David Rollins — Oh, Davie, Behave! (1929) 🇺🇸
"Youth is a period of great, of very great, difficulty. Life swarms at you, storms at you, and you aren't equipped to meet it. You don't know what to do. You don't even know what it is that is going on within you and about you."
For a person who can read between the lines, the foregoing paragraph sums up David Rollins better than a volume could. Reticent, reserved, diffident to the point of timidity, high-strung — adolescent.
He was born in Kansas City on September 2, 1909. While in high school his parents migrated to California, where his father bought a farm just outside Glendale and David finished his schooling there. His job on the farm was tending goats.
One never thinks of David Rollins as an average boy, enjoying an average boy's pleasures — baseball, basket ball, dancing. One thinks of him, rather, as lying beneath a tree, his arms folded under his head, staring up into the sky, a dreamy look in his eyes and his thoughts as far away as the clouds.
He is terrified at the thought of meeting people. I have seen him cross a street to avoid passing two men he knew who were engaged in conversation and who he feared might not notice and speak to him if he passed, or who might think he was trying to force himself upon them if he spoke.
I have known him, a number of times, to sit in his room with the telephone ringing for fifteen minutes at a stretch, without making the slightest effort to answer it, for fear it would be some one who didn't interest him. In fact, he answers his phone so seldom, the studio has given up trying to reach him by that means. Messages for him are usually left with his sister elsewhere.
He seldom goes out at night — particularly to parties. "Most of the boys and girls I know like a drink or two," he says. "I don't drink, so I feel I haven't much in common with them. Nothing wrong with their drinking if they like it — I just don't happen to care for it.
"Girls are pretty much all alike after you've known 'em about a week. I go out with Nancy Drexel more than any other. We have a lot in common and we understand each other. But I'm afraid to see too much of her, for fear I'll find out she's just like the others."
"Yes, we are. They're wonderful to me. I've worked in four pictures with Sue and three with Nick, and we nearly always have a good time when we're out together, but they have each other — that's about all they're interested in. I'm an outsider, no matter how friendly they are."
It is hard to get him talking. When he does talk, it is usually in desperation lest he be thought stupid if he doesn't. Occasionally, in a sympathetic atmosphere, he talks — talks incessantly. Words come tumbling out of his mouth, fairly tripping over each other. It is in rare moments like these that you get a glimpse of his real self.
To come back to his goats — or his father's. "I finished high school and thought that life should hold something more for me than goats, so father and I went to the mat on the subject. We had a terrible scene. He called me all sorts of names and I left home. At that time my sister was married to an army officer and I went to live with them. I got a job in a bank as messenger. Then, after a while, I was taken out of the messenger department and put on the adding machines. Then summer came and my brother-in-law, Major Headache, thought I ought to go to the civilian training camp.
"If I went, it meant resigning from the bank, as they wouldn't let me off that long. I wanted to go and he thought it would 'be the making of me' — whatever that means — so I went.
"When that was over, I came back to Hollywood. I hadn't a job, so my sister suggested that I try the movies. I laughed at her, but nothing else came up, so finally I went out to Universal to try my luck. They registered me and, a few days later, called me for work on the 'Collegian' series. Calls began coming in pretty regularly — three or four times a week, always through Central Casting Bureau, of course. Finally Central called up and wanted me to come down there. They said they realized I had been getting pretty steady work from Universal and thought there must be some reason for it. When they saw me, they thought I'd be a good type for college pictures and promised me work at the other studios.
"Finally I was called to Fox to take a test for 'Cradle Snatchers.' I didn't hear anything about it for a long time, then I heard that Arthur Lake had been given the part. I was sick about it. but my sister said, 'If you are going to stay in this business, you might just as well make up your mind that you're going to have disappointments — lots of them. Let's go down to the beach and have a good time and forget all about it.' So we went down there and had a swell time and came home and there was a call from Fox to report for another test.
"When I got out there. I found it was for the sympathetic part in 'The High-school Hero.' David Butler, the director, looked me over and called me to one side and said, 'Now, I've got to test a lot of people for this part, but don't be discouraged, I like your looks and I'm going to do everything I can for you. If I've got anything to do with it, you're going to play in this picture.' And I did. And when it was done, I got some nice notices and a five-year contract from Fox."
He paused a moment and rushed on. "Gee, it's funny! I make more now in a week than I made at the bank in a month, and that's less than two years ago and yet, somehow, even with all this increased income, I have trouble making ends meet and I'm not extravagant either, do you think?" I had to confess I didn't.
"You see, my sister and her husband separated and I help her and her two children. And I help my mother. And I have myself to look after. We all live modestly, but we get by."
Half jokingly I asked when he was going to get a new car. David surprised me by his answer. "Not until I've got the money in the bank to pay for it. I've just finished paving for Clara —"
"Clara — my old coupé. I admire Miss Bow tremendously, but I've never met her. Don't want to — I might be disappointed. Well, I've just finished paying for Clara and I can tell you it was awful. Every month for eighteen months I had to make a payment and I couldn't go out anywhere, because I mightn't have enough money left to meet the payment and they'd take Clara away from me. I paid the last installment last month, and I can draw a breath at last. All I need, now, is for some one who doesn't carry insurance to run into me for the thing to fall to pieces."
He has a small apartment high up on a hill in a sparsely populated section of town.
"It's the first time in my life I've ever had a place to call my own — a place where I can be absolutely by myself when I want to. First, my mother and father were always bossing me. Then it was my sister and her husband. Now it's always some one at the studio. They do it because they like me, I guess — actors and people like that whom I don't concern. I suppose they want to see me get ahead, but it's trying always to have some one saying 'Don't do it that way — it should be done like this.'
"My way can't be altogether wrong, because it's put me at the point where, in less than two years, I'm playing featured roles. I have to rely a little on my own judgment, don't I? Well, now when I leave the studio in the afternoon, I can either take a ride by myself, or else go home up on top of the hill and either read, or just sit and look out of the window."
He is about five feet eleven and weighs around one hundred and forty pounds. He has dark skin, dark, curly, brown hair and what Sue Carol declares are "quite the nicest eyes in pictures — a violet blue."
Most of the people in the movies try to impress you with their loneliness — the lack of understanding they encounter in their relations with the world, with their families and with their friends. It has come to be regarded as more or less a stock pose out here.
If it is a pose with David Rollins, he is a better actor than I credit him with being. I don't know that he is exactly lonely, but I don't believe he has ever had a very close friend.
I've seen him playing volley ball at the Thalian club's beach house, shouting hilariously. The members of this club are mostly youngsters who are featured in pictures. Their standing is pretty nearly equal and any attempt at posing within the family, so to speak, would promptly let the poseur in for some kidding that would take him the rest of his life to live down.
The game over, David suddenly disappears. If one took the trouble to look for him, he would be found about a mile up the beach sitting on the sand, staring out over the waves, or watching the breakers as they rolled in.
We drove out to Maywood one evening, looking for a picture called "The Shakedown," in which James Murray was playing. When we got to the theater the picture wasn't being shown. David went in to ask if they knew where it could be found. A second later he was back in the car, his face beet-red, gasping for breath. "You go in and ask — they recognized me!"
One moment he says or does something that gives you the impression he is far older and more knowing than his years give you a right to expect; the next he says something that makes you wonder if Booth Tarkington knew him when he described Willie Baxter in Seventeen.
On another occasion, when we were riding, I turned to him suddenly, hoping to startle him out of his shell, and asked, "Davie, does anything ever get you wildly excited, or make you very, very happy? Do you ever get a thrill out of anything?"
Davie never batted an eyelash as he answered, "Oh, yes! I get quite a kick out of a piece of angel cake, or looking into the windows of jewelry stores and wondering if I'll ever be able to buy any of the things I see there."
So we drove over to my apartment and opened a bottle of anchovies for excitement. Those finished, Davie started Clara up, turned his face toward the stars and pointed the nose of his car toward the solitary, little apartment that stands high up on top of a lonely hill, and drove off.
David Rollins confesses that he gets quite a kick out of a piece of angel cake, or looking at jewelry in shop windows.
David once tended goats on his father's farm.
"A dreamy look in his eyes and his thoughts as far away as the clouds."
"Girls are pretty much alike after you've known them a week," says David.
Despite his outward gayety, the interviewer thinks that Mr. Rollins has never had a close friend.
All Photos by: Alexander Kahle (1886–1968)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, November 1929