8 June 2017

Miss Leigh seems to be the best qualified

In December 1938, a young unknown British actress named Vivien Leigh visited the set of Gone with the Wind accompanied by talent agent Myron Selznick. Myron's brother, producer David Selznick, had just started production of GWTW (the burning of Atlanta scene), even though he still hadn't found his Scarlett O'Hara yet. After being introduced to Leigh, Selznick was impressed and very quickly considered her a serious candidate for the role of Scarlett. Despite widespread protests against the casting of Leigh (being a non-Southerner), Leigh got the coveted role and signed her contract on 16 January 1939.

When word got out that Vivien Leigh was to be cast as Scarlett, David Selznick sent numerous letters to entertainment journalists to justify his decision. Shown below is Selznick's letter to Ed Sullivan (a gossip columnist at the time), written on 7 January 1939, just nine days before Leigh was officially hired. Although Selznick denied that he had chosen Leigh ("Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett"), it is quite clear that he had already made his decision.



Selznick's letter is shown in transcript only. 
You'll find the original image of the letter via this page.


David Selznick and Vivien Leigh both won Oscars for GWTW for resp. Best Film and Best Actress.
_______________________________________
January 7, 1939
Mr. Ed Sullivan 
621 North Alta Drive
Beverly Hills, California  
Dear Ed: 
Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett. There are three other possibilities. But should we decide on Miss Leigh for the role, I think the following answers your question:
  1. Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish.
  2. A large part of the South prides itself on its English ancestry, and an English girl might presumably, therefore, be as acceptable in the role as a Northern girl.
  3. Experts insist that the real Southern accent, as opposed to the Hollywood conception of a Southern accent, is basically English. There is a much closer relationship between the English accent and the Southern accent than there is between the Southern accent and the Northern accent, as students will tell you, and as we have found through experience.
  4. I think it would be ungrateful on the part of Americans, particularly Americans in the film and theatrical worlds, to feel bad about such a selection in view of the English public's warm reception of American actors' portrayals of the most important and best-beloved characters in English history and fiction, ranging all the way from Wallace Beery in "Treasure Island", to Fredric March as Browning in "The Barretts", to Gary Cooper in "Bengal Lancer".
  5. And, finally, let me call your attention to the most successful performances in the American Theatre in many, many years-- those, respectively, of the American Helen Hayes as "Queen Victoria" and the British Raymond Massey as "Abraham Lincoln". 
Ed Sullivan
I feel that there are days when we should all do everything within our power to help cement British-American relationships and mutual sympathies, rather than to indulge in thoughtless, half-baked and silly criticisms. As I have said, Miss Leigh is not set for the role, but if she gets it Miss Leigh seems to us to be the best qualified from the standpoints of physical resemblance to Miss Mitchell's Scarlett, and- more importantly- ability to give the right performance in one of the most trying roles ever written. And this after a two-year search.
And if she gets the role, I like to think that you'll be in there rooting for her. 
Cordially and sincerely yours, 
dos:bb 
P.S. Incidentally, just where do the carpers think the name "Georgia" came from, but from England? I suppose they'd also object to George Washington being played by an Englishman! 
D.O.S. 

27 May 2017

Please believe me it was not my doing

Something's Got to Give (1962) was Marilyn Monroe's last (unfinished) film. Directed by George Cukor and co-starring Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse, the film was a remake of the 1940 My Favorite Wife, a screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. From the very beginning, the project was plagued with problems involving its leading lady. On the first day of production, Marilyn didn't show up because of a sinus infection, and over the next month she only rarely made an appearance due to several health problems. With the production going quickly over budget and also having to deal with another project that ran over budget (the epic Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor), 20th Century Fox couldn't afford to keep an unreliable leading lady on the payroll. Marilyn was eventually fired on 8 June 1962.

Marilyn was to be replaced with Lee Remick, but leading man Dean Martin (a friend of Marilyn's) refused to work with anybody but Marilyn. As a result, Fox agreed to rehire Marilyn and even agreed to pay her more than her previous salary. Marilyn accepted the studio's offer on the condition that Cukor was replaced with Jean Negulesco with whom she had worked on How To Marry a Millionaire (1953). Before filming could resume, however, Marilyn died of a barbiturate overdose. The film was abandoned after her death and was eventually remade under a different title with a different cast (Move Over Darling (1963), directed by Michael Gordon and starring Doris Day and James Garner).

George Cukor and Marilyn Monroe on the set of Something's Got to Give (above), and Marilyn with co-star Cyd Charisse in a scene from the film (below).
Following her dismissal from Something's Got to Give, Marilyn sent identical telegrams to cast and crew members. Shown below are the telegrams she sent to resp. George Cukor and Cyd Charisse.

Source: julienslive

Transcript:

1962 JUN 8 PM 10 15

GEO CUKOR
9166 CORDELL DR LOSA

DEAR GEORGE 
PLEASE BELIEVE ME IT WAS NOT MY DOING
I HAD SO LOOKED FORWARD TO WORKING WITH YOU
WARMLY
MARILYN

Via: pinterest

Transcript:

1962 JUN 8 PM 10 16

MRS TONY MARTIN
1155 SAHDOW [sic] HILL WAY BEVERLY HILLS CALIF

DEAR CYD 
PLEASE BELIEVE ME IT WAS NOT MY DOING
I HAD SO LOOKED FORWARD TO WORKING WITH YOU
WARMLY
MARILYN


In 1989, footage from Something's Got to Give was discovered in the vaults of 20th Century Fox. Click here to watch it on YouTube.

17 May 2017

It could be a very important and constructive film

After reading the Cold War novel Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey IIKirk Douglas knew it could be made into a great film. He bought the rights to the novel through his production company Joel Productions, teamed up with director John Frankenheimer and put together a cast of wonderful actors like Burt Lancaster and Fredric March (Douglas himself was to play an important role in the film too). Eventually released in 1964, the result was an excellent political thriller, which is still considered one of the best of its kind.

Having heard about Douglas' plans to picturise Seven Days in May, director Stanley Kubrick wrote Douglas a letter on 8 February 1963. Kubrick had been interested in filming the story himself, but now that Douglas was going to film it, Kubrick decided to offer him some unsolicited adviceDouglas wrote back 11 days later, saying he appreciated Kubrick's suggestions and also asked if they could make another movie together ("How about a comedy? I think I'm pretty funny, don't you?"). The two men had previously worked together on Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960) and reportedly had a difficult working relationship. Despite Douglas' suggestion that they work together again, in the end they never did.

Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick on the set of their second and last film together, Spartacus (1960). 






source
Transcript:

Mr. Kirk Douglas
707 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills,
California

February 8th, 1963.

Dear Kirk,

I thought I would be presumptuous enough to drop you a line about your forthcomimg film SEVEN DAYS IN MAY which, as you may know, I had some interest in myself.

I think it's a marvellous story and could be a very important and constructive film. There were a couple of things about it which, in my opinion, detracted from its potential meaning. The most important, I think, is the complete cop-out at the end when the President confronts the Air Force Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and gets him to admit that if the responsibility were his, he would have done things just in the same way. This is extremely unlikely and takes away from the most important theme in the book, namely the conflict in the Government between intelligent civilian management of the affairs of state versus the driving force of the military-industrial complex. Have you ever seen Eisenhower's famous last speech as President where he warned the country, in a manner extremely untypical for him, of the growing threat of the military-industrial complex - that was his expression.

I think it would be very good if you could dramatise the difficulty a President would have in agreeing to some form of sensible disarmament scheme and how the semi-paranoiac extremists can make great political trouble for him. This is very nicely touched on in the book when the President's Popularity Poll reaches a new low, but I think it's greatly dissipated by the ending. 

I should also prefer to see less physical action undertaken by Senators and high Government officials. There's a bit too much creeping and crawling and slugging and gun-play involving these characters and I think it would be much more realistic if this could be delegated to lower echelon characters.

I hope that John and Rod and Eddie don't resent this letter and I leave it to you to present any of these ideas, if you consider them worthy, in your own charming and inimitable manner. 

In any event, I wish you the best of luck with the film and give my regards to Eddie and Ann.

Best regards,

(signed "Stanley")

Stanley Kubrick

source

Transcript:


February 19, 1963

Dear Stanley,

How nice to hear from you again, and I certainly appreciate your suggestions -- but then you know how we geniuses work. You will be pleased to know that we have been thinking about all the points you mentioned. Your letter has served to give us more confidence about the work we must do in these areas. I think we should have an interesting picture and a pretty good cast.

By the way, what's cooking with your project-- what's happening with your lawsuit versus "Failsafe". If there's any way that I can help I wish you'd call on me. 

In the meantime, my sincere  wishes for the success of your picture. 
Also, I think it's about time we did another picture together. How about a comedy? I think I'm very funny, don't you? 

Let's keep in touch.

Sincerely,

(signed "Kirk")

Kirk Douglas

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Shepperton Studios
Shepperton, Middlesex
England


Source: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research
__________________________________

Note: During the filming of his Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick learnt that Fail-Safe (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet, was being produced at the same time. Fail-Safe's plot was so similar to Red Alert (the novel by Peter George on which Dr. Strangelove was based) that George filed a lawsuit for plagiarism and later settled out of court. As both films were being produced by the same studio (Columbia Pictures), Kubrick insisted that his film was released first. He got his wish-- Fail-Safe opened eight months later than Dr. Strangelove and as a result performed poorly at the box-office. 

Burt Lancaster, Fredric March and Kirk Douglas-- powerhouse acting in Seven Days in May.

29 April 2017

I was in that state where one does not remember

I must admit that I had never heard of Sophie Tucker, but apparently she was one of the most popular entertainers (a singer, actress and comedian) in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Tucker was a good friend of fellow singer/actress Carol Channing, and in June 1964 she attended the premiere of Hello Dolly! on Broadway starring Channing in the leading role. After the premiere, there was a party with some of the day's biggest stars, among them Richard Burton and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor. Burton was drinking heavily (he was known for his alcohol addiction) and after Tucker had sung a song in honour of her friend Carol, Burton stood up and slurred: "Ladies and gentlemen, up until now I thought my wife was in charge of butchering the English language, but I must admit I was wrong. Tonight I have witnessed the Empress of Butchery. Long live the Queen, Miss Sophie Tucker". [source

The next day, Tucker received a telegram from Burton apologising for his behaviour.



Transcript:

New York NY Jun 19 1964

Miss Sophie Tucker
730 Park Ave NYK

Dear Miss Tucker

My wife tells me I was rude to you last night. I was in that state where one does not remember but Elizabeth never lies and so my deepest apologies to you. I am a great admirer of yours and can only think that I was very very much under the weather. Sincerely.

Richard Burton


17 April 2017

Tallulah & Billie

Tallulah Bankhead was perhaps more famous for her eccentric personality and stormy personal life than her acting career. She had lots of affairs with both men and women, one of the women being jazz singer Billie Holiday. Tallulah and Billie probably first met in Harlem in the early 1930s but didn't get together until the late 1940s when they were both performing on Broadway (Billie at the Strand Theatre while Tallulah was doing a play at a theatre nearby). The two women became close and had an intense relationship for a few years. 

The only photo I could find of Tallulah Bankhead and Billie Holiday together. December 1951, here the two women are photographed with jazz trombonist Dickie Wells.

In early 1949, Billie was charged with possession of opium. Tallulah tried to help her and got in touch with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was a close friend of her father's (wealthy politician Will Bankhead). In a telephone call with Hoover, Tallulah begged him to exonerate Billie of the charges, but Hoover told her that the case had been handed over to the state authorities, that it was out of his hands. Following their telephone conversation, Tallulah contacted Hoover again on 9 February 1949. Pleading Billie's case once more, this time she wrote him a letter.
Source: Groove Notes

Transcript:

Hotel Elysee
60 East 54th Street
New York, N.Y. 
February 9, 1949

J. Edgar Hoover
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Hoover:

I am ashamed of my unpardonable delay in writing to thank you a thousand times for the kindness, consideration and courtesy, in fact all the nicest adjectives in the book, for the trouble you took re our telephone conversation in connection with Billie Holiday.

I tremble when I think of my audacity in approaching you at all with so little to recommend me, except the esteem, admiration and high regard my father held for you. I would never have dared to ask him or you a favor for myself but knowing your true humanitarian spirit it seemed quite natural at the time to go to the top man. As my Negro mammy used to say - "When you pray you pray to God don't you?".

I have met Billie Holiday but twice in my life but admire her immensely as an artist and feel the most profound compassion for her knowing as I do the unfortunate circumstances of her background. Although my intention is not to condone her weaknesses I certainly understand the eccentricities of her behaviour because she is essentially a child at heart whose troubles has made her psychologically unable to cope with the world in which she finds herself. Her vital need is more medical than the confinement of four walls.

However guilty she may be, whatever penalty she may be required to pay for her frailties, poor thing, you I know did everything within the law to lighten her burden. Bless you for this,

Kindest regards,

(signed)

Tallulah Bankhead



Sometime between 1949 and 1952, Tallulah began to distance herself from Billie. Afraid that her career would be destroyed if people knew about their relationship, Tallulah didn't mention Billie once in her 1952 autobiography. A few years later when Billie was working on her own autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, a copy of the manuscript was sent to Tallulah who threatened to file a lawsuit if she wasn't kept out of the book. On 12 January 1955, Billie responded with an embittered letter (shown below in transcript). Billie never received a reply to her letter, and in the end Tallulah was only mentioned as "just a friend who sometimes came around to the house to eat spaghetti."

Dear Miss Bankhead:
I thought I was a friend of yours. That's why there's nothing in my book that was unfriendly to you, unkind or libelous. Because I didn't want to drag you, I tried six times last month to talk to you on the damn phone, and tell you about the book just as a matter of courtesy. That bitch you have who impersonates you kept telling me to call back and when I did, it was the same deal until I gave up. But while I was working out of town, you didn't mind talking to Doubleday and suggesting behind my damned back that I had flipped and/or made up those little mentions of you in my book. Baby, Cliff Allen and Billy Heywood are still around. My maid who was with me at the Strand isn't dead either. There are plenty of others around who remember how you carried on so you almost got me fired out of the place.  And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!
I don't know whether you've got one of those damn lawyers telling you what to do or not. But I'm writing this to give you a chance to answer back quick and apologize to me and to Doubleday. Read my book over again. I understand they sent you a duplicate manuscript. There's nothing in it to hurt you. If you think so, let's talk about it like I wanted to last month. It's going to press right now so there is no time for monkeying around. Straighten up and fly right, Banky. Nobody's trying to drag you.
Billie Holiday 
[via

2 April 2017

Nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie

Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959) was released at a time when the Production Code was slowly dying. In 1954, PCA's director Joseph Breen (a strict censor for two decades) had been replaced by his deputy director Geoffrey Shurlock who was far less strict than Breen, giving filmmakers room to be more creative. The Catholic Legion of Decency, however, strongly objected to Some Like it Hot, because of its subject matter of transvestism, hints at homosexuality and lesbianism, and double-entendre dialogue.

On 5 March 1959, Reverend Thomas F. Little of the Legion of Decency, wrote a letter to Geoffrey Shurlock, listing his objections to Some Like it Hot, which he felt "bordered on condemnation". Shurlock replied a few days later, apparently not agreeing with the Reverend, while referring to trade paper reviews which called the film "hilariously funny". Incidentally, both letters contradict some of the things I've read on the internet regarding Some Like it Hot. According to several sources, the Legion of Decency condemned the film giving it a C-rating, but Father Little's letter clearly shows that his rating was B (morally objectionable in part). Also, many sources say that Some Like it Hot was released without the approval of the PCA. However, Shurlock's letter (written before the film's actual release date) gives the impression that he didn't object to the film at all. 

The letters will be shown in transcript only
; click here for the original images.
Sourceoscars.org

Dressed in drag, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a publicity still for Some Like it Hot.
___________________________________

March 5, 1959
Mr. Geoffrey Shurlock,
Motion Picture Association of America
8480 Beverly Boulevard,
Hollywood 48, California.

Dear Geoff:

For your information and, I am sure, interested reaction the Legion on March 12 rated the United Artists film SOME LIKE IT HOT, starring Marilyn Monroe, as B (Morally Objectionable in Part for All), with the following objection noted:

¨This film, though it purports to be a comedy, contains screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency. Furthermore, its treatment dwells almost without relief on gross suggestiveness in costuming, dialogue and  situations. ¨

Since the initiation of the triple A method of classifying films in December 1957, this film has given the Legion the greatest cause for concern in its evaluation of Code Seal pictures. As you can well imagine, it bordered on condemnation. The subject matter of ¨transvestism¨ naturally leads to complications; in this film there seemed to us to be clear inferences of homosexuality and lesbianism. The dialogue was not only ¨double entendre¨ but outright smut. The offense in costuming was obvious. 

In the present atmosphere of our society, which seems to be calling for censorship and controls, this picture will only add fuel to the fire. 

I thought that you would be sincerely interested in our observations. Perhaps they might act as a stop gap in future decisions with which you are faced. 

With best personal wishes to yourself and the staff, I remain

Cordially Yours,

(signed)
Very Rev. Msgr. Thomas F. Little
Executive Secretary
___________________________________

March 18, 1959 
Very Rev. Msgr. T. F. Little
National Legion of Decency
453 Madison Avenue
New York 22, N.Y.

Geoffrey Shurlock
Dear Father Little,

In reply to yours of March 5th, we have been scanning very carefully the trade paper reviews of SOME LIKE IT HOT. To date we have received eight such reports, including two from Martin Quigley´s publications. 

Not a single reviewer has been in the slightest way critical of this film, or questioned either its morality or its taste. So far there is simply no adverse reaction at all; nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie. 

I am not suggesting, of course, that there are not dangers connected with a story of this type. But girls dressed as men, and occasionally men dressed as women for proper plot purposes, has been standard theatrical fare as far back as AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT, and perhaps further. The classic example of a man masquerading in woman´s clothes without offense is CHARLEY´S AUNT, which has been a hilarious hit for three-quarters of a century.

It seems to boil down to the fact that if this material is handled properly it can and will be accepted. Of course, if it is handled improperly it could be enormously objectionable. But as indicated, eight reviewers to date have seen this film and their consensus without reservation is that it has been treated acceptably.

We can only trust that the general public will be of the same mind, and that the alarm the Legion very understandably expressed may prove in the long run to be no worry at all. At any rate, that is the hope we are nourishing. 

We are of course not defending the two exaggerated costumes worn by the leading lady; but we gathered these were not your major concern.
With kindest regards from the staff,
I am,
Very sincerely yours, 
GEOFFREY M. SHURLOCK 

19 March 2017

Hitchcock's financial problems

Recently I've moved from my hometown Amsterdam in The Netherlands to Barcelona, Spain. As things have been rather hectic, I haven't had time to blog for a while. I do miss it though and, now that everything has settled down a bit, I will try and post again on a regular basis. 



The letter for this post concerns the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. On 1 August 1977, Hitch wrote to a woman named Ann, speaking of the financial difficulties he was having. I was surprised to learn that Hitch was having money problems, since a decade earlier he had personally earned $15 million with Psycho (1960). I could find no information as to what happened to his fortune, but the letter shows that by 1977 Hitch was short on cash and had trouble paying for his wife Alma's medical bills, some of which were even covered by Medicare.

Incidentally, at the time Hitch was making Family Plot, which was to be his last film and which he referred to in his letter as "a miserable picture".

SourceBonhams

Transcript:

August 1st 1977

Dear Ann, 

I regret having to write you in this way, but we are entering a phase of financial problems.
It is mainly due to the fact that Alma's second stroke  has now gone on for two years, and the progress of recovery is extremely slow. 
At present we are involved with two nurses -day and night- two therapists daily at least five days a week with twelve hours each and they come to a considerable amount of money-- $420 each a week. Luckily a little of this is absorbed by Medicare.
In consequence I regret to say that we will have to reduce the gift to your mother to ten dollars a month starting with Sept 1977.
Incidentally I am already contributing to the maintenance of my sister in England, and this is natural as she is my only living relative. 
None of this would worry me so much if it wasn't due to the fact that I personally work on a salary and I haven't received any for the last picture since the first day of shooting which was May 12 1975.
It is a miserable picture, but remember I am basically a salary earner, just as you are today.
I do sincerely wish you well in spite of these unpleasant financial miseries. 

With fondest love
Hitch
  
Hitch and wife Alma Reville photographed in 1939. The couple married in 1926 and remained married until Hitchcock's death in 1980; Reville died two years later.