Hoot Mon! He’s the Best Guy in Hollywood
Everybody’s for him, including Minnie, the elephant
By Ruth Waterbury
NORMAN KERRY is the finest guy in Hollywood.
Photoplay August 1927
Ask anyone at any studio and they all make the same reply. They’re his buddies from studio messengers to Minnie, an elephant, who weighs two tons. Today Norman is one of the highest salaried leading men, which means he earns more than many a star. He has a big estate in Beverly Hills, walled off into elaborate sunken gardens and an awning-shaded swimming pool. He recently stole “Annie Laurie” from the $8,000-a-week Lillian Gish. But he’ll lend his money to anybody. He will if he can get the money away from Gus. Gus is a typical Kerry fixture. The two men have known each other for years. They started working, side by side, for Norman’s father, who was in the leather goods trade in New York City. They went together into the theatrical agency business. They invaded Hollywood together. When Norman got the break, Gus appointed himself bookkeeper, confidential adviser, official alibi and guardian angel. A few years ago Gus got worried about the money Norman was loaning and giving away. Whether he started out with five hundred dollars or only fifty cents, the result was always the same—he came home broke. So Gus asked his idol to enter into an arrangement whereby all checks had to be countersigned by the self-appointed manager before they could be cashed. Norman readily agreed and tied himself up so that now he has to go to Gus for every cent.
Gus arranges contracts and invests the savings. Norman never bothers to look at the books Gus keeps. He says his name alone is enough to make him an ideal manager. Gus’ surname is Messer. In such simple things he finds delight. Six feet two, broad-shouldered, extremely handsome, Kerry’s energy is practically limitless. Days are not long enough for him. He never rests.
When he gets home from the studio and a bell rings, Norman springs to action like a fire horse. He has so many friends, door bells and telephone bells ring constantly. As a result he averages about four hours’ sleep a night. Most people require at least eight. When Norman gets six hours’ sleep, he rides before sunrise to work off his excess pep. There is no sport at which he doesn’t excel. He rides perfectly. He swims perfectly. He is a tennis ace. At the parlor sport of wise cracks he is triumphant. The stories about him are multitude. One concerns his biting the dog. He had evidently read the newspaper rule that if a dog bites a man it is not news, but if a man bites a dog it is. It is told that Norman attended a party where a yapping poodle kept nipping at his ankles. Finally the actor could stand it no longer. He picked up the beast and bit it on the leg.
“Now that you have learned how disagreeable biting is,” Norman told the dog, “go and repent.” Probably he did it in the spirit of a father who spanks a child, for love of animals is his predominant trait. At his home, he has a heterogeneous collection of pets—birds, monkeys, dogs, and a cat that swims.
Norman insists it’s the only swimming cat in the world. Minnie, the elephant, to whom he is devoted, was just brought from vaudeville to play with him in “Lorraine of the Lions” and for weeks lie fed her peanuts, making friends with her before they began working on the picture. That was three years ago, but since then he has visited the pachyderm every week with gifts of peanuts and bananas. She will probably never appear in another film with him, but that makes no difference. He and Minnie are pals. He claims he can tame any animal. While playing in “The Acquittal” he tried to get chummy with a wolf at the Universal zoo. The animal bit him, sending him to the hospital with an infected hand. But as soon as he was released, Norman hurried back to the zoo, to talk to the wolf again. Now it has a dog-like affection for him.
Norman had proved he could pick screen material. He started main- players, including Rudy Valentino, on the road to success. He advised Richard Dix to take up the new motion pictures. He took a little of his own advice and headed for Hollywood. Landing he went down to the Universal studio to visit his friend, Art Acord. As he crossed the lot, he was spied by James Young, the director. Young declared he was just the type for the lead in a film then in the making. Norman had never seen a movie camera, much less faced one. But when he saw Young was not joking, he argued he was worth SI 25 a week, and got it. I le strolled into the dressing rooms and beheld Kenneth Harlan, a dancer, whom he had known on Broadway. “Make me up, Ken,” he ordered. “I’m this company’s new leading man.” That started him. Though he has occasionally made pictures for other companies, he has always remained loyal to Universal. “I hope to stay with them always,” he says. “When I get bored acting I can go play in the zoo and besides, they spoil me and let me have my own way.”
Kerry probably has less conceit than any living actor. While he enjoys the praise “Annie Laurie” is winning, he hasn’t seen it. He rarely sees any of his productions and never views rushes. He has no publicity agent. Neither does he read his press notices. Still, when Jack Pickford tried to tease him by saying he didn’t think his Scotchman in the Gish picture was half what it was said to be, Norman murmured, “No? And what have you been so good in lately?” Kerry is not a person who likes change.
He has stayed in California ever since he returned from the war. His wife goes to New York every few months, Norman never. He once loved Broadway. His people, whose name is Kaiser, are still there. But he never goes back. So many of the boys I knew there have died,” he explains. “That keeps me away. It’s the only thing I can’t face in life—the thought of death. It’s uncomfortable and I love life too well.” He has one ambition. He wants to do a story of the Vikings discovering America. “They were great people,” he declares, “people full of enthusiasm, daring, and they were beautiful two-handed drinkers. I’d enjoy doing such a characterization, particularly the latter part.”