the Ambassador. He asked me to dine with him the next night. He said, 'I want you to meet my mother.' Somehow, that simple, nice little speech touched the very Tightest spot in me. It was so wholesome, so real. I liked it. And that is what I have found, what I cherish beyond anything else in this happy second marriage of mine: wholesomeness, enthusiasms for worthwhile things, respect.
“I have found the worthwhile things in my work, too, I hope.
"For a long while I was terribly handicapped by an absurd notion that seemed to be current, that I was beautiful.
"I am not beautiful. I know I am not. Take me apart, feature for feature, and you will see for yourself.
"I don't want to be known as a beauty.
"Beauty, on the screen, is more of a detriment than an asset.
"They won't let you act if you are tagged with that label. It is the old beautiful-but-dumb idea. I know. When, in the past, I would ask to do such and such a part, I would be told, 'Oh, but you can't play a character like that. Why, she only wears an apron or a blouse. Your public want to see you gorgeously gowned, wearing jewels and satins.' In other words, I was to be a clothes-horse, walking through artificial parts, stiff, not human.
Her Choice of Roles
"Now that I can choose my own vehicles, I have slipped in the social scale. In The Divine Lady I played the daughter of a blacksmith and a cook. In 'Outcast' a girl of the streets. In 'Saturday's Children' a stenographer; and in 'Prisoners' I am a cashier in a bakery-cafe in Budapest. Human beings with the concealing fripperies thrown off. The lady of the streets and the lady of the salon are not so very far apart — only in that one may expose her emotions and the other may not.
"And some day I hope to play Josephine and then Marie Antoinette — human beings.
"And so this may explain a little that my coldness is really self-consciousness, born of an inferiority complex that life seemed determined to nourish for many years. My present good fortune in having my own way is the result, perhaps, of the many years when I had no way at all. I believe in the law of compensation.
"I am glad I went through the things I did. The first marriage, the bad-lands that followed. Everything. I had some ecstatic moments; and to me one perfect moment is worth months of pain. For after all, without pain, without the necessity to do, to achieve, to conquer, what or where can be the savor?"
They're never satisfied, people aren't. How many girls there are who'd give anything to be thought as beautiful as Corinne Griffith. But Corinne always considered her looks a handicap.
Collection: Motion Picture Classic Magazine, May 1929
Confessions of the Stars series: