This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, in which I share excerpts from my collection of vintage publications.
The June 1944 issue of Photoplay in my collection has a feature aptly titled “What should I do?,” which is your typical advice column… aside from the fact that it’s written by none other than Claudette Colbert! This was a monthly feature in Photoplay, and it also included a “How I Solved My Problem” section, where people who Claudette had answered could write to her again and tell her how they applied her advice.
The column touts itself as “Candid, plain-speaking advice from a woman who is able to understand even these unusual situations.” Readers of the mag were able to send letters to Claudette about their problems. If their letter was chosen, they would receive a reply letter from Claudette and have their question published in the magazine. The following are the questions and answers from the June 1944 edition of the mag. Claudette (or a ghostwriter, possibly) answered six questions in the June issue; I will be sharing four in this post and the final two, plus the “How I Solved My Problem” letter, in Part II tomorrow.
“Milan O’M.” (who describes her name as “strange” and “mixed-up” due to her father’s Irish heritage and her mother’s Italian heritage) sent in a letter regarding her after-high-school career dilemma. Should she go to college and train for a peacetime career or “go into essential war work,” where she feels she is needed? Her beau is a Marine, and she feels she should be doing more for the war effort than just donating blood… but she’s not sure it’s smart to put off school in favor of a paycheck. Claudette responds:
“Dear Miss O’M:
Your ‘strange, mixed-up name strikes me as being very pretty, and one of which you have every right to be proud. One of the most wonderful things about America is the fact that a girl or a boy can have one parent of one nationality and one parent of another, thus inheriting the fine traditions of two peoples and adding them to those of the States.
As for your problem, I believe this might work out well for you: Why not take a job for a year and save every single penny you possibly can. I am a great believer in a year’s practical experience in the world between the sheltered life of high school and the academic existence of university life. I think that a year’s interim gives the average student a perspective and a practicality that can’t be obtained otherwise. Furthermore, if you work a year and so prepare a bank account against which you can draw for your first year of college, you will also be in a position to adjust yourself readily when peace comes. By working now you will be helping your country, and when there are fewer jobs — by going to school and so withdrawing from the ranks of workers — you will be helping your country again.”
Our next confused citizen, Mrs. Claire B., has been married for eight years and has three children. She has been feeling jealous because she thinks her husband pays more attention to pretty, young girls (like the local school teacher) than he does to her. She says her love for him has “cooled” because of this, and she wants Claudette to tell her how she can keep from ruining her marriage. Claudette responds:
“Dear Mrs. B:
Frankly I think you are letting your husband down. Your husband obviously needs pepping up and he seems only to get it from strangers because visitors always put on their company manners and try to be lively and interesting.
It has been my thought that men want gaiety in their women much more than glamour or beauty. This seems to be lacking in your make-up, or you have forgotten.*
Naturally it is hard for a woman to do housework all day, take care of three children and be a bundle of charm at the day’s end. However, that is what man has expected of a wife since the world began — and if you love your husband and want to keep him, it would be worth the effort to try this.
You are looking for happiness in your marriage, and your marriage seems to be a good one, except for this one fault which you say is your husband’s. I think it is partly yours also. Try to be gay and interesting when he is home. It will work. Good luck to you.”
*In the words of Michael Kelso… “BUUUUURN!”
Our next dilemma comes from Mrs. Jeanette N., a 38-year-old lady with five children. Her husband left five years ago but she has managed to take care of the family on her own quite well since then. She seems to be holding it all together, so what is her problem? Well, her eldest daughter’s man-friend has a crush on her. He met her once and has been telephoning her frequently ever since, even inviting her out on his dates and saying he wants to marry her! She thinks she may be falling for him, but the whole situation is causing a rift between mother and daughter, since the daughter likes him as well. Can Claudette help this Jerry Springer-esque love triangle? She responds:
“Dear Mrs. N:
First of all, I don’t think you at all foolish for confessing your love for a man younger than yourself. Some of the happiest marriages in the world are between persons who are not to be judged by usual standards of age. Years are like skis: Some people handle them skillfully and look graceful to the end of the run, while others crack up on the first sharp turn.
In your case, it isn’t the time element that is to be considered, it is the relationship between you and your daughter. Years ago I made a picture called ‘Imitation of Life’ in which this same problem arose, although the man in the case was a contemporary of the mother’s.
In that picture, the mother was wise enough and strong enough to tell the man to go away for a time; to let things work out gradually without violence. I think that is your only solution. Tell the man that, if your love is really as fine and enduring as you believe it to be, it will stand the test of separation.
Your daughter’s love and respect are obviously paramount with you, so you must do nothing to jeopardize your relationship. Whatever you do, don’t tell her that she is experiencing only puppy love. She has a right to expect as much respect for her emotions as you do.”
The fourth advice-seeker is Private George B., an 18-year-old soldier who is also stuck in a love triangle. He says he left “one of the sweetest girls in the world” behind when he left home to join the Army, and she says she loves him… but she also has feelings for a friend of his, who is also in the Army. She has promised both men that she’ll marry them. She sounds like a pretty shady lady, but he says he can’t live without her. Claudette responds:
“Dear Private B:
One of the reasons I chose your letter to answer was the fact of its being typical. Not only does Photoplay receive many hundreds of letters from girls who compare notes and find that the same boy has made love to both, but a good many boys make the identical discovery.
This doesn’t mean that most men or most girls are fickle. It means that, particularly in war time, everyone tries to spare the feelings of others. There have been cases where girls married two boys, just because of an exaggerated notion of patriotism.
If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about the fact that your girl friend has promised to marry your pal as well as you.
Why don’t you continue to write to her as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, look around and notice how many beautiful girls there are in the world. As you are now only eighteen, I suspect that you will meet at least a score of girls in the next ten years, any one of whom may well make you a very pleasant wife.
And don’t write about not wanting to live. Uncle Sam, and every person in this country, needs men like you. you’ve got a great job to do.”
Stay tuned for more letters in Part II, coming tomorrow!