The Strange Case Of Dorothy Malone
If you’re looking for a thriller-chiller whodunit, don’t read this. It isn’t that kind of a case.
It isn’t a murder, a rootin’ tootin’ robbery, a blood-curdling crime story, a heart-wrenching kidnaping, or a confidence exposé. None of the conventional type mysteries. It is the mystery of a woman. A woman in the public eye: a woman in demand; a woman known to millions, but a woman only a handful of people know.
It is the strange case of Dorothy Malone.
It was early evening. A Sunday evening. An L.A. newspaperman—let’s just call him Steve Matthews—cruised his beat, looking for stories. He was bored by the inactivity of Sunday night—a night known to the news industry for being dead. People were home watching movies on TV or reading to their kids or popping corn.
Earlier that day the reporter had heard the news that Dorothy Malone had been picked for the coveted role of Diana Barrymore in “Too Much, Too Soon.” The news had interested him because he was an admirer of Dorothy’s from way back, and had followed her strange career for seven or eight years.
He stopped for a light at Hollywood and Vine, shot the breeze with the cop, one of the regulars on the force, and cruised on.
Nothing doing further north, so he pulled into a drive-in for some coffee. As he ordered it, he stifled a yawn and thought again of Dorothy Malone. What a gal. She’d been his favorite actress long before her Academy Award for “Written on the Wind.”
He paid for his coffee, pocketed the change all except a dime, which he flipped into the air, caught it, then headed for a phone booth and dialed information. He knew what he was going to do. Starting right now, he was going to do a story on Dorothy Malone. He’d begin tonight and make a real project of it. Talk to the people who knew her best: the directors, the actors and actresses, her girlfriends; who knows, maybe even her boyfriends.
Suddenly, Steve clicked the receiver back on the hook. Of course, it was too late to still talk to anyone tonight—especially Dorothy Malone. But he decided to drive by Dorothy’s house, get the local color, maybe take a few notes on the neighborhood.
The Malone house on Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, was a large, white two-story Spanish job. Steve knew Dorothy lived alone. A few lights were on downstairs, and an Afghan hound was curled up on a front window ledge.
No, he’d wait until morning, call Dorothy, see if he could get to her. Meantime, he’d line up some interviews with some other people in the business.
He phoned Miss Malone the next morning and introduced himself. Dorothy agreed to an interview. “But no personal questions,” she warned. This put a bit of a kink in things, but personal or not, Steve was glad to receive a friendly reception. He telephoned a few associates of Dorothy’s, made more appointments for the week, and arrived at her house at the appointed hour.
As he drove up a long driveway, Steve was given an enthusiastic welcome by the Afghan hound he’d spied through the window the night before, plus another.
“I see you’ve met Samson and Delilah,” Dorothy laughed as she answered the door. Hair in pin curls, white Bermudas, white man’s shirt, cable knit knee socks, no shoes, Steve noted mentally, and he liked what he saw. “Please come in,” enthused Dorothy, and immediately proceeded to show the reporter around the house, bouncing energetically from one room to another.
“I’m having a wonderful time decorating the house,” she explained. Steve was amused to note that although the actress preferred 18th century French decor, she had abandoned its exclusive use and experimented with other schemes as well. Here a room would be modern, there Oriental, another antique.
“Is it time for the interview?” Dorothy asked after the grand tour was over. And the two seated themselves in the hostess’ large living room, in luxuriously comfortable chairs. (Cream white, brushed with gold, noted Steve.)
Why is Dorothy Malone known as a woman of mystery?” opened Steve. He was genuinely interested, as this sincere looking young woman opposite him looked at him earnestly. Seated in her overstuffed chair, intent on Steve’s question, he had the impression that her face was an open book. And yet there were the many facets in her life that Dorothy Malone reputedly would not talk about.
“There’s a reason for everything,” she began, settling more comfortably, “so there must be a reason for people believing I’m some sort of a mystery woman. At least, this seems to be the general impression, but the mystery to me is that I’m still in pictures. For the past eight or ten years I’ve been on and off the screen. I’ve quit and come back several times, and each time came back with the feeling I was starting all over again. Some of my parts have been good, some bad—the others we won’t even mention. The pattern of my career must have been confusing to the public, I’m sure—for it certainly has been a series of serious readjustments for me.
“There has never been a time when I wasn’t torn between playing safe and gambling on my entire future. At the very beginning, I never wanted to be an actress. When you’re not a career girl, basically—and I’m still not—you waver in your dedication, which in turn undermines your determination. But I’ve always believed whatever the job is, one should take what he has to do and do what he can with it.
“I know now that it is my fate to take what comes along and not make myself miserable as a result. When you understand a situation, I believe, it means you have finally learned how to live with it.”
Strong words, thought Steve, as he thought he detected a trace of cynicism in Dorothy’s last statement. Was she referring to that period when she had deserted Hollywood and returned to her native Texas—supposedly to get married? The time that suddenly, without warning, she returned to Hollywood, still unmarried and—unengaged, with no hint of what had happened, or not happened? Or, had she indicated the crazy pattern of her career, the years without any recognition or breaks or roles? The years when she was under contract to RKO, but was actually little more than a stock girl? He decided not to interrupt, but let her continue.
“I was so incredibly naive when I came to Hollywood and I’m afraid I still have a hangover of that naiveté. RKO dropped me but my hopes were renewed when I signed at Warners. Living in my little world of altruism, I actually thought they would give me one line—two lines—three and I would go from picture to picture into leads—if I did my best. So I studied hard and never missed a lesson with the studio coach. Because I was so young and looked it, they eventually told me I was too tall to play someone’s daughter; too immature for playing opposite leading men!
“Although I had an agent, big agencies are too busy (especially at that stage) to give individual care and concern. With no husband, no one close to lean on here, the complete aloneness has been the hardest part of being in Hollywood. It’s really rough for a single girl when she’s homesick and has to buck that, too. I’m deeply devoted to my family and went home to Texas every time my conscience would allow me to dip into my small savings. Your morale takes a terrific beating while you sit around waiting to prove something.
During my three years at Warners I played several small parts and got good reviews. After ‘One Sunday Afternoon, production in the studios hit low ebb, but Warners offered to carry me at half salary. There was still no work and this would have been slow death. So we agreed to disagree, but at this point it actually wasn’t a catastrophe. The time had come for me to settle down, I thought, and I decided to give up pictures, go back to Texas and marry.
“Coming back to Hollywood after changing my plans, was the toughest decision of all. I had to face going back to work again and there were no acting jobs in Texas. I hated to leave home, but I had more experience in acting than anything else. Besides, I liked this work the most. I’ve always believed if you believe in yourself, it’s possible to leave something and still start over again. My money was low when I returned from Texas, so I took small parts. Then I got a few leads in small pictures, but I always took what I could get. Thank heaven I’ve never had false pride.
“I have never thought of myself as a star. Perhaps I should. I’ve been told it makes others respond accordingly. I recall one picture which had four equal top feminine roles. The first day when we walked on the set, there were three stunning portable dressing rooms. The fourth— mine—featured four canvas flaps nailed together to form a cubicle. It had no floor, and there were holes in the canvas.
“I merely tell this story to make a point. It didn’t bother me because I’ve always thought my job was acting and that I was expected to act instead of making an impression. To me, the stars were those people up there on the screen. They were from another planet, or in a category far moved. So it never occurred to me to say I was, or would be, a star. I always felt I was working for the audience, which in turn pleases the exhibitors. The exhibitors are the ones who judge your value, I thought—and not the man who assigns the dressing rooms!
“Many actresses start out with one particular goal and never allow themselves to be deterred. In essence, this must be an ideal means to an end, but I had no allover plan. There was no money to hire a press agent. I just had to earn my way and was in no position to be selective. Because of this I never discussed my age, which enabled me to take all parts. How well I remember one particular experience. The girl who played my daughter in this picture was older than myself!”
This chatty, enthusiastic girl was the same Dorothy Malone who had a reputation for shunning reporters, Hollywood parties and publicity, Steve thought as she discussed her life. It was hard to believe. But he still didn’t have the proper opening for a personal query or two.
“Accepting the setbacks brought about the conclusion that everything in its time comes to pass. Maybe next year, I’d say to myself, I’ll get a good part that no one else wants, or can’t get. So eventually through learning to fight for myself, I got a test for ‘Battle Cry.’ I was signed the second they saw it and it was great going back to Warners. People seemed so surprised when I didn’t crow over my so-called victory. They just didn’t understand. Although I knew I had been fighting a losing battle, I never turned bitter along the way.
“After I won my Academy Award, practically everyone advised me to now hold off. They enumerated the reasons why it was so important to go from one award picture to another, but how can you bank on a myth? And how could I forget that every picture looked like my last picture for quite a few years. Naturally, I wish I could do more pictures that are considered tops in Hollywood, but the whole truth is: The smaller ones have given me the breaks! Maybe it’s because I came up the hard way, but I can’t turn my back on the people who had faith in me and put me in those pictures.
“You can’t always judge a part in advance,” she continued, “so sometimes you must take on a part as a challenge. A part can look like it’s the greatest and the public will turn its back. When they handed me the script of ‘Written on the Wind,’ I was told that Lauren Bacall had first choice and I had no objection. As it turned out, the role she turned down won me an Award! So who knows? Maybe she was paving the way for something great later on. You can never tell who is winning or losing in life. I think my role in the Cagney picture (Steve noticed she didn’t mention its title—“Man of a Thousand Faces”—a modest touch) paved the way for portraying Diana Barrymore in ‘Too Much, Too Soon.’ Both parts have progression and this appeals to me.”
According to the Hollywood grapevine, Dorothy was begged, beseeched and prevailed upon not to depict the tempestuous life of the late and great John Barrymore’s ill-fated daughter. The story went that Dorothy’s harassed agents had bagged a beautiful costarring role in a Glenn Ford western. Furthermore, director William Wyler was anxious to secure Dorothy for top billing in his current “Big Country,” opposite Gregory Peck. But “Too Much, Too Soon” won out.
“I know ‘Too Much’ is a gamble,” said Dorothy, “But I would be a coward if I ran out on it. Someone has to play these girls who get lost along the way and make them understood by others.”
Her eyes showed slight concern and she was more emphatic in this last statement than throughout the interview. Steve wondered if it had any personal overtones. Was it conceivable that Dorothy herself was one of those “misunderstood girls who get lost along the way,” he wondered. He had heard she was known for not returning messages when they might have meant a big chance, and for not accepting social invites. Uncommon behavior in filmdom.
Yes, the rumor and the hearsay had it that Dorothy Malone was lonely in Hollywood. The guys who had dated her, Steve knew, all came up with a common answer: “I don’t get it.” There was supposedly the guy in Texas—a doctor—and there was Syd Chaplin, and there had been Scott Brady, and dates with more Hollywood eligibles than any star. Why was Dorothy who claims not to be a career girl, still single and lonely? She wants to be alone, but she’s just not the Garbo type. A devout Catholic, marriage for her would have to be as near perfect as humanly possible. Was Dorothy afraid of not being able to achieve that ideal?
“Dorothy, as an actress, you’ve mentioned your interest in portraying Diana Barrymore, and other misunderstood, unhappy women. Could a reason be that in several respects, your own life has followed this pattern?”
Dorothy flashed a cool, evasive stare, then lowered her eyes, but continued. “When I play such roles I always try to put reason behind their bad side and try to prove that no one is all bad—or all good. After all, there is good and evil in life and everyone’s life is different.”
Steve knew then that Dorothy would not even give him an inkling of what really made her tick. It wasn’t that she was unpleasant about it, or uncooperative. But her personal life belonged to Dorothy Malone, and no one else. He could see she felt this deeply.
But now Steve was interested in talking to the people who knew Dorothy best: They, of all people, could possibly help solve the mystery of the strange case of Dorothy Malone.
Roger Corman, a date of Dorothy’s and a producer of several pictures in which she appeared, had this to say: “You can make up anything complimentary and say I said it. If it’s nice, it fits Dorothy. I think this girl is the best actress in Hollywood. Dorothy had the lead in the second picture I produced, ‘The Fast and Furious,’ two years ago, just before she hit big. She played opposite John Ireland. We did our initial shooting at the Pebble Beach Road races. In the first scene, Dorothy was to drive a high-powered Italian sports car around the race track. She’d never driven a sports car before in her life, but she got right in and drove that car on the track behind the camera car, doing eighty miles an hour on the turns and higher than that on the straightaway. At that time, I decided she was the most sporting and willing worker I’d ever seen, since most girls wouldn’t have touched a tough job like that. The second picture she did for me was a western, ‘Five Guns West,’ with John Lund. She played the lead and gave a wonderful performance. As an actress, she’s tops and as a girl she’s the nicest. I think she’s one of the finest people in Hollywood.
“When we date, we frequently go to small parties. We play tennis and we go swimming a lot. Also play a little bridge. We go to a lot of movies, too. I think Dorothy is one of the most consistently happy and cheerful girls I’ve ever met.
“We used to go to the beach a lot last summer. Visited some married friends of mine, other married couples would come over, bringing their children. The kids just loved this girl. Little guys around four or five years old would follow her around. They wouldn’t know she was a movie star. I remember one woman said her little boy was a terror, but he spent the whole day following Dorothy around on the beach. At the end of the day he jumped up and threw his arms around her and kissed her!”
Mildred Baire Rouse, Dorothy’s good friend and stand-in for “Written on the Wind,” said: “I’ve known Dorothy since April, 1949, when we met at a picture at Columbia, “The Nevadan,” with Randy Scott. We kind of liked each other from the very beginning. We’ve gone riding quite a bit. She’s wonderful on a horse. We have our own little game of solitaire which we like very much. The first time I ever played canasta was with Dorothy.
“She’s just great. Regular. Popularity may go to some people’s heads, but not to Dorothy’s. I’m married now and furnishing a home. She’s furnishing her house, too. We’ve had a lot of fun together picking out furniture. She loves to go through antique shops.
“She comes ‘out to the house now that I’m married and sometimes we take sunbaths in my backyard and sometimes in hers. She’s fanatical about having a deep tan. We both like pale lipstick and it looks so sensational with a deep tan, so all summer we’re working on our tans. We like to go to the beach, too.”
Rock Hudson’s capsule comment on Dorothy was “I enjoy working with her because she really works with you in a scene. Besides, she laughs at my jokes.”
Speaking of Dorothy’s development professionally, this is what Douglas Sirk, director of “Written on the Wind” and “The Tarnished Angels,” said: “Dorothy has always been one of my favorites. I wanted her for a picture in 1948, but I had to drop it because of the difficulties of making the picture in Germany.
“Ever since that time, I’ve had my eyes on her,” he went on. “She has earthiness, strength and depth as an actress. She is very different in talent from the average Hollywood beauty. I made a couple of attempts to get Dorothy a part in a picture I was making but most of the producers felt her name meant nothing at the boxoffice because she’d always played second leads. Finally, the part of Marylee Hadley came along in ‘Written on the Wind.’ It was originally slated for another actress, but when negotiations didn’t work out for her, I persuaded the front office to let me use Dorothy.
“I knew that Dorothy was giving a performance worthy of an Oscar while we were making ‘Wind.’ When the picture was over, I told her not to take any more wishy-washy parts. Then I went to Europe to make ‘Interlude,’ and when I returned I found she’d done two pictures which I didn’t feel would advance her career. When I asked her why she’d done them, she said, ‘Well, I wanted to keep busy.’
“I put Dorothy in ‘Angels,’ taken from William Faulkner’s ‘Pylon,’ in which she plays the lead opposite Rock Hudson. It’s the first big budget picture in which Dorothy has been the lead.
“I think the reason it’s taken Dorothy so long to win recognition is partly because she is so sincere and is not given to a lot of ballyhoo and publicity, all of which helps a girl in a Hollywood career. It’s easier to become a star if you adorn a calendar undressed. Sometimes I’m shaking my old head. The crudest sort of publicity helps you. Being a good actress is not always enough. Dorothy never was properly advertised. Dorothy lacks only one talent—the talent to advertise herself.
“She is a perfectionist. She surrounds herself with mirrors on the set so she’ll be able to see what others are seeing, and can properly criticize herself. I had to steal the mirrors away from her!
“In many respects, I think Dorothy is like Garbo. She’s introverted and shy. She has great reluctance to appear at social functions as Garbo did. When Garbo became famous enough so that she didn’t have to, she just said no. She antagonized a lot of people who thought she was being snobbish, but she was just shy. I think Dorothy is very much this way herself. And she is at all times a proper lady.”
Edna Benoit, assistant talent executive at Warner Brothers, had this to say: “I sat with Dorothy’s mother Academy Award night. Dorothy sat with her brother, Bob. We kept our fingers crossed and said little prayers.
“Regardless of the fact that Dorothy is now what I call one of the top actresses, she is exactly the same girl she was when I first met her. She always has time for the little people. In fact, she goes overboard to be nice to them. I noticed that the night of the Academy Awards, some teenage boys in leather jackets, crowded about her. Instead of just scribbling her name on the autograph sheets they offered her, Dorothy asked ‘What’s your first name?’ and wrote their names down, too. Suddenly out of the crowd, a little old lady came up, with a flash bulb camera. Dorothy looked at her with her ‘God bless you’ expression, and posed for pictures at her request. Half the flash bulbs didn’t go off, but Dorothy kept standing there while she dug down in her pocket to fish out another bulb. Someone else would have probably been irritated.
“If someone does something to hurt Dorothy, she’ll most likely say, ‘Oh, they probably didn’t mean it.’ And there’s a naturalness to her. She never tries to ‘put on.’
“She was voted Catholic Woman of the Year three years ago. When Dorothy gets married she wants to feel married for the rest of her life. According to her religion she cannot marry a divorced man. In Hollywood it’s pretty hard to find exactly your ideal who has never been married before. I think she’d make a wonderful wife. She likes an awful lot of people, but when she analyzes marriage, maybe she’s a little too idealistic. I tell her it isn’t like in the story books. You can’t find a prince charming. But I think she’s looking for the one she feels she’ll always be married to the rest of her life.
“She’s one of the few girls I know who has reached the top and stayed clean and wholesome. She doesn’t smoke. She will take a glass of wine or a cocktail, but never drinks to excess.
“If she found the right person, her marriage would come before her career. I think her career is more or less something she’s working at real hard because it is the only thing she has at present to fill her time with the family away. In the last two years she’s definitely decided she is going to concentrate on it for a period and if she hadn’t gotten to the top I think she would have given it up. It isn’t a case of Dorothy preferring a career to a happy marriage.”
Steve’s last chat was with a girl who used to live at the Studio Club with Dorothy: “She’s strong—knows what she wants. A week or so before a big premiere came up, the M-G-M press agent asked Dorothy who she was taking to the preem. Dorothy said she wasn’t going to go. He tried to pressure her into going. Although she was very nice about it, I could see she was determined not to go. But I couldn’t determine whether Dorothy didn’t have the appropriate date or she just couldn’t stand the limelight of a premiere.”
Is Dorothy just a shy person who hates the center of attention in a large crowd? One who doesn’t have the confidence to just stand up and say ‘I don’t want to do that’? Steve Matthews wondered as he concluded his last interview and packed up his fat sheaf of notes. Does she feel she must appear cooperative and nice to everyone? He’d once read a statement Dorothy made to the effect that she liked being “old” in the business, knowing the crews and the people she works with. A further indication of her insecurity and feeling ill-at-ease with strangers?
It was early Friday evening. He had the facts. And he’d take a few hours to read over the notes, discard all but the most important, and pound out his story. He stopped for a light at Hollywood and Vine, shot the breeze with the cop on the beat, one of the regulars on the force, and made a left turn. The weekend movie and nightclub crowd jammed the street. It was a wet night and smog enveloped the city. A good night to be home with the slippers and pipe and a good yarn—like The Strange Case of Dorothy Malone.
—BY CARL POSNER
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1958