10 April 2024

Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you

David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn were two of Hollywood's most successful independent producers, both with their own group of contract players. Among Selznick's contracted stars were (at one time or another) Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten, while Goldwyn had under contract such stars as Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, David Niven and Danny Kaye. One of the people also under contract to Selznick was British director Alfred Hitchcock, who came to Hollywood in early June 1938 at the invitation of Selznick. 

Before being signed by Selznick, however, Hitch met with Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn was also interested in Hitch but made no serious bid to land him. (According to Selznick, Myron Selznick (David's brother and Hitch's agent) could "not get bids for [Hitch] at the time I signed him".) Eventually in mid-July 1938, Selznick and Hitch struck a deal, entering into a seven-year contract. The two worked together only four times, i.e. on Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and The Paradine Case (1947). More often than not, Hitch was loaned out by Selznick to other studios at considerable profits (much to Hitch's resentment as he didn't share in the profits).

Above: Selznick and Hitchcock — the men had a difficult working relationship. Below: At a dinner in Los Angeles in October 1953, (l to r) Goldwyn, Jennifer Jones (Selznick's second wife) and Selznick. The two producers reportedly admired and liked each other.

In late December 1942, Hitch had a meeting with Goldwyn about a production deal. Shooting on Shadow of a Doubt (1943) had already ended and Hitch's next project would be Lifeboat (1944) on loan-out to Twentieth Century-Fox. When Selznick heard about the Hitchcock-Goldwyn meeting, he was furious and next wrote a letter to Goldwyn. With Hitch still having a few years left on their contractSelznick resented Goldwyn for trying to "seduce" Hitch into coming to work for him, and for telling Hitch not to waste his talents on projects like Shadow of a Doubt (which was not produced by Selznick but by Skirball Productions)Ironically enough, Shadow was to become Hitch's personal favourite.


January 6, 1943

Mr. Samuel Goldwyn
1041 North Formosa
Hollywood, California
cc: Mr. O'Shea

Dear Sam:
Recently, you have had a couple of occasions to remind us forcibly that you are a "frank" man, although God knows no reminder was necessary. However, I do hope that you grant to others —such, for instance, as myself— the right to be equally frank: 
Sometimes, Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you. You scream and yell about other people's ethics, and then behave in a fashion that makes my hair stand on end with a combination of anger and incredulity.
You recently have sent direct for one of my people, Alfred Hitchcock, and talked with him without so much as either asking us, or even letting us know after the fact. I wonder just how you would behave if I reciprocated in kind — or if any of the big companies did it with your people. I have always maintained that no one is in permanent bondage in this business, and that once a contract has expired, or is soon to expire, every individual in the business should be free to negotiate with anyone he sees fit, without giving offense to the studio to which he or she has been under contract, and regardless of the desire of the original contracting studio to make the bondage permanent. I am not talking about such a case: rather, I am referring to a man who you know full well is still under long-term contract to me. Or if you don't know it, everyone else in the business does, and you ought to know it. The very least you could have done was to find out. Ignorance is no more a defense in these matters, if that be your defense, than it is in the law. 

Hitch has a minimum of two years to go with me, and longer if it takes him more time to finish four pictures, two of which I have sold to Twentieth Century-Fox. And not alone did you try to seduce him, but you tried something which I have never experienced before with any company or individual— you sought to make him unhappy with my management of him. When you told Hitch that he shouldn't be wasting his talents on stories like Shadow of a Doubt, and that this wouldn't be the case if he were working for you, what you didn't know was that Hitchcock personally chose the story and created the script— and moreover that he is very happy about the picture, which I think he has every right to be. Further, that in the years since I brought Hitchcock over here from England (at a time when nobody in the industry, including yourself, was willing to give him the same opportunity...) and established him as one of the most important directors in the world with the production and exploitation of Rebecca, he has never once had to do a story that he was not enthusiastic about. This has always been my attitude about directors, and I happen to know that it has not always been your attitude toward directors under contract to you ...

By contrast with your own behavior, I have for months met criticisms of you with praise for your work, and for your contributions to the business, and for your integrity of production. I have said to literally dozens of people in important positions that you have never received as much recognition in the industry as is your due. And just yesterday, and despite my growing rage with you, I went even further than this with an important magazine writer who is doing an article about you. I not alone sang your praises, but I painstakingly corrected some impressions he had gained elsewhere, taking half an hour out of a very busy day for the purpose. When I hear of you doing the same thing, instead of doing your best (which would appear to be synonymous with your worst) in the opposite direction, I will believe your fine statements, and not before. I regret that I have to write you in this vein, and I do so not because I have any reluctance about rebuking you verbally, for you know from our past relationship that I have never been hesitant about such matters when I felt you to be in the wrong. I write you now, first, because I want it a matter of record, in connection with my future dealings with you; and second, because I have learned from experience that it is impossible to get you to listen to this many words unless they are in writing.

With best wishes for a fine and reformed New Year,

Sincerely yours ,

Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 
On the set of Shadow of a Doubt with Hitch (far right, seated) and Shadow's main players (l to r) Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey. The film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, California. It was  Hitchcock's own favourite of his films because —in Hitch's own words—  it "brought murder and violence back in the home, where it rightly belongs" .

Selznick's most successful achievement was his 1939 Gone with the Wind, and Goldwyn will probably be best remembered for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Both films won numerous Oscars, including Oscars for Best Picture.

30 March 2024

None were gum-chewings idiots, women chasers, etc. as you have so boldly portrayed the nation's fighting men

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is generally considered one of Stanley Kubrick's masterpieces (along with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)). The film, which was co-written, produced and directed by Kubrick, is a satirical comedy about the Cold War. The plot involves a mad, paranoid American general who orders an unauthorised nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the U.S. president, his advisors and other high-ranking officials, all having gathered in the War Roomdesperately try to stop the attack in order to prevent a nuclear war. (For the full plot of the film, go here.)

Dr. Strangelove received numerous accoladesincluding four Oscar nominations (i.e. for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Peter Sellers) and Best Adapted Screenplay). The film was praised by the majority of critics and also proved a big hit at the box-office. However, not everybody was charmed by Strangelove when it first came out. In June 1964, Stanley Kubrick received the following letter from a Mrs Dobbs from Florida, "a conscientious American", who found the film "despicable" and warned her fellow Americans not to watch it. Dobb's letter was one of several letters displayed at the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition in Barcelona in late 2018/ early 2019. It was one of the many letters Kubrick had kept. In fact, Kubrick had kept almost all of his fan letters (or in Dobbs' case, a non-fan letter), yet only seldom responded.


13 Flamingo Drive
St. Augustine, Florida
June 9, 1964

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Producer-Director, Dr. Strangelove
Columbia Pictures Release
Hollywood, California

Dear Mr. Kubrick:

Doubtless, you have heard from many Americans who are proud of this country, proud of its heritage, and proud of the Armed Forces who are daily on the alert and ready to fight any and all enemies of this country. I am referring to letters that if you did not receive, you should have, in deep protest, utter dismay and complete disgust after viewing the despicable movie made by you and shown at our local theatre last week. 

Mr. Kubrick, I have known many officers of the Army and Navy in my lifetime, having worked at the State Headquarters for Selective Service in the '40's. I found the Generals, Colonels, etc. to be of the highest caliber. None were gum-chewing idiots, women chasers, etc. as you have so boldly portrayed the nation's fighting men. You have insulted the intelligence of my husband and myself. We found it impossible to view even an hour of the filth and boring dialogue such as was the case in "Dr. Strangelove."

Mr. Kubrick, I am reading now, the following, "When a film downgrading America or our will to resist the communist challenge is shown, withhold your dollars from the box office and encourage your friends to do likewise. Let the theatre managers and owners know why you're staying away." "We can begin by exercising our rights and duties as good Christians and good Americans whenever a film peddling a strong immoral or unpatriotic message is shown locally. If it's grossly immoral, warn your friends -- especially those with young children -- not to attend." I am following the above taken from a Life Line program and warning my friends in all letters I write.

As a conscientious American, I can do no less.

Most sincerely,
Mrs. F.J. Dobbs

Clockwise: Stanley Kubrick with Peter Sellers on the set of Dr. Strangelove, the latter playing three roles, i.e. RAF officer Mandrake (my favourite of the three), U.S. President Muffley and Dr. Strangelove, nuclear war expert and former Nazi; George C. Scott as the gum-chewing General Turgidson; and Sterling Hayden as the mad, cigar-smoking General Ripper. All three actors are great in their roles.

21 March 2024

Nobody deserves that kind of slaughter

A year after Joan Crawford's death, Christina Crawford —the eldest of Joan's four adopted children— published her memoir Mommie Dearest (1978), in which she accused her mother of emotional and physical abuse towards her and her siblings. The book became a huge success and in 1981 was made into a film of the same name (starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford). Several people corroborated Christina's story, stating they had personally witnessed some of the abuse (among them Helen Hayes, read more here), while others said that the allegations were pure lies. Among the latter group were Joan's twin daughters Cathy and Cindy, Joan's ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy. 

Joan Crawford and daughter Christina

Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn also belonged to the group of people who didn't believe Christina's stories about her mother. In the letters below, the two actresses give their opinion on the subject. First up is Dietrich's letter to Paramount executive Peter Bankers (i.e. only the part that deals with Mommie Dearest), followed by Hepburn's note to a friend. 

Source:  The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia (click on the link if you want to read Dietrich's full letter)
Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s
Source: The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia
Kate Hepburn

14 March 2024

For Kim Novak I have nothing but praise

James Stewart and Kim Novak starred together in two films, i.e. in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and the fantasy comedy Bell, Book and Candle (1958). The actors got along very well, and Novak later said that Stewart was her "all-time favorite man, next to [her] husband" and "the best, nicest person [she] ever worked with". According to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, the two had an affair during Vertigo which continued through Bell, Book and Candle. When author Marc Eliot asked Novak about it —while doing research for his 2006 biography on James Stewart— she categorically denied the affair. "She said she had been in love with Richard Quine, the director of Bell, Book and Candle", said Eliot. "She added that Jimmy was married, and there was no way that she would have an affair with a married man." 

In 1980, Larry Kleno published his book on Kim Novak, entitled Kim Novak on Camera. In preparation for the book, Kleno contacted several of Novak's co-stars, asking them how they had experienced working with her. Naturally he also got in touch with James Stewart, who sent the requested information via the following letter:

Source: Bonhams

Above clockwise: James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo, in a scene from Bell, Book and Candle and on the set of Vertigo.

2 March 2024

Rivalry at Warner Bros: Hal Wallis vs Jack Warner

I haven't posted here for a while, as some of you may have noticed. The reason is that I've been having serious health issues and consequently had to spend a few months in the hospital (five weeks in the ICU even). Luckily I'm doing much better now and, while recuperating at home, I am slowly returning to my old life again. This means that I also want to get back to blogging and continue to share with you interesting stories and correspondence. So, without further ado, let's get on with this post, which involves two of Warner Brothers' key people, Jack Warner and Hal Wallis.


In 1923, Hal B. Wallis started his career at Warner Bros as an assistant in the publicity department and not before long was appointed chief of publicity. Gradually Wallis involved himself in the production side of the business, to eventually become Warners' head of production in 1928 (being temporarily replaced by Darryl F. Zanuck from 1931 to 1933). Until his departure from the studio in 1944, Wallis was responsible for the production of numerous films, including classics like The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Now, Voyager (1942) and —perhaps the classic of all classics— Casablanca (1942). It was Casablanca that was Wallis' greatest triumph, a film he regarded as his film, having even provided the movie's famous last line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.").

On 2 March 1944 —on the evening of the 16th Oscar ceremony, with Casablanca being nominated in eight categories, among them Best Picture— it became abundantly clear that Warner Bros' studio head Jack Warner had different ideas about whose film Casablanca was. After director Sidney Franklin had announced Casablanca as the Best Picture winner, Wallis rose from his chair to accept the Oscar, only to find that Warner had also stood up and beaten him to the stage. Warner, as studio head, felt that Casablanca was his film and claimed the Oscar on stage, with many people in the audience shocked to see him upstage Wallis like that. The once-close relationship between the two men, which had been tense for some time, was now damaged for good. Shortly afterwards Wallis left Warner Bros to work as an independent producer, his films to be released through Paramount Pictures and later Universal.

Above: Hal Wallis signed a new contract with Warner Bros in January 1942, specifying that "A Hal Wallis Production" or "Produced by Hal Wallis" should appear after the main title of his films. With Casablanca, however, "Jack L. Warner Executive Producer" had been added to the WB logo, even though Warner had nothing to do with the film at all. Below: Jack Warner (left) and Hal Wallis. 
The following telegrams from Jack Warner to Hal Wallis clearly show that by the end of 1943 the relationship between the two had deteriorated. Warner felt threatened by Wallis and complained about not getting the credit he deserved.

November 28, 1943

...per L.A. "Dailey News" Article 23rd, I resent and won't stand for your continuing to take all credit for "Watch on Rhine", "This is the Army", "God is my Copilot", "Princess O'Rourke" and many other stories. I happened to be one who saw these stories, read plays, bought and turned them over to you. You could have at least said so, and I want to be accredited accordingly. You certainly have changed and unnecessarily so.


November 30, 1943

Stop giving me double talk on your publicity. This wire will serve notice on you that I will take legal action if my name has been eliminated from any article or story in any form, shape or manner as being in charge production while you were executive producer and in charge production since your new contract commenced. So there will be no misunderstanding it will be up to you to prove and see that my name is properly accredited in any publicity.

The day after Jack Warner had claimed the Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca at the 1944 Oscars, film critic Edwin Schallert wrote in his column about a rivalry between Warner and Wallis. In the following letter to Schallert, Wallis resolutely denied the rivalry, even claiming he "was glad to see Jack Warner accept the award". Of course this was not how Wallis really felt and almost forty years later, in his autobiography Starmaker, the producer described the Oscar incident, saying how Warner's action had left him "humiliated and furious" (excerpt from the book also seen below).

Edwin Schallert
Los Angeles Times 
202 W First Street
Los Angeles Calif

March 4 1944

I have been with Warner Bros for twenty years and during this time it has been customary here as elsewhere for the studio head to accept the Academy Award for the best production. Naturally I was glad to see Jack Warner accept the award this year for "Casablanca" as he did for "The Life of Emile Zola". I am happy also to have contributed my bit toward the making of that picture. Your comment in your column this morning on rivalry at Warner Bros. is totally unjustified. I would be grateful if you would correct the misleading impression created by it ...

Hal B. Wallis

Excerpt from Starmaker: The Autobiography of Hal Wallis (1980) by Hal B. Wallis and Charles Higham:

Matters came to a head that Oscar night. After it was announced that Casablanca had won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year, I stood up to accept when Jack ran to the stage ahead of me and took the award with a broad, flashing smile and a look of great self-satisfaction. I couldn't believe it was happening. Casablanca had been my creation; Jack had absolutely nothing to do with it. As the audience gasped, I tried to get out of the row of seats and into the aisle, but the entire Warner family sat blocking me. I had no alternative but to sit down again, humiliated and furious.  

[Eventually, Wallis did receive a Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca.]


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

30 September 2023

It’s very regrettable that so many people think of you as a special problem

The critically and commercially successful Splendor in the Grass (1961), directed by Elia Kazan and starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in the leads, was Beatty's screen debut. At age 23, Beatty was an ambitious young man who —in Kazan's words— "wanted it all and wanted it his way". Natalie Wood said in interviews that throughout production of Splendor she and Beatty had not gotten along, describing the actor as being "difficult to work with". Others shared her opinion, including Don Kranze, assistant director on Splendor. "Warren was a pain in the ass", recalled Kranze. "He was very young, anyway, but his emotional maturity was about thirteen... we all sort of felt about Warren that he's an immature boy playing a man's game." According to Splendor's production designer Richard Sylbert (a good friend of Beatty's), Beatty was going to do whatever he wanted to do, not caring what anybody thought.

Warren Beatty, Elia Kazan and Natalie Wood on the set of Splendor in the Grass. Long after production of the film had ended Beatty and Wood entered into a tumultuous two-year relationship.

A few years and a few films later, Beatty apparently hadn't changed his tune. During the shooting of Lilith (1964), co-star Jean Seberg wrote to a friend of hers: "Warren Beatty’s behavior is just unbelievable. He’s out to destroy everyone, including himself". While the entire cast and crew had to endure Beatty's behaviour, it was director Robert Rossen who received the brunt of it. Beatty was constantly arguing with Rossen, changing his lines, asking for his character's motivation and wishing to analyse each scene (which led Rossen to eventually remark: "I hired you because I thought you knew how to act, for Christ's Sake. Don't ask me how to play the part. You're supposed to know how to play the part."). Assistant cameraman Tibor Sands said that Beatty's behaviour grew increasingly worse "until Rossen slapped him in front of everybody. That calmed him down." 

At some point, word of Beatty's insufferable conduct on the set of Lilith reached Elia Kazan. Worried about what he had heard, Kazan next wrote Beatty a letter, addressing the actor's behaviour while also offering a bit of advice. Beatty was reportedly "upset" by the letter, seeing that the reprimand came from Kazan, whom he considered a mentor and a friend. (According to Beatty biographer Suzanne Finstad, during production of Splendor in the Grass Beatty and Kazan had actor-director discussions prior to every scene, something Beatty apparently wanted to have with Rossen too.)

May 22, 1963

Dear Warren:

Forgive the impertinence of a friend. I really do like you, and it disheartens me when I hear from the underground that you are giving everybody a bad time in Maryland. I know rumors are unreliable and it’s not right to repeat them. But, damn it, they dishearten me. I always say: "Warren at bottom is a damn fine guy!" But there’s some contradiction all through your behavior. On the one hand you say that you want to be a movie star. You’ve said it again and again not only to me but to lots of people. But I must tell you that becoming a first flight movie star depends, as you well know, on working with the elite directors on the real good stories. And when these director-glamour boys hear that you are being "difficult" their only reaction can be: "Who needs it?"

It seems to me that you must find a way of legitimately asserting yourself and even forcibly making your opinions and impulses felt. While, at the same time, being agreeable to work with, decent to deal with, fun to be with, and a contributor to an overall effort. It’s very regrettable that so many people think of you as a special problem. You have so much: intelligence, talent, sensitivity. You are handsome, vigorous, physically able. But all this can be nullified or badly handicapped by the kind of stories — true, part true, quite false, whatever — that have been getting back to me here.

As I said, it’s possibly impertinent of me to write you this way. I am not your father or your brother, only a friend. But think about what I say.


Source: The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan (2014), edited by Albert J. Devlin  

Warren Beatty, Robert Rossen and Jean Seberg during filming of Lilith. The film was to be Rossen's last film. Rossen had previously directed the now-classics All the King's Men (1949) and The Hustler (1961). The director reportedly said following the clashes he had with Beatty, "I was making Oscars when Warren was a baby pissing in a pot."

Warren Beatty (an actor I don't particularly care for) pictured here with Elia Kazan. Beatty later said that Kazan "had given him the most important break in his career." Once called by a journalist "the most enfant of the enfants terribles", Beatty eventually became —next to being an actor— a successful producer, director and screenwriter. His first achievement as a producer was the acclaimed Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which Beatty also played the male lead opposite Faye Dunaway. Other successes include Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981), both films as actor, producer, director and screenwriter. Beatty was nominated for an Oscar 14 times (in different categories) but only won for Reds, for Best Director.

15 September 2023

We accepted a severe financial risk and merely want the exhibitor to compensate us ...

By 1934 Walt Disney was no longer satisfied making animated shorts, despite their popularity with audiences. Shorts made very little money for the company, with the highly successful Three Little Pigs (1933) earning only $64,000 while it had cost $60,000 to make. ("Every time I produce another Mickey Mouse or Silly Symphony, I'm accused of making another million dollars. I only wish it were true," Disney once said.) In order for the studio to grow —both financially and artistically— Disney decided to make a feature-length animated film and as its subject chose the story of Snow White, the famous German fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm. 

While Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) would not be the first animated feature film in history —that distinction goes to the Argentinian film El Apóstol (1917)— it would be the first cel animated feature film. Production was to last three years, during which the project was mockingly referred to as 'Disney's Folly'. Many people believed that audiences wouldn't go see a feature-length cartoon and that the film was going to bankrupt the studio. While this didn't happen, Snow White cost a whopping $1.5 million, six times more than its original budget of $250,000. Disney took a huge financial risk and even mortgaged his house to help finance the film. Halfway through production, he also needed an extra loan of $250,000 to complete his picture. Although bankers were reluctant to lend Disney money, Joseph Rosenberg of Bank of America —after watching a rough cut of Snow White— approved the loan and reportedly said, "Walt, that thing is going to make a hatful of money!".

Premiering in Los Angeles on 21 December 1937, after a long and difficult production, Snow White did what Rosenberg had predicted and made a hatful of money, in fact more than $8 million during its initial release. Apart from being a huge commercial success, the film was also hailed by the critics. To this day, Snow White is still considered one of the greatest animation films in history. It set the standard for other animation features and remains one the most popular Disney pictures of all time. (For this blogathon I rewatched Snow White and still loved it!)

Above: Snow White meets the Seven Dwarfs (gif made by my sister who blogs at Classic Movies Round-Up). Below: On 23 February 1939, at the 11th Oscars ceremony, Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney with an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the award consisting of one full-size Oscar and seven little ones (watch the clip here).

On to the correspondence!

Amidst all the praise for Snow White and Disney, there was also criticism. Many exhibitors resented both Disney and distributor RKO for the amount they were being charged to show the film in their cinemas (reportedly having to hand over 50% of the revenue). Also, Disney-RKO didn't allow Snow White to be played as part of a double bill, meaning that exhibitors couldn't make money from the second film with its more favourable conditions. As a result, exhibitors complained about not being able to make a profit and some claimed they were even losing money. 

In June 1938, (Sidney?) Skolsky wrote about this subject in his column, which caught the attention of a Mrs Barker from Chicago. Feeling that Disney's tactics smelled "unpleasantly of greed or unfairness", Barker next typed a letter to the big man himself. The extensive and very cordial response she subsequently received did not come from Walt but from his older brother Roy (who handled the company's finances while Walt was the creative brain). It's quite an interesting correspondence, with Roy Disney explaining the business practices of the company and how they —considering the enormous financial risk that was taken— were only demanding their rightful share.


901 N. Waller Ave.,
Chicago, Ill.
June, 11, 1938.

My dear Walt Disney:

If this column is a reliable picture of the whole case, it smells unpleasantly of greed or infairness [sic] somehwere [sic]. And I hope you can correct it pronto. Even my eleven year-old boy when hearing only that part which can be put in a sentence --- "Snow White is a headache to the exhibitors because it costs so much to book that they can't make a profit"--- said, after a thoughtful silence,"Looks like success has gone to Disney's head." Then he added, loyally, maybe it is the distributors and not Disney's doing."

The great power of your art is the clean, fine spirit that shines through it all. Neither greed nor unfairness is clean or fine. Any such getting into your creative make-up must spoil the spirit and effective charm. My personal belief is that no artist who ever lived has been as great as you, because no other ever gave so much good to a needy world. That makes you and all that is your good my sincere concern, heart-felt.

For all of us, then, I let you see my hope, and why, that you can make this unlovely impression a most short-lived one. Loyalty only allows time to correct mistakes, not excuse for their continuance.

In reading this over, it sounds like a churchy reformer! How awful! Honestly I'm not. I am just a movie fan of such long standing and real interest in my hobby that I had much time to think, to observe, and by adding introspection to learn a bit of understanding of why we "tick" as we do.

Very sincerely,


June 15, 1938

Mrs. Beulah Barker
901 N.Waller Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Mrs. Barker:

I am answering your letter of June 11th, addressed to the attention of Mr. Walt Disney, because he confines himself entirely to production, while I supervise the sale and handling of our product.

The motion picture business, from production to distribution, is a very involved industry. It has many different personalities and entities engaged in its various ramifications. All the problems of any manufacturing and selling organization come into play in the motion picture business, with a great number of angles peculiar to our field. 

We are an independent organization; that is, we have no tie-up with any organization in the production or distribution field. To retain our independence as we have through the years has required a willingness on our part to stand up for our rights. One must expect under such a policy to differ with a great many people. Without going into detail, but merely as a matter of courtesy to you because of your nice letter and the interest you express, I want to tell you that under our policy my brother makes the very best pictures he possibly can, without stint of expenses or work. Of course, this has to be kept within the realm of reason and commercial limitations. We expect and want exhibitors to make money with our pictures. 

On the other hand, we want and demand our full share. This objective has been impossible of achievement with our Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony pictures for the reason that it is difficult to prove that anybody really comes to a theatre to see a Mickey Mouse. Therefore, I say to you very sincerely, that our short product has not been a financial success to any great extent. A number of our pictures have never returned our costs. This may sound like a Ripley "Believe it or Not"; nevertheless, it is true.

Now we have ventured into the field of feature picture production. We can now definitely claim credit for the people who come to the theatre because our picture is the meat of the program. Here we demand our rightful share and if, by virtue of playing square with our product through the years, we have gained the good will and following of the public at large around the world, we feel we are entitled to share accordingly. This is all we are asking. We accepted a severe financial risk and merely want the exhibitor to compensate us for this risk and the public good will we have through the years so painstakingly sought. We must also consider the risk and financial necessity of future production. Our attitude has created quite a furor in the picture business because it is a precedent and people always dislike precedents. Other companies sell thirty, forty or fifty pictures in one group, many of which are merely titles and before the particular story or cast is decided upon. Their ultimate entertainment value is, of course, only a matter of speculation. On such a basis, naturally, people sell their product for much less than we ask on a product in the production of which we have taken our own gamble. We are delivering something the public can see and judge on its merits.

All this sales resistance shows itself in many different ways, including press comments such as you read in Mr. Skolsky's article. Specifically to the point, is a well known West Coast exhibitor who attempted to take his problem direct to us in place of our distributor, claiming our distributor was asking too much money for our picture. These people by their own statement have been losing money for twenty-five years but in the meantime have built up a chain of almost one hundred theatres. That tells the story briefly. 

I trust you will pardon this long letter. It is not customary for us to attempt to justify ourselves in this manner. However, yours was an unusual letter and deserved a proper reply.

(signed) Roy O. Disney

Source both letters: icollector.com 

Walt (l) and Roy Disney photographed in 1932 (with Walt's special Oscar for the creation of Mickey Mouse). On 16 October 1923, the brothers had founded their company and named it Disney Brothers Studio. Later the name was changed to Walt Disney Studio (1926–1929), Walt Disney Productions (1929–1986) and since 1986 it's named The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney was both the creative force and the public face of the company, but without Roy's financial brain Walt could never have realised his dreams. "If it hadn't been for my big brother, I swear I'd have been in jail several times for check bouncing", Walt once said. After Walt's death of lung cancer in 1966 (aged 65), Roy postponed his retirement, took control of the company and supervised the completion of the theme park in Florida which Walt had started. In October 1971, the park finally opened and Roy named it Walt Disney World in honour of his brother. Roy Disney died from a stroke less than three months later, 78 years old.


This post is my contribution to The 100 Years of Disney Blogathon, hosted by the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes. Click on the link for all the other entries!

26 August 2023

Olivia de Havilland's first Oscar win

On 13 March 1947, the 19th Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles, honouring the films released in 1946. Olivia de Havilland was one of the nominees in the Best Actress category, being nominated for her role as Jody Norris in Mitchell Leisen's To Each His Own. Also nominated were Celia Johnson for Brief Encounter, Jennifer Jones for Duel in the Sun, Rosalind Russell for Sister Kenny and Jane Wyman for The Yearling. The Oscar eventually went to Olivia, this being her first of two Oscar wins. 

A day before the Oscar ceremony, Margaret Herrick (Executive Secretary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) sent telegrams to the Oscar nominees with instructions regarding the ceremony. The following telegram was sent to Olivia.

Source: Bonhams

Olivia de Havilland with Ray Milland at the 1947 Oscars, holding her coveted prize. Olivia would receive a second Best Actress Oscar a few years later, i.e. for her performance in William Wyler's The Heiress (1949). Apart from her two Oscar wins, the actress also received nominations for the 1939 Gone with the Wind (for Best Supporting Actress) as well as Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Snake Pit (1948) (the latter two for Best Actress). 
Olivia de Havilland and John Lund in To Each His Own


As instructed in Margaret Herrick's telegram, after receiving the Oscar for To Each His Own, Olivia exited off stage to meet the press. There to congratulate her was her sister Joan Fontaine who had just presented the Best Actor Oscar. "After Olivia delivered her acceptance speech and entered the wings, I, standing close by, went over to congratulate her as I would have done to any winner", recalled Joan in her 1978 memoir No Bed Of Roses. "She took one look at me, ignored my outstretched hand, clutched her Oscar to her bosom, and wheeled away just as Photoplay's photographer Hymie Fink captured the moment with his camera". The reason for Olivia's rebuffing her sister was reportedly a derogatory comment Joan had made to the press about Olivia's first husband, author Marcus Goodrich ("All I know about him is that he's had four wives and written one book. Too bad it's not the other way around."). The two sisters had a lifelong feud which lasted until Joan's death in 2013.

The infamous picture of the two sisters, shot by Hymie Fink

12 August 2023

You force me to refuse to make the picture unless the billing is mine

By the spring of 1939 Bette Davis was already a star. She had just won her second Academy Award for Jezebel (1938) and had recently starred in successful films like Dark Victory (1939) and Juarez (1939). While the actress was still working on The Old Maid (to be released in September 1939 and also to become a big hit), her next project —a film based on Maxwell Anderson's 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen was already underway. For a long time Bette had wanted to play Queen Elizabeth I in a film adaptation of Anderson's play and was thrilled when producer Hal Wallis bought the property for her. Bette wanted Laurence Olivier to play the role of the Earl of Essex, but Warners wanted Errol Flynn, the studio's then biggest male star.  

Bette and Errol had played together in The Sisters a year earlier and at that time Bette was very happy to be co-starring with Flynn ("He was a big box office star at the time and it could only be beneficial to me to work with him"). For this project, however, she found Flynn "the only fly in the ointment", feeling he was not up to the task, not being "an experienced enough actor to cope with the complicated blank verse the play had been written in." Apart from being unhappy with the casting of Flynn, Bette was also unhappy with the title of the film. The title of the original play, Elizabeth the Queen, was initially set to be the film's title, but Flynn was opposed to it, demanding to be acknowledged in the title too. Warners consequently came up with a new title, The Knight and the Lady, to which Bette, in turn, fiercely objected.

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn as Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; below they are pictured rehearsing a scene, with producer Robert Lord (l) and director Michael Curtiz looking on.
In April 1939, Bette Davis sent the following telegram to Warner Bros' studio head Jack Warner, demanding that the title The Knight and the Lady be changed.

Jack L.Warner, Personal  

Warner Bros Studio 

April 28, 1939 

I have been trying for some weeks to get an answer from you concerning the title of my next picture. I felt confident that you would of your own volition change it, considering the fact the play from which it is taken was bought for me and was called "Elizabeth the Queen". I have found out today you are not changing it. You of course must have realized my interest in the title change concerned the billing ... The script "The Knight and the Lady", like the play, is still a woman's story. I therefore feel justified in requesting first billing, which would automatically change the title, as the present title is obviously one to give the man first billing. I feel so justified in this from every standpoint that you force me to refuse to make the picture unless the billing is mine. If you would like to discuss this matter with me I would be more than willing. 

Bette Davis 
Bette Davis and Jack Warner

A week later, Jack Warner informed Bette that she would get first billing while assuring her The Knight and the Lady would not be used. The title was later changed to The Lady and the Knight, but Bette was still not satisfied. Again she sent Warner a telegram, demanding another title change. 
J.L Warner 
June 30, 1939

I have waited now since day picture started for title to be settled. I was promised it would not be "The Knight and the Lady". The present title "The Lady and the Knight", as announced in paper and called such in fan magazines, I consider the same thing ... You have the choice of "Elizabeth and Essex", "Elizabeth the Queen", or "The Love of Elizabeth and Essex". If Mr. [Paul] Muni is allowed the title "Juarez", another historical picture ... you need have no worry about the box office with the title "Elizabeth and Essex" with far more well known people than "Juarez". 

Bette Davis
Source of both telegrams: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

The title Elizabeth and Essex was already under copyright (as the title of a book by Lytton Strachey) so it couldn't be used. As said, Flynn objected to Elizabeth the Queen, so this title couldn't be used either. Apparently Warner didn't approve of Bette's last suggestion (The Love of Elizabeth and Essex) and eventually opted for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, inspired by other historical films, such as the successful The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex became the box-office hit Warner Bros. had anticipated. It received five Oscar nominations, yet none in the major categories. While Bette Davis was expected to receive a nomination for her performance, she was not nominated for thís role but for her role in Dark Victory (also a Warners production). Eventually, the Oscar for Best Actress went to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind, GWTW being that year's big winner.

Billing for The Sisters (top photo) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. For The Sisters, Flynn would initially receive sole billing above the title. "At that time I had no billing clause in my contract," Bette recalled. "I felt after Jezebel that my name should always appear above the title. That is star billing." She held her ground and Warners eventually gave her above-the-title billing, although she came after Flynn. For The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, like she had demanded, Bette came first.