Marguerite Chapman wasn’t just a beautiful, blue-eyed brunette. She was a fun, sassy actress who put in a shift to graduate from ‘B’-star to ‘A’-star status – no mean achievement.
Age 21, at the behest of Howard Hughes, movie mogul, business tycoon, aviator and all-round eccentric, she arrives in Hollywood on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1939 ‘lonelier than I had ever been in my life’.
Hughes had arranged for Pat di Cicco, Cubby Broccoli and Bruce Cabot to squire me here and there. When I met Ruth and Hoagy Carmichael, they gave me advice appropriate for a young girl visiting Hollywood for the first time. They told me to keep away from my three escorts and to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I did everything they told me not to…
Cubby Broccoli will go on to produce many of the James Bond films.
Things don’t work out with Hughes, and Marguerite moves to 20th Century Fox. Her stint there lasts just six months. This might have something to do with her first encounter with the studio’s production chief, Darryl Zanuck. The venue is Ciro’s, a nightclub on Sunset Boulevard opened in January 1940. With its luxe baroque interior, it is one of ‘the’ places to be seen and guaranteed being written about in the gossip columns of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.
Zanuck, who was short, asked me to dance. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t like to dance with men who are shorter than I am.’ That was a mistake.
Later Marguerite is signed by Columbia and, like most Columbia employees, is not happy with her pay. The night the film Pardon My Past is finished, she attends a dinner party thrown by Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, at his house.
I was wearing this cute little dress and Harry asked me where I got it and then asked, `How much did you pay for it?’ In front of the other guests I replied, `I paid $75, my week’s salary. Aren’t you ashamed?’ I always talked like that to Harry. He was always calling me into his office. I think he enjoyed sparring with me.
Marguerite Chapman’s career in short
Like Hazel Brooks, Marguerite worked as a John Powers model before decamping to Hollywood.
During World War II, she entertained troops, kissed purchasers of large war bonds and helped churn out movies about the war as well as appearing in a variety of films.
In 1943, Los Angeles Times columnist Jerry Mason said dismissively of those early films:
I saw none of them, and you probably didn’t either. Her chances of getting up into the A-picture class were – roughly – one in 200. But she made it.
Her big break came in Destroyer (1943) starring Edward G Robinson and Glenn Ford. She went on to become a leading lady for Columbia, starring in a string of movies.
With this film, my career finally took off. Robinson was a charming man, but I remember that he grew increasingly concerned because he was shorter than I, and he spoke to the director about it. If you look at the film, you’ll notice that I’m sitting down a lot.
During the 1950s she continued to perform, mostly in secondary film roles including in Billy Wilder’s 1955 Marilyn Monroe vehicle, The Seven Year Itch. She also appeared on TV and on the stage.