The Only General Biography
Paulette: The Adventurous Life of Paulette Goddard
By Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, St. Martin's Press, 1985
A Sweet and Savory Dish
I'm a day late to this party, but I couldn't ignore the fascinating Paulette Goddard this week. At the risk of repeating myself in these Birthdays of the Week, I really, really wonder why, in a place as self-referential as Hollywood, no one has made a picture about this woman's life.
Anyone who could be married (or whatever) to as unlikely a trio as Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith, and Erich Maria Remarque over the course of two decades, was an avid art collector who hung around with the likes of Diego Rivera and Andy Warhol, and who donated millions to theater and arts programs needs to have a movie made about her.
We don't really know for sure when Ms. Goddard was born; could be 1905, 1910, or 1915, based on various reports, but I'm inclined toward the middle number. 1915 seems unlikely, as that would have made her an 11-year-old Ziegfeld Girl in 1926 when she appeared in the Follies and more uncomfortably, a child bride of 12 when she married lumber magnate, Edgar James in 1927. Neither does she look to be 31 in her breakout role in Modern Times as the "gamine" romantic interest to Charlie Chaplin's tramp in 1936. So I pick 1910.
It's also unclear whether her father left the family or her mother left the father with very young Pauline. Or Marion. The name is up for grabs as well. In any case, Goddard was raised by her mother and helped support the family by modeling while still a child. Her father showed up after Paulette became famous and sued for defamation of character after Goddard claimed he wasn't her biological father in a magazine interview. She lost the case. One presumes that was the end of their relationship.
After her first divorce, Goddard and her mother moved to Hollywood, where she tried to break into pictures with little success. In 1932, she became a Goldwyn Girl, but left the studio due to conflicts with the boss, Sam Goldwyn, and went to do uncredit roles in comedy shorts at the Hal Roach Studios. Goddard was dating Charlie Chaplin during this time, but didn't get a major role until he cast her as the female lead in Modern Times.
A further mystery is whether she and Chaplin were truly married, as they purportedly wed on a boat in the far east somewhere, but could never produce a marriage license. Who cares, you might ask? Well, anyone auditioning for Gone With the Wind were subject to studio morality clauses, and Goddard, who was up for Scarlett O'Hara, would not qualify if she could not prove she was married. Also perhaps not the best choice for the part, but that's just me. And David O. Selznick.
Chaplin and Goddard broke up (or divorced, whatever) in 1942, but remained on good terms. Her film career continued steady and strong throughout the 1940s. In 1944 she married Burgess Meredith, with whom she had appeared in several pictures, but they too divorced in 1949. By 1950, Paulette Goddard was tired of Hollywood and it seemed to be through with her, but she was wealthy, loved to travel, and had many other interests besides the movies.
On these travels she met and married Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front. The two lived in Switzerland (and a couple of other places) until his death in 1970. Thereafter, Goddard lived the life of a wealthy socialite and art collector in New York, admired for her wit, charm, and ability to make lots and lots of money. When she died in 1990 of heart failure and emphysema, she left New York University $20 million.
Seriously. Where's this movie?