A TWO-YEARS-AGO anecdote on Phil Terry illustrates perfectly the type of guy he is.
The publicity office at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had sent out the usual biography form to this player who’d died with terrific impact in “Bataan.”
The form came back, duly filled out, and in the space reserved for an answer to the question, “Married to . . . ?” the deponent had entered the simple item of information, “Mrs. Phillip Terry.”
This was Mr. Terry’s pointed way of saying that he didn’t care to be known as Joan Crawford’s husband. that he stood on his own two feet (one of which used to kick footballs record distances at Stanford University) and that he was an actor first and foremost, and that marriage to him, and to whom, was a strictly private affair.
Phil and Joan have been blissfully married for two and a half years now, after a whirlwind courtship on Phil’s part.
On the town stag one Sunday night, Terry encountered Harry Mines, the drama critic. Mines was on his way to visit a friend and suggested Terry go along. Meeting the friend for the first time, Terry tactlessly spent the evening sitting between her and Mines on a davenport, answering all the questions.
In time, he asked for her telephone number. When she, remembering her Emily Post, showed reluctance, he went to the telephone and copied it off the dial. For this display of resourcefulness he was rewarded with a date the first time he put the treasure to practical use. He had to wait a week to work the appointment into her busy schedule, but once he got a toe in the door, he did all right. The friend, of course, was Miss Crawford.
Six weeks later they were married. At the time they said it was six months of acquaintanceship but now the romantic truth can be told. Joan has changed since her marriage. She is much quieter, less intense and the hidden sweetness and unselfishness of her turbulent nature are pow to the fore. This is Phil’s influence on her. Her influence on him is much less marked. He is, as always, very much his quiet, self-possessed self.
Personally, Phil Terry falls into the limited Hollywood category of completely adult, thoroughly nice citizens. Today at the hands of RKO his long retarded career is hitting the high he has never personally doubted it would achieve. This is not conceit on Phil’s part. It is simply intelligent self-belief and self-knowledge based on shrewd planning and careful training.
RKO, however, was so pleasantly startled at his ability as a light comedian in “Music In Manhattan” that they rushed “Pan Americana” into work six months ahead of schedule so that they could strike the Terry box office while it was hot. And his former studio, Paramount, has borrowed him back to play the important part of Ray Milland’s brother in “The Lost Weekend.”
He was born Fred Kormann. His father was an oil operator of considerable substance, but Fred (hereafter Phil), believing a man needed strong biceps to spend money properly, started working as a water boy in the oil fields when he was fifteen, later graduating to roustabout, rig builder and tool dresser, among other things.
He spent much of his time in the Oklahoma and Texas fields, principally around Oklahoma City and Burkburnett. Anyone who’s visited that hardy country knows that a talent for embroidery work and badminton doesn’t get a man very far there. Burkburnett was named for an uncle of his, but this afforded him no special standing. He had to slug out his job along with the rest of the husky gentry.
All of which gave Phil a stalwart background and resulted in his growing into a man of six feet, one inch, covered by one hundred and seventy-five pounds of well-muscled flesh. He doesn’t look more than five, ten, however, just as he doesn’t look more than twenty-seven years old, although indisputable records show he was born in 1909 and is thus thirty-six.
Phil’s oil field employment was confined to the summer months, thus leaving his winters to attend school, first in New York and then San Francisco.
At Leland Stanford, Phil learned that when the great Pop Warner, then the Palo Alto coach, caught a back weighing less than 200 pounds, he threw him back. When Warner looked Phil over and asked him how much he weighed, Phil said, hopefully, “I only weigh a hundred and sixty, but I’m awfully disagreeable.”
Warner liked his gall and also the way he could kick a football. He got in a few games as a kicking specialist and might have gone places with the pigskin if he hadn’t fractured a kneecap in an oil field accident and developed a stiff leg.
By the time his college days were over he had decided to make the theater a career. He was pondering the problem of how to crash show business when a friend advised him to go to England to acquire an English accent. Kormann, pere, being amenable to any career his son chose, arranged the finances for a fling at London. once there, after duly broadening his “A’s” and jettisoning his “R’s,” he found a practically unlimited supply of English accents trying to crash the London stage, a discovery which prompted him to turn his face homeward.
The Kormanns were living quietly in Glendale, a highly moral neighborhood of Hollywood. The cinema capital, however, Seemed strangely unimpressed by Phil’s synthetic accent. It wasn’t until he put away the clipped speech and returned to solid American diction that he got a chance to act, which wasn’t in pictures, but radio. Soon he came to the attention of an M-G-M talent scout who signed him to a minor contract.
This was back in 1937 and he felt that he was definitely on his way. However, his first try at Metro simmered down into his playing the foil in other people’s screen tests. Phil wanted to prove that he was, or wasn’t, an actor, and found himself proving, instead, that other people were, or weren’t actors. He managed to stick at Metro for two years, and in all that time, just to show how his luck was running, he didn’t even set eyes on Joan Crawford, even though he actually played a bit in “Mannequin” which co-starred Joan and Spencer Tracy.
There was a scene in “Mannequin” where Joan, as a downtrodden tenement girl, ran up the stairs to her dreary flat and en route heard voices quarreling behind all the other flat doors.
Like most “sound” scenes in movies, Joan’s running upstairs was shot silently and separately. Later the voices in the flats were dubbed in.
“I was one of those voices,” comments Phil.
“Oh, darling, if I’d only heard your voice then,” sighs Joan, and they look at one another like Evangeline and Gabriel just missing one another in the Arcadian wilderness.
Phil finally asked to be released from M-G-M and shortly thereafter Paramount cast him in the title role of “The Parson Of Panamint.” After a great build-up, “Panamint” got stuck in a dark corner of a film vault somewhere and vegetated for several months. When finally it was shown it became merely a program picture.
AGAIN he asked for his release, but was cast in “Wake Island” as an alternative. once more luck ran against him; the spectacular showing of William Bendix as Smacksie moved the cutting room to trim out just about everybody except Bendix. Brian Donlevy and Robert Preston. Phil was the sole owner of an oversized blue funk when he saw what had happened. But luck was with him again. M-G-M was casting for “Bataan,” an all-male picture, or as near to an all-male picture as can be made in Hollywood, and the best in he-man talent was lined up for the cast, including Walter Brennan, Lloyd Nolan and Charles Laughton to bolster Robert Taylor.
While looking over an uncut version of “Wake Island” an M-G-M casting executive saw Phil’s work and decided that he was right for “Bataan.” He was sent for and after a test, was spotted in the role of Gilbert Hardy. This was before he met Joan.
With this circumstance, Phil is particularly pleased. To those who hint that he became a Metro contract player with a big campaign being cooked up to promote him to stardom because of his marriage to one of the old lion’s great stars, he cites the record. As a matter of fact, he hints that if he hadn’t already been pretty well established when he met Joan, he wouldn’t have had the gall to propose to her.
Phil Terry has an abiding faith in the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc.) and his interests are notably sane. He’s a good tennis player, a fine horseman and a near Champion swimmer. He plays indifferent week-end golf, but his favorite recreation is staying at home with Joan, five-year-old Christina and very handsome two-year-old Phillip Terry Jr. and the myriad friends who drop in, informally, to enjoy the famous Terry-Crawford hospitality.
He has a hobby which he shares with many famous men. He is an electric train bug. The Terrys are contemplating an addition to their home to make room for his trains, when priorities are lifted.
He attends the movies at least twice weekly. He is frankly pleased with his way of life and states, without equivocation, that if he weren’t in pictures, he’d try to get into them. He likes Hollywood and its people; in fact, he can’t recall, offhand, ever having met anybody he disliked, personally, although admitting a definite lack of admiration for certain actors who shall be nameless here.
He usually is deeply tanned and his hazel eyes seem darker than they prove to be at close inspection. He has to wear glasses continually off screen, it being this extreme near-sightedness that keeps him out of service. His face is on the round side and his chin is strong, even though it has a noticeable cleft. He also has dimples, but refuses to be dismayed by them, having no inclination to question the whims of nature. He plays no musical instrument, nor does he sing, although he will try out his adequate baritone in an informal quartet if given the proper amount and vintage of encouragement.
He does have a favorite singer, however. Her name is Joan Crawford who, incidentally, never calls him “Phil” as everyone else does. To her, he is either “Darling” or “Phillip” and she makes a ceremony of always kissing him and calling him both these names together when they have their nightly before-dinner cocktail. Incidentally, Joan had never tasted any kind of cocktail until she married Phil, though she would sip an occasional glass of champagne. But the guy is a terrific bartender, his masterpiece being a secret Terry-recipe daiquiri. You get two of these before dinner at the Terrys, no more, no less. People with violent thirsts are not long numbered among their friends. But it is typical of Phil’s individualism that with Joan and all guests raving over his daiquiris, he will, upon serving them, fix himself a gin and tonic.
He loves his children, but is a strict disciplinarian, he having been brought up that way. Young Phillip is still at the stage where he beams impartially on all comers, but Christina makes no attempt to disguise her wild crush on her adopted father. She flirts outrageously with him at all times, and Phil, of course, is delighted.
He says that as a child his greatest ambition was to be a fireman. That desire fled, he says, when he passed a firehouse one day and caught sight of one of his smoke-eating heroes mending his own pantaloons.
He doesn’t want to play Hamlet, is a quiet dresser, preferring blues and browns, and doesn’t own an overcoat with a check more than one and a half inches square. He states flatly he never was even remotely in love until he met Joan Crawford, and he adds just as flatly he will always remain in love with her.
He takes no casual attitude toward safeguarding his marriage. For instance, on the “Luncheon At RKO” radio broadcast, the master of ceremonies one noon said glibly, “And over there we see Phillip Terry lunching with Anne Shirley.” This was at the time when Anne and Phil were engaged in making “Pan Americana” together and it was regarded as a good publicity plug for the picture as well as for the two stars.
Most actors would have taken it that way, but not Phil. He wasn’t lunching with Anne Shirley and he not only didn’t want Joan to think that he would be, but he didn’t want the public to think so either. He likes Anne very much, but his marriage code is proudly old-fashioned. He feels married men, actors or otherwise, should no more lunch than dine with any woman, save their wives. So, he demanded a retraction, on the air, on the same broadcast, and to the same length as the original statement.
The studio officials told him that this was silly and unnecessary, but Phil refused to yield.
He got the retraction.
In the wolf-haunted atmosphere of Hollywood, we think it’s nice to know there are guys like this. So does Mrs. Phillip Terry.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1945