Crazy Kid Makes Good!
Victoria Shaw looked at the engagement ring on the third anger of her left hand and sighed happily. “Mrs. Smith,” she tried the name. “Victoria Smith . . . Mrs. Roger Smith . . .”
It seemed almost too incredible to believe, this good fortune of hers. She had come to the United States a stranger from halfway around the world. Within a week, she was on her way to movie fame. Within months, she had fallen in love. Now she was to become a bride. And all because of a dream that had nothing to do with motion pictures or marriage.
As a youngster in Sydney, Australia, Victoria used to return home from an afternoon at the movies and play out the whole film in front of the mirror in her bedroom. On one tuch occasion, she turned around and discovered her family standing in the doorway. Numerically speaking they made quite an audience—Mother, Dad, brother Reginald, sisters Marie Louise and Margaret. But the fact that they were laughing was disconcerting. That particular afternoon’s fare had not been a comedy.
Victoria didn’t follow the usual custom, that of holding her head high and announcing that someday she’d show them . . . someday she would be a great actress. She just looked sheepish and silently vowed to keep the bedroom door closed from then on.
She’d never given acting much thought, at least not as a career. Her dream was of a different nature. More than anything else she wanted to go to the United States. “I seem to have been born with the United States in mind,” she says today. “The idea of acting dawned upon me much later.”
The idea was somewhat of a revolutionary one when it did dawn. None of the Shaws had ever considered entering show business. “I seem to be the family black-sheep,” Victoria said soon after her arrival in Hollywood. “Marie Louise is married and has several children. Margaret, who’s eighteen, is a secretary. And Frances, six, is just starting school.
“Sometimes I envy their attitude, Marie Louise’s and Margaret’s,” she went on. “I believe in getting married and having a lot of children.”
It was only last year, in July, that twenty-year-old Victoria packed her bags and flew from Australia to California. And the land of opportunity did not disappoint her. The following week she became a movie star—starring, no less, with Tyrone Power and Kim Novak, in “The Eddy Duchin Story.” She also resolved that for the time being she would be a career girl, the dedicated kind.
So she enrolled in Benno Schneider’s drama class and studied long hours with other dedicated young people, among them one Roger Smith. Roger, too, was a newcomer who had been signed by Columbia Studios. Eventually they were assigned a scene together, the beach scene from “From Here to Eternity.” “We really ought to go out on the beach and practice sometime,” Roger said jokingly.
Victoria laughed. “Then how about Disneyland?” he asked her. Victoria accepted the date.
It was like an evening in Wonderland. They took in all of the rides, but there was still time for conversation. Victoria learned that Roger had once made a living singing and playing the guitar in night clubs. She discovered that he’d spent two years in the Navy in Honolulu and had met James Cagney there. “If you ever come to Hollywood, look me up,” Cagney had said.
“But when I arrived, I couldn’t find him,” Roger told Victoria. “He was in the East.”
Roger had taken a singing job and then had studied at the Warner Brothers’ studio school for a month. Following this, he’d been signed by Columbia and enrolled in the Schneider class. “The greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he smiled down at her.
As the evening progressed, Victoria and Roger realized that something was happening to both of them. “We didn’t talk about it,” says Victoria. “But we both knew that neither of us would ever again date anyone else.”
A short time later, Victoria wrote to her family for permission to become engaged. “I’d been telling them about Roger in my letters,” she says. “And he had been writing to them. So they felt as if they already knew him and were very happy for us. We set May 25 as our official engagement date. It was my twenty-first birthday. We’ll be married in October or November.”
It takes one glance at Victoria’s radiant face for her friends to say that someone should put the Victoria Shaw story into screenplay form. “It would make an awfully happy picture,” says one of her chums.
Yet many overlook the fact that there was an element of risk involved in her flight to the United States, not to mention a great deal of soul-searching. Upon leaving her home last year, Victoria realized that there would be no friends to greet her, to introduce her to the new quite different country. There would be no one she could count on for help should she need it so many miles from Australia. The only person she knew in the States was a near-stranger—someone who had said the familiar, “If you come to the States, call me.”
Victoria had been Australia’s top model still she had no idea as to whether she might have an ounce of talent, Her financial status allowed her exactly there months to make the grade in an industry that often demands years of struggle before success. After carefully weighing the matter, however, she decided to take har chances. “What can I lose?” she asked herself.
Soon she had an answer. For one thing, there was her luggage. It was misplaced in Honolulu. She’d left Australia on a cold, rainy day, wearing a woolen dress. She spent three sweltering days in the same outfit before the suitcases arrived.
Then, too, there was her confidence. It began to slip away as she stepped from the plane at Los Angeles, and gazed out upon the sea of casual Californians. Her first thought was a stricken, “No one looks like anyone at home.”
In Sydney, people dress to the teeth, even to see others off on a trip. In California, there were women in shorts, men dashing around in blue jeans and T-shirts. And the children—most of the little tykes seemed to have their heads shorn, a style which Victoria later learned is called a crewcut. “At the time, I couldn’t have felt more out of place if I’d had a ring through my nose,” she says today.
What else could she lose? As she proceeded into town, she realized her courage was fading fast. The Sydney bank manager had recommended a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. At home, the city was the place where one shopped rather than lived. And here was Los Angeles, such a large city. She was frightened at the thought of taking up residence smack in the middle of it.
Once in her hotel room, Victoria sat looking out the window, down at the hustle and bustle of it all, and listening to the noise. “I was so petrified that I didn’t go out for two days,” she recalls. “I went to the hotel drugstore and restaurant, but I couldn’t bring myself to go out onto the street.”
Finally, she reached for a telephone directory and found the number of Mack Millar, press agent to Bob Hope. She’d met him in Australia when Bing Crosby’s favorite cohort had made personal appearances there.
Victoria had been among the models engaged for the show, and one night before going on she’d happened to run into Millar backstage. He’d been shopping for his family and was shuddering about the high cost of gifts. “Why, you’ve been to the zing places,” Victoria declared as she heard his story. “And you’ve paid too much—quite unnecessarily.”
She’d offered to take Millar to the right places and handle the complicated money exchange. And the following day they’d set out on a tour.
Now, sitting in her hotel room, she smiled as she remembered all of the questions she’d put to the poor man, how she’d quizzed him about Hollywood—“What it was like, how one got on there.”
Millar had patiently answered every query. “And if you ever come over, look me up,” he had added with a grateful smile, from behind his armload of bundles. “Maybe I can return this favor.”
Now Victoria picked up the telephone, frowned and put it down again. Would it seem too presumptuous to call him? She looked at her four walls and sighed. “Well, if the trip turns out to be nothing more than a vacation, this is a cowardly way to spend it,” she told herself and she gave the operator the number.
Millar seemed delighted to hear from her, and promptly invited her to lunch. As the meal progressed, they talked of her chances in motion pictures. “I did a picture once,” she confessed. “When I was sixteen. One of those villain-and-the-girl things. It was a terrible film.”
All the same, Millar suggested that they stop by to see Louis Shurr, Bob Hope’s agent and Operation Stardom was underway. To Victoria, it was confusing to say the least. As press agent Millar introduced her to the agent Shurr, Victoria responded in her crisp accent, “How do you do?”
Shurr said nothing for a moment. Then he exclaimed, “Chiquita!”
“Victoria,” Miss Shaw corrected politely. Anyone could make a mistake.
“Chiquita!” Shurr said again. Victoria took a step toward the door and then froze. “Don’t move,” the man was almost shouting.
She glanced at Millar. Surely this couldn’t be an agency. An asylum, perhaps? But Millar was taking it calmly as Shurr began to roar into the phone, “We’ve found Chiquita!”
The lady from Australia was ready to return there. “I thought there must be some girl around town named Chiquita who’d stolen something . . . or something—” she describes her reaction, still in a bit of a daze.
However, the telephone call was to an executive at Columbia Studios. Victoria met him the following day and he told her that she was to make a screen test. The very next week she was sent to New York to begin her first American film role, portraying Eddy Duchin’s second wife, an English girl named Chiquita.
All this and the States, too. Victoria could hardly believe her good fortune. En route, she watched the countryside go by. Arizona, New Mexico—so different from the Australian plains where the grass often grows six feet high after a rain. She saw cars speeding along wide highways and she wondered what American motorists would do if confronted by a kangaroo. At home, on country roads—even on the main ones—you drove slowly to avoid hitting them. You never knew when a kangaroo might suddenly jump down out of a tree into the path of the car. “And then New York,” she still shakes her head in wonder “Imagine building a city on an island!”
Then, too, she mused upon her arrival, this business of being a visiting movie star wasn’t quite what she’d expected. Somehow, in her mind’s eye, she’d conjured up a picture of a lavish hotel suite, breakfasting in bed in a filmy negligee—a bed, incidentally, with satin sheets. And naturally there would be dozens of roses every day.
As she mused, Victoria sat in a tiny hotel room, writing letters home, getting up now and again to turn the air-conditioning unit closer to zero. And from the warmth of her flannel pajamas she vowed that she would go shopping for a cooler wardrobe the minute she had a spare minute.
Autographs? In New York, she gave them all the time. “Miss Kelly,” they asked. “Will you sign my book?”
“But I’m not Grace Kelly.”
“Aw, who’re you trying to kid?”
She envisioned the comparative privacy of a small movie set. However, Victoria made her debut on the largest set in the world, New York City. She’d known nerve-racking times before, in the course of her work as a model. In Australia, models travel to many towns to appear in parades. And it seemed that every time Victoria climbed aboard a plane something was destined to happen. For instance, there was the crash landing in a farmer’s field. “We sat for hours in a hundred and five degree temperature waiting to be rescued. And I’m afraid we completely ruined the farmer’s crops when we came down,” she can now say matter-of-factly.
Another time, while cruising over the mountains of New Zealand, the plane in which she was riding was struck by lightning and a piece was ripped out of the side. “It seemed we barely managed to stay together long enough to find the airport,” she remembers.
For that matter, she could never forget being assigned to pose in a sundress and having the photographer place a Koala on her shoulder. A Koala is a deceptive little animal—it looks like a miniature panda, but has the claws of a full-grown tiger . or so those claws felt as they dug into Victoria’s skin. “We got the pictures, but I had scars on my shoulders for weeks,” she says.
Still, she’s convinced that nothing could be as nerve-racking as her first day of outdoor shooting on “The Eddy Duchin Story.”
There were thousands of people peering over the tops of the buildings, hanging out of windows, standing behind a section roped off for the action. Victoria and Tyrone Power were to play an extremely emotional scene along the promenade by the East River.
The first try wasn’t so bad, she admits, because she was facing the river instead of the crowd. However, the second time, she found herself face to face with what seemed like a million eyes, and above the roar of the traffic she heard a hundred voices whispering, “Look. There’s Tyrone Power!”
She, too, was conscious of Tyrone. What would this Hollywood veteran think of such an inexperienced newcomer? How could she look at all those faces and go through with the scene? Yet what could she say? The situation was almost impossible for her, but somehow she managed. And when they had finished, Ty put his arm around her shoulder. “You were great,” he said and there was admiration in his voice, not to mention a touch of awe. “I could never have done the scene looking at that mob. As a matter of fact,” he added, “that’s why I turned you around!”
After a while, Victoria learned to take the lights, cameras and action in her stride. Hollywood, too. Except for Hollywood movies and movie stars, that is. Even now that she knows how pictures are made, she goes to the sad ones and weeps buckets. And when she’s seen a science-fiction feature, she’s almost cowardly about heading home.
She reads every fan magazine in print. “I read about everybody,” she says. Not since England’s Jean Simmons arrived on these shores with an autograph book in her hand has there been such a star- fan. “If I could do anything with autographs, I’m sure I’d ask for them,” says Victoria. “Oh, I know I’m not supposed to be impressed. But I was in church last Sunday and Ann Blyth walked in looking so divine at eight in the morning, I could hardly take my eyes off her. And the time 1 went to the movies and saw Julie Adams and Ray Danton in the same row, I’m afraid I nearly fell into their laps from staring.”
At parties, Victoria promises herself that she will not stare at celebrities. “But I forget,” she says.
At the Photoplay Gold Medal Awards Dinner, she stepped into the powder room and was about to apply some lipstick when someone nudged her. “Your lipstick,” said the lady gently. “You have it aimed at your chin.”
Victoria was too busy eyeing Janet Leigh, who was freshening her make-up a few mirrors away, to take proper aim.
“When director George Sidney gave a party at Romanoff’s I hardly knew a soul,” she says. “A studio executive introduced me to most of the people in the room, but I still felt a bit uneasy. And do you know who did the most to put me at ease? Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor! I’d always wondered what they’d be like. They were so charming to me, made me feel as if I really belonged there.”
One of her biggest thrills was meeting Joe DiMaggio in New York. “I didn’t date him,” she says. “We were just in the same crowd. But I’m sure that walking down the street with the Mayor couldn’t have been more exciting than walking down the street with Joe DiMaggio.
“Everyone stopped him to say hello. He didn’t know most of the people. A corner newsboy called to him and Joe went over to talk with him, too. Then we reached a traffic signal and stood waiting for the lights to change. A huge bus came along the driver spotted Joe and went straight through the red light. Brakes went on people were howling and screaming. There was a near riot. What an institution that man is in this country!” she finishes.
But she blushes slightly when she recalls failing to recognize still another American institution. The error was an embarrassing one. Soon after her arrival, she interrupted a conversation to inquire about the subject matter. “Who,” she asked “is Davy Crockett?”
She quickly learned. And if it’s any consolation to Walt Disney, Victoria counts Disneyland among her favorite places. “It’s so exciting to grownups,” she smiles. “Imagine what it would be like to see it as a child!”
Born on May 25, 1935, Victoria spent a great portion of her own childhood on a sheep station. During the war, her family moved there from Sydney. Her father, a captain in the Australian army, is in charge of the army health system throughout the eastern Australian states. “As a result of this,” she says, “we always had an army of tortoises, snakes and guinea pigs around.”
Victoria attended a convent until she was fifteen. Upon graduation, she still hadn’t decided what she wanted to do with her life and, during her first six months away from school, she held a variety of jobs. For a time she was a salesgirl. Next she worked in an insurance office, then in the office of a dry-cleaning establishment.
However, during her schooldays, Victoria had always pleaded with her mother to take her to see the local parades. In Australia, models are comparable to American movie stars, and Victoria worshipped them from afar. And so one day she went in to see a woman who ran a modeling school. “Girls at home all begin modeling when they’re fifteen or sixteen,’’ she says. “Consequently, I enrolled right away.”
The following year, she was voted “Artists’ Model of the Year” and she became the most photographed model in her country. Few realized that the youngster had a business head that would come close to revolutionizing the modeling business. “The pay is nothing like that in America,” Victoria explains. “And there was no scale. Newcomers were getting as much as more experienced girls. So eventually I simply upped my fees. It started a commotion, because then came the ‘I’m as good as she is’ reaction, and everyone else began to raise their fees, too.”
Victoria’s appearance is also deceiving. Small, delicate, with the lady-like air of Grace Kelly, she looks as if she has never done anything more energetic than balance a teacup. Then, before you know it, she launches into a tale about the time she hunted kangaroos. “They’re so plentiful you don’t have to have a license,” she says, “And when I made my one picture over there, we’d take rifles and go out on the plains at night.
“Kangaroos roam in herds and you have to hit them from quite a ways off. You never go in close to shoot them as they fight to defend themselves.
“You have to hit them at the base of the spine or through the temple to kill them,” she continues. “It’s after they’re down that you have to make certain they’re dead so they won’t suffer. It can be dangerous because if they’re only slightly wounded they can crush you with their front paws. They grow to seven feet tall, you know.
Victoria also speaks glowingly of deep- sea diving and spear fishing, interests she shares with her fiance. “The girl is fearless,” says Roger.
“Except when I’m standing beside a kitchen stove,” says Victoria. “Then I’m terrified.”
Before her engagement, Victoria claimed that even water was lumpy when she removed it from the burner. “I’m improving,” she says. “I do manage breakfast, but it’s still fairly terrible! I hope by the time we’re married I’ll be able to cook sufficiently to keep Roger alive.”
Roger offers encouragement by dropping in for dinner and beaming at the meals she prepares—in addition to eating them “He’s the one who’s fearless,” she grins.
Victoria much prefers cleaning and ironing to cooking. At present, her housekeeping is relatively simple since home is a small, one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. Also a part of her life these days is a monkey!
Victoria’s heart goes out to anyone who is lonely—even monkeys. She was visiting a pet shop one day with some friends and noticed this forlorn little fellow sitting in his cage. She learned that a previous owner had left him there, and j she felt there was nothing to do but take him home. “He’s just like a baby,” she says. “It’s like having a child in the house.”
However, Victoria fears for her guests. “I have to warn them not to pick him up He bites. But if you sit down, in a few minutes he’ll be on your lap. I suppose he prefers to select his own friends.”
Victoria is looking forward to marrying “and having a lot of children. I hope I’ll be able to do one picture a year and spend the rest of the time attending to my home. And,” she adds, grinning at Roger, “I believe in the man being the boss, which most people seem to forget over here.”
After their marriage, Victoria and Roger will move into the home they are now building in Tarzana. And although her studio has great plans for her, “Home will come first,” beams the star-struck, love-struck future Mrs. Smith of the U.S.A.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1956