Gloria Grahame, Not Just Another Blonde (1948) 🇺🇸
Not Just Another Blonde
Gloria Grahame is something special, even for Hollywood
by Jack Holland
Blondes are a dime a dozen in screenland. Cuties with the vivacious air and the glittering hair are as much a part of Hollywood as cracks about liquid sunshine. Yet once in a while one of these blondes manages to create something of a stir. Such is RKO’s sizzler, Gloria Grahame. Gloria, in case your movie education isn’t on the beam, is the personality-plus blonde who came to attention first in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and then went on to do a smash-up job in “Crossfire.” Now she’s playing her best role to date in “The Long Denial.”
I went on the set of the picture to have a chat with Gloria and was in time to catch her singing a song for a scene. Many extras were seated about, adding their bits to the general gaiety of the whole thing. Gloria looked extremely calm as she went through her paces. But when she came off the set and we went into her dressing room for a talk, she threw me a bombshell. “I’ve never been so scared as I was just then,” Gloria remarked. “Singing before all those extras! They’re used to working with some of the top stars in the industry — and that’s all I could think of while I was doing the scene. My old self-consciousness cropping up again!”
That was the first I’d ever heard about Gloria being self-conscious. She’d always struck me as being completely self-assured on any and all occasions.
“I’ve had to fight that all my life,” she continued. “I used to go to parties and be unable to open my mouth. Occasionally I’d meet someone at a party who made me feel sufficiently at ease so I could carry on a conversation, but with most people I just froze up. As a result, I never went out too much. Not that I minded, because I was always more interested in acting than in having fun.
“It’s always seemed strange to me that a self-conscious person should decide to become an actress. But in my professional life I haven’t had to worry about my shyness so much. Naturally, I got butterflies before I went on the stage in a play, and I often get jittery before doing a scene in a picture. But once I’m on stage or once the camera starts to grind, I relax.” She laughed lightly and added, “Yet look at the way I was about this scene I just did!”
Gloria then proceeded to tell me that the biggest fight she has had in her life has been to get rid of a certain amount of inferiority complex. And it’s been quite a struggle. “When I was understudying the various actresses in plays,” Gloria continued, “I used to watch them carefully. In fact, I watched them so closely that I began to imitate them. Perhaps that imitation was to build up confidence in myself. But in some cases, observing the work of others and noticing their mistakes made me feel more assurance. I realized at such times that I could do a part just as well — if not better — than they. This phase of my career, then, was invaluable. It taught me two great, lessons: to remember that if I tried there was no limit to what I could do, and not to imitate, simply to be Gloria Grahame.
“Getting over self-consciousness isn’t an easy thing. I used to give myself pep talks about it. I told myself I couldn’t get along anywhere if I continued to be so foolish. That’s the first job any one has who is self-conscious. He must convince himself that it is a fault that must be overcome, that it can seriously detract from any possible success. My recent good fortune in pictures has helped some in that it has shown me that I must have offered something in my performances that was worthwhile, and that, therefore, there wasn’t really anything for me to be self-conscious about.
“As for getting over this socially, that’s something else. I learned only recently that it is much easier for me to mix in groups if I can get someone else to talk about himself. That usually opens up the door that blocks you and permits freedom in conversation. But actually the only advice I can give to anyone who is self-conscious is to remind that person that no one else will have any confidence or interest in her if she has none in herself. Progress can only be attained by a realistic appraisal of your own potentialities, by an assurance that you can do whatever you set out to do!”’
Well, Hollywood has no doubts about Gloria’s doing a job well. She’s had some terrific plums handed her, on merit alone. The amazing part of her story is that she has never been one who just had to be a movie star.
“I didn’t even expect to stay here when I came,” Gloria told me. “I thought I’d draw a salary, do nothing, and then go back to the stage. I didn’t for a moment take it seriously. Maybe it was because of this attitude that I was able to be as patient as I was those first two years in Hollywood.
I was brought here from Broadway and I did nothing for a while but sit and wait. Then I got a part in ‘Blonde Fever.’ Everyone kept telling me, ‘You were good, Gloria. We have great plans for you.’ But no one did anything. It was just as I had thought it would be. I was riding the good old Hollywood merry-go-round. Two years of complete inactivity followed. But the road turned when Jimmy Stewart chose me for ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ — and then came ‘Crossfire.’ So maybe it was a good thing I wasn’t burning with movie aspirations. I might have become disgusted and left.”
As for Gloria’s background, there’s none of the starving-in-a-garret routine. “It was only natural that I wanted to be an actress,” she explained. “Mother was an actress and used to direct plays. But she was rather shocked by my first performance. I’d been cast in a play at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, so I called a friend and told her she must come opening night to see me. Came opening night — and my entrance. I marched on the stage, went down center and right to the footlights. Putting my hand over my eyes, I peered anxiously into the audience to see if I could locate my friend. My mother almost fainted at this completely unorthodox debut.”
Her next notable experience was at Hollywood High School when she appeared in a lead role in the senior play — but the ending was different. The night of the show a producer of a stage play, “Good Night, Ladies,” was in the audience. He took one look at the clever little blonde girl, who was all of fifteen at the time, and went back to see her. “I’d like you to come to San Francisco at once and understudy a part in my show,” he said to her. He wasn’t the first person who had approached Gloria that night. A scout from Selznick’s had talked to her, and several big agencies had expressed interest. But Gloria preferred to take the understudy job — the first example of her indifference to Hollywood. “I figured that the most I could get from any of the studios was a stock contract at $50 a week,” she said, “and I knew I’d get lost in the shuffle. So I decided to do the play. Of course, there was the question of finishing my term at school and of graduation.”
So Gloria went home to tell her mother the news. Running into the house, she exclaimed, “Mother, we’re leaving for San Francisco tonight! Here are the train tickets!” Her mother listened to Gloria’s story and simply said, “Ridiculous!” But Gloria went right on talking.
“In San Francisco, I understudied and learned not one part but twelve,” Gloria went on, talking at lightning-like speed. “Yet I wanted to play only one part — the ingenue lead. The girl who was playing it was in love with the stage manager and missed cues since her mind wasn’t on her art. I finally asked the producer to give me a chance to play it. He refused point blank, telling me he had no one else who could step into any one of twelve parts. Finally I asked the director if he’d rehearse me in the part. He agreed, and I stayed up until five in the morning studying. After I had rehearsed the next afternoon, the director said, ‘You’re just the girl for this role!’ But the producer — again — played the Rock of Gibraltar.
“When we got to Chicago, the girl was still making the same mistakes. And a few more. So I was finally called in one morning and asked to play the part that matinee. I did it — and got a run of the show contract as a result.”
From that play, Gloria went in as Miriam Hopkins’ understudy in “Skin of Our Teeth” and then into the lead in “Stardust” and “The Highland Fling.” Gloria had banked a lot on the latter show, so she was pretty discouraged when it flopped opening night. But a girl friend of hers was completely elated. “Guess who’s interested in you?” she asked Gloria.
“Louis B. Mayer. He saw the show and liked you.”
Then Vic Orsatti, the agent, came to Gloria. Acting for Mayer, he asked her to make a test. But Gloria didn’t jump through any hoop. Her old indifference asserted itself. She’d have no part of a test made in the east since she knew it wouldn’t show her at her best. So Orsatti brought her to MGM under contract — and without a test.
“Since we’re delving into the history of Gloria Grahame so thoroughly,” Gloria commented, “I’d like to get one thing straight — and that’s about my marriage to Stanley Clements. So much has appeared in the newspapers of late, things that have made me look as though I didn’t know my own mind. Gossip” columns here in Hollywood too have made me out to be a girl who left her husband, went back to him, left him again, ad nauseam. Everyone seems to want to arrange my life for me. The facts are this — I am getting a divorce, and there has never been any serious thought as far as I’m concerned of any reconciliation.
“My career was in no way responsible for the break-up of my marriage, either. It was simply a case of two people who could never be compatible. The premise of the whole thing was wrong to begin with. It was an impulsive, hasty, war-time marriage. When Stanley was finally able to come home after the war, we found we’d no interests in common. It’s the old, old story told a hundred times these last few years. It would have had no different ending, however, I’m sure, if we’d never been separated a moment from our wedding on.
“My experience hasn’t embittered me at all about marriage. I shall certainly marry again, but I shall profit by my mistakes the next time.”
In the meantime, since her divorce from Stanley Clements, Gloria has married Nicholas Ray, director of RKO’s “The Long Denial.”
And that’s the complete picture of one Gloria Grahame Hollward, her real name. A normal girl who by sheer determination has managed to overcome a self-consciousness which could have sent her into a nose dive instead of zooming up the ladder as she is now!
Blondes may be a dime a dozen, but Gloria has that plus quality that commands attention. Above, with Maureen O’Hara and Director Nicholas Ray on the set of “The Long Denial,” RKO’s new mystery romance. Top, facing page, Gloria with Robert Sterling in her current release, “Roughshod.”
Collection: Screenland Magazine, August 1948