Paulette Goddard wouldn’t have a special place in the Pantheon of movie stars if it hadn’t been for her close personal and professional association with Charles Chaplin, with whom she co-starred in Modern Times and The Great Dictator. That’s not only unfortunate, but downright unfair.
After all, besides being beautiful, charming, lively, a former Ziegfeld girl, an Academy Award nominee (in the Best Supporting Actress category) for So Proudly We Hail, and a top contender for the role of Gone with the Wind‘s Scarlett O’Hara, Paulette Goddard was a major box office attraction in the 1940s and, in the right role and under the right guidance, could be a remarkably effective actress. And let’s not forget her eclectic taste in husbands – Chaplin, Burgess Meredith, Erich Maria Remarque, and millionaire businessman Edgar James; her leaving $20 million to New York University at the time of her death in 1990; and her firm – and probably sound – belief that diamonds were indeed a woman’s best friends.
Today, Turner Classic Movies is treating viewers to fourteen Paulette Goddard movies as part of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” film series. (See further below TCM’s series of Paulette Goddard movies.) It’s too bad that TCM hasn’t included any premieres, especially considering that most of Goddard’s Paramount movies haven’t been widely available thanks to the Universal suits’ narrow-mindedness and near-sightedness. (Universal owns the Paramount movie library from the early talkie era to 1948 or whereabouts.)
So, don’t expect a super-rare TCM presentation of The Cat and the Canary, a moderately enjoyable comedy-horror movie that marked the first odd coupling of Goddard and Bob Hope. Or The Ghost Breakers, another perfectly watchable Goddard-Hope comedy-horror effort. Or North West Mounted Police, The Forest Rangers, The Lady Has Plans, Hold Back the Dawn, I Love a Soldier, Standing Room Only, Suddenly It’s Spring, or Bride of Vengeance, such a gigantic flop in 1949 that it all but demolished Goddard’s film stardom. As for Francesco Maselli’s 1964 drama Time of Indifference, hopefully it’ll resurface one of these days.
TCM is currently showing Second Chorus, a weak 1940 musical starring Goddard, Fred Astaire, and Goddard’s future husband Burgess Meredith. Next in line are Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Needless to say, those are Goddard’s best-remembered movies. I’m no Chaplin fan, but Goddard is a welcome delight in both comedies; my only qualm about her appearances in the Chaplin movies is that she didn’t have larger roles. I’d also suggest that Modern Times fans check out René Clair’s À Nous la Liberté (1931), Chaplin’s obvious inspiration and, in my humble opinion, a much wittier and much more enjoyable effort as well.
Reap the Wild Wind (1942) was one of the big hits of the early ’40s. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this color period adventure drama stars Ray Milland, John Wayne, and Goddard as the woman-between, in addition to Susan Hayward as the second female lead, Robert Preston, and Raymond Massey. But Reap the Wild Wind‘s stellar cast notwithstanding, the one performer who stole all the notices was an unbilled giant octopus, who also helped to earn the film that year’s Oscar for Best Special Effects.
DeMille worked with Goddard in two other movies of the ’40s, both co-starring Gary Cooper: North West Mounted Police (1940) and Unconquered (1947). Both were big hits, especially the latter. As the story goes, DeMille and Goddard had a falling-out when the actress refused to do some of her stunts in Unconquered. When she expressed interest in one of the major roles in DeMille’s eventual Oscar winner The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), the director chose neither to forgive nor to forget.
I’ve never watched Alexander Korda’s British-made An Ideal Husband, a 1948 adaptation (by Lajos Biro) of Oscar Wilde’s play, but it should be at least worth a look. The respectable cast includes Michael Wilding, Diana Wynyard, C. Aubrey Smith, Hugh Williams, Constance Collier, and Glynis Johns.
George Cukor’s film version of Clare Boothe Luce’s hilarious The Women (“officially” adapted by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin) is definitely worth numerous looks; once or twice or even three times isn’t/aren’t enough to catch the machine-gun dialogue spewed forth by the likes of Goddard, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Mary Boland, Phyllis Povah, Lucile Watson, et al. A big hit at the time, The Women actually ended up in the red because of its high cost. Norma Shearer, a.k.a. The Widow Thalberg, was the nominal star; curiously, the by then veteran Shearer did infinitely better work elsewhere.
According to reports at the time of her death, Paulette Goddard was born in 1905 – not 1911, her usual date of birth. If true, that means she was around 20 when she became a Ziegfeld girl, and in her late 20s when she played the role of a teenager in Modern Times. (One individual who has done extensive research on the actress says that the most likely date is 1910. The year 1905 is supposed to have been erroneously given out by Goddard’s secretary at the time of her death.)
Paulette Goddard movies: TCM schedule
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
6:00 AM VICE SQUAD (1953) The head of an escort ring joins forces with a vice cop to solve a murder. Director: Arnold Laven. Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Paulette Goddard, K.T. Stevens. B&W-88 min.
7:30 AM DRAMATIC SCHOOL (1938) A young actress struggles to make a hit on stage and in married life. Director: Robert B. Sinclair. Cast: Luise Rainer, Paulette Goddard, Alan Marshall. Lana Turner. B&W-80 min.
9:00 AM PARIS MODEL (1953) A dress plays a key role in the lives of each of the women who wear it. Director: Alfred E. Green. Cast: Marilyn Maxwell, Paulette Goddard, Eva Gabor. B&W-80 min.
10:30 AM NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (1941) A businessman bets he can tell the truth for 24 hours. Director: Elliott Nugent. Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Edward Arnold. B&W-90 min.
12:15 PM THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943) A female fortuneteller uses her “powers” to land a man. Director: Elliott Nugent. Cast: Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, Gladys George. B&W-81 min.
1:45 PM ON OUR MERRY WAY (1948) An aspiring reporter interviews people about the child that changed their lives. Director: King Vidor. Cast: Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith, James Stewart. Henry Fonda. B&W-98 min.
3:30 PM CHARGE OF THE LANCERS (1953) A soldier masquerades as a gypsy to rescue his best friend from the enemy. Director: William Castle. Cast: Paulette Goddard, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Richard Stapley. C-74 min.
4:45 PM SECOND CHORUS (1940) Two composers vie for their lady manager’s heart as they head for Broadway. Director: H. C. Potter. Cast: Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw. B&W-84 min.
6:30 PM MODERN TIMES (1936) The Little Tramp tries to build a home with a young slum girl. Director: Charlie Chaplin. Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman. B&W-87 min.
8:00 PM THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) A Jewish barber takes the place of a war-hungry dictator. Director: Charles Chaplin. Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie. B&W-125 min.
10:15 PM REAP THE WILD WIND (1942) Two sailors vie for the affections of a southern temptress while fighting off pirates. Director: Cecil B. DeMille. Cast: Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard. Susan Hayward. B&W-124 min.
12:30 AM AN IDEAL HUSBAND (1947) An upstanding politician is haunted by his past when a blackmailer threatens to reveal a youthful indiscretion. Director: Alexander Korda. Cast: Paulette Goddard, Hugh Williams, Michael Wilding. C-93 min.
2:15 AM THE WOMEN (1939) A happily married woman lets her catty friends talk her into divorce when her husband strays. Director: George Cukor. Cast: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell. Paulette Goddard. Mary Boland. Joan Fontaine. Marjorie Main. Phyllis Povah. Lucile Watson. Virginia Weidler. Virginia Grey. B&W-133 min.
4:30 AM POT O’GOLD (1941) A young man is caught between his music-hating uncle and a pretty girl from a family of musicians. Director: George Marshall. Cast: James Stewart, Paulette Goddard, Horace Heidt. B&W-86 min.
Turner Classic Movies website.