A Sennett Bathing Beauty Who Survived the Swim
by Rose Marie Turk
December 4, 1960 — MACK SENNETT never tired of reminiscing about his darlings – famous bathing beauties such as Gloria Swanson and Mabel Normand. But his not-so-famous beauties he wrote off as “the dozens of others whose names I cannot remember.” Dorothy Gordon Jenner is one of the dozens Mack Sennett could never recall.
Mrs. Jenner isn’t the least bit miffed because Father Goose forgot one of his pretty ducklings. Though she can still pucker her lips and roll her eyes in the best Sennett tradition, she prefers to be associated with her present role. She doesn’t like digging into “the archives’ and “returning to the scene of the crime, as it were” – and for a very good reason.
These days she lives in Sydney, Australia, her birthplace. She calls herself “Andrea,” writes a semi-weekly column for a string of newspapers and conducts a daily haf-hour radio program.
Attractive, witty, and celebrated at 65, Andrea has only one regret. She wishes she had not left Hollywood in 1926.
At that time she was working on the old Paramount lot, earning $250 a week. Movie goers knew her as Dorothy Gordon. But to her colleagues she was just plain old “Ghastly.” “They called me that because I was forever saying ‘Isn’t that ghastly?’,” explained Andrea, a touch of the theater in her voice.
“Ghastly” was sent to San Francisco as part of the “Seawolf” cast. All she can remember is that she worked for hours in cold, murky water while the bigwigs sat on a rock drinking gin.
Dorothy Gordon was first tossed in the water by Mack Sennett. He hired her in 1915 – almost immediately after her arrival in America – and made her swim for her supper. She was never one of the glamour girls who got to frolic on the beach in a sequined suit. “Sennett took me on because I was from Australia, and he thought I’d swum the English Channel,” Andrea remarked dryly. “Of course, I hadn’t.”
She stayed six months with Sennett. One day her agent rushed up to her, said that Charlie Chaplin wanted a girl to take pratfalls in his new film, and suggested she take the part. Dorothy angrily told her agent she had come to America to be a dramatic actress and stormed off the Sennett lot.
At the time Dorothy was in her twenties and much too headstrong to realize what a dreadful mistake she had made. Luckily, her career progressed without Chaplin. She found a cousin at Paramount who agreed to put her in films even though he annouced at their first meeting that he was not very fond of her family and shouted, “I loathed your grandfather.”
Dorothy was, to her way of thinking, just an average good looking girl. But on the screen she appeared to be a knockout. The transition is easily explained. “Everything was so much more false in those days. You had to look like a white-washed fence before you could go in front of the cameras.”
Things went smoothly for white-washed “Ghastly” Gordon. Her career progressed and there was romance at every turn. One of her ardent suitors was Ben Turpin, but she spurned him. “He was a hideous man. He had a long neck and crossed eyes. Everytime he turned my way I never knew if he were looking at me or his Ford.”
She was mad about Rudolph Valentino, tried to vamp him at a spaghetti party one night. When she demanded that he embrace her, he replied solemnly, “I love you madly, my darling. But I simply cannot kiss you.” (“Wasn’t that wicked of him?” demanded Andrea with a schoolgirlish giggle.)
A broken heart and a broken marriage put an end to all the fun. In a reckless, tear-stained moment Dorothy Gordon pulled out of Paramount, headed for Sydney and became an Australian journalist instead of the American one she feels she should have been.
Andrea has been her byline for more years than she cares to remember. Her pen was silenced only once – during World War II when she was a Japanese prisoner of war.
Returning to vacation in the United States is often a lonely experience for Andrea. As she says, “I outlive a lot of people.” (She is the only person alive who was listed in the cast of characters for “The Sheik.”)
Among the late friends who no longer greet her are C.B. DeMille (“He called me three months before he died to rehash old times.”), Clark Gable (“I have a star sapphire he was dying to buy for Carole Lombard.”), and Valentino (“I was very friendly with him and all his troubles. Oh, he was heaven”).
Just as many of Andrea’s contemporaries have died, so has the Hollywood she knew. “I’m part of the Clark Gable past,” she explained. “Everything that was in the grand manner has died. There are just funny little Tab Hunters running around and Marilyn Monroes with those derriere decolletages. When I was in Hollywood it was something absolutely magnificent. Now, it’s just a sausage factory.”
And with that, Dorothy Gordon Jenner, alias Andrea, flew off for a visit to the sausage factory – a return to “the scene of the crime, as it were.”