Mrs. Paul Forester, Martha's mother, served as spokeswoman to explain to the annoyed fourth estate and fans just why the celebrated couple did not show up at the appointed place: "The mistake started when they went to the Municipal Building for the license last Wednesday. The man asked them to fill in the space as to the wedding date, and they said they didn't know.... He insisted on an approximate date and told them it was just routine, and they said, 'Oh, well, put down the fifteenth.' Then he asked them where, and they didn't know, but they said St. Patrick's because Mr. Mature goes there."
The nuptials did occur three days later at Martha's home at 957 Park Avenue. Justice Ferdinand Pecora of the New York State Supreme Court performed the ceremony. Sherman Billingsley of the Stork Club was the best man, with Mrs. Leonard Lyons as matron of honor. The other guests included Martha's parents, banker Spencer Martin, Leonard Lyons, and Victor's chauffeur, Dan S. Wordsman. For the record--and this was Victor's proudest moment in society--the actor wore a light gray suit with a white pencil stripe and a white carnation in his lapel, and the bride wore a white silk dress with black scroll print, a chartreuse and black belt, and a white rose at the belt. Victor announced that the civil ceremony would be solemnized at the Church of St. Paul in Louisville, Kentucky, at the end of June. Victor was then twenty-six, his bride was twenty-two.
On June 15, 1941, at the start of a summer break, Mature left the cast of Lady in the Dark (his successor was Willard Parker when the show resumed on Labor Day, 1941) and returned to Hollywood alone. It was stated publicly that Martha was remaining in New York to care for her one-year-old child Helen (from her marriage to Kemp) and to take care of a bad wisdom tooth. Martha joined him later in California, but did not remain for long. Rumors of a rift were persistent, and Victor finally stated, "Mrs. Mature finds me revolting. I'm a peasant, an earthy type. Mrs. Mature is a very lovely, sophisticated lady. She probably doesn't understand my kind of person. It makes me sort of confused."
Never shy about boosting his own stock (which would earn him the enmity of gossip columnists Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and others) Victor took occasion now to rationalize the continuing campaign to make him the cinema's Mr. Irresistible: "I know that glamour stuff makes me look like a drip. But what did it do for me? I'll tell you, don't guess, it made me the hottest thing in pictures.... It made me somebody. Supposing nobody had paid any attention to me, hadn't written or said a thing about me? Where would I be now? Back in a tent perhaps, living on fifty cents a day.... I'd rather be where I am today, and be regarded as a jerk, than to have been ignored."
Hollywood producers did anything but ignore the availability of Victor for film work. His first post-Broadway feature film was on loan to veteran producer Arnold Pressburger for the screen adaptation of the 1926 play by John Colton, The Shanghai Gesture (United Artists, 1941). Because the drama had been set in a Chinese brothel with its study of vice versus virtue, no less than thirty-two previous script adaptations of The Shanghai Gesture had been rejected as morally unsuitable by the motion picture production code office. It was Pressburger who goaded his old friend von Sternberg into working with three other scripters' versions to create a scenario that would pass muster with the Hays office. By switching the story's locale to a gambling house and changing the exotic Mother Goddam into the more Hollywood-type Mother Gin Sling, von Sternberg made the script into a viable commercial property.
The casting of The Shanghai Gesture, considering von Sternberg had already "licked" the scripting problem, was an oddball assortment of choices, part fancy, part shrewdness, and part nostalgia. Ona Munson was transformed into a "Chinese Dietrich" to play Mother Gin Sling; Gene Tierney was assigned to play the alluring, destructive Poppy; Walter Huston played her staid father who was once the consort of the Medusa-tainted Munson; von Sternberg's pal Albert Basserman was hired to interpret the aging commissioner; and the equally well-known veteran Maria Ouspenskaya was on hand for a cameo as the non-speaking Amah. And for the role of the "Levantine sensualist," Victor was cast as Dr. Omar. (In the original play the role had been the Japanese Prince Oshima. The Hays Office's rules on miscegenation required the character change.)