Paulette Goddard (1910 - 1990)

'Paulette Goddard
Paulette Goddard

Paulette Goddard was an American movie actress adept at playing both sophisticated comedy and sultry melodrama. She was a child model who grew up to become a stunningly beautiful singer, dancer and leading lady with a trademark infectious grin.

She was part of the Ziegfeld Follies by the age of thirteen and she gained fame in the show as the girl on the prop crescent moon. After marrying a millionaire at the age of 16, she then married three famous men, Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith and Erich Maria Remarque, but she was also a well known actress in her own right. In the early 1940's she was one of Hollywood's top stars and in 1943 she received an Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her sensitive performance as an Army nurse in 'So Proudly We Hail!'.

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She was born Marion Pauline Levy in Queens, Long Island, in June, 1910 (although some sources give other years between 1905 and 1910). She was an only child. Her parents were divorced when she was still a baby, and she was raised by her mother to whom she remained very close all through her life. She lost contact with her father who only reappeared when she became famous.

She was a beautiful young girl and easily found work as a fashion model for local department stores. She then made her show business debut with Florenz Ziegfeld's "Follies" at the age of 13 and for three years she performed as the girl on the crescent moon. Her first marriage was at 16 to wealthy lumber industrialist, Edgar James, but the marriage foundered and they got divorced in 1930 with Goddard receiving a large settlement. She was an extremely ambitious young actress and she changed her name to Paulette, and using her mother's maiden name, Goddard, as her surname.

Paulette had begun appearing in films in 1929, with a bit part in 'Berth Marks' with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. With her divorce out of the way, in 1931 she moved permanently to Hollywood and signed a contract with the Hal Roach Studios. She appeared more or less as a beautiful ornament in 'The Girl Habit' in 1931, and 'The Mouthpiece' and 'Young Ironsides' the following year. She then had a larger role as an anonymous blonde "Goldwyn Girl" in the Busby Berkeley chorus of the Eddie Cantor musical 'The Kid from Spain' also in 1932 as well as in 'Roman Scandals' in 1933.

In 1932 she became involved with actor and future second husband Charles Chaplin, who bought her contract from Hal Roach Studios and gave her the female lead in the movie he was planning which came out in 1936, called 'Modern Times'. Before this she appeared in 'Kid Millions' in 1934 for Samuel Goldwyn Productions.

Paulette and Chaplin were supposedly married in secret aboard ship off Canton, China in 1936, while vacationing in the Orient. This has always been disputed and no marriage contract was ever seen. Chaplin always maintained privately that they were only ever married in common law. The lack of proof of marriage backfired badly on her in 1940 when she was being considered for the sought-after role of Scarlett O'Hara in the forthcoming blockbuster,'Gone With the Wind'. She lost out narrowly to Vivien Leigh because she represented a "moral risk" to an hypocritical public.

A solid spot in the all-female cast of the successful 1939 movie 'The Women' led to more rewarding leads as Paulette began to be regarded as a star in her own right. She was sweet and glamorous opposite Bob Hope in 'The Cat and the Canary', also in 1939, and her performance won her a ten year contract with Paramount Pictures. Her second Chaplin movie, 'The Great Dictator', was released in 1940 to great acclaim. In it she was required only to look pretty and keep out of the way while Chaplin was being funny, but it helped increase her star status in the process. She and Chaplin split amicably soon afterwards, and supposedly obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1942.

She teamed up with Hope again in 'The Ghost Breakers' in 1940, and was a fetching Cecil B. DeMille adventure heroine in 'North West Mounted Police' also in 1940. Her successes continued with Pot O'Gold in 1941 with Jimmy Stewart and in 1942 'The Lady Has Plans' and 'Reap the Wild Wind' after which she was regarded as one of Hollywood's top-drawing stars. One of her most popular appearances was in 1943 in the musical 'Star Spangled Rhythm' when she accompanied Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake in "A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peekaboo Bang". Her role as a war nurse in 'So Proudly We Hail!' in 1943 won her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and represented the peak of her popularity although she continued making movies throughout the 1940's, including 'The Crystal Ball' in 1943 and 'Standing Room Only' the following year with Fred McMurray.

In May, 1944, Paulette married for the third time to actor Burgess Meredith. Her film career continued in 'Kitty' in 1945, then with her new husband in 'The Diary of a Chambermaid' the following year, and 'Unconquered' in 1947 with Gary Cooper. After making the film 'Bride of Vengeance' in 1949, she divorced Meredith in 1950.

By the end of the decade her popularity was starting to noticeably fade and she was dropped by Paramount in 1949. Credits such as 'Babes in Bagdad' in 1952 suggested the direction in which her career was heading. Her last roles of note were the 'B' movies 'A Stranger Came Home' produced in England, and 'Charge of the Lancers' in 1954.

She now retired to Europe to marry German novelist Erich Maria Remarque in 1958, dividing her time between her New York City apartment and Switzerland. The marriage lasted until his death in 1970. In 1964, she unsuccessfully tried a movie comeback with a supporting role in the Italian film 'Gli indifferenti', but it was herlast big screen appearnace. She reappeared briefly as the murder victim in the extremely forgettable TV pilot 'The Snoop Sisters' in 1972.

Paulette was energetic, articulate and intelligent and had close friendships with a wide range of artists, including the composer George Gershwin, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and the artist Andy Warhol. She was independently wealthy, initially from her first husband, then from her Hollywood salaries and her other husbands, and in later years she sold many valuable artworks at auction, including her collection of Impressionist art, which was sold in 1979 for $2.9 million. She became known for her philanthropy and in her will she left US$20 million to New York University. She had no children but was stepmother to the sons of Charlie Chaplin, Charles Jr. and Sydney.

In the mid 1970's Goddard was successfully treated for breast cancer. She died in Ronco, Switzerland from heart failure on 23 April, 1990. She is buried in Ronco cemetery, next to her last husband and her mother.

Paulette Goddard Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Supporting Actress ... So Proudly We Hail! (1943)

Paulette Goddard Filmography

Berth Marks
The Locked Door (uncredited)
City Streets (uncredited)
The Girl Habit
Ladies of the Big House (uncredited)
The Mouthpiece
Show Business (uncredited)
Young Ironsides (uncredited)
Pack Up Your Troubles (uncredited)
Girl Grief (uncredited)
The Kid from Spain (uncredited)
The Bowery
Roman Scandals (uncredited)
Kid Millions (uncredited)
Modern Times
The Bohemian Girl (uncredited)
The Young in Heart
Dramatic School
The Women
The Cat and the Canary