BIOGRAPHY, Relationships
Comments 26

X Part III

Continuing the transcribed interview with Madame X from PART 2

“…[and at this time, between 1940 and ’42, you’ become a very big star]

I guess that’s true up to a point. I was never a Crawford or a Davis. But I’d gone from being pretty obscure to being in the public eye certainly. After [NAME OF MOVIE REDACTED]. And I was contracted to [NAME OF STUDIO], which was probably a mistake. And they…that studio especially. They owned you. They’d turn out the pictures and expect you to turn up and grind out. And I hated it. I couldn’t do it. I was always turning down pictures and being put on suspension. I’d be on suspension for weeks…months at a time. The only saving grace was my contract had a clause that let me work on radio. So I could still earn a living.

SH [THE STUDIO HEAD] wanted to be assured all the time about my marriage. They knew…all the studios were terrified of scandal then because of the Legion of Decency and all that stuff. So, when David wasn’t living with me, SH was watching me for signs of moral turpitude you know. [laughs] And it was another area of friction. He didn’t like me. He thought I was a mouthy bitch. So…yes I scored some success, but it was always qualified. And I think it began fading almost instantly.


Because…Because I wasn’t really cut out to be a Hollywood star. Because I wouldn’t turn out the junk films they expected. And yes…because my life was a mess by then. And it affected my work. My ability to work.

After I did NAME OF MOVIE REDACTED] with [NAME OF ACTOR REDACTED], I was on suspension for about six months for not taking some godawful piece of crap they wanted me to do. I didn’t work. Just some radio stuff. But I didn’t give a damn right then. It didn’t matter. I was happy. I’d discovered sex. Then later on when I was on suspension again I didn’t give a damn because everything else was such a hell on earth.


He went away. Just after we first slept together. He went to Canada for some War Relief thing or something. He called me pretty much every day. Ouida had gone with him. And…I think it began then. Because she…he called me. We’d talk. Not for long, but every day. And that’s not what you do if it’s a casual, just sex thing. And…she knew. She knew he was seeing me. I could tell she knew. From the look in her face when she looked at me. From just the whole vibration coming off her. She never spoke to me. You know actually I can’t remember her ever speaking to me even before. We didn’t…we weren’t on a wavelength. She was a grande dame and… and I was, kind of a nobody. In her eyes. In her scheme of things. I wasn’t Hollywood royalty, so I was a nobody. You had to have butlers and things to be a somebody. The Colmans were somebodies. Fairbanks and Astor, the Marches, the Barrymores. Crawford. I only even had a maid sometimes. I had dog hair on my clothes. I wasn’t even in the ballpark of somebodiness


No, she did talk to me once. Oh God, she did. We were…at some big War Relief function. David and I. And their daughter was there. With her nurse. And…and she had just started walking, and she’s…Cynthia’s toddling about with her nurse…and she toddles up to me. All googa and happy. Well, she knew me. Because. Her father had brought her to my beach house. We…she had a lovely time there. And this was just after so she knew me, and she just toddled over and I picked her up. And that’s when Ouida talked to me the only time she ever did that I remember. She came up from wherever she was. I didn’t even know she was there. She just appears out of nowhere. In my mind it’s this cloud of perfume and fox fur and a hat…and she takes hold of Cynthia and says “she’s bothering you, let me take her.” And I said, without even thinking, feeling kind of flustered, I said “oh no it’s ok.” And she fixes me with her eyes. She had really dark eyes. Dark eyes and flaming red hair. And she was little. Shorter than me. And she says “no, it really isn’t.” And she turns round and walks off, like a duchess, trailing fox fur and the nanny…Oh God yes. David came up and whispered “oh dear” in my ear. That about summed it up.

[she meant something else]

Obviously. And I think she knew from when she was with him in Canada. That I was a threat to her and the life she’d made. So, after that it was just a question of time.


We avoided it by not saying. I didn’t want to say anything about how much I loved him. It would just unbalance things. And things were ok. Kind of. They were happy. After David left, Basil spent a lot of time at [my home] with me. Kind of schizophrenic. The dogs loved him. It was almost as if he had two homes. The only thing he couldn’t do was actually live there. He always had to go home. Eventually. I think my house made him happier. All those flunkies used to intimidate him.


No, really. He was terrified of them. They bossed him. All except the maid. He liked her. She was English.


[so…it was the summer of ’41 you made the transition with Basil?]

[laugh] Oh my God, so genteel. I…made the transition with him in the spring of that year. Early spring. February.

[and before that you described yourself as an “almost virgin”?]

David…he did his best, but…I was not that interesting to him. It was brief and intermittent and very basic, if you can imagine. The only thing before that was being groped by a few horrendous guys.

[including Howard Hughes]

Which was not fun, baby. He was a very strange man indeed. Trust me.

[and then Basil]

He was a whole new world. He wasn’t crazy and he didn’t wish I was a boy.


[and he knew what he was doing in bed]

Oh. I was being served a five course banquet instead of a sandwich.

[so he was your first fulfilling experience of sex, and you were deeply in love with him. So, even though you never talked about this in public, it was obviously a very important relationship in your life]

Even though? I wasn’t…I wasn’t ashamed of it. I didn’t hide it. I just didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want to, it was a private thing. You talk about it and people misunderstand. I’d rather no one knew anything than they knew enough to misunderstand it or make it cheap.

[But it was an important relationship. As important as your marriages say..]


[would you say he was the love of your life?]

No, because I don’t talk like a teenage girl.

[how often did you see each other after the transition?]

I was working, he was working. He was making a movie over at Universal. And I was at [NAME OF STUDIO]…so we were quite close

[did it ever feel like a mistake…that you’d made the transition?]

No. No. I don’t remember even thinking like that. It was just happening, and it was intense and a little overwhelming, I mean, it blurred everything else out to an extent, and I just…we just let it take us.

[what movie were you working on?]

I was making [NAME OF MOVIE]. Of blessed memory [laughs]

[so you were at [NAME OF STUDIO] and he was at Universal]

Yes. We’d…he’d meet me after work, because I was on longer hours, you know at [NAME OF STUDIO].

[they worked you hard]

Yes they did. And I’d be just waiting for the day to end.

[so you could see him]


[he used to call you his child-mistress]

Yes, as a joke

[did you talk about how you felt?…]

He’d told me how things were. We didn’t talk about what it was. We were friends and we were sleeping with each other. That was what it was. I thought…I told myself I was ok with that.

[so, you didn’t ever think of a future (with Rathbone?)]

I don’t remember thinking much at all. Just living. Moment to moment. It was very feverish and short term. We were jut enjoying each other. We didn’t talk about anything like that. There was now and that was all there was. Not just for us, for everyone. It was 1941. There was no future guaranteed for anything or anyone. You took what you were given.

[you said he might be going home to England?]

He went back to England. Before we…He did go back for a while only…

[but he returned to the States]

Yes. Ouida…she didn’t want it. And they had the baby. He wanted to stay in England. He wrote me from England and he was saying how much he wanted to stay. You know…He had family there. It was his home. He wanted to be there. He felt bad about it. He came back but…He really didn’t want to be here. He never really wanted to be here, but during the war especially. And there was all the flak coming over from…You know the…Michael Balcon. Which was absurd and so unfair because they’d been told by Lord Lothian to stay put! And it really hurt people. They even called the men who’d served in the first war cowards.

[was there a chance Basil would be called up?]

Well. Back in ‘39 the war office told all the men who’d been officers in the first war and were under fifty or something to be ready to go home. Only then they said not. And then they changed their minds again, and they kept raising conscription age. So, you just didn’t know. He…he was…he and a lot of other men out here were eligible. Only then they were told to stay put and serve the war effort here. But things were always changing, so you just never knew. So he didn’t know if he would be leaving.

[what would have happened with you if he’d gone to England?]

I tried not to think about that.

[so it was a bad time]

No. God, no. I was happy. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

[that sounds like a contradiction]

Not really. Everything could go tomorrow. Everything. But it didn’t matter, because of those times we were together.

[was David still living with you?]

Partly, to start with.

[how was he about Basil being your lover?]

He was as ok as he could be. He knew he had no right to mind. I’d accepted his relationships. I was even good friends with one of his ex-partners. When they ran into each other they were polite to each other. They liked each other. But David didn’t always find it easy.

[he was jealous]

Not jealous, because he didn’t…he felt as if his position…his manhood was being challenged I think…


[And then [NAME OF STUDIO] tried to make you do, what was it?]

They were trying to punish me. Because I…I’d been complaining about the appalling censorship. You know how it was then. And I’d been very argumentative. They never forgot things like that. So…what they would do is they would offer you parts they knew you’d refuse and then put you on suspension, just to put you in your place.

[and this is what they did?]

Yes. They kept offering me awful parts I just couldn’t face doing.

[and you turned them down]


[and they put you on suspension.]

Yes they did.

[for how long?]

About four or five months if not longer on this occasion. It just went on and on. And of course I was earning next to nothing. Only a bit of money from the radio I could do. Because I had the radio clause that my agent got me. I was doing as much radio as I could get. The Lux theatre program was my lifesaver.

[and this was during the height of your relationship with Basil]

Well, we were seeing each other, yes. He…actually around then he talked [NAME REDACTED] into asking me on to [NAME OF MOVIE]

[and [NAME OF STUDIO] let you do that?]

SH couldn’t refuse because it was for the war effort. We worked for free as a donation. Basil was supposed to be in it too…but he…in the end he couldn’t do it.

[so through this summer you were on suspension you were seeing him a great deal]

Yes. He was…he’d stay over more than he didn’t.

[Do you think it was obvious to his wife this wasn’t just another liaison?]

I think it must have been at some point, though I didn’t see it that way then.

[you were trying not to see it perhaps]


[because if you saw it…]


[wasn’t…weren’t you almost living together for a while that summer of ’41?]

I was on suspension, as I said, and I was spending a lot of time at my…the beach house. And when he finished up on the movie he was making he…he had about a month before he had to go to Canada on a war bond drive. And he spent most of it with me.

[and for part of the time Ouida was in New York so he brought his little girl.]

Cynthia. She was a dear thing. She had a little knot of blond fluffy hair. You just wanted to eat her up. She really loved peaches. And I used to cut them into little pieces for her so she could fit them in her little hands. And she used to go out to the beach and just flop down on the sand and it would make her laugh every time…she…she loved the sand….[Basil used to tease me all the time about how skinny and scrawny I was. Just like David. Just like David. I was awful skinny then. He used to bring beignets from…there was a place that sold wonderful cakes and things in Malibu, and he used to bring a huge bag of beignets because he knew I adored them and…he wanted me to eat.

[This doesn’t look much like a casual fling does it]



The image at the top of the page is a cap from “Madame X” (1920) starring Pauline Frederick


  1. Claude Rains says

    Their arrangement is not an unusual one in gay marriage/partnerships. Sexual fidelity is not always perceived as the be-all and end-all it is in the straight scene, which is maybe one reason why gay partnerships tend to endure. Once you separate the real importance of marriage – companionship, emotional support, stability etc from the sexual component, then relationships do tend to weather more storms. A common understanding between two men would be – do what you want, but don’t develop emotional ties that threaten the primary relationships, which is pretty much what Ouida was saying.

    That said, I believe Ouida was a toxic human being, and quite possibly psychopathic and/or psychotic, and I only wish he had extricated himself from her grasp as soon as he could.


  2. “what they would do is they would offer you parts they knew you’d refuse and then put you on suspension, just to put you in your place.”

    Absolutely the same thing happened to Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and many others. What the studios could do then amounted to a kind of slavery. It might sound glam to think of making movies, but think of the reality. Up at dawn, working for ten hours or more in a draughty, dirty airplane hangar which is either unbearably hot or unbearably cold. And you’re not just typing or painting, you’re having a camera turned on you with twenty people looking on and you’re having to say lines like you mean them. If you get it wrong they have to re-set and everyone blames you for wasting time and money. You have no control, no idea if you look ok or ridiculous, and if you see the dailies and think you seem retarded or everyone can see the huge zit on your nose there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just a looong exercise in strain, embarrassment and humiliation in many ways. The good bits can be few and far between. Even today.


    • the countess says

      But in truth a bad movie once in awhile back then didnt ruin your whole carrer.lots of big stars made some stinkeroo dogs.Your fans went to see them because you were in them.Now with the price of makeing movies and the price of going to see them,we choose out movies carefully.Even when i was a kid we just “went to the movies.” Whats on? “dont know? but lets go.” Ihere was 2 movie theaters in town and a drive in.And on weekends we went to the movies.And on week day afternoons my Mom [that was before i went to kindergarden] and I would go to matenees.


      • Ellen Foley says

        Agree,that the old movies,no matter how good/bad were more worth seeing,there were rules to live by,and most scandals off-screen not widely known.Now,anything goes,and as we were comparing notes last week,when that includes anything on TV then I consider that interfering with my enjoyment.Zingers (those dumb one-liners people repeat ad nauseum) do not a movie make.That’s why I love TCM and AMC used to be just like that.And classic tv shows being shown on TCM,like Cavett/Hitch among other interviews,how revealing.Having diff with properly stating my thoughts due to on-going (too long) health issue,possible tick/mosquito bite in Lyme disease territory,so please forgive my rambling,forgetfulness.Been waiting since Sept 2nd for MRI scan,and since last Oct to see Rheumatologist-ref care last Oct for fibromyalgia.See what happens now with new laws on books for Oct.


        • Oh wow Ellen that’s tough. Do you think you might have ME? My aunt has had it since 2001. Hope your MRI is fine when it finally comes along.


  3. Nanette B. says

    This actress clearly paved the way for today’s female directors. She was well-known in our industry for her talent and tough approach. I say, “good for her” and thank her wholeheartedly for paying her dues in a male-dominated industry that unfortunately still discrimates against women in 2013.


    • Ellen Foley says

      OR/BR was a “practical marriage”,as stated by George in The Private Affairs Of Bel Ami.OR got status,doors opened for Baz,and whatever else happened was mostly kept from view.Why he should’ve been intimidated by his own household staff when he could fire anybody at anytime for disrespect,I don’t know.”I guess every form of refuge has a price” to paraphrase The Eagles lyrics.And it was a very steep one for Baz.

      [slightly edited by NeveR]


      • I’m confused. “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami” is a film that starred George Sanders. Are you saying that in that film George made a comment that the marriage of Basil and Ouida was a “practical marriage”? Or was George commenting on a fictional marriage in the film, and you are saying that the Baz/Ouida marriage was similar? If George said that Baz and Ouida had a “practical marriage,” that supports what X said about the Rathbone marriage. I’d like to know where you read George’s comment, if he said that. But I’m not sure what you meant.


        • Ellen Foley says

          No,that George’s marriage in film was practical marriage,and I say so did OR/BR marriage seem to be one,too.It wasn’t love,as George’s character had for Angela Lansbury’s character.Whatever existed between the Rathbone’s at one time,think Baz was flattered she went for him when he could’ve had any other woman,I don’t know.Watched George character (Sanders role was as “George” in that film) and his character’s comment was on practical marriage and I say it sounded so much like OR/BR when I watched movie on YouTube.


  4. This has nothing to do with Basil…her whinging about how the studio treated her annoys me. No one put a gun to her head to sign that contract and everyone in the business knew how the studio system worked…you did what you were told. And if you didn’t…you got suspended. Oh well…if any of us said no to a reasonable request at work, we’d get out hands slapped too. An actress at her age and at her level really couldn’t afford..literally…to be picky. And it isn’t as if she was being asked to do nude scenes or the semi-soft core that young actresses these days are expected to do. Sorry…rant over.


    • rosebette says

      The studio system at that time was nothing like it is now, where actors make millions and get a cut of the profits. Actors were basically chattel, under a contract for 7 years on straight salary. If they were sick or took time off, that time would be added to the end of their contract. Often, there was a 6-day work week. It’s the studio system that put Judy Garland on uppers to keep her weight off and kept her working several pictures a year as a teen-ager and then put her on downers so she could sleep, resulting in a lifelong addiction. It’s also the system that rewarded Bette Davis with crap roles after winning the Academy Award for Dangerous, so she had to walk out and fight for better roles. Davis walked out, Cagney walked out, and finally Olivia deHavilland walked out (after still being relegated to supporting roles after Gone with the Wind), fought them, and won in the 1940s. If you were an actor under that system, you had to be tough. Under that veneer of glamor, the Hollywood studio system was a production factory. X isn’t ranting. That’s the way it was, especially if you weren’t quite A-list yet.


      • I’m fully aware of all of that…they didn’t call them “dream factories” for nothing. The system was tough and if you signed up for it, the studio bosses owned you. But the thing is…you signed up for it…you weren’t drafted. True, some of them were strong enough to buck the system, and a few even got away with it. But most just plugged along. And remember, for a B-list or character actor who was willing to put up with the grind and was willing to play by the rules, they made a decent living…better than most of the audiences…especially during the 30’s and early 40’s.


    • Wow. I really don’t see her whinging . She’s just talking about why she was on suspensions becuz the interviewer dude asked her. Totally agree with Rosebette here. Just sign my name at the bottom of what she says


    • Helveticus says

      I feel sorry for her too. We have to remember this is X’s version of events and we don’t have any clue how fair she is being. Ouida’s version would have been very different but she never kept a record of it. We don’t even know if Basil considered this X as special as she says he did. If she is right and he had many affairs why would she necessarily be more important? How trustworthy is she anyway? How much class did she have to actually pick up Cynthia like that. I think Ouida showed a lot more class in the way she handled it. In her place I would have wanted to slap X’s face.


      • I might feel sorry for Ouida, as the wife whose husband was cheating on her, but her behavior, which has been documented by others, puts me off. Nothing in this transcript contradicts what we’ve learned about Ouida. I’m thinking in particular about her spending habits that brought Basil to tears. Also the way she embarrassed Basil over the script to The Heiress. It’s difficult for me to feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for Basil.
        What is wrong with picking up a toddler who comes right up to you at a party? Why would that deserve a slap in the face?


        • I agree with the whole spending thing, but it must have been pretty hard for poor old Ouida… 😦


          • If Basil had been going behind her back and cheating on her then I would feel sorry for her, but according to X Ouida instigated the ‘open marriage’ thing and basically told B if he wanted to have sex he had to find it elsewhere. So we can’t regard his affairs in the same way we would in a more conventional marriage. He was actually keeping the marriage alive by doing things her way. The emotional involvement with X was breaking the agreement but can he be blamed for that really? I’m not sure.


        • Ellen Foley says

          I agree with you Marcia,think it’s kinda sweet Cyn toddled over to X.Can’t b’lieve OR was being protective,just being a “b”,cuz she could.And her letting Baz get it elsewhere is fishy.She charged him plenty for the privilege of being her man.Can’t believe she didn’t have an outlet,too.Would think a hug or cuddle from someone in order on occ,and I doubt she was demonstratve with Cyn,doesn’t strike me as more than a “refrigerator mother”,like mine.


      • rosebette says

        I have some sympathy for Ouida, since after all, her husband is seriously involved with a substantially younger woman. But on the other hand, Ouida sounds like a controlling women who seemed more interested in spending Basil’s salary than being a real partner.

        I believe that Basil was serious about X.You have to remember that a couple of the letters from Basil to X were posted on this site, and it’s clear that he’s in love with her from those letters.


        • I agree with you and also with what Marcia and Neve have to say above. Adding in the letter written from Vancouver, which I think it’s safe to say was written to X, and the letter he wrote to X in response to her letter to him late in his life, he clearly seems to have been in love with her. I, for one, believe he deserved to have some happiness with a woman who truly cared for him. And I hope that for a time, however short, he knew what it was to really be loved for who he was.


  5. Ellen Foley says

    I wonder if Hedda ratted X out to OR.The H’wood contract for duration of WWII prob Baz should’ve passed ,stayed independent.See no harm in her being near Cyn,X that is,what a b- for acting like that toward X,mistress/love or not.WWII conscription age-my father was at upper age range and they tried to draft him,but enlisted in Air Corps before they could.Should have been in JAGs office,since he was an attorney,but decided he was “a small target” and put him in paratroopers.He wound up with medical issue,so he was treated,and after compassionate leave,assigned to Signal Corps.My lack of understanding is in double standard,Brits in H’wood.They did their service to their country,but treted as cowards for staying here,but had volunteered to help in any way,told to stay,but criticized as “bums”?Seems Baz facing battle everywhere,crap movies,trouble at home for an affair with a decent woman (I consider X decent-don’t care if they both were adulterers),crazy spending by wife,demand for War Relief Parties,paid for out of his pocket.Hearst referred to some of Brit Colony as bums,talk about hypocrites,what with his long affair in full view of the world,Baz was discreet.Household staff being intimidating?Lucky to have jobs,considering HE was paying THEM,not other way around.And OR putting on airs,at least between fox fur and fancy perfume,she managed to occasionally show some mothering,even just to figuratively smack another woman,who was obv fond of Cyn,across the mouth.Such ladylike behavior,at least X said she was accepted as “one of the boys”.


    • Ellen Foley says

      Wonder if the month before Canada War Bond Tour was when photo of Baz drinking milk,eating sandwich was taken.(small kitchen phot from candids).Bet they were all relaxed not having to worry about any fireworks with ORC away in NYC.


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