How To Take Criticism?—Terry Moore
The editors of MODERN SCREEN have nominated me a likely authority on criticism and how to take it.
Thank you. I think.
Well, it’s true that I have had a little more practice in this particular field than a lot of people I could name. Certainly there have been more times than one when I have felt that the world was not a hundred per cent behind Terry Moore.
But on the whole, I think I have benefited more than I have suffered from the barbs—and I am not talking in the sense of publicity. I’ll get to that. I believe I have benefited by evaluating constructive criticism and turning it to my own uses. I believe that—by a somewhat painful process, I grant you—I have learned to accept criticism and even antagonism. with some grace.
I have a friend who collects quotations the way some people collect stamps, and he has lent me a couple of them for this occasion.
He says that Ernest Hemingway has defined courage as “grace under pressure.” I like that. I don’t say I’m a brave woman yet, but I’m trying to learn to be one.
And it was Oscar Wilde, this friend says, who once remarked: “Experience is the name men give to their mistakes.” It seems to me Mr. Wilde was being more clever than sound. This would be true only of a person who never learned a thing from being wrong. The value of criticism lies in what your critic might be able to teach you, doesn’t it? And if you do learn from it, then that is experience. I didn’t come here to tangle with Oscar Wilde, but sometimes a girl has to speak her mind.
And sometimes not.
I personally find it hardest to keep silent when the charge is made that I’m publicity mad. Perhaps I should let it pass. My advisors usually tell me: “Don’t get into a hassle, dear. It’ll just make it worse.” But I get into a hassle anyway, because if you do not reply sooner or later to criticism that is merely destructive or plain untrue, then there comes a point where you can’t live with yourself.
I’m told that someone once said of me that I sought publicity with all the ardor of a salmon fighting its way upstream to spawn. Even if this were true, which it is not, the simile is wrong. The salmon knows perfectly well it’s going to lay an egg. I always have hopes to the contrary.
Here’s an example. I came my latest cropper at Las Vegas—latest at the time of writing, that is. It was over a gown I wore in the finale of my act there. It was considered overdaring.
I was in Vegas on account of criticism anyway. Friendly and good-natured, but it was a challenge. Eddie Fisher told me I had the worst singing voice he’d ever heard. So naturally I had to get together an act and sing. Show Eddie Fisher, who—if my dear friend Debbie Reynolds doesn’t mind—is my idol among singers.
Now the gown bit went like this: in the act, I was to go through three phases. First I was costumed and made up as a very young girl, no more than high school age. In the middle part, I was post-debutante size, and in the finale ultra sophisticated, something like Lana Turner. For that, naturally, we’d ordered a sophisticated dress—but not an ultra daring one. You’ll see.
Here is what the papers didn’t bother to report:
The gown arrived no mere than an hour before show time, so there couldn’t have been a change even if we’d thought it desirable. But why should it have been desirable? The gown wasn’t transparent above the waist, as written. It had a flesh-tone foundation. (I think Miss Dietrich’s did, too. Didn’t she say something about a camera being able to see through anything? And how right she is if she did!)
I tried it on for the kids in the company and they loved it. So I wore it in the last number with no forebodings at all.
Then the roof fell in. It seems to me I’m climbing out of the debris of some roof or other every time I look around.
The newspapers wrote what wasn’t true—and never let anyone tell you a camera can’t lie because a camera can, often does.
Newspapermen later admitted to me that the pictures of me and the gown had been retouched for a shocking effect.
But the damage was done. Everybody got into the act. The affair of the ermine bathing suit was resurrected and Terry Moore was back in the soup.
I made my big mistake then and there. I turned chicken and put away the gown. Opening night was its first and only appearance. It shouldn’t have been. I should kept right on wearing it. By not doing so, I seemed to plead guilty.
WHEN TERRY DECIDED TO SHOW CITY-BRED RİTA MORENO THE GREAT OUT-OF-DOORS THEY HEADED FOR THE HILLS—AND A DUDE RANCH!
I kept it hanging in the dressing room, though, and friends would drop in and say, “What ever happened to thatgown?”
“That’s it,” I’d say, “hanging over there.”
And the inevitable response: “You mean, this is what all the fuss was about?”
Yet I can hear my advisors now as they look through these words: “Yes, but why bring it up again? Let sleeping dogs lie.”
No. Not so long as they let cameras lie. I won’t. To my mind, that wasn’t criticism, that was wanton damage, and wanton damage is something I must fight back against—or give up and live in a cave.
I suppose there are all kinds of degrees of criticism, and you have to sort them out. I got a rough press stateside—never from the Army—when I wore the ermine bathing suit in Korea, and part of it I could understand. No, not understand—that isn’t quite right. But it struck me that if people thought I had lapsed from taste in wearing it, then they had a right to think so. Wait. My quotation-happy friend may have one that goes with this—and he has. “I do not agree with a word you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.” That was how I felt.
But when they called the suit a Bikini, I cried. Because it wasn’t and I have never worn one of those and never will. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my young lifetime so far and will make a lot more. I expect to be called on the carpet for them and hope to learn from the lecture. But I hope just as hard that I shall never bow to untruth or unjustified abuse.
There’s always such a good chance that your critic, who is looking at you from a comparatively objective viewpoint, may be right.
One writer said that I was always trying to please everybody, and in that way sort of crossed myself up, if I got his idea correctly.
That was true at the time. As a consequence of the piece, it is not so true now. It would be nice to please everybody, yes, but I’m afraid it won’t be practical until we get the forty-eight-hour day.
Not that I’ve broken away from the habit completely, or probably ever will. This eagerness to please goes hand-in-glove with being sensitive to criticism and both are very much a part of me.
For instance, a few months ago I put on a little weight between pictures, and a friend mentioned it to my mother.
“For pity’s sake.” Mother told him. “Don’t tell Terry. She’ll go right out and starve to death.” I imagine she was right.
But that has to do with vanity as well. This other trait, this wanting so badly to see it the other person’s way can have serious consequences.
It’s supposed to be Christian to put yourself in the place of others, and I’m reasonably sure it is, but it’s surprising how thoroughly you can stumble doing it.
I made a well-meant effort to cooperate in a campaign involving some cheesecake poses, brief costumes but cute, and positively nothing offensive.
Therefore, I was startled, to put it mildly, to read a few weeks later that I had a instigated the whole thing, practically announcing my candidacy for Miss Sexy Dish of that or any other year.
Now this sort of fiddlefaddle doesn’t do a girl any good—and it was fiddlefaddle. Not a word of it true, not even the substance of it true. Indeed, my attitude was the opposite. So I hit back as hard as I could. Just made the hassle worse, as they say. I don’t know if it was what you’d call graceful acceptance of criticism. But there we are again. This is criticism? No, this is misrepresentation.
Not combative by nature. When experienced and wise Hollywood commentators like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper take me to task—as they have—I accept what they say and try like fury to take their advice and use it. Miss Parsons, to paraphrase her, wrote that I was pressing too hard in a promotional way, that it had begun to look to her as if I’d do “anything for publicity.” I hadn’t meant to be like that, really, but I could see the point to her censure and I put the brake on the Terry Moore calliope. I think she has forgiven me.
Miss Hopper, during a gadabout period of mine, suggested I begin getting to bed earlier. So I began getting to bed earlier. Miss Hopper is worth listening to.
Indeed, if all counsel had the wisdom of Hedda’s and Louella’s, Terry Moore wouldn’t spend so much time behind the eight-ball. But all counsel doesn’t.
And this you should know about me—I am one of the most avid takers of advice in all Hollywood, where advice is as free and as plentiful as smog. I take good advice when I can. If it isn’t available, I take so-so advice. And when they’re finally out of that, too, I take any old kind.
I’m like the inveterate gambler in the place with the crooked roulette wheel. Told it was dishonest, he replied, “I know, but it’s the only game in town.”
All that may seem a trifle far afield from the subject of criticism and me, but I assure you it is not. It’s all part of the package. The time may eventually come when I will go for a year or even a decade without putting my foot into my mouth or myself into an ermine bathing suit. That’s what I’m working on now.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of anything I have done. I’m not. I might be if I had actually done some of the things I’ve been accused of, but since I didn’t, then the only shame would have to be that of the misinformed writers for themselves. But no girl, emphatically including Terry Moore, likes to be in the middle of a certain type of uproar. No publicity is worth it. I don’t believe for a moment the axiom that any publicity is good publicity, and if it were so, then I’d rather skip publicity altogether. No, what I want to stay clear of from now on is misunderstandings, misinterpretations of my motives. Like most people, I mean awfully well. But my toe seems to stub more easily than the average.
In New York quite a while ago, at a party, someone wanted me to pose with an ape. I was in a bit of a spot at the time, as usual, and I thought it might strike my hooting section as undignified, so I declined. Word got around fast: Terry Moore’s so hoity she won’t even pose with an ape. So I agreed. Word got around fast again: Terry Moore’s so nuts for publicity, she’ll pose with an ape! How do you win? Incidentally, I had plenty of advisors on both sides, but not one to advise me to get up and go home.
Another time, at a Hollywood premiere, I was escorted by an officer from the Korean theatre, a friend of mine. We stopped in the lobby to be photographed, and when the pictures appeared in the papers, my friend was a little in the background. I, of course, didn’t realize it. I’d looked where the photographers asked me to look, as anyone does when having a picture taken. But at ‘east one of the columnists next day couldn’t see it like that. Do you know what I had done? I had upstaged a Korean war hero. It’s no terribly easy to forgive the person who wrote that.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a saint and I don’t claim privileged immunity from attack. In my line of work, it’s foolish to cry every time you’re hurt.
And as I say, criticism can be a good thing, beneficial and constructive.
But where it is not, where it is malicious or disorderly, I guess there are two alternatives: ignore it with grace or fight back. Under no circumstances, I believe, should you let it get you in any other way. I know a few hypersensitive people who get sick, physically sick, when they hear something adverse about themselves. I’m sorry for them. No one likes it. We like to think everyone sees us in our own conceptions of ourselves. But that’s a rarity. A man of great understanding once put the situation in these terms:
“You’re like everyone else,” he told another actor, who had been worrying about his personal popularity. “Some people like you, some people don’t, and the other person who ninety-nine per cent don’t give a hoot one way or another. Now forget it.”
I thought it advice—another rarity—to remember. The actor to whom he spoke had abandoned grace under pressure and was, so to speak, crying on our shoulders.
When I think of grace under pressure today, I think instead of another player, a very famous star who had become involved in a truly sordid scandal. I neither stone nor condone him. That’s not my department. But I do know that two days after the headlines broke—and they were still breaking—he lunched at Romanoff’s with his lawyer. That in itself was a pretty brave thing to do. But his entrance was almost magnificent. He walked to his table easily and jauntily. He wasn’t swaggering; heaven knows, there was nothing to swagger about. But his chin was up and his smile was on and you knew he wasn’t going to flinch, whatever happened. I believe most of us—and remember, he was still presumed innocent in the eyes of American law—wanted to stand up and cheer.
You know, that’s for me. Not a sordid scandal, I mean; on the contrary, perish forever the thought. But that kind of courage—well, Mr. Hemingway must have given his definition some thought.
Mother says it takes a really big person to swallow and digest honest criticism and then use it for nourishment, and that the honest kind frequently is the hardest to take. That’s about it, I guess. some health foods. They may not taste very good going down but they can work small wonders once they’re there. And one more point: making a face while you’re swallowing won’t make them taste any better. Smile instead.
—BY TERRY MOORE
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1954