Last year, Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club hosted the What A Character! Blogathon – which proved to be a treasure-trove of hilarious and underappreciated actors and roles. I contributed a post on Sam Levene. This year, they’re BACK, with even more posts, and I’m thrilled to participate once again. Definitely check out the other posts in the blogathon!
Gail Patrick was one of the original “mean girls.” She was Hollywood’s go-to other woman in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. She was statuesque and could be haughty at the drop of a hat. You’d recognize her voice, or her dark eyes paired with dark hair and thin eyebrows. She did well as a socialite, and some of her most famous roles were as Carole Lombard’s older sister Cornelia in My Man Godfrey; Theresa, competing with Joan Crawford in No More Ladies; Ginger Rogers’ rival Linda Shaw in Stage Door; Irene Dunne’s replacement in My Favorite Wife; and coming up against Myrna Loy in Love Crazy. The men she tried to woo away from the biggest names in Hollywood were no slouches themselves: Robert Montgomery, Cary Grant, Adolphe Menjou, and William Powell, multiple times.
Gail got her start by entering a nationwide search for an ingénue in Paramount’s Island of Lost Souls. She didn’t get the part, but Paramount hired her at $75 a week. (Joan Crawford was picked up for the same salary in 1925, and by 1934 was making $7500 a week.) Gail played mostly uncredited roles in 1932-33, receiving larger speaking roles in 1934. She was born Margaret LeVelle Fitzpatrick in 1911, making her film debut at 21. She attended HowardCollege for undergrad, and was studying for a law degree at the University of Alabama when she left for Hollywood. At Howard, Margaret was a member of the Delta Zeta sorority because of course.
Abruptly, in 1948, Gail quit acting. She was married to her third husband, Thomas Cornwell Jackson, a literary agent, and the two began producing the television series Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr. Perry Mason ran from 1957-66, 271 episodes, on CBS and was highly successful. The Jacksons marriage ended, however, a few years after the show.
Gail was an interesting supporting actress (she did take the leading role a few times) in that she came to Hollywood at the height of the studio system. She was a contract player at Paramount, and she had to take whichever parts were assigned to her. However, she did something different in quitting entirely to produce. A female producer was rare enough (Joan Harrison produced Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but there were precious few other women in charge.), but a female producer who was a beautiful femme fatale was even stranger. Lauren Bacall was under contract – like Gail Patrick – and bucked the studio system by refusing roles and going on suspension. Other stars did the same. Gail quit completely being in front of a camera to go behind it. To me, that’s pretty gutsy.