30 September 2017

Dressing Susan Hayward

Here is an interesting correspondence between Darryl F. Zanuck, producer/studio head of Twentieth Century-Fox, and Charles LeMaire, costume designer. Zanuck was known for being a very "hands-on" studio boss, involving himself in all aspects of filmmaking. Below he and LeMaire are discussing the wardrobe of Susan Hayward in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), i.e. Hayward's outfit for the Crillon Hotel scene with co-star Gregory Peck. Having seen the film a long time ago, I can't remember which clothes Hayward eventually got to wear in the scene or if the scene ended up in the film at all.



DATE  March 28 1952

TO Mr. Daryl Zanuck

FROM Charles LeMaire


Dear Mr. Zanuck:

I have read several times the re-write of the scene between Helen and Harry in the Crillon Hotel room. I know you have expressed a desire to have Susan play this scene dressed in lounging pajamas, but I am afraid the thing we want will be lost with covering her legs with pants and covering her top with the kind of jacket this woman would wear.

In reviewing the wardrobe Helen wears in the picture I find that she is in pants and divided skirts or a terry cloth robe most of the time. There is a short sequence where she wears a suit and only a head and shoulders when she wears a dress. 

Do you remember the green dress with the lingere [sic] lace front which I had tested for her to wear in the Crillon Hotel scene? It was under the fur coat which I had expected her to drop from her shoulders when she dismissed the waiter. This is a soft dress, the color is wonderful for her hair and skin and was designed for the interior of this room. 

I can believe this woman entering his room with a handbag and book under her arm, wearing a dress, but I can't imagine the kind of lounging pajamas she would wear into a comparatively strange man's hotel room in the morning, unless his room was part of the suite which she occupied. 

Please let me know how you feel about this.

Charles LeMaire
Left photo: Daryl F. Zanuck; right: Charles LeMaire, who won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for All About Eve (1950), The Robe (1953) and Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955).
Susan Hayward's wardrobe test for the bedroom scene at the Crillon Hotel in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. This is probably the green dress as mentioned in LeMaire's letter to Zanuck.



DATE March 28 1952

cc: Casey Robinson
Henry King
Ray Klune



Dear Charlie:

In connection with your note on the costume for the new hotel sequence at the Crillon, I think the scene will be harmed if Susan is "dressed up". We want to definitely give the impression that she lives next door or down the hall or in the adjoining suite. We also want to give the impression that it is morning and when she got up and had her breakfast she took care of ordering his.

I would like to get her in some nice clothes but one of the things that harmed the other scene was that she looked like she was visiting him from another hotel. The whole point of the scene is that when she finds him drunk she "brings him home" or at least to the hotel. 

Can't you find an interesting negligee that is rather revealing or some sort of a housecoat of the period? This will help us get over the idea that at first Harry thinks she is just a high-class tart who has picked him up.


Images of both letters via Pinterest here and here.

Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck in a scene from Henry King's The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). I like her casual outfit here

3 September 2017

If you think I am too silly and too stupid, divorce me but don’t hate me

In early 1941, producer David O. Selznick met young actress Phyllis Lee Isley and was immediately captivated by her. He signed her to a contract, changed her name to Jennifer Jones and began building her career. Before long, Selznick (then married to Irene Mayer, daughter of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer) and Jones (then married to actor Robert Walker) started an affair which eventually led to marriage in 1949. The marriage lasted until Selznick's death in 1965.

It's safe to say that Jennifer Jones would have had quite a different career if it hadn't been for David Selznick. Selznick controlled Jones' career, making practically every professional decision for her and selecting the roles she played. He chose good roles like the lead in the 1943 The Song of Bernadette (for which Jones won an Oscar), but he also made some bad decisions, for example by turning down Laura (1944) which would later become a noir classic.

Jones trusted Selznick and placed herself completely in his hands. She was a very insecure person, and even after Selznick had made her a star, she remained unsure of herself and emotionally fragileThroughout her life Jones had several nervous breakdowns and even attempted suicide a few times. (Truman Capote once said: "Jennifer Jones was an extremely neurotic girl, and would have twelve nervous breakdowns before rehearsals had hardly started.") 

The following correspondence between Jones and Selznick clearly shows Jones' emotional vulnerability and also gives an insight into the relationship between her and her powerful husband who was 17 years her senior. Jones' fascinating letter to Selznick was written during production of John Huston's Beat the Devil (1954). Jones had a very hard time on the set and speaks of her problems with the director, her inability to understand her character and how she couldn't remember her lines which consequently cost everybody a whole night's work. (Feeling bad about the whole thing, she told co-star Humphrey Bogart she would pay for the costs.) Jones was convinced that the cast and crew thought she was "a great bitch" and was afraid that Selznick might think her awful too ("Anyway scold me or if you think I am too silly and too stupid, divorce me but don’t hate me David"). Selznick responded by telegram, assuring Jones that he still adored her and that she was not to blame in any way, putting the blame entirely on "that four flushing phoney" (i.e. John Huston).

Incidentally, Selznick was not involved with the production of the film --it was produced by Bogart's production company Santana Productions-- but at his suggestion Truman Capote wrote the screenplay when screenwriters Anthony Veiller and Peter Viertel couldn't get the job done. And, judging by his telegram, Selznick had also invested in the film.

Jennifer Jones and Humphrey Bogart in a scene from Beat the Devil (above) and on the set discussing the script with director John Huston (below). 


It was stupid of me to make that fuss on the telephone and I’m terribly ashamed and sorry especially after all you’ve been through. It must have been dreadfully unpleasant all that business and certainly this is a poor time for Mrs. Jones to begin making demands but when I didn’t hear from you I would only think you must have suddenly discovered your nurse was divine or a new secretary or maybe that fourth at Lenore’s for canasta.  
Anyway I was wild with jealousy when I wasn’t wild with rage at John of all of the stupidities of this silly way of making a picture. Your predictions have all come true—he just keeps ahead by minutes and in my case there is no question of performance—my job is solely to remember lines and positions [and] rattle them off as quickly as possible never mind the meaning etc. etc. All the time I think it must be my fault, but really I know it isn’t. John has just decided to make it a three ring circus with an assortment of types behaving in what he hopes is an untypical way but what seems to me only a sordid and completely unrelated one to the other way. Certainly my character has no reality of any kind and whether she is comedy, tragedy, or something “bourgeois” I haven’t a notion. Anyway in the last scene, still unwritten, (as is tomorrow’s scene, of course) John said that “they” should feel sorry for her, this apropos of costume, but this is a confusing clue because unless I appear in rags and tatters there has been nothing in [the] script so far to indicate that she is anything but a silly idiot and how I am to attract audience sympathy of any sort is [a] source of great bewilderment to me. Surely they will feel as I do at this point, that she needs a great solid kick on the bottom. However lest I sound like another Norma Shearer I hasten to add my complaints are not because she is definitely an unsympathetic character but because at least to me she is completely un- understandable. I don’t know what or how to play and John has given for all practical purpose no help whatsoever. 
There was one horrible night, a nightmare of nightmares which shall remain in my memory the rest of my days. It was a scene at the dock before boarding the boat with Dannreuther. To be shot at night. I had received the scene the night before. Carefully studied it . . . in Positano where we had gone with [the] boys the day before. I arrived home in Ravello the afternoon before the night’s shooting to be greeted with an almost entirely new scene which I quickly learned—this was at three o’clock. At six o’clock we left for Salerno where the scene was to be done, as I stepped into the car another scene was handed to me, meaning changed—some of lines from [the] first version, some from the second which I had just learned and then great long additional new ones. It was dark and I couldn’t study until we got to Salerno but I thought oh well, it’s a long scene, it was quite long, there will be several angles, it will be broken up and even with accent problems I shall be all right. But when we arrived John with his fetish for one angle, one take, etc. had arranged to do it all in one. For the first time in my life, David, I couldn’t remember the lines, I blew and blew and blew until 4:30 in the morning. About 2:00 I said, John, please let’s just let this be a rehearsal tonight or break it up, John. I can’t do it, I’m exhausted, the lines are all confused, I need time to study the scene properly, please don’t humiliate me anymore in front of the crew and other actors. Gina and Morley and Peter* and all the others were kept there all night because they walked through the shot in the beginning with no lines and this was most distressing to me. His answer was, forget the strain you are under and act, remember you are paid to act. Said of course with a grim smile and what passes for Huston charm. At 4:30 completely paralyzed with shame and hating myself for being so stupid, I actually couldn’t remember the lines at all, one time one line would be right and another wrong and then another mixed up in a completely unreasonable way. Oh David it was all my bad dreams in one. Anyway he finally realized the senselessness of carrying on and we left for home. The next night of course I was all right and went right through it even though it had become a great stumbling block but Bogie made a couple of mistakes and because the end of the scene was not really good in that angle, John was forced or rather decided to break it up, which if he had done the evening before there would have been no problem. 
Anyway, I felt so badly, so ashamed and so much like an old actor who has as you say learned all the parts of which he is capable that I did a thing which you will probably hate me for and which in retrospect I rather regret except that at the time of my absolute dismay I couldn’t help it. I told Bogie that, and this was before the scene the second night when he was just barely nodding good evening to me, that he needn’t worry, I intended to pay for the last night’s work. Of course he said nonsense, don’t worry about it, but I said that was my intention and then when I told Jack Clayton the same thing, he said not to say it to anyone else as some of the Italian partners might take me up. . . . Now I realize it was stupid but actually David I did cost them a whole night’s work and in a way if we didn’t need the money so badly I would like not to lose any salary for this silly picture. Because I know I have done a bad job even though I am not entirely to blame because circumstances have made it impossible, still as John says I do not understand the character and that is my fault. I would really feel much better about it if we didn’t have to accept their money. Perhaps you don’t understand this and perhaps I can explain it more clearly when I see you, the way I feel I mean. I am prepared for you to think I am the idiot child, but believe me David, whether all this is my fault or not, I am still not sure that I’m not the one to blame, at least I know I have mismanaged myself badly throughout the film, I allowed that stupid but not unkind or ungood Bogie, only rather cheap between you and me, to get under my skin and the foul mouthed Peter and the whole ratty group. Anyway scold me or if you think I am too silly and too stupid divorce me but don’t hate me David. I have mixed up everything badly and for the first time in my life am working in a company, almost all of whom think me a great bitch I am certain. But I don’t want to ruin your life and if you think I am awful too, please know that you are free absolutely and completely.

If you still want it you have all my love,
[*"Gina" is Gina Lollobrigida, "Morley" is Robert Morley, and "Peter" is Peter Lorre]

Dearest darling,
Letter arrived tonight.
With great difficulty I promise to follow your wishes and disregard it but please please understand you are completely not only blameless but outrageously unforgivably victimized.
If that four flushing phoney ever again says you are PAID to act, please tell him for me that firstly, we contracted for script to be delivered last Christmas; secondly, when this [was] not forthcoming we recognized dangers and we have written proof we begged to be released; thirdly, we are not getting paid, we are gambling investors whereas he is paid fully and is without any gamble or investment whatsoeverfourthly, he is paid to deliver script on which shockingly he failed to perform because he was too busy in America publicizing hisself endowed genious [sic] and in Europe playing Casanova to a harem of frustrated women; fifthly, but for our insistent suggestion of Capote they would now be facing complete disaster since Truman is doing the geniuses work for him; sixthly, no actor in history has been asked to go through what you have on this film but you will continue to struggle and hope for best despite incredibly amateur conditions; seventhly, at their urgent request  we donated fifty thousand dollars worth of time for which we could have had a larger claim on them but which we refused when they sought favors for which they expressed verbal gratitude which we have not seen demonstrated in their behavior. 
Please under no circumstances again demean yourself and dignify these fakers by letting them get you down. You simply must tolerantly patronize them which is [the] only way to cope with such untalented pretense. I adore you and hate myself for not being there to tell them off although I am certain these gentlemen heroes are too yellow to behave that way if I were there which thank heaven I shall be soon. Keep this cable with you to show whenever necessary or even when it can spare you either slightest distress or smallest humiliation from such ignorant brutes.

Jones and Selznick had one daughter, Mary Jennifer. She committed suicide in 1976 at age 21. In 1980, Jones founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education in order to help people suffering from mental health problems.

Jones' letter and Selznick's telegram via Vanity Fair
Original source: West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein (Random House, 2016)

15 August 2017

Hedda Hopper & James Dean

When gossip columnist Hedda Hopper saw James Dean for the first time, she was appalled by his unkempt appearance and his bad manners. Such was her disgust with Dean that she wrote in her column the next day"They've brought out from New York another dirty-shirttail actor. If this is the kind of talent they're importing, they can send it right back so far as I'm concerned." (Quote from Hopper's 1962 autobiography The Whole Truth and Nothing But.)

A while later, Hopper received an invitation to attend the preview of East of Eden (1955). Given her bad first impression of Dean, Hopper refused to go. The day after the preview, however, Clifton Webb (who was quite excited about Dean's performance and whose judgment Hopper respected) told her to go see the film, so Hopper arranged a private screening and was immediately enthralled by Dean. She invited Dean to her house for an interview and he soon had her eating out of the palm of his hand. From then on, Hopper was Dean's biggest fan. When he suddenly died in September 1955 after crashing his car, she lobbied hard for a James Dean memorial ánd a posthumous Academy Award. Despite all her efforts, Hopper achieved neither.

Shown below are Hopper's radio statement about James Dean from 5 October 1955 (five days after his death) and a letter written by Hopper to Jimmy Madden (a fan) on 3 January 1956. Madden had contributed $1 for Dean's memorial, but since there would be no memorial (due to the lack of interest in Hollywood) Hopper saw fit to return Madden's money. Also, Hopper writes that she was working on a special Oscar for Dean but, as mentioned, the Oscar never happened. (Incidentally, it wasn't until much later (in 1977) that Dean did get a memorial; read more here.)

Hedda Hopper visits James Dean in his dressing room during the filming of Giant (1956), which was released after his death.


"I'm still reeling from the sudden death of Jimmy Dean, one of the greatest acting talents I've ever known. He was a tragic figure. So few understood him. He was reaching out for love and understanding, but got so little. His greatest ambition was to play "Hamlet" on Broadway. Said he, "It should be done only by a young man." The thing he loved most was the thing that killed him-- his racing car. He carried with him in his death the St. Christopher medal Pier Angeli gave him while he was making "East of Eden." He was like quicksilver. He had a sure instinct for drama. He was like the parched earth longing for the rain. Only a few days ago a friend of mine met him in a pet hospital. He had brought a kitten for an innoculation, and the loving care he was giving it was beautiful to look upon. It will be a long time before we see his like again. I loved the boy and always will." 

Source: oscars.org

Source: Hake's Americana & Collectibles


Hedda Hopper's Hollywood
702 Guaranty Building
Hollywood 28, California 

January 3, 1956

Dear Jimmy Madden:

I can't tell you how touched I was by your letter, and how much I appreciated your contribution for a memorial for Jimmy Dean.

It's taken me so long to thank you and to return the money because I have investigated thoroughlu [sic] the Hollywood end of figuring out some suitable memorial for Jimmy. I ran up against a blank wall. There's a great deal of interest here among his friends and much more from his fans. But the people who would have to put up the bulk of the money aren't willing to do so.

I'm still working for a special Oscar to be imbedded in a granite block to be put on his grave. But I won't know whether my plan will be carried out until the night of the Academy Awards. 

I feel as you do about Jimmy. Had he lived he'd have been one of our greatest. I feel he's still with us; I know he is in spirit. He would have been so pleased that so many people from all over the nation have wanted to create a memorial in his name.

My blessings upon you.

Hedda Hopper

Mr. Jimmy Madden
2500 University Ave.
Bronx, 68, N.Y.

Enclosure $1

7 August 2017

As ever, Norma

Here is a sweet little note from Norma Shearer to Brian Aherne, written in 1935. Shearer wrote to Aherne after doing a screen test together for MGM's film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Aherne was one of the actors considered for the role of Romeo, but he later decided not to play itmuch to Shearer's disappointment. The reason for rejecting the part was that Aherne thought himself too old for it. (Fredric March, MGM's first choice, had rejected the role for the same reason.) In the end, the Romeo part went to Leslie Howard who, at the time in his forties, was even older than Aherne (or March). Incidentally, Shearer herself was 33, which made her also a very old Juliet.

Source: WorthPoint


Dear Brian -

Thank you for your terribly kind letter.
I admit I was rather incoherent the other night. I was just trying to say how much I appreciated your delightful enthusiasm while taking our tests and how disappointed I was to hear you had decided not to play in "Romeo + Juliet".
I called you up this afternoon to have a little chat about it but you were not at home.
I want you to know that both Irving and I have always felt you would be wonderful in either parts and still do.

With our affectionate regards

As ever

-Judging by Shearer's letter, Aherne was also considered for another part in Romeo and Juliet, which was most likely the role of Mercutio, a role Aherne had played on Broadway in 1934. 

-"Irving" was Shearer's husband Irving Thalberg, head of production at MGM. Thalberg had wanted to make Romeo and Juliet for a long time and in June 1935 announced his plans to do so. Studio head Louis B. Mayer, however, was far from enthusiastic about the project, since he felt that a Shakespeare adaptation would not be accessible enough for the general public. In the end, Thalberg managed to convince Mayer and hired George Cukor to direct. Romeo and Juliet was released in 1936, having cost MGM $2 million (Thalberg's original budget was $800,000). Due to its high production costs, the film eventually lost a lot of money at the box-office.

Above: The only picture I could find of Norma Shearer and Brian Aherne together; here they are photographed with Chico Marx and Martha Raye. Below- left photo: Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as Romeo and Juliet in MGM's film adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy; right photo: Shearer and husband Irving Thalberg who was known as MGM's wonder boy; the couple was married from 1927 till September 1936 when Thalberg suddenly died of pneumonia.

3 August 2017

Mae West and her fight for better prison life

In April 1927, Mae West was sentenced to ten days in prison for having corrupted 'the morals of youth' with the 1926 Broadway play Sexwhich she had written, produced, directed and starred in. West was released after eight days for good behaviour, but had seen enough to understand what life in prison was like. Admittedly, West's prison stay wasn't your standard prison stay --she got to dine with the warden and regarded the whole thing as a big publicity stunt-- but she saw what other inmates went through and was determined from then on to do whatever she could to improve prison life. Following her release from Welfare Island prison, West wrote an article for Liberty Magazine about her imprisonment, and her $1,000 earnings she donated to the prison so they could build a better library. Also, having spent a lot of time talking to female inmates, she wanted to help them find jobs once they were released from jail.

Clinton Duffy was the warden at San Quentin State Prison between 1940 and 1952. An opponent of the death penalty, Duffy was a prison reformer and someone whom Mae West greatly admired. West wrote to several people praising Duffy's good work and asking them to support him. To the governor of California Culbert Olson, she reportedly wrote: "I hope your excellency will feel as I do and let Warden Duffy continue making bad men good, while I continue making good men bad I mean in the movies"

West also wrote to fellow actor Gary Cooper (her letter to him is shown below), asking him to make a financial contribution to one of Warden Duffy's projects. West felt that they owed something to the "bad boys" for being the inspiration for so much of Hollywood's screen material. Whether Cooper eventually made a donation I don't know, but West herself most likely did and also contributed to one of Warden Duffy's other projects (see the above newspaper clipping, taken from the San Bernardino Daily Sun of 7 Sept. 1941).

Source: scripophily.com


August 26

Mr. Gary Cooper

Dear Friend:

Up at San Quentin Warden Clinton Duffy is doing really wonderful work in prison administration. The men there tell with enthusiasm of the many fine things he is doing with them and for them- the humane changes he has brought about in prison life that have removed the depressing influences of prison and helped them to a new self-respect and the opportunity for education and the learning of useful trades.

At this time, Warden Duffy is preparing to award prizes to the men in prison who prove most worthy of them. The only means the Warden has of obtaining these prizes are by contributions from those outside, and he has called on us for help.

It has been suggested that I let you know about this personally, which I am glad to do informally as we all receive so many formal appeals these days.

At the invitation of Governor Olson I attended the National Congress of the American Prison Association as an appointed delegate from the State of California. I accepted because I felt I owed something to the bad boys- the ones that ge [sic] themselves in prison- since my stage and screen successes have been about the underworld. That has meant money to me as it has to all actors and actresses who have portrayed underworld characters on the stage and screen.

I'm sure you will be glad to find room among your other donations for a contribution for the encouragement of the boys in the "Big House", who have inspired such a lot of our screen material.

The types and kinds of articles that will be given as prizes by Warden Duffy are highly restricted- you know there are certain things they might not want the boys up there to have. So it will be more practical to make a cash donation which the Warden will convert into things that will be good for them. 

You may send your check either to me at the Ravenswood Apartments, Hollywood, or directly to Warden Clinton Duffy, San Quentin Prison,Calif. The deadline for donations is not later than the 3rd of September. Everybody will be very happy if they hear from you by then. So do it now for the boys of dear old San Quentin, as a lot of them are your "fans". And I know they'll say, "Thanks, Pal."   

Mae West


Gary Cooper and Mae West celebrating the end of Prohibition

27 July 2017

I got it in the bathroom!

With the leading role in Anastasia (1956), Ingrid Bergman made her American comeback after she had spent years in Italy making films with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. Bergman had been forced to stay in Italy due to her affair with Rossellini and the major scandal it caused in the U.S. in 1949 (read more here). But in 1956, Bergman separated from Rossellini and, after being considered persona non grata in the U.S. for years, returned to the American screen with Anastasia and immediately won her second Oscar

On 27 March 1957, Cary Grant accepted the Oscar on Bergman's behalf during the 29th Academy Award ceremony. (Bergman herself was in Paris at the time starring in the French adaptation of the play Tea and Sympathy.) Bergman and Grant had become very good friends since they had worked together on Hitchock's Notorious (1946), and Grant was also one of the few people in Hollywood who had defended and supported Bergman during the Rossellini scandal. So it was only natural for Bergman to ask her dear friend to accept the award on her behalf in case she won. Of course, Grant willingly accepted and you can watch his acceptance speech here.

Above: Ingrid Bergman and her good friend Cary Grant who accepted the Oscar for Anastasia on her behalf; Bergman and Grant made two movies together: Notorious (1946 and Indiscreet (1958). Below: Yul Brynner and Bergman in a scene from "Anastasia", a film directed by Anatole Litvak.
Below: Backstage at the 29th Oscar ceremony with Anthony Quinn (Best Supporting Actor for Lust for Life), Dorothy Malone (Best Supporting Actress for Written on the Wind), Yul Brynner (Best Actor for The King and I) and Cary Grant holding Ingrid Bergman's Oscar for Best Actress for Anastasia.

The letter for this post is a letter from Ingrid Bergman to Cary Grant written in Paris on 29 March 1957, two days after the Oscar ceremony. Bergman thanks her friend for accepting the award for her and for the sweet words he spoke at the ceremony. She also tells him that, despite having given interviews to the press all day, she only fully realised that she had won the Oscar when she was in the bathroom hearing his voice on the radio.

Source: theacademy.tumblr.com/ from the Cary Grant papers at the Margaret Herrick Library


Paris 29-3-1957

My dear Cary, my wonderful friend:

I got the news about the award in the morning at 6 o'clock. I said on the phone: "I got it?" The answer was yes--- and I fell asleep again. This seems a very indifferent way of accepting an Oscar, but I was full of sleeping pills so that I could go through the night! A couple of hours later I was awakened and what seems to me 1000 photographers. The whole day I did nothing but answer questions in all languages about how I felt. I really felt a very dull happiness and was only hoping the day would end. Finallay [sic] it was over and I went to my room to take a bath and to see Tola and celebrate -in peace- the evening. I hear a scream and my 7 year old son rushes into the bathroom with the radio in his hands, yelling "Mama, they are talking about you". He came in just as I heared [sic] my name mentioned and the roar of the public in Hollywood. It was a transmission -on wire- with a French commentator about the awards. In the back of the commentator I heared your voice. You said something about "if you can hear me now" and "wherever you are the [sic] the world" and I said "I am here, Cary, in the bathroom!"And then you gave me the good wishes and I could hear all the people cheer. That was the moment I really received the Oscar and I felt tears coming to my eyes. Having known about it all day, but still not GETTING it, I GOT it in the bathroom! What a place to get an Oscar! Nothing could have made me happier than that you took it and I thank you for the sweet words you said. How lucky that I heard them, it was all due to my little boy! 

With my love,

Ingrid (signed)

Bergman's first Oscar was for her leading role in Gaslight (1944), and she would win a third Oscar for her supporting role in the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express.

23 July 2017

George Hurrell: more than just a photographer

A leading portrait photographer in the 1930s/40s, George Hurrell photographed every major star in Hollywood, including the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck. Here is a short memo from Barbara about Hurrell, sharing her thoughts on his work and calling him more than "just a photographer". The memo is undated and I don't know why it was written or to whom, but it gives me an excuse to show you these beautiful pictures of Barbara taken by Hurrell.

Via: icollector


George Hurrell is more than "just a photographer". His work always seemed to me to go beyond the subject at hand. More into the depth of its character- and that after all is what makes Hurrell a fine artist.

13 July 2017

I have been stupidly loyal

In the early 1950s, John Wayne made the worst decision of his film career. He decided to play the role of the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan in Howard Hughes' production The Conqueror (1956)a decision he would sorely regret. Wayne's casting as Khan is generally considered one of the worst miscastings ever --Wayne later agreed that he had been terribly miscast-- and the film itself also ranks as one of the worst films of all time.

Nevertheless, The Conqueror was a film Wayne had wanted to make and producer Howard Hughes had been willing to give him whatever he wanted. (At the time, Wayne was at the peak of his career and still had to make one more film as part of a three-picture deal with Hughes' studio RKO.) In mid-May 1954, filming on The Conqueror began and ended in early August. Production was not without problems and eventually cost RKO 6 million dollars, making The Conqueror the studio's most expensive production. Despite the huge investment, the film eventually became both a commercial and critical flop.

On 29 April 1954a disgruntled John Wayne wrote the following letter to Howard Hughes. Apparently, Hughes had hired Wayne in 1952 to do The Conqueror, but two years later Wayne was still waiting for production to finally start. In his letter, Wayne complains about the money he lost for holding himself available for RKO, and how he had turned down "four very top pictures". Wayne also mentions his friendship with Hughes, feeling that he had been taken advantage of ("I have been stupidly loyal"). Production on The Conqueror finally began a few weeks after Wayne had written his letter to Hughes. As said, the film turned out to be a big disaster, and Wayne would regret playing Genghis Khan for the rest of his life. (Wayne reportedly said that the moral of the film was "not to make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you're not suited for." )


1022 Palm Avenue
Hollywood 46, Calif.
April 29, 1954

Mr. Howard Hughes
Hughes Tool Company
7000 Romaine
Hollywood 38, Calif.

Dear Howard:

There seems to be no way of getting to you in time of stress except by letter. Knowingly, carelessly, or unintentionally --let's call it the latter-- you have caused me a huge financial loss and a great loss of prestige at a point in my life and in my career when I can afford neither.

"The Conqueror", if you will remember, was to start on April 1st, and a final plug was pulled when I now learn that it is not going to start until May 17th. Do you realize that this assignment has been hanging over my head since January 1952 -two and a half years?  I have kept my word to the very letter and held myself free and available for RKO to do one picture, pursuant to the studio' s request and your personal request, in the following manner:

In 1952, from January until May; in 1953 from July until the time of my divorce, which was October 19th; and this year from January 4th until the finish of the picture, which cannot possibly be completed before July 21st, and it is not probable that it will be finished then, due to the history of your production procedure at RKO.  The time lost on "Jet Pilot" is not being referred to in this letter.

Taking into consideration my average earnings over the last four years, you have cost me $250,000 in 1952, $250,000 in 1953, and $500,000 in 1954. This adds up to $1,000,000 in cash lost to me, without figuring the equities in percentages of the gross from four very top pictures I was obliged to reject while I was keeping my faith with you. And without figuring what it means to a star in my position to lose four top pictures; plus the fact that being off the screen at this time hurts my career and popularity and future earnings. I don't suppose an honest man can put any real premium on his word, but the fact remains this is a terribly severe loss to me at this crucial time of my life.

As you can see by these cold facts, I have never taken advantage of any friendship between us. As a matter of fact, I have been stupidly loyal. I hate to refer to this, but you made a statement to me that I was one of the few friends you had in the motion picture business. I feel that I have been tremendously imposed upon.

The above are facts that Mr. Tevlin can readily verify. If you had taken the trouble to read my letter of February 3rd, which resulted in a meeting about the middle of February, you would have a better understanding of my problems. In that meeting you cut through issues that were vital to me in a manner only you are capable of doing, and reached a surface conclusion without the slightest understanding of all the facts.

It's true, I admit, that you did one thing: you listened to me and changed the picture from "The Long Wire" to "The Conqueror". I don't want you to say that this was done merely for my good-- it was more for your good.

Therefore, realizing that your mind is obviously on more important matters than the production of motion pictures, I would like to suggest that, in order to avoid a lot of exploded tempers, you authorize Mr. Tevlin to sit down with Mr. Marin and myself, immediately and prior to the tests scheduled for Tuesday of next week, and discuss a re-adjustment of my financial return from this picture. $100,000 does not even start to make the necessary adjustment. 


John Wayne

Images of the letter via icollector.


-Apart from being a cinematic and financial disaster, The Conqueror was also a disaster in a different, more horrific way. A year before production started, tests with nuclear weapons had been executed at 137 miles (220 km) from the film location (the Utah desert). During the whole production which lasted almost three months, the cast and film crew were exposed to radioactive fallout, even though the site had been deemed safe. By 1980, 91 of the 220 cast and crew members had some form of cancer and 46 had already died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and director Dick Powell. Although it was never conclusively proven that the nuclear tests were the cause of the cancer cases, an expert stated in 1980 that in a group of 220 you would expect only 30-some people to get cancer. Nevertheless, John Wayne always believed that his lung cancer had been caused by his smoking habit and not the nuclear fallout.

-Jet Pilot, another Howard Hughes' production mentioned in Wayne's letter, was filmed between December 1949 and February 1950. It wasn't released, however, until 1957. By that time, Hughes had already sold RKO, and the film was released by Universal-International. 

Leading lady Susan Hayward and John Wayne still having something to laugh about on the set of The Conqueror.