A Pidgeon's Pedigree
The New York Times, June 22, 1941 page IX 4
Hollywood is a land where contradictory compliments are not infrequent,
and in Walter Pidgeon's case these have been a regular occurrence. When
he made his picture debut more than a decade ago one critic termed him
the best new leading man prospect of the season; another said he would
be a good bet only for character roles. Several writers have proclaimed
him definitely and solely "a man's man"; others have argued with
equal fervor that he is the arch-prototype of "a woman's man."
Recently a leading film columnist had voted him "beyond any question
the handsomest man in Hollywood." Another writer, just a few days
before, had stated, in cold type: "There is nothing handsome about
him in the Hollywood sense of the word."
Mr. Pidgeon, undoubtedly, has profited by these mildly stimulating
little controversies. He sits back, relaxes his six-foot-three frame, smiles
genially, says nothing and is said to enjoy as great personal popularity
as any player one can name in the movie card files. The Canadian actor's
success story is punctuated by some of the most extreme ups and downs in
all the wide sweep of Hollywood's skittering "career graphs."
* * *
When he was still in high school he attempted to enroll for duty
in the first World War. Barred because of his age, he refused to put the
idea out of his mind, and a year later left the University of New Brunswick
to join the Canadian Field Artillery. The aftermath was near-tragedy, but
not on the field of battle. Crushed between two gun carriages in an accident
at Camp Petawawa, he hovered between life and death for a long time; eventually
he won the struggle, but during a period of seventeen months he had successively
battled pleurisy, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
While his thoughts went back to his brief high school acting experience
and ringing in his ears was the doctor's warning that he had better look
for an open-air job and keep away from any concentrated physical strain,
young Pidgeon located a bank messenger job in Boston. He spent a fair degree
of each day in the open air and his evenings taking singing and dramatic
lessons. One day he drummed up enough courage to beard the late E. E. Clive
in his den, and ask for a chance with his repertory group. He candidly
admitted that his stock experience had been confined to reading quotations
of bank issues. Mr. Clive liked his frankness, offering him a gambling
chance in "You Never Can Tell," and the bank hired another carrier
with a less appropriate surname.
After making the grade in repertory, Pidgeon married his childhood
sweetheart. Her sudden death two years later was a blow that seemed to
disrupt and dispel all hopes for the future. Mechanically, he went back
into the brokerage business; he was urged meantime by friends who believed
in his dramatic ability to continue with a stage career. A chance suggestion
led to a meeting with Elsie Janis, who was then preparing a concert tour.
She thought he looked right, and was willing to take a chance on his limited
vocal experience. In another twelve months he was playing opposite Miss
Janis in the new London revue "At Home."
* * *
Hollywood, which had evidenced polite interest in the London correspondents'
reports about "At Home," began to sniff hungrily at the stage
door of the theatre where the returning actor had opened in the revue "Puzzles."
A contract and a promised engagement in a Constance Talmadge picture led
to nothing more tangible, however, than 180 days of Santa Monica sunshine.
Then Director James Cruze asked for a chance to try the newcomer, opposite
Dolores Costello, in "The Mannequin." Four other films followed;
all were rated moderate successes, but none scored the hit which most cinema
aspirants find is poetically referred to as "top screen billing."
After a return visit to Broadway, and a good part in "No More
Ladies," Pidgeon went back to the West Coast. Several mediocre parts
were followed by a role in Jean Harlow's last picture, "Saratoga,"
as a result of which the public began to show more interest than ever before
in New Brunswick's gift to Hollywood.
* * *
a great lift in Pidgeon fan mail after "Flight Command," and
the first Nick Carter picture, which followed successes in "Too Hot
To Handle" and "It's a Date." While most of the stars who
started in Hollywood at about the same time are now somewhat obscure memories,
Pidgeon seems to be starting the most successful cycle of his career.
Currently he is starring at the Roxy in the melodrama, "Man
Hunt," and on Thursday he will be seen at the Music Hall in "Blossoms
in the Dust," opposite Greer
© 1941 The New York Times