I Could Get Any Woman’s Husband!

79

“I Could Get Any Woman’s Husband.”

So says Camilla Horn, Artist in Pajamas and Photodramas

(Onoto Watanna)
“American married men very easy to take from wife,” said Camilla Horn. “I could get any husband if I want. On’y I don’ want!”
Camilla is unique. Camilla is extraordinary. Camilla is unbelievable. No publicity genius speaks for Camilla. Imagine a publicity man making such a statement as that. She may indeed be said to be the enfant terrible of the United Artists lot, for off the screen Camilla cannot act or pose.
She came into the room with a rush, on the heels of the studio executive who introduced us. She was wearing an unlovely drab colored muskrat coat and her natural blonde hair was tucked under a tight little toque. I thought at first her eyes were the color of the Danube, but then she told me they were “Any color you like. Maybe brown, blue—-green.” They are changing eyes, black-lashed, wide and clear. She grasped my hand, smiled at me eagerly:
“Ach! I t’ink maybe I have also already met you before? No? So many writers I have meet. It is a great pleasure some time. When first I come from Germany, big crowd from newspapers meet me, and I cannot speak English. So they look at me and I see on their face what they think: ‘Ach! This Camilla Horn—-she is dumb!’”
I laughed, I don’t know why; and after a moment she joined in heartily. We became instant friends. Camilla put her arm around my shoulders, as if we had known each other for years and, “Come,” said Camilla, “I will feed you.”

Camilla Not Dumb

She took me to her bungalow dressing-room, where a beaming waiter who looked like von Stroheim1 served us a colossal meal. Camilla studied me thoughtfully. What was I thinking of her? Her fair candid brows knitted. She spoke with genuine regret upon the end of a sigh.
“Everybody t’ink of me that I am—dumb! You, too? Is because I do not mix so well. I go to some party, I sit in some quiet corner, I do not make the handspring or dance the jazzy bottom. So then they say: ‘Ach! She is 80 no fun. She is dumb.’. But is not true. I am not dumb,” said Camilla Horn with intense earnestness.
“I suppose,” said I, “that like most of the foreign stars who come here, you are a countess or of some high nobility in your country.”
“Oh, no. Oh, no. Very simple people. Nice. Not so rich. When my father die, then I go to work. I have little brother and mother to feed . . . What did I do?” She lowered her voice confidentially. There was a warm, friendly look in her now brown eyes. “I will tell you what I do. I make pajamas. I design them. I sew on them. I go out to store and I sell them.”
There was genuine pride in her voice, and she explained moreover that she made good pajamas. “Very pretty and nice to look at and feel.”

Her Big Top Day

“But how did you get into the movies?”
“Ach! I will tell you,” said Camilla, who prefaces most remarks with these words. “One day Mr. Murnau 2 sees me on street. He stop and look hard. He say: ‘You are Marguerite for my Faust. I laugh and say: ‘Is silly. I am not lovely like Marguerite.’. He replies that I come to his studio next day. Still I think it a joke and I do not tell my mother, but I go. That day he signs me up on contract. Is for beeg money. Seem oh, so big to me then. I cannot breathe for t’rill. I t’ink I will buy a chateau for my family. Ach! I am so happy. Never, never will I be so happy as on that day. It is the big top day on my life.” A tear came to her eyes and unashamedly she wiped them. She was homesick.
“But it’s fine here, isn’t it; and you’re doing splendid work.”
“Not so good sometimes. I cry when I see preview of ‘The Tempest.’ Every good acting I do is cut out. Only leave me for be pretty girl. Das is all. But in new picture I am just finish with Barrymore—-ach! Is different! Mr. Lubitsch 3 makes me every chance, and I am very wonderful. You shall see and say so, too.”
“You like working for Barrymore?”
“We-ll ye-es. I t’ink so. He is very fine to me when we come alone, but on the set—-cannot get near him. He sits and smokes cigarettes and one hundred people come around him. He is king and I am nothing.”

As She Sees ‘Em

“What do you think of our American stars?”
“Oh—-Greta Garbo marvelous—-but she does not need act. She just be Greta. Mary Pickford do some very nice acting. One picture I see, she acts with greatness. It is simple story. Her father is just a cop-man. Mary prepares a birthday party for him. She makes a little tie for his neck, and she puts by his plate a little brush-teeth. Mary’s father does not come, and her face when sees other cop-man—-it was very great acting. I never see more better. Then there is Norma Talmadge. Some people say: ‘Her husband Joe Schenck.He make her.’. Not so. Anywhere she will make success because Norma is very great actress. I very much adore also Lillian Gish. Mary Philbin is so sweet, but too shy. It is pity. She must wake up.”
There were other people waiting, waiting for Camilla, and I pushed back my chair.
“Ach!” said she, regarding mournfully our totally empty plates, “You have not eat so much. I will get some more feed.”
“No, no. Oh, by the way—-what do you think of American men? Do you prefer them to European?”
Camilla shook her head vigorously.
“I will tell you. For me—-is better European,” she said, the first foreign star who failed to eulogize our American men. On the contrary Camilla lowered her voice and glanced surreptitiously toward the door, as though she feared someone might be listening at the keyhole.
“I will tell you. When European marries, is wife for all time. American married men very easy to take from wife. Even if got nice pretty wife and little baby. Is all same. I could get any husband if I want. So easy. Five minutes, maybe. Only I don’t want.”

The Scandal Speakers

“And what do you think of Hollywood?”
“Is nice city, maybe—-but is too much scandal speak. I will tell you: Even me they make scandal for. When first I come I am so lonely. All day I am lonely, and I t’ink all the time of my mother, who is afraid to cross ocean, and of my home in Frankfort. So I tell Mr. Schenck. I say: ‘Maybe I will go back home, for my heart is very lonely’. He replies: ‘Don’t be silly, Camilla, I will take you out and show you things’. This he do. Then soon when I go into restaurant or any place with him, I see people put heads together and go ‘Pss! Pss! Pss!’ They whisper. And then I can hear scandal about me.”
Camilla stamped a little foot. Her eyes were flaming now and they looked almost black. “Is not true!” she cried.
“Well, don’t mind it. It’s just part of the Hollywood game. Besides, you wouldn’t be a star if you didn’t have love affairs.”
To my surprise a deep blush spread over the girl’s fair face. Imagine a movie star blushing! I bear witness to it. She gave me a little wisp of a smile. “Is not good to have love affair when one is married,” said Camilla Horn. Which brought us to the detail of the husband in Germany. Camilla brought from under a blotter on her desk a thirty- or forty-page letter, very closely written.
“The more I see other men, the more I better like my husband. Sometimes in this Hollywood men must scrape and cringe and bow for favors--but not my husband. He is just—-man, das is all.”
She extended the letter, a small book-size manuscript. “Read,” she invited.
“I can’t read German.”
“Ach! I will do so.” She read: “‘How I miss you! How I wish you were not a movie star, but just my nice little wife cooking my meals in our nice little home.’”

Notes

1
Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) was born in Austria but gained fame in Hollywood first as an actor (playing stiff, aristocratic Prussian soldier types) and then as a perfectionist director whose films, while beautiful, always came in late and far over budget. His masterpiece Greed (1924), for example, originally came in at over seven hours, and his directing career was effectively ended when he was fired from Queen Kelly (1929) by producer Gloria Swanson after spending $600,000 (an exorbitant amount in 1929 dollars). Eaton’s allusion is prescient, given the role von Stroheim would play when he reunited with Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950): the aging movie star’s butler.
2
F.W. Murnau (1888-1931), German director best known for his 1922 masterpiece, Nosferatu Although Horn claims to have gotten her break in the 1926 Murnau production of Faust she apparently appeared in an earlier film, Kean (1921), directed by Rudolf Biebrach.
3
Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947), German-born director. Horn appeared in his 1929 film, Eternal Love opposite John Barrymore. She also appeared with John Barrymore in The Tempest (1928).

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People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

Greg Murray

Greg Murray is the Director of Digital Initiatives at Princeton Theological and has a MA in Literature and Religion from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Ethan Gruber

Ethan Gruber is the Director of Data Science at the American Numismatic Society and has an M.A. in Art and Architectural History from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

John Ivor Carlson

John Ivor Carlson is the Digital Production Editor at Yale University Press and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jolie Sheffer

Jolie Sheffer is Associate Professor in English and American Culture Studies and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green State University. She was a research assistant on the original Winnfired Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Organizations Mentioned

Motion Picture Classic Magazine

An American movie fan magazine in print from 1915 until 1937. Headquartered in New York. The sister magazine of Motion Picture Magazine.
Written by Samantha Bowen

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