Eliza Boyer (Paterson)
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About Pat Paterson
Pat Paterson was an Anglo-Scottish film actress, born in Bradford, England. Though she made over 20 films (excluding theatre work), she is most famous for being the wife of French-born actor Charles Boyer and for the tragic death of their only child, Michael, at his own 21st birthday party.
She was born Eliza Paterson on 7 April 1910 at No.74 Fitzgerald Street, Horton, a suburb of Bradford, England. Her mother, Hannah Holroyd, was English, her father, John Robb Paterson, (b.1888, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland) was a Scotsman. The Patersons had been Merchant Navy sailors for several generations, but his own father, John Robb Paterson (1864–1918) had broken the mould by becoming a Master Baker in Fifeshire, so John moved down to the Bradford area in his mid-teens for work, and met Hannah Holroyd. They married in 1908, and their eldest child, Eliza's older brother John, was born 9 January 1909. Their third and final child, Andrew Paterson, was born in 1920, also in Bradford.
From infancy, Eliza was called Cis (to rhyme with kiss) or Cissie Paterson, a traditional English nickname given to girls named Elizabeth or some variant thereof (Eliza, Elspeth, etc.). By the time she was twelve years old she had built up a formidable portfolio of child-acting and modelling work in the local area, including vitally important photographs of her in assorted costumes/poses that were sent to agents, talent scouts, etc.
In 1928, although aged only 18 (the legal age of adulthood in the UK at the time was 21) she persuaded her parents to allow her to leave for Hollywood. She arrived in 1929 and was fortunate enough to be 'signed on' by Fox Studios as one of their many "starlets", a bit-part journeywoman actress. She was helped by her expressive beauty and by dying her natural auburn-brunette hair golden-blonde instead.
However, Cis was unknown to Americans as a name or nickname, and was far too close to cyst for Fox Studios' liking, so she was renamed Patricia (almost immediately shortened to Pat) Paterson, as the Pat-Paterson sound had a nice alliterative rhythm to the pronunciation. From 1930 to 1934 she appeared in many studio-pictures, usually as the third lead actress, then second lead, then co-lead, etc. It is interesting to speculate on how well her career might have gone had chance, in the form of the French-born actor Maurice Chevalier, not intervened. In early 1934, he persuaded his lifelong best friend, fellow French actor Charles Boyer to attend a Fox Studios' post-New Year dinner party, at which several of their contracted employee actors also gathered, including Pat Paterson. Boyer later declared that they instantly fell in love with each other, and to Chevalier's astonishment at his aging playboy friend, they married within four weeks of that party, on St. Valentine's Day 1934, in Yuma, Arizona.
With a sexism many today would find breath-taking, Boyer was quoted in the news media as claiming his wife would be relinquishing her career, as he felt married women should not work, devoting their time and attention to raising their children. However, Boyer's plans to churn out a conveyor belt of Franco-American babies did not transpire, so Pat continued to work, her arguably most prominent role coming the year after her marriage, when she was the female lead in Charlie Chan in Egypt, starring as the archetype imperiled heroine that Charlie Chan has to save from being murdered.
She continued to appear in at least one film per year until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when she, her husband and Chevalier, as Europeans, devoted themselves to supporting the war effort of Britain and France. Her father, John Robb Paterson, had lost two brothers fighting in World War I, and another, Frederick Whyte Paterson, who had emigrated to Australia, would be killed in action in World War II. It was effectively the end of her film career; on 10 December 1944, two years after her husband Charles became an American citizen, she gave birth to their only child, Michael Charles Boyer, in Los Angeles, California.
Charles continued to make movies, but perceptively targeted the suave, elder-statesman type of supporting role, recognising that his days as the hearthrob, purring "great lovairrr" were done. It seems that Pat was more than happy to remain in the background, though she visited him on set with Michael (whose name was pronounced in the French manner, Me-shell, not the Anglicised My-kell).
On the night of 10 December 1964, at his own 21st birthday party in his LA home, their son Michael shot himself dead whilst playing Russian Roulette near the mansion's summerhouse with a group of male friends. The media reported his death as a deliberate suicide, citing distress over his breakup with his girlfriend (also of Scottish descent, being surnamed Campbell) as the motivation. However, there is as equal a possibility that his death was a terrible drunken accident, as the spurned lover claim of the media did not hold up under close scrutiny (he and his girlfriend had separated twice before, only to reconcile almost immediately, and there was nothing to indicate this - alleged - breakup would not also follow the same pattern). Unfortunately, everyone at the party, being young, wealthy and showbusiness were all too drunk, high or both to be able to give any reliable account of what exactly had happened and whether Michael could have been faking inebriation as a cover, or was genuinely so drunk his common sense was drowned. The tragic tale of star-crossed love and suicide sold more newspapers than rich kid's drunken accident, and horrific as it was, it also meant his family could believe his death was less tragically senseless than it would have been had it been proven to be accidental.
Charles Boyer was filming in Europe at the time and neither he nor Pat ever recovered from the tragedy. Diagnosed with a brain tumour, Pat died in Hollywood on 24 August 1978; his best friend Maurice Chevalier having died six years earlier in 1972, there was nothing for Charles any longer. He committed suicide two days after she died, by overdose. They are buried together alongside their son in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.