14 March 2015

Clifton, our deepest sympathy

Clifton Webb lived with his mother Mabelle almost his entire life. She was the centre of his universe, and the two were inseparable (Webb would take his mother everywhere: to dinner parties, movie premieres, on vacation etc.). When Mabelle died in 1960 at age 91, Webb's world collapsed and he became inconsolable. His uncontrolled and incessant grieving made playwright and close friend Noel Coward write in his diary a few months after Mabelle's death: "Poor Clifton [..] is still, after two months, wailing and sobbing over Maybelle's death. As she was well over ninety, gaga, and had driven him mad for years, this seems excessive and over indulgent. He arrives here on Monday and I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas. Poor, poor Clifton. I am, of course, deeply sorry for him but he must snap out of it" [via]. Well, 'snap out of it' Webb never did. He would never get over his mother's death and make only one more movie, "Satan never sleeps" (1962). The remainder of his life --he died six years later at age 76-- Webb would spend in relative seclusion while struggling with his health.

Photos above: (left) Clifton Webb and his mother Mabelle; (right) a photograph taken at one of the Webbs' many Hollywood dinner parties with standing from left to right: Basil Rathbone, David Niven, director Gregory Ratoff, and seated: Heather Angel, Merle Oberon, Ouida Rathbone and Mabelle Webb. Photos below: Mary Pickford (with husband actor Buddy Rogers), Fred Astaire and Jack Warner-- the letter writers for this post. 
Once the news of Mabelle's death became known, Clifton Webb's friends and colleagues started sending their letters of sympathy. Below you'll find three such letters-- written by Mary Pickford (who also talks about the death of her mother-in-law), Fred Astaire and Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner.

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Transcript:

November 2, 1960

Dear Clifton,

Buddy and I felt very sad to learn of beloved Mabel's passing. We both know only too well the pain of parting and the void that is left when someone we love has left us, as Buddy lost his darling mother the same week as you lost yours.

I will always remember Mabel, that charming and gay laugh of hers.

Mrs. Rogers, fortunately for her, did not suffer a long illness, with the result that it was a shock to her family, her going so quickly.

Buddy, like you, always was a wonderful son and this knowledge should be a source of comfort to you both. Both Buddy's mother and yours were singularly fortunate in sharing the interesting and full lives of their sons.

We both send you our love and sympathy.

Yours affectionately,

Mary (signed)

Mr. Clifton Webb
1005 N. Rexford Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif.

source
Transcript:

Tues.

Dear Clifton:-

Just a line to express my deepest heartfelt sympathy.

As ever sincerely-
Fred

source
Transcript:

October 18, 1960

Dear Clifton:

Words are futile to describe our feelings at this time. We loved your mother very much and appreciated the warm spot she had in her heart for us.

The only condolence you can have is that she was a wonderful woman.

Ann joins me in sending our love.

Jack (signed)

Mr. Clifton Webb
1005 N. Rexford Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Images of all three letters courtesy of Heritage Auctions

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