12 November 2018

The old Hopkins-Davis feud has flared up again

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

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

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

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

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

2 November 2018

Robert Mitchum's favourite role

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

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

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

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



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

21 October 2018

A new low in the treatment of directors

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

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

Via: icollector


August 28, 1944

Dear Vince

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Zinnemann

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

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

14 October 2018

To memo or not to memo

Mega-producer David O. Selznick first started to dictate memos when he was a teenager working as an apprentice for his father, silent film producer and distributor Lewis J. Selznick. "I was self-conscious about my youth and in giving orders and expressing myself verbally, but dictating permitted me to hide behind the front of what I liked to think were impressive memos", he later recalled. Selznick got into the habit of writing memos early on and it became his way of communicating with everyone. He liked memos because they were written proof of what had been said and agreed upon and could be referred to if necessary. Also, like his father, he had no patience for small talk, so communicating via memos served him well. But while Selznick was an avid memo writer --the memos collected in Rudy Behlmer's wonderful Memo from David O. Selznick (1972) are only a fraction of what he actually wrote-- every once in a while he did try to cut down on them.

During the filming of his production of Rebecca (1940), Selznick decided to abandon his usual communication via memo by giving verbal instructions regarding the 'look' he wanted for the second Mrs de Winter, played by Joan Fontaine. However, as Selznick would later discover, his instructions were communicated wrong, leading to confusion on the set. Apparently someone had said that Selznick wanted Fontaine to look 'glamorous' while in fact he wanted the exact opposite. Appalled that people were given the wrong message, Selznick wrote to production manager Ray Klune (via memo of course), complaining about the situation and also wishing to know who the culprit was.
October 6, 1939
To: Mr Klune
Every time I try to cut down on my memos by giving verbal instructions, something happens which discourages me.
For months now I have been trying to tell everybody connected with Rebecca that what I wanted in the girl, especially in the first part, was an unglamorous creature, but one sufficiently pretty and appealing, in a simple girlish way, for it to be understandable why Maxim would marry her. But I was apparently unsuccessful with everybody for a long period of time.
The other day I sent verbal word to the set to be sure there was no misunderstanding that I wanted the girl to look as pretty and appealing as she could as long as she was not glamorous. The message was delivered to Miss Fontaine, to the cameraman, hairdresser, and everybody else that I wanted her to look "glamorous... more than at Manderley." This naturally threw everybody into confusion and obviously must have made everybody think I had suddenly gone mad. For the sake of whatever is left of my reputation for sanity, I should appreciate it if you would trace this error and explain what happened to those who received the message. And I should like to know, for my own sake, just who, stupidly or mischievously, delivered the message wrong.
 Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer 

Above: David Selznick with two of his secretaries Virginia Olds (back to camera) and Frances Inglis while dictating a memo in 1941. Below: Joan Fontaine as the unglamorous second Mrs de Winter in Alfred Hitchock's Rebecca (1940).

30 September 2018

My contract is ridiculous

During Hollywood's studio system, Bette Davis was one of the first actors to openly challenge her contract. After winning the Oscar for her performance in Dangerous (1935), Bette felt entitled to better pay, better roles and more vacation time (among others). Her studio Warner Bros., however, refused to give her what she wanted. When Bette in turn refused to play in a film that Warners offered her (i.e. God's Country and the Woman (1937)) she was suspended without pay. 

Defying her contract with Warners, Bette took off for England to make two films with an independent production company. In September 1936, she was sued by Warners for breach of contract. Warners won the case and Bette, in debt with no income, had to return to Hollywood to work. Despite losing the lawsuit, Bette did get better roles starting with Marked Woman (1937). The most successful period of her career soon followed with the lead in Jezebel (1938) for which she won her second Oscar. After that she starred in Dark Victory, Juarez, The Old Maid and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex all released in 1939 and all box-office hits. Bette had now become the studio's most profitable star and was even dubbed "The Fifth Warner Brother".

Bette Davis and her boss Jack L. Warner-- pictured above at the Academy Awards Ceremony held on 5 March 1936 where Bette received the Oscar for Best Actress for Dangerous, and below at a studio party ca. 1945.
During her employment with Warner Bros. (1932-1949), Bette wrote several letters to her boss Jack Warner showing her dissatisfaction with her contract two of these letters are seen below. 

First up is a letter from June 1936.  Bette had received her Oscar for Dangerous earlier that year on 5 March and wrote to Warner asking for several privileges concerning her contract. As said before, Bette did not get what she wanted and subsequently left for England.
June 21, 1936 
Dear Mr. [Jack] Warner:
In reference to our talk todayit seemed to me our main problem is getting together on the money. You as Head of your firm, naturally know what your concern can afford and what they can't.  
I have no desire to be "off your list" and I feel sureyou do not wish it either. I agree lots of harm can be done thru publicity. Believe me when I tell you I have thought and prepared for every angle of this for a long time now. I also know you have the right to keep me from workinga great unhappiness to me because I enjoy workingespecially after my long vacation. I am so rested it hurts! However, there comes a time in everyone's career when certain things make working worth-while. I am now referring to the very few rights I have asked forwhen I saw you in your office the other day you assured me you would do all the things I wanted anyway with the exception of the loan-out [to other studios], so it is hard for me to understand why you object to putting it in writing. Five years is a long timeanything can happenso you must see my side of itprotection. You can't blame anyone for protecting themselves. If I am worth anything to you at allyou can't mind letting me know it in writingif I'm not this letter is in vain. 
As to the "loan-out clause", I am the kind of a person who thrives under change. I have never wanted this clause because I wanted to feel I was my own bosshave authority of my ownquite the contrary. I like a bosssomeone to look up to whose opinion I respect as I do yours. Mentallya change does me goodmakes me do better work, I like working with new directors, new casts, etc. I also am ambitious to become known as a great actressI might, who can tell. Every once in a while a part comes along peculiarly suited to me. I want to feel, should a role come my way, I am at liberty to take advantage of it. If no such part ever appears in five years, then I will not take advantage of my right. In that case I am very anxious to travel, thus the request for three consecutive months vacation. Travel is also changegood publicity for you and me both and particularly important to me during the next five years as I have never been out of this countryit is broadening to one's intellect and will help me I'm sure in my work and thus help you. I am an essentially high-strung personfor that reasonchange means rest and I must have rest. 
To get back to our call and the purpose of this letter, I would be willing to take less money, if in consideration of this, you would give me my "rights." You have asked me to be level headed in this matter. I feel I am extremely and I hope you can agree that I am. I am more than anxious to work for you again, but not as things stand. I really would be unable to do justice to my work at allas I would feel I was coming backnot entitled to the things I sincerely believe I deserve. 
As a happy person, I can work like Hellas an unhappy one, I make myself and everyone around me unhappy. Also I know and you do tooin a business where you have a fickle public to depend on, the money should be made when you mean something, not when the public has had time to tell you to "go to hell"... 
[Despite Bette's wish to be loaned out to other studios, during her time at Warners she was loaned out only twice, i.e. to RKO for Of Human Bondage (1934) and to Samuel Goldwyn for The Little Foxes (1941).]

Bette Davis photographed in 1939 in her beloved home Butternut cottage in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire-- her escape from her busy life in Hollywood.

The second letter is from September 1939. Having made five films in twelve months, Bette was exhausted and demanded a new contract limiting her pictures to two per year "with a possible third if all conditions [were] favorable". She refused to do the film 'Til We Meet Again (1940) that was offered to her nextthe part went to Merle Oberon and took an extended vacation in her native New England. Bette wouldn't return to work until January 1940, her next film being All This, and Heaven Too (1940). 

The five films that had left Bette Davis exhausted and made Warners a lot of money-- clockwise from top left: Dark Victory, Jezebel, The Old Maid, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Juarez.

September 1, 1939
Franconia, N.H.
Dear J.L.,
Have just finished talking to Hal [Wallis, head of production at Warners]. I must explain one thingfor the first time in my life I don't care whether I ever make another picture or not. I am that overworked. I have given you a lot of honest effort in the past eight years. The time has come when I feel I have earned some privileges in writing. These I must have.
My contract is ridiculous. I have no protection whatsoever. I must have limited pictures I must have time off between. I think two [per year] is all I should make with a possible third if all conditions are favorable. The Wood Bros. [managers] know all the conditions— and were given to understand some weeks ago that you were willing to write a contract for me that would not be very far from what I wanted.
It is up to you. I am very serious about all this because I must be for my own good. If necessary I am even willing to stand the gaff of unemployment. Health is one thing that can't be manufactured. I am very serious about mine— and willing to go to any length to protect it. And staying in Hollywood working almost forty weeks of the year does not make sensefrom your standpointbox office can be ruined by too many picturesas you well know.
Would appreciate your not communicating with meit upsets me very much. I must be allowed to completely forget business...
Also arguing with me is no usenor do I want to come back until it is settled.
(signed) Bette Davis 
Source: Inside Warner Bros.(1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.

10 September 2018

Errol Flynn's letter from the set of "Virginia City"

Meant as a follow-up to the successful Dodge City (1939), Virginia City (1940) began production late October 1939. Cast and crew members (including director Michael Curtiz, Errol Flynn, Randolph Scott, Humphrey Bogart and Miriam Hopkins) all went to Flagstaff, Arizona for six weeks of location shooting. John Hilder, a journalist for Hollywood Magazine, accompanied the cast to the location and later reported that "tempers flared, and feuds raged. For one eventful weekend it appeared that the cast was about to choose sides—the blues and the grays—and re-fight the Civil War with bare hands, rocks or practical bullets." According to columnist Sidney Skolsky there were several feuds going on at the same time. "Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart are feuding," he said, "Flynn and Miriam Hopkins are feuding, and Mike Curtiz and Miriam Hopkins are feuding." 

In between the feuding, Errol Flynn was lucky enough to have a Sunday off while everybody else had to work. Enjoying his free time, Flynn wrote the following, interesting letter to a journalist friend (Ward Marsh at the Cleveland Plain Dealer) talking about life on the set, their daily program and the Navajo Indians on whose territory they were filming.

Source: reel art


November 19, 1939

Mr. W. Ward Marsh
The Plain Dealer
Cleveland, Ohio

Dear Mr. Marsh:

Sunday, a day of rest for most of the country, but not for the majority of us up here in Northern Arizona on location with Warner Bros.' "Virginia City" troupe. Location companies, you know, work Sundays and holidays. I'm more fortunate than Miriam Hopkins, Humphrey Bogart, Randolph Scott, Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Big Boy Williams, Moroni Olsen, John Litel, Director Mike Curtiz and the rest of the troupe, for I got the day off. They didn't.

This letter is a sort of penance for the privilege of getting a holiday.  I thought I'd make good use of the time by writing an account of what has been happening to us in this little town whose population is numerically less than one half its 6900 feet altitude.

We've been here for three weeks and it will probably be another fortnight before our work is completed. The company of two hundred undoubtedly is spread out over more landscape than any other location company ever has been. "Hoppy"-- that's our pet name for Miriam Hopkins -- Randy Scott and "Bogey" -- that's Humphrey Bogart -- are living fifty five miles from the Flagstaff headquarters, at the Indian trading post of Cameron, which hangs on the canyon wall over the Little Colorado. It's in the heart of the Navajo country and a few mud hogans, looking like huge upside-down salad bowls squad right under their windows.

When the company is at work on the reservation, the Navajos appear shortly before lunch. They arrive on horseback, in trucks and afoot, but the squaws and the children always are afoot. They come to get the leftovers of the company's lunch. On the first day in the desert only a few Indians arrived. Shy, they remained at a distance and the lunches were carried to them by members of the cast and crew. Sandwiches were eaten without removing the paper wrappings. None knew how to open the bottles of milk, until one clever buck thrust his thumb through the top and received a milk shower bath. None of the Navajos admit they understand English until a camera is pointed at them. Then they demand "twenty-five cents".

Things happen once in a while that are not on the production schedule. Like two days ago when, returning to the trading post after a hard day in the saddle in front of the cameras, Randy and I found a disabled car on Highway 89 and discovered in it, of all things, seven of Billy Rose's Aquacade nymphs on the way to the coast. The girls had a flat tire, and we took it off and put on the spare, but did the diving girls proceed to the coast? They did not. They're still here, to see how movies are made.

Miriam voiced weariness of the seclusion forced upon her in the little hotel last night, so a group of the boys took her on a tour of the Mexican settlement here. It was a strange crowd, electricians, wardrobe girls and Miss Hopkins. In a little Mexican cafe she chose to have her dinner, and while the hot food was being prepared, she dropped nickels in the music box and lent a hand in the cooking in the kitchen.

Many Flagstaff children will appear in the picture. For their protection, Warner Brothers sent Lois Horn, teacher and welfare worker, on the location expedition. To hire the children, Miss Horn first goes to the grade school principal to inquire about the most needy families of Flagstaff. He selects the children from the classrooms, but only one child from each family. The children are tested, Director Michael Curtiz selects those he wants, and then Miss Horn confers with their teachers about their studies. On location Miss Horn continues to coach the children in their lessons, a studio bus serving as the classroom.

Navajo Indians and squaws used in the picture receive $7.40 a day, the most money they have ever earned. Papooses are paid $5.20 a day. One Navajo, his squaw, two children, papoose, wagon, horses and sheep were used for one day. At the end of the day he had ninety-six dollars coming to him and he demanded it in silver dollars. The ninety-six silver dollars were given to him and he tucked them in his pockets, shirt, pants and hat and waddled toward his horse to return to his mud hogan. But he was so weighted down with silver he could not get aboard his pony. Rather than exchange the silver for paper money, he was boosted to the top of a boulder, the horse was led alongside, and he was oozed into his saddle. Silver, squaw, papooses, horses and sheep and all, he jogged into the sunset of the Painted Desert.

Locations are not always the pleasant, romantic things they sound like. If you think this one is all beer and skittles, just listen to the program we all must follow:

We are routed out of bed at 5 A.M., bolt down breakfasts at 5:30 A.M., shiver in the cold, dark morn, and roll away in the buses at 6 A.M. Rolling equipment that moves the company includes 12 limousines, 6 thirty-five passenger buses, 3 ten-ton trucks, 17 eight-ton trucks, 2 sound units, 2 station wagons, 2 camera cars and 1 larger generator truck. The cost of keeping the company on location averages $15,000.00 daily. The weekly meal ticket is $4,000.00. Location sites change daily. Within a radius of sixty miles, scenes typical of Kansas, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona have been filmed. One day we are at Schnebley [sic] Hill, looking deep down into the depths of glorious Oak Creek Canyon, resembling Colorado. The next we are ninety miles away at Round Hills, starving in a wagon train as it staggers through a Nevada sand storm (produced in Arizona by Hollywood wind machines).

Ordinarily we stay on the job until sunset, which is about 5:30 P.M. By the time we get back to our respective places of lodging it's 7 or 7:30 P.M. A shower before dinner gets us to the hotel dining room or one of the town's three cafes about 8 P.M. And most of us are ready to turn at 9 or 9:30, with that 5 o'clock call staring us in the face next morning.

To house the invasion from Hollywood, three hotels and five auto camps are filled with actors, actresses, cameramen, stunt men and women, cowboys, grips, electricians, property men, wardrobe experts, makeup artists, truck drivers and stand-ins. And fifty-five miles away, up at Cameron is an overflow of twenty-five or thirty members of the company.

Most of us are traveling between fifty and one hundred and twenty miles each day going to and from the various location sites. All in all, it's quite a grind.

But don't misunderstand me. In spite of the long hours, the hard work and the endless traveling back and forth we've all enjoyed it. The magnificent scenery - the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon -  in itself would be more than worth the trip.

So, trite though it may sound, I really mean it when I say we're having an exciting time and we wish you could be here.

Best wishes.


Errol Flynn


Some people believe that the letter was not written by Flynn himself but by Warner Bros.' Publicity Department (read here). However, Flynn biographer Thomas McNulty, author of Errol Flynn: The Life and Career (2004), didn't seem to question the letter's authenticity. He included excerpts from the letter in his book, saying it revealed Flynn's "anecdotal talent"

Above: Randolph Scott, Errol Flynn and Miriam Hopkins in a scene from Virginia City. Below: Flynn with Guinn "Big Boy" Williams and Humphrey Bogart, the latter clearly miscast as a Mexican bandit.

25 August 2018

Dialogue is the foundation

In the late 1950s, following the decline of her film career, Barbara Stanwyck turned to television. Her television career would prove quite successful earning her three Emmy Awards-- one for The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1961), another for the western series The Big Valley (1965-1969) and a third for the hit mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983). In 1985, Barbara made a few guest appearances in the successful soap opera Dynasty before starring in its spin-off The Colbys for a full season. Dissatisfied with her role as Constance Colby Patterson ("I seemed to be saying the same things week after week"), Barbara quit the show after the first season. The role would be the last of her career. (When offered a leading role in another soap opera Falcon Crest, Barbara declined and the part went to Jane Wyman.)

After quitting The Colbys, Barbara donated 24 of the show's scripts to the University of Wyoming in October 1986. In a letter accompanying the scripts (as seen below), Barbara urged student writers and film historians to read them in order to learn from the bad dialogue. "Dialogue is the foundation", she emphasized while encouraging the re-reading of scripts she had previously donated to the University, among them gems like Ball of Fire (1941; written by Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett), Double Indemnity (1944; Billy Wilder/Raymond Chandler), Remember the Night (1940; Preston Sturges) and The Lady Eve (1941; Preston Sturges).

Great dialogue in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944)  (above) and  Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941) (below).


October 24, 1986

To the Student Writers and Film Historians at The University of Wyoming--

Here are the twenty-four scripts of the night time "soap" - THE COLBYS. The character I played was Constance Colby Patterson.

I quit the show after the first season. I seemed to be saying the same things week after week -- the only way people could see any difference in performance was the fact that I had a different dress on. At least that is the way I felt. Constance wasn't going anyplace - but I was- I quit!

I have no wish to denigrate any writers but pay attention to this dialogue and construction and I do believe you will learn. Noel Coward it isn't.

There are eighty some odd film scripts that I previously sent to the University. Please refresh your memories and re-read a few such as DOUBLE INDEMNITY, BALL OF FIRE, STELLA DALLAS, THE LADY EVE, REMEMBER THE NIGHT and SORRY, WRONG NUMBER.

Just because it is known as a "soap" does not mean it has to be poor writing-- it is still film and it should entertain.

There is an old saying in our business:
"If it ain't on Paper-- it ain't on the screen."

Dialogue is the foundation.

So, dear students-- be kind to us poor actors-- Good dialogue.


signed "Barbara Stanwyck"

18 August 2018

Groucho Marx's advice to Jerry Lewis

The highly successful, decade-long partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis came to an end in 1956. The comedy duo starred together in 16 films, numerous nightclub shows, radio and television shows. But in July 1956 it all ended, with Martin and Lewis going their separate ways and quickly finding success on their own.

The break-up of Martin and Lewis, who were also friends, had been initiated by Martin who was tired of playing second fiddle to his partner. Martin was fed up with the films in which he played the dull romantic lead who sang a few songs, while Lewis got all the best scenes playing the funny guy. The final straw for Martin came in 1954 during the promotion of the film Living it Up, when Look magazine gave the duo a cover photo but cropped Martin out of it. Legally bound by contracts, the duo stayed together for two more years before finally splitting up. For the next 20 years, Martin and Lewis didn't speak to each other until their mutual friend Frank Sinatra arranged a surprise television reunion in 1976 (watch here). However, it wasn't until the death of Martin's son Dean Paul Jr. in 1987 that the two men made up. They continued to speak on and off until Martin's death in 1995.

Photo above: the only photo I could find of Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis together-- here they are pictured with Judy Garland and Tony Martin (I don't know what the occasion was).

On 5 April 1954, after reading reports that Martin and Lewis were having problems and might even split up, a concerned Groucho Marx wrote the following letter to Jerry Lewis. Being part of a team himself and having experienced similar problems with his brothers, Groucho urged Lewis to sit down with Martin and talk things out. (Incidentally, Groucho's letter is surprisingly serious with none of the typical Groucho jokes.) Three weeks later, Lewis sent his reply assuring Groucho he would follow his advice. As mentioned above, it would take two more years before Martin and Lewis finally split up.

April 5, 1954
Dear Jerry:
I've been reading in columns that there is ill feeling between you boys and that there's even a likelihood that you might go your separate ways. I hope this isn't true for you are awfully good together, and show business needs you. I don't mean to imply that either of you couldn't make a living on his own. I am sure you could. But you do complement each other and that's one of the reasons you click so successfully. 
I am sure you have had disagreements and arguments, just as all teams, trios and quartets have had since the beginning of the theater. In the heat of working together there's inevitably a nervous tension and frequently it's during these moments that two high-strung temperaments will flare up and slash at each other. 
There may be nothing to the rumors of your separation. However, if there is any ill feeling or bitterness between you, it will eventually affect your work. If that feeling does exist, sit down calmly together, alone --when I say alone, I mean no agents, no family, no one but you two-- sit down alone, and talk it out.

April 28, 1954
Dear Groucho:
I want you to know how very thrilled I was to receive your very nice note. It is most gratifying and heartwarming to know that a guy as busy as yourself cares enough about my problem to take the time to sit down and write. Believe me, I deeply appreciate your interest along with realizing the sagacity of your words, and have every intention of following your advice. I want to assure you that I will do the right thing in this matter.
Please convey to your family my warmest personal regards and again my many thanks for your letter. I hope some day soon I will see you so I can thank you in person. Until then, I will close with "the secret word-- is thanks." 

On  23 January 1962, Groucho wrote Jerry another letter referring to the advice he had given eight years earlier:
Do you remember some years ago when I wrote you and Dino a joint letter pleading with you not to go your separate ways? I said the separation would mean disaster for both of you. Since then you have made $18,000,000 (net) and Dino, I imagine, has made about the same. Therefore I will abstain from giving you any more advice.

8 August 2018

Errol Flynn, you are a hard man to get!

As a child Marilyn Monroe was a fan of Errol Flynn. After she became a star herself, Marilyn attended several of Flynn's notorious parties at Mulholland Farm. According to Hedy Lamarr, Flynn often held "greyhound" races around his house where six young men would chase a "rabbit", i.e. a topless girl dressed like a Playboy bunny. The bunny was sometimes a well-known actress and at one time she was Marilyn [source]. 

In 1950, Marilyn was not yet a star but a few years away from becoming one. With her supporting roles in two critically acclaimed films All About Eve and especially The Asphalt Jungle Marilyn got noticed by the critics, and at the end of 1950 she signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox where she would enjoy her biggest successes. It was around that same year that Marilyn received flowers from her childhood idol Errol Flynn. Thanking Flynn for his gift, Marilyn wrote him the following sweet note. Marilyn's note was not sent but is believed to have been left at Mulholland Farm's doorstep.

Source: Christies


Dear Errol Flynn. 
You are a hard man to get! I have called you several times to thank you for the lovely flowers and nice note, but have not been lucky enough to reach you - They were lovely, and it was so nice of you to have thought of sending them - Thank you - See you soon, have fun! 

Marilyn Monroe

Note: Marilyn's message to Errol Flynn was written on a calling card from "Mrs. Edward Francis Hutton", i.e. Dorothy Dear Metzger, Hutton's third wife. Why Marilyn used the card or how she came by it is not clear.

24 July 2018

It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all

I only know British actress Hermione Gingold from Vincente Minnelli's musical Gigi (1958) in which she portrayed Gigi's grandmother Madame Alvarez. (Her duet I remember it well with Maurice Chevalier is legendary.) Before coming to the US in the early 1950s, however, Gingold had done mostly stage work in England. Her stage work included several successful revues with Hermione Baddeley (from the 1930s until the 1950s) with whom she had formed a stage partnership.

Apart from the revues, Gingold and Baddeley also worked together on Noël Coward's play Fallen Angels, its original production dating back to 1925. In 1949, the play was revived in London with the two Hermiones playing the jilted wives who were contemplating adultery. Coward himself was appalled by the production and said: "I have never yet in my long experience seen a more vulgar, silly, unfunny, disgraceful performance." Despite Coward's criticism and bad reviews, the play proved a big financial success, running for a total of nine months. 

Noël Coward wasn't the only one who couldn't appreciate the Gingold/Baddeley version of his play. In April 1950, Hermione Gingold received a letter from a member of the audience (wishing to remain anonymous) who was also disgusted by the play and especially Gingold's performance. Known for her sharp-tongued wit, Gingold replied by letter which was later published in her 1952 book My Own Unaided Work.  

Via: Letters of Note
Original source: My Own Unaided Work (1952) by Hermione Gingold

The two Hermiones
April, 1950 
Dear Madam, 
Unless something is done at once about your disgusting exhibition in the filthy play you appear in every night, I and several of my friends will do something very unpleasant about it. 
What you and your co-partner Hermione Baddeley do nightly in public is a slur on English womanhood. "Fallen Angels" is disgusting as a play, but your performance in it makes it loathsome. How the powers that be could permit such an exhibition is past the understanding of a God-fearing woman who supports the present Government--and thanks God for them. 
I give you fair warning to leave the play, or it will be the worse for you. Our wrath will strike at you in your home, or maybe during a performance at the theatre. 
A. Friend 
Ambassadors TheatreW.C.2.
April 14th
Dear Friend,
How clever and capricious you are, cloaking yourself in anonymity, and I must confess I cannot for the life of me guess which of my many friends you can be. You have sent my head spinning and my imagination whirling. Could you be found among my dear friends, intimate friends, close friends, childhood friends, pen friends, family friends, friends of a friend, friends in distress, friends who are closer than a brother, friends in need, or school friends? Your letter quite clearly shows that you are not illiterate, and therefore we can rule out my school friends. Your masterly command of the language banishes the thought that you could be found among my friends from overseas. Your witty criticism of my performance makes me think that I might find you among my nearest and dearest “bosom friends,” that is if you did not choose to address me as “Dear Madam”--a clever move this, and one that reduces my last thought to mere stupidity and you to a casual acquaintance, and yet I must banish the thought “casual acquaintance.” for how many people are there in London today who realise that my “co-partner,” as you wittily dub her, is none other than Hermione Baddeley, and by the way, she wants me to thank you for the facsimile letter you sent her, and say that she is getting on in years and feeble, and is not able to attend to her correspondence as she would wish, and so she cannot answer your letter personally. 
An awful thought has dawned. It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all. I must try to dismiss this thought. It depresses me. To lose a friend like you in a few words, oh no. 
So, dear anonymous friend, if this should chance to meet your eye, please keep your promise and come round one night--yes, and bring your friends, too, for I know intuitively that your friends will be my friends. 
Cordially yours,  
Hermione Gingold 
P.S. If you wish to strike at me with your wrath in my home, I am always in between ten-thirty and twelve in the morning, excluding Tuesday, which is a bad day, as a lot of tiresome tradespeople call for the same reason. You will easily recognize my apartment, for, apart from the number “85” marked in plain figures on the door, over the knocker there is a notice, "strike twice and wait, bell out of order.”