9 February 2015

We are tremendously eager to see you

In the early 1950s, producer David O. Selznick became fascinated by the Italian neo-realist films, especially those of Vittorio De Sica. Ready for a new challenge after a few critical flops, Selznick commissioned De Sica to make a film starring Jennifer Jones, Selznick's wife. The film was "Terminal Station" --about a love affair between a married American woman (Jennifer Jones) and an Italian man (Montgomery Clift)-- and was to be shot entirely on location in the central railway station of Rome. However, once shooting had started, Selznick and De Sica proved to be a very poor match. The two men were in constant disagreement with each other, and Selznick spent nights in the lounge of the train station rewriting scenes and writing elaborate memos to De Sica. But De Sica was undeterred by Selznick's meddling and continued to direct the film in his own way.

Jennifer Jones in "Terminal Station" (1953)
Apart from De Sica, Selznick also had to deal with his wife who was then emotionally fragile. Jones was still distraught over the untimely death of her first husband Robert Walker a year earlier, and she really missed her two sons (by Walker) who were at school in Switzerland; furthermore, she was reportedly smitten with co-star Montgomery Clift. Emotionally distressed and with shooting running late into the night, Jones was exhausted and tried to catch up on her sleep during the daytime. Thus, when Orson Welles, who had lived in Italy since 1947, wrote to the couple wondering if they could meet, Selznick replied with the following letter:

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission

Transcript:

Grand Hotel, Rome
November 4, 1952

Dear Orson:

Jennifer and I were terribly pleased to hear from you. Except for the time on the set, she is either sleeping or trying desperately to get to sleep, and thus she has asked me to reply to your sweet note.

We are both tremendously eager to see you. The difficulty is that de Sica works all night, every night- for the entire film is being made in the station, which of course can be used only at night. This means that Sunday is a sleep day, after working all night Saturday, and that the only thing that closely approaches a day off is Monday, when Jennifer must also get some sleep in order to be prepared for an all-night session on Monday. However, if you're ever free on Monday, we would certainly love to come out, or meet you in town, as you wish.

Additionally, I would like enormously to have dinner with you any night you are free and can give me just a little prior notice. 

Do please call me at your convenience. I am almost always at the hotel in the late afternoons, and invariably between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

With affectionate regards from us both,

Sincerely,
David (signed)
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Note: "Terminal Station" was released in 1953 in Italy under the title "Stazione Termini". The original version ran 89 minutes but Selznick was less than pleased with the result. Back in the U.S., he re-edited De Sica's film (without De Sica's permission), cut it down to 64 minutes while also adding close-ups. Retitled "Indiscretion of an American Wife", the film was released in the U.S. in May 1954. Montgomery Clift hated Selznick's, slick Hollywood version and called it a "big fat failure". If you're interested, a comparison of the two different versions can be seen in this fascinating 5-minute clip. And to see both versions in full, they have been released together on DVD by The Criterion Collection. 

Orson Welles worked together with David Selznick on two films: "Duel in the Sun" (1946) -as narrator-, and "The Third Man" (1949). Welles hated Hollywood and went to Italy in 1947 where he lived for the next six years.
David Selznick and Jennifer Jones were married from 1949 until Selznick's death in 1965. They had one daughter Mary Jennifer (she committed suicide in 1976 after which her mother set up a foundation for mental health & education).

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful find. What a tremendous fragment of history. Thank you.

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