YOU'VE GOT A RIGHT GUY WRONG!
The other day I dropped into the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel and ran across a Broadway columnist I know who was visiting Hollywood. This guy is usually in a sweat about something or other, but when I saw him he looked particularly upset.
"Say," he began, "what kind of a town is this Hollywood, anyway?"
"Why," I recited, "it's Glamourland, of course. Hollywood is a fabulous Fairyland where pampered stars pitch it around like kings and queens. It's Sodom and Gomorrah doubling in brass. It's the High Life capital of the world. Haven't you read--"
"Yeah?" he broke in, barking. "Well, guess what I just saw! Coming down Sunset Boulevard this afternoon I saw Victor Mature, the champ Casanova, the glamorous Wolf of Vine Street--that's what they write about him, isn't it? Well--guess what he was doing!"
I didn't dare. "This front-page Don Juan," sighed the columnist--and his face was disillusioned and disgusted--"was leading a three-year old baby girl by the hand into--into church!"
It may be dangerous debunking, but it's the truth: A whole lot of things you read about Hollywood stars (I had to inform my friend) aren't necessarily so. For instance, it's high time someone exposed Victor Mature as one of the nicest, soft-hearted guys in Hollywood.
Vic, himself, wouldn't want you to know this. He tells the world he's as selfish as a shark. He cracks, "I'm all out for Mature!" He pretends to be several varieties of timber wolf crossed with an All American heel.
There's a method behind this madness, of course. Vic believes he's the type to hike to movie Heaven on his heels. And who am I to say he isn't right? It has certainly paid off in publicity, and he's hotter than a three-dollar pistol right now. But he can't fool me.
There's a little restaurant right near the Pasadena Community Playhouse, which supplies the movies with so many young stars. Vic spent his starvation years at the Playhouse sleeping in a piano box and living from handout to mouth. He got 42 cents a day salary and sometimes not that. He got down to 160 pounds which is almost Gandhi-weight for the great big guy, and he'd have dropped lower if it wasn't for a waitress in this certain hash house.
I don't know her name, but we used to call her "Garbo" because she wore a long page-boy bob. Anyway, in Vic Mature's hunger years, Garbo made out checks for dime double-cokes and slipped Vic a full meal instead.
It must have been two or three years ago that I dropped in that restaurant. About the time Vic Mature got his first break with Hal Roach. Garbo brought over the menu, and she was walking on air. "Look," she bubbled, and yanked a money-order out of her bosom. "Sixty dollars! Vic Mature sent it," she said, "with a swell note of thanks I've already got pasted in my memory book. He's got a break in Hollywood--seventy-five bucks a week! So out of his first check he sends me sixty!"
Frankly, I like a guy like that--particularly in Hollywood where "I knew you when" to most phonies is a terrifying phrase. But Vic--despite all he does to scatter the impression--is absolutely no phony. He's not only loyal to every pal who has pitched for him in the past, but now that he's in the box himself, he's unhappy if he isn't straightening out somebody else's headaches--usually the headaches of a little guy.
There was the little radio actor I talked to the other day and this was the story he told: A while back he got his first chance at a picture part at Twentieth Century-Fox. Naturally he was flustered and, to make things worse, the day of his Big Moment the stars were fluffing their lines. Vic Mature was one of them. The blow-ups continued through five camera takes until the stars were getting hysterical about it and the director really sore. On the sixth try, everybody was perfect except the bit player. This time he muffed it higher than the Himalayas. The director exploded with a tongue lashing that he'd never dare direct at a star. "I give up!" he cried, "break up the set! We'll try again after lunch!" The actor felt like crawling into a coffin right there. But Vic stepped in.
"Not me!" he said. "I won't do it after lunch. I'll do it right now. Why don't you pick on somebody your size?" he asked the set boss. "You know it's our fault, not his. But he can't answer back and we can! He'll get it right this next time. Let's go!"
But the director was raging. "After lunch," he repeated.
"Okay," said Vic, "without me. And I won't be back till you treat this guy right!" He walked off the set and never showed up either until the director had had a change of heart!
The truth is: Vic Mature, whether he realizes it or not, is a genuine humanitarian. The reason behind it probably is selfish. He's lost without someone to help along. He's unhappy without an altruistic cause. He surrounds himself always with mixed-up people and tries to straighten them out. The other day when a close friend of his, a Hollywood writer, busted up with his wife, Vic ran right over and grabbed him by the lapel. "Now don't go to some dam' lonely hotel," he urged. "Move in with me. You're gonna be a little confused for a while and besides," said Vic, just for an argument, "hotels are expensive." To make his friend feel okay, he set the amount of money for board, although he didn't want the money. But he's pretty anxious about other people's feelings.
In this connection, I'm thinking particularly about a little Hollywood actress I know who has never quite made the grade here. Last season she got a chance at a Broadway show. It was the grandest event of her life, by far. Vic knows her, too, and he heard the news. Now, Hollywood is a little far from Broadway, and it isn't easy, with all the movie whooptedoo, to keep abreast of Manhattan first night schedules. But on Vic's mind was the picture of this girl, friendless in New York, having her first opening night with all the Broadway stars about her getting flocks of flowers and bushels of wires and gushing tributes, and she, like Cinderella, getting nothing and a lot of it.
I didn't see the flowers he sent her, but she said they were gorgeous. I did see the wire. It showed Vic had put some thought on it, and the girl told me she was lonely, she did feel neglected and she was plenty thrilled when the posies came with this telegram:
"If I were only near enough to Saks-Fifth Avenue I'd pick out a dozen Madeira lace hankies and send them to you this opening night with this card: Good Luck, Darling--and--DON'T BLOW!"
Betty Grable showed me another Mature memo, also on the thoughtful side. When Betty was laid up in the hospital a while back with a bum side and an operation to fix it, her flowers arrived from Vic with this message--using titles of Betty's pictures.
"Dear Betty: I hope by now you're singing "The Song of the Islands" (because you were "Strictly Dynamite" doing that) and that your days of "Waking Up Screaming" are all over now. Love."
Vic builds himself up florist bills of $150 a month keeping people thought of. But it isn't the money he spends that spells good guy to me. It's the thought behind them and the pains he takes to put some personal tribute into the gesture. That makes him the McCoy.
But about these philanthropic causes of Vic: You'd gather if you didn't know the guy that the only interest Mature has in life is Mature. It's true that he is the one star in Hollywood who regards the whole glitter carnival as a business, and one of the rare ones who figures unashamed publicity is only good bookkeeping. But the real Vic is always wrapped up in somebody else.
There was this amateur Edison. Everyone thought the fellow was strictly from the hickory tree. He was the friend of a friend of Vic's, and he had some kind of an idea he was hipped on. Everyone shied away from him--except Vic. Like most wool-gatherers, Edison, Jr., was a bit eccentric. But Vic saw in him a chap who needed slapping on the back. He not only welcomed the opportunity of telling the inventor he was terrific seven day a week--he had him move in with him and scatter his apparatus around the apartment until the place was a shambles. And so--one day the inventor up and sells his Great Idea for $50,000! He gives Vic the credit.
There are cases and cases. Since Vic Mature takes out more different Hollywood stars than any six other guys, there's no way to trace the identity of this one. So I'll tell you about her. She was in a pretty bad way. A certain producer had the Indian sign on her, and he was making life miserable. He was beauing her around but at the same time beating her down. Everything she did was wrong. Everything she said was silly. She didn't know anything; every idea she had smelled. And so on. That kind of a guy. The girl, a swell one with talent galore, began to think maybe she was a moron, a double dope, and shouldn't be without a nurse.
Her self-confidence was being destroyed, and psychically she was mixed up like a chef's salad. To make matters worse, she'd married her kibitzer, and that was a fine pickle indeed! But something prompted her to confide in Vic one day on a set. I can't tell you much more without giving the answer away. But she's divorced now, and her career is something that's being written in big, blazing lights. Mature talked her back to confidence and courage to shake herself loose, and from then on she was a cinch.
I don't want to paint Vic as a Mr. Fixit or some kind of a Father Confessor in slacks. But that helpfulness, is a trait you never hear about (he won't let you if he can help it). And another thing that may surprise you about Mature is this: Although you've read time and time again what a cagey operator he is, how shrewd and smart where the greenbacks are involved (and it's all true), still Vic himself has absolutely no private regard for the stuff.
Right now Vic is spending far more supporting his separated wife, Martha, and her baby girl, Helen, than he spends maintaining himself. All Martha's bills come to him, and sometimes they total around $900 a month. Vic doesn't resent this although there is no legal divorce settlement or anything to compel him to stand it. Helen, of course, isn't Vic's child, but the late Hal Kemp's. He's none the less crazy about her. He gives her parties, takes her on shopping sprees and has her over to his place as many times a week as Martha will let her come, to romp around the place and play. Once Vic bought Helen four new coats in one day. He's taught her all the songs in his pictures and calls her several times a day to hear her pipe them over the 'phone. Vic would spend his last cent on "Mrs. Townsend" as he calls the little angel. She was the baby girl he was taking to church, of course, when my columnist friend almost swooned.
On himself, spending is a different story. Vic still buys old cast-off studio clothes at half price for his personal use. He lives in a far cheaper place than he supplies for his estranged wife. A while back when his father died and left more money than Vic will ever stack up, Vic insisted that all of it be placed at his mother's disposal. Before he died, Mature Senior wanted to will it to Vic. His wife, he felt, wouldn't know how to handle it and might lose it.
"No," vetoed Vic. "Then she'd feel dependent on me, and that wouldn't make her happy. Mother should have it outright. What if she does lose it? I'll make my own, anyway. All that dough might make me lazy."
Vic has a money adage he quotes today: "You'll never get rich on the money you spend." He contradicts it constantly by letting his dollars roll away from him. But--he doesn't actually spend them. He gives most of them away in some form or other. And when you get into the subject of wealth, Vic will very likely tell one of his favorite stories--about the miser who died thinking he could take his wealth with him to Heaven. The day of his funeral, his best friend noticed he had his fists clenched in the coffin. "By Gosh!" he exclaimed. "The old boy is taking it with him! He's got it right in his hands." Slowly he pried open the fists. Inside were a few pennies. All he could take was the money he had given away!
In spite of his what-the-hell press pose, there is a definite religious streak in Victor Mature. He's a devout Catholic, and he's always had a do-unto-others complex that is far from a pose. In Vic's early Hollywood days, when he was just getting by he lived with three other fellows in a house. They shared expenses, of course, but Vic had a further idea. He called it "Group Insurance." All four agreed if any one of them lost his job, the others would kick in enough to give him $50 a week salary. Why? So he could keep his self-respect, self-confidence and go after another spot in the right frame of mind. It only happened once, by the way--but that was for nine months. All that time the unlucky brother got his $50 from the others, kept in find fettle instead of slinking around, and ended up with a swell job, to prove Vic's theory of money morale.
Today anything that Vic has belongs to any of his friends for the asking. Often he's imposed on. Recently, a writer friend of his, out from New York, mentioned he was without a car that day. "Take mine," said Vic, tossing him the keys. The chap not only took it but kept it three days without saying a word to Vic. Vic never protested; he just took cabs.
At the Mature household, Vic never leaves the house of an evening without leaving money for his maid and cook to take in a show or buy some ice cream.
Maybe the oddest thing of all is Victor Mature's will, which he's just recently filed. In it he takes care of people he figures took care of him. He leaves money to his "Gestaffel" as he calls the little cabal of writers and press agents who are his chums--Lieutenant Walter Ramsey, USN, former Fox publicist, Yeoman Jules Seltzer, USN, former Hal Roach publicist, and an editor, Carl Schroeder. Vic also leaves dough to the Press Relief Fund and--for a sly gag--one-tenth of his "good will" to Hedda Hopper (who doesn't like Vic).
Vic doesn't mind taking cracks at people in his league. He's no plaster saint oozing sweetness and light. But I've scouted around quite a bit without finding any instances where he's lorded it over lesser lights. On the contrary, I've heard him crack, "No guy is so big that he can afford to be small to little people"--quite a neat line in itself.
I think one of the nicest episodes I remember about Vic Mature occurred one noon at the Brown Derby. I was at the next booth and I saw it all. I'd always heard Vic was arrogant with women and had no more manners than a mule. I changed my mind right there when a lady about forty years old came up, pen and autograph pad shaking.
"Never done this before," she smiled shyly at Vic, who grinned back. She stuck out the pad and knocked a glass of water all over Vic, the table and his guests. "Oh!" she cried dismally.
"It just ain't homelike," chuckled Vic, "unless I spill a glass of water!" The waiter came scurrying up then just in time to see the lady's pen leak all over the table cloth and Vic's suit.
"An accident?" asked the waiter, ominously. The lady by this time was ready to end it all.
"Yep," said Vic blandly, taking the blame. "This damned pen of mine! I'm always spillin' ink. Just a big, clumsy clown, 'at's me!"
Now that, I think, was pretty nice and I know the lady will always have Vic down in her list of good guys. I could go on for pages like this telling you why he's already down on mine--all of which will make Vic pretty upset, because, like I say, he thinks he's more intriguing limned as a louse. To the world, he'll be vain, dopey, self-centered and puffed up like a pouter pigeon, as long, I suppose, as he lowers those heavy lidded eyes before the cameras and pops off about himself to the press. But don't let him fool you.
I think of a certain director at Twentieth Century-Fox, Walter Lang. When Victor Mature came there right after the leopard skin and body beautiful stuff of "One Million B.C." he brought with him the reputation of being Joe the jerk from Albuquerque, sure enough.
Lang drew the assignment for Vic's first picture, and he wasn't a bit happy about it from what he'd been hearing. He went to the front office. "Look," he decreed, "I'll take that cream puff and treat him right. But the minute he starts acting up on my set, he leaves or I leave--in two minutes flat!"
Well, a week went by and one day Lang burst into the front office again. "Say!" he cried. "How in the hell do these screwy Hollywood rumors start, anyway? Everybody tells me this Vic Mature is a wrong customer from all angles--and I never worked with a sweeter guy! Tell me--am I the one who's crazy?"
Take it from me--it's the rest of the world. But don't ever tell Vic Mature I told you he was a right guy. He wouldn't like it. He's phony that way!
Photo 1-Smiling Vic.
Photo 2-Vic would spend more than he made if he answered half his 3/4 million fan letters. Made final bow to flickers in "Sweet and Hot" but didn't have time to finish before taking to the briny!
Photo 3-When Rita Hayworth made one of her rare public appearances with Vic, banquet tickets were anonymously registered "Fred Huxley." Vic left bracelet for her to remember him by!
Photo 4-After being reclassified from 4F to 1A in April, he was sworn in Coast Guard in July. Turned up at recruiting office at 7 a.m., later in day bombshelled studio with the news!
Photo 5-Now that he's in the service, wife Martha Kemp may not file divorce. She detests Hollywood and has turned down movie offers. Says she'd rather finish her stenographic course!
Photo 6-Typical Mature lunch is grapefruit juice, coffee, Pepsi-Cola and hamburger. A great one for diet fads, he once had a spell of eating meat only--no vegetables or desserts whatever!