Thanks to Mr. Serlin
"That infernal Hollywood!" cried Mr. Dowling, expressing
his resentment of a machine that invariably sucked in every talented youngster.
There was nobody but Teresa and she made the rounds of New England and
the Middle West.
Next summer she was with the Barnstormers Theater at Tamworth, New
Hampshire, where she learned a great deal. When that was over she came
back to New York and started giving readings for Life With Father, along
with all other destitute actors. The boss of the play was Oscar Serlin,
who had been testing director for Paramount for many years and hated the
films with a stern magnificence. As opposed to that, his reverence for
the stage bordered on the pathological.
Oscar was in no rush. Miss Wright thought she was revealing Spartan
courage when she gave her first reading, but after she was on the fifth
round she looked at Serlin piteously, anxious merely that she should be
shot like a wounded rodeo pony and put out of her misery. Oscar had made
up his mind that a blonde should play the role. Teresa was a brunette.
Oscar fidgeted and finally decided that it made no difference whether a
blond or a brunette played the role. Teresa was in and later she had a
lot more to thank Serlin for, because he made her screen test when the
Goldwyn offer arrived
and gave her even better advice about her contract, which is unique in
cinema history. Here are a few portions of the Serlin-indicted work:
"Clause 39. The aforementioned Teresa Wright shall not be required
to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither
may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the
wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing
with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired
in fire-crackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking
insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long
ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan
blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something
with a bow and arrow."
Faced with these restrictions the Goldwyn
publicity staff kept Miss Wright at a distance and caused her some uneasiness.
Her competitors were getting their pictures in the papers; she was only
appearing on the screen. She approached Mr. William Hebert, Goldwyn
publicity head, about the matter.
"Friends have told me I have a very nice figure," she said
demurely but insistently.
Mr. Hebert called in the photographers. Interviewers were also coaxed
into presenting an appearance but in several cases this created an assorted
amount of ill will when they arrived with licorice sticks and ice-cream
cones under the illusion that they were to visit Baby Sandy.
Hardier souls who came with less enlightenment and greater discernment
found her a very nice girl, a touch on the unexciting side. When they asked
her pointedly about her personal life she said, "I want to be a good
actress above everything."
At this juncture the Goldwyn
press representative would invariably offer his stock of information.
"Miss Wright is five feet two and weighs 110 pounds. She has
wavy brown hair and greenish-blue eyes."
The interviewer would look at Miss Wright and confirm this. Miss
Wright would then laugh very merrily.
"If you want to write something entirely original," she
would say, "just put in that I hate the hours."
It seemed that although Miss Wright had been reared in Jersey, she
had been born in New York. She felt that six o'clock in the morning was
an improper hour to be abroad. It had been even worse when she was over
at M-G-M making Mrs.
Miniver under the direction of William
"Mr. Wyler likes
you to be perfect," said Miss Wright.
She demurred rather tartly about taking the role of Mrs. Gehrig but
the studio executives convicted her of contradiction out of her own mouth.
She felt that audiences would not accept her in an older role after what
she had been playing, but they reminded her of one of her romantic periods.
When she was appearing in Life With Father she received a mash note from
a well-known and elderly actor.
"I saw you Saturday night in the play and really thought you
were terrific," he wrote. "The last time I saw you was in Pasadena
where you were with the King Players or something of the sort and that
was so long ago it doesn't seem possible that an old dame like you could
play a young girl like Mary Skinner and get away with it. You were swell.
Call me up and come to dinner with me. I'm at the Blank Hotel."