Stars That Never Were (1932) 🇺🇸
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
When Goldsmith penned these lines he had never dreamed of Hollywood. Yet so aptly has he described it, he might have been a lifelong resident of the town where chance makes one a star and another an extra.
Oh, we've had plenty who have been brought in, but few of them have clicked. Yet there are literally scores of actors in Hollywood who got a break, acquired a sizable fan following, and then faded from view or lapsed into supporting parts because producers failed to develop them.
When What Price Glory? was produced a few years ago, a young unknown came into prominence. When the film was over it was not McLaglen or Lowe you remembered. It was Barry Norton as the sensitive Mother's Boy. Letters from all over the world poured into the Fox office and into the offices of fan magazines asking about him. He was, to employ a greatly overused term, a sensation.
Barry's popularity grew by leaps and bounds. Paramount tried to buy his contract. Fox wouldn't sell. They put him into a couple of pictures, "The Exalted Flapper," in which he played opposite Sue Carol, and "The Four Devils," in which he supported Charles Morton and Janet Gaynor — and finis.
There was no decrease of interest on the public's part, but there was on the part of the studio. Barry was let out.
I have seldom seen any one as bewildered as Barry following his release. Every magazine was crowded with pictures, stories, and letters from fans about him, all of them extolling his good looks and ability. But with all this raving on the part of the public, he could not get work.
The talkies had come and producers remembered only that he was as Argentinean and feared he would speak with an accent. They didn't bother to find out. He hasn't the faintest trace of an accent.
Month followed month and he never faced a camera. Finally Paramount signed him to do Spanish versions. His hopes went soaring again. He felt sure that once on that lot, executives would come to know him, realize he had no accent, and give him a chance in an English picture.
I believe he did play one or two small parts in English versions and then left Paramount.
It has been almost three years since fans have seen Barry in a picture of any importance. Yet even to-day, let an editor print a small photo of him, let there be mention of him in the answers department, and both editor and answer man are deluged with inquiries.
If ever an actor was a star in the minds of the public that actor is Barry Norton. But literally he never existed as a star. That magic breath was lacking. Why?
I mentioned that Barry played in a picture with Sue Carol. Sue is another whose name spelled money at the box office.
Picked by Douglas MacLean for "Soft Cushions," she sprang into immediate favor. He placed her under contract and lent her to one studio and another. Sometimes she was working in two pictures at once — at different studios. She made fourteen pictures during her first year in films.
Her pictures were shown through every releasing channel in this country and abroad. Her publicity kept pace with her popularity. Nominally she was a star.
At the end of the year she got free of her contract with McLean. Every studio was bidding for her services. Pathé had no feminine stars at the time and wanted to make her their ace attraction. She signed with Fox.
Probably Fox had every intention of doing well by her when they signed her, but at that time they had a list of contract players as long as your arm and were not in a position to do much for any of them.
Sue went abroad to make "Chasing Through Europe," with Nick Stuart. They had no scenario. All they had was a cameraman and director who were instructed to shoot scenes around which a story could be woven on their return. The picture was a flop. She made "Girls Gone Wild" and "The Exalted Flapper," both released about the time the talkies came in. The public was not interested in either.
She made "Fox Follies" and "Imagine My Embarrassment." If ever a studio wanted evidence of a player's popularity, Fox had it then. Her appearance in both of them was greeted with cheers and huzzas by the public:
Although an indifferent actress, she had a fresh, unspoiled prettiness and a pleasing personality that appealed to fans. She could easily have been a great star.
In most cases these players were the victims of bad breaks. In Sue's case whatever has happened to her is largely her own fault. When the talkies came in and picture people were scurrying about like frightened rabbits trying to find voice specialists who could teach them to talk and sing. Sue was playing tennis. Both she and Nick were confident talkies wouldn't last.
She made two more pictures for Fox and was released.
RKO signed her and announced big plans for her. But still she did nothing to fit herself for talking pictures. She was relying on her intuition to guide her. She played in the Amos 'n' Andy film and did nothing during the rest of her stay with RKO. Released by them, she made one picture for Universal — "Graft" — and has done nothing since.
Yet as far as the public is concerned, Sue is still a star. She has been making a personal-appearance tour and has broken records in almost every house she's played.
A few years ago Frank Albertson romped away with "Prep and Pep." He was a find and Fox placed him under contract. The talkies came in and he repeated his success. "Salute," "Words and Music," Men Without Women, and "Wild Company," all netted him glowing notices.
First National borrowed him for a number of pictures. Then RKO borrowed him for almost as many. M.-G.-M. borrowed him for one. But he was without honor at his own studio.
After Frank was released by Fox, one of the publicity men said to me, "That boy is still one of the greatest potential stars. Some studio will clean up on him some day."
In The Big Parade Renée Adorée scored as great a success as John Gilbert. Gilbert became one of the greatest stars the screen has ever known. But what of Renée? Considering the difference in the films in which she appeared, her performances were as good in subsequent roles as in that first one, but she went steadily downhill. She hadn't, you see, that faculty for pushing herself that Gilbert had, and with all their other stars, M.-G.-M. completely overlooked her.
But no one who saw her in that final heart-wrenching scene in The Big Parade, when the truck carried her lover to the front, can ever forget it. And no one who saw that can ever doubt that she could have been a star.
Mary Brian was for years the most dependable of Paramount leading ladies. She may not have been the best actress, but she did all any one could do with the parts that were given her. The Carrolls, the Bows, the Chattertons all had their following, but Mary had hers, too, and it was by no means the least.
She was the kind of girl college boys dreamed of escorting to their proms. She was the kind of girl fathers and mothers hoped their daughters would become. She was more popular than many of the stars she supported and, more often than not, it was her name that brought people into theaters. But the company employing her was afraid to take a chance on giving her a star's billing.
Do you recall James Murray, in "The Crowd"? There was one of the greatest actors the screen has produced. I've never seen him give a poor performance. To-day he roams Hollywood Boulevard, a man with few friends and no work. The star's position that is rightfully his has never come to him. But in this case, it is Jimmie's own fault — and he knows the answer. Three or four companies would be tickled to place him under contract — if he would behave himself. But he can't and they dare not take a chance with him.
Richard Cromwell received a star's publicity when he was chosen for the name part in Tol’able David. Columbia announced they intended to star him. A huge painting of him hung in the reception room at the studio, and under it, in large letters, "Richard Cromwell, Columbia Pictures Star." He really was a star as far as the public was concerned. Their reaction to him in his first role was all that could have been asked. But for some reason he wasn't starred, and it is doubtful now if he ever will be.
He was unknown when he made that first picture, and it should have been followed immediately with another. He was idle for almost a year after Tol'able David, while the studio borrowed another player for "The Criminal Code," a part that would have been a "natural" for Dick.
They were afraid to trust him with the role, although they hadn't been afraid to trust him with a bigger one, and one which had no such name as Walter Huston to bolster up the cast. Public interest in him dropped to zero. Then Marie Dressler persuaded M.-G.-M. to borrow him for Emma and he drew notices second only to hers. Following the picture's release, First National borrowed him for "The Strange Love of Molly Louvain" and Columbia hurriedly picked up his option. But it is problematical whether he can ever recapture his lost ground.
Jeanette MacDonald also had a large and loyal army of fans. She could have been starred easily after "Monte Carlo" — but she wasn't. It was said that, although she was extremely agreeable to the people with whom she worked, she was exceedingly temperamental in her business affairs and the studio was afraid to take a chance with her, fearing she would be impossible to work with if she became a star.
She apparently experiences little trouble in finding work, but I doubt now that she'll ever find her name above the title of the picture on the twenty-four-sheet posters.
There is something pathetic about all these people. Exceptional, every one of them, they spell box office at any theater. Properly exploited, there isn't one of them who couldn't have been as big a star as we have on the screen. But they aren't. They remain "stars who never were."
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, July 1932