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.
Yesterday I shared the first four letters from the column, and Claudette’s responses to them. Today I’m sharing the final two letters from the June issue as well as the winner of the “How I Solved My Problem” series. Now, on to the advice!
Mrs. Clara Lou B. is a 19-year-old gal who got hitched with a charming air cadet… who has now left her in the dust. She moved into a rented room close to his camp, but then he got transferred and didn’t even tell her! She has no clue where he is, and she’s got a baby on the way. Her parents have sent her money, but they want nothing to do with her or her unborn child. Claudette responds to this heartbreaking scenario:
“Dear Mrs. B:
You mustn’t feel small and lost, and you mustn’t blame yourself for anything that has happened. At present the world is frightfully mixed up, and you are just a minute part of that confusion.
However, there are good and wise people who have forseen exactly such problems as yours and who stand ready to help you. You must go at once to the nearest branch of the American Red Cross and tell the presiding secretary your story. She will get in touch with your husband and let him know that he has a fine little son. Originally, you should have told him about your condition. Part of the “fusses,” as you term them, may have been caused by your physical state.
Once your husband knows of the situation, I’m certain he will make an allotment for you so that you won’t have to accept help from your mother. Incidentally, why don’t you send your family some pictures of your baby; the sight of a beautiful child has softened hearts much harder than those of grandparents.”
The final letter comes from Martha C., who has been in a wheelchair for nearly five years due to muscular dystrophy. She’s only fifteen years old, but she feels much older. She doesn’t have many friends, doesn’t have a boyfriend and can’t attend high school because it is too hard for her to get there. She wants nothing more than to be “popular and happy,” and wants Claudette’s help in curing her loneliness. Claudette responds:
“Dear Miss C:
I would not be telling you the truth if I didn’t admit that you have a problem, and a very difficult one at that. It would be all very well for me to mention the fact that Lionel Barrymore created the splendid character of Dr. Gillespie in the ‘Kildare’ series while he was in a wheelchair. I could also mention beautiful Connee Boswell, who has gained international fame without walking. Even the President of the United States has triumphed over a great handicap.
You say you have two steady girl friends — that is a splendid beginning. The next time the one who occasionally has a date and asks you to go along does that, by all means accept. She wouldn’t ask you if she didn’t want you. Then, while you are on this threesome date, be just as pleasant a companion as you can. Get the girl and her beau to tell you things. Ask them what they have been doing, what is the latest excitement in high school. Who is running for school office? Who is likely to get the lead in the school play? Who is carrying a h.s. torch for whom? You’ll be astonished at the interesting confidences you will inspire.
When you are alone there are a number of things for you to do: You should learn to tell fortunes a number of different ways. At any party, if you can tell fortunes, you’ll soon find that you are the very center of attention. Get a book and learn everything you can about human superstitions, ask people in a group to tell you about their own little phobias, then explain them in the light of your new knowledge.
Subscribe to some magazine which has a department of pen pals, and develop long distance friends who are also shut-ins. Whenever someone you know has won a recognition of some sort, write that person a brief note of congratulation; or when someone you know has endured sorrow, drop the person a letter condolence. You will soon be surprised to find that you are so busy that you can scarcely keep track of all of your friends.
And read! Read the world’s great classics and today’s best literature. Apart from the joy you’ll learn to draw from this reading, you’ll find it will make you that enviable person — an intelligent young modern.
Above all, stop crying yourself to sleep at night. Crying doesn’t change the condition, but it does use up a lot of valuable energy that could be used to far better advantage.
Chin up, and get busy.”
For the third month in a row, Photoplay selected a “How I Solved My Problem” winner, publishing that person’s letter in the magazine and gifting them a $25 war bond. (How patriotic!) The June winner was Mrs. Anna A. Moeller from Troy, New York who writes:
“Dear Miss Colbert:
You positively made up my mind for me. I had my hair cut, after all of these years… I will be forty-eight on Feb. 21 and what’s more, I had a permanent.
You see, my husband loves long hair on a woman, or so he has always said, so I have left mind long, just to please him. On the other hand, my hair was a sight. OIt was all gray on top but the roll in the back was still its original black color. The glances I got from folks were most embarassing. Naturally, they thought I had dyed my hair at one time.
Well, Miss Colbert, after I had read your own personal letter in February’s Photoplay, I declared, ‘Well, if Miss Colbert says it’s all right to please yourself in the matter of hair-dos, I’ll do just that.’ So, out I marched to a reliable beauty salon. First a barber shaped by hair to suit my face, then an attendant took over. The mirror told me the rest. Did I say I’d be forty-eight? Well, in honesty to myself, my friends say I look thirty-eight.
When I reached home from the beauty salon that day, my husband took one long, admiring look at me, gave one of those ‘high-note, low-note’ whistles and said, ‘Come on, Honey! That hair-do is too stunning to waste on me, we’re going places.’
Briefly, Miss Colbert, your letter greatly improved my appearance, got my husband to leave his heretofore nightly lounging chair, and above all helped the war effort with my shorned locks.”