Sue Carol — Two Years Before The Mast (1930) 🇺🇸
Two years' work in pictures usually makes or breaks the best of them.
I can't say that it's done either for Sue Carol as far as her character is concerned, but it has certainly wrought powerful changes therein. As to her career, two years' time has established her in a place that few other actresses have achieved in so short a period.
Sue, with characteristic frankness, attributes a large part of this success to the fact that she was well publicized. She was. Offhand I can think of no other actress who has ever had the same amount of publicity. Jimmie Fidler, her publicity agent, was a friend as well as business associate.
But there was more than that. I have never met a girl as young as Sue with as analytic a mind, especially in a person with such an impulsive disposition as hers. She was quick to realize that if the public read about her constantly, saw her photograph in every magazine they picked up, and only saw her in a few pictures, or in small parts, they would resent the publicity.
She was under contract to Douglas MacLean at the time. When he placed her under contract he probably had great plans for her, but the best-laid plans of mice and men — He made one picture with Sue — "Soft Cushions" — and closed his studio. The whole thing — the idea of working in pictures, of earning money, of being free to do as she pleased, without having to consult any one, of being famous — was all too new and too glamorous to be relinquished because of the months of idleness she saw confronting her. So Sue went out and got herself an agent. All that Mr. MacLean had to do was to affix his signature to the contracts Sue and her agent were getting. If I remember correctly, in about a year she made fourteen pictures and played the leads in every one of them.
She played a bit in one picture, "Slaves of Beauty," before she signed her contract, but she's been a leading woman ever since. She made two pictures for Pathé, "Skyscraper," with William Boyd, which was one of his best, and Walking Back, of happy memory. She made a picture for Universal with Glenn Tryon, "It Can Be Done." She made a picture for Metro-Goldwyn, with Aileen Pringle and Lew Cody — "Beau Brummel of Broadway." She made pictures at every studio in Hollywood, except Paramount. How she happened to overlook Paramount I don't know. Just one of those things, I suppose. But her pictures were shown through every releasing channel in this country and abroad, and her publicity kept pace with her pictures. Her face became as familiar as the rent collectors, and infinitely more welcome.
She had fresh, unspoiled prettiness and bubbling enthusiasm. Life was a grand adventure. Meeting on an equal footing people whom she had only seen through a veil of romance seemed part of the unreality, part of the fun of being a "woiking goil".
I recall the first opening that she and Nick attended. They had never even watched the people go in, and had no idea what the procedure was. The stars always go in closed cars, so that their shrinking spirits will not be forced to face the battery of searching eyes. Sue and Nick, with the freshness of youth, a desire to "give all to their public," and knowing nothing of this custom, went not only in an open car, but in one with the top down!
Arrived at the theater, the picture being one from the studio at which Sue was working, the studio publicity representative hailed Sue before the 'microphone and she made her first public "Hello, everybody." Nick, too. They went into the theater as pleased as two kids with big lollipops, and Sue, blushing, whispered to Nick, "They recognized us — we must be established!"
But alas and alack. The next preview, although they used a closed car this time, was sponsored by another studio and the announcer failed to place either Sue or Nick, so they passed into the theater unhonored and unsung, thoroughly crestfallen. "Ah, dear, delusive, distant shore, by dreams of futile fancy gilt." It's a hard life.
Things like that used to add zest and flavor to existence for her. To-day it's part of the routine of living. No longer has she to fear that she'll be permitted to enter without being recognized, but ever since that second premiere when she wasn't stopped to say "Hello," openings have held no fun for her.
When Sue and Nick used to go to the Coconut Grove, if they happened to hear some one whisper "There's Sue Carol and Nick Stuart," they beamed like a couple of cats over a saucer of cream. "With very little encouragement," Sue confided, "I'd have hugged and kissed them right out on the floor."
In those early days, part of the fun of being in movies was going out to dance every night — the Biltmore to-night, the Grove to-morrow, the Montmartre some other time — and luncheon at the Montmartre on Wednesdays and Saturdays was a ritual.
But all that's changed now. There was a time last summer when for three months I was with them almost every night. I think we went to the Grove twice and the Montmartre once. The night I arrived in Hollywood they took me to the Mayfair dance at the Biltmore, and twice we went to the Saturday tea dance at the Roosevelt.
Pressed for a reason for the change, Sue said, "I don't know whether it was the novelty that wore off, or whether I unconsciously realized that neither Nickie nor I could do our best work in front of a camera, if we stayed up every night in the week. Now we either go to a movie, get a soda and go home, or we have friends like you and Ann Sylvester over to play bridge."
On off nights there was always a crowd at Sue's house. Food for the hungry — good food, too — and believe you me, don't think there weren't plenty of hungry ones.
"I stopped having the crowd over, because they didn't care anything about me. My house was just another place to stop and eat. They say no man is a hero to his valet, and I suppose constant association has caused me to take certain stars more or less for granted.
''When I first came out here I used to hoard every press notice that referred to me. I used to carry my scrapbook around with me, and whenever I could get any one planted in a chair, out it came, and they had to suffer while I showed or read what had been written about me.
"Two years have taught me that people in Hollywood aren't interested in me, no matter how close they are. I still get the same thrill out of reading nice things about myself, and I still save them, but I don't show them now.
"I love giving presents and, naturally, when people wrote pleasantly about me, the only way I had of showing my appreciation was by sending them a gift. But a friend wrote, quite nicely and without any intention of being unkind, that I always gave presents to people who did things for me. So I had to stop that, too, for fear the writers to whom I sent presents would think I was trying to buy favors.
"When I first came out here I wanted to be friends with every one. It seemed wonderful to think that I could have for my friends all these people I had loved on the screen. The quintessence of happiness for me was to sit down and have a confidential chat with one of the girls. We'd get intimate, and I suppose I told things I had no business telling, but they all seemed so friendly and it never occurred to me that secrets would not be kept. But they were not. Things I told in confidence were repeated and, not alone that, but by the time they got back to me they were so distorted I could hardly recognize them.
"So I had to learn that all that glitters isn't necessarily fourteen carat. Nickie and I have found that if we tell each other things now, it gives us an outlet for our feelings, and there's no danger of anything being repeated.
"We no longer make the mistake of thinking everybody who hitches his chair close to us, and lowers his voice in a chummy manner, is necessarily a friend. We're slower to take up with people.
"I used to work with people whom I considered my friends and never gave a thought to camera angles. But when the rushes came out, my friend's face was one hundred per cent to the camera, and the audience was looking at the tip of my ear, or the back of my head."
A little more subdued than formerly, Sue is still deeply appreciative of anything that's done for her. I remember last summer at her wedding breakfast, to which I was fortunate enough to be asked, she came in looking lovelier than I have ever seen her.
We went into the dining room, and Sue burst into tears. She thought the table her friends had prepared was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. A green-damask cloth, a huge silver vase holding four dozen orchids in the center of the table, and garlands of smilax, lavender ribbon and asters reaching from the vase to the four corners. Sue is still talking about that table to whoever will listen.
Occasionally some of the old enthusiasm bubbles up again. There are six newsboys in Hollywood who throw papers into her car every time she passes, and will never let her pay.
One night Sue had them at her home for dinner and the same china and silver she uses when executives, directors, and scenario writers come to dine was not too good for these boys. No child was ever more excited over fixing a Christmas tree than Sue was in planning that dinner, and games to amuse her guests afterward.
"It's all still wonderful," Sue said. "I get just as much kick out of everything now as I did two years ago, but occasionally things happen that make me wonder."
And looking at her, at her friendly smile and limpid, brown eyes. I wondered if she and Nick should ever happen to — to — I mean, if they did, if I — if she — oh, you know!
Sue has learned not to confide in any one but her husband, Nick Stuart.
Sue Carol's story opposite is unusually interesting, because it reveals the changed viewpoint which comes to a girl after a whirl of success and she learns that first impulses are not always best. The interview could only have been written by a close friend.
Photo by: Edwin Bower Hesser (1893–1962)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1930