I was saddened to hear of Gloria DeHaven’s passing this week, because I had a small connection with the performer that meant a lot to me. When I was 18 years old I got to interview her for my magazine Film Fan Monthly. I didn’t have access to many stars of Hollywood’s golden age at the time and although I was a kid she treated me like a bona fide journalist.
Raised in a show-business family, it was only natural that she follow her parents’ path. Flora Parker and Carter DeHaven (billed as Mr. and Mrs. Carter DeHaven) were headliners on stage and screen. Gloria’s father later became a valued associate of Charlie Chaplin, which led to the youngster’s first appearance on screen. Her brother, also named Carter, had a long career behind the camera as did his son, Carter III.
Gloria’s first taste of success came when she sang with the big bands of Jan Savitt and Bob Crosby…but when she was still a teenager MGM became her home.
Here is the interview I printed in February of 1969. It still makes me smile when I think of the morning she welcomed me into her office at WABC in Manhattan.
FFM INTERVIEWS GLORIA DE HAVEN
By Leonard Maltin
A lively, attractive woman who hasn’t made a movie in fifteen years has taken New York by storm. In the short time she has been hosting WABC—TV’s morning movie, Gloria De Haven has more than doubled the station’s ratings. While the movies aren’t bad, it is Gloria who is attracting the audiences with her warm, sincere manner, and her incredible-gift of gab. Amazed and delighted with the results she has produced, WABC has moved her into a better time slot and is giving her the Star Treatment she has always deserved. We spoke to Miss De Haven in her office at WABC; a petite and most charming person, she packs more into a twenty-minute interview than most people do in an hour.
FFM: Is it true that you were in Modern Times?
DE HAVEN: Yes, I was. My dad co-directed that movie with Mr. Chaplin. It was just an accident— I was visiting on the set, so he put a school mate of mine (we were nine years old), Gloria Delson, and I into a scene. He sent us down to Western Costume, and said would we like to be in the scene with Paulette Goddard. She was supposed to have two young sisters. It was silent, so we didn’t have to talk; we just ate bananas, and ran around in raggedy clothes, and we enjoyed it. I always kid about it and say I started in silent films.
FFM: Then your first real part was in Susan and God?
DE HAVEN: Yes; I did some hits, tiny one-line things in movies I can’t even tell you the names of, at that time. But Susan and God was also a very tiny part. I was fifteen at the time, and that’s where I first met Joan Crawford, and you can imagine for a youngster what a thrill that was. George Cukor directed that, a marvelous director, and he knew my parents and was very kind to me, although it was just a very small role.
FFM: How did the part come about?
DE HAVEN: I auditioned, I read for it, like millions of kids did at that time. I wasn’t under contract then, and it was like three days’ work, maybe two scenes in a movie that runs two hours. And then later, when I was 17, and singing with Jan Savitt’s band in New Orleans, a talent scout from MGM brought me back to test for Best Foot Forward, which was the first big thing I did. Here I was born in Los Angeles, right under their noses… So it was the auditioning scene again; they auditioned lots of girls, and I got the part. In those days, when you did a part, you signed for a seven year contract; I started at $50 a week, and I was there seven years. Things like Susan and God came before I was under contract to them.
REM: Do you consider one film the breakthrough for you?
DE HAVEN: I’m sure it was Two Girls and a Sailor. It was the breakthrough for all of us—when I say all of us I mean not only myself but June Allyson and Van Johnson and Jimmy Durante, who at that time had more or less retired. Jimmy hadn’t done too much, and they brought him back in a character role which meant a whole new career for him. The movie was made for a very small budget, because none of us were known, and all the names that were later in it—Lena Home, Gracie Allen, Xavier Cugat—those people were brought in after the movie was made, completed, and previewed. They found that they had a very successful movie on their hands that only ran about an hour and a half, so they proceeded to bring the movie back in, and in order to sell it, since they couldn’t sell it on any of our names, they added all of those cameo appearances. And it ended up Two Girls and a Sailor with Lena Horne, Harry James—everything you can imagine to get them into the theater to see us. And that was the start for all of us.
FFM: Did you feel you were typecast?
DE HAVEN: Oh yes, very definitely, for a long time, until I broke away from MGM, which is where I grew up—and I loved it, but I just felt I had to. When Dore Schary took over at MGM he was the one who gave me my first chance to do a straight role. I used to kid and say that when they gave me a script, I didn’t have to read it, I’d just go to wardrobe because I knew my costumes would be different but the lines would be the same. I always played the same girl. I used to complain about this a lot because I wanted my career to be more diversified than it was. Mr. Schary gave me a chance in a film with Glenn Ford called The Doctor and the Girl. Then I started doing things on loan—out, and after my seven—year contract was up I began to freelance.
FFM: How did you like working with a top director like Rouben Mamoulian in Summer Holiday?
DE HAVEN: Well, I adored him. Mamoulian was an artist’ that’s all I can say. He was a perfectionist, and I think we had what was an artistic success and a commercial failure. It was beautifully done, beautifully directed.. .very good performances. But it was a little too good.
FFM: Do you have a favorite movie of the ones you made?
DE HAVEN: I guess I would have to go back again to Two Girls and a Sailor, only because it was such a stepping stone. It was like where someone really began to believe they were going to be a movie star. One favorite would be Summer Stock, for the privilege of working with Judy Garland. We became very close friends on that movie, and still are. If I could have just watched I would have been happy, but working with her was just a thrill. And I think the Sinatra experience, Step Lively, was a big thrill. I don’t know if you read about it but I gave Sinatra his first screen kiss, and they made a big to-do about that. He had done a movie prior to Step Lively, but in Higher and Higher he was still the untouchable. And finally, someone got to kiss Frank Sinatra—well, you can just imagine what happened. LIFE magazine covered it; it was on the cover of TIME magazine. It was a big thing, so that’s one that should go down as a favorite.
Oh, I have really left out the most memorable experiences for me, which was portraying my mother. I played Mrs. Carter De Haven in a cameo scene in Three Little Words, which was the life story of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. In the movie, in one scene, Kalmar and they go to Mrs. Carter De Haven’s dressing room to ask her to introduce one of their sons. The song was “Who’s Sorry Now?” and that is a true story—my mother did introduce that song. My mother was on the set when we shot it, in 1950. Fred Astaire was just marvelous with her, and so was Red [Skelton]—they remembered my parents as vaudevillians, and they treated her beautifully. She couldn’t wait for the movie to come out, and unfortunately, she passed sway just about three months before the movie was released. That was the most memorable moment of my career.
You know, if one were to say what was the most interesting facet or time of my career, I always say “Now.” What I’m doing now is just as exciting as anything I’ve done in the past. I’m allowed to be totally myself; I can say what I want to say, wear what I want to wear. It’s very exciting. . .very rarely in your life do you get to do this.
It’s one thing to play a part, and study the character and memorize lines, but to come in in the morning, and sit down and decide when you pick up a piece of mail or you’re on the phone that that’s the direction you’re going in, that’s right off the top of your head. It’s a Challenge, and I love it.