Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dead Celebrity of the Month, August 2006: Paulette Goddard

The birthdate for Paulette Goddard (born Pauline Marion Levy) is generally listed as June 3, 1910, though the years 1911, 1914, and even 1905 are alternately listed in some sources (including her death certificate). Born to a Jewish father and Protestant mother at Whitestone Landing New York, Paulette was a department store model in her youth before joining the Ziegfeld Follies at the age of 14 (1924). Despite working she still found time to attend Washington Irving High School in New York, where among her classmates was future Academy Award winning actress Claire Trevor. In 1927 the teenaged Goddard married Broadway writer Edgar James, a union that would end in divorce in 1931.

In 1929 while still married to James, Paulette moved to Hollywood where she signed a contract with Hal Roach Studios, where she was given a number of small parts in various films over several years, including extra work in Eddie Cantor's Kid Millions. Leaving Roach, Goddard was hired as on of the 20 original 'Goldwyn Girls' at MGM in the yearly 30's, others among the group included Jane Wyman, Lucile Ball, and Betty Grable.

In 1932 Paulette finally meet Charlie Chaplin, having already appeared as an extra in his 1932 film City Lights. The two struck it off well and it wasn't long before she moved into his Beverly Hills mansion. Goddard stared as the female lead in two of Chaplins films, Modern Times in 1936, and again in The Great Dictator released 1940. The two are said to have secretly married in China in 1936, though their ever having being married at all is a matter still in dispute. Despite this Chaplin did agree to a generous 'divorce' settlement for Paulette in 1942, the two parted amicably and reportedly remained friends.

During most of her time with Chaplin the film career of Paulette Goddard remained unremarkable. Appearances in two 1938 films, The Young at Heart and Dramatic School, did lead to her casting in a well received supporting role in director George Cukor's 1939 all female drama The Women. The attention garnered in that role almost lead to superstardom for the young actress, who was brought on several occasions to test for the lead part of Scarlett O'Hara in David O. Selznicks opulent production of Gone with the Wind. The part eventually went to English actress Vivien Lee (who was then married to Laurence Olivier).

In 1939 Paulette signed a contract with Paramount Pictures leading to the most successful period in her career. Over the next several years she appeared in a number of pictures directed by Cecil B. DeMile (including Reap the Wild Wind), and was frequently cast opposite of Bob Hope (The Ghost Breakers), Fred MacMurry (Suddenly It's Spring), and Ray Milland (The Lady Has Plans). In 1944 the same year she married actor Burgess Meredith (the two would divorce in 1950), Paulette received her only Academy Award nomination, for a supporting role in the war picture So Proudly We Hail!.

The late 1940's saw the decline of Ms. Goddards carrer. In 1949 she formed a production company with author John Steinbeck called Monterey Pictures, but nothing much seemed to come from that. She made a couple of pictures in England during the 1950's, and later attempted a comeback in the 1964 Italian film Time of Indifference, but ended up finishing out her career in the 1970's doing occasional work on television. In 1958 Goddard had married German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, the two would stay together until his death in 1970.

Later in life Goddard would suffer from breast cancer so sever that the operation to remove it would result in the loss of several ribs. She eventually moved to Ronco Switzerland, presumably to recover, but died there from Emphysema on April 23, 1990 at the age of 79. Upon passing Paulette left the surprisingly large sum of twenty million dollars to New York University (where her long time friend John Brademas had once served as president), the institution has since named a freshman residence hall in her honor. Goddard had no children.


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