Thursday, August 7, 2014

Marlene, Norma, Joan, Loretta...and Margaret?

So, with our move ever more imminent, I'm responding in a calm, measured, and practical way - not by any kind of rational planning, mind you, or anything like actual preparation.  No, I'm mostly leafing through some of the higher works of literature that form such a feature - such a heavy, enormous, infinitely packable feature - of life chez nous.

Chief among those the last few days has been a fine and penetrating exegesis of the art of classic American cinema, a dissection of contrasting aesthetic practices as exemplified by two of the primal archetypes of the screen.  I refer, you will I'm sure not be surprised to learn, to the evergreen Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud.

Okay, it's trashy - but it's fun trash, even clever in flashes, that actually kind of gets both its leading ladies.  And it threw at me a little mystery that I've been enjoying.

In 1935, author Shaun Considine tells us, Bette Davis was in the midst of a hot and heavy romance with her fellow Warners player (and frequent co-star) George Brent.  Their affair rapidly cooled, however, supposedly because Brent participated in a bit of studio publicity in which he was called on to name the 12 most beautiful women in Hollywood - and didn't include Davis.  Those he did include, Considine adds, were along the lines of Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Kay Francis, Loretta Young...and Margaret Cartew.


That wasn't a name that even stirred a vague, Marion Marshall/Toby Wing-style free association of blonde hair and broad chorus-girl smiles.  I turned, immediately, to the Googles - and found nothing that wasn't quoting from the Feud.  I wondered for a bit if Considine had just for the heck of it made it up (rather like the invented film in the original Golden Turkeys book), but persisted.  Finally, a more complicated search turned up the actual name, and even some further information about the (mildly) infamous list.

It turns out she was in fact Margaret Carthew, and you won't be shocked to learn that she was a Warners contract starlet.  She was a regular in Busby Berkeley's chorus line, but Brent's mention aside, not much really happened, and for reasons unknown she was dead by 1942.  That's her, up above, decked out for her place in a big number.

The full list turns up in a UPI story available online (and is the Internet a gift or what?).  It includes the expected names and notes that 11 of the 12, at least, "you probably know well."  I looked back at the magic dozen and realized that even that wasn't quite so, for in addition to the obscure Miss Carthew, it also included, in between Dietrich and Garbo - Patricia Ellis.  Now there's a surprise - a second, unanticipated who?

Ellis, it seems, had a far more substantial career than the other unknown.  She was another Warners girl, a WAMPAS baby star, and made 40-odd pictures in the '30s, most now almost comically unknown, with titles like Love Begins at Twenty, The Case of the Lucky Legs, Hold 'Em Yale, and Melody for Two.  Her ending is happier than Margaret's, though - she married a businessman from Kansas City and retired, one hopes contentedly.

As compelling as Considine makes the decades-long rolling catastrophe that was the personal and professional intertwining of Davis and Crawford, for some reason it's Carthew and Ellis I keep coming back to.  They worked together in Lucky Legs; I wonder if they got along...


  1. "Whatever Happened to Baby Pat/Margaret?", indeed...

    Fascinating stuff!


  2. Miss Carthew was a mere 33 years old when she shuffled off this mortal coil. The dearth of info makes her all the more intriguing!

  3. She was my Aunty,and her brother (my Dad is 90 and still alive).
    Margaret died of Breast Cancer.
    My Dad says she was very intelligent(,one of the few women to go to college in those days),she lived life to the full,was usually working by day and having fun at night.She dated many movie stars.

    1. Dear Debbie:

      Thank you so much for letting us know about your aunt! The photos of her online are fascinating, and it's sad that she left us so soon. From what I've read, it took a lot of hard work and dedication to be one of Busby Berkeley's featured girls. She certainly caught George Brent's eye!

    2. Further to above,Margaret danced in the "King of Jazz"movie,was an extra on "Cimarron"with Richard Dix(who she became engaged to). also dated Harold Arlin(writer of "Over the Rainbow")and also William Powell.In 1937 she was dating "Ray Remahn"(top exec of Technicolor)(love of her life,but he was married to a Catholic and couldn't divorce)and was makeup artist on England's first Technicolor Picture"Wings of the Morning". She was under contract with Warner Brothers for five years,in the Gold Digger movies.She could drive and loved sports,and sang in "42nd Street". She married Nick Copland(agent for Frank Fay(who was married to Barbara Stanwick)Frank was the lead in Broadway hit "Harvey". She finally remarried a dry cleaner(who was not very nice) before her death in 1935.

    3. Thank you, Debbie, for these very interesting details. It's nice to have a little more information about this lovely lady, and among other things a real gift to anyone else who goes looking for her.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Yes, thank you. I am one of those who was "looking for her". She was married to my collateral ancestor Nick Copeland. I am rather confused, however; my research and newspaper articles from the time give her death as 1942, and she continued to use the name "Mrs Copeland". I'd appreciate more information.

    6. Hi Princess,Margaret Carthew was my aunt I never met,as she died so young.The information I have is from what her brother(My Dad) told me.She had a son Nicholas Copland,who was brought up by 2 female friends when she died.I am in touch with Nicholas and his family,who live in France(he is on Facebook).

  4. Sorry! To amend the above reply..Margaret's son was called Dennis Copland and he married Sally.Their son is Nicholas Copland.

  5. All so interesting! Thanks to both Debbie and Princesse for more information on the very intriguing Miss Carthew. If nothing else, George Brent thought a lot of her, and so do I.