Pauline Marion Goddard Levy was born to a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother in Whitestone Landing on Long Island in New York. She was a childhood model who would make her stage debut in 1926 at the age of 16 in Florenz Ziegfeld's summer review, in a production of No Foolin'. She had gotten her start when her mother went to work for Saks Fifth Ave., and a great-uncle, Charles Goddard, a wealthy druggist, introduced her to Ziegfeld. It was in this production that one of them suggested that she be billed as "Paulette Goddard" instead of Pauline Levy; obviously the name stuck. She made he film debut in 1929 in a Laurel & Hardy late silent/early sound comedy short: Berth Marks. Also in 1929, she landed a role in an early full mono talkie: The Locked Door, a Barbara Stanwyck crime vehicle. Both roles went uncredited. From these fortunate, but rather humble beginnings, started a long career that would see her as the belle of Hollywood by the mid-1930's, provide her both fame and infamy, and bring her high critical praise (she was nominated for 1 Oscar). She married young, and would go on to marry 4 times, with only her last marriage "taking" (two of her husband's included Charlie Chaplin and Burgess Meredith). With her marriage to Chaplin she starred in his film from 1936 Modern Times, which for all intents and purposes was a very late silent. Chaplin, still not then comfortable with the wordy dialogue of talkies, shot the film with the barest minimum of spoken lines. By the 1950's her acting career had slowed considerably, and by the mid-1950's she started to get into television work. By the 1960's, she was all but retired. The last film appearance that she made was in 1964; with her last acting job on television came in 1972 in the series The Snoop Sisters. After this she retired for good, having received a massive inheritance from her last husband, the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, who had died in 1970. In 1975 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went into extensive treatment, including very invasive surgeries to combat the disease. The treatment was a success. However, by the late 1980's, she was suffering from emphysema and died from heart failure on 23 April 1990 while undergoing respiratory treatments near her home in Switzerland. She is buried a short distance from her residence next to Remarque and her mother in the Ronco Village Cemetery.
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