Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cut To The Chase

It just couldn't have been easy.  Growing up with alternative looks or 'non-conventional beauty', and being constantly surrounded by the best that beauty had to offer.

Like many women of her era, particularly those associated with the stage, the motion picture, or society, there is a veritable sampler platter of birth dates for her.  1900.  1903.  1905.  In these cases, I generally rely on the first date being the truth teller, but as Ilka's 'coming out' was held at the Cosmopolitan Club in 1923, this seems to lend credence to the latter date.

When she arrived may remain a question, but one thing's for certain:  how she arrived.  Ilka was issued from the womb of Edna Woolman Chase, the woman who ran Vogue Magazine from 1914-1952, and who, quite literally worked her way up from the mail room.

Ilka's mum, hard at work.

Looks be damned, with Ilka's connection she did some modeling in Vogue.

And by 1924 she hit the New York stage.  Then, after what George Cukor described as a whirlwind romance she married actor Louis Calhern in 1926.  The equally whirlwind marriage lasted less than a year.  It is at this time that we begin to see the emergence of that trait I love Chase for:  her wicked wit.

With the ink on her divorce papers still drying, Calhern was married again to actress Julia Hoyt.  Going through a closet one day Ilka discovered a box of her barely used calling cards.  They were on a beautiful paper stock, gorgeously embossed and simply said 'Mrs. Louis Calhern'.  It seemed like such a waste, until inspiration struck.  She packaged them up and had them sent to Julia Hoyt.  Knowing Calhern's mercurial nature only too well she included the note:  Dear Julia,  I hope these reach you in time. Ilka.

Cut for the Chase.  Ilka in Mainbocher.

By 1929 Hollywood came a calling.  For roughly the next 40 years she successfully juggled stage acting, film acting, radio show hosting (Luncheon At The Waldorf), television show hosting (The Ilka Chase Show), authoring 18 books, two more marriages and traveling the world.

On film, whether in "Animal Kingdom" in the thirties, "Now Voyager" in the forties, "The Big Knife" in the fifties, or "Oceans 11" in the sixties, her work is always competent, assured and memorable without resorting to  "scene stealing".

She earned a reputation for a frankness in observation that pulled no punches.

On cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden:
"....Arden is a lady of stamina and achievement, and one who hides her brains behind a bland, baby face.  She's one of the richest women in America who's built an industry independent of masculine aid and has held on to it against the encroachment of banks and other syndicates who wished to help lap up the gravy.  Yet to meet her is to wonder if she knows about coming in out of the rain.  She burbles on happily about her creams and lotions and her dear horses in Kentucky, that you smile indulgently and think, "funny little thing", and while you're thinking it, she's whipping up another million dollars."

Of Journalist Dorothy Thompson, she remarked that her gloom was gargantuan, her fighting spirit unquenchable, and that if she didn't know as much as God, she certainly knew as much as God knew at her age.

On Clare Boothe Luce:
"Clare is quick-witted on paper, but I would not say that in conversation she tossed off witticisms at the rate of Dorothy Parker.  I wouldn't say that of Dorothy Parker either."

Must get some of these pens.

In an encounter that has been credited to various people, but most widely agreed to be Humphrey Bogart, Bogart said, "I thought your book was wonderful.  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it.  By the way, who wrote it for you?"  Chase's reply, "I'm so glad you liked it.  By the way, who read it to you?"

A couple of other reasons to love her:

While adapting her novel "In Bed We Cry" for the stage, she all but insured another acting job for herself by writing into the script that the lead character "should look and act exactly like Ilka Chase."

In 1963, she guest starred as Aunt Pauline on "The Patty Duke Show".

And, best of all, it was Miss Chase who originated the role of Sylvia Fowler in the Broadway hit, "The Women".

The marker on her grave reads:  "I've finally gotten to the bottom of things".

More Ilka Chase quotes to savor:

Democracy is not an easy form of government, because it is never final; it is a living, changing organism, with a continuous shifting and adjusting of balance between individual freedom and general order.

When he said we were trying to make a fool of him, I could only murmur that the Creator had beat us to it.

Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather.  

The more I write, the more I find 'literary accuracy' a problem.

The only people who never fail are those who never try. 

It is usually when men are at their most religious that they behave with the least sense and the greatest cruelty. 

You can always spot a well informed man - his views are the same as yours. 



Ask the Cool Cookie said...

I've always loved Ilka. My Aunt and Uncle knew her and adored her.

Said Ilka to my Aunt: "Betty, if there were more men in this world like Louis, then there wouldn't be so many women trying to steal him away from you." My uncle was totally devoted to my aunt, and never looked at another woman. So everytime Betty told that story. Lou would blush.

normadesmond said...

bravo felix! great post!

i've been emulating someone for all these
many years, could it be ilka and i didn't know it?

kabuki zero said...

is normadesmond ilka's secret love child? are you? am i? and i believe she aged as gracefully as anyone. what a dame!

Thombeau said...

What a wonderful post!!

marksparky said...

I really enjoyed this!

normadesmond said...

do i now need to check ancestry dot com to see if kabook and i are related?