The Story of My Life
by Pauline Frederick
Motion Picture Magazine, December 1918, pages 63-65, 126.
When I was a youngster biographies were the bane of my existence. Many an afternoon I had to pore over the important dates and chief accomplishments of the dear departed from Nero down to old Ben Franklin while the other children called tantalizingly under my window: "Oh Polly, come out and play theater!"
Right then and there I determined when I grew up I would take my revenge on the world in general. I would write my biography. I would make it lengthy, fill it with unpronounceable names and cram it full of dates, but here I am sitting in my comfortable home at Norton Heights, Conn. and enjoying my revenge, not by piling up date after date, but by simply forgetting that such terrible things exist. My excuse is that the schoolbook gentlemen always started out with two dates, and not for the world would I deviate from the set form and leave one poor lone group of figures standing in solitary splendor.
My birthday is - or rather was, for I have had my last - August 12. On that date, according to records, I joined the other little beans in Boston. I had four nationalities from which to choose my temperament - first my good old United States; second my mother's ancestors, who were Scotch; and third, my father's who were French and English. Such a combination I realized beforehand would be essential to the making of a picture star and acted accordingly.
As a child there were several things besides some well-known young medicines that I disliked to take, and one of these was a dare. When one of my playmates, whose favorite pastime was running off to the theater whenever we could save money enough to buy tickets and reproducing what we had seen on an elaborate home scale, said: "Polly, I dare you to go on the read stage," of course I just had to go. I had been studying singing, and succeeded in persuading the manager of a vaudeville house in Boston to hear a couple of my songs.
"I'll put you on for a week," he agreed, "and pay you fifty dollars."
This was the first money I had ever earned and it seemed like a fortune. My chums were there in full force that night waiting to see "Polly take her dare," and for their sakes I had to be brave about it, tho I can remember to this day how I quaked inwardly when I stepped out on the stage and saw the hundreds of eyes turned toward me. I thought each eye was saying:
"She never did this before," and its companion was answering:
"No, she never did."
Well, I managed to get thru my three songs some way or other, and after that it wasn't so bad. That first week gave me the courage to go further and, of course, "further" meant New York. It might be thrilling to tell of facing parental opposition and stealing away in the dead of night with five dollars burning in my pocket, and a great and noble ambition burning in my pocket, but I must forego the thrill, for this is to be a truthful biography. When I announced my intention of going to New York to take up theatrical work seriously my mother said: "If it will make you happy, go ahead, and I will go with you."
That mother has always been a great pal of mine. I really think she has had more ambition for me than I have had for myself. A girl who has this particular brand of mother can never realize how much she owes to her.
My first engagement was in the chorus of "The Rogers Brothers at Harvard," under Ben Teal's direction. I spent a year there and I am thankful of it. It was the best training I ever had. There is no more thoro stage school then the chorus, this is, of course, if one take the work seriously.
The next year I was given a small part with Roger Brothers. Mr. Erlanger didn't think I could sing well enough to sing and move my head at the same time; so being of rather an independent nature I put on my had and walked out, followed by the encouraging remark of Mr. Erlanger that I would never get a job any other place.
My next engagement was with James T. Powers, playing the fairy queen in "The Princess of Kensington." I had sat out front and watched the play three times in New Haven before my opening in New York. When I walked down the stage that first Monday night and saw the spotlight turned right down upon me I just simply stood still and gazed up at it. The twelve chorus girls who followed me on were to answer questions I put to them. When they saw my plight they gave the answers without the questions, and in a few minutes I recovered myself and continued like a veteran trouper.
Three months after that I played the comedy part in the same production. It was my only chance at comedy, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Mr. Powers was so wonderful, so generous. He directed by rehearsals with great care and gave me the benefit of every opportunity. I have been grateful to him ever since.
After engagements in "The Little Gray Lady" and "The Girl in White" I was given my first lead in "Twenty Days in the Shade." Following that I played the lead with Francis Wilson in "When Knights Were Bold," and then supported Jack Barrymore in "Toddles" at the old Garrick Theater. Next I was the manicure girl in Mr. Brady's production of "The Dollar Mark." And then I began my wild career of heavies with William Gillette in "Samson." I need no further proof that "is is easier to form a habit than to break one," for the heavies have stuck just, well, just as heavily as they could. My advice to embryo actresses is: "If you don't want always to be a heavy, never be a heavy."
After "The Fourth Estate" with the Lieblers I left the stage for three years, returning in support of Madame Simone in"The Paper Chase," which ran in New York for two weeks. Then came the biggest Role of my career with Brandon Tynan and James O'Neill in "Joseph and His Brethren." (Whenever I write of Mr. O'Neill's name I want to stop and give a little salute of respect to a wonderful man and a wonderful actor.) During my engagement in this production I gave one young woman the greatest surprise of her existence. She came to my room to talk to me about having some photographs made. I remember it was a very warm afternoon. While we were conversing my had unconsciously went up to my had and came down with the glorious hair held tightly in its clutches. My interviewer gasped: "Isn't that your own hair?"
Her look of absolute dismay and disappointment left no room for my own modest locks to be flattered. I have a suspicion that she was scheming to use my photographs as "ads" for the Seven Sutherland Sisters.
And speaking of hair reminds me of a rather disastrous occurrence during my connection with porter Emerson Brown's "Don't Shoot," which followed my long season in "Innocent." I was doing a boy's part and had one of those quick changes to an evening gown. In order to facilitate matters I had my hair cut and the play lasted exactly three days. This goes to prove that before one sacrifices too much for one's art one should be sure that the public is going to like that art.
Next I tried the screen - and the stage has seen little of me since.
Before I started by season with "Innocent" I made "The Eternal City" for the Famous Players. I had had no test in the studio and the first time I head the grinding of a camera was when I walked near the gardens of the Vatican. Since that time I have made over twenty-five pictures for Famous Players, but even now when I see myself upon the screen I regard myself from the strictly impersonal point of view. It is always:
"Now why did she do it that way? I think the effect would have been better if she had done it this way."
Unless you have been thru the experience it is impossible to realize how peeved you get with yourself. Your whole cry is "Oh, if I could only do it over again!"
And I have been saving the most important event until the end. Last September I was married to Willard Mack. When one has had an uneventful life, no jewelry stolen or anything, it is convenient to have a wonderful item such as marriage to a remarkable person as a climax to the story. When I finish "Paid in Full" I am going to take a vacation, the first in four years. People laugh when we way we are going on a motor trip, for we motor over a hundred miles every day back and forth between the studio and home. Now my husband drops me at the Famous Players' Studio every morning and picks me up every evening on his way from Goldwyn, where he is general director. When I return to work there won't be any dropping and picking up, for I am to have my own company at the Goldwyn studio. It's going to be great to be under the direction of that husband of mine, because I think that he is a tremendously clever man. Then after two years I plan to return to the "out-loud theater," as my husband calls the stage.
Even if one has shamefully neglected to give dates one should, I am sure, pass on some general rule of life. Mine is "Always be ready for the chance when it comes." On my first engagement I knew every line of everyone's part, even the Rogers Brothers', so if the opportunity came to play another role, if only for one performance, I was ready. It is a good rule and I have never known it to fail to work for the advancement of any one who follows it. A few more click of the needle and I shall have finished an even half-dozen pairs of socks for our boys. As a fitting ending t this dateless biography I shall add that when the final stitch is taken I shall be tickled to death.
Last Modified July 26, 2007