In honor of what would have been Gail Patrick’s 104th birthday, I want to talk a little bit about why she’s long been one of my personal heroes. When one mentions the heroes of classic Hollywood, names that generally come up are men. Some of them were actual war heroes, such as James Stewart, and some were heroes of the old West, on screen, like John Wayne. A lot of ladies of my generation who grew up on old movies on VHS would name Myrna Loy as a hero, in a heartbeat, but Gail’s isn’t a name commonly associated with even characters one would look up to.
In the early 1930’s, Margaret Fitzpatrick had already earned her BA (which, in this case, does not mean Bad Ass, but very well could), and was studying law at University of Alabama. It was only “on a lark” that she made a break into movies. From vamp to airhead, she was generally the side character or the “other woman.” There are more than a few instances where one has to wonder what’s so appealing about the lead, when the guy has Gail Patrick, but I digress. Though she was great at her job, she was quoted as saying that she never much felt like an actress. Clearly not to detract from her peers because hell if I don’t also sing their individual praises daily, but Gail had a depth that extended far beyond that necessary of a movie star- she was smart, shrewd, and creative. She was charming, witty, and unafraid of opening the doors and entering the male dominated business world.
Her first foray into business is what one might call a stepping point. Using her own designs, she marketed children’s clothing to the Hollywood Moms. By all accounts, this was a personal venture. It was Gail Patrick, start to finish. It proved to be a modest success, but she would return to the screen, albeit a smaller one, in a role that was practically off limits to females. She would become president of Paisano Productions, alongside husband Cornell Jackson and author Erle Stanley Gardner. Gardner, as I’m sure you’re aware, was the author of the Perry Mason books. Gail convinced him to turn it into a TV series, providing much of the development, herself. She sold the idea for the Perry Mason series to CBS, and it would have a wildly successful 9 year run.
In another time, a world where most women were relegated to lives of servitude to the male of the species, Gail Patrick went headstrong and unafraid into a life of great success. She was a jack of all trades, a can-do type that rarely saw professional defeat. I wish that even modern girls had more Gail Patricks. Happy Birthday, Lady. ❤