31 May 2015

Gene Kelly's & Katharine Hepburn's appeal for clemency

On 30 October 1947, screenwriter Ringgold Wilmer "Ring" Lardner Jr. appeared before the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was investigating Communism in Hollywood. During the hearing, Lardner refused to answer questions about his alleged involvement with the Communist Party and told the committee: "I could answer it, but if I did I would hate myself in the morning". Found guilty of contempt of Congress (along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten), he was blacklisted by the studios, fined $1,000 and eventually sentenced to a year imprisonment. After his release from prison, Lardner --still blacklisted-- worked under several pseudonyms, and it wasn't until 1965 that he could write under his own name again (for "The Cincinnati Kid"). Ring Lardner Jr. was a two-time Oscar winner, receiving the award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1942 "Woman of the Year" (co-written with Michael Kanin) and Best Adapted Screenplay for "MASH" (1970).


Gene Kelly and Katharine Hepburn had been members of the Committee for the First Amendment, founded in 1947 in defense of the Hollywood Ten and their constitutional rights. In the summer of 1950, both Kelly and Hepburn wrote a letter to the U.S. Board of Parole appealing for parole on behalf of Ring Lardner Jr.. Although parole was denied, Lardner got out of prison 15 days early for "meritorious good behaviour"Below you'll find Kelly's and Hepburn's letters (written at a time when such letters could have ruined their careers), as well as the Board's reaction to Hepburn's letter.


Transcript:

August 23, 1950

The United States Board of Parole
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Gentlemen,

I am writing you concerning Mr. Ring Lardner Jr., who is serving a year's sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute at Danberry, Connecticut, for contempt of Congress. 

A few days ago I spoke to Mr. Lardner's wife who told me that he will soon be eligible for parole. Because of the five children dependent upon him for support, and the attendant hardships on them and Mrs. Lardner, I respectfully ask you to give this case consideration. 

If you believe the government's point has been served by his conviction and the serving of his sentence up to now, I can only state my belief that I am sure that, if paroled, he would live up to all conditions of the parole without any doubt, and that his family would be relieved beyond measure. 

Yours sincerely,

(signed)
Gene Kelly 


Source: u.s. national archives

Transcript:

September 1, 1950

Dr. G.G. Killinger, Chairman
U.S. Board of Parole
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dr. Killinger:

Ring Lardner Jr. is serving a Federal sentence in Danbury, Connecticut, for contempt of Congress because he refused to answer questions regarding his political affiliations. I understand he will soon be eligible for parole.

I have known Ring Lardner Jr. since 1941. To the best of my knowledge he is a respectable, law-abiding citizen and I think his present conflict with the law is entirely conscientious and, however mistaken, should be viewed with charity.

In view of the fact that his wife and five minor children depend on him for support, I trust that the Parole Board will give sympathetic consideration to his case, for I do not believe that he will use his release from custody in any way harmful to his country now that the courts have decided he was wrong.

This letter is written in behalf of an old friend of whose political views I know nothing, but whatever they are I believe they are sincere, although they may differ radically from my own. 

Very respectfully yours,

(signed)
Katharine Hepburn
179 Allyn Street
Hartford, Connecticut


Transcript:

September 13, 1950

Miss Katharine Hepburn
179 Allyn Street
Hartford, Connecticut

Dear Miss Hepburn:

Thank you for your letter of September 1, 1950, with reference to parole for Ring Lardner, Jr.

Mr. Lardner will be accorded a hearing by the Board in support of his application at the meeting soon to be held at Danbury, and you are assured that your letter will have the Board's careful attention at that time.

Appreciating your interest,

Sincerely,

GEORGE G. KILLINGER
Chairman

27 May 2015

Dear Pappy

One of the most legendary actor-director collaborations in Hollywood history is the collaboration between John Wayne and John Ford. The two men, who also enjoyed a longtime friendship, made 14 movies together, most of them westerns. Amongst their best known movies are "Stagecoach" (1936), "The Quiet Man" (1952), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), and of course "The Searchers" (1956), often considered the pinnacle of their collaboration and one of the best westerns ever made.

The letter for this post (of which a file copy is shown below) was written by John Wayne to John Ford in November 1955. Wayne had just attended a screening of "The Searchers" (which they had completed earlier that summer) and apart from having doubts about the music he loved the film and thanks Ford for making it. The letter also mentions Wayne's problems with Robert Fellows with whom he had started a production company in 1952, Wayne-Fellows Productions; Wayne eventually bought Fellows out and renamed the company Batjac. In his letter, Wayne also tells Ford that he wants to do the Wead picture with him for MGM (about the life of aviator-turned-screenwriter Frank "Spig" Wead) instead of making lucrative deals with Warners or RKO ("It's more important for me to be in a picture with you, career-wise -for my health- and for my mental relief"); the picture was eventually made as "The Wings of Eagles" (1957), also starring Maureen O'Hara and Ward Bond.

Incidentally, Wayne mentions a number of people in his letter: Bob Morrison was a producer and Wayne's younger brother; Andrew McLaglen was a director; Daniel O'Shea an executive at RKO; Charles Feldman Wayne's agent, and Arthur Loew, Benny Thau and Dore Schary were all MGM executives.

Image courtesy of heritage auctions

Transcript:

sent airmail to: Mr. John Ford, Yacht "Araner", Ala Wai Harbor, Honolulu, T.H.

1022 Palm Avenue
Hollywood 46, Calif.
Nov. 28, 1955

Dear Pappy,

First: I think "The Searchers" is just plain wonderful.

I wanted to tell you the other night, or at least before you got away to Honolulu, what I've decided to do. Here goes.

I built Bob Fellows into such an important character that I can't do anything with him. I find him incompetent, even when he's trying. I've encouraged Bob Morrison and Andy McLaglen and moved them up faster than I should have. I'm afraid that if I just fired Fellows and moved someone else in, number one, I'd wreck Fellows' career (what career?) - and I might just have as many headaches with someone else. So I'm going to fold the company up. I can make a hell of a deal at Warners, and an unbelievable one at RKO with Danny O'Shea, but if I make either one of these deals I couldn't do the Wead story, so to hell with it. It's more important for me to be in a picture with you, career-wise- for my health- and for my mental relief.

So I'm going to let Charlie Feldman talk to Loew, who is the guy behind the guns at MGM now , to set the deal, and if you hear I haven't talked to Schary or Thau, don't think that I'm ducking the picture-- it's just that Feldman can make a better deal with Loew.

Back to "The Searchers"- I don't think the music is great, but I think it's all right. At first I had hoped it would be a little nostalgic, but the whole treatment is so different than the usual western, that I think this music is probably more appropriate. It's just a wonderful picture. You got great performances out of everyone, and it has a raw brutalness without any pettiness or meanness. 

All I can say is- Thanks again, Coach.

Your everloving,

John Wayne as the vengeful Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers", one of his best performances (above) -- and (below) tea and cookies on the set with John Wayne, John Huston and visitor Dolores Del Rio.

24 May 2015

Do you still miss me?

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford made five movies together- "The Lady in Question" (1940), "Gilda" (1946)"The Loves of Carmen" (1948), "Affair in Trinidad" (1952) and "The Money Trap" (1965). The two were not just colleagues but good friends from the time they met until Rita's death in 1987. According to Peter Ford, Glenn Ford's only child from his first marriage to actress Eleanor Powell, his father and Rita Hayworth had also been lovers. In his biography "Glenn Ford: A Life" (2011), Peter Ford --in possession of his father's diaries-- says that they became lovers during filming of "The Loves of Carmen", and that Rita also got pregnant and had an abortion [via]. Rita and Glenn remained friends and in later years also lived next to each other in Beverly Hills. Shown below is some of the correspondence Rita sent Glenn Ford in 1969 and 1970. Sent to Ford's home address in Beverly Hills, there are two postcards from Lanzarote, Spain, one from New York and one from Honolulu, Hawaii. The note was written in October 1970, also from Lanzarote where Rita was filming "Road to Salina" (1970).

Transcript:

Oct 12 Sunday
Hi-
If I had any spare time I could ride one of those creatures on the other side
Love + Peace 
Rita H

AIR
Glenn Ford 
911 Oxford Way 
Beverly Hills
California 
U.S.A.

Transcript:

Hi- will be leaving here Nov. 4th for London. I'll wire my address in England. Do you still miss me??
Love,
Rita H.

Air Mail!
Glenn Ford 
911 Oxford Way 
Beverly Hills, Calif.
U.S.A.

Transcript:

Hi-

See you in B.H. Cal. in about ten days-
Love Rita

AIR
Glenn Ford 
911 Oxford Way 
Beverly Hills
California

Transcript:

Hi Glenn-

On our way to Maui, Hana Hotel. Be back July 3rd-
Your pal
Rita H.

AIR
Mr. Glenn Ford 
911 Oxford Way 
B.H. California 
90210

Transcript:

Oct. 10th

I'm glad you miss me, I miss you too.
My finish date here is the 26th of October. Must then go to Paris Nov 1st or 2nd for a few days of clubbing (??) -That's the situation up to now. Hope it's that way.

Con cari├▒o

Marga Rita

Above: Glenn Ford and son Peter visit Rita Hayworth on the set of "The Lady from Shanghai" (1947). Below: Rita and Glenn in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Images of Rita Hayworth's postcards and letter courtesy of Heritage Auctions (here) and here). 

20 May 2015

Do take care of yourself

The day after filming had ended on "The Misfits" (1961), Clark Gable suffered a massive heart attack. He died ten days later on 16 November 1960, 59 years old. It was speculated that his psychically demanding role in the excruciating Nevada heat had caused the heart attack, but Gable's then pregnant widow Kay said in an interview with gossip columnist Louella Parsons: "It wasn't the physical exertion that killed him. It was the horrible tension, the eternal waiting, waiting, waiting. He waited around forever, for everybody. He'd get so angry that he'd just go ahead and do anything to keep occupied" [via]. 

Although no names were mentioned, the interview implied that Kay Gable blamed Marilyn Monroe for her husband's death. Marilyn, who was one of Clark Gable's co-stars on "The Misfits", was always late on the set, sometimes not appearing until three or four in the afternoon and sometimes not showing up at all. Naturally, Marilyn was terribly upset when she read the article. She had idolised Clark Gable since childhood, was devastated by his death and now it seemed as if Kay, whom she had befriended during production, held her in some way responsible for Gable's death. In ill health due to her drug and alcohol addiction and having just separated from husband Arthur Miller, Marilyn soon spiralled into a deep depression and was hospitalised in February 1961.

On 20 March 1961, Kay Gable gave birth to a son, John Clark. Several weeks later, on 11 April, Kay wrote to Marilyn inviting her (and Joe Di Maggio who had just re-entered Marilyn's life) to spend time with John Clark and her at the ranch. Another month later, Kay invited Marilyn to attend John Clark's christening, an invitation Marilyn gladly accepted. It clearly showed that Kay didn't harbour any hard feelings towards Marilyn, and rumours that she blamed Marilyn for her husband's death were finally put to rest. 

Via: live auctioneers

Transcript:

April 11, 1961

Dearest Marilyn,

How about our little 'carbon copy lover boy' - I am certain you have seen his press pictures. Just exactly like Clark. The ears are too close to his dear little head- I'll fix that dept. later.

Do let me know when you plan to return to California- I'll let you be second nanny in charge- later you may take him fishing. Guess I will be the one to teach him to shoot ducks. My work is really cut out for me. I feel certain his dearest father is watching his every move from heaven. 

I miss Clark each day, I'll never ever get over this great loss, but God has blessed me with my three dear children and precious memories Clark and I shared together. 

Went to confession after 24 years - (nope the priest did not call the cops) seriously you can't imagine how much this has helped me. Prayer helps, when I start to fly apart.

I plan to spend the summer at our ranch with John Clark. Joan and Bunker will be off to summer camp.

It would be so pleasant if you could spend some time with us, bring Joe too if you wish. Very private at our happy home.

I loved the beautiful plant you sent to the hospital.

Have seen pictures of you in the paper, was pleased to see you looking very well. Do take care of yourself.

I should talk. I broke three stitches, lost my voice. My Dr gave me hell for overdoing. Then to top it all, he keeps reminding of my age- John Clark doesn't seem to mind my age. 

Give my best to Mae.

I hope this letter finds your heart full of happiness.

Love,
Kay

16 May 2015

The Apartment: a favourite (movie-wise)

This post is my contribution to the My Favourite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day, hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Click here to check out all the other entries.



I don't really have a favourite movie. There are so many great movies, I find it very difficult to pick just one. But one of the films that has always ranked high on my list of favourites --one that I've seen many times and will certainly watch again-- is Billy Wilder's black comedy "The Apartment" (1960). There's so much to love about this film. The script by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond which contains the most brilliant lines ("That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise", for one); the performances from the entire cast, in particular the leads Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; the crisp black-and-white cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; the wonderful music score by Adolph Dietsch -- all these elements, masterfully put together by Billy Wilder, make "The Apartment" a gem from start to finish. 

Back in 1960, the public also loved "The Apartment". Audiences went to see the film en masse, making it a box-office hit immediately upon release. But it was not just a commercial success, the film was also lauded by the critics and by Wilder's peers. At the Oscar Ceremony in April 1961, "The Apartment" was awarded a total of five Oscars, three of which went to Wilder: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (the latter he had to share with I.A.L. Diamond). To congratulate Wilder on the film and its success, many colleagues sent him letters and telegrams. Below you'll find some of the correspondence Wilder received, both in 1960 when the film was released and in 1961 after his big Oscar win. The correspondence comes from Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Zinnemann, Kirk Douglas, Alfred Hitchcock, Joan Crawford, John Sturges and Hal Wallis; the letter from Hitchcock has been posted on this blog before, but I thought it was nice to include it here as well.

Transcript: 

1960 MAR 16

BILLIE WILDER, SAMUEL GOLDWYN STUDIOS=

1040 NORTH FORMOSA DLR BY MSGR HOLLYWOOD CALIF=

DEAR BILLIE HAVE JUST SEEN YOUR TRADE AD FOR THE QUOTE APARTMENT UNQUOTE THE INDUSTRY HAS NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT AS LONG AS THERE ARE PEOPLE LIKE YOU IN IT
MUCH LOVE=
SAMMY DAVIS JR.

Transcript:

1960 MAY 5
BILLY WILDER
1041 NORTH FORMOSA HOLLYWOOD CALIF=

DEAR BILLY: DAN TARADASH AND 19 OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TOLD ME "THE APARTMENT" IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL WARMEST CONGRATULATIONS 
CORDIALLY=
FRED ZINNEMANN.

Note: Daniel Taradash was a screenwriter; his credits include "Golden Boy" (1939) and "From Here to Eternity" (1952).

Transcript:

Dear Billy-

I have to tell you again how thrilled I was about seeing your picture this evening. You've certainly eclipsed "Some Like It Hot"- no mean feat.
This is a great example of movie-making --the sharp comments on various phases of American life, the daring juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy, the incisive penetration into the soul of a woman in love with a married man, the direction that led to some magnificent performances all add up to make one of the greatest pictures I've ever seen.

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,

(signed)
Alfred J. Hitchcock

Transcript:

October 10, 1960

Billy dear,

I have just seen "The Apartment". You have done the most adroit, professional, exciting, poignant, delightful film I have seen in years. Thank you for giving the industry the "goose" it needed, and thank you for the joy it has given, not only millions of people, but your friend--

Joan (signed)

Transcript:

April 18, 1961

Dear Billy:

It was a great pleasure to see you scoop up that family of little men. Particularly since the picture was a complete original- a rare and admirable thing.

Please include I.A.L. in my congratulations.

With all the best,

John (signed)

Mr. Billy Wilder
1041 N. Formosa
Hollywood 46, California


Transcript:

April 19, 1961

Dear Billy,

This is getting to be a habit, but I am sure it is one you have no objection to acquiring.

In any event, my fond regards and sincere congratulations on the well deserved Oscars.

Sincerely,

(signed)
Hal Wallis

Images of the telegrams and letters courtesy of Heritage Auctions (here and here).

13 May 2015

The medical accuracy of "Psycho"

In 1955, the American Medical Association founded a committee called the Physicians Advisory Committee on Television, Radio and Motion Pictures. The committee advised producers, writers etc. on medical subjects with the intention of insuring medical accuracy in films, tv and radio shows, as well as protecting the image of the practising physician.

When "Psycho" was released in the summer of 1960 containing a medical inaccuracy, the Physicians Advisory Committee immediately wrote to the film's director Alfred Hitchcock. The scene which had caught the attention of the committee was the famous shower scene and in particular the close-up shot of Janet Leigh's eye after she'd been murdered. Written by the committee's vice-chairman Dudley M. Cobb, the letter explains what is wrong with Leigh's pupil from a medical point of view. Cobb also points out that medical accuracy could have been insured had Hitch consulted the committee beforehand. A great and most informative letter, here goes:


Transcript:

August 29, 1960

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock
Revue Studios
Universal City, California

Dear Mr. Hitchcock:

It is indeed a pleasure to write you in connection with your most interesting motion picture "Psycho." I enjoyed the content of this feature film and feel that it carries a worth-while message. However, there was one incident that I wish to call to your attention from a medical standpoint. In the scene where Janet Leigh has just sustained multiple knife wounds and through loss of blood and shock has gradually slumped to the floor, the scene fades out to another portion of the story and then immediately cuts back to a closeup of one of her eyes, then gradually the camera moves back to include the whole scene.

It is this portion of the picture that I wish to bring to your attention. The picture reveals an eye and the pupillary reaction or size is not consistent with a person that is recently deceased or suffering from extreme shock. In the case such as you portray, the central nervous system is "knocked out", thereby causing the pupil to be greatly dilated. As you will remember, Miss Leigh's eye portrayed normal pupillary size. It was not one of a deceased person or of one in great shock. I am sure doctors, nurses and first aid personnel would immediately recognize the condition of the eye that one would expect in such cases.

As you know, the American Medical Association's Physicians Advisory Committee always stands ready and willing to give technical advice on such medical scenes and this is a good example wherein we could have advised you to insure medical accuracy. The Committee is anxious to help in any way it can in the future and we would welcome a meeting or luncheon where we could explain our functions.

Again, my congratulations on your interesting picture,

Sincerely yours,

(signed)

Dudley M. Cobb, jr., M.D., Vice-chairman
Physicians Advisory Committee for Television, Radio and Motion Pictures

10 May 2015

I have become so used to being the other side of the coin...

Katharine Hepburn was 34 years old when she met 41-year-old Spencer Tracy on the set of their first film together, "Woman of the Year" (1942). They fell in love and began a love affair that was to last for 26 years. Tracy, who was married with two children, had been living separately from his wife Louise since the 1930s, but he would never divorce her. Although it has been said often that his being Catholic was the reason for this, Tracy himself once claimed: "I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are" [via]. 

In the 1960's, Tracy's health began to deteriorate significantly and Hepburn moved into his home to care for him. They would live together during the last years of his life. On 10 June 1967, seventeen days after filming had ended on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (the couple's 9th film together), Tracy died. Hepburn, who was the only one present when he died, recalled the incident in her 1991 autobiography "Me: Stories of my Life". In the middle of the night, she had followed Tracy to the kitchen where he wanted to make himself a cup of tea. Before opening the kitchen door, she heard the sound of a breaking tea cup and then a loud clump. Spencer Tracy had just suffered a fatal heart attack, 67 years old.

Here are three letters written by Katharine Hepburn shortly after Spencer Tracy's death. The letters are respectively written to Joan Crawford on 14 June 1967 (on Spencer Tracy's stationery), Hepburn's friend Armina on 16 June (shown in transcript only) and her author/friend Roy Newquist on 29 June. 


Transcript:

VI-14-1967

Dear Joan-

George told me of all your sweetness + really I did not need to be told- Spence was very very fond of you and he would have been so pleased with the lovely basket of azaleas-it is just sad- isn't it- such an unusal person- He was just tired out- I think that his big old heart had simply beat itself out- + it stopped- and he had no struggle- no terror- in a second he was dead- And it was nice that he made the picture- But what can one say- Thank you dear Joan-

Kate

Note: George was probably George Cukor who was a friend of both Katharine's and Joan's.

June 16     I’m staying at Spence’s

Dear Armina-

You are right—I said to myself even one second after it happened—It is best—My brain knows it—no anticipation—no struggle—just end—It was instantaneous—and I know that it is a best way to die—But the finality is appalling I am sure you know—you just cannot believe it—Here—gone—It is so sad—All the years—All the shared struggles—And I know that you are right too that time can’t heal it just forces you to change your own path—Well—not much to say—I was lucky to know him & you were sweet to write such a dear letter.

Kate

[source: rr auction]

Source: heritage auctions (images reproduced with permission)

Transcript:

VI-29-1967

Dear Roy-

Thank you for kind words— There's nothing much to say- It is sad- and Death is very Total—it is there—it is the end- it is a blank wall- one sits and stares at this wall. Here you must paint your futur [sic]—+so must I—if I can figure out who this new creature is— I have become so used to being the other side of the coin- that my independence is at a low ebb—

Poor wretched silly Lee Radziwill— at least she gave the press a gorgeous time—

Someday I suppose I'll try to do a book- but it involves others+ it is awkward. I think it's fine you doing a book on the movie + any help I'll be glad to give—People are mad about your article and the pictures- I've not looked at it yet- But you must be very pleased-

Kate

*There was one word in this letter that I found totally illegible: independence. A big thanks to Emma Wilson for deciphering the word for me. And also to Tim Butler for his efforts.

Notes:
-Lee Radziwill is the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and in the 1960s tried her hand at acting. In 1967, the largely untrained Radziwill was cast as Tracy Lord in a stage production of "The Philadelphia Story", receiving very bad reviews.
-Roy Newquist was working on a book about "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" containing interviews with the film's stars. The book called " A Special Kind of Magic" was published that same year.

This is my contribution to The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by margaretperry.org. Click here to check out all the other entries!

6 May 2015

The picture is almost impossible to understand

Today would have been the 100th birthday of director/actor/writer/producer Orson Welles. Although I am not a Welles' fan, there is no denying that he was a unique filmmaker. Difficult to work with and considered an 'enfant terrible' in Hollywood, Welles changed cinema with his revolutionary camera, sound and storytelling techniques. His "Citizen Kane" (1941) is still considered one of the best films ever made and also subsequent films like "The Magnificent Ambersons" "(1942) and "Touch of Evil" (1958) are generally regarded as masterpieces. 

In 1947, Welles fled Hollywood and moved to Italy where two years later he would start filming "Othello", an adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. It would prove to be a difficult project. Although shooting began in 1949, the film would not be released until three years later. The bankrupcy of the film's original Italian investor forced Welles to use his own money, taking on acting jobs (like "The Third Man" (1949)) to raise cash and thus pausing production for long periods of time. But eventually, "Othello"  was released in Europe in 1952 to much acclaim, even winning the prestigious Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Releasing the film in the US, however, was a different matter. Welles couldn't find a distributor, and then when it was finally released through United Artists in 1955 the film was hardly a success (even though the European version had been changed to suit the American market --changes which included the addition of a narration by Welles). Today, there is more appreciation for "Othello", especially after a 'restored' version of the American cut was released in 1992.

The letter for this post is somewhat lengthy but quite fascinating. It was written by Twentieth Century-Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck to Orson Welles in October 1952. With the successful release of "Othello" in Europe in May 1952, Welles was now seeking an American studio to release his film and had possibly approached Zanuck for that purpose. But Zanuck felt "Othello" was not yet ready for the American market, giving Welles some harsh criticism as well as recommendations on how to improve his film (as mentioned above, United Artists would release it in 1955). Apart from Zanuck's letter, also shown is a telegram from Welles giving his reaction to Zanuck's suggestions.

Transcript:

October 13, 1952

Dear Orson:

Yesterday I saw OTHELLO. First I am going to tell you the good things about it and then I am going to tell you the things I think are completely wrong.

The photography is absolutely superb.

The locations and settings are fabulous.

Your individual performance is brilliant.

With the exception of the scenes in which you personally appear and a few other "intimate scenes" the picture is almost impossible to understand. Frankly most of the time they could have been speaking Roumanian and it would have been just as clear. It is more than a case of poor dubbing or poor rerecording--it is literally impossible to even comprehend what most of the performers are trying to say.

Desdemona is second-rate, but at least you can understand her. What I cannot comprehend is why it is impossible to understand some of the other actors like Bob Cootes.

Here you have a pictorial masterpiece, but without printed titles or narration it hasn't got a chance in the United States, in my opinion---even in the art houses.

Nothing grieves me more than to give you the above opinion, which is shared by Al Lichtman and others in our releasing organization. I hope we are wrong one hundred percent, but I had two of your biggest "fans" with me, namely Virginia and Susan, when I screened it, and after the first ten minutes they too were "lost" in the bedlam of dialogue.

You know that I have great affection for you and I have great respect and admiration for your talent and ability. For the United States you can save this picture only if you will pursue a drastic course. The course is as follows.

Take all of the dialogue out of the entire picture with the exception of the intimate, personal and dramatic passages --and tell the story with narration. Hold down all of the other dialogue to a minimum so that the narration drowns it out and then only let the "live action and dialogue" come to the surface in the really dramatic scenes.

I would not change the pictorial flow or content of the film except that I would shorten it by eliminating entirely all of the extraneous or inaudible dialogue scenes concerning other than the two or three principal actors. I would treat it exactly as if the picture had been produced in a foreign language.

I would start out under the opening scenes by explaining the basic story of OTHELLO. I would start with the date, the period and the historical situation.

Darryl F. Zanuck
Your version goes on the assumption that the public is intimately familiar with the story of OTHELLO. This is not so. You must explain the story to them and the background of the basic situation. You have one of the greatest musical scores I have ever heard in any picture and thus with music and narration you can tell your story and let it come "alive" only when the key scenes are on. The critics will laud you for this technique, but what is more important the public will then have a chance to understand and appreciate the story.

Right now the story in the present version is incomprehensible. To enjoy something an audience must understand what the hell it is all about. You could write the narration for this picture in one week. It would be a new and revolutionary technique --and in my sincere opinion it is the only conceivable chance you have of running up an American gross.

In narration you could tell about the War --the hatred for the Moor-- the background and historical basis of the conflict.

After all when you release it in Europe you are doing the same thing when you use printed titles to accomplish the same purpose. 

I want to see you come out a winner in this and I imagine the American market is important to you. I think you should carefully weigh the possibilities of this suggestion. When I last read OTHELLO it was in high school. I remembered only a few high lights and the basic idea. Thus when I saw the picture I found myself not only straining to understand what the hell was being said but I was also trying to remember the play and put it together in my mind with what was transpiring on the screen.

The above is savage criticism but if you follow this recommendation the final result may very well be far from hopeless. You must not give up on it now. You have spent too much and gone too far, and you must go still further. There are many wonderful things in the picture and your last scene is magnificent, but with fifty or sixty per cent of the inaudible babble eliminated and replaced with narration and your wonderful music, this definitely has a chance.

Best always,

(signed 'Daryl')

Mr. Orson Welles
c/o J. Dyball
Albergo Internationals
Rome, Italy


Transcript:

DARRYL ZANUCK
20TH CENTURY FOX BEVERLEY HILLS CALIFORNIA

DEAR DARRYL THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR LETTER
GIVING CONTENT CAREFULLEST THOUGHT
FONDEST REGARDS =ORSON

Images Zanuck's letter and Welles' telegram courtesy of Heritage Auctions