In all of the photographs, Cecil expertly plays the part of the focused and serious make-up artist, allowing the “star” to be the true center of attention.
Holland applies final touches to the war wounds on the face of Lewis Stone for Grand Hotel, under the watchful eye of director Edmund Goulding. Stone uttered the movie’s unforgettable closing line: “Grand Hotel. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens.” Stone was a contract player at MGM from its inception in 1924 until his death in 1953 — the longest-known uninterrupted association of an actor and a studio.
Also from 1932 is a picture of Holland using a magnifying loupe to check out the just-finished maquillage of Jean Harlow at her most “platinum,” while she sits in a barber’s chair dressed in a polka dot wrapper and Spring-O-Lator-style pumps. I love this picture. It’s set in what is clearly Cecil’s “office.” On the wall is a picture of him with wife Norma and their son, a copy of Holland’s 1925 composite pic and a bevy of framed portraits of him in character make-up. Center stage is the photograph of Holland as Jesus, which is flanked by smaller pictures of Cecil’s parents (I wouldn’t touch the symbolism of that with a 10 foot long tube of lipstick). But, all of the reminders of his former career don’t seem like a desperate attempt at hanging on to the glory days. They were visual substitutes for Holland saying to those who sat in his make-up chair: “Hey. Relax. I’m just like you. I understand what it’s like to be an actor. So, sit back and don’t worry; I’ll make you look your best.”
Shaw Goes Hollywood
As mentioned earlier, one of the most stunning discoveries while deciphering the names on the hat was that of George Bernard Shaw. In 1933, world-renowned playwright and Nobel laureate Shaw visited the United States for the only time in his life. Accompanied by his wife, Charlotte, Shaw was on a year long cruise around the world and got off his ship, The Empress of Britain, in San Francisco and went down the coast to spend a night at William Randolph Hearst’s fabled estate, San Simeon. On the morning of March 28, Hearst instructed his pilot to fly the Shaws down to the Santa Monica airport in Hearst’s private plane. The pilot was bedeviled by thick, low coastal fog, and knowing that he’d never find the airport, made an emergency landing on the sands of Malibu beach. Unperturbed, the Shaws hitchhiked a ride from a passing UCLA student who dropped them off at the airport, where they were met by Louis B. Mayer and a phalanx of his underlings.
Once at MGM in nearby Culver City, the Shaws were given an exuberant tour of the lot by Cecil Holland. Louis B. Mayer chose Holland because, like Shaw, he was a Brit, and he assumed the regional connection would make for a smooth hour. The hour must have been just fine, because Shaw did sign The Hollywood Hat. But the rest of the three hour visit seems to have gone south. Shaw insulted many of those he encountered — reporters, actors, and judging by the dour pictures of the luncheon itself, Shaw zinged most, if not all, of his companions at the lunch hosted by Marion Davies in her 16 room “bungalow” dressing room — including Davies, Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and John Barrymore, to whom Shaw refused an autograph. Shaw was definitely Mr. Nastypants that day before heading back to his ship. For the next week, the Los Angeles newspapers’ chatter and gossip columns were filled with civic umbrage and the provincial equivalent of “who does he think he is?” Shaw certainly knew how to make an impression.
After a decade at MGM, Holland was ready for a change. He was almost 50 (do I hear the phrase “mid-life crisis” in the house?), and almost certainly tired of all of the administrative duties that came with being the head of the Make-Up Department. Cecil loved doing make-up and teaching make-up, not filling out forms about make-up. MGM’s success was also Holland’s success. He stood at the absolute pinnacle of his profession, and decided to cash in while giving himself new challenges. Cecil did what almost no one in the film business did in 1935; he gave up a sure-thing contract in the middle of The Great Depression and went on to free-lance with a series of short-term, and no doubt lucrative assignments.
In 1935, Holland first went to newly-formed 20th Century Fox, the latest hot studio in town, and unpacked his make-up box. Among the stars he worked on was Shirley Temple, then the biggest draw in the movies. And, while there, he got lots more signatures on The Hollywood Hat from folks who sat in his chair — among them, Alice Faye, Will Rogers, and Cesar Romero.
This appears to be where the hat was finally “filled up.” You can tell because many of the signatures he only could have gotten at 20th are small and appear in those leftover areas of the hat between big signatures. The one late addition to the hat — at least four years later — is actor George Montgomery, who signed the hat twice, including once where the hatband used to be. Born George Montgomery Letz, he didn’t go by “George Montgomery” until 1940, when he was put under contract by 20th. Both Montgomery and Holland shared painting and sculpting as hobbies, and I suspect they bonded over these mutual interests, enough for Holland to pull the hat out of the closet and have George be the last to sign it.