6 October 2022

Fred Zinnemann's views on "High Noon"

Fred Zinneman's High Noon (1952) was one of Hollywood's first psychological westerns, focusing on character rather than action. The story involves a town marshal (played by Gary Cooper) who faces a gang of notorious gunmen alone, after the townspeople refused to help him. High Noon is often seen as an allegory on the Hollywood blacklist. During production of the film, Carl Foreman —the film's screenwriter who was once a member of the Communist Party— was summoned before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the committee that was investigating communism in the USA in the early 1950s. Foreman refused to name names of his former Party members and was consequently labelled an "unfriendly witness" by HUAC and later blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. Foreman eventually wrote the script of High Noon as a metaphor for his own HUAC experience. Like the film's marshal who ends up standing alone, the screenwriter had found himself shunned by his friends and people in the industry with no one having the courage to back him. Knowing he would no longer be able to work in the USA, Foreman sold his partnership share to production partner Stanley Kramer, moved to England and would not return to the States until 1975. 

In his 1991 autobiography A Life in the Movies, director Fred Zinnemann gave his own point of view on High Noon, feeling Foreman's point of view was "narrow". Zinnemann had not intended his film to be a metaphor for McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist. Instead he thought:

There was something timely -and timeless- about it, something that had a direct bearing on life today. To me it was the story of a man who must make a decision according to his conscience. His town -symbol of a democracy gone soft- faces a horrendous threat to its people's way of life. Determined to resist, and in deep trouble, he moves all over the place looking for support but finding that there is nobody who will help him; each has a reason of his own for not getting involved. In the end he must meet his chosen fate all by himself, his town's doors and windows firmly locked against him. It is a story that still happens everywhere, every day.

Above: Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane walking down the streets of his town while looking for volunteers to help him fight the bad guys. Below: High Noon's director Fred Zinnemann (left) and screenwriter Carl Foreman. 

Three years prior to the publication of his autobiography, Fred Zinnemann had presented his views on High Noon in the following letter to Mr Caparros-Lera, a Spanish professor who worked at the University of Barcelona, Spain. The professor wanted to know what Zinnemann's intention was behind his film. Apart from the blacklist angle, some people believed High Noon was an allegory on the Korean War, a theory Zinnemann also refuted.

Source:  publicacions.ub.es

Note
Director Howard Hawks made his western Rio Bravo (1959) in response to High Noon, hating the way High Noon depicted its main character: "I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him." Rio Bravo's leading man John Wayne agreed with Hawks and also hated High Noon, saying that "real cowboys didn't have mental problems, and didn't have time for this couch-work.” A staunch anti-communist and fervent supporter of HUAC, Wayne even found the film "the most un-American thing" and in an interview said he would "never regret having helped run Foreman out of the country". Quite ironically, when Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon but was unable to attend the awards ceremony, it was Wayne (a longtime friend of Cooper's) who accepted the Oscar on Cooper's behalf. (Incidentally, Cooper himself had been a "friendly witness" before HUAC but later became an ardent opponent of blacklisting.)
 
On the set of High Noon with Gary Cooper, Fred Zinnemann and Grace Kelly, the latter having her first major role as Cooper's young Quaker bride.

30 September 2022

My deepest love & respect, Bowie

David Hemmings' Just a Gigolo (1978) was Marlene Dietrich's last picture. Dietrich had a small role as Baroness von Semering, a madam who runs a brothel for gigolos in post-WWI Berlin. The then 77-year-old actress, who had not made a film since Judgement At Nuremberg (1961), worked on Gigolo for just two days and was reportedly paid $250,000. 

The film's main character, an army officer-turned-gigolo, was played by popstar David Bowie who later said that he had accepted the part, mainly because "Marlene Dietrich was dangled in front of [him]." Bowie and Dietrich shared two scenes in the film —the only scenes Dietrich was in— but in the end they never met. Gigolo was shot in Berlin, where Bowie lived at the time. As Dietrich refused to leave her city of residence Paris, the scenes were filmed with Marlene alone in a Paris studio while Bowie was in Berlin acting to a wooden chair. The separate parts were eventually edited together, the results to be watched here (with Marlene also performing the song Just a Gigolo).

Although Dietrich and Bowie never met, they did talk to each other on the phone and also wrote each other letters. One of these letters, from Bowie to Dietrich, is seen below. It was written on 8 April 1978, while Bowie was doing his Isolar II world tour. In the end, Just a Gigolo (which also co-starred Kim Novak) became a huge flop, lambasted by both the critics and audiences. Bowie later referred to the film as "my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one."


Transcript:

April 8th 78
Chicago

Dear Miss Dietrich,

Please, please forgive this disgusting lapse of time to answer your delightful note.

I have no excuse.

If, for any reason, you should wish to reach me, here is the address and no: (tel) of my lawyer and friend in L.A. 
Stanley Diamond 
10850 Wilshire Blvd.
L.A 90024 (Tel) (213) 879 3444.

I hear from David H [Hemmings] that, putting apart the bad areas, the film is looking SPLENDID. Hurrah!

I will be in Paris for 2 or 3 concerts in April or May and will certainly telephone or write before I arrive (staying at Plaza of course).

I do hope we can meet this time. 

I will sing for you at the concert.

My deepest love & respect 

Bowie
78

Above: On the set of Just a Gigolo with (l to r) director David Hemmings, Kim Novak, Maria Schell and David Bowie. Below: Marlene Dieterich as Baroness von Semering in a publicity still for Just a Gigolo.

23 September 2022

I’m very sorry to lose her because she is great

Following their successful collaboration on The Pirate (1948), Gene Kelly and Judy Garland were to star together again in Charles Walters' Easter Parade (1948). Before filming began, however, Kelly broke his ankle and Fred Astaire —in retirement after Blue Skies (1946)— was asked to replace him (at Kelly's suggestion). Anxious to come out of retirement and to work with Judy, Astaire didn't hesitate for a moment to accept the role. While filming Easter Parade,  he and Judy got along famously and proved to be a wonderful match. Astaire later recalled: "Of course, Judy was the star of the picture. And it's a joy to work with somebody like Judy, because she's a super talent, with a great sense of humor. She could do anything. She wasn't primarily a dancer, but she could do what you asked her to do .... [Our numbers together] remain with me as high spots of enjoyment in my career. Judy's uncanny knowledge of showmanship impressed me more than ever as I worked with her."

Easter Parade was a big success, both critically and commercially. While the film was still in production, producer Arthur Freed was already working on a new project, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) —also to be directed by Charles Walters— and again he wanted Astaire and Garland to play the leads. Astaire was elated to be working with Judy again and vice versa ("Fred put me completely at ease. He's a gentleman and lots of fun to work with."). But while Judy was in great spirits during Easter Parade, after two weeks of rehearsals on The Barkleys her health —both physical and emotional— deteriorated and she kept calling in sick. Finally, on 18 July 1948, Judy was removed from The Barkleys and put on suspension.

Judy and Fred chatting on the set of Easter Parade



MGM needed a last-minute replacement for Judy Garland and contacted Ginger Rogers to see if she was available and interested in working with Astaire again. The two had worked together for six years and done nine films together (all for RKO) but with the 1939 The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle their partnership had ended. There had been rumours that the couple didn't part amicably, that they had been fighting and didn't even get along. These rumours, however, have always been denied by both Fred and Ginger. About their relationship Ginger said in her 1991 memoir Ginger: My Story: "Fred and I were colleagues, and despite occasional snits... we worked together beautifully ... we had fun, and it showsTrue, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests." Delighted to be working with Fred again, Ginger accepted the role and, not having danced in years, worked very hard to get back into shape. Ginger's hard work eventually paid off, her dancing in The Barkleys being as good as ever (especially during the wonderful Bouncin' the Blues, one of my favourite Astaire-Rogers dance numbers; watch here). 

The Barkleys of Broadway, the only film Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did in colour, became a commercial success and also received positive reviews. In the end, Ginger was probably better suited for the role of Dinah Barkley than Judy Garland, considering the Barkleys are a long-lasting showbiz couple and the part called for an older actress (Ginger was eleven years older than Judy). Below: On the set of The Barkleys with (l to r) Fred Astaire, director Chuck Walters, Oscar Levant and Ginger Rogers.
In his autobiography Steps in Time (1959) Fred Astaire looked back on his re-pairing with Ginger Rogers with great fondness. However, others working on The Barkleys (including choreographer Hermes Pan) recalled a lack of enthusiasm in Astaire, who felt they were trying to get back something that couldn't be recaptured. In Brent Philips' biography Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance (2014), Walters is quoted as saying: "It came as quite a shock to find out that Mr. Astaire was not too keen about Miss Rogers ... They got along well, [but] Fred complained about her incessantly ... He would say, for example, that he couldn't stand a woman who was taller than he was ... [Fred could be] a real nag." 

What seems certain is that Astaire had been terribly disappointed when Judy Garland dropped out of The Barkleys. Ginger Rogers also mentioned it in her memoir and even claimed Fred had a crush on Judy: "On the first day of work, I went down to the rehearsal hall to see Fred. He was sweet and friendly, but I could see he was slightly disappointed. I had learned that Judy Garland had originally been signed as his co-star. They'd just worked together on Easter Parade and I knew Fred had a slight crush on her." And Astaire's stand-in Joe Niemeyer commented: "I've never seen him as happy as he was during the making of Easter Parade. It's a wonderful story and a wonderful picture. But to him, the joy came from working with Judy, a girl whose own sense of timing and comedy and perfection is as intense as his. With Judy, the film was nothing but play [for him]." 

After their collaboration on The Barkleys fell through, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland got another chance to work together, this time on Royal Wedding (1951) when June Allyson dropped out due to pregnancy. But again, it was not to be. Once production on the film had started, Judy again kept calling in sick and was eventually fired from the film and replaced with Jane Powell. Easter Parade would remain Fred and Judy's only collaboration.

_____


Below is a small fragment of a letter, dated 1 August 1948, which Fred Astaire wrote to his good friend Jack Leach, jockey and trainer of horses. (Astaire had a passion for horseracing and Leach trained horses owned by Astaire). The segment deals with Judy Garland dropping out of The Barkleys and Ginger Rogers replacing her, with Fred clearly disappointed over the loss of Judy. 

If you're interested in reading the entire letter, which mostly deals with the subject of horses, click on the source link below the image. 



Transcript: 

August 1st [1948]

Dear Jack:-

Have been wanting to write but you know what happens when I start on a picture.

We’ve had complications & Judy Garland had to retire from the picture on acct. of illness. I’m very sorry to lose her because she is great – but Ginger Rogers has been brought in to replace her. I haven’t worked with Ginger for 8 years & it’s a lot of work for her to get back to dancing again. I just did a hell of a good picture “Easter Parade” with Judy. It’s a big hit, I think the biggest I’ve ever had. Well – nuts with pictures I want to know about your horses. How is Delerium? Hope he has held up well this year.

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire on the set of Easter Parade, in costume for their terrific act A Couple of Swells.



16 September 2022

I might have gotten a contract with Metro if I had gone to bed with him

Searching information online about actress Susan Fox, I found little to nothing. Apparently Fox was one of the many women considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939) and, according to IMDB, she co-starred with Orson Welles in the 20-minute Welles' comedy The Green Goddess (1939). But that's all I found, with no photo of Fox anywhere. She was obviously an aspiring actress whose Hollywood career never took off.

Robert Ritchie was a MGM publicist and talent scout, responsible for recruiting Hedy Lamarr, Luise Rainer and Greer Garson. He is probably best known for his relationship with Jeanette MacDonald in the early 1930s. Ida Koverman (a friend of MacDonald's and secretary to MGM boss Louis B. Mayer) had once described Ritchie as "a schnorrer or parasite". 

In the letter below —postmarked 3 January 1940 and addressed to Howard Hughes— Susan Fox complains about Ritchie hindering her career after she had refused to sleep with him. It's ironic that Fox should be complaining to Hughes about Ritchie, considering Hughes also abused his power to obtain sexual favours from women. Reportedly Hughes was a friend of Fox, as was Katharine Hepburn who is also mentioned in the letter. In the end, as said, Fox's film career never happened; perhaps it was her experience with Ritchie that made her pursue a different career.

(l) Robert Ritchie pictured with Jeannette McDonald circa 1931 and (r) Howard Hughes


Transcript:

Wednesday

Dear Howard -

Just a note to tell you how nice it was speaking to you over the phone last night - it made me feel much better - I felt pretty low after I spoke to Katherine [sic] - even if she does think I'm a good actress - Gosh, why couldn't I be a raving beauty? You know it's funny I always thought I was pretty attractive - and had been told so many times - but I'm beginning to get an inferiority complex about it now - not so good -

And now for Mr. Ritchie - and I'm going to be very frank - He's a bastard - I know that's not a very nice word for me to use - but it's the only appropriate one - Katherine [sic] said the same and I was very pleased when she used the same word - I know he's a friend of yours - but then you're a male - and Bob's behavior is quite different towards males - as you can well imagine - I might have gotten a contract with Metro if I had gone to bed with him - but no job in all this world is worth that - not to me anyway - so now he won't even speak to me - much less do anything for me as far as Metro is concerned - but I'll be damned if I'll throw all conventions and pride to the winds for one by the name of Robert Ritchie - I may be wrong - others have done it before - but I just couldn't and can't - I'm getting mad now just thinking about it - I wanted to tell you all of this last night over the phone - but I decided to write it to you instead - I'll let you know what George does about Fox -

Thanks for not being in the shower last night when I called - it was very considerate of you -

Love to you Howard - and I do - 
Suzy

P.S. Did you get the magnificent hat?

9 September 2022

Remembering Ann "Dody" Harding

According to author Victoria Wilson, Barbara Stanwyck was a big admirer of Ann Harding and had once said about her: "There are only a few actors who can get me sufficiently to make me lose myself in the story. Ann Harding is one of them ... Miss Harding is so entirely natural at all times that she makes me believe in her and what she is doing. I have always hoped that my own work shows the same degree of sincerity. When I see an Ann Harding picture nothing but her work and the story interests me."

Born Dorothy Walton Gatley in 1902, Ann Harding started her acting career in the theatre and in the 1920s enjoyed several successes on Broadway, particularly with The Trial of Mary Dugan (1927). In 1929, she left the New York stage for Hollywood, making her film debut opposite Fredric March in Paris Bound (1929). Because of her stage experience and good diction, Ann was a sought-after actress in the early days of the talkies. She was put under contract at Pathé, later RKO, and promoted as the studio's answer to MGM's Norma Shearer. For her role in her fourth film Holiday (1930) Ann earned an Oscar nomination and with films like The Animal Kingdom (1932), When Ladies Meet (1933) and Double Harness (1933) she further established herself as one of the most popular leading ladies of the early 1930s.

Ann's popularity would drastically decline after 1935. Audiences grew tired of her being typecast as the noble, self-sacrificing woman, and also critics were responding less favourably to her work. In 1936, Ann retired from acting following a bitter court fight with her first husband —actor Harry Bannister (m. 1926-1932)— over the custody of their daughter Jane. She married conductor Werner Janssen in 1937 (m. until 1962) and eventually returned to the screen in 1942 with a role in the thriller Eyes in the Night. Other supporting roles followed, most notably in It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). During the latter part of her career —Ann kept working until the mid-1960s— she did some television work and also returned to the stage after an absence of more than 30 years. Ann died in September 1981, aged 79.

Beautiful, elegant Ann Harding left different impressions on those she had worked with. Laurence Olivier called her "an angel", director Henry Hathaway said she was "an absolute bitch", while Myrna Loy thought she was "a very private person, a wonderful actress completely without star temperament, but withdrawn."
Ann Harding in six of her films, clockwise with Mary Astor in Holiday (1930), Leslie Howard in The Animal Kingdom (1932), Myrna Loy in When Ladies Meet (1933), William Powell in Double Harness (1933), Robert Montgomery in Biography of a Bachelor Girl (1935) and Gary Cooper in Peter Ibbetson (1935). I first saw Ann in Double Harness and was immediately impressed by her. I love her calm and sophisticated demeanor and especially her natural style of acting made me want to see more of her. Having now seen 19 Ann Harding films, my favourites remain Double Harness and When Ladies Meet. 

___________




Ann Harding hated being a celebrity and also hated giving interviews, which made her very unpopular with the press (read more in this post). She disliked Hollywood and once said: "I loathed the stupidity in the handling of the material in Hollywood." And about the studio system she commented: "If you're under contract when you're making pictures you may get the plums, but they own your soul. If you're not under contract, you have to take your chances." 

Despite having been a big star in her day, Harding has been largely forgotten by contemporary audiences. To keep her legacy alive, author Scott O'Brien wrote a biography entitled Ann Harding - Cinema's Gallant Lady, published in May 2010. Several months after the publication of his book, O'Brien received a letter from Ann's niece Dorothy Nash Wagar, daughter of Ann's sister Edith. Ann had been an intimate part of her niece's world when Wagar was aged 7-13. In her letter Wagar thanks O'Brien for his book and also shares childhood memories of her "Aunt Dody".


November 15, 2010

Dear Scott,

I am more than happy to recall events in my childhood in relationship with my aunt Dody, better known as Ann Harding. First, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your outstanding book, in which you documented her meteoric rise to stardom in the thirties, and the balance of her career and life.

My family moved from New York to California in 1930, at her invitation so my father could manage her finances. It was a momentous time for my sister Barbara and me. The train trip, all the sights and sounds, the extraordinary differences of the East Coast vs. the West. For me it was a chance to see my little cousin, Jane, but most of all, my aunt for whom I was named and my Godmother.

The days at my aunt's home were a delight, playing with Jane, swimming and wandering about the hillside. When I lived with her and Jane for a time, my aunt invited Bonita Granville to come swim with Jane and me every day. Bonita was about my age and a lovely chum, and she showed me how to dive off the diving board which was a big event for me. Although Aunt Dody was gone most of the day, as soon as she'd come home, we'd all gather in the living room to talk over the events of the day. At all times she was interested in what had happened, and was very loving with us.

My fondest memories of Aunt Dody are small things, really. Watching her brush her hair and then twist it into that bun was an astonishing sight. She was so fast at it, I could hardly believe my eyes. After she'd wash her hair, she'd sit out on the patio and read while the sun dried it. Another favorite memory of mine is how she'd tuck herself away in her small den downstairs. There was a piano and a chair with a writing desk where she spent some of her free hours writing. She also enjoyed playing the piano, gardening, swimming, tennis and crocheting.

I think that my aunt's first love was music. By the age of two, she'd learned to play a song on the piano my grandmother had written for the girls. Aunt Dody sang Gilbert and Sullivan songs while she was crocheting -she taught me several of them, and how to harmonize, and we'd have the most fun singing Chippy-chippy-chopper-on-a-big-black-block. She had a wonderful sound system -music played throughout the entire house. The record player was right behind the piano in a little cabinet built into the wall. We listened to the radio, too, but mostly records -Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner. She gave me several books on music, and her greatest gift to me was the appreciation of it.

I was almost in my aunt's movie, Westward Passage, in the role as her daughter. Costumes had been made, and the first day of filming was upon us -but the weather was terrible, holding up the production. Sir Lawrence Olivier was the dearest man, and even danced with me as we waited for the weather to clear, but it never did. The next day Aunt Dody came home and called me into the living room. She sat next to me on the couch, and tenderly let me know that I wouldn't be in the movie after all. The mother of a young actress had complained of nepotism. The silver lining was that my chum, Bonita got the role, and that took the sting out of it.

My favorite movies were Biography of a Bachelor Girl, and Peter Ibbetson. I loved them for different reasons. In Biography of a Bachelor Girl, it was fun to see Aunt Dody's comical side, which we always saw at home. She was so funny she'd have all of us in stitches— Jane, Fong, the butler, and me. Peter Ibbetson is such a beautiful story, and the especially wonderful spark in her eyes that I recall so dearly is eminently present.

Recalling the words my mother wrote of her sister's devotion to her art -that she was essentially a pilgrim in her great humility and reverence, seeking what every artist must have -love of work for the work itself. She approached everything with the same brilliant life force. Ann Harding was a remarkable actress, a wonderful person, a loving aunt. Thank you for keeping her spirit alive.

Sincerely,

Dorothy Nash Wagar  

 

Source: scottobrienauthor.com

Ann Harding with her daughter Jane by her first husband Harry Bannister. The two were very close when Jane was little. However, they later became estranged and when Ann died in 1981 they hadn't spoken for years. 

Ann with her sister Edith Nash in 1935. At some point Ann stopped speaking to her sister and they became estranged (like Ann and her daughter— makes you wonder what happened?!). Before her death Ann tried to find her sister to make amends. When Dorothy Nash Wagar found out that Ann had tried to contact her mother near the end of her life, it meant a lot to her: "After years and years of their not having any discourse tears came to my eyes, because I was so happy and relieved to think that that happened. Aunt Dody must have undergone quite a change with regard to her relationship with my mother and wanted to get in touch with her. I wish my mother had known that.

30 August 2022

Groucho's letter to Woody Allen

Groucho Marx and Woody Allen met in 1961 and struck up a friendship that lasted sixteen years. Forty-five years younger than Groucho, Allen was a big fan of his fellow comedian and often made references to Groucho and the Marx Brothers in his films. He once said that Groucho reminded him of "a Jewish uncle in [his] family, a wisecracking Jewish uncle with a sarcastic wit". In 1976, Groucho complimented Allen by saying that he was "the most important comic talent around".

After they became friends, Groucho and Allen fell out of touch for several years. At some point Allen had written Groucho a letter but never got an answer. Allen was offended by this and word about his hurt feelings eventually reached Groucho, who then wrote Allen a letter of apology. Shown below is Groucho's letter, written on 22 March 1967 and filled with his characteristic humour. The letter ended the silence between the two men and they remained friends until Groucho's death in 1977.

Dear WW:

Goodie Ace told some unemployed friend of mine that you were disappointed or annoyed or happy or drunk that I hadn't answered the letter you wrote me some years ago. You know, of course, there is no money in answering letters – unless they're letters of credit from Switzerland or the mafia. I write you reluctantly, for I know you are doing six things simultaneously – five including sex. I don't know where you get the time to correspond.

Your play, I trust, will still be running when I arrive in New York the first or second week in April. This must be terribly annoying to the critics who, if I remember correctly, said it wouldn't go because it was too funny. Since it's still running, they must be even more annoyed. This happened to my son's play, on which he collaborated with Bob Fisher. The moral is: don't write a comedy that makes an audience laugh.

This critic problem has been discussed ever since I was Bar Mitzvahed almost 100 years ago. I never told this to anyone, but I received two gifts when I emerged from childhood into what I imagine today is manhood. An uncle, who was then in the money, presented me with a pair of long black stockings, and an aunt, who was trying to make me, gave me a silver watch. Three days after I received these gifts, the watch disappeared.

The reason it was gone was that my brother Chico didn't shoot pool nearly as well as he thought he did. He hocked it at a pawnshop at 89th Street and Third Avenue. One day while wandering around aimlessly, I discovered it hanging in the window of the hock shop. Had not my initials been engraved on the back, I wouldn't have recognised it, for the sun had tarnished it so completely it was now coal black. The stockings, which I had worn for a week without ever having them washed, were now a mottled green. This was my total reward for surviving 13 years.

And that, briefly, is why I haven't written you for some time. I'm still wearing the stockings—they're not my stockings anymore, they're just parts of my leg.

You wrote that you were coming out here in February, and I, in a frenzy of excitement, purchased so much delicatessen that, had I kept it in cold cash instead of cold cuts, it would have taken care of my contribution to the United Jewish Welfare Fund for 1967 and '68.

I think I'll be at the St Regis hotel in New York. And for God's sake don't have any more success – it's driving me crazy. My best to you and your diminutive friend, little Dickie.

Groucho 

Via: The Guardian

 

Groucho Marx died on 19 August 1977, just three days after the death of Elvis Presley had shocked the world. While there was an abundance of tributes in the press for Elvis, the press paid little attention to Groucho's passing. The lack of coverage for his friend in Time Magazine (which devoted only one small paragraph to Groucho) led Woody Allen to write to the editor: "Is it my imagination, or were you guys a little skimpy with the Groucho Marx obituary?

The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933) was a big influence on Woody Allen's films. Allen said in a 1976 interview that the film was "probably the best talking comedy ever made".

19 August 2022

We are catering to an audience and that is why you get your money and I get mine

The successful collaboration between director Alfred Hitchcock and music composer Bernard Herrmann abruptly ended over Torn Curtain (1966). The two men had worked together on eight films, with Herrmann composing the score for The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and Marnie (1964). On The Birds (1963), which doesn't have actual music but natural and electronic bird sounds, Herrmann had served as a sound consultant. Following MarnieTorn Curtain was the next Hitch-Hermann project but artistic differences led Hitchcock to eventually fire Hermann, thereby ending their longtime collaboration and friendship. 


Universal initially didn't want Herrmann to score Torn Curtain but Hitchcock insisted he'd be hired. Once Herrmann was on board, Hitch —under pressure to deliver a hit film after the critical and box-office failure of Marnie— instructed him not to compose a conventional symphonic score but a pop/jazz score that would appeal to younger audiences. Universal wanted a modern score and Hitch went along with the studio, also because he was afraid of becoming old-fashioned. In the end, Herrmann composed music he felt was appropriate for the film, a typical Hermann score which was precisely what Hitch and Universal did not want.

A confrontation between Hitchcock and Herrmann seemed inevitable and things eventually came to a head in late March 1966. Herrmann was recording his score at the Goldwyn Studios in Los Angeles when Hitch walked in unannounced. The director was extremely unhappy with what he heard and there was a big scene, with Hitch sending home the orchestra, cancelling the rest of the recording session ánd firing Herrmann. It was the sad end of a decade-long collaboration and friendship. Hitch and Herrmann never spoke cordially to each other again. Years later when asked if he would work with Herrmann again, Hitch simply said: "Yes, if he'll do as he's told".

British composer John Addison was eventually hired as Herrmann's replacement, but his score couldn't save Torn Curtain from becoming both a critical and commercial failure. To listen to Addinson's "Main Title" for Torn Curtain, click here; for Herrman's unused score, go here (I personally prefer Hermann's music).  

_____


Several months before their collaboration would come to an end, on 4 November 1965 Hitchcock sent the following telegram to Herrmann. At that time Hitch was still eager to work with the composer, although he criticised Herrmann's score for Joy in the Morning (1965), finding it "extremely reminiscent of the Marnie music". To meet audience demands, Hitch urged Hermann to write a modern score for Torn Curtain, something with "a beat and a rhythm". Herrmann answered Hitch the very next day, his telegram (possibly meant ironically) seen below as well.

DEAR BENNY

TO FOLLOW UP PEGGYS CONVERSATION WITH YOU LET ME SAY AT FIRST I AM VERY ANXIOUS FOR YOU TO DO THE MUSIC ON TORN CURTAIN STOP I WAS EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED WHEN I HEARD THE SCORE OF JOY IN THE MORNING NOT ONLY DID I FIND IT CONFORMING TO THE OLD PATTERN BUT EXTREMELY REMINISCENT OF THE MARNIE MUSIC IN FACT THE THEME WAS ALMOST THE SAME STOP UNFORTUNATELY FOR WE ARTISTS WE DO NOT HAVE THE FREEDOM THAT WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE BECAUSE WE ARE CATERING TO AN AUDIENCE AND THAT IS WHY YOU GET YOUR MONEY AND I GET MINE STOP THIS AUDIENCE IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE ONE TO WHICH WE USED TO CATER IT IS YOUNG VIGOROUS AND DEMANDING STOP IT IS THIS FACT THAT HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY ALMOST ALL OF THE EUROPEAN FILM MAKERS WHERE THEY HAVE SOUGHT TO INTRODUCE A BEAT AND A RHYTHM THAT IS MORE IN TUNE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE AFORESAID AUDIENCE STOP THIS IS WHY I AM ASKING YOU TO APPROACH THIS PROBLEM WITH A RECEPTIVE AND IF POSSIBLE ENTHUSIASTIC MIND STOP IF YOU CANNOT DO THIS THEN I AM THE LOSER STOP I HAVE MADE UP MY MIND THAT THIS APPROACH TO THE MUSIC IS EXTREMELY ESSENTIAL I ALSO HAVE VERY DEFINITE IDEAS AS TO WHERE THE MUSIC SHOULD GO IN THE PICTURE AND THERE IS NOT TOO MUCH STOP SO OFTEN HAVE I BEEN ASKED FOR EXAMPLE BY [DIMITRI] TIOMKIN TO COME AND LISTEN TO A SCORE AND WHEN I EXPRESS MY DISAPPROVAL HIS HANDS WERE THROWN UP AND WITH THE CRY OF QUOTE BUT YOU CANT CHANGE ANYTHING NOW IT HAS ALL BEEN ORCHESTRATED UNQUOTE IT IS THIS KIND OF FRUSTRATION THAT I AM RATHER TIRED OF BY THAT I MEAN GETTING MUSIC SCORED ON A TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT BASIS STOP ANOTHER PROBLEM THIS MUSIC HAS GOT TO BE SKETCHED IN AN ADVANCE BECAUSE WE HAVE AN URGENT PROBLEM OF MEETING A TAX DATE STOP WE WILL NOT FINISH SHOOTING UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF JANUARY AT THE EARLIEST AND TECHNICOLOR REQUIRES THE COMPLETE PICTURE BY FEBRUARY FIRST

SINCERELY 

HITCH

_____

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK

DELIGHTED COMPOSE VIGOROUS BEAT SCORE FOR TORN CURTAIN ALWAYS PLEASED HAVE YOUR VIEWS REGARDING MUSIC FOR YOUR FILM PLEASE SEND SCRIPT INDICATING WHERE YOU DESIRE MUSIC CAN THEN BEGIN COMPOSING HERE WILL BE READY RECORD WEEK AFTER FINAL SHOOTING DATE GOOD LUCK

BERNARD 


Source of both telegrams: Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized And Illustrated Look Inside The Creative Mind Of Alfred Hitchcock (1999) by Dan Auiler.

The seven Hitchcock films that were scored by Bernard Herrmann, my favourite scores being Vertigo and Marnie.

11 August 2022

She walked through the film without trying to give herself

Lauded for her consumate professionalism, Barbara Stanwyck was an actress whom directors, fellow actors and crew members loved to work with. When Ella Smith was preparing her 1973 biography Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck, she received many letters from those who had worked with Barbara, all having nothing but praise for her (read some of those letters here). However, director William Dieterle, who collaborated with Barbara on The Secret Bride (1934), was not as enthusiastic about her as others were. Below you'll find his letter to Ella Smith in which he talks about Barbara and The Secret Bride (mentioned here under its working title Concealment). 

At the time of The Secret Bride, Barbara had a non-exclusive contract with Warner Bros that she wanted to get out of. However, as much as she hated the film's script, according to Victoria Wilson's A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 (2013) Barbara couldn't afford to be suspended. She accepted the roleneeding the income to support her husband Frank Fay and their adopted son Dion and to pay for the staff, the house, the cars et cetera. For The Secret Bride Barbara was paid $50,000.

Barbara Stanwyck and Warren William in The Secret Bride. Barbara plays the daughter of a governor, having to keep her marriage to the attorney general (William) a secret after her father is accused of taking a bribe. 



Transcript:

8012 Riemerling- Munich. Geranienstr. 29

3.7.72

Dear Miss Smith:

Your letter of Feb.3.72, was forwarded to me and I will try to answer your questions, as good as I can. The work on the film "Concealment" was not very pleasant. The script was bad. I could not refuse it, for contractual reasons. Why Miss Stanwyck not rejected the script, as Betty Davis would have done, I can only guess. She was not happy at Warners and wanted to get out of her contract as quick as possible. But still, bad as the script was, instead to work hard and show that she can make even out of such poor material something interesting, she walked through the film without trying to give herself. Of all the films I directed, "Concealment" is the picture I don't like to think about anymore.

I am sorry to give you no better news.

Wishing you good luck for your work- I remain

Yours cordially

signed "William Dieterle"

[Via: Ebay]

_____


Incidentally, Victoria Wilson mentions an incident in her book that involved Barbara and Dieterle while filming The Secret Bride. Barbara's stand-in Katie Doyle, of whom the actress was very fond, had accidently walked through a scrim which the crew had just spent an hour repairing. Dieterle was furious with Doyle and began reprimanding and scolding her. Barbara then walked up to the director and said: "Don't you ever dare talk to anybody on any set that I am on, don't you ever dare talk to anybody like that again. The next time you do, I walk. I go right up to the office and I will not finish the picture under your direction.

William Dieterle was a German-born director who fled Germany for the USA in 1930 due to the political situation in his country. His films include The Life of Emile Zola (1937), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), I'll Be Seeing You (1945) and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Dieterle always wore gloves on the set, presumably because of a germ or dirt phobia.

4 August 2022

James Dean at UCLA

In May 1949, James Dean graduated from Fairmount High School and then moved back to California to live with his father Winton and stepmother. Until then he had been living with his aunt and uncle, Ortense and Marcus Winslow, on their Quaker farm in Fairmount, Indiana, following the death of his mother when he was nine years old. Back in California, Dean's intention was to enrol at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and study drama. His father didn't approve of his choice, however, and by the end of the summer had persuaded Dean to enrol as a pre-law student at Santa Monica City College. While majoring in pre-law, Dean took as many drama lessons as he possibly could, still determined to become an actor. After a year at Santa Monica College, he transferred to UCLA and finally changed his major to drama ("I wasn't happy where I was. I was studying a field I didn't like, so I transferred to UCLA for a drama major. I figured I might as well pursue this dream now, cause you'll never know if you'll have time to do so later."). During his time at UCLA, Dean was chosen out of a group of 350 actors to play the role of Malcolm in Macbeth and also attended James Whitmore's acting workshop. In 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to fully dedicate himself to his acting career. 

After graduating from high school in May 1949, James Dean wanted to study at UCLA in the fall and also attend the university's summer session. Needing his school records from Fairmount to attend UCLA, in early June Dean wrote the following letter to F. Stanton Galey, Superintendent of Schools in Fairmount. As said, Dean would major in pre-law at Santa Monica City College, like his father wanted, and it still took a year before he enrolled at UCLA and switched his major to drama. Although Dean spent only one semester at UCLA, it marked the beginning of his acting career, eventually leading him to the New York stage and finally to Hollywood.



Transcript:

June 6, 1949

Dear Mr. Galey, 

Well here I am, and I have inquired as to my education at U.C.L.A. (summer session). I hope this reaches you without any detainment because I must have my records or transcripts just as soon as possible. I would appreciate it deeply if you would send them special airmail and then send me the bill for postage. 

I really got a break on the first day. I met Mr. Wooten a Prof. at UCLA. He is from Fairmount and tomarro [sic] he is introducing me to the staff head of the Theatrical Dept. A mister McCowain used to be a director for Fox + Paramount. 

Send to room 10 University of California, Los Angeles 
Administration building

With all due appreciation and respect
Jim Dean

James Dean (right) as Malcolm in UCLA's production of Macbeth. The faculty newspaper criticised his performance: "Malcolm failed to show any growth, and would have made a hollow king."

26 July 2022

I do not give permission for my life story to be made into a movie!!

In December 2021, Tom Holland announced that he would portray Fred Astaire in an upcoming Sony Pictures' biopic about the legendary actor/dancer. The announcement evoked many surprised and angry reactions since the film would go against Astaire's own wishes. Astaire, who was a shy man and very modest when it came to his past achievements, has always refused permission for a film to be made about his life. "However much they offer me —and offers come in all the time— I shall not sell", he said. Even a clause was included in Astaire's will to prevent anyone from making his biopic. "It is there because I have no particular desire to have my life misinterpreted, which it would be." 

Apart from the biopic by Sony Pictures, in 2020 it was also announced that Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley would star as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a film for Amazon Studios called Fred & Ginger. I could find no recent information on either project, but presumably they are in pre-production now. (I'm not sure if Astaire's heirs can do anything to prevent these films from being made?)

c.1937, Astaire working on one of his dance routines with choreographer Hermes Pan.



In the following letter to fellow actor Lionel Jeffries, written on 22 August 1980, Fred Astaire confirms the existence of the clause in his will and also says how he hates talking about his past work. Astaire had struck up a friendship with Jeffries in the 1960s and this letter is only one of many he had written to his friend.



Transcript:

Aug. 22nd 

Dear Lionel:- 

Thanks for thinking of me but I must tell you that there is no way I would ever take on a project as suggested in your letter. The idea has been brought to me by all three major networks here, a number of times.

As you know I hate talking about my past work. I even have it in my will that I do not give permission for my life story to be made into a movie!!

All is well here and my love to all the family.

As ever Fred A- 

Lionel Jeffries and Fred Astaire on the set of the 1962 comedy The Notorious Landlady, also co-starring Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak.