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NOBODY COULD WISECRACK BETTER THAN GLENDA


She may not have been a major movie star, but Glenda Farrell certainly was an enduring--and endearing--screen presence. And when I interviewed her for The New York Times, she was one of the surprise delights of the 1969 Broadway season, a true pro having a truly wonderful time. --GUY FLATLEY


Glenda Farrell, the dizzy, fun-loving, gum-chewing blonde who wisecracked her way through more rough-and-tumble movies of the thirties than she can remember, is back winning laughs in a sex comedy of the sixties. Only this time she’s on Broadway, playing the perfectly respectable, if slightly screwball, mother of Julie Harris in the hit play “Forty Carats.”

Miss Farrell is no longer blonde – her hair is brown and curly now – but she is as bubbly as ever. She did manage, however, to settle down long enough the other day to reminisce about the good – well, mostly good – old days in Hollywood.

“We really were a big happy family at Warners,” she says, curling up on a mile-long sofa in her Park Avenue apartment. “When I went out there to do ‘Little Caesar’ in 1930, the talkies were still new. Not many actors could talk, so they shoved the ones who came from Broadway into everything. It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, ‘What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing – this one or this one?’ Up at five every morning, start work at a quarter of six, work till seven or eight at night. By the time you got home it was nine. Then you had to study your lines, have your dinner and bath and go to bed. You worked till midnight on Saturday. All I ever really wanted was a day off. Our contracts gave us six weeks’ vacation each year, but they got around that by loaning us out to other studios. I could have gone on suspension, but I had responsibilities – my father to support, my son in military school, all that.”

Glenda Farrell’s name seldom appeared at the top of the cast (although she has been steadily employed, even to this day, by Hollywood). Did she ever resent being billed below those other Warners Women of the thirties – Kay Francis, Joan Blondell, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Dolores Del Rio, Loretta Young? Not to mention Genevieve Tobin and Lili Damita.

“No,” she says, smiling. “Warners never made you feel you were just a member of the cast. They might star you in one movie – I starred with Paul Muni in ‘Hi, Nellie’ – and give you a bit part in the next. I can remember thinking, ‘Oh, God, I hope it’s a small part this time so I can get some rest.’ So you weren’t Kay Francis. You were still well paid, and you didn’t get a star complex. We were a very close group – James Cagney, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert, Aline MacMahon, Dick Powell and Joan Blondell. Bette Davis was always an outsider.”

Several of Miss Farrell’s films, particularly those teaming her with Joan Blondell, like “Gold Diggers of 1937,” “Traveling Saleslady,” “Havana Widows” and “Miss Pacific Fleet,” brought a blush to the cheeks of many an uptight moviegoer.

“Well, they were risque. They used to call Joan and me ‘the gimme girls.’ We were always out to get a man with money. But those movies were risque in the way that ‘Forty Carats’ is risque – sophisticated and fun.”

Much of the fun in “Forty Carats” is derived from Miss Farrell’s wonderfully scatter-brained endorsement of her 17-year-old granddaughter’s hasty marriage to a wealthy, middle-aged boob. Would she sanction such a mating in real life?

“Yes,” she says after a pause. “Because, whatever they want to do, they do. We have to make our own mistakes and our own successes. My son Tommy and his ex-wife both call me and ask what are they going to do with their 17-year-old. I say, ‘Let her alone. You got through.’ I was always rushing down to prep school to get Tommy out of trouble. He was only a kid in college when he got married, and when he was breaking up with his wife, I tried to warn him, ‘Don’t be so fast to say that you’re through and that you want somebody else. All you’re changing is the face.’ But I’ve liked all three of Tommy’s wives. They’re all charming girls. Besides, I was very young at the time of my first marriage, so how could I really say anything?”

Miss Farrell may have made her share of mistakes since leaving Enid, Oklahoma, where she was born some 60-odd years ago, but her second marriage wasn’t one of them. She has been married to Henry Ross, a gentle, white-haired doctor, for 28 years, and they seem as happy as the proverbial newlyweds – though a good deal better off. In addition to their luxury apartment, they have an impressive 50-acre estate in Brewster, N.Y., where even their pet cats have their own room with a color TV – to keep them from being lonely while Miss Farrell is occupied in Manhattan. (She is now busy trying to persuade Dr. Ross that what the cats really need is Muzak.)

“My husband was the one who talked me into doing ‘Forty Carats,’ she says, her blue eyes beaming. “He is an ideal audience, except for problem plays. I have to nudge him to wake him up if it isn’t a comedy. I find that quite a few doctors are like that. Hank says he sees problems enough all day long in the office.”

One problem Miss Farrell is now facing is getting a satisfactory wig to replace the silver-gray one she wears in the show. “It’s so terrible; it makes my head look twice as big as it is,” she pouts. “Now that the show’s a hit, wouldn’t you think they could afford to buy me a decent wig?”