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Early Members: 1936
Charles Laughton, who starred with me in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) was my mentor, as was Noel Coward, who really started me off in my career. I came to America in 1934 and had always been involved in the theatre, so I didn't think films were quite up my alley. One of my most memorable experiences was when I made The Last of the Mohicans (1936) with Randolph Scott. In the scene where we are crossing the river, I had high rubber boots on and there were snakes in the water. I was frightened and I didn't have a stunt woman. This was before the Guild had a contract. We did most of it ourselves. Back then I worked all hours of the day and night. Actors today, gosh, they have a good life, just look at what SAG has accomplished for us.
We were working like demons before the Guild. My agent Vic Orsatti met me at the Pasadena train station when I first arrived in Hollywood and whisked me away to the wardrobe department for fittings, make-up and then onto the location in Victorville at 4:00 A.M. Vic predicted to his staff, "We won't have to worry about her. She won't last very long." But for five grueling years, I kept up the endless pace and I endured. I cried a lot, had to dry my tears, fix my make-up and do my close-ups at 2:00 a.m. Working those hours, you'd be half-awake during an important scene and you'd worry that the stress would take its toll and kill your career. There was a big change when the Guild came to the actors' aid - you could stop at 6 p.m. It was thrilling!
When I first came to Hollywood in 1935, working conditions were not favorable to actors. We often worked until midnight and reported back to the set at six the next morning, so it was a very rough situation. Then the Screen Actors Guild came along and changed all of that. The year 1945 was a landmark time for the Guild and its members. It was then that some of us were able to take more control of our careers, thanks to the de Havilland decision, which limited studio actors' contracts at seven years, including suspension and war-time duty. Eventually, motion picture actors were able to participate in the the profits of their movies. The Screen Actors Guild has benefited the actors in our industry in so many ways.