Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gail Patrick: Deco Dame, Part VIII

Today's entry is not new, as this Gail Patrick post already appeared in the May 19 Silents and Talkies. However, Kate Gabrielle's stellar artwork can only be found at her blog--its available for purchase, too; gotta plug my friend's livelyhood-- but I wanted to include the post here for the olde archives. It's obvious that I need little or no reason to put Gail on the blog again, despite an earlier announcement stating that I wouldn't. I've added the above picture of her from My Favorite Wife. I've excluded all those links I always feel the need to cross reference you to death with. Consider it a generous gift. Anyway, once more---Gail Patrick:


Have you ever seen a movie and find that it’s one of the second-tier stars who gets your attention, and that you find yourself waiting for their next fleeting appearance onscreen? This happened to me years ago when I saw Gail Patrick (1911-1980) in the 1936 Screwball Comedy, My Man Godfrey. This is the film that introduced me to the Golden Age’s definitive “Other Woman.” Patrick’s best-known roles have her trading deliciously catty barbs with Hollywood’s greatest stars, most notably in this film, and also in Stage Door (1937), opposite Ginger Rogers.

In My Man Godfrey, her most-famous role, Gail plays Cornelia Bullock, one of the daughters of the impossibly-wealthy Alexander Bullock. The entire family is an out-of-touch rabble afflicted with having too much money during the Great Depression. I don’t want to spoil the entire plot, but what I like about Gail’s role is that she’s the only character who comes full circle and ends up growing as a person. Cornelia is completely different at the end of the film than she was at the beginning. Of course, I didn’t catch on to this plot development until many years and several “Godfrey” viewings later.

From the first time I saw Gail Patrick--I dubbed her the Deco Dame-- I was enraptured and intrigued by the actress who was often characterized as a huffy, stand-offish, statuesque beauty; I’d add that she had a great speaking voice, too. She was someone I sought out in any 1930s film I was watching and I would perk up at the sight of her name in the credits. I didn’t see her in many movies, but when I did it was an event. You see, Gail was the first “bad girl” that I had a cinematic crush on. Normally, I tend to prefer the girl next door types, like Ginger Rogers or Myrna Loy, but Gail changed the dimensions of that daydream. There was a radiant beauty, but I sensed that Gail possessed a keen intelligence. This was merely an assumption on my part, but it would turn out to be true, given her post-acting career accomplishments.

My Favorite Wife (1940) is another of Gail’s better-known films. Gail’s ability to barely contain her annoyance at Cary Grant’s kids’ piano recital is her most memorable comedic moment. However, she managed to make me sympathize with her because she really wasn’t a bad person. We’re supposed to want Cary Grant to be able to get away from Gail, and so the flawed script had to make Irene Dunne more desirable to him, so Gail was sacrificed on the altar of “The Hollywood Ending.”

My favorite Gail Patrick role is in Love Crazy (1941). She’s teamed again with her My Man Godfrey co-star, William Powell. Here Gail plays a lighthearted variation of her “other woman” persona in the role of Isobel Grayson, who’s more of a playful vixen than a catty ex-girlfriend. Isobel has moved into ex-fianc├ęe Powell’s apartment building and of course she causes trouble, if unknowingly, with Powell and his wife of four years, played by Myrna Loy—and on their wedding anniversary. Of all her movies where she’s a supporting player, Love Crazy is the role that lets Gail be bubbly, fun, flirty, yet mischievous. She steals every one of the few scenes she’s in, and has one of the best lines in the whole movie, when she’s covering up for William Powell when the latter is trapped in her shower.

When her movie career ended in 1947, Gail started her own children’s boutique that catered to the Hollywood clientele she knew so well. However, her most significant off-screen accomplishment was serving as the producer of the Perry Mason television series. It was Gail’s suggestion that Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and William Talman be cast in the long-running courtroom drama. She was close friends with Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner and he trusted her decisions. In fact, Gardner only allowed the show to exist if Gail would produce it! It would seem as though the tough-as-nails persona Gail honed onscreen also extended to her real-life business career.

Gail Patrick would die from leukemia in July, 1980. She had been both a respected actress and a powerful producer in her extended entertainment career. I still get that sense of excitement every time I watch My Man Godfrey. Of course, there’s the nostalgia when I think of the first time I discovered Gail in her, but now there’s that newfound knowledge that she imbued her characters with a drive, determination, and intelligence, that is plainly evident in all of her performances.

Coming On Strong: Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick) gets chummy with ex-boyfriend Stephen Ireland (William Powell) in 1941's Love Crazy.


  1. I figured that there *might* be two or so people who didn't know about your blog yet...;)

  2. I had the honor of being a next door neighbor to Ms. Patrick, and was an invited guest into her home on many occasions. She and I spoke about Hollywood, and my aspirations to become an actor. Of course, I was a young teenager.

    One of the little known problems that she encountered with CBS is that she had signed a contract to be paid a maximum of $600,000 per year in royalties. She did not expect Perry mason to be the huge success that it was. Producers may dream of this, but rarely count on it!

    As it turned out, CBS owed her millions, but insisted that she stick to their agreement. Being the sly fox, she invested in PA oil wells, which of course struck major oil.

    She was a classy, wise, and strong woman.

    Does anyone know how to reach her children, Tom and/or Jennifer? I would love to touch base with them!

  3. BY THE WAY, if you love the Old Hollywood feel, there is still a wonderful restaurant much as it was in the 50'a and 60's. It is called Miceli's, and is located on Las Palmas Ave. There are many pics signed by the old stars. FYI, i'm not pluging the business, just the ambiance.

  4. I was friends with Tom many years ago and have been looking for him for years. He was last living in Universal Studios area, but the house was torn down and turned into condos years ago.


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