Geraldine Fitzgerald — Just Who Is Geraldine? (1946) 🇺🇸

Geraldine Fitzgerald — Just Who Is Geraldine? (1946) |

February 21, 2023

Once in a long while someone comes along like Geraldine Fitzgerald who is different, hard to classify, someone who seems to represent all women.

by Lynn Bowers

Every producer, director, and casting director who selects her for a part sees her as a distinct individual. Yet none of these men actually knows her as a person or as an actress. If she were to insist, for instance, that her forte is comedy they would give a loud laugh and say "You're kidding, of course." Ask anyone in Hollywood what Geraldine Fitzgerald is like and the answer would be "Well, I don't know her personally, but —" and they'd give you their impression, probably based on her most recent rôle.

She knows fewer Hollywood people socially than any other actress of her standing. Now, cultivating producers socially with an eye out for possible picture plums is standard procedure with actresses, but in Geraldine 's case flying in the face of convention hasn't hurt and probably has helped her career.

She began earning steady pay checks on the Irish stage as a light comedienne. She had every intention of staying on the gay and frothy side, enjoying her work and loving the sound of laughter from customers of Dublin's Gate Theater. Then it happened that a stiff westerly breeze, blowing from Dublin to New York, brought news that a pretty young Irish actress had theater-goers there standing and rolling in the aisles. Orson Welles, of the Mercury Theater Welleses, couldn't wait to sign her up. Geraldine wondered if Mr. Welles intended departing from his usual heavy brand of drama when she signed with him, but somehow she didn't get around to asking. And before she could say Erin go bragh, she was acting all over the place without a single laugh-getting line.

By the time she hit Hollywood there was a regular legend built up about the Fitzgerald gal. "They" said she was a great dramatic bet. Hollywood viewed her guardedly. Nobody bothered to bone up on what she'd done in the pre-Welles period. Nobody cared. She was drama with capital letters, someone to watch out for. And that was that.

Geraldine admits she unintentionally helped the legend along. "I wasn't used to the friendly informality of Hollywood." she explained. "I thought all studio people must be very old friends because I never heard any one use a last name. In Ireland and England we seldom called anyone by first names outside family and close friends. If a man said 'Hi, Cupcake' to a girl on short acquaintance he might as well have pinched her you know where. A girl who would say 'Hello, Mac' was asking the man 'What are you doing tonight, toots.' I don't say European etiquette is better than American but I do say it's different and that I didn't understand.

"So, being new around here and frightened of my impressive build-up I didn't get acquainted very quickly and was considered stand-offish. I suppose you'd call it Irish moodiness, but I simply can't be cheerful and hearty in the morning. I hole up in my dressing room as quiet as a leprechaun until time to go on the set. That's how I acquired the unflattering title 'Lady' Fitzgerald. I haven't lost it yet, either," Geraldine said with a rueful smile.

"I've often wondered how long I'd have lasted on the screen if someone had taken charge of me and groomed me as a special, stylized kind of actress such as a sophisticated woman, a glamor girl, or a witch. I've been everything from sweet to sinister. At Warners I started as the sympathetic friend of Bette Davis in 'Dark Victory.' Next I was the subdued, melancholy wife of the gloomy Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Then Warners got the idea that I could be a menace and a monster. I know one thing — I can never be any more monstrous than I am in 'Three Strangers.' Now, for a change of pace and to confuse things further, I'm a rich, sexy, and lonesome widow in 'Nobody Lives Forever.'

"Again, we have Fitzgerald the selfless, ladylike second wife of the Twentieth Century-Fox picture 'Wilson.' Universal prefers me as the sly, scheming sister of 'Uncle Harry' — a beastly woman, intent upon ruining as many lives as possible in the ninety minute course of the picture.

"At Paramount," Geraldine continued, relentlessly cataloguing herself, "I'm quite probably known as a slop. During wardrobe tests for 'O.S.S.' we tried all sorts of French peasant girl costumes, most of them in the Charmaine tradition with the dainty cotton blouse falling gracefully off one shoulder. What we finally decided upon was realistic rather than pictorial. I wore a man's cardigan which was too large, a heavy dark woollen skirt of unbecoming length, black cotton stockings, and heavy shoes. My hair was disarranged and my face dirty. When I went to lunch in costume I'd see people on the lot looking at me askance, seeming to wonder where that fugitive from the ashcan came from." A look of quiet amusement lighted her face.

Added to the impressive display of her versatile talent is still another type Geraldine will create soon on the New York stage. That of, in her words, "a rather nice, slightly glamorous girl who doesn't throw one fit and has no complexes."

Some day, some producer is going to pull a fast one and ask Geraldine to do a comedy part and will she be surprised! The fascinating prospect of what she'll be called on to do next is intriguing. By playing it "close to the chest" and maintaining an open-minded attitude about the parts offered her, she has developed a facile quality which few "type" actresses possess and the girl with the longest name on the screen will undoubtedly continue to enjoy a long and diversified career.

"I think there's only one other actress whose career is similar to mine, although she's done a much better job of it than I," said Geraldine with unaffected modesty. "That's Margaret Sullavan. Put her in any part and she becomes that person."

Set visitors quite often naively remark to actors that they must be exactly like the characters they portray; otherwise how would they know what those people think, how they feel and act? This happens to Geraldine time after time, and although it's a dubious compliment when she's being a particularly awful character, she doesn't get her Irish up. It's a great satisfaction to be able to convince so many different people that she's so many different people. The instinct for humor which started her on this checkered career has survived although the reputation for comedy hasn't.

To the few people who do know Geraldine personally, she's a bird of still another feather. There's a pleasant, quiet charm about her that instantly brings up the question of how she could possibly be those villainous women on the screen when she's so totally unlike them. She's a small-boned, delicate-looking gal. Her auburn hair is somewhat darker than it appears on the screen. Dressed in a gray flannel skirt, red and white checked gingham blouse, flat-heeled shoes, with two small velvet bows in her hair, she looks like her son Michael's older sister.

Michael is six and wears size nine clothes, a well-poised youngster who looks very much the man until he smiles and reveals two grown-up second teeth that have parted a neat row of smaller baby teeth right in the middle. His serious brown eyes are enormous and his hair is straight and dark brown. There's a generous ration of freckles on his tanned, cute little face. Sometimes this clothes-conscious young man has trouble with his tie and the short end comes out on top, but he's independent and insists on dressing himself.

Freckles, his half-and-half Dalmatian-Fox Terrier, is quite well disciplined and can even perform a few tricks which the young master has taught him. Freckles and Michael spend much of their time on the sun-drenched picket-fenced private beach in front of their small, cozy Santa Monica home. Living at the beach is a must for Geraldine. It's as close to the climate of Ireland as she can find in Hollywood, particularly when the fog rolls in and the sea is rough and gray.

Maybe it's just coincidence that the walls of her living room are emerald green, furnishing a lively background for a number of her own paintings, which are really quite good despite the fact that Geraldine tosses painting off as a hobby with a wave of a tapering and expressive hand. There was a time when she dreamed of a brilliant career as an artist until the head of the Dublin Art School told her to forget her dreams.

She plays the piano well, has a sentimental attachment for folk songs, adores the comic strip Snuffy Smith for its picturesque hillbilly lingo and hates Venetian blinds because nobody else will dust them and she has to do it herself. When she redecorates her house, out come the blinds and that's for sure.

During the war, Geraldine had to stifle her homesickness for Ireland. Last fall she obtained permission to visit her homeland and her recently divorced husband, Edward Lindsay-Hogg, who raises and trains race horses.

Having had opportunities to observe both horses and actors at close range, Geraldine says, "You know, we're very much like race horses. We're arranged in rows of identical dressing rooms like horses in their loose boxes. Everyone expects us to be temperamental, hard to handle. They approach us cautiously through our handlers, not knowing whether we'll accept the proffered lump of sugar or kick out the sides of our stalls, rear, bolt, or bite. When we work, we're groomed and polished within an inch of our lives. Our owners hope we'll perform as we've been trained to and not stop in the middle of the race to graze. If we do our jobs well we're made to feel the way I'm sure a horse does when, after winning a race, he's applauded and bedecked with flowers." As an afterthought she said. "Perhaps I shouldn't say that about actors. They might resent being compared to horses, but as long as I've included myself it may be all right."

She has illusions about her fellow actors. "One reason I know so few Hollywood stars is that I regard them as very glamorous people. When I get to know them they talk about all the ordinary problems of living and they cease being the glittering personalities I want them to be in my mind and become just everyday people like myself. I want to keep my illusions!"

Having played opposite a bobby-sox idol for the first time in "O.S.S.," Geraldine has a very high opinion of Alan Ladd. "His teen-age fans won't have him exclusively for long. They'll be sharing him with all movie fans for I believe he'll be a really great actor when he's given the chance to do something besides tough guy parts. He's so unspoiled and unassuming — I'm really quite a fan of his myself."

Watching Geraldine sitting before an open fire, pouring tea which she makes in the true English tradition of taking the pot to the kettle, it's difficult to realize that this girl with the quiet charm, the ready wit, the quick smile has been so many types. It's hard to realize that so much talent can be contained in such a small person. Far from being a "type," however, she's all types. Her life on the screen has been a complete reverse of the tiresome remark, "You're not the type," which tries the souls of so many actors. Rather, she's heard "You are the type" so often that even she can't tell you who she is. And don't ask her why she seems to be all women. She has no more idea than anyone else. Neither has she any inkling why the only time she hasn't been the type is when she's pitched for a good fat comedy rôle.

But don't be surprised, if the next time you see a condensed spelling of Geraldine Fitzgerald on a theater marquee, to find when you go inside that she's doing a strip-tease, a be-bop number, or a ninety-year-old Mongolian. If a producer tells her she's the type, she automatically proves he's right.

Fitzgerald dislikes formal attire, prefers comfort of shorts and blouse as she studies her script in the patio.

She looks more like her son Michael's older sister when she lolls on the beach outside her informal home.

Arleen Whelan, resuming her movie career after three years on Broadway, reads to pet Skye terrier, Orchy, who finds it a good time for a snooze. You'll see her in Paramount's "Suddenly It's Spring," co-starring Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray.

Collection: Screenland MagazineOctober 1946