28 January 2014

Barbara & son congratulate Joan

During the 1930s, Joan Crawford was one of Hollywood's greatest stars and one of the best paid women in the USA. Her popularity, however, began to decline by the end of the 1930s, which resulted in her being labelled box office poison. Joan managed to get back on her feet again in the years that followed, finally making her comeback in 1945 with "Mildred Pierce". Her portrayal of Mildred was one of the finest performances of her career, and it was the only performance for which she won an Oscar.

The 18th Academy Awards Ceremony was held on 7 March 1946, but without Joan who was in bed with pneumonia. (It was believed, however, that she had stayed at home because she was convinced she wouldn't win.) The next day, Joan's friend Barbara Stanwyck wrote her the following letter to congratulate her on winning the Oscar. The second letter shown below was written by 13-year old Dion Anthony ("Tony"), Barbara's adopted son.



Transcript:

March 8/46

My dear Joan:

Congratulations! We wanted you to know how very pleased and happy we were with your deserving award last nite. I only regret you were unable to be there & accept it personally. Our very best to you and greater success than ever before----------- Barbara


Transcript:

Dear Miss Crawford:

My mother has already written you a letter but I want to appeal my happiness for your sucess in last nights "Oscar's' winners I had hoped you would win. I saw "Mildred Pearce" and then I knew you would win the the Academy Award. You don't know how pleased I am to hear you won.

Sincerely
Tony Stanwyck

Tony was adopted in 1932, when Barbara was still married to her first husband Frank Fay. After their divorce, Barbara got custody of Tony. Barbara's relationship with Tony proved difficult in later years and they would eventually become estranged.

26 January 2014

Is there anything I can do?

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato met in the spring of 1957. Lana had just ended her marriage to Lex Barker and was immediately charmed by Stompanato. The two started an affair, but when Lana discovered her new boyfriend had gangster friends she tried to end it. Stompanato, however, was reluctant to let Lana go and in the year that followed, he was often physically abusive. The whole situation led to tragedy at Lana's home on the evening of 4 April 1958. After witnessing her mother and Stompanato fight and fearing for her mother's life, Lana's daughter (fourteen-year old Cheryl) stabbed Stompanato to death with a kitchen knife. A media murder trial followed, finally resulting in Cheryl's acquittal. 
Left: Johnny Stompanato and Lana Turner. Right: Lana and daughter Cheryl at the murder trial.

Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner made two movies together, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1941) and "Cass Timberlane" (1947). I'm not sure if they were friends, but Spencer Tracy apparently cared enough to send Lana the following telegram. It was sent on 5 April 1958, the day after Lana's daughter killed Johnny Stompanato:



Transcript:

1958 APR 5 AM 11 54

MISS LANA TURNER, DLR=

730 NORTH BEDFORD DR BEVERLY HILLS CALIF=

DEAR LANA PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF THERE IS ANYTHING AT ALL THAT I CAN DO TO HELP 
AFFECTIONATELY= SPENCE=


25 January 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

On 19 May 1962, Marilyn Monroe was invited to appear at President John F. Kennedy's 45th birthday party. At Madison Square Garden, Marilyn (in her last public appearance) gave a memorable performance singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President". Apart from the President and his wife Jackie, some 15,000 guests (amongst them many VIPS and politicians) attended the gala evening. President Kennedy later said of Marilyn's performance: "I can now retire from politics after having had "Happy Birthday" sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way." 

Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy
Left photo: Marilyn for the last time in public. Right: Maria Callas and Marilyn at the party.
The following letter comes from the White House and is addressed to Marilyn. Dated 11 April 1962, the letter was written by Kenneth O'Donnell (special assistant to the President), thanking Marilyn for accepting the invitation to the President's birthday party.



 Via: 2000 magazine

Transcript: 

April 11, 1962

Dear Miss Monroe,

Many, many thanks for your acceptance of the invitation to appear at the President's Birthday Party in Madison Square Garden on May 19.

Your appearance will guarantee a tremendous success for the affair and a fitting tribute to President Kennedy.

With every good wish,

Sincerely,
Kenneth O'Donnell (signed)
Special Assistant to the President

Miss Marilyn Monroe
12-305 Fifth Helena Drive
Los Angeles 49, California
___________________

*If you'd like to see Marilyn's performance, click here to watch the clip on YouTube. In the clip we see Peter Lawford (brother-in-law to the President) introduce Marilyn, who arrived late.

24 January 2014

"Gone with the wind" in perfect hands

Margaret Mitchell's only novel "Gone with the wind" was published in June 1936. A month after its publication, David O. Selznick bought the film rights for a record amount of $50,000. (Later Selznick gave Mitchell another $50,000, feeling she had been underpaid.) For the next two years, Selznick and director George Cukor worked on pre-production of "Gone with the wind", before finally starting to film in January 1939 (see also my previous post Dear Mr. Cukor).


On 14 April 1937, author Margaret Mitchell wrote the following letter to George Cukor. In it, she most eloquently thanks him for his perfumes, speaks of the books she lent him and also refers to his visit to Atlanta. Earlier that month, Cukor had visited Atlanta with assistant casting director John Darrow, searching for the perfect Scarlett, Rhett and Melanie. The search, however, had proven unsuccessful, and it would still take a long time before casting was finally completed. Yolande Gwin (who is mentioned in the letter) was a journalist/author who would later write a book about Margaret Mitchell ("I remember Margaret Mitchell", published in 1987).


Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Atlanta, Georgia

April 14, 1937

Dear George:

On Monday I smelled like honeysuckles, on Tuesday I smelled of heliotrope, today I am lilaced to the ears and am as happy as a tomcat in a fresh bed of catnip, tomorrow I will smell of rose geranium, and I can scarcely wait until next Sunday when the fragrance of sweet olive will envelop me. Thank you so much for the perfumes. My preliminary sniffings tell me that the rose geranium is more suitable for me, but I love them all. They all lack the musky heavy sweetness of many perfumes and also the sharp chemical odor of most flower scents. Thank you a thousand times.

I hope you are getting something from some of the books I lent you. As you remarked, many of the memoirs of that era are dreary affairs. It is maddening to have to read seven books about faith in God and the sacredness of states' rights in order to discover just how many petticoats a belle of the sixties wore. As I could not find some of the books I wanted you to have, I have had my book dealer advertise for them and we should have them shortly.

Yolande Gwin called me and told me of your dramatic exit from Atlanta. I think it should go down in history side by side with General Hood's retreat from Atlanta. And I only wish discretion did not seal my lips for the whole thing would make a wonderful anecdote.

Through clippings I have received and telephone calls I learn what I already knew-, that is, that you charmed all the regions you visited and everyone liked you so very much and felt that "Gone With the Wind" was in perfect hands.

If I can be of help to you let me know.

John sends you his best. And please remember us both to John Darrow.

Peggy (signed)

21 January 2014

Photographing Miss Bergman

David O. Selznick's production of "Intermezzo" was released in 1939, starring Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman in her Hollywood debut and her first English-speaking role. One of the best things about this film is the beautiful black-and-white cinematography and the way Bergman is photographed. The man responsible for the cinematography was Gregg Toland, who received an Oscar nomination for his work.

When production of "Intermezzo" was nearing its final phase, David Selznick wanted Toland to make more beautiful close-ups of Ingrid Bergman. For that purpose, Selznick sent the following, interesting memo to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff and editor Hal Kern, in which he also mentioned the close-ups cinematographer James Wong Howe made of Hedy Lamarr in "Algiers" (1938) which he felt were the sole reason for Lamarr's success. Selznick states that the success of "Intermezzo" depends on similar close-ups of Miss Bergman, and that they will eventually lead to higher revenues.

_______________________

Messrs. Klune, Ratoff, and Kern

INGRID BERGMAN

7/11/39 (Dictated 7/10/39)

As I have said so often, I think the success of "Intermezzo" is to an unusual extent dependent upon how beautifully we can photograph Miss Bergman. If we can get the public talking about her to an extent comparable to that in which they talked about Miss Lamar in "Algiers", we will have added a great deal to the gross of our picture, as well as increasing the possibility of our having a new star. Bear in mind that Miss Lamar did not give a performance that anybody could estimate and to this day it is not known whether or not she is an actress; and that her success is traceable entirely to half a dozen or a dozen close-ups that Jimmy Howe made of her.

I think we should spare no trouble to get comparable close-ups of Miss Bergman. Every beautiful shot we get of her is a great deal of money added to the returns on the picture and I urge that Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff start to work on a list of where re-take close-ups might be made. I don't even care if the photography is acceptable or very good in the shot we have presently. If an important close-up can be made, it should be made. It might even be possible to pick these up at odd times but if a whole day or two days or even three days were involved in making them, I would still want to make them.

I suggest that Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff talk this over with Mr. Toland after Mr. Kern has spotted various places in the cut material where we might insert these. I would like, if possible, to pick up some of them even in advance of our first preview as I think even the first preview reaction on the picture is going to be to a large extent dependent upon whether we achieve an outstanding result photographically with Miss Bergman.

DOS
_________________

Source: harry ransom center (click here for the original image)

Left: Ingrid Bergman and David Selznick. Middle: Selznick. Right: Cinematographer Gregg Toland

20 January 2014

"I really am very very tired."

1954 was a very successful and busy year for Audrey Hepburn. It was the year in which she got her first and only Oscar for Best Actress (for her role in "Roman Holiday" (1953)), the year in which "Sabrina" was released, and also the year of her successful performance in the Broadway play "Ondine", for which she received the Tony Award. On top of that, she also started a tumultuous relationship with Mel Ferrer, her co-star in "Ondine", which led to marriage in September of that same year.


The Broadway play "Ondine" was Mel Ferrer's project. Not only did he choose the play (originally French), but he also played the male lead, chose Audrey Hepburn (whom he had met the year before) as his co-star, and was involved in all other aspects of the production. The play ran on Broadway from 18 February through 3 July 1954, with all 157 shows sold out. 

The following letter was written by Audrey on 3 July 1954, addressed to her friend Rupert. Audrey would play Ondine for the last time that evening. In the letter, she tells her friend how hectic everything has been, how overwhelmed she is by her success and how much she needs a vacation:



Transcript: 

46th Street Theatre 
New York, N.Y

July 3rd, 1954

My dear Rupert,

At last, at last a word from me. Your letter to me on February 25th is possibly the nicest letter anybody ever wrote to me, and certainly the nicest I received during those past months. What a warm, friendly and thoughtful person you are.

On getting your letter, I tucked it away with a few other rather special ones knowing I know you well enough and didn't have to answer immediately, but could one day write quietly and at my leisure, and think about what I was writing. Little did I know what was in store for me. Quiet moments were non-existent, and I had never in my life had to cope with so many things -most of them wonderful- at once. Everything grew beyond proportion except my capacity to cope. Consequently, it has been an exciting and quite ecstatic period, but at times quite a harrassing one.

Needless to say I am happy and grateful for it all. I only regret that on some occasions I must have fallen short on my obligations especially to friends such as you who have had to wait until today to get an answer to their letters. On the other hand you could say that I had waited for a very special moment to write to you. Today is our closing night, and I am writing this between shows, wallowing in melancholy sadness at parting from my chums and from this part which I do adore playing, on top of which this production has done an average of $42,000 a week and has broken all records for any straight play on Broadway, ever.

On the other hand. I really am very very tired. I can't wait to get to Switzerland for a complete rest. You may wonder why Switzerland when there are so many divine spots to go to, but this is on doctor's orders. I shall serve my time there and then try to have a little fun around the gayer places.

Dear Rupert, take care of yourself, and please let me hear from you again one day. Once again, thank you for the sweet things you said in your letter.

(handwritten) 
till very soon
love
Audrey

18 January 2014

Greta & Grace

As I've said before, it's great to come across correspondence that is surprising or unexpected. I think this goes for the correspondence I found between Greta Garbo and Grace Kelly. The two actresses never worked together professionally (Greta retired from acting in 1941 when Grace's career hadn't even started), so I never would have guessed they knew each other socially, let alone be friends. The fact that Grace's letter starts with "Dear Miss G.", says something about the level of their friendship. In a Vanity Fair article by William Frye ("The Garbo Next Door"), Frye says that to her closest friends Greta Garbo was G.G.; if you were on the next level of intimacy, she was Miss G., and everybody else called her Miss Garbo.


Greta Garbo was a very private person. Throughout her Hollywood career, she avoided parties, never came to the Oscar ceremonies, never gave autographs or answered fanmail, and hardly ever gave interviews. In retirement, she avoided being in the public eye altogether. However, contrary to what people believed, she did have many friends and acquaintances she socialised with, Grace Kelly being one of them.

The following letter is from Grace Kelly to Greta Garbo (with no mention of the year in which she wrote it):


Image letter via: i heart grace kelly

Transcript:

July 28th

Dear Miss G.

I couldn't be here with the Logans- so close- without sending my love-
we miss you & often think of the lovely times in Monaco and Cap d'Ail-

with great affection
Grace Kelly


The second letter was written by Greta Garbo to Grace Kelly. Dated 7 June 1965, this is Greta's reply to an invitation she received from Grace:



17 January 2014

Bette's first divorce

Bette Davis was married four times. Her first husband was musician Harmon Nelson, whom she married in 1932. After six years of marriage, the couple divorced. By then Bette was already a successful actress (with roles in such films as "Dangerous" (1935) and "Jezebel" (1938)), whereas her husband couldn't really make a career for himself. The fact that she earned a lot more money than he did had only worsened their relationship. In 1938 when Nelson found out Bette was having an affair with Howard Hughes, he filed for divorce.


On 21 November 1938, Bette Davis sent a telegram to Jimmy Starr of the Los Angeles Herald Express. Starr was a gossip columnist with the Herald, and Bette wanted to inform him that she and Harmon were getting a divorce (and would not be reconciling, like Starr apparently thought):


Via: telegrams from last century

Transcript:

TDS BEVERLYHILLS CALIF NOV 21 1938

JIMMY STARR

LOSANGELES HERALD EVENING EXPRESS LOSA

THERE WILL NOT BE ANY RECONCILLIATION [sic] HARMON WILL APPLY FOR A DIVORCE

BETTE DAVIS

Note: Harmon Oscar Nelson is probably best known for his middle name. When Bette Davis won the Academy Award for "Dangerous" in 1935, she allegedly nicknamed the statuette Oscar after her husband. Bette Davis' story, however, has been disputed by others. Several people have claimed "ownership" of the name Oscar, amongst them Walt Disney.

15 January 2014

No smoking, Katharine!

In 1924, Katharine Hepburn entered Bryn Mawr College. It was her mother's Alma Mater and Katharine attended the college mainly to please her mother. Having been tutored privately for years (following the suicide of her brother Tom), Katharine was very self-conscious and felt ill at ease with her classmates. The first semesters at the university proved to be difficult for her. It was, however, at Bryn Mawr College that Katharine discovered her love of acting. After a difficult start, the college theatre managed to get her out of her shell. In her senior year, in 1928, Katharine played the leading role in the production of "The Woman in the Moon", and it was this role that made her want to pursue an acting career.

Left photo: 1928, Katharine Hepburn's yearbook photo at Bryn Mawr College



On 20 October 1927, Marion Edwards Park (President of Bryn Mawr College) wrote the following letter to Katharine Hepburn, after she had been seen smoking in her room. Katharine was consequently suspended for five days.

October 20th, 1927

My dear Miss Hepburn,


In view of your failure to keep the regulation which forbids a student to smoke in her college room, the Bryn Mawr Association of Self Government has asked me to notify you of your suspension from the college halls and from all college exercises from Sunday October 23rd at noon to the evening of Friday October 28th. Your absences from classes during the week will be regarded by the college as though they were unexcused cuts.

I am sorry that you have disregarded a restriction which has been established as a matter of common agreement among the students and which, dealing as it does with conditions in large buildings filled with casual people and inflammable things, must have the support of your own common sense if you give it thought. 
I am sending a copy of this letter to your father in order that he may understand your return home at this time.

Sincerely yours,

Marion Edwards Park

Miss Katharine Hepburn

Pembroke West

Source: "Me. Stories of My Life" by Katharine Hepburn

Note: In her autobiography, Katharine Hepburn states she wasn't a smoker at the time and didn't know about the smoking regulations. According to her, somebody had given her a box of perfumed cigarettes and she just wanted to try one. Apparently someone passed her open door, saw her smoke the perfumed cigarette and reported her to the school's administration.

14 January 2014

From one director to another

Left: Hitchcock. Right: Wilder directing Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in the final scene of "The Apartment¨.
"The Apartment" (1960) was directed, produced and co-written by Billy Wilder. This wonderful comedy-drama, starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, was both a commercial and critical success. Having been nominated for ten Academy Awards, the film ended up winning five. Apart from winning the Oscar for his direction, Billy Wilder also got an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Screenplay (which he co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond).

"The Apartment" premiered on 15 June 1960 in New York. Two weeks later, Alfred Hitchcock wrote fellow director Billy Wilder the following letter:



Transcript:

June 29, 1960

Mr. Billy Wilder
10375 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California

Dear Mr Wilder,

I saw THE APARTMENT the other day.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it, and how beautifully made.

I felt this so much that I was impelled to drop you this note.

Kindest regards,

Alfred Hitchcock (signed)

AH: yh

12 January 2014

Dear Mr. Cukor


"Gone With The Wind" (1939) is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The making of the film, however, was a long and complicated process. Apart from the long search for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara, there were also problems with the film's direction. Three directors worked on the project, with Victor Fleming being the main director (due to exhaustion, he was briefly replaced by Sam Wood).

The first director to work on the film was George Cukor. Hired by producer David O. Selznick in 1936, Cukor worked on pre-production for two years. Filming started in January 1939, but after only two weeks of filming Cukor was fired by Selznick and replaced by Fleming. It was rumoured that Clark Gable got Cukor fired. (Gable was afraid that Cukor, being a woman's director, would pay more attention to directing the women than him, and Cukor's homosexuality also made Gable uncomfortable.) Most likely, however, professional problems between Selznick and Cukor were the main reason for Cukor's dismissal. While Cukor complained about the script and Selznick's interference with his direction, Selznick complained about the filming moving too slowly. On 12 February 1939, Cukor was fired.

Left photo: George Cukor. Right: Cukor with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable on the set of "Gone with the wind"

Before filming started, Cukor spent a lot of time coaching Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland. After he was fired, the two actresses were both very upset and pleaded with Selznick to rehire him, but without success. I never knew this, but nearly everything Cukor had filmed was kept in the final picture. I think it's interesting to know that two of Vivien Leigh's best scenes were directed by Cukor (the scene in which Scarlett helps Melanie through labour, while dealing with a hysterical Prissy (Butterfly McQueen); and the scene where Scarlett kills the Yankee soldier). Vivien Leigh felt very comfortable with Cukor, and after he had gone, she had a hard time on the set (she couldn't get along with macho director Fleming). Off the set, Cukor kept working with Vivien and Olivia, secretly meeting with them (separate from each other) to rehearse their parts. Vivien's regular Sunday rehearsal with Cukor was reportedly her favourite part of the week.

The brief letter for this post was written by Vivien Leigh addressed to George Cukor, after he was fired by Selznick:


Source: bonhams / image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Dear Mr. Cukor-

I, in fact all of us, found your wonderful direction such a great help in our work; & we have found ourselves unable to give our full attention, as it was in your case, to any director since.

Yours
Vivien Leigh

10 January 2014

Setting the record straight

Joan Crawford had four adopted children: Christina, Christopher and the identical twins Cathy and Cindy (actually there was another son but he was later reclaimed by his birth mother). After Joan's death in 1977, her eldest daughter Christina wrote a book in which she accused her mother of emotional and physical abuse. The book, called "Mommie Dearest", was published in 1978 and became a huge bestseller (in 1981 it was made into a film of the same name, starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford). Many of Joan's friends and colleagues stated the book was nothing but a lie, but there were others (including actress Betty Hutton, who had lived close to the Crawfords) who said they had seen some of the abuse with their own eyes. Joan's other daughters, Cathy and Cindy, denied any form of abuse, and in 1979 Cathy Crawford LaLonde announced her plans to write a book in which she would set the record straight.

Joan Crawford with her children: Christopher and Christina standing, and the twins Cathy and Cindy seated.
For her book, Cathy LaLonde contacted several of her mother's colleagues and friends, who could corroborate her stories of Joan having been a loving mother. The following letters were written by respectively Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn in reply to the letter they received from Cathy:


Source: the best of everything: a joan crawford encyclopedia

Transcript:

July 25, 1979

Mrs. Cathy Crawford LaLonde
1661 Mill Creek Road
Slatington, Pennsylvania 18080

Dear Cathy-

Thank you for your letter of July 12, 1979 and for taking the time to explain about the proposed book you are doing about your mother.

I really don't know how much help I could be to you on this project but I would certainly try to help you in any way possible.

As you very well know, I was not a part of her family life when you children were little- so I could not be any help in that area.

I think the best way of handling this matter is to send me the set of questions that you mentioned in your letter. I will certainly do my very best to answer them.

Your mother was someone I always respected and loved and I would do whatever I could to support her in any way possible. I am pleased to know you are doing the book to set the record straight. I will look forward to receiving the questions and I send my very best wishes to you.

Sincerely,
Barbara Stanwyck (signed)



Transcript: 

IX-12-1979

Dear Mrs. LaLonde--

I am sorry to have been so slow in answering your letter but my mail in New York has collected into a huge pile which I have only now begun to attack.

I did not really know Joan at all--
I suppose we met once or twice but that is all and those only brief how-do-you-do's. So there are no anecdotes. There's really nothing which would be of any interest to you. She wrote me very sweet notes at Christmas. And I was aware that she thought well of me or rather of my work. And I always enjoyed her work. And of course she did several with George Cukor, my great friend. He's the one you should talk to as far as her work goes.

I'm sorry that it all has been such a mess.

Katharine Hepburn (signed)


Note:  I couldn't find any information on the internet regarding Cathy LaLonde's book. Makes me wonder if she really went ahead and wrote it.

8 January 2014

It's a real triumph!



The succesful stage musical "My Fair Lady" was made into a film in 1964. Directed by George Cukor and starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the film was a huge success, winning eight Academy Awards (including those for Best Picture and Best Director). Katharine Hepburn (who had been a close friend of George Cukor since the 1930s) and Spencer Tracy wrote a brief letter to congratulate George and Audrey on their success; the handwriting is Katharine's:

Image letter via: audrey hepburn archive

Transcript:

To Audrey + George-

You two certainly hit the nail on the head + you took such a chance you scared all your friends to death- A million congratulations. It's a real triumph-

Kate+ Spence

6 January 2014

"Beautiful, precious little baby, hurry up the sun!"



I will always try to post the original letter, but sometimes it's not to be found. This goes for the following love letter Orson Welles wrote to his wife Rita Hayworth. The couple was married from 1943 till 1948. In 1946 they became estranged after Rita had accused her husband of infidelity. Welles claimed he was falsely accused, and then he did start having affairs and so did Rita. During the production of "The Lady from Shanghai" in 1947, the couple reconciled. However, this was only briefly, a year later Rita filed for divorce (to the press she reportedly said: "I can't take his genius anymore").






Orson Welles wrote several love letters to his wife, so this is only one of them (and mind you, it's not the entire letter; I could only find an excerpt, with no mention of the date):

Dearest Angel Girl:  
... I suppose most of us are lonely in this big world, but we must fall tremendously in love to find it out. The cure is the discovery of our need for company—I mean company in the very special sense we've come to understand since we happened to know each other—you and I. The pleasures of human experience are emptied away without that companionship—now that I've known it; without it joy is just an unendurable as sorrow. You are my life—my very life. Never imagine your hope approximates what you are to me. Beautiful, precious little baby—hurry up the sun! Make the days shorter till we meet. I love you, that's all there is to it.  Your boy,  Orson

Source: wellesnet

Rita and Orson with daughter Rebecca, who was born in 1944

5 January 2014

Billy Wilder and The Legion of Decency

During Hollywood's Golden Age, moviemaking and censorship went hand in hand. The notorious Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, dictated what was and wasn't allowed in movies between 1930 and 1968. There was, however, another kind of censorship filmmakers had to deal with. I must admit that I had never heard of the National Legion of Decency before, but this organisation (founded by Roman Catholic bishops in 1933) was, like the Production Code, committed to keeping objectionable content out of films. Feeling that the secular Production Code was not severe enough, the Legion introduced a rating system feared by filmmakers. The following ratings were issued: A for movies that were "morally unobjectionable", B for movies "morally objectionable in part", and C for movies "condemned by the Legion". Until the 1960s, the Legion was very influential with moviegoers, and filmmakers wanted to avoid a C-rating at all costs. So, in order to keep the Legion happy, many filmmakers gave in to its demands by making alterations to their films.

Director Billy Wilder and his star Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)
Billy Wilder's "The Seven Year Itch" premiered on 3 June 1955 in New York. After the premiere, the Legion of Decency threatened to give the film a C-rating unless certain scenes were cut. (Prior to the film's release, the PCA had already forced Wilder to make drastic changes.) On 8 June 1955, director Billy Wilder sent the following telegram to William Gehring of the Legion of Decency. Wilder asked Gehring to convince Father Little (the Legion's director) to reconsider his 'request', since additional changes would only ruin the movie.


Via: divine marilyn

Transcript:

6-8-55

COPY
WILLIAM GEHRING
ETC.

DEAR MR. GEHRING:

UNDERSTAND YOU ARE TO SEE FATHER LITTLE REGARDING OUR SEVEN YEAR ITCH PICTURE stop I WOULD BE MOST GRATEFUL IF YOU WOULD POINT OUT THAT IN MY TWENTY YEARS OF MOVIE MAKING I HAVE NEVER YET RUN INTO TROUBLE WITH LEGION OF DECENCY stop I DO NOT HAVE THE REPUTATION OF HAVING EVER BEEN CONNECTED WITH PICTURES OF LASCIVIOUS CHARACTER stop

IN BRINGING SEVEN YEAR ITCH TO THE SCREEN I HAVE TRIED MOST CAREFULLY TO ELIMINATE CENSORABLE MATERIAL stop I HAVE CHANGED THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF OF THE PLAY BY ELIMINATING THE AFFAIR BETWEEN THE MARRIED MAN AND THE GIRL UPSTAIRS stop I HAVE SUCCESSFULLY DEMONSTRATED THE SERIOUSNESS OF MARRIAGE AND THE BASIC DECENCY OF THE HUSBAND stop

OBVIOUSLY, THE PICTURE DEALS HUMOROUSLY WITH A MAN'S TEMPTATIONS BUT THEY ARE VERY HUMAN AND UTTERLY HARMLESS. stop

WE HAVE READ THOUSANDS OF PREVIEW CARDS. WE HAVE LISTENED TO THOUSANDS OF COMMENTS. WE HAVE READ ALL THE REVIEWS WHICH HAVE COME OUT SO FAR, AND NO WHERE WAS THERE ANY OBJECTION TO A SINGLE SCENE OR LINE IN THE PICTURE. stop

IN LIGHT OF THIS I WILL MOST SINCERELY URGE FATHER LITTLE TO RESCIND HIS REQUESTS FOR ADDITIONAL CHANGES stop AS ONE REVIEWER PUT IT QUOTE THE PLAY HAS BEEN LAUNDERED SNOW WHITE UNQUOTE. AM AFRAID THAT ADDITIONAL BLEACHING WILL MAKE THE PICTURE DISINTEGRATE INTO AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE NOTHING.

SINCERE THANKS.
BILLY WILDER

_____________

Well, Wilder's telegram didn't have the desired effect. Father Little refused to yield, and the scenes he had protested against were still cut from the movie. On 30 June 1955, the Legion of Decency gave the film (no longer considered condemned) the less stringent B-rating. Wilder did have to compromise to avoid the Legion's scorn, but as a result "The Seven Year Itch" became one of the highest grossing films for Twentieth Century Fox that year.

Billy Wilder directing the film's most famous scene with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. One of the original shots was disallowed by the PCA and had to be eliminated. And the Legion of Decency protested against a line from Marilyn in this scene (where she uses the words "those hot pants"), after which the line was cut from the scene.