IT'S TRAGIC TO BE BEAUTIFUL by Gladys HaIl
MOVIE MIRROR, March 1932
Is it tragic to be beautiful? Sounds like foolish question one million and one, doesn't it? Since each and every one of us ( excepting maybe Garbo! ) spends hours out of life cold-creaming and permanent-waving and starving to death and what have you.
I determined to ask that question. I made up my mind to find out. What it really feels like to be flawlessly beautiful; whether beauty makes the stuff of life easier to handle, or harder. Just what it means to be a human being cast in the mould of a goddess.
I asked Thelma Todd. Thelma and Billie Dove are accounted the most beautiful girls in all of Hollywood. Thelma's beauty is authentic. It does not come out of her make-up box. She is luscious. She is natural. She is golden and white and sky-blue-eyed. Venus goes into a huddle when she thinks of the Todd figure.
Men have laid their hearts galore at Thelma's feet. Reluctant men. Strange, proud, woman-shy men such as Ivan Lebedeff and it is reported by eye-witneses, Ronald Colman. Some go so far as to say that Ronald went abouad a divorcing- with Thelma in view.
And so I said to Thelma, "What does it feel like to be so beautiful? Come on, now, don't laugh and don't be falsely modest. You are too intelligent not to know that you are beautiful and I hope you are too honest not to admit it. Mirrors never lie. You needn't either. It's not any credit to you. You might have been born with Cyrano de Bergerac's nose and bow legs. You weren't. You are sensationally beautiful. You must know it. I want to know how it feels, what it means... come on..."
Thelma said, "I feel absurd. I never think about it. The truth is I sell beauty for what it is worth, as one sells any commodity from butter and eggs to an operatic voice. I suppose I was a pretty child and grew up without much consciousness of looks. I can remember my small brother, three years older than I, saying to my mother, 'Ma, dress Thelma up pretty so I can take her out and show her off to the boys'... I had long golden curls and things...
"But it is tragic to be beautiful - I do wish you would let me use the word 'attractive' instead of beautiful - I wouldn't feel quite such a fool. Anyway, what's in a word? It's hard to be beautiful, then. It makes life difficult. It must e like having much too much money. You see, I can't trust anyone. Especially, I can't trust men. Oh, I don't mean in the emotional sense. There's that, too, of course. Horrid business. But I mean it differently.
"I can best illustrate by giving you a concrete example: Not long ago an enormously wealthy man asked me to marry him. He would have surrounded me with Rolls-Royces and sables and trips to the Riviera and homes like Buckingham Palace and personal maids. Oh, you know... And he would have brought his friends home, instructed me to dress up like a plush horse, waved his hand possesively and said, 'Meet the wife!' AND if I had come down with smallpox or broken my nose he would have put me into the discard along with his other museum pieces, first editions and antiques. I would have been just that to him - another museum piece for his collection. Something to exhibit. Something he had bought and paid for because he believed me to be a good specimen and worthy of a swell show case. He didn't love me. I would not have had a home.
"That's the way it is. I never believe a man really loves me - me - for whatever qualities I may posess in the old beano or for that quaint, old-fashioned thing, a soul, if any.
"When I am invited to parties and large functions I think, 'Why are they asking me? Because they really want me - or because I make a good showing?'
"I even dislike going to opening nights and the Mayfair and other public places because again I think, 'Why is he inviting me? Is it because I look spectacular and it's good publicity?'
"I always say to men who profess to love me, 'But why do you love me? I have annoying habits. I sometimes don't like to talk for hours at a time. I hate to be touched. I'd kill a man who started to 'neck' with me. I'm cold and not very exciting. What is it about me? Usually they are clever enough to dig up some improbable reason. Occasionally they commit the fatal blunder of exclaiming, 'Because you are so beautiful!' - and then I give the blunderers the horse-laugh - and try again.
"Women never trust women who are beautiful. Friendship with other women is all but impossible. They fear you. They believe that you will slink and swank into any room, accost the husband or the boyfriend and break up homes with a lily-white hand.
"Beauty makes a woman cold. There are so many unpleasent things - by which I mean unpleasent men - to avoid, that avoiding and distaste become habits.
"Advantadges? Sure. I'm getting them. You can sell your stock-in-trade to the chorus, the stage, the movies, or to a private museum. Eventually you fade and grow old... and then and not until then do you know what it is all about - "
The funny part of this is that Thelma Todd has lived with her beauty as her least consideration. She never planned to use it. She never intended to capitalize on it. She speaks the simple truth when she says that she never thought about it.
She was born in Lawrence, Mass. Her folks were moderately well off. She had one brother who, when he was seven and she was three, was killed before her eyes in a dairy machine. Her father used to remark, "Why did it have to be him?" Thelma knew what he meant. That the loss of the son, the male, was the severest blow of all.
Thelma adored her father. She tried to make it up to him. She acted like a boy. She played with boys. She talked like a boy. She thinks, today, like a man. She planned to be a lawyer or an engineer. Eventually she went to Teacher's College and became a public school teacher. She taught the sixth grade. All the little boys had crushes on her. She was offered more red apples than Eve ever saw. She intended to make teaching her career, to marry some local swain, to have four children and to grow comfortably fat and old.
But there was a movie exhibitor in Lawrence. He knew the beautiful school teacher. Jesse Lasky was looking for new faces. The exhibitor knew that there never was a face like Thelma's. He induced her to have a test made.
Thelma was inclined to be insulted. She said, "What, the movies - me! I should say not!" She finally consented to test because she was curious. It would be an interesting experiment. She could tell the Sixth Grade scientiffic facts about lenses and projection machines.
But Thelma never saw her Sixth Grade again. Mr. Lasky snaped the test up and Thelma followed it. The rest is screen history. The Hal Roach contract. The Charley Chase and Zasu Pitts teamings. Such pictures as THE HOT HEIRESS, BROADMINDED, and CORSAIR.
Thelma lives in Hollywood, in a small apartment, with her mother. Her father died about four years ago. They do their own work because Mrs. Todd abhors servants and wants to feel necessary.
Thelma has been in love just once in her life. Not with Ivan, or Roland, or Abe Lyman. She says, "It just didn't work out - but I know, now, what real love means - "
She was eighteen before she was kissed. She had the reputation, at lest at home, of being a girl a feller couldn't get near with a ten foot pole.
She has a few pet hates - the chief amoung them are chain letters. She would like to cut the senders of them up into 90,000 pieces and mail the pieces instead of the letters. She also loathes card tricks and first nights.
She loves violets and all garden flowers. She collects blown glass. She adores THE STORY OF SAN MICHELE. It is her favorite book. And Peter Arno. She has a placid temperment, not easily aroused, but when it is - SCRAM!
She doesn't like atheltics. They make her "lumpy".
It is tragic to be beautiful? You've heard from Thelma Todd. What do you think?
* * *
What do I think?
Again there is a comparison to Venus.
And there is a reference to a famous book.
The Story of San Michele
 MuntheMunthe grew up in Sweden. At the age of seventeen, he was on a sailing trip which included a brief visit to the Italian island of Capri. Hiking up the Phoenician steps to the village of Anacapri, Munthe came across a ruined chapel owned by a nearby resident, Maestro Vincenzo, and fantasized of owning and restoring the property. The chapel, dedicated to San Michele, had been built on some of the ruins of Roman Emperor Tiberius' villa.
Munthe went to medical school in France and then opened a medical practice in Paris. He later assisted in the 1884 cholera epidemic in Naples. In 1887, he managed to buy the ruined chapel, and subsequently spent much of his life on Capri building Villa San Michele. Munthe also had a medical practice in Rome in order to help pay for construction.
 The bookThe Story of San Michele has 32 chapters, approximately 368 pages. It is a series of overlapping vignettes, roughly but not entirely in chronological order. It contains reminiscences of many periods of his life. He associated with a number of celebrities of his times, including Jean-Martin Charcot, Louis Pasteur, Henry James, and Guy de Maupassant, all of whom figure in the book. He also associated with the very poorest of people, including Italian immigrants in Paris and plague victims in Naples, as well as rural people such as the residents of Capri, and the Nordic Lapplanders. He was an unabashed animal lover, and animals figure prominently in several stories, perhaps most notably his alcoholic pet baboon, Billy.
The stories cover a wide range in terms of both how serious they are and how literal. Several discussions with animals and various supernatural beings take place, and the final chapter actually takes place after Munthe has died and includes his discussions with Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven. At no point does Munthe seem to take himself particularly seriously, but some of the things he discusses are very serious, such as his descriptions of rabies research in Paris, including euthanasia of human patients, and a suicide attempt by a man convinced he had been exposed to the disease.
Several of the most prominent figures in Munthe's life are not mentioned in Story of San Michele. His wife and children do not figure in the narrative; very little of his time in England is mentioned, even though he married a British woman, his children were largely raised in England, and he himself became a British citizen during the First World War. His decades-long service as personal physician and confidante to the Queen of Sweden is mentioned only in the most oblique terms; at one point, while naming her only as "she who must be mother to a whole nation", he mentions that she regularly brings flowers for the grave of one of her dogs buried at Villa San Michele, at another point, one of his servants is out walking his dogs, and encounters the Queen, who mentions having given the dog to Munthe.
Munthe published a few other reminiscences and essays during the course of his life, and some of them were incorporated into The Story of San Michele, which vastly overshadows all his other writing both in length and popularity. Notably, his accounts of working with a French ambulance corps during the First World War are not included.
World wide, the book was immensely successful; by 1930, there had been twelve editions of the English version alone, and Munthe added a second preface. A third preface was written in 1936 for an illustrated edition.
 CriticismAs with any work, not everyone liked it; publisher Kurt Wolff wrote
- I was the first German publisher to be offered The Story of San Michele. I read it in the German translation and found it so unbelievably trite, vain, and embarrassing that I did not hesitate for a moment in rejecting it.
 See also
- The Story of San Michele, Axel Munthe.
- Kurt Wolff: A Portrait in Essays and Letters, Kurt Wolff, English translation by Deborah Lucas Schneider, contributor Michael Ermath, 1991 University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226905519
Wikipedia Biography for Peter Arnold:
Born Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr. in New York, New York, and educated at the Hotchkiss School and Yale University, his cartoons were published in The New Yorker from 1925–1968. They often depicted a cross-section of New York society from the 1920s through the 1960s. He married The New Yorker magazine columnist and fashion editor Lois Long and together they had one daughter, Patricia Arno, born September 18, 1928. Their marriage ended in 1930. He is interred at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
And there is a reference to Thelma's unfortunate brother, who died in an accident when she was only three and he was only seven. There's also a reference to "Roland", who is presumably Roland West, and to Abe Lyman, Ronald Coleman, and Ivan Lebedeff, all of whom were at one time involved with Thelma Todd.
As for the question it it's tragic to be beautiful, I wouldn't consider being beautiful to be a tragedy at all, but beauty and tragedy can go hand in hand and sometimes do.