Gladys George given the glamor works
by famed MGM photog Clarence Bull
I've been wanting to do a spotlight on a Golden Age actress Gladys George for a couple of weeks now. I've only seen her in about 5 of her 44 imdb listed performances, but whenever she crops up in a scene (usually in supporting roles) she's the one I find myself watching.
So with the intention of putting together a typical 'This was her life' posting, I started doing my research and -- Bam! I stumbled on quite a juicy and humorous scandal that enveloped Gladys at the end of '34 and for much of '35. But before we get to that, lets take care of a little background housekeeping, shall we:
Already treading the boards at age three with her parents in a vaudeville act called The Three Clares, Gladys George was born in Patten, Maine to British acting parents in 1900. So naturally, she was a veteran trooper when she landed her first Broadway role, supporting Isadora Duncan in 1918's "The Betrothal".
Between 1919 and 1921 our young ingenue starred in seven pictures beginning with "Red Hot Dollars" and ending with "The House That Jazz Built".
It was then that tragedy struck. In a 1937 interview George recalled, "While fussing over some doughnuts I was making, the grease caught fire and I was terribly burned. And that ended my picture career for some years. It took a year in the hospital for me to recover from that accident. Then the film roles were impossible for me to get. I lost a great deal of weight...So I returned to the stage, traveling around in stock companies."
She did that traveling with fellow actor, and new husband, Ben Erway. The marriage lasted from 1922 to 1930. Married again in 1933 (this time for money) to Springfield, Mass paper manufacturer and millionaire, Edward Fowler, Gladys had more resource at hand to reignite her career. A screen test for Metro won her a contract and a supporting role in "Straight Is The Way" with Franchot Tone.
Completing the picture, she went back to Broadway to star in "Personal Appearance" (later retooled as the Mae West vehicle, "Go West Young Man"). In it she plays a film star, and the play opens up with a 'film clip' from her latest movie. In the clip her leading man is played by an actor named Leonard Penn. Ok, enough background, you ready? Let's go.
Here is TIME Magazines report from December 17, 1934:
Wife of Benjamin-Z.-Fineberg-President- of-Superfine-Pictures-Incorporated is Actress Gladys George in her starring rôle as the blonde, seductive cinemactress of Personal Appearance (TIME. Oct. 29), current Manhattan stage hit. In private life Miss George has a husband named Edward Fowler, a Springfield. Mass, paper manufacturer. She also has a tortoise-shell Persian cat named Mungkee.
About 3:30 o'clock one morning last fortnight Miss George, in her Manhattan hotel room, received a telephone call from her husband. He had just arrived at Grand Central Terminal, he said, and would be right over. Few seconds later her door burst open to admit two detectives, a strange woman and Mr. Fowler. They found, according to the detectives, a handsome young man dashing half-dressed from the room and Miss George reaching for a blue negligee.
When her husband's divorce suit charging adultery was revealed last week Miss George received the Press to explain what the young man, one Leonard Perm, had been doing in her room at that hour of the morning. Said she:
"Leonard is a friend of mine. He appears in the movie short preceding the play Personal Appearance, but he doesn't come on the stage.
"Well, anyway, he was stopping here at the Hotel Lincoln with 1,500 other people. But on this particular night. I needed his help badly. Mungkee had just come home from the hospital, where she had had an operation performed. The bandages seemed to hurt her and, foolishly, I took them off. Well, she was in a dreadful condition, and I was simply frantic. So I called Leonard on the phone.
"He came in and took one look at Mungkee and said we'd better bandage her up. So he ran across the street to the druggist's and bought some cotton and mercurochrome. We were struggling with the cat, trying to tie her up, when my husband phoned me and said he was coming over. I thought I ought to see Mr. Fowler alone. Leonard just got to the door when my husband and this crowd of men barged in. I certainly was surprised. I thought my husband was a gentleman."
And there's a really delicious article here that is full of tongue in cheek, innuendo and double entendre. Example: "Now any man with a streak of chivalry would come to the rescue of a platinum-haired lovely lady with a sick cat." The story of Gladys and her 'pussy in distress' played in the papers for quite a while, but when the divorce case hit the court, no mention was made of it. By the end of August it was a done deal.
From The Milwaukee Sentinel, New York - August 27, 1935: A status of "neither maid, nor wife, nor widow" is imposed for three years upon Gladys George, sparkling star of the current Broadway hit "Personal Appearance"...Under New York law Miss George, being the defendant, may not remarry in this state for three years....If romance beckons before the three year period is up, Miss George may remarry in another state, but the marriage will not be recognized in New York.
From The New London Evening Day, New Haven - Sept. 18, 1935: Gladys George and Leonard Penn were married here today. Penn obtained a waiver of the Connecticut five day law when he applied for a marriage license. The wedding was witnessed by Miss Florence Robinson and Miss Dulcy Cooper who are in the cast of "Personal Appearance". A wedding breakfast was served at a hotel.
Gladys, with Penn, came back to Hollywood where she had a very promising next few years. Her first picture back, "Valiant Is The Word For Carrie" netted her only Oscar nomination.
She also starred in the 1937 version of "Madame X" (which I'm dying to see and which many have said is the best version of this old chestnut.)
She (as Madame Du Barry) and Penn both appeared in the spectacular "Marie Antoinette"
And she was brilliant as Panama Smith in "The Roaring 20's"
By now you can see it in her face; Gladys was a drinker. It cost her leading roles and ultimately her marriage. She and Penn were divorced in 1944. Her last part in an "A" picture was a small but amazing and heartbreaking appearance in "The Best Years Of Our Lives" as Dana Andrews' step mother.
And it was around this time that this blurb ran, buried somewhere in the back of The Desert News, July 9, 1946: Riverside, Calif - Stage and Screen star Gladys George and her fourth husband - Kenneth Carlson Bradley 27 year old Los Angeles bellhop, were honeymooning today, following their marriage at The Mission Inn in Riverside.
Gladys passed away in 1954.