Too Busy For Romance—Kathryn Grayson
The new blonde walking around the Warner Brothers studio recently was drawing a lot of wolf whistles from the employees. Most of them figured her to be a new starlet, well worth the whistles, and they were completely surprised when on closer inspection she turned out to be Kathryn Grayson. Katie has joined the ranks of those actresses who offer up the natural color of their hair on the sacrificial altar of their career, and that’s just about the way she feels about it. Told that the new silver blonde topping for the role of Grace Moore is extremely becoming, she smiles her thanks and then shrugs.
“I’ll put up with it until the picture’s finished,” she says, “and then back it goes to its natural shade. I can’t be bothered with keeping it this way. There isn’t enough time.”
That statement is the key to Kathryn Grayson’s life today. There isn’t enough time. Each day is filled to the hilt with activity, both in her professional and personal life. This daily bustle is partly responsible for the fact that her name is seldom seen in gossip columns as having been seen here or there with this oil man or that business tycoon. There are too many other things in her life, things she feels are important, to devote precious hours merely to being seen at the “right” places with the “right” people. Katie had never gone in for the Hollywood social whirl, and actually couldn’t care less about it. Home is too much fun. Work is too important.
Katie bought the house where she lives with Patty Kate, her four-year-old daughter, and her parents, long ago, before her first marriage, to John Shelton, and hasn’t the slightest intention
of moving into another one. It now consists of 16 rooms, a playroom having recently been added, and is large enough to contain the hum of activity that goes on every day. The entire family, including 15 nieces and nephews, is musical—“They can’t help it,” laughingly explains Katie. “You see they all have voices”—and if recorded symphonic music isn’t soaring though the house someone is singing or playing the piano or tuning a violin.
Katie thrives in a household like this. Music has always been the greatest love of her life and it is a blessing to share her home with people who also share her enthusiasm for pizzicato, pianos and pear-shaped tones. The one slight drawback is the fact that almost every night, when she gets home and seeks out an album she’d like to hear, that particular album has been misplaced by a relative who has been playing his own favorites. “Where’s the Brahms piano concerto?” Katie howls. And her father’s voice booms down from somewhere upstairs. “It’s under the coffee table—under that pile of Flagstad records!”
A friend once asked Katie if the hubbub and bustle of the house didn’t get on her nerves. “Get on my nerves!” she said. “I’d blow my top if it was ever quiet for more than ten minutes.”
Actually, she has her own rooms on the second floor—a sort of a suite—a bedroom, dressing room and bath, and Patty Kate’s room is next to her own. There is also a room that has been turned into an office, and from here Katie runs the household. She is a rarity in Hollywood in that she has no business manager and feels quite capable of taking care of her own financial affairs, which necessarily are many and complicated. With a flair for organization she works on a budget, makes her own decisions regarding investments, and turns out correspondence which equals that of a small business firm. The paying of bills and salaries alone amounts to a great deal of work, and in addition Katie does all the meal planning and marketing herself.
The “office” is the hub and center of the entire house, as is Katie herself, and she manages things so well that when she is away from home everything runs with the precision of the Greenwich clock.
She is not often at home. Despite the fact she has been averaging little more than one picture a year, her time is absorbed by the myriad chores that go hand in hand with a movie career. The long hours at the studio attending conferences, doing publicity, rehearsing, posing for pictures, taking singing lessons, and the personal appearance tours and benefit performances. When she finished Lovely To Look At for MGM she went to South America on a goodwill tour for the State Department, a trip that was intended also to publicize the film, Showboat. It was not, as might be supposed, a vacation. There was a perpetual and compulsory round of teas, luncheons and soirees, and while Katie dutifully threw herself into the itinerary with her usual verve, her thoughts were always with the big house in Santa Monica, California.
When she came back she went to work in The Desert Song and shortly afterward was handed the plum title role of the Grace Moore film. Before that picture was begun Katie was committed to follow it with Mademoiselle Modiste and then a return engagement at MGM to make Kiss Me, Kate.
In between her business and her home she sandwiches a large amount of charity work, notably with the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Three years ago when Patty Kate was hospitalized there with a broken leg Kathryn noted the need for new facilities, and while charity workers around town are hoping for a new wing, Katie is plugging for a whole new hospital. Her heart is always with any project concerning children, not only because she loves them without reservation but because she feels deeply that the world we give them today is not a particularly happy one and that the least we can do is to assure them good health and a fine education. This philosophy is clear in Kathryn’s professional life.
The ambitious drive and urgency for fame common to so many Hollywood stars is not shared by Kathryn. She never asked for a movie career; she wanted only to sing, because she loved music. She was no more than a child when, 13 years ago, an MGM executive heard her sing and plucked her out of the Manual Arts High School to give her a contract with his studio.
In the following years she studied all the arts allied with acting—diction, dancing and dramatics—and before she was old enough to decide what she wanted to do with her life she was a full-fledged movie star. This was a career handed to Katie on a silver platter; it was planned, written, produced and directed for her, and she had nothing more to do than be a good girl and cooperate to the best of her ability. It can truthfully be said that Kathryn Grayson has not done one thing that was not absolutely necessary to further her career, and even today it is improbable that she would walk across the street to ask for a role. She does not say it in so many words, but she gives the impression that being a movie star, to her, is just a job. She is tremendously grateful for the advantages given her, for the fame and fortune that came to her through the organization of MGM. When she is working she is intensely interested and devotes herself to it with unending energy. Yet the moment a picture is finished Miss Grayson retires into her private life and doesn’t give movies a second thought until she is once more on call to be in makeup at 7 A.M.
Last August she left MGM. In a way it was like leaving her home, for she had spent almost half her life there. The split was an amicable one; she left no enemies nor bitter words behind her. It was simply a matter of her wanting more freedom to direct her life as she chose. She wanted the right to appear on television should such an opportunity be offered her. This was the bid that stuck in the craw of the studio executives. She had had for years the right to appear at concerts, yet her studio association was so confining that almost every time she agreed to do a concert it had to be canceled because of forthcoming movie work. There was only one answer, figured Katie, and that was to leave when her contract expired.
She had already done one picture outside the walls of MGM and that was The Desert Song for Warners. When the brothers Warner heard that Miss Grayson was free they snapped her up to a contract for one picture a year and immediately began making plans for So This Is Love. This gives Katie the security she needs, as breadwinner for herself and daughter Patty Kate, and also the opportunity to sing for her supper wherever and whenever she chooses.
Careerwise, she feels there is a whole new life ahead of her now. Metro producers had known her since her adolesence and as a result had difficulty seeing her as anything but a child. When recently one of them saw her with the blonde hair a worried little frown went across his forehead. “But this is not our little girl,” he said.
Kathryn Grayson is now 29, has two marriages behind her and is the mother of a four-year-old daughter. She is no longer a child, a fact which is quickly recognized by producers meeting her for the first time. Each has a different reaction, wants to star her in a different type of role, and to Katie the whole future outlook has become one that is exciting because of the variations offered.
While her career seems to have taken wings, is does not make for complete happiness, for Katie is the natural product of a large and warm-hearted family. She had lasting marriage blessed by a parcel of children. But having been twice burned she is extremely cautious about a new venture. She dates, of course. There is a mile-long list of men about town who dial Miss Grayson’s telephone number quite frequently. They run the gamut from actors to zoologists, but few of them are fortunate enough to tie up Katie for an evening. She is too busy, she says, to take time away from home.
Columnists have rumored a romance here and there, and one was foolish enough to report that Kathryn had been gifted with some fabulous jewels. Miss Grayson promptly denied the statement. She was not in love, she said, she had accepted jewelry from no one, and furthermore she would like it understoood that she did not own one thing that she had not bought with her own earnings.
Some of the men she dates could be classified as playboys. That is, they are sufficiently wealthy not to have to devote a great deal of their time to work. Katie may date playboys, but it is doubtful if she will ever marry one. She has worked so long and conscientiously herself that she cannot conceive of a man who marries and doesn’t put his nose to the grindstone forthwith. If and when Katie marries again it will be to a man who, wealthy or not, will be well established in a business or profession which he enjoys and to which he devotes regular hours. If she ever falls in love with such a man she will be perfectly willing to give up her movie career the minute her existing contracts have been fulfilled.
The sooner Katie falls in love the better. She very much wants to have more children, not only for herself but for Patty Kate, whose four years already would put quite a breach between herself and any babies yet to come. It was brought home to Katie quite poignantly last December when she asked her small daughter what she would like for Christmas. Patty Kate didn’t hesitate a second. “I want a baby,” she said.
In the interim, Patty Kate lives in a big house that is overrun with people, including children. Kathryn’s parents live with her, as well as a couple of nieces and the child of the couple who take care of the house. The three children are 9, 11 and 13, respectively, and while Patty Kate appreciates the fact that all of them share her world of childhood, she is quite adamant about the necessity of having babies around the house. Her association with the older children has resulted in an outlook far beyond her years. “I think,” says Kathryn, “that she would have been that way regardless. She seems so wise for her years that sometimes I feel she knows more than I do.”
Patty Kate has had an advantage not offered to many children of Hollywood film stars. She has never had a nurse to care for her but instead has grown up in the bosom of a large and devoted family. Kathryn’s sister and two brothers have produced among them 15 children, all of whom live within a short distance of her home, and it is a rare week that at least a half-dozen of this selection does not show up for dinner or the weekend.
Patty Kate doesn’t suffer at all from the fact that her mother is a career woman. On the contrary, it all rolls off Patty Kate like water off the proverbial duck’s back. Quite some time ago the child watched her mother on the set, singing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” The script called for Katie to cry a bit as she sang, and inasmuch as it happened to be about the time of her divorce from Johnston, the entire cast and crew seemed to feel it was an occasion for everybody to weep. They all stood around with tears in their eyes and as soon as the director called “Cut!” Katie put her hands on her hips and looked at the woeful faces. “Well, for heaven’s sake!” she laughed. “Everybody come off it!” And then she noticed that Patty Kate, then little more than three years old, was also crying. She knelt and put her arms around her daughter. “Look, darling, Mommy’s only making believe.” She squeezed a few tears from between her lashes. “See? It’s a joke. I can cry whenever I want to. Isn’t that funny? Now you watch. I’m going to do the whole thing again for the cameras.”
The lights were turned on once more and Katie went into her song. This was the perfect rendition and the director was obviously pleased. And then, right in the middle of the scene and the song, Patty Kate let go with a king-sized giggle which registered quite clearly on the sound track.
Part of Patty Kate’s charm is the fact that she is so unpredictable. When the studio suggested that she portray Grace Moore as a child in the movie, Kathryn was quite willing that her daughter be tested for the part. Patty Kate, said her mother, was a small hambone, and it might be a good way to get some of it out of her system. A time was set for the test and a scene chosen. Patty Kate, star of the day, couldn’t have been more pleasant. She was obediently respectful of all suggestions offered and when the cameras started rolling, went through her paces beautifully. Director Gordon Douglas was charmed, but in the manner of all directors, asked that the scene be done again. Patty Kate looked at him as though he had just sprouted bats in his belfry. “That’s silly,” she said. “I just showed you I could do it.” Boredom set in almost immediately and nothing could coax further performances out of the child.
“That’s all,” said Kathryn. “I couldn’t go through this every day.”
So Patty Kate stayed at home while the picture was made, and Kathryn was just as well satisfied with the outcome. She herself loves show business. She likes the people in it and understands their troubles, their foibles and their happiness in their work. She feels it is a good life and has no objection to Patty Kate making a career for herself some day. “It’s unavoidable,” says Kathryn. “She has a singing voice.”
She says this with a mixture of pride and resignation and you wonder whether Katie, in spite of touting show business, wouldn’t just as soon stay at home and forget the whole thing. You wonder how she finds time to run a house, be a mother, read the books she wants to read and sing as much as she wants to sing—and have a career on top of it all.
We asked if she sometimes didn’t feel that life was slipping away from her, if this daily round of a dozen things to do wasn’t so compelling that she was losing a chance for quiet happiness. She smiled. “How could I feel that way when my life is so full and happy?”
So that is the answer. Katie, with her boundless zest for life, finds lasting pleasure and enthusiasm in whatever comes her way. She neither seeks nor shuns love, but it is safe to say that when love does come, when a man finally appears on her horizon who meets her rather rigid specifications, Katie will at long last take time out for love.
—BY SUSAN TRENY
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JULY 1953