From Picture Play Magazine, Vol. V, No. 1, September 1916, p. 83-87.
Gracious! What a question to ask me!
"How did I come to go into the movies? And here I've been in 'em five years!"
The speaker was exactly sixty-one inches, one hundred and ten pounds, many smiles, and a most elusive little dimple of sugarplumness--and her name is Norma Talmadge.
"Why, I just made up my mind one day on the way home from school that I wanted to go into the movies--and I went."
"And some day if that young lady suddenly looks over the top of the paper and says, 'Mother, I've decided to go to Europe--the boat starts in an hour'--she'll start," interjected Mother Talmadge, while every one was settling back in their chairs and preparing to have more or less of a good time--that is, everyone but Norma.
You see, I'd gone to Miss Talmadge's hotel all prepared to ask her no end of interesting questions, such as, "What do you think is the ultimate mission of the movies?"; "Do you think the scope of the motion-picture play has been fully defined as yet?" and suchlike.
Then, as I was preparing myself to wait an hour or two after word had come that Miss Talmadge would be down as soon as she dressed, a perfect vision of fluffiness suddenly stepped out of the elevator and--well, the questions I had in mind just didn't seem quite the proper ones to ask, after all.
Out at the Fine Arts studio in Hollywood, where Miss Talmadge has been making Triangle pictures for the last year, they call her the Impulse Girl. Half an hour after you have talked with the little lady you are calling her that yourself.
"You see," said the victim of the interview, "I was going to school in Brooklyn in the daytime and to the movies just as many nights as my mother would let me. Then one day I decided to go into the movies myself.
"My, oh, my, but didn't my mother storm!" And Norma puckered her lips up into a contemplative pout, if you know just what kind of a pout that is.
"But you went," I interposed.
"Yes," quickly put in Mrs. Talmadge, "and when she was seventeen she went down to Brighton Beach one day and thought she would like to go in swimming. The fact that she had never even tried to swim a stroke didn't matter. She went--and the strange part of it is, she swam before she came out.
"And when she was eighteen," hurried on her mother, despite the frantic attempts of her daughter to stop her, "she saw a beautiful horse one day and decided she would like to ride horseback. And she did, though she had never been on a horse before in her life."
And in those little home stories of Norma Talmadge you'll get an idea why a noted motion-picture authority, in commenting one day on the work of Miss Talmadge, said: "She possesses the ability to act any part allotted to her with a sincerity that creates the illusion of actuality."
"All the way to the studio on the day mother finally agreed to take me, she kept saying, over and over: 'Well, I'm just doing this to satisfy you. Just wait until you get there--they won't want any one like you.'
"I didn't believe it a bit, though, and, sure enough, the first man we met said, 'Why, yes, I think we can use the little girl.' I remember I poked my mother right in the side so hard she jumped a foot." And Miss Talmadge smiled seraphically, while her mother--well, she smiled, too, but it wasn't that kind of a smile.
"It's extremely personal, I know," I said apologetically, "but do you happen to remember how much you earned for your first work in the movies?" You know, there comes a time in the lives of every one when you dare ask them questions like that. Miss Talmadge has arrived at that time.
"Do I remember? Of course I do! I'll never forget it. My salary was twenty-five dollars a week, and I know I thought it barely possible Mr. Rockefeller might be as rich as I was. But as for being richer--well, that was beyond question."
"Well, let's see," I ventured, in my very best interviewing manner, "I suppose it's proper to inquire as to your matrimonial intentions, isn't it?"
"Decidedly not," quickly came the answer, "that is," she went on, "unless you want to say that I think golf is a dandy game and that every man ought to know how to swim and that I'd rather ride horseback than in a limousine and that there isn't any fun in riding in an automobile, anyway, unless you drive it yourself!"
"In other words," I suggested, trying to translate that somewhat indefinite answer, "you prefer an outdoor man like----"
"Yes, just like I was saying," broke in Miss Talmadge. "I just love people--interesting people especially. I'd rather talk to some one who says interesting things than do 'most anything else in the world. But did you ever notice," she continued, "people you are perfectly sure could be just as interesting as anything in the world, if they only wanted to be, usually never say a word when you are talking to them?"
"Of course, said I. "I suppose, even though you haven't come to any definite conclusion about individual members of my--ahem!--interesting sex, you really have a decided preference for some of the pictures in which you have appeared, haven't you?"
"Well, now, I think--let's see--I believe--oh, pshaw! I like them all.
"I remember one I appeared in--it was my first big part--that was called 'Jane of the Chorus.' I played the part of a chorus girl."
"Yes, and that's the only time I can remember when Norma decided to do anything that she didn't do it," spoke up her mother. "As soon as she finished her work in that picture she came home and announced she was going to be a chorus girl."
"And why didn't you?" I asked, for by this time I had become quite convinced that Miss Norma was decidedly not a person to cross in anything.
"Oh, I started work right away on a picture in which I played a schoolteacher, and I kind of thought I'd like to teach school," she admitted naively.
Her mother laughed. "And that," she broke in, "would have been a real joke on her poor, suffering teachers who used to send her home with notes that told me how, try as they would, they couldn't make Norma study."
"Well, surely she must have been studying quite a bit when her teachers weren't looking," I objected, for only a moment before she had left me quite hopelessly behind as she started quoting a bit of Browning.
"Course I did--and do!" said the young lady, smiling her approval at my defense of her learning. "I've always studied--and from just the finest text books any one could ever have--people and the world at large."
And then, while I was trying to make up my mind to ask Miss Talmadge whether she was superstitious or believed in fairies or liked chocolates or fudge the best, a boy came hurrying over to tell her she was wanted on the telephone. A moment later, she was back, and it was quite easy to tell from the pleased look on her face that some one had come to her aid and rescued her from the necessity of deciding any such important matters.
But just before she said good-by, she did add a little bit of unsolicited information about which I probably never would have thought to ask her at all.
"If you really want to know," she said, "I'm extremely fond of the movies and golf and swimming and horseback riding and--oh, lots of things, but right this minute I'm going to try on some new dresses I've been waiting a week to get. And you can say, if you want to, that for the next two hours I wouldn't go riding or swimming or golfing or--there aren't any directors around here, are there?--or working for anything in the world.
"Oh, yes," she added, "and I like pink dresses better than any other kind."
"It may be blue tomorrow," laughed her mother.
Many thanks to William M. Drew for supplying this article
Last revised, June 28, 2002