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Scott O'Brien Q & A on Ruth Chatterton

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby Rita Hayworth » June 23rd, 2013, 10:41 pm

oscotto wrote:Hello Erik,
I was unable to locate a copy of A Royal Divorce, so I’m a bit envious. I have no way of giving it a fresh assessment. Ruth did a tremendous amount of research in preparation– she spent three months in France visiting all the places connected with Napoleon and Josephine. Unfortunately, critics were not kind to the film or her performance.

Ruth’s close friend/co-star/director Auriol Lee, was the first woman to fly across the equator (1927) en route to Kenya. She was influential in Ruth’s own passion for flying. Ruth had boarded one of the first commercial air-mail planes (c. 1926). “After that,” said Ruth, “I wanted to fly everywhere and did a lot of it abroad. But then, when a friend of mine was badly injured on the R-101 [1929], I suddenly became afraid.” It was a French pilot who got Ruth back up in the air in 1932. She finally won her license in 1934. She became friends with Amelia Earhart (there’s of photo of Ruth, Amelia and Kay Francis in the biography). Leland Hayward encouraged Ruth to sponsor her own air derbies in 1935 and 1936. They were highly successful and received a great deal of nationwide news coverage. Ruth’s instructor was Bob Blair, winner of the Carnegie Medal, who had over twenty years experience as an aviator. He also taught Henry Fonda, Cary Grant and Wallace Beery. At the completion of her 1935 derby, Ruth was feted by Major Jimmy Doolittle, Eddie Rickenbacker and Penny Rogers (cousin of Will Rogers).

During WWII Chatterton was ranked Captain in the “Queens Own” as well as flight lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force. She received similar honors from the U.S. Air Corps.

Thanks for showing interest in Chatterton’s passion for aviation.



I did not know about her being a Captain ... but I knew her in the Royal Canadian Air Force because I visited several museums in my many visits in Canada in my lifetime. And a bonus for knowing Earhart as well. I just wanted to say thanks for answering these questions ... I appreciate it very much.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby moira finnie » June 24th, 2013, 9:44 am

Hi Scott,
I appreciate your returning today. In your book, you mention some interesting encounters with Marie Dressler, who appears to have been an early booster of Ruth's talent.

You told a particularly insightful story about Ruth and her mother in the early years of Chatterton's theatrical career. Could you please talk about that and the different perspective it gives on Ruth's career and her relationship with her mother?

Also, you mention in your book that in the fight to establish Actor's Equity in 1919 as the representative of the working actors, Ruthie came down on the side of the producers, even helping to finance the organization formed by George M. Cohan to counter the actor's union. Did this choice on Chatterton's part affect her relationship with other actors--particularly Marie Dressler and Ethel Barrymore, who were firm advocates of Equity? Do you think it affected Ruth's Broadway career?

Thanks!
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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby oscotto » June 24th, 2013, 1:04 pm

Moira - I like that story, too. Dressler pointed out to scenarist Frances Marion that Ruth’s “formal education” was Broadway. She recalled Ruth and her mother Tilly trudging around New York in the summer heat, going from one agency to another. This was probably around 1910 after Dressler returned from England. She referred to Tilly as a “theatrical mother” and Ruth a “pale sickly little tad.” Ruth was 5’2” and seventeen at the time. Her natural ambition was reinforced by Tilly, to be sure. Mother and daughter were inseparable. In 1912, Henry Miller set them up in a sizable apartment overlooking the Hudson River. Miller made sure that “Miss Peaches” (his nickname for Ruth) and her mother were rewarded with a trip to Paris in 1913. Undoubtedly, Tilly “knew” what was going on. In 1914, Ruth told a reporter for the Washington Herald, “The most bitter grief that I can imagine for myself would be to have Mr. Miller disappointed in me.” Although Ruth always took care of her mother until she passed away, she rarely mentioned her in interviews. How much encouragement Tilly had provided “behind the scenes” is for readers to decide.

By 1919 Ruth saw herself as an Actress-Manager. She was investing in her own shows even though she was still partnered with Miller. She acquired a manager’s point of view while following the advice of Miller and their booking agents Klaw & Erlanger. During the Equity strike producers were trembling—especially those who worked on small margins. Ruth stated that she had the “greatest sympathy” for actors who had not had fair play from managers, but she felt you couldn’t unionize “art.” Ralph Bellamy, who later became President of Actors Equity, agreed with Ruth at the time. He felt it was like comparing actors to bricklayers. Ruth finally came ‘round (out of necessity) in 1939 when she resumed her stage career. Chatterton was very opinionated—I’m sure there were fellow actors who resented her position on these issues. Ruth’s career down-slide in the mid-twenties was mainly due to her own selection of poor choices as stage vehicles. She lost most of her money in the process.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby moira finnie » June 24th, 2013, 4:10 pm

Thanks for that explanation about Ruth's career on stage in the '20s, Scott. I wondered if the Broadway community had any lingering problems with Ruth after the Equity fight.


In each of your books, you seem to find sources about Kay Francis, Ann Harding, Virginia Bruce and now Ruth Chatterton that few others ever tap. How do you go about finding these people--or do they find you?

Have you ever found that a source misinformed you and how did you handle it?

Before she began writing novels, did Ruth Chatterton keep a journal to refine her prose and explore character and plot ideas? How successful do you regard her novels as literature?
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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby JackFavell » June 24th, 2013, 5:17 pm

I'm curious about Ruth's Hamlet. Any information on her production?

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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 24th, 2013, 7:04 pm

Scott, I've never seen Journal of a Crime (1934) and I was wondering if you had any comments about this film. From the descriptions I've read, it seems a highly curvy, moralistic approach to escaping the consequences of a murder of passion at the expense of the wrongly accused. Spoilers are welcome, and any comments about Ruth's costar, Adolphe Menjou, are encouraged! Thank you.
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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby Rita Hayworth » June 24th, 2013, 7:53 pm

Scott,

How much a friend of Ruth was to Amelia Earhart? ... It is interesting that she taught some of the biggest names in Hollywood of how to fly Henry Fonda, Cary Grant and Wallace Beery. I knew about Wallace Beery and Henry Fonda; but Cary Grant came to a surprise to me! ... I will be thinking for more questions later on.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby oscotto » June 24th, 2013, 7:53 pm

Moira – Fellow authors have been good about helping to hunt down individuals who may have met or knew these stars. To locate the children of Ruth’s favorite cousin Olive, I began with a 1903 news clipping which detailed Ruth’s appearance as maid of honor at her aunt Miriam Reed’s wedding. Using the on-line genealogy bank I located the names of Miriam’s children … found an article which detailed a tribute to Olive by California Congresswoman Susan Davis in 2001. I was able to telephone two of Olive’s children. Fortunately, Olive's daughter Brenda had the only memorabilia/letters/photos that Ruth had saved from her career. I was either lucky… or Ruth was in on the whole thing from some celestial sphere.

Ann Harding’s adopted daughter chewed me out for being a “detective” – highly suspicious of what exactly I was after. It took her awhile to calm down.
One source I came across for George Brent gave me some information that was incorrect … I just played dumb … I wasn’t going to argue with them.

Around 1921, Ruth had written a one-act play on the life of English poet Thomas Chatterton (a relation), but it was never produced. In 1947-48, she had an idea for a play about the assimilation of Jewish orphans into American society. Author Edwin Gilbert (Native Stone) told her it was “too much” for a play and to write a novel. So, she did. She kept notes by watching how people talked when she was out in public/parties etc., to develop her characters. Her books are really character studies about how individuals react, connect, grow, or go side-ways. Her point of view/message is clear, but her books really have no heroes. She’s a “slice-of-life” kind of writer. The chaos still remains in Ruth’s novels. Individual growth is what matters most ... "the rest is silence" (a favorite quote of Ruth's from Hamlet). I'm really no judge on how Chatterton's novels measure up as literature ... I would have to ask my mother, who taught AP English. She was an authority!

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Postby oscotto » June 24th, 2013, 8:21 pm

Wendy – Maurice Evans, a good friend of Ruth, asked her to play Gertrude for a two-hour Hallmark TV production. It was the big hoop-de-doo for 1953 television, watched by millions, at a cost of $180,000. Ruth had already done six teleplays (1948-53) and “live television” was not to her liking. “It makes me nervous,” she admitted. Evans had the advantage on screen – he had played Hamlet over 800 times. One line got stuck in Ruth’s throat in the opening scene. I quote: “Do not forever with-with thy veiled lids look-look for they father in the dust.” With five cameras, threatening booms and cables … it was intimidating. She had some powerful moments however, especially the scene where she takes the poison. The Chicago Tribune thought the presentation to be a “spectacular success.” Critics weren’t that impressed with Ruth or Joseph Schildkraut, but in 2003, noted Shakespearean scholar Kenneth Sprague Rothwell (A History of Shakespeare on Screen) thought the production was “most memorable for the really stunning Gertrude played by Ruth Chatterton.” When I watched it I thought Ruth seemed on edge, but then, Gertrude was on edge.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby oscotto » June 24th, 2013, 8:56 pm

Hi Christy – As I mentioned, I didn’t care for the finish of Journal of a Crime. It just didn’t work for me. Menjou gives an fine performance. However, I felt he simply did not have the looks to play a theatrical producer that all the ladies are ga-ga over. The film begged for a William Powell/Ronald Colman/Fredric March. Menjou, by the way, tried to back out of making the film. Ruth does excellent work and has some emotional opportunities that are fascinating to watch. Her character is truly at loose ends when she commits the murder. The finish, with Ruth in the throws of some weird kind of dementia and looking adoringly at Menjou --- well, I wasn’t convinced. They attempted to make a happy ending, which felt surreal. I have a feeling Ruth insisted on looking her best at the finish – as the camera lens gave her adoring, youthfully-lit close-ups.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 24th, 2013, 9:45 pm

Thanks, Scott!
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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby oscotto » June 24th, 2013, 10:56 pm

Erik,
In 1936, Clara Studer, the editor of Sportswoman Magazine wrote, “Few people besides the man who taught her and her friend Amelia Earhart know what an able pilot [Chatterton] actually is.” Ruth paid tribute to Earhart after she disappeared in 1937. Ruth told the press: “She was a very great friend of mine. And I can’t believe that she is dead. She was an experienced pilot and no dare-devil. It seems incredible that she should have sent out the SOS that she only had petrol for half an hour, and then have disappeared so completely.” Ruth and Earhart both championed the idea of government subsidizing young fliers to build up a new generation of capable fliers. BTW, it was Bob Blair who taught Fonda, Beery and Grant.

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby Rita Hayworth » June 25th, 2013, 9:02 am

Thank you very much ... Mr. Scott for the explanation ...

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby Hibi » June 25th, 2013, 11:08 am

Happy to hear you have a new book out Scott! I don't know a lot about Ruth, so I am sure I will enjoy reading about her like your other subjects. Could you tell us a little about her marriage to George Brent? I've always been curious about that. It was very brief. (I think less than a year). Thanks!

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Re: Welcome To Scott O'Brien!

Postby oscotto » June 25th, 2013, 12:27 pm

Hello Hibi and thanks! Ruth Chatterton is perhaps the most ambitious, adventuresome and adept at making transitions than my other subjects. Her marriage to George Brent in August 1932, took place after several months of rendezvousing. They both confessed to falling in love on the set of The Rich Are Always With Us which began filming in February. In March, Ruth asked husband Ralph Forbes if it was alright with him to divorce. This was while she was directing Forbes in a play titled Let Us Divorce. :D She and Forbes had developed more of a friendship by that time, so Ralph had no problem. The three of them spent a great deal of time together even after Ruth and George married.

When Brent completed From Headquarters in September 1933, his marriage to Ruth began to unravel. He had issues with the studio and went on suspension. He became sullen and uncommunicative. Ruth was very social and enjoyed having people over and talking into the wee hours of the morning. Brent was not a conversationalist. By the end of March 1934 they separated. In October Ruth filed for divorce—the final decree was in October 1935. Technically, they were married for over three years. In that time they made four films together and had a pleasant European vacation in the spring of 1933. Brent’s first four marriages were all brief, but his time with Ruth met with greater success than the others. After all, she more or less handed him his career!


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