Born Marion Pauline Levy
June 3, 1910(1910-06-03)
Whitestone Landing, Queens, New York, U.S.
Died April 23, 1990 (aged 79)
Ronco sopra Ascona, Ticino, Switzerland
Years active 1929–1972
Spouse(s) Edgar James (1927–1931)
Charles Chaplin (1936–1942)
Burgess Meredith (1944–1950)
Erich Maria Remarque (1958–1970)
Paulette Goddard (June 3, 1910 – April 23, 1990) was an American film and theatre actress. A former child fashion model and in several Broadway productions as Ziegfeld Girl, she was a major star of the Paramount Studio in the 1940s. She was married to several notable men, including Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith and Erich Maria Remarque. Goddard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in So Proudly We Hail! (1943).
Paulette Goddard was born Marion Pauline Levy. She was an only child, born in Whitestone Landing, Queens, Long Island. Her father, Joseph Russell Levy, was Jewish, and her mother, Alta Mae Goddard, was Episcopalian. Her parents divorced while she was young, and she was raised by her mother. Her father virtually vanished from her life, only to resurface later in the late 1930s after she became a star. At first, their relationship seemed genial enough, as they used to attend film premieres together, but then he sued her over a magazine article that claimed he abandoned her when she was young. They were never to reconcile and upon his death, he left her just one dollar in his will. She remained very close to her mother, however, as both had struggled through those early years, with her great uncle, Charles Goddard (her grandfather's brother) lending a hand.
Charles Goddard helped his great niece find jobs as a fashion model, and with the Ziegfeld Follies as one of the heavily-decorated Ziegfeld Girls from 1924 to 1928. She attended Washington Irving High School in Manhattan at the same time as Claire Trevor.
Her stage debut was in the Ziegfeld revue No Foolin in 1926. The next year she made her stage acting debut in The Unconquerable Male. She also changed her first name to Paulette and took her mother's maiden name (which also happened to be her favorite great uncle Charles' last name) as her own last name. She married an older, wealthy businessman, lumber tycoon Edgar James, in 1926 or 1927 and moved to North Carolina to be a socialite, but divorced him in 1930 and received a huge divorce settlement.
Goddard in Dramatic School (1938)
In 1929 she came to Hollywood with her mother after signing a contract with Hal Roach Studios, and appeared in small parts of several films over the next few years, starting with Laurel & Hardy shorts.
At Samuel Goldwyn Productions, she also joined other such future notables as Betty Grable, Lucille Ball, Ann Sothern, and Jane Wyman as "Goldwyn Girls" with Eddie Cantor in films such as The Kid from Spain, Roman Scandals and Kid Millions.
In 1932, she met Charlie Chaplin and began an eight-year personal and cinematic relationship with him. Chaplin bought Goddard's contract from Roach Studios and cast her as a street urchin opposite his Tramp character in the 1936 film Modern Times, which made Goddard a star. During this time she lived with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home.
Their actual marital status was and has remained a source of controversy and speculation. During most of their time together, both refused to comment on the matter. At the premier of The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin first introduced Goddard as his wife. The couple split amicably soon afterward, and Goddard allegedly obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1942, with Chaplin agreeing to a generous settlement. For years afterward, Chaplin stated that they were married in China in 1936, but to private associates and family, he claimed they were never legally married, except in common law.
Goddard began gaining star status after appearing in The Young in Heart (1938), Dramatic School (1938), and a supporting role in The Women (1939), in role of Miriam Aarons, which starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.
During filming of The Women, Goddard was considered as a finalist for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, but after many auditions and a Technicolor screen test, lost the part to Vivien Leigh. Although, it has been suggested that questions regarding her marital status with Chaplin, in that era of the Production Code and the morals clauses, may have cost her the role, the reality was that Selznick felt that Vivien Leigh's screen tests showed that she was perfectly suited for the part.
Nonetheless, in 1939, Goddard signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and her next film The Cat and the Canary (1939) with Bob Hope, was a turning point in the careers of both actors.
Goddard starred with Chaplin again in his 1940 film The Great Dictator, and then was Fred Astaire's leading lady in the musical Second Chorus (1940), where she met Burgess Meredith. One of her best-remembered film appearances was in the variety musical Star Spangled Rhythm (1943) in which she sang a comic number "A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peekaboo Bang" with contemporary sex symbols Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake.
She received her only Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, in 1944 for So Proudly We Hail! (1943). Her most successful film was Kitty (1945), where she played the title role. In The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), she starred opposite Meredith, by then her husband.
Her career faded in the late 1940s. In 1947 she made An Ideal Husband in Britain for Alexander Korda films, being accompanied on a publicity trip to Brussels by Clarissa Churchill, niece of Sir Winston and future wife of Prime Minister Anthony Eden. In 1949, she formed Monterey Pictures with John Steinbeck. Her last starring roles were the English production A Stranger Came Home (known as The Unholy Four in the USA), and Charge of the Lancers in 1954. She also acted in summer stock and on television, including in the 1955 television remake of The Women, playing a different character than she played in the 1939 feature film. In 1964, she attempted a comeback in films with a supporting role in the Italian film Time of Indifference, but that turned out to be her last feature film. Her last acting role was in The Snoop Sisters (1972) for television.
Goddard was married to actor Burgess Meredith from 1944 to 1949. She suffered a miscarriage while married to him. She had no children. In 1958 she married the author Erich Maria Remarque. They remained married until his death in 1970.
Goddard was treated for breast cancer, apparently successfully, although the surgery was very invasive and the doctor had to remove several ribs. She later settled in Ronco sopra Ascona, Switzerland, where she died of emphysema a few months before her 80th birthday. She is buried in Ronco cemetery, next to Remarque and her mother.
In her will, she left US$20 million to New York University (NYU), in recognition of her friendship with the Indiana-born politician and former NYU President John Brademas. Goddard Hall, an NYU freshman residence hall on Washington Square, is named in her honor.
Ronco Village Cemetery