26 May 2014

No more ankle straps, please!


Joan Crawford must have had a thing for shoes. Her trademark shoes were ankle strap shoes and by the looks of it, she had loads of them. On 10 December 1963, Joan wrote a letter to shoe designer Joseph La Rose of La Rose Footwear, speaking of the shoes she wanted him to design for her (this time without ankle straps!). Here is Joan's letter, which also includes a hand-drawn outline of her right foot:

Source: the best of everything: a joan crawford encyclopedia

Transcript:

December 10, 1963

My dear Mr. La Rose,

Enclosed are rough outlines of my right and left feet. My color preference is black, with open toes, open back (but no ankle straps) and my favorite heel height is 3 inches.

Joan Crawford (signed)

Mr. La Rose
331 Laura St.
Jacksonville, Florida

21 May 2014

"When are you coming to work for me?"

When "Double Indemnity" came out in September 1944, Billy Wilder got mixed up in a conflict with David Selznick, following Selznick's advertising campaign for his film "Since You Went Away" (in an earlier post From Hitch to Billy, you can read all about it). A few months later, however, things had apparently settled down, and on 1 December 1944 David Selznick was gracious enough to write the following letter to Billy Wilder.


Source: rr auction/ image reproduced with owner's permission

Transcript:

David O. Selznick
Culver City, California

December 1, 1944

Dear Billy:

I had the great pleasure, at long last, of seeing "Double Indemnity" the other evening. Please accept my most sincere congratulations on a truly fine job. When are you coming to work for me?

Cordially,
David (signed)

Mr. Billy Wilder
Paramount Pictures Inc.
5451 Marathon Street
Hollywood 38, California

dos: is

18 May 2014

Bette Davis' advice column

One of the great things about doing this blog is that I discover things I never knew about. In one of my earlier posts Edited by Carole and Ginger, I told you about Carole Lombard and Ginger Rogers having been guest editors for the fan movie magazine "Screen Book". For this post I've learnt that Bette Davis had a "Dear Abby"-like column in the fan magazine "Photoplay" in 1943. In her column, "What should I do?", Bette gave readers advice, mostly on love and relationships. The letter I've selected is from the June 1943 issue and was written by 25-year old Mona L., who had never been on a date before and was afraid of becoming an old maid. What advice Bette Davis had to offer can be read below as well (I seriously doubt if Mona followed it).


Source: internet archive.  If you click on the link, you can see the full Photoplay page which shows this letter and other letters to Bette Davis. And you can also flip through the Photoplay issues from January to June 1943 and see more of Bette Davis' advice to her readers.

Transcript:

Dear Miss Davis: 

My face is long, thin and plain and my hair is short, dry, brittle and lifeless. There is no way I can arrange it to become my unfortunate face. The reason why I am mentioning my face and hair is because I am afraid it is keeping me out of the romantic world.
I am past twenty-five and have never yet had a date with anyone of the opposite sex. 
During my school days I was always considered as being funny-looking. You can imagine how I felt when I was called by rude names, especially as I hadn't done anything to deserve them. Even my mother at times, has called me ugly. 
I do not even have any close friends. Although I do have old school friends, they merely smile and pass on after speaking to me on the street.
What would you advise a girl of twenty-five to do when she is finding herself growing to be an old maid?
Mona L.

Dear Miss L:

It just so happened the day I was answering your letter the editor of a prominent woman's magazine was on the set, so I asked her for advice on your problem. She said there are success schools in New York City which have helped girls far more handicapped than you are, and trained them to be attractive, popular, and happy persons. As I understand it, the course is given by mail. You supply these people with a photograph, full figure as well as face, of yourself. They diagnose your problems and prescribe for you.
There is only one way to take a course of this kind. If you really want to change-which you seem to- you must seriously apply yourself to their suggestions.
Let me know how you progress.
Bette Davis.


12 May 2014

Looking for a lost heirloom

"The Longest Day" (1962), based on the novel by Cornelius Ryan, is a star-studded, megabudget production about the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, also known as D-Day. In July 1961, when preparations for the film had just started, producer Darryl F. Zanuck received a letter from Francis McKernon, a radio technician who had served aboard the USS Corry, the destroyer that led the Normandy invasion. Apparently a family heirloom that belonged to McKernon had remained aboard the ship after it sank on D-Day. McKernon was desperate to retrieve the heirloom, and in the following letter he asks Zanuck for information on its whereabouts.

Left photo: Francis McKernon; right photo: producer Darryl Zanuck and Robert Mitchum during filming of "The Longest Day".


Source: uss corry dd 463

Transcript: 

40 Easy Rudder Lane 
West Haven, Connecticut
July 23, 1961

Mr. Darryl Zanuck
20th Century-Fox Studios
Hollywood, California

Dear Mr.Zanuck:

Today's New York Sunday News informs me you are preparing work on "The Longest Day", by Cornelius Ryan. My family will be first in line to see the complete production. We have a deep personal interest, because I was Chief Technician on the Destroyer Corry, which Mr. Ryan mentions so vividly in his story of D-Day. Judging by the preliminary work you are doing, we know it will be one of the greatest productions of your organization.

However, Mr. Zanuck, I have a secondary reason for writing to you about your activities. It all centers about my mother's teapot, a silver-pewter English design family heirloom, which still lies in the Chief's galley up forward on the Corry. I've never been able to go back to retrieve it. Neither have I been able to obtain information about any salvage work permitted in the area. Perhaps, because of the great research you have had done in preparing for the settings, you may know whether any diving has been permitted in the Utah beach area. I'd really strain the family budget to get that teapot back. Some skindiver might be eager to go through the two hatches and pick it up, unless it is forbidden by authorities.

To be quite frank, I need the pot. My kids and friends are beginning to doubt my veracity when I spin yarns about the campaigns the teapot has been through, plus the fact that my sainted old mother told me not to dare come back home without it. She died on Memorial Day of 1949, but the family still remembers how I had to incur her Boston Irish wrath when I returned home as a survivor in 1944. 

Any information that will help me will be appreciated. As the six kids get older, they think the old man is just an accomplished sea-going bullthrower.

Best of luck on the new production. We will be awaiting its arrival in New York or New Haven.

Very truly yours

NoteDarryl Zanuck forwarded the letter to author Cornelius Ryan, who sent a letter to McKernon on Zanuck's behalf. In any case, neither of them could help McKernon retrieve the teapot. The wreckage of the Corry was dynamited after it had sunk, and what remained of the hull was later sold to a salvage firm. What happened to the teapot is unknown.

11 May 2014

You were superb!

In 1936, 13-year old Ann Miller was doing a tapdance routine in a nightclub in San Francisco when she was discovered by Lucille Ball and comedian Benny Rubin. Impressed with Ann's dancing skills, they both urged RKO to sign her to a contract. At RKO Lucille Ball and Ann Miller would make a few pictures together: "Stage Door" (1937), "Room Service" (1938) (see photo above), and "Too many girls" (1940). Some 25 years later, on 25 May 1965, Lucille Ball (who had become a big star with the "I Love Lucy"-shows) sent a telegram to Ann Miller, praising her for her performance on the television show The Hollywood Palace. The reason the telegram caught my eye is because of the sweet handwritten comment, added later by Ann Miller. 

Via: telegrams from last century

Transcript: 

MAY 25 65
ANN MILLER
1381 SUMMIT RIDGE DR BEVERLY HILLS CALIF

DEAR ANN NOW THAT THE FURORE HAS ABATED ABOUT YOUR GREAT PERFORMANCE ON PALACE LET MY VOICE BE HEARD YOU WERE SUPERB LOVE
LUCY

"Ball" after Lucy was added by Ann Miller as well as the comment: "Real thrilled over this. Called Western Union to be sure it was she."

7 May 2014

From Hitch to Billy

One of my previous posts, From one director to another, showed a note that Alfred Hitchcock sent to Billy Wilder, congratulating him on his film "The Apartment" (1960). In this post we see a similar note from Hitch to Wilder, this time showing his appreciation for one of Wilder's earlier films, "Double Indemnity" (1944), starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. "Double Indemnity", which was not only directed but also co-written by Billy Wilder, is often regarded as the first true film noir and is one of Wilder's greatest films. 

Left: Hitch; right: Barbara Stanwyck and Billy Wilder on the set of "Double Indemnity".

Here is Hitchcock's note to Billy Wilder:


Transcript:

Dear Sir:

I had the very great pleasure of seeing a lovely picture the other night, and would like to say that the two most important words after 'Double Indemnity' are 'Billy Wilder'.

Alfred Hitchcock (signed)


Edit 9 May 2014:

While writing this post, I was not aware of the conflict between Billy Wilder and David Selznick at the time of the release of "Double Indemnity". On the Wikipedia page of "Double Indemnity" you can read all about this conflict:

"It was not uncommon at the time for studios to take out ads in trade journals promoting the virtues of their own films. David O. Selznick, no stranger to self-aggrandizement, frequently sought to put a high-culture patina on his pictures with "trade-book" ads. At just the time Double Indemnity was released, Selznick's latest tearjerker, Since You Went Away, was enjoying some box office success. In his ads, Selznick quoted various dignitaries claiming it was the finest picture they had ever seen, how it served such a noble purpose, how it elevated humanity to new levels – no high-toned platitude was too lofty to invoke. Indeed, the ad averred, the words Since You Went Away had become "the four most important words uttered in motion picture history since Gone with the Wind." The petulant Wilder despised such ostentation, so he placed an ad of his own: Double Indemnity, it claimed, were the two most important words uttered in motion picture history since Broken Blossoms, thus comparing D.W. Griffith's artistic 1919 classic with his own sordid story of iniquitous murder. Selznick was not amused and threatened to stop advertising in any of the trades if they continued to run Wilder's ads."

With his note, Hitchcock was unmistakingly referring to the situation with David Selznick and Billy Wilder. Whether Hitch, who had his own issues with Selznick, wrote the note to Billy Wilder or a trade paper (to take a jab at Selznick), I don't know. Thanks to Vienna from Vienna's Classic Hollywood for letting me know about the story.

6 May 2014

Orson Welles' nose obsession

Orson Welles was very self-conscious about his nose. He thought his nose was too small and once said that it "had not grown one millimetre since infancy". Therefore in most of his films Welles put on false noses. For his role as attorney Clarence Darrow in "Compulsion" (1959), Richard Fleischer's version of the famous Leopold & Loeb murder case, Welles also wore a fake nose.

left photo: Maurice Seiderman working on Welles' nose for "Citizen Kane"; right photo: Orson Welles and his new nose in "Compulsion".
The following letter was written by Orson Welles to his make-up artist Maurice Seiderman regarding a new nose for his role in "Compulsion". Welles tells Seiderman to have "three weeks worth of noses" ready for him upon his arrival back in Hollywood. Welles who was living in Italy at the time for tax reasons, could only spend a limited amount of time in the U.S. and was clearly in a hurry to get the nose job done. Incidentally, Maurice Seiderman was not hired to do "Compulsion", the film's make-up artist was Ben Nye.


Transcript: 

Dearest Maury,

I expect to be back in Hollywood about the first of October to do a job for Twentieth: the Darrow part in "Compulsion". I'll need a nose-- the enclosed sketches indicate the general idea. There'll be no time for make-up tests-- I'll be arriving (for tax purposes) the day before actual shooting starts, so you'll have to be ready with three weeks worth of noses all baked and perfect. Dont talk to Twentieth about this-- I'll handle it myself. Either you'll be put on the picture (if you're free) or paid for your work. My part lasts about three weeks. 
If you cant do this please wire at once.

love Orson (signed)

care "Mori" Largo Bradano 4 Roma Italy