31 January 2023

Dear Mr. Mayer

Lionel Barrymore had a good relationship with his boss Louis B. Mayer, having first worked for Mayer at Metro Pictures and then at MGM from 1926 onwards. In his 1951 memoir We Barrymores Barrymore claimed that, in spite of what people generally believed, Mayer was nót "a cold and shrewd executive who dangles careers on strings, plays with actors like puppets, and discards them when they begin to unravel around the edges". In his book the actor also said that Mayer often got him out of financial trouble. Barrymore owed a sizable amount to the IRS in income taxes and spent years paying off his debt. Whenever he asked Mayer for financial aid, his boss was there for him: "And so, when it often happened that I had exhausted the patience of the paymasters, I would hurry up to Mr. Mayer's office. "Lionel's on his way," they would telephone upstairs. "Tell the boss to get ready." He was always ready. He counseled me without scolding, got me out of this predicament and that, succored me from the Federal dicks when my income taxes threatened to mount to jailworthy heights, and reached for a checkbook and salvation when necessary. "

Mayer also helped Barrymore with a different problem. After a broken hip injury in 1936 combined with his arthritis, Barrymore was always in pain and by 1938 he was confined to a wheelchair. In order to cope with the pain Mayer provided Barrymore with cocaine ("L.B. gets me $400 worth of cocaine a day to ease my pain. I don’t know where he gets it. And I don't care. But I bless him every time it puts me to sleep.").


Barrymore remained a MGM contract player during his entire film career and was only occasionally loaned out to other studios.


1939 - Lionel Barrymore celebrates his 61st birthday at MGM in the company of his boss Louis B. Mayer (with glasses) and fellow actors (l-r) Mickey Rooney, Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, William Powell, Rosalind Russell and Robert Taylor.
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Strapped for cash, Lionel Barrymore wrote the following letter to Louis B. Mayer around 1935, asking his boss to give him his full salary that month. MGM normally deducted a large portion from Barrymore's paycheck to pay his bills and debts.

Source: Buddenbrooks

Transcript:

Dear Mr. Mayer

I don't want to take up your time seeing you with so many others waiting. 

Also it's difficult if not impossible for me to get the time off the set - so I write to save time.

It would be of immeasurable help to me if the company would forgo my payments for a month, so I could get my full salary for a month - as my payment of five hundred to the pauper status and odd bits to government etc. leaves me very little to maneuver with- but in a month several items would have been paid.

Will you please leave word with Miss Koverman [Mayer's personal secretary] and I will stop in after we finish tonight - with many thanks

Lionel Barrymore

20 January 2023

What do you think of dropping her entirely?

Dissatisfied with the roles MGM offered her, Joan Crawford left the studio in June 1943 after having been a contract player for 18 years. Two days later, she signed a contract with Warner Bros for only a third of her MGM salary. Her first film at Warners was The Hollywood Canteen (1944), in which Joan and a lot of other stars appeared in cameo roles. Joan was next offered several roles by Warners but, much to the studio's dismay, declined them all. Then Mildred Pierce (1945) came along and Joan was quite eager to play the titular role. While director Michael Curtiz wanted Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis was Warners' first choice, Joan was cast after Bette turned down the part. Mildred Pierce proved to be both a success and the boost Joan's career needed, with Joan eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.

In the years that followed, Joan made several other films for Warner Bros —Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947), Flamingo Road (1949), It's a Great Feeling (1949), The Damned Don't Cry (1950), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) and This Woman Is Dangerous (1952). After finishing the latter film, which she later called the worst picture of her career, Joan asked Warner Bros to release her from her contract.

Five years prior to the termination of Joan's contract, studio boss Jack Warner was contemplating to "drop" Joan, as the following telegram to the studio's vice-president Samuel Schneider shows. Later Warner decided against it and kept Joan on his payroll a while longer. 

Incidentally, Warner calls Humoresque and Possessed "failures", while both films did well at the box-office.

 

DECEMBER 15, 1947

TO SCHNEIDER STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

FROM PRESENT INDICATIONS APPEARS TO ME WE GOING HAVE LOT TROUBLE WITH JOAN CRAWFORD, TEMPERAMENT AND SUCH THINGS ... MAY HAVE SUSPEND HER THIS WEEK. SECONDLY, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF DROPPING HER ENTIRELY. WE HAD SEMI FAILURE IN "HUMORESQUE" AND EXCEPTIONAL FAILURE IN "POSSESSED". INSTEAD WORRYING ABOUT HER COULD BE DEVOTING MY TIME TO WORTHWHILE PRODUCTIONS AND NEW PERSONALITIES ... HOWEVER, THIS ONLY WAY I FEEL TODAY. IF SHE STRAIGHTENS OUT BY END WEEK MAY NOT FEEL THIS WAY BUT FACTS MUST BE FACED AS THESE THINGS TAKE ALL YOUR TIME.

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

Circa 1935: Joan Crawford chats with Jack Warner at a dinner party (seated next to Joan are Cesar Romero, Sonja Henie and Michael Brook).  

13 January 2023

Fields would probably make better Micawber

Published in 1850, Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is an autobiographical novel which was also the author's personal favourite. The story follows the life of David from childhood into young adulthood, during which he encounters hardship, abuse, poverty but also love and happiness as he meets an array of vivid characters. It was a big wish of producer David O. Selznick to adapt David Copperfield for the screen, a novel he had cherished since childhood. Selnick's Russian father had learned English by reading the novel and had next read it to his sons. Initially, MGM boss Louis B. Mayer saw nothing in Selznick's idea to turn the book into a film but Selznick —at the time under contract to MGM— eventually convinced Mayer to okay the project. Subsequently, Selznick hired Hugh Walpole to adapt the story from Dickens' novel and Howard Estabrook and Lenore J. Coffee to write the screenplay. George Cukor was hired to direct.

It took a bit of effort to cast some of the film's pivotal roles. Selznick and Cukor extensively searched in the USA, Canada and the UK for a child actor to play young David. While Mayer had wanted MGM child actor Jackie Cooper, Selznick was adamant about casting a British youngster in order to stay true to the novel. In 1934 on a scouting trip to London, Selznick and Cukor eventually found young Freddie Bartholomew and gave him the part.

The casting of Mr. Micawber was a different story. While W.C. Fields, who eventually played Micawber, had been under consideration from the start, it was Charles Laughton who was Selznick and Cukor's first choice. Laughton had just won the Best Actor Oscar for The Private Lives of Henry VIII (1933) and would be the most important and bankable name in the large cast. Amid much publicity, Laughton was given the role but after just two days of shooting he wanted to be released from it. Having lost his confidence and convinced he was all wrong for the part, Laughton was eventually dismissed. Cukor said Laughton just didn't know how to play Micawber, lacking the geniality that was required. (According to cameraman Hal Kern, in the rushes Laughton "looked as if he was going to molest the child".) 

Selznick now set out to hire Fields and borrowed him from Paramount. Although Fields wasn't right physically —with his head shaven Laughton had "looked Micawber to the life", said Cukor— he was quite eager to play the role, despite his dislike of working with children. Fields was a Dickens fan and David Copperfield is the only film where he followed the script and refrained from ad-libbing. Although his contract stipulated he should speak with a British accent, the actor wouldn't drop his American accent and in his defense later said: "My father was an Englishman and I inherited this accent from him! Are you trying to go against nature?!"

_______


Laughton in 1933
Regarding the casting of the Micawber role David Selznick wrote several memos, two of which are seen below. The first one was sent to Louis B. Mayer in May 1934 and the second one several months later (in September) to MGM executive Robert Rubin. As stated above, it is generally believed that Laughton himself wanted to be released from the film, a viewpoint that was also shared by Laughton biographer Simon Callow. Selznick's memo to Rubin, however, suggests that other factors led to Laughton's dismissal, having to do with costs as well as "certain difficulties" the actor experienced with MGM. (What those "difficulties" with MGM were, I don't know. As for the costs, Selznick was afraid that they would be "impossible" if he had to wait for Laughton to finish the Paramount film Ruggles of Red Gap (1935); during rehearsals Laughton had fallen ill with a rectal abscess and spent a number of weeks hospitalised, causing the picture to be delayed.)

 

MAY 17 1934 

LONDON

TO: L.B. MAYER

...MUST KNOW WHAT CHANCE CHARLES LAUGHTON FOR ROLE OF MICAWBER. FEEL MORE THAN EVER VITAL IMPORTANCE OF BENDING EVERY EFFORT TO SECURE HIM, BUT MUST KNOW WITHIN FEW DAYS SO CAN DECIDE WHETHER TO SIGN ANOTHER MICAWBER. IF LAUGHTON UNAVAILABLE FOR MICAWBER, MIGHT LIKE W.C. FIELDS. CAN WE GET HIM? TO AVOID NECESSITY OF TRYING PARAMOUNT, THINK WE SHOULD GET WORD TO FIELDS DIRECT, WHO WOULD PROBABLY GIVE EYE TOOTH TO PLAY MICAWBER ... CORDIALLY

DAVID


SEPTEMBER 27, 1934

J. ROBERT RUBIN
1540 BROADWAY
NEW YORK, N.Y.

CONFIDENTIALLY, ENTIRELY POSSIBLE WE WILL NOT, IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING WE WENT THROUGH, BE ABLE USE CHARLES LAUGHTON IN "COPPERFIELD" BECAUSE HIS ILLNESS HAS DELAYED HIS PARAMOUNT PICTURE AND IF WE WAITED UNTIL HE FINISHED THAT, COST WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE. ALSO WE ARE HAVING CERTAIN DIFFICULTIES WITH HIM. WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IMMEDIATELY IS WHETHER IF IT COMES TO ISSUE, HOW MUCH DIFFERENCE COMMERCIALLY WOULD THERE BE HAVING W.C. FIELDS INSTEAD OF LAUGHTON? IT OF COURSE NOT CERTAIN WHETHER WE CAN OBTAIN FIELDS, BUT AM RAISING QUESTION IN HOPE WE COULD. FIELDS WOULD PROBABLY MAKE BETTER MICAWBER, BUT WE'VE ALWAYS FELT WE REQUIERED THE ONE IMPORTANT NAME IN CAST IN LAUGHTON. WOULD YOU CHECK THIS IMMEDIATELY WITH FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC SALES DEPARTMENTS AND ADVISE ME. REGARDS

DAVID SELZNICK 

 

Source:  Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 

1934 - Selznick & Co on their return from England after a "David Copperfield" work visit. Left to right: Peter Trent (who was considered for the role of the adult David but eventually lost the part to Frank Lawton), screenwriter Howard Estabrook, Irene Mayer Selznick and David O. Selznick, Hugh Walpole (who adapted the story from Dicken's novel and also played the vicar in the film), George Cukor and Fritz Lang (who had just been signed by Selznick to a MGM contract).  
Freddie Bartholomew as young David and WC Fields as Mr. Micawber in a publicity still for David Copperfield. Upon its release in January 1935, the film was a big success with both critics and audiences. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture (losing to Mutiny on the Bounty).

29 December 2022

Fun with all the hard work

Coming to the end of 2022, here is a selection of random letters, written by a few of my fave actors and a fave director.

First up is a letter from Barbara Stanwyck to Miss Cunningham (a fan) about the making of Banjo on My Knee (1936). Barbara writes how she and her colleagues had enjoyed making the film. Banjo on My Knee is the first film in which Barbara sings on screen. While she wanted to be dubbed —"I have a deep husky voice without a high note in it", Barbara had warned beforehand— producer Darryl Zanuck insisted that she would do her own singing. (There's a lovely duet by Barbara and Tony Martin, to be watched here). Apart from Banjo, Barbara also sings in This is My Affair (1937) and Lady of Burlesque (1943) but her voice was dubbed in Ball of Fire (1941).

Via: Ebay

Transcript:

Jan 10/37

Dear Miss Cunningham —

Thanks for your nice letter. I'm glad you liked "Banjo" - we all liked making it - we just had fun with all the hard work.

The filming took thirty-one days, that's about average time with the exception of epics and they go on forever.

My hair is dark red - eyes blue- and there you have it.

I do appreciate your taking the time to write me and hope you will continue to like my work.

Thank you,
Barbara Stanwyck


Barbara Stanwyck in the door opening of her trailer during production of Banjo on My Knee.
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In October 1938, Norma Shearer wrote to her fans, Mr and Mrs Layton, about Marie Antoinette (her "most loved role"), while next touching on the subject of Cleopatra and her new film Idiot's Delight co-starring Clark Gable.

Via: vivelareine.tumblr.com


Above: Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power in a scene from Marie Antoinette (1938)directed by W. S. Van Dyke. Below: Norma with Clark Gable in Clarence Brown's Idiot's Delight (1939).
Next is another letter to a fan, this one is from Alfred Hitchcock to a Mr Parker, dated 21 April 1941. Hitch reacts to a suggestion from Mr Parker to have the audience solve the murder mystery. The film Before the Fact mentioned in the letter would be released under the name Suspicion (1941).

Source:  Worthpoint

On the set of Suspicion with the leads Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine and director Alfred Hitchcock.
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In March 1971, Doris Day wrote this lovely letter to friend and fellow actress Mary Wickes. The two women appeared together in four movies, i.e. On Moonlight Bay (1951), I'll See You in My Dreams (1951), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) and It Happened to Jane (1959). Wickes also guest-starred on the first season of the tv series The Doris Day Show (1968).

Source: dorisday.net
A candid photo of Mary Wickes and Doris Day

Doris and Mary in By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)
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Cary Grant wrote the following note to fellow actor and friend Clifton Webb, signing it "Betsy and Cary". Betsy Drake, an actress and writer, was Grant's third wife and they were married from 1949 until 1962.

Source: Heritage Auctions

Transcript:

Monday- 29th 

Clifton —

It's so nice to know someone, in this seldom considerate, and usually selfish, world, who is kind courteous and undemanding. You have our affection, dear Clifton!

Betsy and Cary

Chrysanthemums are so impressive and colorful this time of the year that we thought we'd accompany this note with a few for your mother and you.
B and C.

Cary Grant and Betsy Drake in 1958
1935, Cary Grant and Clifton Webb and some friends/fellow actors, among them Claudette Colbert and Marlene Dietrich.
_____



The final letter for this post was written by Deborah Kerr to her friend Radie in May 1990. In it, Kerr talks about Greta Garbo and Garbo's last visit to Klosters (Switzerland), the Alpine village in which Kerr and her second husband, novelist/screenwriter Peter Viertel, had settled since they got married in 1960. Viertel's mother was Salka Viertel —an actress/screenwriter and a very close friend of Greta Garbo— who, in order to be near her family, had also moved to Klosters. Garbo was a regular visitor there and even after Salka's death in 1978 she kept visiting Klosters during the summer months, her last visit being in 1988. (Incidentally, the Viertels also had a house in Marbella (Spain) from where Kerr wrote her letter.)

Tea and Sympathy (1956) mentioned in Kerr's letter is a Vincente Minnelli film, in which Kerr co-starred with John Kerr. The film was based on the 1953 stage play of the same name, written by Robert Anderson. I assume Kerr is referring to Anderson when she talks about "Bob".

Source: Heritage Auctions
Deborah Kerr and Peter Viertel — the couple got married in 1960 and remained married until Kerr's death in 2007.
Deborah Kerr with co-star John Kerr from Tea and Sympathy and Robert Anderson (right) who wrote the original play.

HAPPY 2023, EVERYONE!!

11 December 2022

I don't know why we can't be friends

Having the power to ruin careers and lives, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was hated by most actors in Hollywood. Joan Bennett once sent Hopper a live skunk as a valentine after having been "the victim of her nasty remarks" for years, and Spencer Tracy publicly kicked Hopper in the butt due to gossip she had spread about him and Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn herself wasn't a fan of Hopper either, not only because of her damaging gossip but also because of Hopper's political beliefs. A fervent Republican, Hopper was a strong supporter of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the Hollywood blacklist. Hepburn, by contrast, had been a member of the Committee for the First Amendment, an action group established in September 1947 in support of the Hollywood Ten and in protest against the HUAC hearings.

While Hepburn and Hopper seemed to have little in common, 79-year-old Hopper wrote Hepburn a letter in December 1964, wondering why they couldn't be friends. It was about a year before Hopper would pass away and apparently she was reminiscing and missing the good old days of Hollywood. Having always admired Hepburn, Hopper wrote: "... it's a crime that you're not acting. We have no one fit to kiss your feet". (At the time Hepburn had taken a break from acting, while caring for her life companion Spencer Tracy who was in poor health.) Hepburn responded with a kind letter five days later, first referring to the photograph of her and Humphrey Bogart which Hopper had sent along, and next fondly remembering Bogie and his Oscar win for The African Queen (1951). Then Hepburn went on to say, "You and I are friends, Hedda. Time has seen to that...", while at the same time reminding Hopper that she never approved of Hopper's profession or politics. In this light, Hepburn also mentioned John Foster Dulles, a conservative Republican politician who was, like Hopper, a staunch opponent of communism.

In 1967, Hepburn would return to the big screen and eventually win three more Oscars, for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981). Hopper was not alive to see this, she died in February 1966.

Hepburn (l) and Hopper
Both letters and many more can be found in Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking (2019) by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall. 

On location in Africa, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn enjoy a break during the filming of The African Queen. 

23 November 2022

Broadway Bogie

Like many Hollywood actors, Humphrey Bogart began his acting career on the stage. He appeared in 18 Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935, making his debut in the play Drifting. Bogie's early Broadway roles were mostly romantic juveniles in drawing-room comedies and he sometimes referred to them as his 'Tennis, anyone?' roles. In a 1948 interview he explained: "I used to play juveniles on Broadway and came bouncing into drawing rooms with a tennis racket under my arm and the line: 'Tennis anybody?' It was a stage trick to get some of the characters off the set so the plot could continue."

When the Great Depression hit and theatre attendance dropped, Bogart tried his luck in Hollywood. His first feature film was Up the River (1930) co-starring Spencer Tracy, followed by Bad Sister (1931) with Bette Davis. The early 1930s saw Bogart shuttling back and forth between Hollywood and the New York stage, and during that period he was also often out of work. 1935 proved a turning point in Bogart's career when he was offered the role of the escaped murderer Duke Mantee in Robert E. Sherwood's play The Petrified Forest. The play, which starred Leslie Howard in the leading role, was a big success, running for 197 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. The Petrified Forest would be Bogie's final stage appearance.

Warner Bros. bought the rights to The Petrified Forest and wanted Edward G. Robinson for the role of Duke Mantee but Leslie Howard, who held the production rights, wanted Bogie. For that purpose, Howard sent a telegram to Jack Warner which read: "Att: Jack Warner Insist Bogart Play Mantee No Bogart No Deal L.H." Bogart was cast, with the film proving his breakthrough in Hollywood. (The Petrified Forest, directed by Archie Mayo, was released in 1936, with Bette Davis co-starring with Howard and Bogart.) Having been friends with Howard ever since they played together on Broadway and grateful for everything Howard had done for him, in 1952 Bogart named his daughter Leslie Howard Bogart (Bogie's second child with wife Lauren Bacall), in honour of his friend who had died in a plane crash during WWII.

Bogie and Shirley Booth in the Broadway play Hell's Bells (1925)
Bogie and Ruth Gordon in the Broadway play Saturday's Children (1927). Apart from being an actress Gordon was also a successful screenwriter, known mostly for her screenplay of Adam's Rib (1949), co-written with husband Garson Kanin.
Bogie and Judith Anderson on Broadway in The Mask and the Face (1933). While Anderson was a leading stage actress, she is best known for her role as Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940).

On the Broadway stage in The Petrified Forest (1935), with Bogie (far left) and Leslie Howard (far right).

__________


Humphrey Bogart wrote the following letter sometime in the late 1920s when he was still years away from becoming a famous movie star. At the time he was performing on the New York stage, although I'm not sure which play he was in. His letter is addressed to "Lyman", possibly Lyman Brown; Lyman and his brother Chamberlain were theater agents and producers of Broadway plays.



Transcript:

March 15

Dear Lyman:

Am enclosing the notices for Washington and Boston.  Stopped in to say "Hello" on Monday but you were, as usual, out to lunch.

As far as I know we continue playing after a lay-off Holy Week; but have received no booking as yet.

If the show is as brilliantly handled as it has been so far, will probably play the Century Theatre – Madison Square Garden not being available.

Hope your new play gets over – Ruth Gordon told me she thought it a very funny play – it appears that Gregory and Harpo were going to buy it for her at one time.

Regards and premature Easter Greetings etc.

Humphrey

13 November 2022

For Lord's Sake, don't let those bulbs stick out

In July 1934, Joseph Breen and his Production Code Administration (PCA) started to strictly enforce the Motion Picture Production Code, Hollywood's own set of censorship rules that was adopted in 1930 (aka the Hays Code). Up till then PCA's predecessor, the Studio Relations Committee (SRC), had been tasked with implementing the Code. The SRC had no authority, however, to censor content or order studios to remove content; all they could do was advise studios on how to change the scripts in order to meet the Code's requirements. As the SRC only had an advisory capacity and no penalties were given for violating the Code, studios often ignored the SRC's suggestions. This did not mean, however, that pre-Code films (made between 1930 and mid-1934) went uncensored. City and state censorship boards could order studios to cut films or they could even ban films from playing in cinemas. With the costs for cutting films being paid by the studios, a major concern for studio executives was the fact that each censorship board had different rules, so what was allowed in one state/city could be forbidden in another. This often meant making different cuts of the same film, costing studios large amounts of money. (By giving studios advice, the SRC tried to save them from making these costly cuts and to help them get their films past the censors. Nevertheless, as said, the SRC's advice was frequently ignored.) 

Adolphe Menjou flanked by Joan Blondell (l) and Mary Astor in a publicity still for Convention City.

Of all the major studios Warner Bros. was the most recalcitrant when it came to following the Code. Joseph Breen hated the pre-Code Warner films and called them "the lowest bunch we have". Nevertheless, at times the studio had to give in to the censors, for example with Baby Face (1933), which was initially rejected by the New York State Censorship Board; only after Warners made the changes that had been demanded by the New York censors —financially NYC was too important a market to lose— the film got accepted. 

Here are two memos, showing two slightly nervous Warner Bros. executives, worrying about the censors. The first memo was sent by studio boss Jack Warner to producer Hal Wallis regarding Convention City and the second is from Wallis to director Michael Curtiz re: Mandalay, the latter film released just before the enforcement of the Code. 
 

DATE: October 5, 1933
SUBJECT: "Convention City"

TO: Mr. Wallis
FROM: Mr. Warner

We must put brassieres on Joan Blondell and make her cover up her breasts because, otherwise, we are going to have these pictures stopped in a lot of places. I believe in showing their forms but, for Lord's sake, don't let those bulbs stick out. I'm referring to her gown in Convention City.

J.L. Warner

[*More about Convention City, see the note at the bottom of this post.]

 

_____

 

DATE: October 21, 1933
SUBJECT: "Mandalay" 
TO: Curtiz
FROM: Hal Wallis

I am just looking at your dailies ...

Generally your stuff is beautiful and I don't want to start limiting you and restricting you ...

However, when you show Kay Francis in the bathtub with [Ricardo] Cortez in the shot and a close-up of Kay Francis in the tub and show her stepping out of the tub and going into Cortez's arms, then you get me to the point where I am going to have to tell you to stick to the script and not to do anything else. For God's sake, Mike, you have been making pictures long enough to know that it is impossible to show a man and a woman who are not married in a scene of this kind. The situation itself is censorable enough with Cortez and Francis living [together] ...

Hal Wallis 


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

Above: The scene (as described in the memo) was changed, with Cortez now leaning in through an open hatchway and kissing Francis (out of the bath and wrapped in a towel) through the hatchway, with the final shot of Francis' bare legs and the towel landed on the floor. While the scene was still risky, it got accepted.  However, when Warners applied for a certificate of approval to re-issue Mandalay in 1936, the application was denied. Below: Kay Francis fabulously dressed by Orry-Kelly in a scene from Mandalay.


*Note: 
Convention City
, directed by Archie Mayo and starring Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Mary Astor, Guy Kibbee and Adolphe Menjou, is considered a lost film. When it was released in 1933, the film was successful at the box-office but, due to its racy content, was taken out of circulation once the Code was enforced. The story of the film revolves around the convention of the Honeywell Rubber Company in Atlantic City, with the company's employees being mostly preoccupied with booze and sex. In 1936, Warner Bros. tried to re-release the film but PCA's Joseph Breen considered it beyond redemption and rejected the studio's request for a seal of approval. Subsequently, studio boss Jack Warner reportedly ordered the prints and negatives of the film to be destroyed. According to this interesting article by Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project, however, not all prints were destroyed and prints of the film were shown as late as WWII. Hutchinson seems convinced a print still exists but "we just have to find it!". At any rate, until that happens (if it ever will happen), Convention City remains one of the more coveted lost Hollywood films. Leading lady Joan Blondell once said about it: "That is the raunchiest thing there has ever been. We had so many hysterically dirty things in it ..." (Incidentally, the original screenplay of the film still exists and can be found in the Warner Bros. script archives.)

Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee in Convention City

5 November 2022

Buster Keaton, whom I have selected to follow in my footsteps ...

I am not a fan of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle but I love Buster Keaton and recently watched a lot of Buster shorts, including several he made with Arbuckle (The Cook (1918) being my favourite of the Buster-Arbuckle shorts). It was through Arbuckle that Buster had his first break in Hollywood. The two met in early 1917 and Arbuckle, who was then at the height of his popularity, took Buster under his wing. Until then Buster had been performing with his parents in a vaudeville act (as The Three Keatons) and had never stood in front of a camera before. When asked by Arbuckle to do a scene for his newest two-reeler The Butcher Boy, Buster proved to be a natural and Arbuckle immediately hired him. The two men entered into a very successful working relationship, with Buster appearing in a total of 14 Arbuckle shorts. 

In 1920, after completing their final film together The Garage, Buster went on to make films on his own, starting with a series of two-reelers including One Week, Convict 13 and Neighbors. Due to his success with Arbuckle, Buster was given his own production unit by independent producer Joseph M. Schenck —Buster Keaton Productions— which first produced two-reelers and later feature films. Arbuckle, in turn, signed a very lucrative contract with Paramount Pictures in 1921 and made several full-length features for the studio before becoming involved in a huge scandal. Accused of the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe, Arbuckle faced three highly publicised trials which —despite his eventual acquittal— destroyed his career, while also leaving him bankrupt.

Apart from being colleagues, Buster and Arbuckle were close friends. Buster was one of the people, along with Charlie Chaplin, who had supported and defended Arbuckle during the scandal. After his acquittal Arbuckle tried to make films again, but he was banned from the screen and could only work behind the camera under a pseudonym. Buster attempted to help his friend by hiring him as co-director on Sherlock Jr. (1924). Arbuckle proved very difficult to work with —a nervous wreck after the trials, he lost his temper easily and screamed at actors on the set— which made Buster end their collaboration. Nevertheless, the two men remained friends and Buster financially supported Arbuckle for the remainder of Arbuckle's life. (In 1933 Arbuckle died of a heart attack, only 46 years old.)

_____


For the letter of this post, let's go back to the period before the scandal. Having completed The Garage (his last short with Buster), Arbuckle was excited to move on and make feature films. He also wanted to give Buster a hand with his solo career, and for that purpose a printed copy of the following letter was sent to 25,000 of Arbuckle's fans. Calling Buster "a worthy successor" and "one who could make you laugh even more than [he] did", Arbuckle encouraged his own fans to go out and see Buster in the theatre.

Via: Pinterest

Transcript:

Dear friend:

I am sending you a photograph of "Buster" Keaton, the little sad faced fellow who used to work in my pictures and whom I have selected to follow in my footsteps and make two-reel comedies.

As you know, I am now making five-reel comedy features but I did not desert the two-reelers until I felt perfectly sure I had found a worthy successor -- one who could make you laugh even more than I did.

Up to date "Buster" has made three pictures entitled: "One Week"; "Convict 13" and "The Scarecrow". These pictures are first-class laughing successes.

If you want to see them ask the manager of your favorite moving picture theatre when he is going to play "Buster" Keaton's comedies and he will give you the exact date.

Always your friend,

(signed) Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle

25 October 2022

You are the most talented woman at friendship

Helen Hayes and Joan Crawford became friends in the 1930s. In her (third) memoir My Life in Three Acts (1990) Hayes said that Joan had adopted her as her best friend, despite the fact that they were very different. Joan probably didn't feel threatened by her, Helen thought, not considering her a rival. In any case, Helen was fascinated by the glamorous Joan and the two women entered into an unlikely friendship. 

According to her memoir, Hayes didn't see much of Joan anymore after Joan became involved with Pepsi-Cola, while Hayes herself was busy working in the theatre. (In 1955, Joan married Alfred Steele, president of Pepsi-Cola, and after Steele's death four years later she became a board member of Pepsi, to eventually retire in 1973.) Nevertheless, the women would still meet on occasion and also sent each other telegrams/letters. In her 1962 autobiography, Joan said that she and Helen were "staunch friends, sometimes only by letter". Below is some of Helen's correspondence to Joan from the 1970's, clearly showing that Joan never forgot her friends.

Sources: letter above left The Concluding Chapter of Crawford and the two other letters The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia

Transcript:

March 6, 1970

Dearest Joan:

As I said at "Pavillion", you are the most talented woman at friendship (along with some other things) that I have ever known.

Thank you for being so helpful to my morale with your wire and your visit to "Harvey" and for helping me through that lunch last Monday.

You look great, so there's no need to tell you to be careful not to work too hard.

Blessings, 
signed "Helen H."


Transcript:

October 20, 1972

Dear Joan: 

Thank you for your thoughtful wire.

I can't get over you. You are always right there - never forget.

Love and blessings,
signed "Helen H."


Transcript:

October 26, 1974

Dear Joan:

Just back from England to find your birthday wire.

You are rapidly becoming my favorite person.

Bless you,
signed "Helen H."
_____


In 1978, a year after Joan's death, Joan's adoptive daughter Christina published Mommie Dearest, a tell-all book in which she accused her mother of mental and physical abuse towards her and her adoptive siblings. Joan's two other daughters, Cathy and Cindy, denied the allegations made against their mother as did many of Joan's friends, including Joan's ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy. Helen Hayes, however, was one of the people who said she had personally witnessed some form of abuse (others were, for example, June Allyson and Betty Hutton). This is an excerpt from Hayes' memoir, published thirteen years after Joan's death:

"Joan was not quite rational in her raising of children. You might say she was strict or stern. But cruel is probably the right word. [...]

When my young son Jim came to stay with me, we would go out to lunch with them [Joan and her son Christopher]. Joan would snap, “Christopher!” whenever he tried to speak. He would bow his little head, completely cowed, and then he’d say, “Mommie dearest, may I speak?” Joan’s children had to say [that] before she allowed them to utter another word. It would have been futile for me or anyone else to protest. Joan would only get angry and probably vent her rage on the kids. 

On one of my Hollywood trips about this time, I ran into Dinah Shore in the hairdressing department of MGM. She beckoned me to come over, and then began talking in a whisper. “Helen, everybody knows that you’re Joan Crawford’s close friend. Can you do something about her treatment of those children? We’re all worried to death.” ... Well, I was frightened to do it. We were all afraid of Joan – which is the biggest problem in this kind of situation, as we’ve seen with fatal results. No one would speak up. 

I have read that people who are abused as children often become abusive parents. Maybe it was Joan’s tough childhood that made her exert her power like that over her own children. But understanding the reason did not make their suffering any easier to watch."

(l to r) ca. 1956, Helen Hayes, Alfred Steele, Joan Crawford and James MacArthur; Steele was Joan's fourth husband and MacArthur was Hayes' adopted son.