By the end of the 1930's, screen actors Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were bonafide stars who were quickly on their way to becoming Hollywood royalty. Their butler, Jim, may have been a star in his own right or in his own mind. In the 1920's and 30's, black maids, butlers, chauffeurs and the like had a certain respected status within Hollywood circles based on their own recognizance. It's said that while notable black stars might show up on a movie set or at the studio, they were still considered nobodies within the grand scheme of things. But when a white star's domestic help arrived, there was a definite change in the atmosphere. To begin with, they had to have personality plus in order to survive. They had to smile, comfort and charm when they didn't want to often with people they really didn't like. And if they really wanted to get ahead, they had to be shrewd! They knew how and when to play their hand, with many parlaying careers as domestics into careers on the screen, at the studios and as businesspeople.
There was much that was commonplace within the industry that could never be brought to the light for fear of ruined careers and the involvement of moral politicians and the church in studio moviemaking. It was code among the servants exactly what (or what not) to reveal. Ask Jean Harlow's maid, Blanche Williams, about the suicide of the star's husband, Paul Bern or the black, gay Henry Peavey - the butler in the infamous 1920's William Desmond Taylor scandal - about his employer's mysterious death. I wonder what Jim (above) could have told us about Grant and Scott - if anyone would have bothered to ask?
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott cohabitated for 11 years and remained life-long friends. Grant became an icon while Scott's career peaked in the 1950's. They had seven marriages between them and both - maybe not so ironically - married millionaire heiresses in what were little more than marriages of convenience. Luckily for many stars, the successful black Hollywood servant class of the 1920's and 30's were often great keepers of secrets! The power servants understood that discretion was the key to being privy to personal information about their employers that they neither wanted or needed to become known. Many of the male servants shared some of the same proclivities as the famous men they waited on hand and foot. They knew the haunts and hideaways, the overnight guests, the speakeasys and joints, and the liasons that dared not speak their names.
Not everyone was so close-mouthed! Interviews with those who knew both Grant and Scott early in their careers say they lived openly gay or bisexual lives until the studios became involved to protect their investments and the men's careers. It is well-known that before meeting Scott, Cary Grant lived with the gay Hollywood costume designer (John) Orry-Kelly, and many say that Noel Coward wrote Mad About The Boy in celebration of a very young Grant. George Cukor, the iconic film director and himself a gay man, said "Cary won't talk about it ... but Randolph will admit it to friends." However, the real truthful dynamics of their relationship is still contested to this day, and anything to the contrary is still considered unsubstantiated. But what would Jim have had to say? He served breakfast in the morning but he was probably also there the night before.
Most likely, Grant and Scott had their own personal secretaries to open and go over correspondence and other mail items. However, I can see Jim turning them on to all of the latest hot jazz recordings to play on the phonograph
What they didn't need Jim for were the quiet and tender moments at home away from the studios, the fans and the pretense. There were no kleig lights at home nor movie directors telling them what to do. At home, they could just relax and be themselves after the photographers for the fan magazines left, and light each other's fires in the cool, calm, dusk of the evening. But you can bet Jim was there in the morning to make sure there was no incriminating evidence!