Paulette Goddard — How Hollywood Came to the University (1934) 🇺🇸

Paulette Goddard |

February 14, 2022

Pretty? Yes! Young? Of course! But Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady, Paulette Goddard, is much more than merely pretty and young. Read this remarkable story, revealing a new side of the screen world.

by Margaret B. Ringnalda

You know all about personality! Now hear about Hollywood brains! When you’ve read this absolutely fresh slant on screendom you’ll respect the intelligence of any movie idol — particularly Chaplin’s star, Paulette Goddard.

Just fifteen minutes’ drive along winding Sunset Boulevard will bring one from Hollywood to the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles. Some have learned how short that distance is, so that in Westwood Village Bebe Daniels and Mrs. “Skeets” Gallagher have opened a dress shop; parties of film celebrities make the Spanish inns their dining and dancing places; just lately, Zeppo Marx has sponsored a beautiful little theatre to be a clearing house for plays and a meeting-place for actors and authors. The brilliant young architect, Allen G. Siple, who designed it, has also moved from Beverly Hills to the village at the foot of the university stairs. But I am not selling real estate near my university, after all! This is the story of how, even with Hollywood at our doorstep, we did not recognize her when she walked right in the door.

I’m afraid our trouble was that of most of the world. We expected some tag, saying, “Hollywood,” and this girl was merely young, and blithe, and sure of herself. I was in Kerkhoff Hall, the Student Union Building, when the secretary of the English Department brought her to me. At the time I did not notice so much the things that the newspapers print of her, the usual panegyrics upon beauty, as the vivid quality, the zest for living that would mark her in any group of college students.

This is Miss Goddard,” said our secretary. “She wants a course in English. She may enter next semester.”

And, do you know, I had no idea who Miss Goddard might be! English teachers are apt to neglect the gossip columns of the newspapers. Rather I thought — well, delightful person in the expensive gray suit is being rushed by the “best sorority” on the campus and to be sure that she makes the required grades. Then she sat down at my table and told me how she had been educated in a convent and wished to go on being educated, particularly in English literature and writing.

“I write little poems and things now,” she explained with a deprecatory gesture. “I’d like to learn all about it.”

My mind veered around to conclude that she was not being rushed by the “best sorority,” but was making, by her appearance, a very good living writing for magazines. I felt I should tell her that I had been writing for some ten years, never selling a manuscript, and that if I undertook to teach her, I could be quite sure she would never sell another story!

We arranged a meeting; she shook hands with the firmness that I have since found to be a part of her joyous, friendly acceptance of the world. One of the students with me commented as Miss Goddard’s very straight young back disappeared at the turn of the stairs, “Whew, what poise for a youngster!”

The other said, “I didn’t get her name, but isn’t she beautiful?”

I considered. “Why, so she is.”

You see, the sum total of Paulette Goddard is so much more striking than beauty that one takes her physical make-up as an incidental, but happy, conclusion. However, you may see for yourself the delicate planes of her face, sensitive lips, and shadowed grey eyes. (The lashes are real — even teachers note those things!) But beauty is in abundance on our campus; it takes more than a lovely face to undermine our skepticism and make us long to drop a few years, to accomplish the things that we dreamed of doing before we became school-teachers. It is the boy or girl who embodies for us suddenly, youth and ambition, who makes us sigh a little. Paulette is such a one.

Much to her regret and mine, it was impossible for her to enter the university as she had planned, because, in a few months’ time, Mr. Chaplin was to begin work on the picture in which she is to play opposite him, and, consequently, any regular program of classes was out of the question. Nor. could she receive credit for work outside. Universities are institutions of rules which sometimes exclude the likeliest candidates. But what did this girl care? If she could not attend classes, she would have the courses brought to her. The fact that she could not receive credit made no difference — she was that rarest of students, the type that wanted to know for the sake of knowing. So it came about that we studied writing and English literature.

“What do the students have to do in order to pass this course?” she would say.

“They have to write a long, usually dull term paper, with extensive library references, and they must take examinations.”

“Then I’ll do those things,” she answered.

And she does them. What is more, she does them so much better than the average college student, that, as my acquaintance with her grew and the keenness of her mind delighted me at every new comment upon old material, I began to realize that as we rate intelligence in a university, this girl was well within the upper twenty per cent. I actually felt cheated that she could not go to college — not that she needed it, particularly, for books are open to everyone — but that it needed her. Think of the jaded, weary professors who were missing the liveliness of her remarks and the revivifying effect of her exuberant youth; think of the young and vital ones who would have found an appreciative audience in her — not to mention the pleasure of getting befuddled with their notes through looking at her! If you have gone through the mill of English literature, you will remember how you struggled from the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon period through the Middle Ages, and greeted with thanksgiving some gleam of light in the Renaissance. Paulette had no such difficulties. Beowulf, (you know, he comes first in the text-book), she translated calmly to a modern chest-thumper.

“He thought he was good, and he was good. He was always thumping his chest and saying, ‘I can do it’.” (This with appropriate gestures.) “All of his men peeked through the keyhole — if they had keyholes in those days — but they wouldn’t come in to help him — oh, no!”

But for that beautiful, melancholy lyric of our ancestors, The Wanderer, she had nothing but reverence, reading the lines with the combination of intelligence and high aesthetic sense which makes me shift all the necessary reading to her — for my own pleasure.

“I’d like to have this book,” she decided. Always now, when we find an author that she likes, she must have the book for her library. It is a fast-growing one, containing not only the books which she finds for herself but the autographed copies of modern writers who have met her and found her as vivid and appreciative as I do.

“I was reading Spengler’s ‘Decline of the West’ yesterday,” she will remark. “He covers a tremendous amount of material with his beautiful style.” Then suddenly she contrasts an earlier author. “He’s not a bit like Macaulay though; I can’t read Macaulay.” (I secretly sympathize with her.) “I have just received Will Durant’s new book. He has style, too,” she will add. Then we talk of all the modern authors who have contributed signed copies to this library she is accumulating.

One of the most gratifying things about Paulette Goddard is the fact that precedent does not dictate her favorites among books. A sample of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur sent her post-haste for a copy. Stories of Tristan and Iseult, of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot found an echo immediately in her. And why not? She is, after all, sister to these women, Iseult of the dark hair, Elaine, the lovable, and the grey-eyed Guinevere. The romance of Aucassin and Nicolette delighted her also; again, I could see her kinship with the maiden Nicolette, ‘bright of brow.’ Had she lived in those earlier, simpler days of the worship of beauty, she, too, would have been a legend. Yet perhaps, even in our complicated day, which she understands better than do many students of political science and economics, she may be a new kind of moving picture legend. I hope so, because of her rare sense of values. Of course, I am chiefly delighted with that sense when it is applied to literature, when it renders to Geoffrey Chaucer the deep chuckle that is his due, a sound that should stir his dust pleasurably in the grave; when it gives reverence to the sonnets of Shakespeare, and glorious youth to the rolling lines of Marlowe. However, that same sense of values regulates her personal life and her outlook upon the world.

Now all of this talk of Paulette Goddard’s mind may seem irrelevant to the beauty-hunter who has not yet learned that the rarest type of beauty, and the most permanent, is that combined with the highest intelligence. He may also doubt my word and demand concrete evidence. Well, I too, wanted concrete evidence of my pupil’s superiority; and, consequently, I conceived the idea of a battery of intelligence tests such as are sometimes given to freshmen entering the university. These tests, you understand, arc highly perfected. They are intended to judge a student’s thinking powers, and they are limited to that province. In our grammar schools such tests segregate students into super-bright, average, and sub-normal. In case you distrust such ratings, I can tell you that their predictions have been found to be eighty-five per cent correct! That is a terrifying accuracy for mere tests. Of course, we do not claim that they can judge character: persistence, integrity, or canniness that often make successes of men who have little native endowment. These tests are indices of native intelligence; they will tell the parent or the teacher whether a child has a “genius intelligence quotient,” is merely average, or below average, but the accomplishment of all that his native ability would prophecy depends upon many other qualities and circumstances.

For those unfamiliar with intelligence tests, let me explain that an “intelligence quotient,” or I.Q., is taken from the mental age of a child divided by his physical age; that is to say, if he is ten and reacts like a child of sixteen, his score will be very, very high, in the genius class; if he is sixteen and answers on the ten-year level, the less said the better! Of course, the tests are most valid during the grammar school and early high school years. When a student is of college age, he is usually given a score in a percentile grouping with other students’ scores rather than an intelligence quotient.

Paulette Goddard is young enough so that her rating can be of significance. I shall not tell you her age. It is sufficient to say that she falls within the group where a score can still be given with meaning. I brought the tests and told her to put away her knitting. (When she recites, she knits, makes all of her own sweaters until she has so many that she will never in the world be able to use them all!) She gladly abandoned knitting for this new game. I held the stop-watch and glanced from it now and then to her excited face as she moved her lips over difficult answers and raced through the simpler ones, for these tests are really something like hurdle races. At all events, I expected results, and I got them. Paulette made a score of sixty-two out of a possible seventy-five. That is a remarkably large number of correct answers. It is above eighty per cent of students registered in colleges; it is above ninety per cent of the general public. A score of forty-two is the average for non-college people, while fifty-two is the average of college students. Since, although you may doubt me, it is seldom that a student arrives as far as college with an I.Q. lower than one hundred and twenty, you may see that, had Paulette been tested during her grammar school days, she would have been rated perilously close to genius. Really, she had not the advantage of the child who has been taking such tests in the grades, who knows the general processes and is set to react in a certain way. She was meeting this cold, impersonal judgment for the first time in her life, knowing that she might be sadly disillusioned about herself — but, this time, there was no disillusionment, but rather the highest encouragement.

Perhaps these findings do not seem, at first glance, to be important. The fact that Paulette is young, beautiful, and of the upper twenty per cent of college students in intelligence may be comforting to the teacher but of little value elsewhere, you will say. Personally, I feel that the intelligence score of Paulette Goddard is of far more importance to her art, or profession, than is her beauty. Whatever she may or may not become, she is a person for whom we should have been glad in any walk of American life, with her mind that turns klieg lights on everything it encounters, and the remarkable discrimination that makes it possible for her to reject and approve on her own responsibility. Fortunately, she will be in a position where her accomplishments and personality will reach a far greater number of people than does the Phi Beta Kappa. Whether she will fulfill the prophecy of genius and become one of our great actresses depends upon many factors besides intelligence. But this should be the primary one. Place with it her persistence, charm, and joy of living; remember that even if all the actresses in Hollywood have these things, her mental equipment would be rare even in a highly selected group, and you have the possibilities of this girl who is soon to be seen in Mr. Chaplin’s picture. I would not say of her merely, as did the New York critic, “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships,” but, this face and mind may launch new ships in the motion picture stream, and as more and more like her follow the art, the story of how Hollywood came to the university may well be how the university went to Hollywood, even more blithely than it sometimes goes now!

“The one genius of motion pictures, Charles Spencer Chaplin” — that’s the way the intelligentsia still regard him. Right now he is preparing the script for his new film.

When you see Paulette playing Chaplin’s heroine in the next Chaplin production you will understand why Charlie has selected her to act opposite him.

James Cagney’s gifts for artistic expression are not restricted to histrionics, as you see above. Caricaturing is another Cagney gift. Note the sketch he is completing of Phil Regan. Jim and Phil are fellow-actors at the same studio, where Cagney stars in comedy and Regan as a singing juvenile.

Source: Screenland MagazineDecember 1934