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Miss Bradford Would Rather Act Than Be Under Contract
by Cedric Belfrage
Editor’s Note: Mr. Cedric Belfrage is a young English writer; and it is characteristic of his work that he is positive. He either likes things or he doesn’t. And so with his viewpoints concerning pictures and the personalities of people who make them, it is inevitable that some agree and some do not. But everyone grants that in his ability to appreciate the qualities which go to make a most charming wife, he has proved himself enviably right.
WHOEVER wrecked “The Wreck of the Hesperus” wrecked the promising young clinch team of Frank Marion and Virginia Bradford.
Frank no longer takes his Virginia dear along with him on the stormy seas of the movies to bear him companee. The team went on the rocks with the Hesperus and never got off again. “The Wreck of the Hesperus” as a picture was all wet, and everybody connected with it suffered, innocent and guilty alike. Of its two authors, Harry Carr decided (for the ninth time) to quit the movies, and John Farrow slid unostentatiously over to Paramount. Its director, Elmer Clifton, was sunk without trace in Hollywood’s Great Unknown. And poor Virginia and Frank were ever so politely informed that their contracts would not be renewed.
Frank was swallowed up in the intricacies of Southern California real estate. They say he’s making a great deal more money building houses he doesn’t want on lots that he’s never seen, and then selling them to someone who wants them even less than he does, than he ever could have made as a movie actor.
“This thing that we have done,” moaned the De Mille studio chappies when it suddenly dawned on them what chumps they had made of themselves. And they rushed in a frenzy to the telephone. The poor eggs overlooked the fact that Frank and Virginia were not a pair of Siamese twins. Here was the best young actress they had ever had on the lot going back into circulation just because she was one-half of a team they didn’t want. I’m asking you!
She Spurns a Contract
VIRGINIA did a prompt about turn and marched back to the studio. Another contract was produced and flourished alluringly in her face, but she would have none of it. Instead, she continued on her way, picture by picture. “By golly,” she said (or however these girls swear), “I’ll be no studio’s excess baggage. If they want me, they’ll come and get me quick enough.” And she was right. First, they carted her back to Culver City to be the sex appeal in “Craig’s Wife.” No sooner was that finished than they reached out again for her to motivate the kidnaping activities of the heavy in “Marked Money.” Then they began casting about for still more girlish rôles to throw in her lap.
Virginia is a Southern girl, and perhaps it was on the banks of the Mississippi, that waterway the Harlem high-yallers screech so well of, that she picked up her self possession. Studios do not wither, nor Cecil de Mille himself stale her infinite composure. She is not the type to sign all sorts of impossible contracts, as half the girls in the movies do, and then turn round when she has reached the top to have them annulled because she was “so young — so innocent” when she signed. She is as innocent-looking as the worst of them and more astute and level-headed than the best. Yassuh!
“Contracts,” said Virginia in a brief interval on the set while they made a close-up of the heavy in the act of assaulting her in an airplane, “contracts have never got me anywhere in pictures. The first one I had was with Universal, and all I got out of it was a few parts in two-reel Westerns that nobody ever saw. After I left there I got another contract with M-G-M, but they didn’t give me a single thing to do, so I quit. De Mille’s contract came next. They started me off as one half of a team with Frank Marion, but we never got a break with a really good story. It wasn’t until my contract expired that they seemed to take enough interest to cast me in good stories.
IT’S all very nice to get your salary regularly every week, but unless you’re already an established name, a lot of studios seem to regard you much as they might a chunk of salt pork when they have you on contract. They push you into parts you don’t want to play, or leave you twiddling your thumbs, as the case may be, and if you object, they threaten to spank you. My feeling is that if I’m good enough they’ll come after me anyway; if I’m not, I might just as well make up my mind to forget my acting ambitions and open Hollywood’s nine hundred and ninety-ninth ‘Olde Worlde Tea Shoppe.’ ”
Hollywood, I feel tolerably sure, is in no danger of having more than nine hundred and ninety-eight Tea Shoppes just for the moment. Such a head on such a comely pair of shoulders is too much of a rarity for the movies to let go. Especially just now, at the dawn of the age of talkies, for Virginia adds to her other assets a voice of golden quality which brings out high F’s just as easily as if she were asking the waiter for the menu.
A girl like Virginia Bradford is what the movies can spare everyone else but.
There are hundreds of females in Hollywood with doll-like youth on their faces. But they wear so much powder, rouge and mascara, not to speak of henna and peroxide, that you can’t tell whether underneath it all they are sixteen or thirty-six. You can’t — but the camera can. That is why so many of the ravishing things you see prancing up and down Hollywood Boulevard are out of a job.
Virginia wears no make-up, leaves her hair the color God made it (a reddish-brown) and her eyelashes as an all-wise providence planned. Yet they don’t come younger-looking than Virginia.
A Right Smart Girl
AT the same time, she has that highly distinctive attribute (for Hollywood) — intelligence. Not the intelligence of the average careerist actress, who holds interviewers she detests by the hand and talks baby-talk to powerful and porcine studio executives. Not this, but the genuine intelligence of being natural, of being herself whether she is giving an interview or chatting with an electrician — and so of inspiring lasting respect instead of momentary liking in those she meets.
A girl men don’t forget? Well, as a mere extra in “The Ten Commandments” — one of hundreds — she spoke a few words casually to Cecil De Mille. Over three years later, when he met her again, he offered her a contract on the spot. “I kept wondering what had happened to you,” he said.
Virginia’s naturalness and her frank enjoyment of herself in her own way leave Hollywood’s burbling younger set puzzled. “What! You won’t come to so-and-so’s party when supervisor so-and-so is going to be there?” they used to say when the one important thing in life seemed to be to meet all the Moguls and make a hit with them. “No,” she would answer, “I don’t feel like going. If supervisor so-and-so wants me, he’ll send for me. If I want to see him, I’ll see him.” And there was nobody she couldn’t get in to see if she wanted to. Don’t ask me how she did it.
It’s Wrong But It Works
TODAY, it’s the same way. Virginia does everything she shouldn’t do. She refuses invitations to big parties if, and just because, she doesn’t want to go. She is not to be seen at the gatherings of the clan at the Montmartre on Wednesdays and on the prescribed occasions at the Biltmore and the Cocoanut Grove. She goes to openings of new pictures only when she wants to see the picture, and then arrives without a stitch of finery or a shred of ermine. She is nice to supervisors when she likes them and does not bother with them if she doesn’t. She tells lady interviewers with note-books quite candidly what she thinks of them and theit respective publications.
It is all quite terribly wicked and wrong. But somehow it seems to work. The Studio Sultans may approve or disapprove of such trifling with the most revered Hollywood traditions — but they don’t forget Virginia Bradford.
For all that she upsets precedent and the approved procedure of the film-factories, they continue conspicuously to like her.
I rather like her myself.
This article originally appeared in Motion Picture, December 1928, Volume XXXVI, Number 5, pages 59, 87 and 95.