22 January 2019

Barbara Stanwyck & Warner Bros.

Unlike most of her peers, Barbara Stanwyck never signed a long-term contract with one studio. In the early 1930s, she signed a non-exclusive contract with Columbia and at the same time also had a non-exclusive contract with Warner Brothers. (Her early films for Columbia include Forbidden (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), and for Warners she made among others Night Nurse (1931), So Big! (1932) and Baby Face (1933).) When Barbara's contracts with both studios ended, she decided not to renew them but to become a free agent instead. Freelancing gave Barbara more freedom to choose her own projects, allowing her to work with every major director and studio in Hollywood. Apart from having control over the films she made, freelancing also brought her more money. By 1943, Barbara had become the highest paid woman in the United States.

Barbara returned to Warner Bros. in the early 1940s, again signing a non-exclusive contract and making (among others) The Gay Sisters (1942), Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and My Reputation (1946). Her contract with Warners was eventually terminated in 1948, following a dispute involving the film adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead. Barbara was a fan of Ayn Rand and had asked Jack Warner to buy the rights to the novel for her, which Warner did in late 1943. Due to WWII, however, production of the film was delayed, and Warner finally decided to cast newcomer Patricia Neal as the female lead instead of Barbara. (Warner had just signed Neal to a seven-year contract and was committed to making her a star.) "Bitterly disappointed" about Jack Warner's decision, Barbara sent him a telegram on 21 June 1948, informing him she wanted to end her contract with the studio. Warner replied by letter the following day.
JUNE 21, 1948
Barbara flanked by Jack Warner (left) and the director with whom she worked five times, Frank Capra (r.)

Miss Barbara Stanwyck
807 North Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, Calif.
June 22, 1948
Dear Barbara:
I have your telegram of the twenty-second and, while I know you brought The Fountainhead to [Henry] Blanke's attention, I want to make it very clear to you that we have a huge Story Department here in the Studio as well as in New York, that covers every book, periodical, etc.
The Fountainhead was called to the attention of our studio through the regular channels. I personally knew about it long before you suggested it to Mr. Blanke, and we were considering it for purchase and subsequently closed for it.
Naturally your interest in this property is well understood, but our studio does not confine its operations to cases where people bring in books or other stories and we buy them solely on their suggestion. It operates through regular channels, and did in this case as in most cases.
However, since our actions have offended you and you desire to terminate your contract with us, it may be that under the circumstances this would be the best thing to do.
It is with regret that I accede to your request and, if you will have your agent or attorney get in touch with our Legal Department here at the studio, the formalities of terminating your contract can be arranged. 
Kindest personal regards,
Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.

This post is my contribution to the THE SECOND REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON, hosted by IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD and MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS. Be sure to check out all the other entries too!

Barbara Stanwyck in nine Warner Bros. films-- top row from left to right: Night Nurse (1931), Ladies They Talk About (1933) and Baby Face (1933); middle row: Gambling Lady (1934), The Gay Sisters (1942) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945); bottom row: My Reputation (1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) and Cry Wolf (1947). 

17 January 2019

My Darling Clementine: Ford's handshake vs. Zanuck's kiss

John Ford's My Darling Clementine is often regarded as one of Ford's best films and one of the greatest Westerns of all time. Released in December 1946, the film is a retelling of events leading up to the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral. The film as we know today, however, is not the version Ford himself had in mind. In late June 1946, 20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck saw Ford's cut and while he liked parts of it, his overall impression was that it was too long and needed serious editing. Zanuck edited the film himself without Ford's interference (like he had done with other Ford films, i.e. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941)) and ultimately removed 30 minutes from Ford's version while also adding and changing scenes. 

Probably the most significant change that Zanuck made to Ford's version was the ending. In the original cut, Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and Clementine (Cathy Downs) say goodbye with a friendly shake of the hand. While Zanuck himself liked the ending, preview audiences hated it. And so, having invested $2 million in the film, Zanuck had a kiss inserted in the final scene: Earp kisses Clementine on the cheek before shaking her hand. (Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs were called back to film the kiss in the studio, months after shooting had already wrapped.)

In the following memo, written on 4 September 1946, Zanuck informed the film's producer and co-screenwriter Samuel Engel about his decision to change Ford's ending and to add the kiss.
DATE: Sept. 4, 1946
TO: Mr. Samuel Engel
Dear Sam:
Insomuch as I am flying East in the morning I thought you should have this note in case you wish to show it to Jack Ford and Henry Fonda.
I like the ending of My Darling Clementine exactly as it is. It is completely satisfactory to me from every standpoint. Unfortunately 2,000 people who saw the picture at a preview did not agree. You were present at the preview and you know what happened and you have read the preview cards.
I would like to ridicule the mental attitude of the audience at this preview but you must remember that this is the same audience which applauded the quality of the picture in its earlier sequences....
Therefore it is difficult for me to ignore their request for a more satisfying or satisfactory conclusion to the film. Furthermore, let us be frank. This audience accepted and tremendously enjoyed every moment of the picture but they laughed at us at the finish.
You will recall that the last scene was perfect up to where Fonda reaches out to shake hands with Cathy Downs. It was such an obvious buildup for a kiss or for some demonstration of affection that the audience felt first amused and then completely cheated...
I do feel that it will be honest, legitimate and reasonable if Henry looks at the girl, smiles, leans over and kisses her on the cheek. It is a good-bye kiss and nothing more. He does like her. The audience knows he likes her. Now is no time for us to get smart.
Believe me we need the picture in New York. I detest going back for this scene as much as anybody. But I actually think that it is absolutely essential that we avoid spoiling the last moment of an outstanding picture and we certainly spoiled it for the audience that saw it at the preview.
Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

[Watch Ford's original ending here]

Above: in Ford's ending of My Darling Clementine Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and Clementine (Cathy Downs) only shake hands, while in Zanuck's ending a kiss was inserted to please the audience (photo below). 

3 January 2019

Hooray! It seems like you have like fractured me again

To start the new year on a positive note, here are two lovely letters from respectively Rosalind Russell and Fred Astaire, written in late 1964 to Audrey Hepburn. As discussed in an earlier post, Audrey was devastated about not getting an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964). Several months before the nominations were announced, however, she must have been very pleased to receive these letters from Rosalind Russell and Fred Astaire, praising her for her performance. Russell wrote her letter on 13 October 1964, while Astaire's letter is undated but presumably written circa December 1964.

Source: Christie's


Dear, dear Audrey: 

A wee note to tell you how delicious + truly perfect you are in "Fair Lady." I was there that "night of nights" + wanted to come + hug you for the great joy you gave me but it seemed an imposition where you had so many to "look after".

Besides, I was inarticulate with admiration for all you had contributed to the film and wanted to put it -at least in part- in a letter. All love to you + Mel and eternal congratulations on a job magnificently done! 


October the thirteenth

*PS. Freddie saw the picture in N.Y.+ of course adored it. Said he raced over to tell you so
You looked divine!
How about that Harry Stradling? 
Kisses for Sean.


-Freddie was most likely Frederick Brisson, Russell's husband- the only man she was ever married to (from 1941 until her death in 1976).
-Harry Stradling was My Fair Lady's cinematographer and won an Oscar for his work. 
-Sean was Audrey's son by Mel Ferrer, whom Audrey was married to from 1954 until 1968.

Rosalind Russell and Audrey Hepburn pictured together backstage at the 39th Academy Awards in April 1967-- here they are with Fred Zinneman holding his Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for A Man for All Seasons. 

Source: Christie's



Dear Audrey:

I cannot contain myself. You are so perfect in My Fair Lady! You bring that certain plus to it that one subconsciously hopes for when a big Broadway show comes to the screen.

That combination of comedy and pathos could only be brought forth by Audrey and "That Face".

Little tears welled up in my eyes many times. I saw the stage play four times. Twice in N.Y. once in California & once in Australia.

Loved it each time with the different companies but I never "teared up" before.

It's indeed a perfectly wonderful movie and I sat entranced like all the Sat. matinee audience did. *Hermes [Pan] and I went together. I thought he did an excellent job. Rex [Harrison] was as ever - great great. I thought all the casting was just right.

Old Jack Warner deserves credit for picking the right director and technicians who could bring out the taste that was so needed for this movie.

Hooray! Hooray! It seems like you have like fractured me again.

Best love you and Mel-

Yours -


-Hermes Pan was responsible for the choreography on My Fair Lady. Pan and Astaire were good friends and had worked together on a great many films including Astaire's films with Ginger Rogers.

Above: Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire photographed in Paris in June 1956; below: Audrey and then-husband Mel Ferrer on the set of My Fair Lady.

18 December 2018

Controversy on the set of Manpower

In April 1941, production of Raoul Walsh's Manpower was held up by two incidents involving the film's principal actors Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. During the first incident on 18 April, Raft verbally abused Robinson following a disagreement about a line of dialogue. A week later, on 26 April, Raft again engaged in verbal abuse and also pushed Robinson around on the set, this time witnessed by a photographer from Life magazine whose photo of the incident appeared in Life's May 1941 issue. Raft's feelings of animosity towards Robinson reportedly stemmed from his being third billed Robinson received top billing and leading lady Marlene Dietrich second billing— despite having the largest role in the film. Also, Raft was infatuated with Dietrich and believed he had a rival in Robinson.

This is the picture that appeared in the Life magazine issue from 12 May 1941 under the headline Robinson & Raft Stage Impromptu Fight On Set. Alan Hale (behind Robinson) tries to break up the fight while Ward Bond (sitting left) looks on.


On 30 April 1941, Roy Obringer (head of Warner Bros.' legal department) wrote the following letter to the Screen Actors Guild, giving a detailed description of the two incidents as mentioned above. The dispute between Robinson and Raft was eventually settled by SAG, after which the film was completed. While the two men buried the hatchet years later they would star in one more film together, A Bullet For Joey (1955)— in his 1973 autobiography All My Yesterdays Robinson maintained that Raft was "touchy, difficult and thoroughly impossible to play with."
Screen Actors Guild
care, Kenneth Thomson, Executive Secretary,
1823 Courtney Avenue
Los Angeles, California 
April 30, 1941
On or about March 24, 1941, the undersigned corporation commenced photography on its motion picture entitled Manpower, with Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, and George Raft, as principal players... As production on this motion picture progressed it became apparent to a number of persons engaged in and about the production that a feeling of hostility was being evidenced by Mr. Raft against Mr. Edward G. Robinson... The situation culminated in an unusually heated and disagreeable verbal attack by Mr. George Raft upon Mr. Edward G. Robinson on 18 April, 1941, on the premises of the undersigned Company at Burbank, California, and immediately outside Stage No. 11, on which the production was then being photographed... The controversy at that time appeared to arise over the inclusion or deletion of a certain line of dialogue in the final script covering said photoplay. Apparently, Mr. Raft was of the opinion that the line should not be spoken, although assigned to Mr. Robinson, whereas Mr. Robinson took the view that the line was in the script and was satisfactory to him, and that inasmuch as he considered the line an important one, he preferred to speak the line. Mr. Robinson then said, in substance, to Mr. Raft, "Look, George, you may think the line does not make any sense, but I have to speak it and it is all right with me." Thereupon, in the presence of the persons above named, and perhaps in the presence of other persons engaged on said production, Mr. George Raft directed toward Mr. Robinson a volley of profanity and obscene language with the express purpose and intent of embarrassing and humiliating Mr. Robinson and lowering his professional dignity and standing in the eyes of all those persons with whom he was obliged to work and come in contact in connection with the production of said photoplay.
In the opinion of those persons to whom representatives of the undersigned corporation have talked, the attack on Mr. Raft's part was wholly uncalled for and actually brought about a very serious disturbance in the production of said photoplay. The interruption and disturbance of production of the picture became so serious because of the situation that Mr. Hal B. Wallis, Executive Producer of the undersigned corporation, was called into the controversy, Mr. Edward G. Robinson left the set and went to his dressing room, and the entire production was stopped for several hours, resulting in a great and substantial loss to the undersigned. Several hours after the controversy had been temporarily quieted, production was proceeded with and approximately a week passed and, except as called for by the script and by the Director, Messrs. Robinson and Raft did not speak to one another, although the script proceeded upon the theory that the characters portrayed by Messrs. Robinson and Raft were close friends.
Just prior to twelve o'clock noon on Saturday, April 26th, while the cast in said production was engaged on said Stage 11, Mr. Robinson was rehearsing a scene wherein the script called for him  to be provoked by one of the other characters. The script called for Mr. Robinson to attack this character and during the attack the script required that Mr. Raft, playing the part of "Johnnie" in the production, make his entrance and seek to quiet the disturbance. Instead of conducting himself as called for by the script, Mr. Raft immediately undertook to and did violently rough-house and push the said Edward G. Robinson around the set in an unusually vigorous and forceful manner, with the showing of a great deal of personal feeling and temper on Mr. Raft's part, causing Mr. Robinson to wheel around and say to Mr. Raft, "What the hell is all this?" In reply to Mr. Robinson's question to Mr. Raft, Mr. Raft thereupon told Mr. Robinson to "shut up", and in the immediate presence of the persons hereinafter mentioned, directed toward him a volley of personal abuse and profanity, and threatened the said Edward G. Robinson with bodily harm, and in the course of his remarks directed and applied to Mr. Robinson in a loud and boisterous tone of voice, numerous filthy, obscene and profane expressions. Thereupon, Mr. Robinson walked into his dressing room on the set. A minute or so later Mr. Robinson returned to the set and addressed himself to Mr. Raft, substantially as follows: "George, what a fool you are for carrying on in such an unprofessional manner. What's the use of going on? I have come here to do my work and not to indulge in anything of this nature. It seems impossible for me to continue." Following such remarks Mr Raft directed another volley of profanity and obscene language toward Mr. Robinson, whereupon Director Raoul Walsh, Assistant Director Russell Saunders, and others, fearing further personal violence on the set between the two men, jumped in and separated them, and Mr. Edward G. Robinson left for his dressing room off the set and the entire production was stopped...
As a result of the controversy between the two Principals on Stage 11, all further work involving the two principals was suspended from just prior to noon on Saturday, April 26, 1941, until Monday morning, April 28, 1941, and the general confusion, etc., on the set was such that the undersigned corporation lost an entire day in production, resulting in a large financial loss to the undersigned corporation. The effect of the disturbance was such that Mr. Robinson became highly nervous and such nervous condition affected his voice and made the same husky so that he was unable to properly and clearly speak his lines and otherwise give the artistic and creative performance of which he is capable. The said Edward G. Robinson, by reason of the above-mentioned occurrences, has demanded of the undersigned corporation that it give him full protection on the set from bodily harm and insulting demeanor from Mr. George Raft, making the position of the Company an extremely difficult one in its effort to produce a photoplay of artistic merit under the circumstances shown...
The undersigned feels that the above occurrences are of such serious import that they should be officially called to the attention of the Screen Actors Guild...
Yours very truly, 
By: Roy Obringer 
Above and below: two scenes from Manpower with its three leading actors Robinson, Dietrich and Raft. The film became a solid box-office success despite the problems on the set. 

Source of the letter: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.

4 December 2018

Groucho & Chaplin

Around 1912, Groucho Marx saw Charlie Chaplin for the first time in Winnipeg (Canada), then an important city on the Vaudeville circuit. Groucho happened to be passing by the Empress Theatre where Chaplin was playing and hearing roars of laughter he decided to go in. In his autobiography Groucho and Me (1959), Groucho recalled telling his brothers about seeing Chaplin for the first time: "I told them I had just seen a great comic. I described him . . . a slight man with a tiny moustache, a cane, a derby and a large pair of shoes. I then penguin-walked around the depot, imitating him as best I could. By the time I finished raving about his antics my brothers could hardly wait to see him.

Doing a vaudeville tour themselves, Groucho and his brothers caught up with Chaplin in Vancouver a month later and met him backstage. In his autobiography, Groucho said that they became "real chummy" with Chaplin in the weeks that followed and even went to a "sporting house" together (according to Groucho, Chaplin was "terribly shy" back then). It wasn't until years later that Groucho ran into Chaplin again in Los Angeles, but by then Chaplin was already a star having become the world's most famous comedian.

Above: July 1937- to celebrate the re-opening of the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, tennis players and new owners Fred Perry (far left) and Ellsworth Vines organised a match- a battle between Britain and the U.S- with Chaplin teaming up with Perry and Groucho with Vines.// Below: April 1972- Chaplin, who lived in Switzerland after being labelled a communist in the 1950's, was invited back to the U.S. to accept his honorary Academy Award. Here he is pictured with Groucho and Danny Kaye looking on (photo by Candice Bergen).
Groucho greatly admired Chaplin. While he was not in the habit of complimenting other comedians, Groucho said about Chaplin in the May 1936 issue of Motion Picture magazine: "I know now there will never be anyone like him. He's in a class by himself, just as he has always been", and again in his 1959 autobiography: "He's still the greatest comic figure that the movies, or any other medium, ever spawned". Chaplin also admired Groucho, wishing he could talk on screen like Groucho did.

During the 65 years of their acquaintanceship, Groucho and Chaplin saw each other perhaps a dozen or so times (according to Hector Arce, author of Groucho (1979))One of the occasions where they had met was at dinner at the famous Chasen's restaurant in Hollywood on 4 September 1940. Groucho wrote a letter to his good friend Arthur Sheekman the next day, talking about his conversation with Chaplin. An excerpt from the letter is seen below (only the part that deals with Chaplin) with interesting remarks from Groucho such as "He's very odd. In some ways, he has no sense of humor at all [..]". Also, Groucho mentioned in his letter what I already mentioned above, i.e. that Chaplin envied him for talking so "swiftly" on the screen. Groucho later said it was the greatest compliment anyone had ever given him.
September 5, 1940
Dear Sheek,
I'm working terribly hard and I don't like it. I really don't mind the work; it's just that when I work, I sleep badly; and it's insomnia rather than labor that makes me feel lousy.
Last night I had dinner with Chaplin at Dave Chasen's and he was in high humor- unusual for him. He told me, among other things, that he's not Jewish but wishes he were. He said he was part Scotch, English and Gypsy, but I think that he isn't quite sure what he is. He's very happy about his movie [The Great Dictator]. He ran it yesterday for the Breen Office - it runs over 13,000 feet and there wasn't a foot cut out of it. He thinks it will be a big hit. He's very odd. In some ways, he has no sense of humor at all and then again it's wonderful. He told me he hated the English but that he hoped they would win the war. He also hates Noel Coward and even refuses to see his playlets, which are now running at El Capitan.
At the finish of the meal, the most astonishing thing happened: he grabbed the check (for six; it came around $30*) and refused to let me have it. I was quite relieved, but luckily I'm sunburned and I don't think the white or my nervousness was discernible through the tan. He has a reputation for stinginess but I have always found him generous- not only with his money but with his praise. He thinks I'm wonderful and said that he envies my glibness and wishes he could talk as swiftly on the screen as I do. Well, enough of Chaplin and me!
[*According to the inflation calculator $30 in 1940 would now be $541.90]

28 November 2018

My work is the only trustworthy hope I have

In late 1954, Marilyn Monroe broke her contract with 20th Century-Fox and left Hollywood for New York. Wishing to be taken seriously as an actress, Marilyn soon started attending classes at the prestigious Actors Studio run by Lee Strasberg. Strasberg became Marilyn's acting coach and mentor --due to her shyness Marilyn was also privately tutored at his home-- and was ultimately one of the most important influences in Marilyn's life. When it came to her acting, Marilyn completely trusted Strasberg and at his suggestion even underwent psychotherapy to become a better actress. Marilyn's third husband Arthur Miller disapproved of the strong hold Strasberg had on Marilyn and called Marilyn's dependency on him "nearly religious". 

Above: Marilyn attending classes at the Actors Studio in New York, photographed by Roy Schatt. Below: Marilyn and Lee Strasberg photographed by Elliott Erwitt in 1960 while watching the rushes of The Misfits (1961).

1961 was a very difficult year for Marilyn, having to deal with her divorce from Arthur Miller in January, her admission to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in February as well as several health issues. During the last months of the year, Marilyn tried to take control of her life again and in December wrote to Lee Strasberg about wanting to make a new start ("I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in"). Marilyn wanted to set up a new independent production unit* and needed Strasberg to join her in California, feeling that without him she could not succeed. She had also contacted Marlon Brando to help her set up this new ventureWritten eight months before her death, Marilyn's letter to Strasberg is quite interesting but also sad, as it clearly shows Marilyn's desperation to get her life back on track-- something which, as we know, never happened.

Apart from the letter to Strasberg, also shown below are a scribbled note from Marilyn to Marlon Brando (which was later sent as a telegram) and Brando's reply to her via telegramboth messages from January 1962. Marilyn wanted Brando's opinion about her plan to make Lee Strasberg settle in California, her message undoubtedly related to her letter to Strasberg a month earlier. Apparently Brando tried to phone Marilyn after receiving her message, but as he couldn't reach her he sent her a telegram instead.

Marilyn photographed by George Barris in 1962
December 19, 1961
Mr. Lee Strasberg
135 Central Park West
New York 23, New York
Dear Lee: 
This is an important personal letter and please don’t start to read it until you have the time to give it your careful thought. This letter concerns my future plans and therefore concerns yours as well since my future development as an artist is based on our working together. All this is an introduction; let me outline the recent events, my ideas and my suggestions. 
As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons. Only in the last several months, as you detected, do I seem to have made a modest beginning. It is true that my treatment with Dr. Greenson has had its ups and downs, as you know. However, my overall progress is such that I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in. But Dr. Greenson agrees with you, that for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have. And here, Lee, is where you come in. To me, work and Lee Strasberg are synonymous. I do not want to be presumptuous in expecting you to come out here for me alone. I have contacted Marlon on this subject and he seems to be quite interested, despite the fact that he is in the process of finishing a movie. I shall talk with him more thoroughly in a day or two. 
Furthermore, and this must be kept confidential for the time being, my attorneys and I are planning to set up and [sic] independent production unit, in which we have envisaged an important position for you. This is still in the formative phase, but I am thinking of you in some consultative position or in whatever way you might see fit. I know you will want enough freedom to pursue your teaching and any other private interests you might want to follow. 
Though I am committed to my analysis, as painful as it is, I cannot definitively decide, until I hear from you, because without working with you only half of me is functioning. Therefore, I must know under what conditions you might consider coming out here and even settling here. 
I know this might sound quite fantastic, but if you add up all the possible advantages it should be a quite rewarding venture. I mean not only for Marlon and me-- but for others. This independent production unit will also be making pictures without me-- this is even required for legal reasons. This will offer an opportunity for Susan if she should be interested and perhaps even for Johnny. And Paulawould have a great many opportunities for coaching. As for you, Lee, I still have the dream of you some day directing me in a film! I know this is a big step to take, but I have the wish that you might realize out here some of the incomplete hopes that were perhaps not fulfilled for you, like Lincoln Center, etc. 
So I don’t know how else to persuade you. I need you to study with and I am not alone in this. I want to do everything in my power to get you to come out --within reason-- as long as it is to your advantage as well as mine. So, Lee, please think this over carefully; this is an awfully important time of my life and since you mentioned on the phone that you too felt things were unsettled, I have dared to hope. 
I have meetings set up with Marlon and also with my attorneys and will phone you if there are any important new developments. Otherwise, please get in touch with me. 
My love to all of you,
Sources: RR Auction and The Marilyn Monroe Collection (for the original image of the letter). 

Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando were both students of Lee Strasberg and had met at a party for the Actors Studio in the 1950s. They had a brief affair and afterwards remained friends until Marilyn's death in 1962.

Source: Bonhams


CR 12151 Western Union 

Dear Marlon 

I need your opinion about a plan for getting Lee out here on more than a temporary basis. Please phone me as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.


Source: Bonhams (image via CNN International)


1962 JAN 13 PM 1 06



* Notes:
-Marilyn Monroe had her own production company, being the third woman in Hollywood after Lois Weber and Mary Pickford. Tired of the dumb-blonde roles 20th Century-Fox kept offering her and of being underpaid at $1,500 per week, Marilyn founded 'Marilyn Monroe Productions Inc.' with friend and photographer Milton Greene in New York late 1954. As Marilyn was still under contract to Fox, a legal battle between her and the studio followed. By the end of 1955, following the immense success of The Seven Year Itch (1955), Fox (not wanting to lose its biggest star) had signed Marilyn to a new contract on hér terms, agreeing to give her more money, the right to pick her own projects, directors and cinematographers, and for each finished film with Fox Marilyn was free to make one film with her own company. In the end, Marilyn Monroe Productions produced only two pictures, i.e. Bus Stop (1956) which was co-produced with Fox and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), MMP's only independent production. In 1957, Marilyn and Greene parted ways due to disagreements, after which Marilyn bought Greene's share of the company. MMP was to co-produce Something's Got To Give with Fox in 1962but Marilyn died before the film was finished.

-Lee's wife Paula also taught Marilyn and was her personal on-the-set acting coach and confidante during the production of several films; like her husband, Paula was a major influence in Marilyn's life. 
Susan and John were the Strasberg children (both actors), Susan being a good friend of Marilyn's.

19 November 2018

The Gunfighter and Gregory Peck's moustache

Henry King's The Gunfighter (1950) is a terrific Western about an ageing outlaw who tries to escape his past and comes back to town to see his wife and son. The film, which stars a wonderful Gregory Peck in the title role, was an atypical western for its time as it is, for the most part, devoid of any action and concentrates on the gunfighter's character. Today The Gunfighter is considered one of the finest psychological westerns ever made, a forerunner to classics such as High Noon (1952).

Upon release The Gunfighter received much critical acclaim, but it was not a commercial success making only a slight profit. Often cited as one of the main reasons for the film's mediocre performance at the box-office is Gregory Peck's moustache. Peck's unfamiliar look reportedly kept away audiences, especially female fans who wanted to see their idol clean-shaven, not sport a thick moustache while wearing grungy clothes.

The decision to give Peck a moustache came from director Henry King who aimed to give his film a historically accurate look. In the fall of 1949, King started filming without informing 20th Century-Fox boss Darryl Zanuck (in Europe at the time) or the studio's president Spyros Skouras about the period moustache. Both Zanuck and Skouras hated it when they finally saw the rushes, but by then it was too late to have Peck shave it off and have the production start over. Zanuck said that he would give $25,000 of his own money to get the moustache off Peck. Skouras claimed that the moustache eventually cost the studio a million dollars at the box-office.

A moustached Peck in a publicity shot for The Gunfighter and clean-shaven in Twelve O'Clock High.
On 13 July 1950, a month after the film had been released to the public, Zanuck wrote to producer Nunally Johnson about the film's disappointing box-office results. He mentioned two major complaints people were having about the film, among them Peck's "walrus" moustache. Concluding his memo, Zanuck pondered the unpredictability of the film business, wondering why certain films become box-office hits while others "that belong in the same category do not do fifty percent of the business".

NB! If you haven't seen The Gunfighter, Zanuck's memo contains a MAJOR SPOILER!
July 13, 1950
Mr. Nunally Johnson
20th Century-Fox Productions, Ltd.
Shepperton, Middlesex

Dear Nunnally:
Here is the story to date on The Gunfighter. It did miserable business at the Roxy Theatre in New York where, with the exception of Yellow Sky, no Western has done well in New York. It did ordinary business here in Los Angeles. It has done much better however in most places in the rest of the country.
It will be a profit-making picture, but in spite of its sensational reviews it receives everywhere, and the unstinted praise, we will be lucky if we do seventy or seventy-five percent of the business we did on Yellow Sky. Perhaps, in the outlying districts and western areas it will eventually come up to anticipation. As I said, in any event, it will be a profit-making picture but certainly nothing like we had every right to anticipate.
It is unquestionably a minor classic, but I really believe that it violates so many true Western traditions that it goes over the heads of the type of people who patronize Westerns, and there are not enough of the others to give us the top business we anticipated.
By way of passing, [Fox executive] Al Lichtman showed me a report from the ushers at the Roxy Theatre [in New York City].  As you know, they have more than 100 ushers and floor employees and they are trained to talk to patrons whenever there is a gracious opportunity. What do you think the complaint is on the picture? I will list them separately:
a.) Why do they cast Gregory Peck in this kind of role and then put a walrus moustache on him and hide his face? If they wanted an ugly man, why didn't they take an ugly actor? Why waste Peck? This comment occurred hundreds of times, particularly from women and young girls.
b.) Why didn't they let him live at the finish? After all, he had been reformed. He could have been wounded, if they wanted to shoot him. But he should have been allowed to live.
The only thing I can say is that we live and learn. Sometimes, you wonder why classic pictures like The Snake Pit, Twelve O'Clock High and Pinky* are enormous box-office hits and other pictures that belong in the same category do not do fifty percent of the business. Yellow Sky, in my opinion, is not half the picture The Gunfighter is. Yet it went into a more formula mold and obviously had broader popular appeal. But, on the other hand, there was certainly no formula mold about The Snake Pit and look what it did....
Best always,
*NoteThe Snake Pit (1948) and Pinky (1949) are two Fox movies that deal with issues that were controversial at the time, resp. mental illness and racism. The western Yellow Sky (1948) and war film Twelve O'Clock High (1949) are two other films that starred Gregory Peck
Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.
Above: Producer/screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (left) and 20th Century-Fox boss Darryl Zanuck (r.) / Below: Millard Mitchell and Gregory Peck in a scene from The Gunfighter --who has the biggest moustache?-- with Helen Westcott in the middle.
This post is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall Blogathon OUTLAWS. Click here for links to all the other entries.

12 November 2018

The old Hopkins-Davis feud has flared up again

Long before Bette Davis had her infamous feud with Joan Crawford, she had a feud with Miriam Hopkins which was almost as legendary. Bette and Miriam met in 1928 when they worked together on stage in Excess Baggage directed by George Cukor. Bette said that back then Miriam was already trying to upstage her fellow actors, her scene-stealing clearly a compulsion.

Years later, Bette was chosen to play the lead in Jezebel (1938), a role Miriam had played on Broadway and had wanted to reprise in the film. Miriam was furious that Bette had stolen Jezebel, even more so when it earned Bette her second Oscar. Miriam also suspected Bette of having had a fling with her third husband (i.e. director Anatole Litvak) which made her hate Bette even more.

So by the time Bette and Miriam began work on their first film together The Old Maid (1939), the tone had already been set. Things didn't exactly improve when on the first day of filming Miriam showed up in a complete replica of one of Bette's Jezebel costumes. In her autobiography The Lonely Life (1962), Bette recalled: "Miriam used and, I must give her credit, knew every trick in the book. I became fascinated watching them appear one by one. A good actress, perfectly suited to the role; it all was a mystery to me. Keeping my temper took its toll. I went home every night and screamed at everybody."

During production of their second film Old Acquaintance (1943), the Davis-Hopkins feud continued. Things were no better than during The Old Maid and the clashes between the two divas slowed down production considerably, with filming ultimately lasting almost twice as long. Steve Trilling, executive assistant to Jack Warner, kept his boss in the loop about the goings-on on the set and about a month into production sent Warner the following memo.

DATE: December 19, 1942
SUBJECT: "Old Acquaintance"
TO: Col. J.L. Warner
FROM: Steve Trilling
...Bette Davis was out today partially illness and in my estimation partially a little temperament. The old Hopkins-Davis feud has flared up again but was very quickly stamped out by our immediately calling the turn on both of them. With Blanke and Sherman* I had a good long talk with Davis last night from 6 PM to 8 PM and this morning with Hopkins from 9 AM to 10:30. There were a lot of tears and a lot of denials of any differences but there has been constant tension on the set and all the old tricks of The Old Maid episode renewed. I told Hopkins that any continuance of tactics would result in my turning the entire matter over to the [Screen Actors] Guild and she would just be banned from pictures. Davis is no white lily either, and I warned her and she agreed to lean over a little backwards and cooperate to get this picture over with and get performances exactly as directed with no nonsense— and less takes. It all ended amicably with both parties vowing there would be no re-occurence. Davis' voice, however, was completely gone and as we had nothing else to got to we were forced to close down for the day....
As ever, 
[* Henry Blanke was the film's producer and Vincent Sherman the director ]
Source: Inside Warner Bros.(1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.
Above: Warners' publicity department took advantage of the feud between the two stars and had them pose with boxing gloves with director Edmund Goulding looking on. Below: Gif from a scene of Old Acquaintance where Bette Davis' character has had enough of her old friend Miriam Hopkins and shakes her violently before throwing her into a chair. Bette reportedly loved doing the scene.

2 November 2018

Robert Mitchum's favourite role

I think it's quite interesting to know which role actors regard as their personal favourite. In an earlier post, James Stewart talked about his favourite role and why he liked it best (here). This post deals with Robert Mitchum's favourite role.  

The role Mitchum has always cited as his favourite and as his best performance is the role of the murderous preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton's only directorial effort The Night of the Hunter (1955). In a note to a fan (as seen below) Mitchum said there were more reasons than he could enumerate for liking this job better than others. While I don't know Mitchum's reasons, one of them must have been Charles Laughton. Mitchum was in awe of Laughton and has said on more than one occasion that Laughton was the best director he ever worked with. Laughton, in turn, also admired Mitchum and considered him one of the best actors in the world. The two worked very well together, even though Mitchum's heavy drinking during the last week of shooting led to problems on the set (at times Laughton couldn't get him in front of the camera). 

The Night of the Hunter is the only collaboration between Mitchum and Laughton. Disillusioned by the film's commercial and critical failure, Laughton never directed again.

Charles Laughton once said about Robert Mitchum in Esquire Magazine: "All this tough talk is a blind, you know. He's a literate, gracious, kind man, with wonderful manners, and he speaks beautifully - when he wants to. He's a tender man and a very great gentleman. You know, he's really terribly shy." 
Source: ebay



My favorite among the jobs I have had is The Night of the Hunter for more reasons than I can enumerate. What do you think?
Robert Mitchum

21 October 2018

A new low in the treatment of directors

In June 1944, Jack Conway was hired to direct The Clock (1945), Judy Garland's first dramatic film since joining MGM ten years earlier. Due to illness, Conway worked on the film for only one week and was then replaced by relative newcomer Fred Zinnemann. Garland and Zinnemann didn't get along and Garland complained to producer Arthur Freed about their incompatibility ("I don't know he must be a good director, but I just get nothing. We have no compatibility", she reportedly said). After three weeks of shooting, Garland asked Freed to remove Zinnemann from the picture. Freed complied with the wishes of his star and at Garland's request hired Vincente Minnelli to continue the film. (Garland and Minnelli, who had dated during production of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), would rekindle their romance during the filming of The Clock and got married a year later.)

On the set of The Clock-- pictured above: producer Arthur Freed and leading lady Judy Garland looking over the script/ below: Judy Garland and co-star Robert Walker listening to director Vincente Minnelli .
Unhappy with being removed from the film, Fred Zinnemann wrote the following letter to Vincente Minnelli on 28 August 1944. While Zinnemann harboured no ill feelings against Minnelli, he did think Garland "behaved pretty badly" and also had "great contempt for the conduct of Arthur Freed". In the end, The Clock became a success under Minnelli's direction (although not a huge box-office hit) and was also well received by the critics. Most of Zinnemann's disappointing footage was not used.

Via: icollector


August 28, 1944

Dear Vince

Thanks very much for your very nice note. I was glad to have it and I would like to assure you that I have no hard feelings against you. In fact I do not see what else you could have done under the circumstances, but to accept the assignment.

I wish I could look upon the whole thing as a joke, but somehow it doesn't strike me very funny. I think this incident marks a new low in the treatment of directors, in professional ethics, tact and consideration which a director has a right to expect.

I think that Judy has behaved pretty badly in this whole setup and I have great contempt for the conduct of Arthur Freed- both as a producer and as a man.

However, for your sake and for the sake of Bob Walker and Bob Nathan*, I hope this turns out to be a very fine and very successful film. Please believe me when I say that I hold nothing but good thoughts and the best wishes for you. 

Once again, thanks for the note - and the very best of luck.

Fred Zinnemann

[* Robert Walker was the film's male lead and Robert Nathan the screenwriter.]

Fred Zinnemann would enjoy his greatest successes a decade later with such classics as High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Oklahoma! (1955).