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Paulette Goddard - 8/2
Remind Me

Paulette Goddard - 8/2

If Paulette Goddard had been able to produce a copy of her marriage license to Charlie Chaplin she most likely would have played the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Out of all the actresses in Hollywood, Paulette was the front-runner for the most coveted role in movie history. But the lack of that important piece of paper and the arrival of another green-eyed brunette named Vivien Leigh cost her the part of a lifetime. Despite that disappointment, however, she still appeared in several films now considered to be classics.

It's hard to say exactly when Paulette Goddard was born. The date was June 3rd, but the year has been listed anywhere from 1905 to 1911. When she died in 1990, city officials in Ronco, Switzerland, where she had been living, listed it as 1905. Goddard would hardly have been the first actress to be creative with her birthdates. What is certain is that she was born Marion Pauline Levy on Long Island to Joseph Levy and his wife Alta Mae Goddard and that her parents divorced when she was very young.

As a teenager she changed her name to Paulette Goddard (her father had long since disappeared from her life) and became a fashion model and Ziegfeld chorus girl. During this time she became friends with Susan Fleming (later the wife of Harpo Marx). Goddard later recalled that she and Fleming were favorites of Ziegfeld's and that he once sent the two on a trip to Palm Beach: "He guessed we'd each catch ourselves a millionaire." Fleming caught her millionaire in the 1930s when she married Marx, but Goddard found hers much earlier in an older businessman named Edgar James who she married in either 1926 or 1927. The marriage only lasted a few years and she ended up with an enormous settlement. Being a practical woman she took her money and went to Hollywood with the intention of breaking into the movies.

She hadn't been there long before she began appearing in films. The Internet Movie Database has her listed in the credits of Chaplin's film City Lights (1931) as an extra. This may be true because she and Chaplin were seeing each other romantically by 1932. At the time Goddard was a platinum blonde, which was then all the rage thanks to Jean Harlow. Chaplin, who was never partial to blondes, convinced her to dye her hair back to its natural dark shade which she kept for the rest of her life. Between 1932 and 1936 when she appeared as a co-star with Chaplin in his final silent film Modern Times, her appearances on the screen were as one of the Goldwyn Girls, chorus girls who appeared frequently in Samuel Goldwyn's pictures. (One of her fellow 'girls' was a young Lucille Ball, also a platinum blonde in the early 1930s). Goddard's performance in Modern Times made her a star and Chaplin, it is believed, made her his wife.

The details are unclear but sometime in 1936 Chaplin and Goddard went on a trip to the Far East where they claimed to have been married on a boat. No marriage license was ever produced and a vague excuse about a ship-board fire seemed to settle the matter. Unfortunately, the marriage license again became an issue when she auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara and became a victim of the morality clause that all movie stars had added to their contracts to ensure their good behavior. No license, no role. Instead of co-starring with Clark Gable she was once again working with her 'husband' in his first talking film, The Great Dictator (1940). By the time filming began they had separated and would divorce in 1942. During the years she and Chaplin were supposed to be married, Goddard had an on-again, off-again affair with composer George Gershwin, who was desperately in love with her. It is a tribute to Goddard that she is the only one of his ex-wives that Chaplin spoke kindly of in his autobiography years later. He never denied being married to Goddard in public, but in private claimed it was never legal.

Goddard had proven that she didn't need Chaplin to have a career. By the early 1940s she had held her own against the female stars of MGM in The Women (1939), co-starred with Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers (1940), James Stewart in Pot O'Gold (1941), and Fred Astaire in Second Chorus (1940). The latter may have been one of Astaire's rare flops but it was a happy experience for Goddard. She worked with Burgess Meredith on that film and in 1944 she married him. The marriage would last until 1950.

During the 1940s she appeared in many films like Reap the Wild Wind (1942), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), directed by Jean Renoir and once again co-starring Burgess Meredith. By the 1950s, her time in Hollywood was almost over. She was not sorry to leave, once saying, "I lived in Hollywood long enough to learn to play tennis and become a star, but I never felt it was my home."

After her divorce from Meredith, Goddard married novelist Erich Maria Remarque, most famous for his novel All Quiet on the Western Front, and they moved to Switzerland where they lived together until Remarques' death in 1970. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Goddard did not dwell upon past triumphs but remained firmly rooted in the present, saying, "You live in the present and you eliminate things that don't matter. You don't carry the burden of the past. I'm not impressed by the past very much. The past bores me, to tell you the truth; it really bores me. I don't remember many movies and certainly not my own."

Her later years were spent in Europe although she occasionally worked - her last appearance was in a television film with Helen Hayes called The Snoop Sisters in 1972 - but she certainly did not need the money. When she died from the breast cancer she had battled for decades on April 23, 1990, she left New York University more than $20 million dollars in her will.

* Titles in Bold Are Being Shown on TCM in August

by Lorraine LoBianco

Obituary: Susan Marx, by Glenn Mitchell, The Independent (London) January 4, 2003
The Internet Movie Database

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