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Photoplay, September 1926, p. 62-63+

What Happened to Pauline Frederick?

Why did this popular star at the very height of her success slip into screen oblivion? A great character sketch of a great actress,

by Adela Rogers St. Johns.

[P. 62 has a full page photo of Frederick's profile. Caption: Bad luck and bad pictures nearly extinguished Pauline Frederick's picture career. She's back now, ready to begin again with all her fine enthusiasm and her artistic sincerity. On the opposite page, Adela Rogers St. Johns, who knows Hollywood as no one else, tells you the story back of Miss Frederick's return to the screen.]

[Omitted, photo of Frederick drinking absinthe and playing cards in Madame X. Caption: Pauline Frederick in her most famous film role, "Madame X." "There are too many angles to the motion picture business for a lone woman to combat," says Miss Frederick. "The smallest things turn your whole course one way or the other."]

Just a few years ago, Pauline Frederick was one of the really great and beloved stars of the screen.

Her fame was not founded upon mere beauty, nor upon a dazzling personality, though she had both.

Public and critics considered her one of the finest actresses the silversheet had ever known, many considered her the finest. And with reason. Some of the pictures Pauline Frederick made, directed by Robert Vignola, have never been topped by anybody.

From tremendous popularity and acclaim on the stage, she brought with her into pictures a breadth of training, a poised and distinguished manner, a warm love of acting, that no one else has ever given us.

Then, suddenly, at the very height of her success, in the very prime of her beauty and genius, she slipped into a series of unworthy and inadequate pictures and has practically disappeared from the screen.

The fans still clamor for her. In no way do they forget her. When such a great performance as she gave in that fine picture, "Smouldering Fires," reminds them of her anew, they pour in letters of demand upon us.

When I wrote a story calling Norma Talmadge the screen's one great actress among the stars, I didn't not consider Pauline Frederick as being any longer a motion picture star. Ninety-nine per cent of the letters I received disagreeing with me, did so in the name of Pauline Frederick.

What happened to Pauline Frederick?

So many people asked me that question that I decided to go and ask Pauline herself. You can always ask Pauline anything. She is a straight-shooter. And she is too big a woman for any petty vanities. You don't have to fret and worry about what you say for fear it might be wrong and hurt her feelings.

Oh, the charm of that woman, off-screen!

I forget about it, not seeing her for months and maybe years, and it captures me all over again. She is so real. She is so natural. No posing, no affectation, no languid boredom about her. She sparkles with life. She glows with enthusiasm. Her voice is rich, vibrant, entrancing. And she has the nicest handshake of any woman I have ever known--strong, firm, cordial, sweet.

Let me say right at the very beginning that I have never seen her look so lovely. Her eyes were as blue as her sweater, and that was as blue as the sea. And the contrast of her hair, which would have been black but for red threads and the bronze sheen through it, seemed more striking than ever. Her short white skirt and her pleated sandals and her summer tan, result of hours in the saddle, gave her a slim and boyish look according to the present fashion for women.

We sat in a long, lovely sun-porch, and when I told her what I had come to ask her, and why, she looked at me a long, long time in silence, and her eyes filled up with tears.

"It goes right up to the old heart, that does," she said.

And she sat thinking. Then she threw out her hands, palms up.

"I don't know how it all happened," she said. "Life is like that. The smallest things turn your whole course one way or the other. Did you ever look at the switches on a railroad track? Only have to turn them half and inch, and they swing a great, big train in another direction entirely. That's the way little things change your life and its purpose. Especially with a woman like me. We act on feeling, on impulse, on emotion. A human contact, a mood, having to wait for something--those are the little switches that turn the lives of women. That's why women in my profession are often not good at business. I haven't been a good business women.

"Of course, if you have a really great mission, a tremendous purpose, you can't be turned from it. But I never felt like that about motion pictures."

There we came to the first real reason for Pauline Frederick's desertion.

Her deep, passionate, vital love for the stage. I don't think she herself has realized sometimes how powerful a force that is.

"You do love the stage best?" I asked her, and she admitted it.

"Oh, yes," she said, "I love the stage much the best. You see, it was my first love, and a woman always has a secret tenderness for her first love, doesn't she? I like acting on the stage better than before the camera. I learned to act on the stage, under stage conditions, with my voice as a great asset and with the audience and the footlights. Yes, I must admit I like it best. But--there's another thing about the difference between stage and screen acting, another more powerful thing even than my love of the stage."

And that brought us squarely to the second thing. Pauline Frederick's unconquerable idealism about her work. Her artistic conscience is still intact, after much battering. Her unshakable determination to do only what is worthy, to give only her best, has kept her an idealist in a commercial age and profession. Some people call that being a darn fool. Others call it being a great artist.

Pauline Frederick has had bad luck. She has had some terribly unfortunate breaks in her picture experience. That comes, as she says, from not being a good business woman. And, in consequence, she is afraid of motion pictures. Her disappointments have hurt her.

"It isn't that they don't make great motion pictures," she said, sitting on the very edge of her chair, and leaning over to convince me. "They do. But--mostly, they are by chance.

"Just let me tell you what happened to me the other night. I made a picture not long ago--I won't tell you its name. That wouldn't be fair. I made it because I loved the story. It had tremendous dramatic possibilities. It was sound, honest, big. The woman was a fine woman, a big part. I loved her, I understood her.

"I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life. I always work too hard. I tried to save myself, but I couldn't I don't mind telling you that I gave my very heart and soul to that picture. I used to crawl home at night, crawl into bed, sleep like a child.

"The other night, I saw that picture.

"And I came home and cried for three hours, and then I went down the net morning and signed a long-term contract to go back on the stage.

"That's the difference between pictures and the stage, for a star.

"On the stage, you know what you're doing. You read the play. Any changes made at rehearsal are made in your presence, you sit in on them, talk them over. The opening night, you know just what the public will see--at least, you can give them your best.

In pictures, it's entirely different. You do your work as well as you know how, and then it leaves your hands. When you see it again--of course, I may be all wrong. Perhaps the people who change it all around know better than I--about pictures. But they don't know better than I about Pauline Frederick. For instance, when you've played a scene from a careful beginning, when you've worked it up through the middle part and built to what you believe is a climax, then to go and find the beginning and end cut off, rather hurts your feelings. Or to find the character of a society woman you were playing changed by titles to an adventuress from the Canadian wilds makes your characterization a bit of a disappointment to you."

She gave me a gallant grin, without bitterness, without malice.

What I'm trying to say is that there are too many angles to the motion picture business for a lone woman to combat. If I'd been a better picker, had a husband who was a big producer or a fine director, or even a good, sound business man, who could look after my stories, my casts, my releases--I should feel safe.

"When I left Goldwyn, some years ago, I ran into bad luck. I was influenced to do the wrong thing. I didn't see what it would lead to, didn't understand. But I found myself with no one to advise me, no one to give me the surrounding support that I needed. I am an actress--I'm not a director, not a story writer, not a salesman. And--well, I just didn't do the right thing.

"And ever since I've never found the right stories in the companies where they wanted me to work and I haven't found any companies that wanted to make the stories I wanted to do. So I've been back on the stage, a year in Australia, abroad, in San Francisco and Los Angeles."

I asked her if her marriages--there have been four, including the last two of Willard Mack and her cousin, a fashionable physician--had anything to do with her career.

"No," she said, pensively, her eyes on the garden outside, wide, wistful blue eyes touched by the faintest smile. "No, I've weathered them all--but I am a bad picker, as I told you. But there is no use crying over spilt milk. More than anything else on earth, I wanted a happy marriage. I believe terribly in marriage. For a woman with a career, it is even more necessary than for the woman without one.

"But--marriage is just part of the melting pot of life. If you don't get from it the happiness you have hoped for, longed for, you can at least gain from it deeper understanding of the human heart; more pity for human weaknesses, an education about men.

"I know its hard for a man to understand a woman's career. Women can give up everything for the work of the man they have, but naturally, you can't expect that from a man. I wanted a--a working partnership, but I never got it.

"I thing I should have been willing to give up my career for the right man, but he never came along."

Her big blue eyes came back to me, and she must have seen disbelief on my face, for she said, "Does that surprise you?" I said it did.

"I suppose so," she said, musingly. "But it's true. I would rather had had children than anything else in the world. People sometimes say to me that they wonder how I can play mothers as I do, when I've never had any children. But--that's the very reason. All that's bottled up inside of me, comes out.

"I've got a cousin, about my age, with three little kiddies. She's mad about the theater. I'd change places with her to-morrow, and then let her see what it would be like. She'd soon find out the hollowness of fame, the hard work of success. What is there in it, really all this fame, we strive so for?

"That's why it touched me so when you told me that the fans really wanted to see me back on the screen, why I was so thrilled over the great welcome I had in Australia. That love is the only thing about success that's worth while. And that's why, if I can't make the kind of pictures they want--things like Bob Vignola and I made in the old days, Madame X, and her equals, I'd rather make nothing. I won't disappoint them. I can't seem now to make the pictures I want to, and I won't make anything less."

She was defiant. She was sweet. Her eyes were all wet again, and her hands were clenched in her lap.

So now you know what happened to Pauline Frederick--her love for the stage, a lot of bad breaks, and her own idealism.

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