10 June 2018

I'm not that rich

Errol Flynn enjoyed his greatest successes in the late 1930s and the 1940s when he was one of Warner Bros.' biggest box-office draws. But by the early 1950s, Flynn's career started to decline and his financial problems to increase. Flynn's extravagant, hedonistic lifestyle left him with huge debts, including debts to his two ex-wives and the IRS. While Flynn had earned some $7 or 8 million throughout his career, by 1953 he was practically broke. The final blow had been a $430,000 personal investment in a film about William Tell which was never finished. Possibly around the same time, Flynn lost his home Mulholland Farm to his first wife, French actress Lili Damita, who had sued him for unpaid back alimony.

The letter for this post was written by Errol Flynn to Lili Damita in June 1951, nine years after they were divorced. (At the time Flynn was married to Patrice Wymore, his third wife.) Flynn wrote to Damita concerning a flute he had given their son Sean, presumably on the occasion of his tenth birthday. Obviously in need of cash, Flynn wanted to know if Sean had any intention of playing the instrument because if not, the valuable object should be returned to hím-- Sean's "poor, crippled, old Daddy, who would proceed, immediately, to take it around to the hock shops." Flynn's letter makes for a fantastic read and can be seen below.

Flynn reportedly once said: "My problem lies with reconciling my gross habits with my net income."



June 4, 1951

Miss Lilli Damita
803 No. Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Tiger,

I wonder if you would do me a favor? It's about Sean's flute. This horrible instrument, which vaguely resembles a stomach pump, and from which even stranger sounds immerge [sic], cost two hundred clams, bucks or fish- if you know what I mean- and I'm sure that you do.

I explained, as carefully as possible, in the excitement of the moment, to Sean, our worthy off-spring, that his Ole man did not have that kind of lettuce to fritter away on any small boy's whim. I went on to tell him that if he were to become another Harry James (does Harry James play the flute?), I wouldn't mind him having something as valuable as this; but the instrument was bought for him on the distinct understanding that if he wearied of it, or, for one reason or another, decided the flute was not to play any vital part in his future, it must, at once, come back to his poor, crippled, old Daddy, who would proceed, immediately, to take it around to the hock shops. 

He seemed to get the general idea but I do wish you would be a pal and stress the fact that he must take care of it, not lose it, charm snakes with it (or whatever else he wanted to do with it) - and if he gives up his musical ambitions, it has to come back to me, because I'm not that rich.

You looked very well, indeed, the other night and I must compliment you and also tell you that I enjoyed having you here enormously, as I always do- but, also, that I hope the next time I see you, there will be fewer Flynns present, especially wives.


Pop (added handwritten)

Errol Flynn  

Above: Errol Flynn with his first wife Lili Damita (married from 1935 until 1942). Flynn was married three times, his second wife was Nora Eddington (1943-1949) and his third wife Patrice Wymore (1950 until his death in 1959). Below: Flynn photographed in 1950 with his only son Sean. Sean eventually became a war correspondent and disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, never to be heard from again. It is assumed that Sean and a colleague were killed by the Khmer Rouge. After years of searching for her son, Lili Damita had him declared legally dead in 1984.

28 May 2018

We have got to get away from "arty" pictures

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) is often considered Orson Welles' second masterpiece, even if it's not the film Welles had envisioned. Welles' original film, 131 minutes long, was cut down to 88 minutes by RKO editor Robert Wise, with the original ending (Welles' favourite scene) changed and reshot. Welles was devastated and later said: "They destroyed Ambersons, and it destroyed me". (Welles was working on another project in Brazil when in his absence his film was "butchered".)

The decision to drastically change Welles' film was made by RKO after a disastrous preview screening in Pomona, California, on 17 March 1942. The Pomona audience consisted mostly of teenagers who had just seen the light-hearted musical The Fleet's In, starring Dorothy Lamour and William Holden. When served with Welles' long and somber Ambersons, the youngsters became restless, laughed in all the wrong places and turned in mostly negative comment cards after the show. During a second test screening in Pasadena a few days later, reactions were more positive, but RKO had already decided that something should be done about Welles' film.

Above: Orson Welles on the set of The Magnificent Ambersons with cinematographer Stanley Cortez. Below: Welles pictured with RKO president George Schaefer and Dolores del Rio (with whom Welles had a relationship for four years) at the premiere of Citizen Kane (1941), Welles' first masterpiece.

George Schaefer, president of RKO pictures, was in the audience at both the Pomona and Pasadena test screenings. In a letter to Orson Welles written on 21 March 1942 (as seen below), Schaefer informed Welles about the negative reactions from the audience and how he had "suffered" at the Pomona preview. Worried about his $1 million investment, Schaefer told Welles that something really had to be done ("Orson Welles has got to do something commercialWe have got to get away from "arty" pictures and get back to earth").

Apart from Schaefer's letter, also shown below are excerpts from a letter by Joseph Cotten to Orson Welles, written on 28 March 1942. In the letter, Cotten (a close friend of Welles and a leading character in The Magnificent Ambersons) not only talked about the disastrous test screening but also shared his own criticism on the film ("The emotional impact in the script seems to have lost itself somewhere in the cold visual beauty before us and at the end there is definitely a feeling of dissatisfaction"). The "butchering" of Ambersons eventually caused a rift in Cotten's friendship with Welles, but the two men later reconciled and also made more films together (including Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949)).
March 21, 1942        
Dear Orson: 
I did not want to cable you with respect to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS as indicated in your cable of the 18th, only because I wanted to write you under confidential cover. 
Of course, when you ask me for my reaction, I know you want it straight, and though it is difficult to write you this way, you should hear from me. 
Never in all my experience in the industry have I taken so much punishment or suffered as I did at the Pomona preview. In my 28 years in the business, I have never been present in a theater where the audience acted in such a manner. They laughed at the wrong places, talked at the picture, kidded it, and did everything that you can possibly imagine. 
I don't have to tell you how I suffered, especially in the realization that we have over $1,000,000. tied up. It was just like getting one sock in the jaw after another for over two hours. 
The picture was too slow, heavy, and topped off with somber music, never did register. It all started off well, but just went to pieces. 
I am sending you copies of all the preview cards received to date. They speak for themselves and do not tell the whole story because only a small percentage of people make out cards. I queried many of those present and they all seemed to feel that the party who made the picture was trying to be "arty," was out for camera angles, lights and shadows, and as a matter of fact, one remarked that "the man who made that picture was camera crazy." Mind you, these are not my opinions—I am giving them to you just as I received them. 
The punishment was not sufficient, and as I believed in the picture more than the people did, I hiked myself to Pasadena again last night, feeling sure that we would get a better reaction. We did, but not, of course, in its entirety. There were many spots where we got the same reaction as we did in Pomona. I think cutting will help considerably, but there is no doubt in my mind but that the people at Pasadena also thought it was slow and heavy. The somber musical score does not help. 
While, of course, the reaction at Pasadena was better than Pomona, we still have a problem. In Pomona we played to the younger element. It is the younger element who contribute the biggest part of the revenue. If you cannot satisfy that group, you just cannot bail yourself out with a $1,000,000. investment—all of which, Orson, is very disturbing to say the least. 
In all our initial discussions, you stressed low costs, making pictures at $300,000. to $500,000.  We will not make a dollar on CITIZEN KANE and present indications are that we will not break even. The final results on AMBERSONS is still to be told, but it looks "red." 
All of which reminds me of only one thing—that we must have a "heart to heart" talk. Orson Welles has got to do something commercial. We have got to get away from "arty" pictures and get back to earth. Educating the people is expensive, and your next picture must be made for the box-office. 
God knows you have all the talent and the ability for writing, producing directing—everything in CITIZEN KANE and AMBERSONS confirms that. We should apply all that talent and effort in the right direction and make a picture on which "we can get well." 
That's the story, Orson, and I feel very miserable to have to write you this. 
My very best as always, 
George Schaefer

Source: Wellesnet

March 28, 1942 
Dear Orson: 
In cases such as this great difference of opinion in the editing and cutting of AMBERSONS, people usually say "nothing personal, of course" as an excuse to say whatever they think. In my case, I have no business interest in AMBERSONS, Mercury or you; but a great personal feeling about all three, especially you, and whatever I say I know you will take in a personal way, and I want you to. 
I have often been wrong in discussing scripts and plots with you, and I agree that I'm wanting in intellectual concept and understanding of art. I do, however, have a reliable instinct, and as often as I have been wrong about actual ideas, I have been right about audience reactions. I also know by now just about what your reaction to audiences is, and I am writing this to you because I know you would have been far from happy with the feeling in the theater during the showing last week. The moment the temporary title was flashed on the screen THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, a Mercury production by Orson Welles, there was a wonderful murmur of happy anticipation, which was warming and delightful to hear and feel.  And the first sound of your voice was greeted with applause. Certainly I was fair in assuming at this point that the audience was with us. Then something happened…  it happened gradually and awfully and the feeling in that theater became disinterested, almost hostile and as cold as that ice-house they had just seen and my heart as heavy as the heart of Major Amberson who was playing wonderful scenes that nobody cared about. 
You have written doubtless the most faithful adaptation any book has ever had, and when I had finished reading it I had the same feeling I had when I read the book.  When you read it, I had that same reaction only stronger. The picture on the screen seems to mean something else. It is filled with some deep though vague psychological significance that I think you never meant it to have. Dramatically, it is like a play full of wonderful, strong second acts all coming down on the same curtain line, all proving the same tragic point.  Then suddenly someone appears on the apron and says the play is over without there having been enacted a concluding third act.  ...It is a dark sort of movie, more Chekhov than Tarkington... The emotional impact in the script seems to have lost itself somewhere in the cold visual beauty before us and at the end there is definitely a feeling of dissatisfaction… chiefly, I believe, because we have seen something that should have been no less than great. And it can be great, I'm sure of that. It's all there, in my opinion, with some transpositions, revisions and some points made clearer… points relating to human relations, I mean. 
…Our cables that fly back and forth, I know, present everything in a very unsatisfactory manner.  They often must be misinterpreted at both ends. Jack [Moss, Welles' associate at Mercury Productions], I know, is doing all he can.  He is trying his best to get Bob Wise to you.  His opinions about the cuts, right or wrong, I know are the results of sincere, thoughtful, harassed days, nights, Sundays, holidays. Nobody in the Mercury is trying in any way to take advantage of your absence.  Nobody anywhere thinks you haven't made a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring picture. Everybody in the Mercury is on your side always. I miss you horribly and will be a happier soul when you return. 
We all love you… and until then remain forever, as all of us do, 
Obediently yours, 
Source: Wellesnet

Above: Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten having a laugh. Below: Robert Wise (second from left) with Welles and others on the set of The Magnificent Ambersons. Wise had also been editor on Welles' Citizen Kane a year earlier and would later direct such classics as West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

21 May 2018

My dear Bogie

In January 1956, Humphrey Bogart was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and a few months later underwent surgery to have his esophagus removed. While in hospital recovering from the surgery, Bogie received the following letter from director George Cukor. Knowing that the two men never made a film together, I browsed the web to see what the connection was between them. While they didn't seem to be friends, I found they did have mutual friends (Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Clifton Webb) and probably moved in the same social circlesIn any case, Cukor wanted to cheer up Bogie following his surgery and instead of sending flowers --Bogie hated flowers-- he sent this funny letter.

(Incidentally, the cancer had already spread and neither surgery nor chemotherapy could save Bogie's life. On 14 January 1957, just 57 years old, Bogie died.)

Via: icollector


March 14, 1956

My dear Bogie:

Having known for years from what a fine, old aristocratic New York family you come, and being reminded of that fact from time to time by you, I looked up in my Emily Post what should be done when a classy friend is in the hospital.

Emily says: ".... it's always thoughtful to take a gift of flowers, etc...." I was prepared to go along with this when Mr. Clifton Webb, who comes from a fine, old aristocratic Indianapolis family, as Maybelle [Webb's mother] reminds us archly from time to time, told me that above all things, you loathe flowers.

That did save me three or four bucks right there, but I was perplexed as to what my next move should be. Emily Post hasn't provided what to do in a case of Floraphobe. I decided, what better than to sit right down and write Bogie a Get-Well letter, a real comical one.

First, let me say I was rash when I said all actors were horses' you-know-whats. I should have said all actors-one-doesn't-like are horses' asses. As for those that one happens to like.... well, they have the potential of developing  into first-class H.A.'s.

It might please you, and maybe even surprise you a little, to know with what genuine affection people speak of you. I'd be less than truthful, though, if I didn't add that there's a slight note of surprise as they find themselves uttering these tender sentiments. Even the Old Man of The Sea, who's inclined to be grudging with his praise, became almost lyrical when talking of your many splendid qualities. You'll most likely be awful hard to get along with after all this.

Now a confession. As you know, it was in "Swifty" that I first saw you. I didn't flip. I didn't say, "That kid's got it! .... Stardust!" Blind fool that I was, I wasn't impressed. Never in my born days could I have imagined that you'd turn out to be a great beeg, beeg star-- and a fine actor besides. Be frank, aren't you surprised too?

Yet on that very same Playhouse stage, at a special matinee, I saw another young actor, Leo Mielziner, Jr..... no surprise finish there.

At this point you're probably muttering, "...... what does he mean, comical letter....". Well, I tried.

Go on and get well soon, so's we can all get off this sentimental kick and be our own natural, horrible  selves again.

(signed) George

Mr. Humphrey Bogart
Hospital of The Good Samaritan
1212 Shatto Street
Los Angeles, California  

8 May 2018

Marilyn & Ella: the "truth" behind Ella's booking at the Mocambo

Prior to my visit to the 2016 Marilyn Monroe exhibition in my old home town Amsterdam (The Netherlands), I had never heard of the connection between Marilyn and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. It was through the exhibit that I discovered that Marilyn was responsible for Ella's booking at the Mocambo, in the 1950s thé jazz hot spot in Los Angeles frequented by many Hollywood stars. Legend has it that the Mocambo had refused to book Ella because of her skin colour and Marilyn, a huge Ella fan, then called the owner of the club demanding Ella's booking. In exchange, Marilyn would sit at the front table during every performance. The affair attracted much publicity and it is said the two women became friends after that.

The source of the Mocambo story was Ella Fitzgerald herself. In an August 1972 interview with Ms. Magazine she had said: "I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … she personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it." 

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe photographed at the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles late 1954.

While I love the story of Ella being the 
first black artist to perform at the Mocambo thanks to Marilyn's interference and Marilyn being there front and center every night, the story has been disputed, in particular by the website Immortal Marilyn with this interesting article. Apparently, Ella was not the first black performer at the Mocambo, other black artists had performed at the club before her including Dorothy Dandridge in 1952 and Eartha Kitt in 1953. The reason why club manager Charlie Morrison didn't want to book Ella was not because of her race but probably because he didn't think her glamorous enough. As to Marilyn being present at the Mocambo every night during Ella's run (15-25 March 1955), April VeVea of Immortal Marilyn argues that Marilyn couldn't have been there since she was not in Los Angeles at the time. However, Marilyn did make several appearances at the Tiffany Club, another Hollywood jazz venue, in November 1954 while Ella was performing there. The famous pictures of the two women together at a Hollywood nightclub were taken at the Tiffany Club and not at the Mocambo. And so, argues VeVea, in her 1972 interview Ella must have confused Marilyn's actual appearances at the Tiffany Club with appearances at the Mocambo.

With both the race story and Marilyn's presence at the Mocambo disputed, did Marilyn still play a role in Ella's booking at the Mocambo or not? According to a newspaper clipping (see image) and Marilyn biographer Michelle Morgan (read here), Marilyn did. However, Immortal Marilyn's VeVea says Marilyn didn't (here) and her point of view seems confirmed by a memo written by Marilyn's secretary Inez Melson. Melson wrote the memo as a reminder of the conversation she had with Jo Brooks, wife of Jules Fox who was Ella's publicity agent. It confirms that Marilyn had visited the Tiffany Club late 1954 when Ella was playing there. Judging from the memo, however, it looks like Marilyn had nothing to do with the Mocambo booking and merely wanted to give a party for Ella after Ella had been booked. Ultimately, Marilyn never hosted the party as she was out of town then.

Melson's memo, written on 15 February 1955, is shown below.

Source: Julien's Live


February 15, 1955

Memo of conversation with Jo Brooks

Jo Brooks is husband of Jules Fox who is a publicity agent, handling publicity for Ella Fitzgerald.

A few months back, Miss Monroe visited the Tiffany Club on West 8th Street where Ella Fitzgerald was playing. Miss Fitzgerald talked of a possible future date at the Mocambo and Miss Monroe said when this happened, she would like to give a party for Miss Fitzgerald.

Miss Fitzgerald will open at the Mocambo on March 15 and Miss Brooks wanted to know if Miss Monroe was serious about giving a party. I told her that I did not think that Miss Monroe would be in town on that date but I would tell her about Miss Fitzgerald's opening.

Marilyn and Ella photographed in 1961. Marilyn may not have played a role in Ella's booking at the Mocambo but her appearances at the Tiffany Club in November 1954 certainly gave Ella's career a boost.

22 April 2018

I know it's a hell of a gamble

After reading John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden (1952), director Elia Kazan immediately wanted to turn it into a film. Admittedly, Kazan didn't like the first part of the book and was only interested in filming the latter section which deals with the conflict between Cal, his father Adam and brother Aron. To write the screenplay, Kazan didn't choose Steinbeck --Steinbeck did write the screenplay for Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952)-- but he chose screenwriter Paul Osborn instead. Kazan felt that East of Eden was the toughest dramatisation job he had ever seen and wanted a professional screenwriter to handle it. While Steinbeck (a good friend of Kazan) was not happy with Kazan's decision, he was busy writing a Broadway musical* so he agreed to Osborn doing the screenplay.

For the principal role of Cal Trask, Kazan briefly considered Marlon Brando with whom he had worked on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954). Brando, however, was 30 at the time and Kazan thought him too old for the role. Paul Osborn then suggested 23-year-old James Dean for the part. (Osborn had seen Dean on Broadway doing a bit part in the play The Immoralist.) While Kazan didn't think much of Dean personally, he felt Dean did have that special quality which made him Cal. Later Dean was introduced to Steinbeck and, despite finding Dean a "snotty kid", Steinbeck also thought Dean wás Cal. 

When it came to the casting of Abra (Aron's girlfriend who later falls for Cal), Kazan chose experienced stage actress Julie Harris, 28 years old at the time. Jack Warner, studio head at Warner Bros, wanted someone younger and prettier than Harris but Kazan insisted on her being cast. Kazan never regretted his decision and later said that on the set Harris had been more important to Dean than he, the director, had been: "I doubt that Jimmy would ever have got through East of Eden except for an angel on our set. Her name was Julie Harris and she was goodness itself with Dean, kind and patient and everlastingly sympathetic. She helped Jimmy more than I did with any direction I gave him."

Other important roles went to Raymond Massey (Adam Trask), unknown actor Richard Davolos (Aron) and Jo Van Fleet (Kate, mother of Cal and Aron).

Pictured above: Marlon Brando visiting Elia Kazan, Julie Harris and James Dean on the set of East of Eden (1955); below: Dean and Kazan talking to some children on the set.

And now to the letter!

In March 1954, Elia Kazan wrote to his friend John Steinbeck, talking about the progress he and Osborn had just made with the script and about his wish to cast Jimmy Dean and Julie Harris in the roles of Cal and Abra. Kazan admits to it being "a hell of a gamble", seeing that Jack Warner was hoping for stars, but he was willing to take the risk. Well, as we know, Kazan's gamble paid off eventually. East of Eden was not only the start of what would later become a James Dean cult, but at the time it was also a huge success. The film received four Oscar nominations, i.e. for Kazan (Best Director), Dean (Best Actor), Osborn (Best Adapted Screenplay) and Van Fleet (Best Supporting Actress), with Van Fleet being the only one who took home the Oscar.

*Incidentally, the last paragraph of the letter concerns the Broadway musical which Steinbeck was working on with Rogers and Hammerstein ("R&H"); read more here. And at the bottom of the post I've also included a note from James Dean to a fan regarding East of Eden. 

Elia Kazan (pictured right) and John Steinbeck (left) were very close friends. In 1952 after Kazan had given his HUAC testimony, Steinbeck was one of the few people who stood by him. Steinbeck trusted Kazan implicitly and in the end was very happy with the way Kazan's East of Eden (1955) had turned out.

[Sandy Hook, Connecticut] 
[March 1954]
Dear John: 
Give our love to Elaine first of all. We had a hell of a time down there. A lot of new stuff like goggle swimming and all kinds of fishing esp. bone fishing. And esp real hot weather. I liked that. That was very welcome.
Now I'm back, feeling very different. I'm up in the country and Paul and I worked all day yesterday and today on the second draft. Yesterday was bewildering, but today was the day. Today we got somewhere.
We're reconstructing the first forty five odd pages pretty thoroughly. We feel it goes pretty well after that, but the first forty five were very bad. We're finally on a line for Aron. I hope you don't mind: we made him a Wilson (Woodrow, that is) enthusiast. We took out the two historical montages. We had Europe in the war at the beginning. And Aron convinced that we'd never get in, that Wilson would keep us out. Then, the night of the birthday party, Wilson lets him down. And a lot more. The script we had, it turns out, was simply what it was, a first draft. I kept saying that, but it was nevertheless a bit of a shock when it turned out to be what I had been saying: a first draft. We'll be working all this week up here, and then a couple of days in New York. Then I'll go to Salinas and look at your back streets (The ones you told me about). Then I'll go down to Burbank FUCK IT and make the film. I hate to leave N.Y.C. And maybe this will be the last picture I make in Cal. But this one belongs out there, so.  
I looked thru a lot of kids before settling on this Jimmy Dean. He hasn't Brando's stature, but he's a good deal younger and is very interesting, has balls and eccentricity and a "real problem" somewhere in his guts, I don't know what or where. He's a little bit of a bum, but he's a real good actor and I think he's the best of a poor field. Most kids who become actors at nineteen or twenty or twenty-one are very callow and strictly from N.Y. Professional school. Dean has got a real mean streak and a real sweet streak. 
I had an awful time with the girl. Terrible. The young girls are worse than the young boys. My god, they are nothing. Nothing has happened to them or else they're bums. Abra is a great part. I hope you don't die now. I want to use Julie Harris. Do you think I'm nuts? The screen play depends so on her last scene with Adam and on her strength, that I have to have a real, real actress. I couldn't find one aged twenty. They're nothing. Proms, dresses, beaus and all that, but nothing for my last scene. Finally I made a photographic test of Julie and she looks twenty when her face is in movement, I think. I'll just have to keep her face in movement. She's a marvelous actress. She is not Abra the way we saw her, but jeezuz I was stuck. 
One pro thing. She and Jimmy Dean look fine together. They look like People, not actors. I'm real pleased with that part of it. Two people. Dean has the advantage of never having been seen on the screen. Harris, practically.
Meantime WB? Jack esp. are dying. They hoped for stars. But they didn't come up with any names. And I haven't. I know you must be a little shocked with this casting. And I know its a hell of a gamble and all on my shoulders. But I'm delighted to take it. Its the kind of gamble I like. Write me. c/o Warner Bros. Burbank Cal.
I think R&H did fair on the lead casting. And I think Clurman is one of the three or four best directors in the world today. R&H will do the musical part of it. Lots of love to you and Elaine. Have a BALL!
Source: The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan (2014), edited by Albert J. Devlin.

Below: James Dean's letter to a fan, saying he found playing Cal "gratifying". Image of the letter courtesy of Heritage Auctions.


12 April 2018

Dear Number One

Here is a very cryptic letter from Cary Grant to Tony Curtis, written on 25 October 1963. I have no idea what the letter is about, but I found it funny and intriguing so I thought I'd share it with you. Grant wrote the letter four years after he made his only film with Tony Curtis, Operation Petticoat (1959), apparently as a reply to something Curtis had written to him earlier. Browsing the web for information on what Grant could have possibly meant with his cryptic "Number One" and "Number Two", I found that the submarine in Operation Petticoat had problems with engines "number one" and "number two" (in particular with engine number one). So perhaps Grant and Curtis shared an inside joke or a secret code dating back to their Operation Petticoat days? Well, I have no idea, but you can check out Grant's mysterious note yourself below.

Incidentally, Tony Curtis' real name was Bernard Schwartz, hence Grant calling him Bernard Curtis. And Grant signs the letter with Archie Grant, Archibald Leach being Grant's real name.

Source: Julien's Live


October 25, 1963

Dear Mr. Bernard Curtis:

Wel yes yes. Thank you.

I loved LOVED Number Two: but I haven't seen Number One yet!

Please. I want to see Number One, dear Number One.
Because that's such a fine Number Two.

signed 'Archie Grant'
(Number Two)

Tony Curtis always idolised Cary Grant and once did a funny Grant impersonation on screen (in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959)). About his big idol Curtis once said: "Cary Grant, the most gracious man, extremely intelligent, very perceptive about life. I admired him a lot and I emulated a lot of him. Not in my behaviour so much but so much rubbed off on me. I’m a gentleman now. I’m very appreciative of people’s friendship. I like to be gallant. I like to kiss ladies’ hands. All these little things that I felt Cary Grant did automatically, I decided I would do." Picture below: Grant and Curtis are having a laugh with Janet Leigh, to whom Curtis was married from 1951 till 1962.

2 April 2018

Mary Astor: forgotten author

Not long ago I discovered that the great Mary Astor was not only an actress but also an author. Apart from having written two autobiographies, she also wrote five novels. 

Astor started her writing career in the late 1950s when her film career was coming to an end. Her first book was a memoir entitled My Story (1959), which spoke candidly of her problems with her parents (her father was physically and emotionally abusive and saw his daughter only as a moneymaker), her failed marriages, a big scandal in the 1930s involving her diary (read more here), her struggle with alcoholism and a suicide attempt. Astor had become a Catholic in 1951 and had written the book at the urging of a priest as a therapeutic assignment. While My Story dealt with her personal life, in 1971 Astor would publish a second memoir A Life on Film, which was about her Hollywood career. Following the success of the bestselling My Story, Lee Barker (Astor's editor) suggested Astor also try her hand at fiction. She did, and ultimately wrote five novels, i.e. The Incredible Charlie Carewe (1960), The Image of Kate (1962), The O'Conners (1964), Goodbye, Darling, Be Happy (1965), and A Place Called Saturday (1968). 

The letter for this post concerns Astor's first novel The Incredible Charlie Carewe. Astor wrote the letter to her agent Gloria Safier after Safier had read and praised a draft of the novel. What I found particularly interesting in Astor's letter is her admission to having written the book "with enthusiasm and enjoyment- something [she'd] never been able to bring to acting." Intrigued by Astor's remark, I browsed the web and found a few other comments she made on the subjectShe reportedly once said: "I was never totally involved in movies. I was making someone else's dream come true. Not mine." In 1961 she told Hedda Hopper: "Both jobs are creative; acting is easier but writing gives greater satisfaction." And in her 1971 memoir A Life on Film Astor said of her 45-year acting career: "If only I could have put all that time and work and study into writing. I might have learned to write well—I mean really well." 

With regard to The Incredible Charlie Carewe, someone who was impressed with Astor's writing --at least when it came to her handling of the novel's protagonist, the psychopath Charlie-- was renowned psychiatrist Hervey CleckleyIn the 1964 edition of his classic work on psychopathology The Mask of Sanity (1941)Cleckley said: "In many respects the most realistic and successful of all portrayals of the psychopath is that presented by Mary Astor in The Incredible Charlie CareweThe rendition is so effective that even those unfamiliar with the psychopath in actual experience are likely to sense the reality of what is disclosed. The subject is superbly dealt with, and the book constitutes a faithful and arresting study of a puzzling and infinitely complex subject. Charlie Carewe emerges as an exquisite example of the psychopath – the best, I believe, to be found in any work of fiction." Wow, that is some recommendation-- Astor must have loved that!

Source: Nate D. Sanders Auctions



Gloria, dear Gloria!

Such words from such a tough audience really gave me a charge- I do thank you!

If "Charlie" is good, it's because it was written with enthusiasm and enjoyment- something I've never been able to bring to acting. I feel that my experience in acting will help me learn to be a good writer, not only from the more obvious reasons of characterization, familiarity with scripts, etc. but out of the less tangible qualities that make a "good trouper" - persistance, respect for the medium, study and work. I feel I am only beginning to learn- and thank God in something that has no age limits!

Lee said the final five pages had turned up missing. That whole hunk is being rewritten- from the point of Carter's return to Nelson- I've got a few more days' work on it and I think it's much better. The idea of coming to "The End" pushed the panic-button + I wrote it in too much of a hurry! All of Lee's suggestions were most helpful- he put his fingers on the exact spots I knew were weak. Love that man!

I'm having lunch with Bill B. on the 14th- can't wait!

Thanks again and
All my love,

Two of Mary Astor's best-remembered roles-- photo above: as Brigid O'Shaughnessy opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941), and below as Sandra Kovak opposite Bette Davis in The Great Lie (1941). For the latter performance Astor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

28 March 2018

You are going entirely too slow

With his first American film Swamp Water (1941), renowned French director Jean Renoir quickly discovered that Hollywood production methods were very different from his own. During the making of the film, Renoir constantly clashed with 20th Century Fox producer/studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, whose main priority was keeping the film on schedule and within budget. Renoir's time-consuming camera techniques, for instance, didn't mesh with Zanuck's ideas of efficient film making, nor did Renoir's long discussions on the set with his cast and crew. Also, Renoir was used to shooting films on location while Zanuck preferred to shoot them quickly on the studio lot. (Renoir did eventually convince Zanuck to shoot part of the film in Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp.) 

Annoyed with Renoir's directing methods and slow work pace, Zanuck at one point replaced cinematographer Lucien Ballard with Peverell Marley, feeling that Ballard was contributing to Renoir's slowness. Despite the measure, Renoir kept working at a slow pace and as a result was fired from the film one morning in August 1941, only to be rehired by Zanuck that same evening. Renoir finished the film, but after that he never worked for Zanuck again.

Above: Jean Renoir directs Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter in Swamp Water (1941)below: Darryl F. Zanuck.

Seen below are two very interesting memos from Zanuck to Renoir, written during production of Swamp WaterBoth memos show how Zanuck interfered with Renoir's direction, mainly because he was worried about Renoir's inability to stay on schedule and budget. In the first memo, Zanuck told Renoir to speed things up while criticising a number of his directorial traits, including Renoir's use of deep focus photography. The second memo shows Zanuck's interference with the director's handling of the actors. While Zanuck was quite satisfied with how Renoir had directed leading actors Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews, he criticised the way the minor characters had been handled. And again, Zanuck stressed the importance of not falling further behind schedule and said that, while he supported Renoir, he expected the director to play things his way.

Despite (or thanks to) Zanuck's criticism on Renoir, the film managed to stay on a reasonable budget ($602,000) and was one of the studio's biggest box-office hits of 1941.


DATE: July 30, 1941 
TO: Mr. Jean Renoir 
CC: Mr. Irving Pichel [dialogue director]
Dear Renoir: 
You are going entirely too slow. From day to day you are turning in less completed film than any other company on the lot.  We have changed cameramen and now you have a photographer  who can keep up to a fast pace, yet we are getting no more film than we did with the other cameraman. I have discussed the matter on a number of occasions and I feel that several things are causing you to fall way behind schedule, which will add almost $100,000 to the cost of the picture. We cannot afford this. You will have to speed up and make up this lost time. 
1. You are wasting entirely too much time on non-essential details in your background. 
2. You are moving your camera around too much on the dolly or on tracks.
3. You should not play scenes two different ways as you did the sequences on the porch in yesterday's rushes. You should decide upon which way you are going to play it and then follow through without compromise.
4. You are worrying too much about background, atmosphere, and elements which will not be important in the finished film. 
5. The dolly shot of the sheriff in front of the store took over two hours to get in the camera. It isn't worth it. 
6. In order to make up time and keep on schedule and budget, it is essential for you to concentrate your attention on the important scenes featuring the principal actors, and on the other scenes find ways and means of covering them as quickly and efficiently as you can. 
7. You used four different angles to get over the action with the sheriff on the porch. This could have been covered with one or two angles at the most. 
8. The rushes that I have seen in the last two days should have been shot in one day.

I regret that it is necessary for me to be stern in this matter, but after reviewing the budget it is easy to read the handwriting on the wall and see that we are headed toward a price on this picture that we will never be able to get back unless a radical change is made at once.

Above: Walter Brennan and Dana Andrews in a scene from Swamp Water, and below Andrews with character actor Russell Simpson whose name is mentioned in Zanuck' s second memo.


DATE: August 8, 1941

TO: Mr. Jean Renoir


Dear Renoir:

I have reviewed all of the scenes that you have photographed on the picture to date and here is my summary of same: 
You have done an excellent job in handling Anne Baxter. She is the most impressive of all the people. 
You have done a good job with Dana Andrews. His performance is sincere, especially in his light moments when he is allowed to smile and be relaxed... Try to keep the hat off him as much as you can from here on. 
There is too much production in this picture. By this I mean every time we come to the country store it is so crowded with horses and wagons and people that you would think it is the middle of the city. In other words, there is too much atmosphere, which gives it an impression of being artificial. 
My greatest criticism is with the manner in which you have handled the minor characters. They all seem to be trying to act. Every bit or small part is trying to be "a character". They are trying to be so typically American-- chewing tobacco, smoking corncob pipes, etc. that it becomes unreal and fakey. I don't feel they are the plain, simple backwoods types who react naturally and honestly as, for instance, the characters reacted in The Grapes of Wrath. Everybody, including Russell Simpson and the others, seem to be reaching continually. The best things you have done on the picture have been the intimate scenes-- particularly those between the boy and the girl.
There is nothing that you have done that we cannot correct with a few retakes after the picture is over. Right now the important thing is to be sure that everything is good from here on and that we do not fall any further behind schedule. If you plan your work in advance the night before you shoot and do not try to develop everything on the set, there is no reason why you cannot keep on schedule. I don't expect you to make up anything, but I don't expect you to go further behind.
You have got to realize that all of us are behind you in an effort to help you-- not hinder you or confuse you. No director on this lot has ever been given the support that you have received. Everybody wants to see you come through with a great first [American] picture. Perhaps you have had too much help-- perhaps too many cooks spoil the broth. Pichel is the only one you should listen to for directorial suggestions. The cameraman, the unit man, your secretary, the cutter and [associate producer] Len Hammond can give you what help you want, but in the final analysis-- you are directing the picture, and Pichel is your associate. The daily working report shows that a tremendous amount of time is spent each day on discussions. These are things that should be settled the night before so that when you get on the set you know what you are going to do, and go after it.
In closing, I want you to know that I am behind you and I am going to see you through on the picture-- but, by the same token, I expect you to play ball my way.

Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 

21 March 2018

I feel Paulette is practically set for it

When natural blonde Joan Bennett became a brunette in Trade Winds (1938), her new sultry look caught the attention of producer David O. Selznick. Feeling she could be a serious contender for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in his mega production of Gone with the Wind (1939), Selznick wanted to have her screen-tested. By late 1938, Bennett was one of the last four candidates who were in the running to play Scarlett, the other actresses being Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard and a little-known British actress named Vivien Leigh. All four finalists were screen-tested in December 1938, with Goddard also having made a number of tests earlier that year. 

While it wasn't until 20 December 1938 that Bennett did her screen test for GWTW, she had already been approached by George Cukor (GWTW's first director) about doing a test in the fall of 1937. Bennett had decided not to take the test then, making her decision known to Cukor in a letter written on 24 September 1937 (seen below). Busy with the preparations for her Stage Door tour --she was going on a six-month tour playing Terry Randall on stage in the Kaufman/Ferber play-- Bennett felt she couldn't make a good test anyway. Besides, she also felt that Paulette Goddard was as good as set for the role. (Goddard had been actively campaigning for the role of Scarlett and was rumoured to get the part, even though she wouldn't start screen testing until February 1938.)

Incidentally, the last paragraph of Bennett's letter, in which she talks about "retakes", most likely concerns I Met My Love Again (1938), a film she had just finished. Cukor did some work on the film, uncredited.

Above: Joan Bennett doing her screen test for Gone With the Wind with Douglass Montgomery as Ashley (in one of the three scenes she would do for the test). Selznick would later call her test "magnificent". Click here for some really cool screen test footage of GWTW, also showing several other contenders, including the eventual winner Vivien Leigh. George Cukor (pictured below with Paulette Goddard) directed the screen tests and can be heard in the footage while directing Goddard during her Technicolor screen test.
Via: icollector


September 24, 1937

Dear George:

Thank you so much for your patience, and the time you gave me in preparation for the test. As I wrote David, I honestly don't feel I could make the right kind of test now, perhaps because I can not associate myself with the part ---- that I feel Paulette is practically set for it---- and that I have so much on my mind at the moment in preparation for my tour. If the test could be made at a later date, after Paulette has tested I wouldn't feel so guilty about involving your time and incurring the expense that those things entail---- but unfortunately that can't be done.

I am so happy that you are going to make the retakes, and I think that you are an angel to do it. I will probably be seeing you much too early tomorrow morning.