Edward Arnold — “Darling, How Does it Feel To Be Great?” (1935) 🇺🇸
That is what generous Joan Crawford asked Edward Arnold after he had stolen honors from her in “Sadie McKee.” This is the story of the man behind the actor.
by Dudley Early
Hollywood is buzzing again with a new topic of conversation. You hear them talking about it in cafes, at parties, and on the Boulevard. Not scandal, not only the censorship problem. Hollywood is excited about the sudden rise to prominence of one of their own — Edward Arnold.
Sadie McKee did it. He was the drunken husband of Joan Crawford, you remember. Although he did not touch a drop of liquor during the making of the picture, he says he still has a hangover; and on the last day of production, the troupe solemnly presented him with a bottle of bromo-seltzer.
“It was just one of those breaks that come once in a lifetime,” he said to me, speaking of that part. “Every actor dreams of that break, and I got mine.”
True enough. Every actor does dream of such a break, but not every actor has the ability to take advantage of it when it comes. It was simply a case of the right man for the right part in this instance, and when such a combination of circumstances occurs, the result is a quick rise to fame.
Had Edward Arnold not been cast in that part, he would have rocked along as he had done for two-and-a-half years, appearing in picture after picture, doing bits and small parts, waiting for the big chance, like hundreds of others in Hollywood. But his chance came, and he was ready for it. You can’t beat that combination.
He first came to California in 1931, with the touring company of “Whistling in the Dark.” Los Angeles was the end of the tour, so, liking California instantly, he decided to stay a while, until the Eastern producer who had an option on his services for the next season should send for him. A good actor likes to act, so he thought he’d try his hand at picture work, and landed a part in “O. K., America,” which Universal was producing.
He portrayed a gangster with a passion for Dickens, and when this picture was released, Metro-Goldwyn sent for him to do the priest in “Rasputin and the Empress.” Although his part did not run clear through the picture, so much time was spent in production that when he received the expected call to return to New York for a show, the studio was not finished with him. They decided that it would be cheaper to buy up his contract than to replace him. So they bought the contract, just like that! He’s very glad now that they did.
Next he did the Emperor in “Roman Scandals,” then was called back to MGM for the part of another priest in The White Sister. B. P. Schulberg saw him in this and placed him under a personal contract, using him immediately in three consecutive pictures. Then Metro-Goldwyn borrowed him for “Sadie McKee,” and. ladies and gentlemen, B. P. Schulberg is the winnah!
Thar’s gold in them thar heels — as long as Edward Arnold can stand on them. And that should be for a long, long time, for he’s only forty-four, which, for a character actor, is young enough to allow long service.
He has been acting for thirty years, first appearing on the stage at the age of fourteen, as (this is how he said it, laughing) “Philistratemasterofrevelsinamidsummernightsdream.”
“Mr. Arnold,” I said hesitantly, “would you mind repeating that?”
He chuckled. “It’s a mouthful, all right. But that’s the way I said it at that time in all my youthful pride, when any one asked me what I was doing. Translated, it is, Philistrate, Master of the Revels, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Following this jaw-breaker, he went into the repertory company of the Shakespearean actor, Robert B. Mantell, where he stayed for a year; then with Ethel Barrymore and with Maxine Elliott, finally settling down into stock for eleven years. He was doing romantic leads in those days; character roles were thrust upon him in this way:
He was playing the red-blooded, blue-shirted hero in “The Storm,” a lickety-split melodrama which has twice been made into a picture. The Broadway run ending, he went on the road, and when the company returned to New York, he was informed by all producers that the day of the two-fisted, big-chested, basso-profundo hero was over.
Typed as such, he couldn’t get a job, so he and the writer of “The Storm” condensed it into a dramatic skit, and Arnold took it into vaudeville, touring the country for two years. It soon got to be like beans for breakfast every day in the year, and, in desperation, he turned to character roles. A variety of such parts finally brought him to Los Angeles.
He is married, and has three children, the eldest sixteen; the other two are fourteen and nine. He says he has been too busy providing for them to take up any hobbies. Most fathers will understand.
Virginia Bruce obliges the publicity department by wearing a coronet surmounted by her initials, but she doesn’t promise to don it when she appears in public.
“They’re trying to get me to take up horseback riding now, though,” he said. “We ride two or three times a week.”
He had remarked previously that he was trying to reduce, so I asked, “Won’t that help to take off weight?”
“No,” he said, then added, chuckling “it only seems to drive my stomach farther down into my lap!”
I asked him how he had liked working with Jean Crawford, knowing how little some stars like another of the cast stealing all the honors.
“I don’t think I have ever enjoyed working with any one as much as I did with Joan,” he said. “She did everything she could to help me.”
But that, as every one knows, is typical of Joan Crawford.
“After the picture was previewed,” he went on, “and I had begun to receive congratulations, I passed her on the lot. She stopped me and asked, ‘Now, darling, how does it feel to be great?’ “
We fell to discussing studio politics and professional jealousies.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said, “when any one tries to hog the camera. If the star insists that I show my back to the camera, it’s all right. I believe that I can act well enough with my back to hold my own.”
It is only the incompetent who is driven into a near-frenzy by one of such ability. His presence on a set will make those with talent rise to their own full heights in order to keep up. The result is sure to be a good picture, all other things being fairly equal.
He was working with Ann Harding in “Biography of a Bachelor Girl.” They had just started, but up to that time he thought Miss Harding very nice to work with. His next assignment was for a part in “Wednesday’s Child.”
It came time for him to get back on the set. Maurice Chevalier walked into the studio restaurant and, seeing Arnold, came over to the table. He, too, complimented the newest Hollywood sensation on his performance in “Sadie McKee.” When stars of Chevalier’s magnitude go out of their way to extend such compliments, the recipient must be good!
The time, the place, the part — that’s how stars are made. There’s always room for a good character star. Perhaps Edward Arnold will be the next one.
Mr. Arnold at forty-four, and after thirty years on the stage, finds himself admitted into Hollywood’s inner circle of celebrities.
Source: Picture Play, January 1935