Ronald Colman — As He Is (1929) 🇺🇸
To get a story about Ronald Colman, a reporter should formerly have been a detective, a medium, and a psychoanalyst. In the midst of the candor of Hollywood, Mr. Colman is a handsome, charming, English clam. After a few years of listening to eager confidences you can fully appreciate the charm of an actor who never mentions his salary, his public, or his love life.
by Margaret Reid
Mr. Colman’s desire for privacy is just the understandable one of any person of taste, but against the bold intrusions of his profession, he has had to erect a strong barrier to protect himself. Being a star is not conducive to privacy, but this particular star has managed to retain his career quite independent of still-camera men at his bedside, his breakfast table, or his bookcase. He does not make personal appearances, or give illuminating “confessions” to the press.
A good business man, he does not underestimate the value of publicity. But he refuses to be implicated in anything sensational. He is, in fact, incapable of any vagaries that might be headline material. Reportorially he is difficult, yet the press does not harbor against him the grudge usually accorded insistent reticence, probably because he is neither cagy nor mysterious, but convinces you that he is just ail ordinary person, with no secrets in which you could possibly be interested. Even the boldest of interviewers would not be so rude as to probe such a pleasant young man against his wishes. If there should be a studio revival of that archaic thing called courtesy, it will be due to Mr. Colman, and the few who are like him.
At the studio Colman is genuinely liked by all hands, from Samuel Goldwyn to the gateman. He stimulates no abject awe, such as is given more startling players. Nor, on the other hand, does he invite all and sundry to slap him on the back, and call him by his first name. Only to a few intimates is he known as “Ronnie.” On the set it is proved that even the most professional democrats like dignity, for here he is always “Mr. Colman,” and any prop or electrician would cheerfully jump into the studio tank if it would be a favor to him. This is also because, without making a fuss about it, he is unremittingly considerate of every one in the troupe.
Unique among actors, he never bothers to look at his daily rushes. And very nearly unique among stars, he never attempts to supervise any detail of production. He takes no hand in the selection of stories, directors, or cast. Now and then, if a story is chosen which he feels is totally unsuitable, he objects. Beyond that, he confines himself to acting. Feeling himself in the hands of an organization which knows its business, he, likewise, attends to his own with equal concentration. He considers that acting is his sole business and that, were he to combine it with the bit of directorial supervision so dear to most stars’ hearts, he would do both very badly.
His gratification in his career is sane and proportionate. He entertains no illusions about the superiority of the movies as an art. He admits that his field is not the one dignified by Booth and Mansfield, but nevertheless he has a healthy satisfaction in having accomplished the job he set out to do.
He readily confesses that this satisfaction is rather secondary to the financial element. He frankly enjoys the fact that he is secure against the discomforts of the world, and that he can take ample care of his family obligations. He thinks it is only the genius who works for work’s sake, and that lesser mortals who make the claim are essentially poseurs.
Recently elevated to stardom, his first vehicle was Conrad’s The Rescue. One of the few men who will admit they find Conrad difficult, Colman had heretofore enjoyed him with reservations. In preparation for The Rescue, he delved deeper into the Conrad psychology, and is now a rabid enthusiast. He dislikes the ultramodern school of literature, preferring the older works that have been tried and proved by time. He has, in addition to a library of carefully chosen fiction and biography, a comprehensive collection of good plays. He misses the New York and London theater and, rather than attend the mediocre Los Angeles substitute, gets the better plays in book form as they come out.
He lives on a secluded Hollywood hill. His home is invisible from the street, set far back among gardens and trees. Inside it is completely masculine, its massive furniture designed for a man’s comfort. In one wing of the house lives Charles Lane, the English actor, Colman’s friend ever since they met during the making of The Dark Angel.
No crested automobile transports Mr. Goldwyn’s star along the Boulevard. He has a roadster, which he drives himself. When he has errands in Los Angeles, his man drives him in the other car, a Ford coupé. On those rare occasions when he escorts a lady to dinner or a theater, he calls a cab.
He never attends premieres, waiting until the second or third night to see the new pictures. Habitués of the Mayfair, the Cocoanut Grove, and Montmartre never see him. When he goes out, it is to parties at Ernest Torrence’s, Richard Barthelmess’, or some other of his intimates.
He sincerely enjoys his home. Five nights out of the week, he stays in — by himself, or with a few friends who drop in to talk, listen to music, or play poker, his favorite game. One of his closest friends is William Powell, who is almost one of the household.
The principal Colman pastime is tennis. He has a court in the garden, where he keeps his game in condition. He plays like a professional, and his speed is the terror of the player on the other side of the net. In the chilliest of winter, or the hottest of summer, clays away from the studio are spent on a tennis court.
He has a small, very ramshackle cottage at the beach. Very few people know it belongs to him. It stands, humble and unobtrusive, among the stucco villas of the ocean film colony. On vacations between pictures, Mr. Colman shaves off his mustache and goes unrecognized, spending quiet, aimless clays along the sand.
He likes music, not just as a statement for publication, but to the extent of owning a library of fine records, symphonies and opera scores. He has two radios, one in his home, and one in his beach house, which he uses constantly. Now and then he likes to fool around the piano, picking out favorite airs. The brief season of opera he attends religiously.
He has a secretary whose one duty is to go through his fan mail and select the more intelligent letters.
These he reads, liking best those offering constructive criticism. In epistles fulsome with adulation he is not interested. He does not, however, permit his secretary or the studio staff to autograph any of his fan portraits, always signing them himself.
He dislikes talking pictures, and hopes they will die the quick death of a fad. From his working viewpoint, he enjoys doing them, finding in spoken lines relief from the monotony of pantomime. But, for the public, and for himself when he goes to a picture theater, he considers them an imposition. As a medium of expression, he thinks the talking picture is on a par with Coney Island concessions...
He likes Hollywood, the climate and the indolent mode of living. But only because it is peculiarly suited to the making of movies. Were he anything but a picture actor, he could not stand it for more than a few weeks at a time.
His name has never been romantically linked with that of any Hollywood lady. In this, as well as in everything else, he has evaded anything that might make news.
He goes against every standard that makes for Hollywood popularity, yet he is one of the best-liked men in town. He is reticent without being an enigma, reserved without being high-hat. Women call him “charming” and men call him “a hell of a good fellow.” There is also a funny, old-fashioned word which describes him, a word that is almost in discard around the studios.
Look up “gentleman” in your dictionary.
Tennis occupies almost every hour of Ronald’s free days.
Photo by: Baxter
Ronald Colman’s aloofness conceals no secret sorrow, no hostility toward the world, but is only the natural reticence of a man who is strongly opposed to publicity and who sticks by his guns, according to the story opposite.
Photo by: Kenneth Alexander (1887–1975)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1929