Paulette Goddard raged against convention. An ambitious brunette amongst many platinum blondes in Hollywood, her fierce independence and fiery personality was legendary. Her confirmed and rumored romances with wealthy, prominent men—even more so. But, despite her talent for turning a bad situation around, the actress couldn't unrun fate's cruel plan forever.
Born in 1910, Paulette Goddard's real name was actually Marion. However, for reasons unknown, it seems young Marion’s mother had a change of heart and started calling her Pauline. Of course, when it came to her bizarre upbringing, this was only the tip of the iceberg. As a child, she moved to Kansas with her family—and it sparked one of the messiest chapters of her life.
Soon after moving to Kansas, Paulette’s parents separated and divorced. But the real reason for the family's disintegration remains blurry. You see, there were different versions of the story. Later in life, Paulette claimed her father left the family. However, there's a darker possibility: Her father placed all the blame on her mother, accusing her of a horrifying offense.
Pauline's father had a different take on the family’s breakup. He alleged that his ex-wife kidnapped Paulette. Apparently, in an effort to dodge a custody battle, Paulette and her mother never stayed in one place for long; they were constantly on the move. Heck, they even lived in Canada for a time. But these family issues had a deep and lasting impact on Paulette.
Decades later, still burdened by her twisted childhood, she made an extremely bold claim about her father.
In 1938, Paulette made a scandalous public statement about her own father, claiming that she wasn't biologically his. Of course, Joseph didn’t take it well. In fact, he was so furious, he sued her, stating her claims damaged his name and made him lose his job. So, he argued that his estranged daughter owed him money. Paulette lost the lawsuit and had to pay her father a sum of $35 per week as restitution.
However, Paulette's penchant for trouble began early on. Throughout her childhood, she and her mother barely scraped by, and, as a result, she made some questionable decisions.
Growing up, Paulette and her mother had to find ways to survive. So, they came up with a dubious scheme to support themselves. When she was a teenager, Paulette and her mother traveled on steamships. While aboard, they targeted and duped wealthy men out of their money. But this was no passing phase. This shady operation seemed to influence Paulette, who would go on to have romances with many rich men.
Despite not having her father in her life, Paulette had at least one important male role model. Her great-uncle on her mother’s paternal side was Charles Goddard—a key figure in Paulette’s early career because he introduced her to Florenz Ziegfeld, the famous Broadway producer. The connection led to Paulette’s sparkling stage debut in No Foolin’.
Of course, Ziegfeld wasn’t the only important person Charles introduced Paulette to.
1927 was a busy year for Paulette. After appearing in a play and musical, she met her first husband, Edgar James, through Charles Goddard. However, it wasn't a picture-perfect situation: Paulette was only 17, while James was a much older man. Despite the age gap, they married shortly after meeting and settled in North Carolina. But it was doomed from the beginning.
Paulette's swift jump into the world of marriage at such a young age proved to be a recipe for disaster. Before long, she found herself increasingly discontent with her life—and, only two years after saying "I do," her romantic life was in complete shambles. But it wasn't all bad. Upon divorcing James, she received a whopping $375,000. It was time to switch things up.
She pumped the brakes on her ill-fated marriage and threw herself into her career.
Destiny came for Paulette in 1930 when she signed her first movie deal with Samuel Goldwyn, the famous film producer, making her a Goldwyn Girl. The young actress was in good company as other famous actresses, such as Lucille Ball, had also been Goldwyn Girls. But although it was a fantastic opportunity, there was still something missing.
You see, Paulette and Goldwyn often butt heads. So, unsurprisingly, she abandoned him for Hal Roach Studios. This is where her life changed forever.
Shortly after her move to Hal Roach Studios, Paulette met a stand-out character that steered her life in a startling new direction. That man was none other than Charlie Chaplin, AKA The Tramp. They met on the yacht of Joe Schenck, who was the President and Chairman of United Artists, a production company that Chaplin helped to establish. But it wasn't exactly love at first sight.
When Paulette met Chaplin, she was busy mulling over an important business deal. She had an opportunity to invest $50,000 of her divorce settlement in a shady film company. Upon her meeting Chaplin, a Hollywood heavyweight, she sought his opinion on the deal. Chaplin advised her to ditch the sketchy proposition. But that wasn’t the only piece of sage advice he offered up.
Although Paulette only asked Chaplin for business advice, he also gave her some professional advice, particularly regarding her looks. Before meeting him, Paulette had made a drastic decision: She'd dyed her natural brunette locks platinum blonde, which made her one of the ubiquitous blond women in Hollywood. But, upon seeing her golden curls, Chaplin was not pleased.
He advised her to return to her natural hair color and Paulette simply complied. But while their first meeting seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, Paulette left a lasting impression on Chaplin.
Whether she intended to or not, Paulette certainly charmed Chaplin. After meeting the captivating actress, he wanted to start working with her straight away. But there was a snag in his plans: Paulette's contract with Hal Roach. To clear this hurdle, Chaplin simply bought out her contract and offered her a deal, which she, of course, accepted.
As a professional relationship started between the two, Chaplin became a mentor to Paulette. But it was bound to become so much more.
Paulette's contract with Chaplin was more than just a stepping stone. It gave the amateur actress a chance to develop necessary social skills. Under Chaplin’s tutelage, she apparently learned to be a sophisticated flirt. When remembering Chapin, Paulette recalled, "He trained me to speak for three minutes on any subject. But not four".
Perhaps, Chaplin taught her a little too well because once their romantic chemistry blossomed, their love was a runaway train.
Before long, Chaplin became more than just a tutor to Paulette; he also became her lover. Naturally, a relationship with a famous actor like Chaplin garnered a lot of publicity. As a result, Paulette became accustomed to seeing her named in the press—her own star rising due to her mere proximity to the great Charlie Chaplin. But not everybody was thrilled with this romance.
Not everyone in Chaplin’s inner circle welcomed Paulette with open arms. Toraichi Kono, Chaplin’s chauffeur and private secretary, felt threatened by Paulette’s new position as Chaplin’s girlfriend. Eventually, Kono left Chaplin’s employment after the latter got him a job at United Artists Japan. Free from internal scrutiny, the happy couple took their relationship to the next level.
Paulette and Chaplin’s love for each other grew to great heights. They were hopelessly devoted to each other. In time, they found themselves spending every waking moment together. The couple enjoyed a plush lifestyle as Chaplin purchased a yacht just so they could sail to Catalina on the weekends. Then, in 1936, they allegedly eloped in Canton, China. However, their marriage sparked a baffling controversy.
There was something very troubling about Paulette and Chaplin’s marital status. You see, no one could confirm whether they were legally married. The only time the couple made any mention of marriage was when Chaplin called Paulette his wife at a movie premiere. However, years later, the shocking truth came out: Chaplin told family members that their marriage wasn’t actually legal.
However, despite the invalid nature of their nuptials, the couple seemed undoubtedly happy. Unfortunately, love alone couldn't stop the rumor mill from stirring the pot.
Rumor has it that Paulette Goddard wasn’t entirely faithful. During her time with Chaplin, gossip abounded. There were sordid whispers about a brief entanglement with another man—the composer George Gershwin. It’s believed that she was the inspiration for his song "They Can’t Take That Away From Me". However, as salacious as these rumors were, they could never be confirmed. Of course, this was only a taste of the intrigue to come.
Paulette seemed to have a thing for artistic men. Another man she supposedly wooed during her years with Chaplin was Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s husband. Apparently, Paulette’s relationship with Rivera started when she had her portrait painted by him. What’s interesting is that Gershwin, who was also Rivera’s friend, suggested the idea to her.
Still, the rumors involving the Riveras and Paulette went a step further.
According to some, there was an unusual love triangle between Paulette, Diego, and Frida. Rumors swirled that Paulette played for both teams. There were suggestions that Paulette and Frida themselves were lovers, leading to a complicated situation. What's more? It’s unknown whether Diego was aware of the rumors between his alleged lover and wife.
Regardless of what was the truth, Paulette played an increasingly important role in Rivera’s life. In fact, some even believe that she saved his life.
Rivera always insisted that Paulette Goddard helped him get out of a particularly sticky situation. The famous writer Leo Trotsky, who was Frida’s lover, had passed, and the Mexican authorities suspected Rivera of murdering him. In lieu of this danger, Paulette helped Rivera escape from his studio and hid him under canvases in a station wagon, allowing him to evade authorities.
But even if Paulette had a dalliance with Rivera and Frida, it didn’t affect her strong partnership with Chaplin.
In 1936, Paulette achieved another pivotal milestone. Chaplin cast her as the female lead in his movie, Modern Times. She starred alongside Chaplin in the role of an orphan named "The Gamin". It was Paulette’s first credited film role, and she received critical acclaim for her performance. After years of languishing in bit roles, she'd finally achieved major success. To her delight, this breakthrough only led to more.
Paulette Goddard left Hal Roach Studios and signed a deal with David O. Selznick. Under this contract, her first movie was The Young in Heart. Her strong performance impressed Selznick, who then contemplated casting her in a high-profile and coveted role—Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. But sadly, the actress was in for a massive disappointment.
Paulette narrowly lost the role of Scarlett O'Hara to Vivien Leigh as both actresses were the only ones to do Technicolor screen tests for the part. But the loss wasn’t because of her acting skills. During the auditions, Paulette showed that she had acting chops. But it was her aggressive personality that gave the executives concerns.
One of them mentioned, "I think she is dynamite that will explode in our very faces if she is given the part". Moreover, they worried that the part would clash with her ongoing contracts with Chaplin. But this little hiccup wasn’t the end of the road for Paulette.
In 1939, Paulette Goddard changed studios again. This time, she signed a deal with Paramount Pictures—and it led her straight to a collaboration with Bob Hope in The Cat and the Canary. The pairing was so successful that the two of them continued to work together in two more movies: The Ghost Breakers and Nothing but the Truth. But these were a drop in the ocean compared to what fate had in store for her.
In 1940, Paulette was in a film that featured a dictator. Well, he wasn’t a real dictator—he was her husband, Charlie Chaplin. The movie, The Great Dictator, co-starred Chaplin in the dual role of a fictional dictator, who was a parody of Adolf Hitler and a Jewish barber. Paulette played the barber’s neighbor. The film was a critical and commercial hit and has since become a classic that continues to inspire satirical comedies.
However, despite the movie’s success, it was the last one Paulette ever made with Chaplin.
All good things come to an end, especially in Hollywood. And that’s what happened to Paulette’s relationship with Chaplin. Shortly after the release of The Great Dictator, they publicly announced their separation. However, their split was amicable as the two continued to have a close friendship. Paulette received a divorce settlement which included a deal to star in a movie directed by Chaplin. However, it never panned out.
While her love life was in the dumps, Paulette’s career flourished throughout the 40s. After several years of moderate success, she finally reached a career high. In 1943, she starred in So Proudly We Hail! and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Although she didn’t win the Oscar, it set her up for unbelievable success.
1944 was the biggest year yet. Instead of moving to another studio as she'd done in the past, Paulette signed another contract with Paramount. Under this new deal, she acted in Kitty. The movie became her biggest movie with Paramount—but that wasn't the cherry on top. While enjoying her success as best she could, Paulette also found fresh happiness in her personal life.
Around the time she renewed her Paramount contract, Paulette Goddard fell in love again. Husband number three was fellow actor Burgess Meredith. After marrying in 1944, her life moved at breakneck speed. The very next year, she starred alongside him in The Diary of a Chambermaid for United Artists, the production company her ex-husband founded (Remember that?).
But although Paulette found marital bliss again, her marriage to Meredith wasn't without its challenges.
A few months into her marriage to Meredith, Paulette suffered a tragedy. In October of 1944, she miscarried a son. It was her only reported pregnancy. She didn’t have any children during her lifetime, although it’s unknown whether it was by choice. Paulette and Meredith may have faced heartbreak early in their marriage, but they were going to encounter an even bigger problem in the later years of their marriage.
During the 40s, fear of Communism swept through the US, and Hollywood wasn’t exempt. As a result, Meredith landed himself a spot on the Hollywood blacklist. As his wife, Paulette wasn’t immune from the stigma. According to some reports, a mob harassed them on their way to a premiere. In response, she allegedly said, "Shall I roll down the window and hit them with my diamonds, Bugsy?"
Their marriage was generally a happy one, but there were rumors that Paulette still wasn’t satisfied.
Even in love, Paulette was an ingenious opportunist—and being married didn’t seem to stop her from looking for greener pastures. After meeting the influential Howard Hughes, Paulette allegedly set her eyes on claiming him for herself and declared, "Hughes is the only man in America rich enough for me". But unfortunately for her, Hughes caught onto her plans early and ran for the hills.
But no matter how outrageous the rumors were, this wasn't actually the reason for her marriage's demise. The real catalyst was far more disturbing.
Paulette and Meredith's marriage ended thanks to the food served at Thanksgiving. Paulette invited Salvador Dali, and she really wanted to impress him. So, she told a cook to cook one of the pigs that were on the property as part of the menu. BIG MISTAKE. It turned out to be her husband’s pet pig. Meredith never got over this, and the marriage ended up on the chopping block.
But sadly, this wasn't the only part of her life destined for a messy end.
Paulette's career thrived in the early 40s, but it was a different story in the latter half of it. Her career saw a decline that started in 1947 with two box office bombs. The first was the movie Unconquered. It wasn’t a surprise that it failed as there were problems right from the get-go. Paulette and the director, Cecil B. DeMille, argued over her refusal to perform a dangerous stunt.
Her other film, also released in the same year, didn’t fare any better.
The production of her next film, An Ideal Husband, faced its own behind-the-scenes drama. There was a lot of tension on the English set, and Paulette was the cause of some of it. The reason? Her hairstylist was Swedish-American. Although Paulette received approval to use her personal hairstylist, the decision roused the ire of the English production crew, who walked out after only working for a day.
From here on out, things just kept getting worse for Paulette.
Nothing could have stopped Paulette’s career decline; she was on a roll. Unfortunately, her streak of box office flops continued. She was no longer a box office draw or a critically acclaimed actress, and Paramount took notice. In 1949, Paulette Goddard and Paramount parted ways. But there was an upside to this downturn. The end of her time with Paramount allowed her to pursue uncharted territory.
With no ties to a studio, Goddard was free to pursue her own projects. In the early 50s, she produced a movie and acted in a few more. She also dabbled in television and stage productions. Unfortunately, they weren’t well-received, and the work dried up. While many former stars often struggle after the end of an acting career, Paulette wasn’t one of them. Turns out, she had a Plan B.
Despite the demise of her acting career, Paulette was totally fine. She didn’t really need to work as she was independently wealthy from her side hustle—investments. Yup, this woman had a passive income stream all this time. Even better? She'd built up a nice retirement nest. By the late 50s, Paulette pretty much retired from showbiz. After a decade of personal and professional turmoil, things were finally looking up.
After three failed marriages, Paulette found her Prince Charming at last. Husband number four was German writer Erich Maria Remarque, and it was her only marriage that didn’t end in divorce. Paulette seemed to have a thing for older rich men as Remarque, like her first two husbands, was also much older than her. With a new lease on life (and money on hand), Paulette settled in Switzerland, where Remarque primarily lived.
But there was something about their marriage that outsiders found...weird.
Married couples usually try to spend quality time together—but not Paulette and Remarque. They had an interesting way of living. When they stayed in New York, they maintained and lived in separate apartments in the same building. They did, however, meet for dinner every night. Although they were comfortable with their lifestyle, it was interesting just how much they didn’t mind being apart.
But when push came to shove, the marriage showed its true colors—and they weren't all that pretty.
Paulette's marital commitment had its limits. When Remarque suffered from a stroke that left him physically weak, the retired actress didn’t seem to care much. She left him for long periods while she was in New York. Remarque even wrote letters to her expressing regret that his physical condition was a hindrance. Sadly, Remarque finally succumbed to his illness...and Paulette received a windfall.
With the passing of her husband, Paulette’s net worth grew even bigger. Already wealthy herself, Paulette inherited most of Remarque’s estate, which included homes and…an incredible collection of contemporary art. It shouldn’t have come as a shock that Paulette inherited Remarque’s personal art collection. Aside from being his widow, she shared his appreciation for high-end art and found a good use for it.
Paulette Goddard’s artistic inclinations weren’t limited to just acting. Even before her widowhood, she had amassed a sizeable art collection herself. It turns out all that moolah was well spent because, in 1979, the sale of her Impressionist art collection raked in a whopping $3.1 million, more than the expected $2.9 million. With all the assets she accumulated, Paulette's old acquaintances came creeping out of the woodwork.
While staying in the US, Paulette captured everyone's attention all over again. The Old Hollywood social circles definitely noticed that she had a talent for making money. Soon, she regained some of her lost relevancy. She may have once been a film star, but now she gained a reputation for having good business acumen. But Paulette's renewed fame didn’t end there.
Paulette underwent a transformation of sorts. With all that dough she had, she became a glamorous socialite. Often dripping in brilliant bling, she was a familiar face at New York’s bougie cultural events. Her social life allowed her to rub shoulders with influential people. But Paulette’s life wasn’t all about showing off her wealth at parties—it was also about enjoying the spotlight all over again.
Paulette made connections with high-profile personalities. One of them was Andy Warhol. While there was a big age difference between the two, it didn’t stop them from forming a friendship that lasted until Warhol’s passing in 1987. Paulette enthralled Warhol with riveting stories about her well-publicized marriages. She was back and better than ever—but just as she settled in, life hit her with another astounding curveball.
Later in life, Paulette had a health crisis. In 1975, she had a mastectomy to treat cancer. The procedure was a success, but the aftermath was bittersweet. Paulette got her life back, but it came at the expense of her confidence. Treatment changed her body, and that was a huge blow for the former beauty. Her reaction resulted in a slow, long slide toward an even sadder end.
Paulette had a hard time coping with the changes in her body. Age and illness had ruthlessly wiped her beauty away. With that, her emotional struggles manifested in a bad way. During the last 15 years of her life, she turned to drinking and gradually withdrew herself from the rest of the world. On April 23, 1990, Paulette left this world after suffering from heart failure.
It was a sad, quiet end for a vivacious woman who lived her life to the fullest.
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