2 August 2014

I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things!

The only time Charles Laughton and Billy Wilder worked together was on Wilder's "Witness for the Prosecution" (1958), based on Agatha Christie's short story and play. For their great efforts both Laughton and Wilder received Oscar nominations, but neither won (incidentally, none of the nominees -six in total- was awarded the Oscar). On 28 March 1958, Charles Laughton wrote a letter to Billy Wilder, saying that he was glad he didn't win the Oscar ("I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things"). Laughton's view on receiving the statuette had obviously changed, as he had won and accepted the Best Actor award for "The Private Life of Henry VIII" 24 years earlier. The play Laughton mentions in the penultimate paragraph is presumably Jane Arden's "The Party", which opened on 28 May 1958 in London; in the play Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife whose role in "Witness" had earned her an Oscar nomination) co-starred with her husband.

Billy Wilder, producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. , Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich on the set of "Witness for the prosecution".
Source: rr auction/ image reproduced with owner's permission.

Transcript:

7, Dorset House, 
Gloucester Place,
London, N.W.1.

28th March, 1958.

My dearly beloved Billy,

I hope you know me well enough to see that I am telling the truth when I tell you that I am very glad I was not awarded the Oscar. Every time I thought of it, I got into a frightful state of mind. I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things when I think that Garbo never had one, Chaplin never had one, and Hitchcock's never had one. Have you had one, my dear fellow? I don't remember.

It would have made a nasty mark on me not to turn down something which I so heartily look down on, and I had been advised by Loyd Wright that I must not. 

I was terribly shocked when I heard that you were not even nominated for your script and directing of "Witness", as I am not one of those fools, and I know the score of what's what. I sometimes think that in some ways it is bad for you that you are not an actor, and that you do not see ordinary people's faces light up when they come and tell you that they have seen a film like that. It is the only thing that really makes our so difficult game worth the candle.

Bless you, my dear Billy, and "Witness", and the time we had after on holiday; it was one of the most innocent and best times of my life. I do hope that it is going to turn up in the cards that we work together again soon. I have lost all relish for jockeying for position, or making any compromise in working with people whom I do not admire and like.

The script of the play is now completed. Taft Schreiber has a copy. I cannot get another one to send to you. The management is close-fisted about money, which is probably a good thing in the theatre. All I have is a script for me and a script for Elsa. I have dropped Taft a note to give you the script I sent him. I shall be dithering until I know your opinion.

Love to Audrey. Elsa arrived yesterday, thank God- I was very lonely. Elsa has just shouted from the next room that she sends her love.

Affectionately,

Charles (signed)

1957, Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria: (from left to right) Tyrone Power, Billy Wilder and Charles Laughton.

3 comments:

  1. Lovely - so nice to see that Charles missed Elsa! And yes - with Chaplin and Garbo anyone would be in good company (add Cary Grant to that for a performance, too!).

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  2. He echoes the thoughts of so many film fans of today. Time and history has played its part.

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  3. Thanks for commenting! Laughton was in good company indeed. And what to think of Barbara Stanwyck? Unbelievable that she never won an Oscar either!

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