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MAE CHAFFIN'S MEMORIES OF EARLY HOLLYWOOD

     When May B. Chaffin went to work for film producer, Lewis B. Mayer in 1921, Mayer was renting studio and office space in a zoo near Los Angeles. An orangutan called Mary adopted the celebrated film mogul and his staff. "We all loved Mary. She even had her own dresses and wore white shoes," Mae said.

     Mae will be 81 next month, but her memories of film land's early days are as unfaded as her collection of glossy black and white photographs from them.

     Working in close quarters with an orangutan was only one of the adventures in store for young Mae Muller when she sold her liberty bonds and left her native Brooklyn in 1920 to go west to California. Mae, a trained bookkeeper, easily found work in her new community, which she considered a small town. "I didn't see how I could survive in such a small town as L.A.." Teaching herself to drive in Brooklyn had almost ended in disaster when Mae just missed hitting a billboard, but she decided to try again in Los Angeles. A friend advised her to go to Hollywood Boulevard and follow a streetcar to get practice stopping and starting. "And that's how I learned," Mae said. Mae's mother, father, and sister, Beatrice, followed he to California in 1921, camping all the way and roughing it through eight flat tires. Her other sister, Elizabeth, eventually joined the Muller family in California.

     In 1925, Metro-Goldwin and Mayer formed MGM and the new business used enough machines to put bookkeeper Mae out of a job. But she was far from deserted. She said that underneath Mayer's rough, gruff reputation was a heart of gold. "He got me a job with Producer B.P. Schulberg whose author son wrote "What Makes Sammy Run," and said "Stay here until I call you." Seven or eight months after Mae started her new job, Schulberg hired an outgoing Montana newspaper man as publicity director.

     When the new employee requested that his office be papered and painted, Schulberg told him to as Muller about it, and that's how Mae met her future husband, Glenn Chaffin. Mae said Schulberg was going broke and knew it, but he was to kind-hearted he offered to buy Mae's puddlejumper Chevy so she could buy a new car. When Schulbert's problems finally meant the end of Mae's job, Mae was hired as Mayer's private financial secretary.

     Mayer owned a large amount of property along Santa Monica beach, land that Mae said was already selling for $2,500 a foot. Mae said she managed all of her famous boss's finances. One day, he called her in and told her to add more rooms onto an already spacious house. She told him, "Mr. Mayer, the lot's not big enough." "Move it," was Mayer's reply.

     When asked about Mayer's personality, Mae answered, "I loved Mr. Mayer, just loved him, although he was a very egotistical man. He had a fire siren on his car and drove like hell." She said that when she told her boss what she thought about his driving one day, "he stopped at every block during the 13-mile drive from Culver City to Los Angeles."

     Glen and Mae were married in 1927. Sundays, the couple viewed new movies in Mayer's home studio. Mayer even provided a beach house for Glenn and Mae, and Mae said, he "threw in everything but ice and food."

     Early Hollywood stars were familiar to Mae. She remembers Clark Gable when he was a $7.50-a-day extra. "He got $10 if he said anything." Mae said "Clark Gable thought a lot of Clark Gable."

     Mae has autographed photos from many early stars, including Clara Bow, the "It Girl." She and Glenn knew Jun Tully, the poor Irish kid who became a famous author of "Beggars of Late: and "Shanty Irish," and was one of Hollywood's toughest critics. "His interviews frightened the stars. I remember he had curly red hair and a habit of picking on one person at a party." Mae said Huntley Gordon, a leading man in Mayer's first studio, gave up pictures and went into manufacturing silk stockings.

     Mae recalls helping Gilbert Roland pick out his screen name. "He was born Luis Alonzo," and said he was rediscovered by the American public later in life and recently was stabbed to death.

     When asked if Barbara LaMarr was the siren she appeared to be, Mae said, "Very much so." Another screen siren she remembers was generally scantily-dressed French actress, Renee Andoree, who called everyone, "Luff." Well-known actress, Janet Gaynor and Glenn were good friends, according to Mae. Mae said he called Gaynor "Lolie" and she called him "Cubby." Mae also recalled seeing, in her later years in Hollywood, child stars Mickey Rooney and Liz Taylor.

     Each Christmas, Mayer, who was Jewish, would give gold pieces to everybody. One year, he called Mae in and said "This year I'm not gonna do it." Mae had the gold ready just the same, and on the day before Christmas, Mayer called her in and asked, "Do you suppose you could round up some gold pieces?"

     Mae worked until January 1928, a month before her daughter, Mary, was born. Then she stayed home. Too many Hollywood people told me their kids didn't even know them. In 1940, the Chaffins returned to Glenn's native Montana and built a large log house east of Corvallis. In 1969, they moved to a mobile home on the Eastside Highway near Corvallis, where Mae still lives. Glenn died several months ago.

     Mae said they collaborated on a book about her early Hollywood days called, "My Hollywood Angels," but so far she has not been able to publish it.

     The Chaffin's daughter died in 1970, and their son, Glenn Jr, lives in Corvallis, Oregon. Mae has nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Glen, Jr, attended the University of Montana School of Journalism, and Mae is setting up a scholarship for a Bitterroot Valley student. Donations can be sent to the Citizen's State Bank in Hamilton.

The Missoulian, September 25, 1978