The Stars and Their Pet Superstitions — Knock on Hollywood (1936) 🇺🇸

January 20, 2022

Beware the jinx! Take a tip from the stars and their pet superstitions — for they know you can't afford to take any chances on luck.

It’s a great and scientific age in which we live. An age of stream-lined trains, television and double-decker ice-cream cones. An age of international Zeppelin hops and backless brassieres. This is the enlightened era of the isolated atom, of glandular control and cigarettes kept sanitary in cellophane.

We drink dated coffee, and milk from only the happiest of cows. Eating is just a simple matter of collecting a balanced ration of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins. And love — honeysuckle and moonlight play much less important parts in today’s romances than do chemistry and conditioned reflexes!

But if you think that any of this knowledge has lessened Hollywood’s faith and fear of superstitions, then you are entitled to one more big think. As Preston Foster says, superstitions can’t do any harm and they might do some good. So he believes in all of them.

Most of the stars, however, have a special good luck or bad luck omen or article. For instance, whenever the nimble Fred Astaire gets stuck while creating a new dance routine, he drags from the closet an old pair of lucky shoes. With these on, the ideas come flying.

Frisky Francis Lederer is extremely superstitious. And, being a socially-minded person, he had four-hundred silver four-leaf clovers made which he gave to his delighted friends.

Jeanette MacDonald wouldn’t think of beginning a picture unless she were wearing a green dress, while Dolores del Río is that way about red roses. The first day of any picture always finds a bowl of red roses in her dressing room. Colors and objects don’t have any special significance to Fay Wray. But she wouldn’t give any advice about marriage if it killed her. She’s afraid it would jinx her happy union with John Monk Saunders.

Sir Guy Standing believes so firmly in the magic of an old felt hat that he takes it into a scene even when he can’t wear it. He stuffs the hat in a pocket. Gary Cooper is another of the Lucky Hat Boys. He wears a silly little number whenever he shaves for a picture. If he’s shaving for just a social appearance, he doesn’t bother about the hat.

Bing Crosby has a sweater that was given to him by his mother on the day that his horse, Aunt Kitty, won a race at Santa Anita. Now Bing won’t place a bet unless he is wearing that sweater. Gene Raymond is another lucky clothes man. He still clings to a faded, misshapen dressing gown that he wore in his first Broadway hit, “Young Sinners.” Ralph Bellamy says he will never part with a pair of lucky sheep-skin house slippers with which he began his acting career. And Alexander Hall, the director, always wears the same suit on the first day of production.

Frances Drake wouldn’t think of making an important move without first reading the cards, while Donald Woods won’t even whisper his plans until they are in action. He’s afraid any advance talk might hex the results.

Almost everyone is a knocker-on-wooder, but Andy Devine is the only person we know to carry a little piece of wood for just that purpose. When Andy applied for his first contract, he tapped wood on the way to the producer’s office. The little piece he now carries is framed in silver and dangles from his watch chain.

The rotund Edward Arnold says he wouldn’t place a hat on a bed. When we asked him why, he answered, “I put my hat on a bed once and somebody sat on it.”

Many married actresses won’t do a scene without their wedding rings, but the girlish Mary Carlisle is one of the few single girls to have a lucky ring. It’s a link-chain band that can be hidden by make-up if the part demands. Chester Morris won’t give up his wedding ring, either. He hides it from the camera with a strip of adhesive tape. Chester is also attached to some lucky garments. He makes a point of wearing in each picture some article that he wore in a hit film. For several years after he made “Alibi” he clung to an old striped tie that he wore in the first scene.

John Boles pooh-poohs the idea of superstitions. None of that stuff for him. No sir. He does admit, however, that he puts on his left shoe first. The one day he started with his right shoe, he found a flat tire on his car, was late for work, got a ticket for speeding and blew up in his lines.

Walter Huston, making a return to the screen in “Dodsworth,” is quite conservative in his superstitions. “They went out with the hoop-skirt,” he will tell you. Though he does advise against standing in front of an approaching locomotive or stepping on rattle-snakes. The worst luck of all, he says, is to dive into a pool where there is no water.

A lot of stars are superstitious in reverse. For instance, Clark Gable will go out of his way to walk under a ladder. Kathleen Burke, the one-time Panther Woman whom Columbia is domesticating for a role in “Craig’s Wife,” is attached to the number thirteen. She was born in 1913, there are thirteen letters in her name and she always asks for dressing room thirteen. In Rosalind Russell’s make-up kit there is a broken mirror which she refuses to take out. She broke it on her first picture, and seven year hoodoos notwithstanding, the cracked mirror is a cherished possession.

Lionel Stander, the raspy voiced comic, says it’s bad luck to appear in a Shirley Temple picture. Nobody sees you.

A great many directors, notably Raoul Walsh, Archie Mayo and Lloyd Bacon, think it good luck to appear in one scene of their pictures. Mitchell Leisen, now directing “The Big Broadcast of 1937,” has this superstition, too. But he could find no place for himself in his latest picture. This didn’t stump him, though. He had a bust of himself made by Gladys George. It will adorn Jack Benny’s office in the picture.

Carole Lombard says she wouldn’t make a picture without wearing Travis Banton gowns. This seems more good taste than superstition, however. Josephine Hutchinson, who plays such sane women, believes in all the conventional theatric superstitions, such as no whistling in the dressing room and never changing a powder puff or costume during the run of a show. She has a few pet phobias of her own, too. She will go into a rage if she finds that her shoes have been placed on a shelf higher than her head.

Anita Louise and Miriam Hopkins are devotees of the rabbit foot. Anita has them in varied shapes and sizes and uses them for belt and purse ornaments. Miriam Hopkins trusts in just a special kind of rabbit foot. It must be the left hind foot of a rabbit shot in a church-yard on a moonlit night. She is a constant patron of the astrologers and fortune tellers, as are so many players. Hollywood has more of these places, in proportion to its size, than any town in the world. Steeped in the superstitions of the old South, Miss Hopkins also refuses to have anything sewn up on her and she demands that her pictures start on Friday. Director King Vidor, on the other hand, starts all his pictures on Monday. This may be one reason they have never worked together. Vidor held up “The Texas Ranger” for two days, just to be in right with the voodoo.

Glenda Farrell believes that a bird in a dressing room is the curse of curses.

There is an amusing story about the time she took a chance on a couple of love-birds that were raffled off at her son, Tommy’s, school. She had never won anything in her life, so she felt safe taking the chance. This time, she won. When the birds were delivered to her, she bolted the door and told the messenger boy to take them back and raffle them off again.

Animals are Tom Brown’s superstition, too. If any stray cats or dogs pass his house, he takes them in and finds a home for them. Richard Arlen is a star-gazer and makes his plans when the moon is crescent.

Many of the movie folk superstitions are inexplicable: Minna Gombell won’t drink out of a red cup or glass and Billie Burke, for reasons known best to herself, tears her hair if her shoes are placed beneath the level of her dressing table.

Not only personalities, but even big business is superstitious. At Warners’ studio, now in the midst of a building rush, there is a new fifty-thousand dollar sound stage. It is Stage 12A. Warners know they could never round up a cast to play on a stage thirteen. On the corner of Sunset and Gower there is a bench for the weary wayfarer. But only the most fool-hardy of actors would use it. For the bench is jinxed by being identified with out-of-work players, waiting for a call from the nearby quickie studios.

Superstitions are older than history. Back in the cave-man epoch, when nature and the elements seemed to have a grudge against puny man, these phobias were born. If a man stumbled over a rock, that rock had something against him. So he kicked the rock. Some people do that even today. If he fell over a cliff, some unseen force pushed him. Thus, such things as knocking on wood, throwing salt over shoulders and keeping fingers crossed were developed to appease the evil spirits.

Man, in those dark days, had no control over his fate. He was buffeted by the winds of chance, against which he had no practical scheme of defense. And the chief reason that superstition plays such a large part in the lives of actors is that they, too, have little control over their destiny. It is all chance.

One scene can make or break a star. Because sound treatment was still uncertain, John Gilbert’s voice came out a squeak and ruined his career. Marie Dressler was ready to quit pictures when she got the role in “Anna Christie.” Myrna Loy was just about washed up as an Oriental vamp, when Arthur Hornblow, her husband, saw a bright modern type in her.

A few years ago, Connie Bennett was the highest priced star in Hollywood. Now Miss Bennett, who hasn’t changed at all, is hardly ever called by the studios. A short year and a half ago, Bob Taylor was making thirty-five dollars a week as a student actor and anxious to get into some other line of work.

Things are going perfectly for Bob right now. But he told me he wouldn’t make, much less discuss, any future plans. It’s all too complicated for him. He can’t quite figure how he climbed to where he is and he hasn’t the faintest idea where he’ll be two years from now.

Is it any wonder that the stars, tossed about by the caprice of a fickle public and tricky mechanical studio devices, are uncertain of what tomorrow will bring? There is no such thing as planning a studio career. That is why the stars are slaves to superstitions. Some little action, unimportant of itself, may raise them to the heights or dash them to the depths.

All an actor can do is work hard, hope for the best, keep his fingers crossed, touch wood, stay away from black cats, wish on a new moon and never be the third on a match.

We think it’s all very silly ourselves.

But we wouldn’t dream of trying to write anything unless an ancient brown felt hat were perched securely on our head at the time!

Dolores del Río’s new Paris frocks

When Dolores del Río, one of Hollywood’s best dressed stars, returned from her recent trip abroad, she brought with her trunks full of the newest and loveliest Paris fashions.

And she will model them for you in the fashion pages of November Movie Mirror.

Don’t fail to get your copy, on sale everywhere September 25th.

Illustrated by W. G. Fix

Source: Movie Mirror Magazine, October 1936