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More than you know (about Mayo Methot)



Some famous selections from the "Great American Songbook" were introduced by people we don't normally associate with singing. For example, "(You'd Be So) Easy To Love," written by Cole Porter for the film "Born To Dance," was first sung by, of all people, James Stewart. That came in 1937; the following year, in the Broadway show "Knickerbocker Holiday," Kurt Weill's "September Song" was introduced, and popularized, by none other than Walter Huston.

As it turns out, there's another standard that was first performed by someone who, like Stewart, once worked on screen with Carole Lombard. It came in the fall of 1929, as part of a Broadway show featuring the work of Vincent Youmans.

The song? "More Than You Know."

The person who sang it?



Mayo Methot, shown with Carole in a publicity still Columbia issued for the 1932 film "Virtue." (Alas, I haven't been able to find a copy of the still as is; this features a racy caption used in the magazine "Film Fun.")

Not many people are aware Methot introduced "More Than You Know." Heck, the only thing people seem to know about her is that she was Humphrey Bogart's wife (his third) before Lauren Bacall. And that's as much an injustice to her as it would be to view Lombard solely within the context of Clark Gable.

Moira Finnie, who has an excellent blog, "Skeins Of Thought" (http://moirasthread.blogspot.com/) and occasionally writes for Turner Classic Movies' perceptive Movie Morlocks blog (http://moviemorlocks.com/), did a superb piece on Methot nearly two years ago that I recently uncovered, and much of the information in this entry comes from it.

We often note the many New York stage stars of the 1920s who flocked west once talking pictures were popularized, and many of them became big stars. Methot's story can't completely be called the flip side -- she hadn't quite become a top-tier stage success by the time she switched coasts in 1930 -- but she never quite found her niche in films.



That's Methot as a blonde in the 1920s, when stage critics hailed both her beauty and the deftness of her acting. She had been discovered by George M. Cohan, who put her in one of his plays in late 1923, when she was age 19. (Mayo was a native of Oregon whose father was a sea captain.)

From all accounts, Methot looked attractive on stage, but she was one actress whose qualities just couldn't be captured well on screen. Perhaps some of this was due to darkening her hair, but on film, her beauty didn't quite come over. Consequently, she soon found herself limited to character parts.

One of those, of course, was in "Virtue," where she superbly complements Lombard -- one can argue it's Carole's best film before "Twentieth Century" -- and both are aided by the cynical script of Robert Riskin.



By 1933, Methot was under contract to Warners, She appeared in a number of good films, including "Counsellor-At-Law" with John Barrymore (they would fall prey to similar demons), "Jimmy The Gent" with James Cagney, and has a nice comedic turn in "The Case Of The Curious Bride," with Warren William as Perry Mason. In 1937, she was part of the cast of the Bette Davis vehicle "Marked Woman," which brought her to the attention of co-star Humphrey Bogart. They married the following year, the third marriage for each.



Bogart and Methot married seven months before Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but the similarities end there. Bogie was mired in mostly "heavy" roles at Warners; Mayo's delicate appearance was by now completely gone, largely due to alcoholism. And she was no genial drunk, like Barrymore; she had a violent temper (even drawing a gun out on one occasion, according to Gloria Stuart). The idyllic life conveyed in the photo above was anything but accurate. The press dubbed them the "battling Bogarts."

Methot's final film was 1940's "Brother Rat And A Baby," where she had a small part. She then focused on being Bogie's wife, and some (such as Louise Brooks, who had known both of them in the 1920s), maintain she helped give him the drive that led his star to rise in the early forties. However, it came at a heavy cost to both. She reportedly battered him a great deal; by 1945, he'd had enough and divorced her for a young, sultry co-star, Lauren Bacall.

Methot returned to Oregon with her mother, and her health continued to decline. In June 1951, while Bogart was filming "The African Queen," he learned from Bacall that Methot had been found dead in a cheap Portland hotel, only 47 years old. Alcoholism was cited as the reason, although Methot was also reportedly undergoing cancer treatment.

What might Methot's career had been like if she hadn't touched the bottle? Or suppose she had returned to New York, where her skills seemed to be more appreciated, once she discovered that in films, she'd be a second lead at most? We'll never have the answers.

"More Than You Know" has been recorded hundreds of times; Methot even reportedly recorded it, though I've never heard her version nor could I track it down. It's been done by everyone from Ann-Margret to Lee Wiley, Frank Sinatra to Mildred Bailey. One version I like is by Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Fabulous Baker Boys," though it's not the song most people remember her for in the film. (Pfeiffer did her own singing; the piano music in the film was done by Dave Grusin.) While embedding for this was declined by whomever put it up, you can link to it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jNrEjHBVOc.
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