Sure, even our wild-and-woolly girl friend knows how it is to be kicked in the teeth while you’re down. She was brought out here from New York by Columbia at a time when Rita Hayworth was their pride and joy, thus, every girl on the lot was rubbed and molded into the Hayworth pattern. Try to picture Shelley, her hair parted on the side and hanging over one eye, and all that ginger bottled up in what the studio hoped was the same kind of expression Rita just naturally possessed but most other girls didn’t.
"They told me not to talk – just to sit around and look sexy," Shelley roars now, "and for the money they were paying me, I did it. But you can’t push through on someone else’s personality, and when option time came around I was the funny-looking tomato with the peek-a-boo bang on the outside, looking in."
Shelley took a day coach back to New York as beaten down as she’s ever been. Through the next few years of plugging for nickels and dimes in one flop show after another she found and developed her own kind of personality. Shelley didn’t know it at the time but her theme song was "This above all, to thine own self be true’, and how well she works at it now! She wears her hair like no one else would dare wear it, she behaves rudely sometimes, but always excitingly, as no one else would dare to behave, she’s always richly alive. Shelley’s hour of trial forced her to be herself even though the odds were stacked against her. The next time she got a break she barged through so dynamically that the town is still shaking from the impact.
Big contract at Metro, dances with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly – um – living. But four years ago Vera was just another has-been around town, a chunky kid with overdeveloped muscles, a used-up Goldwyn contract, and few friends. Funny how fast all the happy-talk pals disappear when you’re broke and out of a job.
Vera had come in big. A Broadway hit in A Connecticut Yankee, she was heralded as one of the best dancers ever to streak across the town, but that was all. For to be a dancer you’ve got to dance and Vera had danced herself into the best load of muscles you ever saw. Fine for the specialty numbers, but when Danny Kaye wanted to neck he turned to Virginia Mayo, who was just plain girly-girly, no muscles anywhere.
When Danny Kaye left Goldwyn, Vera was swept out along with all of the other Kaye props left around the studio. And nobody else was interested in buying. She could still dance like a dream, but that wasn’t enough. What was missing?
Vera took a good look at herself. The basic material wasn’t bad, even she could see that. But she was plump, she ate too much, her skin was bad, her hair sticky. "Okay, pal," she said to herself, "this is not going to be easy. You’ve had you’re lucky break and you’re flat on your face now, but you’ve still got plenty to offer." That very afternoon she went on a diet and signed up for massage treatments at Terry Hunt’s. Took nearly a year of scrounging and starving but when she was through she was the brightest-eyed, shapeliest little cookie in all of the Hollywoods. Metro bought, but quick!
He can also tell you how it feels to be down, then up, then down again even deeper, and finally way up there, higher than he ever dreamed ‘he’d go. Gene’s story is different from Vera’s, since he started in as a kid earning $75 a week when grown men with families were lucky to be bringing in $25. Gene was an ice skater then and his wonderful grin, even as a lad, was a joy to behold. "This is a breeze," he found himself believing. "You get paid for having fun. What’s with all this working and slaving and fighting your way to the top!’! An unhealthy attitude, but a boy of l6 can get some, weird ! ideas, Gene will tell you now.
Before he had a chance to find out how quickly his balloon could be deflated, he was drafted and wound up in This is the Army. Then, on release from the army, he was grabbed up for It Happens on Ice In New York, and then grabbed up by 20th Century-Fox as a dancing partner for June Haver in I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.
" Stick around, kids, the sad part comes in now. For Gene, sure of himself, the charm-boy, was dropped by 20th after this one picture. How could it happen? Nothing in his background had prepared him for failure. He was the lad with the grin, the stardust in his shoes, the sassy eyes.
Well, Gene had to learn the hard way, after years of smooth sailing. And, believe him when he tells you it’s more difficult to make the adjustment to tough luck after the breaks than before them. He found out that pride dies hard. He found the real Gene Nelson. And the guy wasn’t bad, he decided. Worth plugging for.
He joined a bunch of other talented, jobless kids to put up a show, Lend An Ear. Gene worked for peanuts and in there between the breaks and the knocks he buried his pride. He’d found something better. He’d learned how to work, hard and endlessly, with little hope of reward but the sheer joy of doing, and it made him the warm, wonderful Gene Nelson we know and love. For the next time he got a chance at stardom he was ready – lucky for us!
Seems like she has always been a big star, doesn’t it? It’s true she’s been on top for a long time now but not too long for her to remember how it was when she couldn’t even get a bit from the seediest studio in town. Betty, at l8, was Miss Co-ed in person, the rah-rah blonde of every college picture ever made. Suddenly the campus craze passed into limbo, and with them Miss Betty Grable. Betty was brought up in the movie town and when she stopped being recognized at the studios she had no place to go. Okay, so if she couldn’t be a movie star she’d sing with a band, like any beginner, if that was the only way she could eat. So off she went on the road with Ted Fio Rito’s orchestra, working herself nearly sick with one-night stands, learning new arrangements, packing and grabbing hamburgers at 3 in the morning in some way station.
But Betty didn’t mind. She was working. Betty did everything, but she never idled. Finally she was spotted for a Broadway show, DuBarry Was a Lady, and the busy years paid off. Betty was a great trouper, the word flashed throughout the land, and one story also carried a knockout photo of her. Darryl Zanuck, carelessly glancing through a New York newspaper, found himself hypnotized by the photograph. ‘.Betty Grable – Betty Grable," he mused to himself, "used to act around town, yet, there’s something about her – " He signed her, and today, almost a generation later, Betty’s still the No. 1 star at 20th.
He, on the other hand, came in like a lion with a flashy introduction in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, then threatened to go out like a lamb on the tail of a bunch of mediocre pictures that even he can’t remember now. But Kirk never lost faith in imself he was an actor and a good one. They’d find out again. One of these days another sure-fire part would come along and they’d get excited over him again.
It did in the form of Champion. But its entrance couldn’t have been timed more un- fortunately. For Kirk had just been offered a long-term contract from a major studio. He wouldn’t be a star – he’d be just another supporting actor-but it meant security, steady pay. And what did Champion represent? A long chance with a two-bit independent outfit that nobody had ever heard of, with as much chance of security as jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. But Kirk still believed in himself.
Everyone was aghast. His agents was horrified. His friends stopped talking to him. But Kirk remained steadfast. It was to be Champion, and he would take the consequences. Champion turned out to be one of those wonderful pictures that happen only "once in ten years, maybe twenty. Kirk was the hottest thing in town. Still is. And he still believes in himself. Because, as he figures it, if he doesn’t, nobody else will.
Looking at Marilyn Monroe these days it’s hard to believe that all that youth, beauty and magnetism was once dropped from a studio contract list, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what happened to this super bombshell about three years ago – and Marilyn’s the better for it in all ways. Formerly her attitude was "This is a cinch – nothing to do but throw out my shape, crinkle my eyes and I’m a star" – for she had been signed by 20th originally on the strength of her looks. So her first bit in Scudda Roo, Scudda Ray wound up on the cutting-room floor, and to option-time, six months later, Miss Monroe, herself, was out.
But Marilyn, who wasn’t born to the breaks in the first place, knows how to scratch back.
If youth and beauty weren’t enough, she’d find out what was. She learned, slowly enough. Three years of relentless work, of days crammed full of acting, ballet, diction, posture lessons.
Lessons cost money and every dime that Marilyn earned in all manner of employment-including her famous stint as a calendar model – went back into lessons. But when she finally emerged, the gal made sense. The most violent sense since Jean Harlow – and then some! And she’s still soaring, even though she’d never stop learning. You should see the books she reads!
Now put them all together and what do you have? A bunch of thoroughly swell people who tasted the bitterness of failure and came back slugging. For that’s what stars are made of, plenty of sugar and spice, but even more grit and steel.
From the American magazine
"Motion Picture and Television Magazine"
Written by Barbara Berch Jamison
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