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