30 November 2014

Casting Rhett Butler

Although the search for Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind" (1939) wasn't nearly as complicated as the search for Scarlett O'Hara, producer David O. Selznick still had a hard time finding his Rhett. Admittedly, Clark Gable was Selznick's first choice from the start, but since Gable was under exclusive contract to MGM, Selznick had to pay a lot of money to get him. Selznick therefore decided to look elsewhere and to try other options first. Gary Cooper was next on his list, but he was under contract to Samuel Goldwyn and Goldwyn refused to loan him out. So after months of trying to get Cooper for the role, Selznick had to let him go too. 

Another actor Selznick was seriously interested in was Errol Flynn. Flynn's studio (Warner Bros.) offered a whole package with Flynn, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in the leading roles, but the problem here was that Davis did not want to play opposite Flynn. So by mid-1938, Selznick --still empty-handed-- decided that Gable, who was also the public's favourite, was still the best choice and ultimately struck a deal with MGM to secure him. Incidentally, Gable did not want to play the role, but finally accepted when MGM's boss, Louis B. Mayer, offered him a bonus to pay for his divorce settlement. (Gable was married to Maria Franklin but having an affair with Carole Lombard, whom he married right after his divorce.)

Selznick's three choices for Rhett Butler: Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn.
On 4 January 1937, David Selznick sent the following memo to Daniel O'Shea, secretary of Selznick International Pictures, regarding his choices for the role of Rhett Butler. The memo shows that Selznick and GWTW's first director George Cukor had just added Errol Flynn to their short list.
_____________

TO: Mr. O'Shea

SUBJECT:  

DATE  January 4, 1937

One of our strongest possibilities for the lead in "Gone With The Wind" is Erol [sic] Flynn.

Myron is going to determine from Warner Brothers whether they would give us a picture a year with Flynn, if we gave him this lead. Please follow him up on this.

For your confidential information, Cukor and I jointly feel that the choice is in the following order: 1. Gable. 2. Gary Cooper. 3. Erol [sic] Flynn. This so you may guide yourself accordingly.

dos:ew
_____________

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

Clark Gable with David O. Selznick and Louis B. Mayer (seated) at the contract signing in 1938 (left photo), and Gable reading Margaret Mitchell's novel.

Clark Gable was reluctant to accept the role of Rhett Butler, fearing he wouldn't be able to meet people's high expectations (especially in his emotional scenes). Well, he needn't have worried!


27 November 2014

We directors have earned these credits

In 1967, a dispute between directors and screenwriters over the so-called possessory credit came to a climax. The possessory credit --both a marketing tool and an artistic recognition for someone's work-- had been used since 1915 and in most cases went to the film's director (see the image above). Hollywood writers had long resented this and in December 1966 came into action. During secret contract negotiations, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) ratified a new contract, saying that the possessory credit could only go to a filmmaker who had written the screenplay or to the author of the original source material. This, of course, led to furious reactions from many directors.

On 2 May 1967, director David Lean sent a telegram to Joseph Youngerman, chief executive of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), after receiving a letter on the possessory credit issue. An upset Lean states that he and other directors had deserved these credits and mentions his latest film "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) as an example (saying he deserved the credit more than screenwriter Robert Bolt). Here is Lean's passionate plea for retaining the director's credit:


Transcript:

MAY 2 67
MADRID

JOSEPH YOUNGERMAN DIRECTORS GUILD 7950 SUNSET BOULEVARD HOLLYWOOD46

JUST RECEIVED POSSESSORY CREDITS LETTER STOP PLEASE POINT OUT TO MSSRS VALENTI AND BOREN THAT WE FEW DIRECTORS WHO HAVE THESE CREDITS HAVE HARD EARNED THEM OVER MAY [sic] YEARS FOR GOOD REASON STOP WE ARE PAID BIG MONEY BECAUSE WE CAN

BRING AUDIENCE PULLING STAR QUALITY TO OUR FILMS AS A WHOLE STOP WE BRING IT BY OUR PERSONAL INFLUENCE OVER ALL [??] INCLUDING 

WRITER STOP AS TYPICAL EXAMPLE TAKE MY OWN LATEST CASE QUOTE DAVID LEANS FILM OF DOCTOR ZHIVAGO UNQUOTE I WORKED ONE YEAR WITH THE WRITER STOP

UNLIKE HIM I DIRECTED NOT ONLY THE ACTORS BUT THE CAMERAMAN SET DESIGNER COSTUME DESIGNER SOUND MEN EDITOR COMPOSER AND EVEN THE LABORATORI IN THIER [sic] FINAL PRINT STOP UNLIKE HIM I CHOSE THE ACTORS THE TECHNICIANS THE SUBJECT AND HIM TO WRITE IT STOP I STAGED IT I FILMED IT 

STOP IT WAS MY FILM OF HIS SCRIPT WHICH I SHOT WHEN HE WAS NOT THERE STOP IF A DIRECTOR WRITER OR PRODUCER CANNOT CLAIM SUCH OVERALL RESPONSABILITY IT SHOULD NOT BE CALLED HIS FILM STOP IF HE CAN IT TRULY IS HIS FILMS AND GOOD LUCK TO YO [sic] ON 

THIS IMPORTANT ISSUE SINCERELY DAVID LEAN JUAN BRAVO 7 MADRID

*Two weeks after Lean had sent his telegram, the DGA convened a special meeting on 16 May 1967 (with notable members present, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder) and called a strike. Consequently, the AMPTP backed down and ultimately gave the DGA what it wanted, i.e. when the Writers Guild contract expired in 1970, the director's right to possessory credits would be restored. 
David Lean flanked by the female stars of his "Doctor Zhivago": Geraldine Chaplin (left) and Julie Christie.

17 November 2014

Cary Grant's shoes

In one of my earlier posts (here), the always stylish Cary Grant talked about the shirts he liked. In this post, addressed to fellow actor and friend Clifton Webb, Grant talks about shoes. After Webb had admired a pair of moccasins that belonged to Grant, Grant gave his friend a pair of his own. This is the note -dated 8 April 1955- that accompanied his gift:

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript: 

April 8, 1955

Dear Clifton:

Everything comes to he who waits. Including peculiar things like these. This will teach you not to lavish your flattering little words so easily the next time, because, as anyone could have expected, they are not quite the same as those you pretended to admire. Still, their color..... darker than those I have--- may fade to the proper shade of rust .....in fact, I think mine did. The sole-stitching is, however, quite different and I don't know what to do about that. (I could do with some new soul-stitching myself.) Anyway the buttons, you must admit, are elegant.
Let me know if, or not, they fit..... they should be a little snug at first. If you've any questions on how to cut the button-holes after they're on your handsome little tootsies, just telephone me. CRestview 50970.
Oh, this is far too long a note to accompany a mere pair of moccasins. Just throw them away.
Love to Mabel, and from Betsy, dear Clifton.

Cary (signed)


15 November 2014

James Dean's advice to his cousin

In 1940, after the death of his mother, 9-year-old James Byron Dean was sent by his father to Fairmount, Indiana, to live with his uncle Marcus Winslow, aunt Ortense and his 14-year-old cousin Joan. He would spend the next nine years in Fairmount, attending school and helping out at his uncle's farm, meanwhile discovering things he liked: sports, arts, motorcycles ánd acting. 

James Dean had been living with his family for three years when his cousin Marcus Winslow jr. was born. Marcus was the closest thing to a brother Dean had and, like a big brother, Dean was always giving him advice. The following letter is from Dean to 'Markie' (as he would call him) concerning drawings his cousin had sent him. Apparently Dean didn't approve of the things Markie had drawn and advised him to draw other things. Dean's letter is undated but was presumably written between 1951 and 1953 (seeing that he used stationery from Hotel Iroquois in New York where he lived during that period). Incidentally, James Dean was raised religiously -in a Quaker household- as is apparent from the letter.

The last time James Dean visited his family in Fairmount was in February 1955. LIFE-photographer Dennis Stock accompanied him and made a series of great photos. Stock's photos of James Dean and Marcus jr. (see also below) were taken just seven months before Dean's tragic death. 

Transcript:

Dear Marcus Jr.

First I want to thank you for the fine pictures.
I feel the urgent need to warn you about something. Anyone at all can draw soldiers, guns,  and barred gates with locks on them. Why? because there are a lot of those things to see. That shouldn't mean they are good things to draw. We live in a world where these things become very important. And that is bad. You should be aware of that because you don't have to see too many of those things because you live on land that is greatly blessed by Lord God.
It would be much better if you would spread your talents toward the greater arts. Everyone can't draw trees, clouds, sheep, dogs, all kinds of animals, the earth, hills, mountains, seas, oceans. I beg of you please do not draw buildings of confindment [sic], jails, castles or zoos rather draw places of shelter. Do not draw people in uniforms, rather draw people who are free. Do not draw things of destruction, they are not so important to the good + true artist that he must draw them- rather draw tool, things that build. There are many things to draw at home. All you have to do is look and you will see. They are harder to draw because they were harder to grow. Have your daddy help you read this.

Love
Jim

Photographed by Dennis Stock, 1955.

Photographed by Dennis Stock, 1955.

10 November 2014

I resent your attitude!

On 27 August 1936, director John Ford wrote this angry letter to fellow director George Cukor, presumably after reading an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Cukor's latest film "Romeo and Juliet". In the letter, Ford accuses Cukor of living off his reputation, and quarrels over who "made" Katharine Hepburn and how Greta Garbo was filmed in "Camille". Ford is obviously being sarcastic since he talks about hís films ("A Bill of Divorcement" and "Camille") while it was in fact George Cukor who directed them. Unfortunately I couldn't find the newspaper article in question, so I don't know what Ford was so upset about. At any rate, his sneer at Cukor can be read below.

Two great directors: John Ford (left) and George Cukor
Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

August 27th, 1936

Mr. George Cukor,
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
Culver City, Calif.

My Dear Cukor:

I resent your attitude. I saw "Romeo and Juliet" and am suing the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for damages. Your presumption in living off my reputation is highly reprehensible and stinking.

I understand from reliable sources that in my present film "La Dame Aux Camelias" (pronounced "La Dame Aux Camelias") that you were personally making all the long shots while I only did the close-ups of Miss Garbo. And while I am on the subject, I need only refer to one of my first hits, "Bill of Divorcement" in which you claimed you had discovered and made Miss Katharine Hepburn, whereas I had only discovered her.

I beg that any further reference to the subject should be made to my attorneys Malurnski, Driscoll and O'Brien. Malurnski is in Europe.

John Copperfield Ford
(signed "John Ford")

Top photo: Greta Garbo and director George Cukor on the set of "Camille" (1936); below: Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in Hepburn's screen debut "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), directed by George Cukor.


6 November 2014

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Several writers contributed to the script of Michael Curtiz's famous classic "Casablanca" (1942). The main writers were the twins Julius and Philip Epstein who were responsible for most of the film's dialogue and wit, and Howard Koch who provided the melodramatic and political elements. Casey Robinson (uncredited) was hired for three weeks to do rewrites, mainly contributing to the love story between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; a lot of dialogue was also taken directly from the original play "Everybody comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. None of these writers, however, came up with the famous last line of the film, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship". The line was supplied by producer Hal Wallis and was chosen over three other lines: 1)"Louis, I begin to see a reason for your sudden attack of patriotism. While you defend your country, you also protect your investment." 2) If you ever die a hero's death, Heaven protect the angels!" and 3) Louis, I might have known you'd mix your patriotism with a little larceny." In the following memo to editor Owen Marks, dated 7 August 1942, Hal Wallis presents his last two choices for the film's final line (option number 3 (above), which Wallis also wrote, and the line finally chosen). And as filming had already finished, Wallis asks Marks to bring Bogart in to record the lines.


Transcript:

TO MR. OWEN MARKS                            
  
FROM MR. WALLIS

DATE August 7, 1942

SUBJECT "CASABLANCA"

Attached is copy of the new narration for the opening of the picture.

There are also to be two wild lines made by Bogart. Mike is trying to get Bogart today, but if he does not succeed, will you get Bogart in within the next couple of days.

The two lines to be shot with Bogart, in the event that Mike does not get them, are:

RICK: Luis, I might have known you'd mix your patriotism with a little larceny.

(Alternate line)

RICK: Luis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Also, I think you had better have the narration made up by some stock actor until I can select the actor who will do it for the picture.

HAL WALLIS

*Note: The actor whom Wallis eventually picked to do the opening narration was Lou Marcelle (uncredited). And Mike is of course director Michael Curtiz.

Left photo: Hal Wallis. Right: Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains in the final scene of "Casablanca".

4 November 2014

Bogie always adored you

On 14 January 1957, Humphrey Bogart died of cancer at age 57, leaving behind his wife Lauren Bacall, son Stephen and daughter Leslie. He also left behind a lot of friends, many of whom were his colleagues from the film industry. One of them was Clifton Webb. Webb and Bogie had been friends ever since they starred together in the Broadway play "Meet the Wife" in the early 1920s. Shortly after Bogie's death, Lauren Bacall sent a note to Webb thanking him for his long and loyal friendship. Bacall's note is quite touching and is shown below.

Left photo: Humphrey Bogart, Clifton Webb and Laurence Olivier in 1933. Right: Bogie and Webb with Marilyn Monroe at Romanoff's in 1954.
Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Darling Clifton-

This is just an inarticulate but truly felt note to try to thank you for your long friendship, loyalty, and love for Bogie- for seeing him when you did and behaving as you did. I know how hard it was for you but you came through in style. Bogie always adored you. You knew him long before I did so I guess you knew that. I envy you for those extra years- you were lucky and so was I. I'm grateful for it all- there's never been a man like Bogie. It won't be the same for us, Cliff- but we have a lot that can never be taken from us and for that I'm grateful. So darling- you are now my good friend and I like that.
Always my love- Betty

Lauren Bacall wrote her message to Clifton Webb on a note card from which she had removed the "Mr. and" part. (Image source: heritage auctions)
Relaxing during a lunch for the Oliviers. In the photo, amongst others, Laurence Olivier, Clifton Webb, Vivien Leigh, Joan Bennett, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and in the chair Maybelle Webb, Clifton Webb's mother. (Photo source: heritage auctions)