Paulette Goddard a major film star of the 1930s and 40s
“I lived in Hollywood long enough to learn to play tennis and become a star, but I never felt it was my home.” ~ Paulette Goddard
Paulette Goddard was an American film and theatre actress. A former child fashion model, she appeared in several Broadway productions as a Ziegfeld Girl, and she became a major star of the Paramount Studio in the 1940s. She was married to several notable men, including Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith, and Erich Maria Remarque.
Goddard was born Marion Pauline Levy on June 3, 1910 in Whitestone Landing, Queens, Long Island. She was the only child of Joseph Russell Levy and Alta Mae Goddard. Her parents divorced while she was young, and she was raised by her mother. Her father virtually vanished from her life, only to resurface later in the late 1930s after she became a star. At first, their newfound relationship seemed genial and they attended film premières together, but later he sued her over a magazine article in which she purportedly claimed he abandoned her when she was young. They were never to reconcile. She remained very close to her mother, however, as both had struggled through those early years, with her great uncle, Charles Goddard (her grandfather’s brother) lending a hand. Charles Goddard helped his great niece find jobs as a fashion model, and with the Ziegfeld Follies as one of the heavily decorated Ziegfeld Girls from 1924 to 1927. Her stage debut was in the Ziegfeld revue “No Foolin” in 1926. The next year she made her stage acting debut in “The Unconquerable Male”. She also changed her first name to Paulette and took her mother’s maiden name (which also happened to be her favorite great uncle Charles’ last name) as her own last name.
In 1927 she married Edgar James, an older, wealthy businessman, lumber tycoon and moved to North Carolina. They divorced and Goddard returned to Hollywood in 1929. Upon her return to Hollywood, with her mother, Goddard appeared in small roles in “The Girl Habit” (1931) and “The Mouthpiece” (1932). She signed a contract with Hal Roach Studios, and appeared in films such as “The Kid from Spain” (1932) and Laurel and Hardy’s “Pack Up Your Troubles” (1932). Goddard then appeared in a few films for Samuel Goldwyn Productions. Along with such actresses as Betty Grable, Lucille Ball, and Ann Sothern, Goddard became a “Goldwyn Girl” and was featured in films such as “Roman Scandals” (1933) and “Kid Millions” (1934).
In 1932, she met Charlie Chaplin and he bought out her contract from Roach. She lived with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home. Their marital status was a source of controversy and speculation. During most of their time together, both refused to comment on the matter. Chaplin maintained that they were married in China in 1936, but to private associates and family, he claimed they were never legally married, except in common law. Chaplin and Goddard starred together in “Modern Times” (1936) which was a great success.
After the success of “Modern Times” Goddard signed a contract with David O. Selznick and appeared with Janet Gaynor in the comedy “The Young in Heart” (1938) before Selznick loaned her to MGM to appear in two films. The second of these, “The Women” (1939), was a huge success. With an all-female cast headed by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, Goddard played the supporting role of Miriam Aarons. Selznick was so impressed with Goddard’s work that he considered her for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind” and gave her a screen test. The O’Hara role came down to Goddard and Vivien Leigh, but Leigh was chosen.
After losing the role of Scarlett O’Hara Goddard signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and her next film was “The Cat and the Canary” (1939) starring opposite Bob Hope and she then starred as Fred Astaire’s leading lady in the musical “Second Chorus” (1940), where she met Burgess Meredith. She starred again with Chaplin in his 1940 film “The Great Dictator”. The couple split amicably soon afterward, and Goddard allegedly obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1942, with Chaplin agreeing to a generous settlement.
One of Goddard’s best-remembered film appearances was in the variety musical “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1943) in which she sang a comic number, “A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peekaboo Bang”, with fellow sex symbols Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake. She received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in “So Proudly We Hail” (1943). She next starred in what was her most successful film “Kitty” (1945), in which she played the title role. She then appeared in “In The Diary of a Chambermaid” (1946), starring opposite her then husband Burgess Meredith (they had married in 1944). Cecil B. DeMille next cast her in three blockbusters: “Northwest Mounted Police” (1940), “Reap the Wild Wind” (1942), and “Unconquered” (1947). For whatever reason, Goddard’s career then began to fade in the late 40’s and Paramount dropped her in 1949. She had roles in a few more movies but never again regained the star status she enjoyed earlier in her career.
Goddard and Burgess Meredith divorced in 1949. In 1958 she married Erich Maria Remarque, author of, among other best-sellers, “All Quiet on the Western Front”. They remained married until his death in 1970, and she inherited much of his money and several important properties across Europe including a wealth of contemporary art, which augmented her own long-standing collection. During this period, her talent at accumulating wealth became a byword amongst the old Hollywood elite. During the 1980s she became a fairly well known and highly visible socialite in New York City society, appearing, covered with jewels, at many high-profile cultural functions with several well-known men including Andy Warhol, with whom she sustained a friendship with for many years until his unexpected death in 1987.
Paulette Goddard died April 23, 1990 in Ronco sopra Ascona, Switzerland after a short illness (reportedly emphysema) several months before her 80th birthday. She is buried in Ronco cemetery, next to her late husband Erich Maria Remarque and her mother Alta Mae.
“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.” ~ Paulette Goddard