14 January 2021

Howard, Howard, Howard - could it be I love you a little?

Apart from competing for film roles and the attention of their mother, sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine also competed for men. Olivia was the first to date actor Brian Aherne but it was Joan who eventually married him (the couple was married from 1939 until 1945). Besides Aherne, both sisters were involved with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, which complicated their relationship even more.

Olivia was also the first to date Hughes. But while she was dating him, Hughes proposed to her sister. At a surprise party given in Joan's honour shortly before her wedding to Aherne, Hughes proposed to Joan on the dance floor, telling her it was a mistake to marry Aherne. In her autobiography No Bed of Roses (1978), Joan recalled:

I was shocked. Olivia had been seeing him steadily. I knew her feelings for him were intense, that the relative tranquility at Nella Vista now rested upon the frequency of his telephone calls. No one two-timed my sister, whatever our domestic quarrels might be. Not if I could help it. I had heard rumors that Howard saw girls in shifts (no pun intended). Olivia was on the early shift, while actresses such as [Katharine] Hepburn and [Ginger] Rogers were rumored to have later dates with him. Howard evidently needed very little sleep.

As I was leaving the nightclub with Olivia, Hughes slipped me his private telephone number, whispering that I was to call him as soon as possible. The next day I phoned him and arranged to meet him that afternoon. I had to find out whether he was serious or indulging in some ghoulish jest. [...] He seemed in deadly earnest and had not changed his mind from the previous evening. I, seething inside at his disloyalty to Olivia, said nothing.

Upon returning to Nella Vista, I showed Olivia the slip of paper with Howard's private number written in his own handwriting and told her about my afternoon's encounter. I gently tried to explain that her heart belonged to a heel. In addition to the rumors in newspaper columns, the warnings from her friends, now she had real proof. Sparks flew. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ... especially in favor of her sister. This, plus my engagement to Brian, was very hard for her to take. 

 Joan, Olivia and Joan's husband Brian Aherne are having tea in the early 1940s.

While the relationship between Olivia and Howard Hughes ended, Hughes would ask Joan to marry him two more times, i.e. first after her divorce from Aherne and next when Hughes became her boss at RKO as she was divorcing producer William Dozier. On both occasions Joan again rejected him. In her autobiography Joan said she was never in love with Hughes and never had an affair with him. She felt he had "no humor, no gaiety, no sense of joy" and everything with him "seemed to be a "deal", a business arrangement." Still, judging by some of the letters Joan had written Hughes in 1949, she seemed to have been under his spell more than she would let on in her memoir. 

Seen below are three of Joan's letters, two in full and the third letter in part. The first two letters were written in Italy where in the summer of 1949 exteriors for the film September Affair (1950) were shot. After her film duties in Italy and seeing the sights there, Joan took a trip to Cyprus from where she wrote the third letter. In particular the last two letters show Joan's obvious adoration for Hughes. Ultimately, however, she realised there was no future for them unless she was willing to share him with his "6900 gals". (At the time of writing these letters, Joan was in the middle of her divorce from Dozier, a divorce which would not be finalised until 1951.) 




I hated our telephone conversation in every way. You were so right to warn me how lousy connections were and all we seemed to do was say "hello, hello, can you hear me?" Wedged into that went something about whether I'd been on a binge or was someone in my room! Really, you are the most hopelessly suspicious guy. Why are you like that? 

You want to trust someone, then you defy her to be anything but honest with you. I simply couldn't live like that and I see only real, terrifying unhappiness for you. Hell! What a dog's life you lead without your trying to make it worse. 

I've just begun to live, I realize. The Italians have a superb philosophy which we might well adopt. They're all so happy— no psychiatrists in the country for the Italians are better intergrated [sic] than any people I've yet seen. Sure —  they have little ambition and their children run in ragged, filthy clothes about the streets — but they are enjoying life as few of us Americans know how.

Why are we all so ambitious, so intent on emphasising all our assets, talent, social position —all— and we ruin our health and never enjoy our life for one moment.

I am resolved to live a different life upon my return, by golly. I've roped myself down so many years during which I have had few moments of real happiness or real pleasure. I intend to be very selfish from now on and think of pleasing Joan for a change. Maybe I can teach you a little sense in the process.

Be a nice boy — stop quarrelling with me — it's such a waste of valuable time.

Will cable you next week when I know definitely what my plans will be.



Saturday Sept 2nd

Howard dear:

You've got me scared again! This time I loved our telephone conversation and every word was very clear - especially the "come home" part of it! 

That's all very well, you spoiled boy - but what happens to Joan? I see it quite clearly - I come home - empty house, divided friends, no "occupational theopathy" until "September" [the film September Affair] starts about Nov. 1st. I can't be seen with you, let's face it. You've got a lousy reputation - mebbe good for you but not the girls. No one would believe I wasn't one of your 6900 gals and there's no way to prove I'm not. (Bill does not believe I'm not one of them either, by the way.) 

So, then what happens? I stay home waiting all hours for you to telephone to say you got tied up and can't come over this evening? And this I do night after night like Olivia until you get bored with me or I go to the looney-bin? No, no, no - you've got the wrong girl, or rather - you just ain't got her at all. 

I do adore you - but I just can't see how it can work. Strangely enough, though I scarcely know you, I miss you- or perhaps I just can't bear being alone and I have to have someone to love. At any rate, I'm going to try to enjoy the remainder of this so-called holiday and leave tomorrow for, at this moment, an unknown destination.

Venice was so beautiful I could hardly bear it. The festival is the most ridiculous farce imaginable due to the fact they can't get enough good films to show + therefore must give awards to those they have. Selznick + Litvak brought theirs so they were a cinch to win - though Joe's performance in "Jenny" [sic] hardly warrants anything. The city was crawling with people we know so it was rather like an inundated Hollywood and Vine. The city itself is the most fabulous I've ever seen, however, fairly beyond the realm of possibility!

Do hope your 4 days' vacation did all the right things for you. Rupert Burns c/o Shell Oil, Nicosia, Cyprus will be my next address. Should reach there between Aug. 8th + 12th.

Just the same.



This is the last part of one of Joan's other letters, written on 11 September 1949 from Cyprus.


Darling Howard - either you should be with me or out of my life entirely - I DREAM of you every night - almost. I see you many times a day in other people - something about their walk or expression - something sometimes, when someone glowers at me - it's exactly like you!! 

I DREAD returning to California and probably would remain in Sicily for the rest of my life- but I miss you - I'm not just a little intrigued by you - and I desperately need a little bit of comfort and a soft shoulder to lean on. Have I at least one shoulder of yours?

Bill now writes me short cryptic notes when he forwards my mail - why can't people be nicer about these things? 

And look you - isn't this letter-writing a bit one-sided? Don't you think you could take the time to pen me just one postcard? Funny fellow- wish you were here or I were there right this very minute.

Hope you're so damned busy you haven't time to see all those gals every night - but not too busy so that you don't think of me just occasionally. 

Howard, Howard, Howard - could it be I love you a little?


The Venice Film Festival, mentioned in the second letter, held its 10th annual edition from 11 August until 1 September 1949. Joan mentions David Selznick, producer of Portrait of Jennie (1948), and Jennie's leading man Joseph Cotten who received the Best Actor Award for his performance (a performance apparently not to Joan's liking). Joan also mentions director Anatole Litvak, whose film The Snake Pit (1948) won the International Award. Interestingly, she doesn't say anything about her sister Olivia who was awarded the prize for Best Actress for The Snake Pit. (Incidentally, the date on the letter is "Saturday September 2nd", but Joan had mistaken either the day or the date as 2 September 1949 was on a Friday. Also, Joan said she would reach Cyprus "between Aug. 8th + 12th", but that of course should be September.)

Source of the letters: icollector.com

5 January 2021

I am your same solid true friend no matter what you ever do

For the film adaptation of his 1940 acclaimed novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway wanted Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman to play the lead roles. The author was a good friend of Cooper's but didn't meet Bergman until January 1941 at Jack's Restaurant in San Francisco. During lunch they discussed the possibility of Bergman portraying the Spanish Maria, a part she really wanted to play. Being a Nordic, however, Bergman was concerned that she wouldn't be right for the role. Hemingway immediately told her not to worry and afterwards gave her a copy of his novel with the inscription: "For Ingrid Bergman, who is the Maria of this story". (For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) was eventually made with Cooper and Bergman in the leads, like Hemingway wanted, and was directed by Sam Wood.)

Life magazine was invited to take photos of the first meeting between Ingrid Bergman and Ernest Hemingway in January 1941—above at Jack's Restaurant and below at St. Francis Hotel.

Bergman and Hemingway eventually became close friends. Hemingway was one of the people who had supported Bergman during one of the most difficult periods of her life. In 1949, the actress started an affair with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, leaving her husband Petter Lindström and daughter Pia behind in Sweden and causing a huge scandal (read more in this post). Exiled from Hollywood and declared persona non grata in the USA, Bergman fortunately still had her friends to count on, many of whom sent her letters of encouragement and support.

In the midst of the scandal Hemingway wrote Bergman the following letter, wishing to let her know that he loved her and that he was her unconditional friend. He also included a warning for Rossellini to better treat his friend right or else (".. he better be a damned good boy for you or Mister Papa will kill him some morning when he has a morning free"). Hemingway is said to have disliked Rossellini, whom he referred to as "the twenty-two pound rat".


Dear Ingrid:

Here's your contact, daughter. How is Stromboli? How is Calabria? I have a sort of idea how they are. (Beautiful and Very Dirty.) But how are you? That's what's important. (Maybe you are very beautiful and very dirty too?)

Your letter with Petter's fine P.S. came here to hospital in Padova where I have been with an infected eye. I got it the day you arrived in Italy. How's that for long-distance contact?

Am on my fifth million units of penicillin (they punch my derriere like a time clock every three hours) but fever now is normal and the infection which turned into Erysipelis (no relation to syphilis) but knocked it finally....
[The above part was written from Villa Aprile, Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy and then Hemingway continued from Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula in Cuba:]
What happened was that I got sicker after I wrote that first part and I had to use a lot more penicillin and my eye was too bad to write.

Then I read all that stuff about you and Rossellini and Petter and I didn't know what to write. Now I've had time to think it over (still knowing nothing of what goes on) and I do know I love you very much and am your same solid true friend no matter what you ever do, or decide or where you ever go. The only thing is that I miss you.

Listen daughter, now I have to make speech. This is our one and only life as I once explained to you. No one is famous nor infamous. You are a great actress. I know that from New York. Great actresses always have great troubles sooner or later. If they did not they would not be worth a shit. (Bad word you can delete it.) All things great actresses do are forgiven.

Continue speech: Everybody reaches wrong decisions. But many times the wrong decision is the right decision wrongly made. End of speech.

New speech: Do not worry. It never helped anything ever
Finished with speeches. Daughter, please don't worry and be a brave and good girl and know you have, only this short distance away, two people, Mary and me, who love you and are loyal to you. 

Let's be cheerful now like when we used to drink together... Remember this is Holy Year and everybody is pardoned for everything. Maybe you can have quintuplets in the Vatican and I will come and be a first time godfather...

If you love Roberto truly give him our love and tell him he better be a damned good boy for you or Mister Papa will kill him some morning when he has a morning free.


P.S. This is a lousy letter but we live in the lousiest times there ever were I think. But it is our one and only life so we might as well not complain about the ball park we have to play in.

We had a wonderful time in Italy. I love Venice in the non-tourist time and all the country around it and the Dolomites are the best mountains I know. I wish you had not been working and could have come up and stayed with us in Cortina d'Ampezzo. I tried to call you up from the hospital, but they said you were in some place without a phone.

Maybe this will never get to you. It certainly won't if I don't send it off. Good luck my dear. Mary sends her love.

Ernest (Mister Papa)

Source: Ingrid Bergman: My Story (1980) by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess 

27 December 2020

Grace Kelly's letter from the set of "Mogambo"

In November 1952, location shooting started on John Ford's Mogambo (1953). Cast and crew members flew to Africa, where in the ensuing months scenes were filmed in Tanganyika, Uganda, Belgian Congo and Kenya. The shoot was not without problems, though. With the Mau Mau Uprising taking place in Kenya, MGM had hired armed guards to protect the cast and crew in case of an attack. For extra security everyone was given a weapon, so they could also defend themselves. Apart from the tense situation with the Mau Mau, production was plagued by rain and mud and bad quality roads. As a result, three of the crew members were killed in road accidents, among them assistant director John Hancock.

There were also things happening on a more personal level. Leading lady Ava Gardner had learned that she was pregnant —at the time her marriage to Frank Sinatra was on shaky ground— and took a break from filming to return to London, reportedly to receive medical treatment for a tropical illness but in reality she had an abortion. The film's male lead Clark Gable got sick some time later, having developed a gum infection and briefly left Africa to see his own dentist in Los Angeles. And there was also a romance going on behind the scenes between Grace Kelly (Mogambo's second female lead) and Gable, which ended shortly after production had moved from Africa to the MGM studios in London. 

So it was a turbulent production, yet ultimately with positive results. Mogambo became a huge commercial hit and received generally good reviews. Both Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly were nominated for Oscars (resp. for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), and Grace also won a Golden Globe.

Above: Grace Kelly knitting on the set of Mogambo while co-star Clark Gable looks on. After the shooting had moved from Africa to London, Grace's mother flew to London and started chaperoning the couple; the affair ended not long thereafter. Below: Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner on the set in Africa; the women became good friends and remained friends until Grace's untimely death in 1982.
Grace Kelly and her friend Prudy Wise

While in Africa on location, Grace Kelly wrote several letters to Prudence Wise, her close friend and personal secretary. Here is one of those letters, written just before Christmas in December 1952. 

Source: icollector.com


Dear Prudy, 

Ava just arrived in camp and with her came your letter- I’m sorry I haven’t written very much - but mother told me she was sending you that letter so I didn’t want to send more of the same news- The other letter I wrote - I sent to Florida - I hope your mother will forward it - Oh God! I just this very minute thought - How dumb can I be? I sent the other letter to Mallory St. - Anyway all I said in it was to tell John when you want to come back to the apt. after Christmas - 

This is the first day off we’ve had in a long time. It’s about 4 o'clock and Gable and I are sitting in front of my tent sipping warm beer - It’s a disgrace how fat I’m getting - The food is so starchy and I am always so hungry - Haven’t heard from Phillippe - but then of course I haven’t written -

Excuse the horrible writing but am leaning on my knees and the wind is blowing - 

Ava just came into my tent and she + Clark are running a scene they are going shoot tomorrow - so it’s hard to concentrate. There really isn’t too much news we’ve been working hard- It’s hot as can be during the day - I miss New York so much this time of year - I imagine the stores are so beautiful - Please give my love to everybody and apologize to them all for my not writing - My baby giraffe - the one named after me - arrives in camp tomorrow she is so sweet - I’ll send pictures as soon as I get them - 

Clark + I went shooting the other day - shot game for the natives and a guinea hen - we ate for dinner - It was simply delicious - 

Later - 

It is now 7:30 am waiting for Gable to have his bath and pick me up for dinner - he got rather high cocktailing with old Ava next door - about 6 o'clock we all went out in the wagon with Bunny Allen - a divine looking guy - who is the white-hunter in charge of the camp - We went to see the lion down the road - a lioness + her two grown sons - they were just beautiful - we were able to get quite close to them - They put out game every few days for them to feed - in order to tame them a bit - I took pictures with the movie camera - so I hope they turn out - but it was rather dark - 

Got a letter from Sherman today as well as old John Foreman - Was in the sun a lot today and my poor nose is like a red light - 

Am sitting by a kerosene lamp as I write this being eaten by mosquitos. The hippos are starting their series of evening grunts + Gable should be along any minute so I will sign off - 

with love - 

Above: Frank Sinatra had accompanied his wife Ava Gardner to the set of Mogambo in Africa, the two photographed here at Nairobi airport with Grace Kelly. Sinatra was in between acting jobs and during production flew back to Hollywood to do a screen test for the role of Maggio in From Here To Eternity (1953), eventually landing the role and winning the Oscar. Below: The Christmas holidays took place during the Mogambo shoot and thanks to Sinatra the cast and crew could still enjoy Christmas. In the photo Ava Gardner is seen with some of the Christmas decorations Sinatra had brought back from Nairobi. (Watch Grace Kelly in this lovely clip tell the story of how Sinatra had saved their Christmas.)

22 December 2020

Merry Christmas!

With Christmas just a few days away, here is an assortment of Christmas related correspondence to put you in the holiday spirit. 

First up is a vintage Hallmark Christmas card entitled "Merry Christmas To Someone Nice"sent to Marilyn Monroe by Ella Fitzgerald. Marilyn had kept this (undated) card, which was found among her possessions after her death. 

Source: Julien's Auctions

On 6 December 1936, eight-year-old Shirley Temple wrote this note to Santa Claus, asking him to give all the boys and girls the best Christmas ever.

Source: The Daily Edge

Cary Grant wrote the following letter to his friend Beebe, thanking her for the gift she had given his then four-year-old daughter Jennifer for Christmas. Jennifer was Grant's only child (from his marriage to Dyan Cannon which lasted from 1965 until 1968). Grant retired from acting when Jennifer was born and devoted the next twenty years of his life to being a father.

Source: icollector.com
George Cukor gave his friend Joan Crawford a present for Christmas each year. In 1953, he also gave Joan's children baskets filled with candy. In the following letter Joan thanks Cukor for his generosity and also talks about the hectic Christmas she had.

Source: icollector.com
Above: Joan Crawford and George Cukor at the 1965 Oscars where Cukor was awarded the Best Director Oscar for My Fair Lady. Below: Joan with her adopted children Christopher, Christina (who would later write the controversial Mommie Dearest) and the twins Cathy and Cindy. 

And finally, here's a letter from Chuck Jones to Evelyn Karloff, written a few days after the death of her husband Boris Karloff in February 1969. Jones was the producer/ director of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, an animated television special, featuring Karloff as both the voice of the Grinch and the narrator. Broadcast for the first time on CBS television on 18 December 1966, the show went on to become a Christmas favourite, largely thanks to Karloff's delightful contribution. (Listen to Karloff here in the recorded version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Source: cartoon brew


Dear Mrs. Karloff,

It now seems apparent that "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will be a Christmas feature on television for as long as anyone can envisage. In my opinion the major reason for this is that Mr Karloff gave such a thoughtful and understanding reading of the script. I think it is entirely appropriate that children for many generations will find joy and a deeper understanding of Christmas through the skill of your husband.

Thank you
-and him.
Chuck Jones
producer/ director
"The Grinch"

Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones during a recording session of How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

While it will be a different Christmas this year, I hope you can still spend and enjoy it with your loved ones. Have a safe and merry Christmas, everyone!

17 December 2020

Most of them are scared to death the public has forgotten them

When America entered World War II in December 1941, numerous Hollywood actors, directors and other film crew members joined the US Army, Navy or Air Force. After the war had ended, these men, while perhaps physically okay, came back emotionally changed. Trying to return to a life of normalcy, it wasn't always easy for them to immediately find work again. James Stewart, for instance, struggled to resume his acting career in the months following the end of the war. "I don't know if I'm an unemployed actor or an unemployed pilot", he famously said. Stewart's contract with MGM was about to expire and the lack of film offers made him wonder if he should return to the screen at all. He even considered going back home to Indiana to run the family hardware store. But then Frank Capra, who had previously directed Stewart in You Can't Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), offered him the role of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Stewart accepted and the rest, as they say, is history.

James Stewart remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve after the war. In 1959, Stewart was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the highest-ranking actor in American military history.

Stewart was certainly not the only one to feel concerned about his film career after returning from the war. In a letter to influential columnist Hedda Hopper dated 31 October 1945, Frank Capra talks about all the other ex-service men — apart from actors, there were writers, directors, cameramen etc. — who were worried about their careers after years of absence, "scared to death the public [had] forgotten them". Thanking Hopper for the "nice plug" she had given him and Jimmy Stewart, Capra asks her to think of the other men too. He emphasises how grateful they would be for "any crumbs of publicity thrown their way" and how "a word of encouragement" from her would surely boost their spirits. 

Source: oscars.org


31 October 1945

Mrs. Hedda Hopper,
6331 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, California

Dear Hedda:

Thanks very much for the nice plug you gave me, Jimmy Stewart and "MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON."

We are still hoping to get Jimmy for my first picture*, but the deal has not been closed. He is still not quite free from the MGM contract, although it looks certain he will be shortly.

However I want to repeat again how appreciative these ex-service men are and will be for any crumbs of publicity thrown their way. Most of them are scared to death the public has forgotten them, and that their future is unsafe. They are amazed at how the public has lionized the 4-Fs. A good many of them feel that the public nausea for uniforms will react against them. 

It's a pity if the careers of some of these public figures are to be jeopardized because they answered their country's call. Many of them did not have to go.

This applies not only to actors, but there are hundreds of writers, directors, cameramen and other technicians who are worried silly about their future after several years' absence. They are bewildered by the new faces, new producers, new directors, etc., some of whom have never heard of a good many who went into uniform.

A word of encouragement from you now and then would do wonders for the low spirits of many worried and confused guys.

As ever,
(signed 'Frank')

-*It's a Wonderful Life was Capra's first picture for Liberty Films, 
an independent production company which was formed by Capra and fellow directors George Stevens and William Wyler. Following It's a Wonderful Life, the company would make just one more film, State of the Union (1948), also directed by Capra.
-Frank Capra did not enlist in the army but was commissioned by the US government to make documentaries about the war. Capra's Why We Fight documentaries are war information films, explaining to soldiers "why the hell they're in uniform". The series is considered a masterpiece in its genre and won an Academy Award.

Frank Capra receives the Distinguished Service Medal from General George C. Marshall in 1945.

9 December 2020

James Dean is not an imitation of anybody

Bosley Crowther, famed film critic of The New York Times, was quite critical of James Dean after seeing him in his first big role in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955). In his review, published on 10 March 1955, Crowther wrote: "This young actor, who is here doing his first big screen stint, is a mass of histrionic gingerbread. He scuffs his feet, he whirls, he pouts, he sputters, he leans against walls, he rolls his eyes, he swallows his words, he ambles slack-kneed — all like Marlon Brando used to do. Never have we seen a performer so clearly follow another's style. Mr. Kazan should be spanked for permitting him to do such a sophomoric thing. Whatever there might be of reasonable torment in this youngster is buried beneath the clumsy display".

Crowther was not the only one to criticise Dean's acting and Kazan's direction. There were others, among them Lee Rogow of the Saturday Review, who wrote on 19 March 1955 that "Kazan [had] apparently attempted to graft a Brando-type personality and set of mannerisms upon Dean, and the result [was] less than successful". Dean, who idolised Brando, responded to the criticism in Newsweek: "I am not disturbed by the comparison, nor am I flattered. I have my own personal rebellion and don't have to rely upon Brando." 

Elia Kazan seemed more hurt by the criticism. Kazan greatly admired Brando — they had worked together on three films, i.e. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952) and On the Waterfront (1954) — but being accused of encouraging Dean to act like Brando was "really too ridiculous", he thought. In the following letter to Helen Bower of the Detroit Free Press (one of several critics who had written quite favourably about Dean and the film), Kazan defends Dean and with it his own direction. 

[New York]

March 22, 1955

Dear Miss Bower:

Thank you for your letter. The allegation about Dean was not concerted but was made in some rather disturbing places by people whom I felt know better.

Dean actually has a talent all his own and a sizeable one. He doesn't need to imitate anyone and was not imitating anyone. He admires Brando, as do practically all young actors today. In this respect I would say that he had excellent taste. Brando has no doubt influenced Dean to some extent but he has also influenced 100 others, just as Barrymore did 30 years ago, just as Cagney and Spence Tracy did 20 years ago. The thing about my grafting a Brando-like personality and set of mannerisms on Dean is really too ridiculous to answer. I supposed it was a way of speaking rather than a remark meant literally. I actually don't think he's much like Brando. He's considerably more introverted, more drawn, more naked. Whatever he is, though, he's not an imitation of anybody. He's too proud to try to imitate anyone. He has too much difficulty as does any decent worker in our craft— thinking about anything except playing the part as written. Critics who say he's imitating Brando just reveal a naivete about acting, direction, and production.

I would love to see your review of the picture. I gather you liked it. It meant a lot to me and I was rather upset by Crowther's reaction in New York. The other critics here, however, liked it very much indeed and the picture is doing well.



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

East of Eden was a big commercial success. Both Kazan and Dean were nominated for an Oscar (Dean posthumously) but didn't win. Of the four Oscar nominations the film received only Jo van Fleet won. 
East of Eden also earned the award for Best Motion Picture–Drama at the Golden Globes and Best Dramatic Film at the Cannes Film Festival

Elia Kazan and James Dean behind the scenes of East of Eden, below pictured with Julie Harris and Marlon Brando during Brando's visit to the set.

5 December 2020

Wondering what I did to deserve such a handsome gift ...

When Cary Grant received a china mug with his name on it, he thanked its sender Moe Howard (leader of The Three Stooges) in his usual charming and humorous way. Browsing the web, unfortunately I could find no connection between Grant and Howard and, like Grant, I have no idea why the gift was sent. (Perhaps Howard wrote back and explained Grant the reason for his gift?) 

At any rate, here is Grant's delightful letter.

30 November 2020

Lionel Barrymore, Composer

“I doubt if there is a greater, more exhaustingly emotional experience possible than hearing your own music brilliantly performed, performed big, by a great orchestra, with those twenty violins picking up the fugues that were imaginary to you, and a renowned conductor welding the whole thing into something far better and more impressive than you had dreamed.

Lionel Barrymore first started to write classical music when he was about thirty years old. Music was his greatest passion, besides art (he initially wanted to be a painter). Barrymore had a huge record collection and an amazing musical knowledge. He was even able to recognise a composer in the first two bars. The multi-talented actor had created numerous compositions, many of which he wrote when he was already in his sixties. Studying with Hungarian composer Eugene Zador, Barrymore had tried his hand at everything —symphonies, fugues, piano suites, operas etc.. He candidly admitted that, while composing his music, he had "borrowed from everybody except the studio gateman", thereby noting that "nothing is new" and that everyone else, with the possible exception of Richard Wagner and Claude Debussy, was a borrower too. ("For the most part, every melody you hear is "Tristan-like" or taken straight from Debussy", he thought.) 

Barrymore was quite modest about his musical achievements and ultimately felt that people shouldn't take him too seriously as a composer. Nevertheless, he was immensely proud and excited —as one can imagine— when several of his compositions were performed by real conductors and orchestras, some of them even renowned. 

The first time a Barrymore composition was performed in public was in 1940. The symphonic suite Tableau Russe was played by the Los Angeles WPA Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl and was next used in the film Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941). Following the death of his brother John in 1942, Barrymore started working on a tone poem as a tribute to John, called In Memoriam. On 22 April 1944, it was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy and broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. 

Partita was, as Barrymore himself called it, "a more ambitious composition" and was one of the highlights of his musical career. The piece was first played by Fabien Sevitzky and his Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on 20 March 1944. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski also performed Partita on 31 March 1946, broadcast on national radio as part of a program that included a symphony by Beethoven and an overture by Brahms. It was about the latter performance that Barrymore later said: "Listening to Partita with Rodzinski and the great New York Philharmonic was, I have to confess with no modesty and no shame, an enormous experience...  An orchestra of one hundred pieces, the best musicians in the world, performing me! I took care to be alone that Sunday when they played Partita because I did not want anybody to see me weep."

Other notable compositions by Barrymore include his piano compositions Scherzo Grotesque and Song Without Words, which were published by G. Schirmer in 1945; Opera Buffa, which was performed by the Burbank Symphony Orchestra under Leo Damiani in 1949; and the theme song of the radio program Mayor of the Town (1942-1949) of which Barrymore later said: "... this had a pleasant ring which I always liked, though I could never quite decide where I stole it."

Article from THE ABC WEEKLY, 23 September 1944

One of the conductors Barrymore had worked with was Fabien Sevitzky of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (already briefly mentioned above). Apart from Partita, Sevitzky had performed several of Barrymore's compositions, although the first piece he conducted was not an original composition but Barrymore's orchestration of Edward MacDowell's piano suite Sea Pieces. After that first collaboration the two men had stayed in touch through letters, with Barrymore from time to time submitting work for Sevitzky's consideration. Other Barrymore works that Sevitzky eventually performed include Preludium and Fugue in December 1944 and a Piano concerto in 1946.

From the Barrymore-Sevitzky correspondence which lasted several years, here are two letters written by Barrymore in 1944. The New York concert mentioned in the second letter possibly refers to the concert at Lewisohn Stadium later that summer (on 2 August), where Sevitzky would again perform Partita, this time conducting the New York Philharmonic.


February 4, 1944


My dear Mr. Sevitzky,

Yesterday I sent special delivery score and parts. Please tell me (as I know you will) whether you like it or not. If not, I will completely understand and try again.

I think Hollywood would be indeed most fortunate and grateful if you consented to conduct here again. 

For myself, (entirely off the record), Mrs. Irish has been kind enough to ask me to do the speaking in "Peter and the Wolf", and I have as cleverly as I could evaded it. But I am going to say that if they were lucky enough to get Dr. Sevitzky for some concerts I would be most happy to do it under him. In any case I will do this at once, and I feel sure you will be "encircled" and "attacked" by the Bowl immediately!

So, I am looking forward eagerly to seeing you here this summer!

With all fond wishes,

Yours very sincerely,

(signed 'Lionel Barrymore')

Lionel Barrymore


June 7, 1944

Dear Dr. Sevitzky

Thank you very much for your letter of May 25th. Concerning your questions about tempi, everything you suggest is all right. The tempo of the Fugue, however, is about 120-124. #16, 2nd bar, the 5th note is C natural as in the score. The 5th bar after 16, 5th note is F natural, as you say.

Thank you in advance for sending the recording to me. I am anxiously awaiting it. I know the performance will be marvelous in spite of the short rehearsing time. I am praying to God that the New York concert will materialize, and since you are the conductor and knowing God's wisdom in all things, I know it will happen!

Since you have done me the great honour of permitting me to submit a Prelude to you, I have thought of nothing else since I got your letter, and believe me, you will have it in ample time. I only pray that it will be worthy of your consideration.

It will be a great pleasure to see you in person on your visit to Hollywood, and I am looking forward to meeting you.

Yours very cordially, 

(signed 'Lionel Barrymore')

Source letters: Heritage Auctions
All quotes in this post taken from We Barrymores (1951), by Lionel Barrymore and Cameron Shipp.

Barrymore's tribute to his brother John In Memoriam can be listened to hereTableau Russe here (as  performed in Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day). Other works by Barrymore here and here.