Beyond the Lens
Terry Moore: Her Career and Loves
By Robert R. Rees, CyberProfile Contributing Editor
(May contain unsuitable language for young audiences.)
erry Moore, once a Hollywood starlet with Oscar potential, nowadays may be well known for her daring stint in Playboy Magazine. That's right, the woman who knew Elvis and Marilyn, dated James Dean, and made a slew of flicks in the 1950s, more recently made news by claiming to be Howard Hughes' widow and posing for Playboy when she was in her 50s. Unusual as it all may seem, it's true, and therefore, I was intrigued when our paths crossed at a "Stargazer" convention recently held in Houston. Moore, who is in her late 60s, looked quite glamorous in an attention-commanding fashion. How many grannies do you know who can actually pull off shoulder length blonde hair, and a form fitting black pants and coat combination, accented by a tight red sweater and gold jewelry? Terry Moore did it! I asked this well-preserved ex-model how it all began.
Moore said, "It all started for me when a neighbor sent my picture into a casting magazine. I was called out on an interview with 500 other little girls. Six of us were picked to be screen-tested, and I got the role. It was 1940. The movie was called Maryland, and I played Walter Brennan's granddaughter." One of the reasons Moore was chosen for the role was that she had a special talent that the script called for. She was able to ride a horse bareback standing up! Another early role for Moore you might remember was in the movie classic, Gaslight (1945), wherein she portrayed Ingrid Bergman as a child. Moore had braces on her teeth. She was asked to remove them every time she made a film. Naturally, this was a counterproductive maneuver for a child intending to correct her occlusion. Therefore, rather than pushing hard for a film career in the 1940s, Moore often did radio programs instead. She sometimes did as many as five shows a week, performing opposite such film legends as Lionel Barrymore and Jean Hersholt.
"The first grown-up movie role I had was The Return of October in 1947. It was also the first time I used the name Terry Moore. Harry Cohen, head of Columbia, gave me the name. Before that time I used my real name, Helen Koford. For awhile I was Judy Ford, then Jan Ford when I was an international cover girl," she related. Though four names were involved, only one face kept showing up on magazine covers. In fact, one year in the 1940s saw Moore's face on the front of 40 magazines, including Look, Life, Parade, and American. Ms. Moore mentioned, "If you ever meet a girl named 'Terry', they were all born after 1947. I was the first one. I love it--that the name has become so popular, because I feel I was responsible for making it popular." Moore always wanted to be an actress, since the age of four, so family and friend weren't surprised when her career really took off in the late 1940s. "Louella Parsons (famous gossip columnist) said, in 1947, that I was an 'overnight success'. I didn't understand that, because I'd been working hard in the business for seven years (by then) doing movies, radio, magazine modeling, billboards, calendars, and plays," she commented.
Mighty Joe vs. Mighty Moore
The general movie-going public took notice of Terry Moore in 1949 when she registered with Mighty Joe Young, a King Kong sequel of sorts. You might say Moore was the ape's Fay Wray in this one. Although Moore co-starred with the gorilla, she reminded me, "I never saw 'Joe' until I went to the movie! He was a special effect added later. I worked every day alone. I threw bananas up in the air. 'Joe' is very much alive to me today, because I've fallen in love with him from the movie."
When asked about people on the film with whom she worked, she replied, "My director, Ernest Schoedsack, was the most wonderful man in the world, but he was blind. Then there was my make-up man. He was passed out drunk in my dressing room, so I never had any makeup on in that movie, ever. Ben Johnson was wonderful, but very inexperienced." Johnson was a real-life cowboy who got involved with movies because he brought out horses for Howard Hughes to use in the notorious Jane Russell film, The Outlaw. Though animation pioneers Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen created the film's special effects, Moore never saw them on the set.
The movie sported a healthy budget, and Moore remembers, Mighty Joe Young was the second highest grossing film made in 1949. "I recall a lot of stuntmen were hurt on 'Joe'." Moore continued, "When a stuntman took a fall from a burning building for Ben Johnson, both his heels were broken. Several other people were mauled by lions."
Ms. Moore's best performance was in 1952's Come Back, Little Sheba for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. The movie starred Shirley Booth, who won an Oscar for Best Actress in this film, and Burt Lancaster. Moore stated, "Polly Bergen recommended me for the part in 'Sheba'. Everyone from Shirley Temple to Marilyn Monroe tried out for the role. Danny Mann, the director, saw me and insisted I get the part. Up to this point I had always played sweet little girls. I'd been categorized. But after the sexy part in Come Back, Little Sheba, I got 'typed' as a sexpot. 'Peyton Place' is an example of that."
"We rehearsed for just one week on Come Back, Little Sheba," Moore noted, while adding, "The picture only took four weeks to shoot." It was basically shot on one stage and the scenes were done in succession, not shot out of sequence. Most of the time things went smoothly, as the whole cast was very professional.
But Ms. Moore recalled, "The director, Danny Mann, always needed a patsy. He decided Richard Jackel would be it. So he'd always try to vent his anger on him, which sometimes made Richard cry. He couldn't take it. It began to affect his performance. So then Danny started in on me." Burt Lancaster pulled Moore aside and took her to his dressing room, where he explained that she shouldn't take the director's remarks personally. Lancaster explained that if Mann was upset about anything, he couldn't come down on Shirley Booth, because she'd made such a success of the role on Broadway. Lancaster was an established major star, so the director didn't try anything with him. That left Richard Jackel and Terry Moore to be the ones who might suffer the director's misdirected wrath. If Booth or Lancaster would miss a line, nothing was said. But the director would come down hard on Richard or Terry with his pent-up feelings if they missed a line. Nonetheless, Moore has fond memories of Lancaster and feels the film's producer, Hal Wallis, was the best producer she ever worked for.
And what about Shirley Booth? "I wanted a rapport with Shirley. I think she'd had a terrible young life, where she'd always felt rejected. Therefore, she was aloof, guarded. She was very nice, but she looked so like my Grandmother that I wanted to put my arms around her and hug her, but she wasn't that way at all. I knew I couldn't."
During the shooting of "Sheba", Moore was divorcing her husband, Glen Davis, who looked a lot like Richard Jackel. Moore offered, "That was difficult for me. Every time I looked at Richard, he reminded me of my husband. At this same time I was madly in love with Howard Hughes, so I'd pretend that Richard was Howard." Though no "puppy love" romance was in the offing with Richard Jackel, such was not the case with a new actor in town, the next year, by the name of James Dean.
Following her "Sheba" success, Monroe was offered contracts by Paramount and 20th Century Fox. She signed with Fox, where she was quite busy for several years playing opposite major stars in not-so-major films. Though Moore never performed in a stage version of "Sheba," she may essay the Booth role in a "Sheba" production next year. Terry has always enjoyed stage work, which is why in the 1950s she frequently went on voluntary suspension from her studio in order to perform in various plays.
Moore recounted how she first met James Dean. "I was at my agent's office. He had the same agent I did at that time. When I walked in the door I noticed this boy who was lying inside the window sill. I thought he was cute, so I went over and ticked his nose with the venetian blind cord. He jumped out of the sill, and tackled me and rolled over and over with me. Then he introduced himself; he already knew who I was." Dean went on to explain that he'd just worked for Elia Kazan, and that Kazan asked him to get in touch with Terry Monroe. Though Moore was living with Howard Hughes at the time, she nonetheless asked Dean home to dinner--at her parents' home.
"Everything that's been said and written about Jimmy and me has all been made up. Some books say we only had one studio arranged date, and that I talked the whole way through it. Well, by 1955 Jimmy was dead, and they didn't interview me--so it has all been made up. We actually ended up spending days and months together.
"I was doing a nightclub act. I was with Howard Hughes (at the time) and he had me at Goldwyn Studios all day long for about six months." Terry further related that Jimmy used to visit the studio and take dancing and singing lessons with her. Moore mentioned that Dean not only went home to dinner with her several times, but even attended church with her, as well."
She said, "He was really a good friend. He was thrilled when I asked him to come with me to the 'Sabrina' premiere. It was (about) the only time he wore a tuxedo. Howard let me go. We wanted to keep it all secret. Jimmy felt very safe at the time. He was unknown then. He'd follow me everywhere I went." The time was now 1954 and Dean had just finished his first major film, East of Eden. Terry remembered when she was with Dean, "Everybody tried to push him aside. They'd say, 'What are you doing with this jerk? He's nobody.'" Moore indicated that as far as Jimmy Dean's sullen, sulky, moodiness was concerned--it was an affectation, a put-on. When Dean attended the premiere with Terry, he was embarrassed that no one knew who he was, and they'd try to push him aside in order to talk to or take pictures of her. "I'd say, 'come here, Jimmy', and I'd pull him in with me for the photographs. I'd tell the reporters, 'He's made a movie with Kazan, and you'll hear about him next year.' But nobody cared--then. No one realized what was going to happen for him. He really did put on that moody behavior. He acted the way he thought that Marlon Brando was. He was in love with Marlon Brando's image. In fact, Jimmy would try to get me to call Marlon all the time so that he could listen in on the phone. Jimmy was really a nice kid, who wanted to make it in the business."
Terry remembered one time when she took Dean with her to visit her 87-year-old speech teacher. This elderly woman had assisted John Barrymore when he was getting ready for a stage production of Hamlet. Jimmy said to the woman, "Oh, God, this is just what I've been waiting for. Can I take lessons from you?" he old woman agreed and Jimmy proceeded to slump down in his chair. Then he said to the teacher, "Don't give me any of that shit like Brando does." The old woman shot back, "And that's what it is--shit--and you are all wallowing in it!" At this point, Dean began sitting up in his chair straighter and straighter. "From then on--I had him," the teacher reportedly said.
Ms. Moore continued, "He had many facets to his personality, and I think he had a death wish. He was reckless, careless." Moore recalled that Dean's attitude and personality changed somewhat once he became famous. "When I first knew him, he was very dependable. He was always there. He was there even when I didn't want him to be. But, like with Marilyn Monroe, once he was a star, things changed. Marilyn, at first, was never late for an audition. Burt once she was a star, she'd spend four hours in makeup. Jimmy was confident, and knew he was going to be a star. He had that attitude with people who didn't pay much attention to him, 'you'll be sorry. Just wait till I'm famous.'"
Terry and Jimmy were not only friends, but dated for several months. I asked her about the rumors of Dean's bisexuality or homosexuality. She replied, "I had no knowledge of it. I saw no evidence of that at all. I was shocked when I first read that someplace. Very possibly it's just gossip. He was madly in love later with Pier Angeli, after me. That was his great love. I remember the feeling was returned. She loved him, too, and was with him quite a bit that last week before he died. Jimmy knew I was in love with Howard Hughes, but I was a big star to him and he loved being around me.
"There really was no ending ever to our relationship. He simply got busy on Rebel Without a Cause, then Giant. I left L.A. for awhile to do my Las Vegas nightclub act. Our lives just took different directions." When asked to assess Dean over forty years later, and the impact he has had on our entertainment culture, Ms. Moore said, "I just see him as the Jimmy I knew." Moore likened one legend she knew personally to another, when she next mentioned Marilyn Monroe.
Memories of Marilyn
"I had to do scenes together every day with her--because we shared the same drama teacher at Columbia and 20th Century--Natasha Lytess." Recently Ms. Moore was reviewing her old scrapbooks in order to include newspaper comments of the time in her new upcoming book. Moore noted, "These old articles (publicity) were always comparing Marilyn Monroe and me. One article would say, 'who's going to be bigger, Marilyn Monroe or Terry Moore?' Life magazine one month would have an article on Marilyn with the subject of 'indoor sex'. The next month Life would have an article on me covering 'outdoor sex'. So now when I look at all this (attention for Dean and Monroe), and I knew them both personally so well, and I knew them as they really were...then they become these icons...I don't even think of them as one (image) having anything to do with the other. I think that because they died young, and were so marvelously talented, people still remember them." Moore relates that she knew Marilyn from the late 1940s up to her death in 1962. "When you see what's happened (adulation) to Marilyn you realize that it (fame, success) can happen to anybody. That's what's so great about our country." Moore again reiterated how Monroe changed over the years. "It was medication, the prescription drugs. She wasn't the same person at all in the end. It was just what I saw with my friend Elvis, and my husband Howard (Hughes)."
What did Ms. Moore think of her friend, Elvis? "I loved him. I adored him, but we never dated. We were always married to other people. In fact, he asked me out, but he was married at the time, so I never went out with him. To this day, I'm sorry I missed doing his first movie with him. I was asked to play opposite him, but was busy on another film. We shared a lot in common including the same birthday. Ms. Moore added that Priscilla Presley, Elvis' widow, appeared on her interview show recently where she indicated that Elvis said he loved her (Moore) as a friend, more than any other woman besides her (Priscilla). Moore commented, "Elvis was bigger than life. He was Mr. America. He was everything to me that this country represents."
Moore was somewhat guarded in her responses relating to Howard Hughes, but nonetheless did have a few comments. "I became involved with Howard Hughes in 1949. So, since I was involved with Howard, that's why when I met Jimmy Dean I kept him as a friend. I actually married Howard in 1949, and we never were divorced."
When Hughes died, Terry Moore's name was mentioned as a possible heir to the Hughes fortune. "This is not contested any more. I never divorced him. I never sued anybody. They sued me. I answered the suit, and proved I was married to him, and was his legal widow.
At this juncture, Jerry Shivers, co-author of Moore's new book, interrupted the Hughes line of questioning. He said simply, "What you're going into now has been, what they say in court, 'asked and answered and proven', so there's no need to go into this right now." Moore interjected, "I've written it out of my system." Evidently, I'd touched some sort of nerve, and was advised at this time that further answers to inquiries about Hughes could be found in Moore's book, The Beauty and the Billionaire (1984) and her new one, The Passions of Howard Hughes (1996).
Life After Howard
After Howard Hughes, Terry Moore was married two more times. Though she felt Tyrone Power was the nicest man she ever knew, and John Wayne the manliest, her spouses were men by the name of Glen Davis and later Stuart Cramer. At the present time Moore remains unmarried, but is quite proud of her two children by Cramer, Stuart, Jr. (age 32) and Grant (age 33). Moore is also a grandmother of two children, ages eight and ten. All of her family members reside conveniently in California, where she is able to see them frequently.
New Career Moves
Though Moore's real heyday was during the fabulous fifties, she has remained quite active. Moore has usually kept a low profile for the last three decades...until recently. She has appeared in several plays, and currently is working on a syndicated interview television show called "Beverly Hills Nights". She and Jerry Shivers, her recent co-author, have just written, produced and starred in a movie called Beverly Hills Brats with Martin Sheen, Burt Young, Peter Billingsley, and Whoopi Goldberg. American Southern, Speak and Shangri-La-La are other motion pictures Moore is currently involved with. She has sold the rights to her new book on Howard Hughes, and it is to become an upcoming television mini-series that she will also appear in. "I like staying busy, getting out and meeting people and travelling," Moore stated.
After Ms. Moore had dropped so many names in our conversation together, I had to ask her who was the most difficult star she eve worked with. "Well...some of them have had bad breath (laugh), but I didn't find anyone difficult, or they weren't with me. You know, when you're working together you can't be difficult, especially if you are the star. Even if they might be a difficult person, they are going to get along with you because they don't come out looking good if they are not nice. They have to get along with you. I was a contemporary of the entertainers we've been talking about, and it upsets your acting performance if you don't get along with your 'co-stars on screen'."
"Playboy" and Beauty
In recent years Terry not only resurfaced publicly as regards the Howard Hughes will, but because of her spread in "Playboy"! That's right, even though she was in her late 50s at the time, she graced the cover beautifully, and handled a tasteful layout inside, as well. May I add...she looked great! Moore declared, "I was glad I did it! I heard from everybody that I ever knew when I did it. They were all so nice. A lot of wonderful women contacted me, and said I was an inspiration to them. They were glad (at my age) that I did it, and it came out the way it did. It was all very positive. They've asked me to appear again in "Playboy", but I doubt I will. I've already done that.
"I will say that besides questions on Howard Hughes, the main thing I get asked is 'How do you stay so young?' so, I'm going to do a book--not a 'how-to', but a story-style book dealing with the first star I knew, Mary Pickford, all the way up to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It will cover all the make-up secrets I've learned from the people I've known over the years." And I'm sure that book, like Terry Moore herself, will offer quite an interesting read.
You can email Robert Rees at
Katy, TX USA.
Also visit his web site at web.Lconn.com/mysterease.
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