13 June 2021

God Bless, Charlie Brown

Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow met in 1964 when he was 49 years old and she 19. Sinatra immediately fell for Farrow and later reportedly said: "I was hers, instantly. I loved that hair, man. I think the hair's what got me." (Farrow would later cut her hair and while it was said she had done it to spite Sinatra, in her book What Falls Away: A Memoir (1997) she denied this and said that Sinatra loved her pixie cut the minute he saw it.)

The couple got married on 19 July 1966, each wanting different things out of married life. Sinatra wanted Farrow to give up acting and be a housewife while she wanted to be an actress, refusing to give up her career for him. In 1967, Farrow accepted the leading role in Rosemary's Baby (1968), Roman Polanski's horror film, which would ultimately lead to the couple's divorce. Since production of the film got delayed by several weeks, Farrow wasn't available to co-star with her husband in his next film The Detective (1968) which she had agreed to do with him. Sinatra demanded that she drop Rosemary's Baby but she refused and insisted on finishing it. A furious Sinatra then served her with the divorce papers on the set of Rosemary's Baby in November 1967. Unable to overcome their differences —according to Farrow the age difference was the main reason for their breakup— the two eventually divorced in August 1968.

After their divorce, Sinatra stayed friends with Farrow, like he had with his other ex-wives Nancy Barbato and Ava Gardner. (He married Barbara Marx in 1976, his last wife until his death in 1998.) Farrow said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2013 that they "never really split up", calling Sinatra the love of her life and saying that her son Ronan (thought to be Woody Allen's son) was "possibly" Sinatra's. Several people close to Sinatra have denied the implication made by Farrow, including Sinatra's daughter Tina (stating her father had a vasectomy in 1968) and Sinatra's close friend Tony Oppedisano who addresses the subject in his recently published book Sinatra and Me: In the Wee Small Hours.

At any rate, until his death Sinatra remained close to Farrow, at times writing her letters which showed his continuous affection for her. A few of these letters can be seen below, the latter two written after the divorce. The first note (on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines stationery) was penned by Sinatra in July 1966 from London, just before he married Farrow later that month in Las Vegas.

Incidentally, Sinatra used to call Farrow "Angel Face" and she nicknamed him "Charlie Brown".


Transcript:

Angel Face —

The moment I discovered you I became a tower of contentment and happiness, and Christopher Columbus became a bum. 
I adore you
Francis
alias 
Charles Brown

love to Samantha
[sketch]

(on envelope) ONE GUESS!








Transcript:

Wednesday
May 1st [1974?]

Good morning darling,

It's very early here, and I'm on my way to Washington to meet with the vice-president for a couple of days. Will be back in N.Y. Friday.

I'm fairly well these days except for being terribly lonely. I miss you a great deal. Please look after yourself and stay well.

I love you I love you
C.B.

P.S. The snapshot is to make you smile. [snapshot of a cute little dog]

Source: Vanity Fair








6 June 2021

"Coco": I cannot see anyone but you in the part

In 1969, after an absence of seventeen years, Katharine Hepburn returned to Broadway to perform in Coco, her only musical in a long and impressive career. The musical was written by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and André Previn (music) and was based on the life of French fashion designer Coco Chanel, focusing on the 1950s when Chanel came out of retirement after fifteen years. Initially Hepburn, who couldn't really sing, wasn't eager to play the role, but after weeks of vocal lessons with MGM vocal coach Roger Edens and after meeting Chanel she decided to accept. (When she heard herself later on the cast album, she famously quipped: "I sound like Donald Duck".)

Coco
opened on 18 December 1969 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre where it ran for 329 performances. After eight months Hepburn's contract ended and she was replaced by Danielle Darrieux. With no major star to attract audiences and the show garnering poor reviews, Coco with Darrieux closed after only two months. The original Broadway production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning in two categories, i.e. for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (René Auberjonois) and Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton). Hepburn was also nominated but lost to Lauren Bacall in Applause.

Following her Broadway run, Hepburn went on a national tour with Coco from January through June 1971 and, despite mediocre reviews, the show was sold out everywhere. Although Coco was a big success financially, Paramount Pictures, who had put up the money for the original Broadway production (a then record amount of $900,000), decided not to turn it into a film. 

At age 62, Katharine Hepburn in Coco (above and below). When Chanel learned that Miss Hepburn was going to play her she was very pleased, assuming it was Audrey and not Katharine. She thought that the musical was going to focus on her younger years, as initially agreed upon, but Alan Lerner later decided to tell the story of Chanel as an older woman.

The man behind the Coco project was producer Frederick Brisson. Brisson had bought the rights to Chanel's life story in the early 1960's and originally intended the musical as a vehicle for his wife Rosalind Russell. Russell —previously successful on Broadway with the musical Wonderful Town (1953-1954) for which she won a Tony Award, and Auntie Mame (1956-1958) for which she was nominated— was quite eager to return to Broadway and desperately wanted the role. But while Lerner and Previn had started to write their material with Russell in mind, they gradually became convinced she was all wrong for it. They told Brisson how they felt, who naturally told his wife. Trying to hold on to the role that was meant for her, Russell next gave an interview to the press saying she had already been cast as Coco. When the announcement appeared in the New York Times on 27 September 1967, Lerner was outraged — blaming Brisson rather than Russell— and urged Roz to announce her withdrawal from the project, "for a reason to be mutually agreed upon"*. 

*Several sources claim that Roz withdrew from Coco because she had developed acute arthritis. According to her autobiography Life is a Banquet (1977), however, it wasn't until 1969 that she started to develop arthritic symptoms. So the reason for her withdrawal that was communicated to the press in late 1967 must have been a different one, although I couldn't find what it was. 

Rosalind Russell and husband Frederick Brisson who were married from 1941 until Roz's death in 1976 (above) and Katharine Hepburn flanked by Brisson and Alan Jay Lerner (below). Lerner is probably best remembered for his collaboration with composer Frederick Loewe on such musicals as Brigadoon, My Fair Lady and Gigi.

Seen below are two letters written by Alan Jay Lerner regarding the casting of Coco. In the first letter to Frederick Brisson, dated 13 September 1967, Lerner said that while he initially had doubts about Roz Russell playing Chanel, he was now "unalterably opposed" to it (as was Previn) and also explained why. Convinced that Katharine Hepburn would be the perfect Coco, Lerner wrote Hepburn an impassioned letter four days later, trying to persuade her to accept the part ("... never in my entire professional life have I ever wanted anyone to play any role in anything I have ever written as much as I want you to play Coco."). Probably that same month Hepburn agreed to consider the role.

 

September 13, 1967

Dear Freddy, 

Contrary to previous information as you can see I am still in London. I had a marvelous ten days work with André and all the melodies are now completed, including the verses. We may have to add one small interlude but that remains to be seen. In any case, it would only be a short afternoon's work for André.

Not only that, but at long last the book is finished to my satisfaction and you should have a copy in your hands by the time you receive this letter. It is still long in the beginning and I don't mean to imply that I have finished work on it, but for the first time there is a beginning, a middle and an end, and the play at least has an architecture. I hope you will agree.

If you do agree then I think you will also feel as André and I do that —as I have been fearing for many months— this is definitely not for Roz and Roz is definitely not for it. I am totally, irrefutably convinced that each would do the other a great injustice. Her special warmth and ingenuousness that shine through her talent and make it unique would, if called upon as it is now written, give the play a softness which would destroy the whole fabric of it. To ask her to bury it completely would be like hiring Merman and asking her not to sing. What the part requires is a certain emotional brittleness; it is a quality someone either has or has not. It cannot be assumed. That particular kind of cracking along on top of the feelings if it isn't natural emotionally and stylistically comes out at best, hard and at worst, heartless. It is the kind of role that is very much in the vernacular of two or three of the leading British actresses and Katharine Hepburn. As for the musical portion, the gay, uninhibited, irresistible zest that Roz uses instead of a voice would be so out of character that she and the songs would be fighting each other all the way with each winding up the loser, not to mention the play. I know we have discussed this before. I know you have been aware of my doubts. Those doubts no longer exist. I now find myself unalterably opposed.

I wish with all my heart I could explain this to Roz myself because aside from my own personal feelings for her, I have very deep respect for her as an artist, and I would be bereft if she in any way misunderstood. I frankly believe she is too intelligent an actress, as well as person, not to see this herself upon reading the play. I am more than certain she would turn it down anyhow. If, by any chance, she sees the role differently than it is, I will do anything to make my position clear to her. (I have been saying "I" when I should have been saying "we" because André is equally as definite as I about her not playing the role. Actually, after reading this draft he called me up and the first thing he said was: "I love it, but this is certainly nothing for Roz.")

It is such a relief to get the thing off my back that I am going to stay over until next week and relax a bit. I will stay here until Friday and then go to Paris until about Wednesday, then home. I will be at the Plaza. I have not been in touch with anybody here because I think we must first cast the part. Obviously, the star will have a say and I don't want to go off half-cocked again. I will call you the instant I am in New York and if you would like me to go see Roz, wherever she is, I will of course do so.

I hope you are happy with the script. I look forward to seeing you as soon as possible. Be sure not to give any love to Jack Warner and Arthur Jacobs but keep it all for the Brisson family.


Always, 
Alan
__________


September 17, 1967

Dear Miss Hepburn: 

I have been trying to leave you alone until I get back this week but today is Sunday and I have no "hommes d'affaires" to see and I never visit the French in the country because the men wear neckties and everybody stays indoors and so I've been working on the lyric for "Always Mademoiselle." (André did the music while I was in London. I think you'll like it. It's in the "My Man" genre but the melody is stronger and no self-pity. There will be none of the latter in the lyric either.) And so because I have been working on something that I fervently hope will be for you, writing you has become irresistible. 

First of all, I must tell you that our paths have been crossing all week. Monday, I saw Anatole Litvak in Claridge's and we had a bite together. He told me that he had been working on a script for Peter O'Toole called "The Ski-Bum" and that it was not developing well and that it would probably be abandoned. The next day I heard that "Lion in Winter" may be moved forward because Peter O'Toole had suddenly become free. Friday evening I arrived in Paris and as I walked into the hotel, the very first person I saw was Terrence [sic] Young. Short chat and, unsolicited, he informed me he suddenly had two pictures at the same time: "Mayerling" and "Lion in Winter" because "Lion" was going sooner than expected. Period. The night before I left London, I ran into Sam Spiegel who fixed his misty blue eyes on me and said "Did you get her?" "Get whom?" said I. He answered with an all-knowing wink, murmured something in classic Estonian in which your name was prominently placed, and disappeared into the night.

Needless to say, any sort of unexpected prompting was hardly necessary to bring you to mind. For the past few weeks my thoughts have not been elsewhere. And since last Monday night I have been elated into orbit. I couldn't possible have made you know on the phone the length, breadth and height of my enthusiasm. Probably, not even face to face either. Unfortunately, enthusiasm in our profession has been so squandered by pitchmen and barkers that by now it rings with the hollow sound of insincerity. However, to me it's still precious stuff and I have never used it either to hoodwink others or myself. So I feel I am entitled to ask you to take mine seriously; and to believe me when I tell you that never in my entire professional life have I ever wanted anyone to play any role in anything I have ever written as much as I want you to play Coco. If you allow me, I will prove it to you by doing anything and everything within the bounds of artistic, legal, economic and social reason to make it possible for you to do it conveniently, happily and comfortably.

Because I cannot see anyone but you in the part, I feel I ought to acquaint you with a few of the facts concerning the origin and history of the play to date. The idea was brought to me seven years ago by Freddie Brisson, who is, as you know, producing it. (Actually, we are co-producers but I don't wish to be so-billed.) André and I began working on it roughly a year ago May. It began as a possible venture for Roz. Sometime around late March or early April it became patently clear to André and me that it was not developing into a Roz Russell vehicle. I had a meeting with Freddie and told him. He was most understanding, but suggested withholding the final decision till the play was finished. By June André's and my feeling had hardened into a firm conviction that it never would be or could be a part for Roz and at a meeting with Freddie suggested we begin looking elsewhere. I returned to Long Island to continue work and André and I made a date to meet in London in September, where he would be conducting, to complete the score.

I did not tell Freddie or anyone outside of your intimate circle that I was sending you the script nor shall I until after I have seen you on the coast. I'm sorry that has been delayed a few days. (I have a house here I'm trying to sell that is all entangled in French black tape — red is out this season.) I will be back in New York on Friday and I will call you the instant I set foot in the New World. If you can see me, I'll come right to the coast or anywhere you are.

Please give my love to Gar[son Kanin], Ruth [Gordon] and George [Cukor] and I hope and pray I will soon know you well enough to send you the same and not have to remain

Only sincerely yours,

Alan 

(from left to right) Kate Hepburn in Coco, the real Coco, and Roz Russell in the 1956 Broadway production of Auntie Mame.

__________

Coco wouldn't go into rehearsal until October 1969. After Hepburn had been cast —the announcement to the press was made in mid-December 1967— the next two years she would often clash with Lerner about the show. Eventually, however, the two became good friends and as a personal favour to Lerner Hepburn, quite reluctantly, allowed a segment of Coco to be recorded for broadcast on television at the 1970 Tony Awards. This 15-minute segment is the only known surviving footage of the original Coco production and shows the exhilarating finale where Hepburn performs the song Always Mademoiselle (an emotional and very memorable performance, even though Hepburn speaks rather than sings the lyrics). Here it is:


Concluding this post, I will leave you with a sweet note from Alan Jay Lerner to Katharine Hepburn, written after recording the above segment for television (broadcast on Sunday 19 April 1970). 

Dearest Kate:

You were absolutely marvelous today.
I thought so, the director thought so, the producer, everyone.
I know you hated doing it, but Sunday night will present the first good reason they invented the goddamn medium at all.
Thank you for doing it. I've had intestinal spasms ever since I asked you. 
But you were simply wonderful.
Always, 
Alan

 

Source of all correspondence: Alan Jay Lerner: A Lyricist's Letters (2014), edited by Dominic McHugh.

31 May 2021

Paul Henreid will not play the part when he reads it

Austrian-born Paul Henreid is best remembered for his roles in two Warner Bros. pictures: as Jerry Durrance opposite Bette Davis in Irving Rapper's romantic drama Now, Voyager (1942) —on loan from RKO— and as Ingrid Bergman's husband and resistance leader Victor Laszlo in Michael Curtiz's Casablanca (1942). The latter film was not a film the actor had wanted to make, though. Having been previously cast in two leading roles (i.e. in Joan of Paris (1942) and Now, Voyager), Henreid was offered a relatively small part in Casablanca and was afraid it would affect his status as a leading man. Besides, he found the script lousy and also didn't want to play second fiddle to Humphrey Bogart. It was only after the studio assured to build up his role and to give him above-the-title billing along with Bogart and Bergman that Henreid accepted.

The actor whom Warner Bros. had initially wanted for the role of Victor Laszlo was the Dutch actor Philip Dorn but he was unavailable. Convinced that Henreid wouldn't be interested in the role, producer Hal Wallis complained to director Michael Curtiz in a memo that there was no one else available (".. aside from Philip Dorn, whom we cannot get, and Paul Henreid who I am sure will not play the part when he reads it, there is no one else that I can think of."Screen tests with unknown European actors, including French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, had led to nothing. So eventually a deal with Henreid was made —his co-star billing with Bogart and Bergman had clinched it— and Warners next signed him to a seven-year contract. (Henreid was reluctant to sign with Warners but was encouraged to do so by his agent Lew Wasserman.) 

While the studio began building him as a new leading man casting him in such films as In Our Time (1944) and The Conspirators (1944)— in the end Henreid never became a major star. As his chances to be cast as a romantic lead diminished, the actor eventually turned to producing and directing. In the early 1950s, he started directing both film and television productions, including tv episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza and The Big Valley, and for the big screen Dead Ringer (1964), starring his friend and former co-star Bette Davis.

Shown below are three memo's regarding the casting of Henreid in Casablanca. First up is the memo mentioned above from Hal Wallis to Michael Curtiz, in which Wallis complained about nobody being available for the role. Next is a memo from Steve Trilling (Jack Warner's executive assistant) to Wallis regarding the deal with Henreid, followed by Wallis' short reply.  

Philip Dorn 
DATE: April 22,1942  
SUBJECT: "Casablanca" 
TO: Mike Curtiz 
FROM: Hal Wallis
Dear Mike: 
I have been going over with Trilling the possibilities for the part of  "Laszlo" and, aside from Philip Dorn, whom we cannot get, and Paul Henreid who I am sure will not play the part when he reads it, there is no one else that I can think of. I think you should satisfy yourself on this point; that is, that there is no one available, and then begin to adjust yourself to the thought that we might have to use someone of the type of Dean Jagger, Ian Hunter or Herbert Marshall, or someone of this type without an accent. 
I am as anxious as you are to have a type like Philip Dorn in the part, but if there is no one available there is just nothing that we can do about it. 
Hal Wallis


__________



DATE: May 1, 1942

TO: Hal Wallis

FROM: Steve Trilling

RE: Paul Henreid for Casablanca

Discussed making a separate picture deal with his agent first before talking to Henreid. As you know, we have been trying to work out a deal to take over his RKO contract —and one of the deterrents was Henreid's reluctance to assign himself here exclusively— and then possibly be relegated to small parts. In this respect, you are aware by this time, he is a bit of a ham —and until the negotiations for the RKO deal are behind us— which should be in the next few days— I think we should let this separate picture deal ride...

An obstacle we encountered in consummating the original deal was the billing situation —and after great persuasion, we got him to accept a special billing clause for the first two pictures — thereafter, he was to be starred or co-starred and I think if he gets assurance of co-star billing with Bogart and Bergman, it would clinch the matter. This might not be such a bad idea if we really are attempting to build him.

Steve Trilling

__________

 

DATE: May 1, 1942

SUBJECT: "Casablanca"

TO: Steve Trilling

FROM: Hal Wallis

If we can get Henreid for Casablanca, we will give him co-star billing with Bogart and Bergman.

Hal Wallis

 

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

Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid play a game of chess on the set of Casablanca, while Hal Wallis (center) and Michael Curtiz (right) look on. (Don't know who the other guy next to Wallis is.)

24 May 2021

Audrey Hepburn is fabulous! Truly!

In a film career that spanned forty years during which she starred in such classics as Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and My Fair Lady (1964), Audrey Hepburn had declined many a film role. One of the roles she turned down was that of spinster Alma Winemiller in Summer and Smoke (1961), a film based on the 1948 play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. Both Williams and producer Hal Wallis had wanted Audrey to play the role of Alma and visited her at her home in Switzerland in 1955 to discuss the project. In the end, Audrey declined the role, which (years later) went to Geraldine Page who had also played it on stage. 



In the summer of 1955, Tennessee Williams wrote a letter to his agent Audrey Wood, part of the letter concerning Summer and Smoke and Audrey Hepburn. Here is the part that deals with Hepburn, who was 26 years old at the time and married to her first husband Mel Ferrer.

 

Wallis is here and we were at the Ferrers for dinner last night because Hal wants to sign Audrey Hepburn for Summer and Smoke. I think it's an excellent choice ...

Audrey Hepburn is fabulous! Truly! She was Miss Alma in the flesh! I can't think of better casting for this part. She has long thin arms, a long thin neck, long thin body and long thin legs - and eyes that break your heart with their youth and sweetness. No accent: exquisite grace. I almost found myself admiring Hal Wallis for thinking of her for it. Her price is $350,000 and he is willing to pay it! The deal is not yet completed but I had a distinct feeling that both she and Mel were very favorable to it. We discussed directors. Do you think the man who directed "Marty" [1955, Delbert Mann] would be right for it? Another one mentioned was William Wyler who directed her in "Roman Holiday". 

[The 1961 film Summer and Smoke was directed by English director Peter Glenville.]


Source: The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Vol. 2: 1945-1957, edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler (2004).

Playwright Tennessee Williams (above) and Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey in the 1961 film Summer and Smoke (below).

20 May 2021

Ava Gardner's letter from the set of "Mogambo"

Ava Gardner once said that John Ford's Mogambo (1953) was as close to a pinnacle as anything she had ever done. The film, for which she received her only Oscar nomination, was not an easy shoot, though. During production in Africa, cast and crew had to deal with the Mau Mau uprising, the excruciating heat and heavy rainfall, and wild animals that formed a constant threat of danger. And besides all that, Ava also had to face the most personal crisis of her life.

A year earlier, Ava had married Frank Sinatra who had accompanied her to the shoot in Africa. The couple was having marital problems and on the set they were constantly fighting. After Sinatra went back to Hollywood to do a screentest for From Here to Eternity (1953), Ava discovered she was pregnant. With Sinatra in Hollywood, she decided to have an abortion in London, keeping her husband out of the loop and telling the press she was receiving medical treatment for a tropical infection. Ava said in her autobiography Ava: My Story (1990) that she wasn't ready to have a child, unable to offer it a stable home life. Mogambo cinematographer Robert Surtees claimed, however, that she had the abortion because she couldn't stand the thought of having Sinatra's baby. It was Surtees' wife who had gone to London with Ava and to whom Ava had said: "I hated Frankie so much. I wanted that baby to go unborn." (After Mogambo had wrapped, Ava said in her book that she got pregnant a second time and had a second abortion, this time with Sinatra being in the know.) 

On 29 October 1953, after a very tumultuous marriage, Ava and Frank formally announced their separation. While Ava filed for divorce in June 1954, the divorce wouldn't be finalised until 1957. The two would remain good friends until Ava's death in 1990, at age 67.

Above: November 1952, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra at London Airport on the first leg of their journey to Nairobi, Kenya. Below: (left to right) Donald Sinden, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Denis O'Dea, Ava Gardner and Eric Pohlmann on the set of Mogambo. While circumstances during production were difficult, Ava said that everyone in the cast got along famously. She and Grace Kelly even became lifelong friends.
In January 1953, from the set of Mogambo, Ava wrote the following letter to her sister Myra. Ava came from a North Carolina family, the youngest of seven children, and was very close to her siblings. In the letter, she talks about having been "sick" in London; about Africa getting "more unbearable every day"; about Sinatra leaving her again for months (he got the Maggio part in From Here to Eternity and had gone back to Hollywood); and about the presents he gave her, for their first anniversary, her birthday (on 24 December she had turned 30) and Christmas. 

Incidentally, Sinatra was broke at the time so he had to borrow money to pay for Ava's presents. For the diamond anniversary ring Ava had to advance the money herself (to Robert Surtees she had said: "You know what that son of a bitch did? I got the bill for the ring!"). Still, Sinatra did make sure everybody on the set had a wonderful Christmas. He secretly went to Nairobi to get a tree and decorations and also arranged for an African choir to sing French Christmas carols.

Transcript:

Jan. 1953

Myra dear -

I just got your very first letter today- It was sent to me in London (from Africa) while I was sick + just got back to Africa today. But anyway I got your others + incidentally I sure do enjoy them 'cause this place gets more unbearable every day + any word from home is like a breath of fresh air. Frank just left a few days ago + now I'm really lonesome- This time he is going to be gone for four months or more -

Looks like we'll never be together long enough to really find out if we can live together or not-

Honey, if I didn't tell you in my last letter- I got all your cards at Xmas + birthday time + tell Jean [Myra's daughter] I got hers too + I do hope she's a little happier- She deserves it- to sacrifice so much- I never did receive the [illegible] but maybe they will catch up with me like the letter did- Mail is not too reliable in this part of the world- thank you anyway honey-

We're hoping to get out of here in another week or ten days- I'm going back by the jet plane as far as Rome where I'll spent a couple of days having fun + eating some good food- then back to London

My address in London will be
4 Abbey Lodge
Honour Gate
Regents Park
London N.W.

I never did tell you about my anniversary present. It was a beautiful diamond ring- I can't draw very well but it looked something like this [sketch] - That's a side view - It is dome shaped + is filled with little round diamonds- And for my birthday he brought me another diamond ring like this [sketch] - A marquis diamond with three baguettes on each side + for Xmas a beautiful mink stole - We really had a wonderful Xmas- as you can imagine even tho' it was in the middle of Africa-

Sweetie, I must stop + get ready to leave on the plane - we're going to our last location and I sure am glad it's the last- it's another safari where we live in tents right out in the open with all the lions + hippos + everything-

We were in one safari for 8 weeks - that's where we spent the holidays - Take care of yourself + give my love to Beatrice + the kids

love + kisses

Ava 



Ava Gardner with her sisters Myra and Inez (above) and Beatrice "Bappy" (below)

14 May 2021

Your letter brought tears to my eyes

While I'm not familiar with his work, François Truffaut was one of France's most respected filmmakers and one of the founders of the French movement La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave). His films include such classics as The 400 Blows (1959), Jules and Jim (1962) and Day For Night (1973). Not having seen any of his films yet, I must say I only associate Truffaut with Alfred Hitchcock with whom he conducted a series of interviews in the summer of 1962. 

Truffaut was a huge fan of Hitchcock and was the first to recognise him as a complete and serious filmmaker and not just a mainstream director of entertaining suspense films. By the early 1960s, Hitchcock was at the height of his career but many critics (both American and European) still belittled his work, feeling it lacked substance. To prove the critics wrong, Truffaut came up with the idea to do in-depth interviews with Hitchcock during which they would explore and analyse his work. The interviews were recorded and eventually compiled into the book Hitchcock/Truffaut, which is still considered the definitive study on Hitchcock (the French edition was published in 1966, the English edition in 1967). As had been Truffaut's objective, critics started to change their attitude towards Hitchcock and eventually took his work more seriously.

To entice Hitchcock into doing the interviews, on 2 June 1962 Truffaut (then 30 years old) wrote a letter to Hitch (then 62), containing a detailed proposal of the project. Below is Truffaut's letter as well as Hitchcock's reply by telegram. The interviews were eventually held that summer during a period of eight days at Hitch's office at the Universal Studios. As Truffaut spoke hardly any English, Helen Scott of the French Film Office in New York was hired to translate. While it had been Truffaut's intention to publish his book that same year, it wasn't published until 1966. In order to keep the book up-to-date, before its publication Truffaut held further interviews with Hitchcock to discuss Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966). Of all the recordings (which Truffaut said lasted 50 hours) less than 26 hours of tapes survived, nearly 12 hours of which can be listened to here.


Paris, 2 June 1962

Dear Mr Hitchcock,

First of all, allow me to remind you who I am. A few years ago, in late 1954, when I was a film journalist, I came with my friend Claude Chabrol to interview you at the Saint-Maurice studio where you were directing the post-synchronization of To Catch a Thief. You asked us to go and wait for you in the studio bar, and it was then that, in the excitement of having watched fifteen times in succession a ‘loop’ showing Brigitte Auber and Cary Grant in a speedboat, Chabrol and I fell into the frozen tank in the studio courtyard.

You very kindly agreed to postpone the interview which was conducted that same evening at your hotel.

Subsequently, each time you visited Paris, I had the pleasure of meeting you with Odette Ferry, and for the following year you even said to me, ‘Whenever I see ice cubes in a glass of whisky I think of you.’ One year after that, you invited me to come to New York for a few days and watch the shooting of The Wrong Man, but I had to decline the invitation since, a few months after Claude Chabrol, I turned to film-making myself.

I have made three films, the first of which, The Four Hundred Blows, had, I believe, a certain success in Hollywood. The latest, Jules et Jim, is currently showing in New York.

I come now to the point of my letter. In the course of my discussions with foreign journalists and especially in New York, I have come to realize that their conception of your work is often very superficial. Moreover, the kind of propaganda that we were responsible for in Cahiers du Cinéma was excellent as far as France was concerned, but inappropriate for America because it was too intellectual.

Since I have become a director myself, my admiration for you has in no way weakened; on the contrary, it has grown stronger and changed in nature. There are many directors with a love for the cinema, but what you possess is a love of celluloid itself and it is that which I would like to talk to you about.

I would like you to grant me a tape-recorded interview which would take about eight days to conduct and would add up to about thirty hours of recordings. The point of this would be to distil not a series of articles but an entire book which would be published simultaneously in New York (I would consider offering it, for example, to Simon and Schuster where I have some friends) and Paris (by Gallimard or Robert Laffont), then, probably later, more or less everywhere in the world.

If the idea were to appeal to you, and you agreed to do it, here is how I think we might proceed: I could come and stay for about ten days wherever it would be most convenient for you. From New York I would bring with me Miss Helen Scott who would be the ideal interpreter; she carries out simultaneous translations at such speed that we would have the impression of speaking to one another without any intermediary and, working as she does at the French Film Office in New York, she is also completely familiar with the vocabulary of the cinema. She and I would take rooms in the hotel closest to your home or to whichever office you might arrange.

Here is the work schedule. Just a very detailed interview in chronological order. To start with, some biographical notes, then the first jobs you had before entering the film industry, then your stay in Berlin. This would be followed by:

1. the British silent films;
2. the British sound films;
3. the first American films for Selznick and the spy films;
4. the two ‘Transatlantic Pictures’
5. the Vistavision period;
6. from The Wrong Man to the The Birds.

The questions would focus more precisely on:
a) the circumstances surrounding the inception of each film;
b) the development and construction of the screenplay;
c) the stylistic problems peculiar to each film;
d) the situation of the film in relation to those preceding it;
e) your own assessment of the artistic and commercial result in relation to your intentions.

There would be questions of a more general nature on: good and bad scripts, different styles of dialogue, the direction of actors, the art of editing, the development of new techniques, special effects and colour. These would be interspaced among the different categories in order to prevent any interruption in chronology.

The body of work would be preceded by a text which I would write myself and which might be summarized as follows: if, overnight, the cinema had to do without its soundtrack and became once again a silent art, then many directors would be forced into unemployment, but, among the survivors, there would be Alfred Hitchcock and everyone would realize at last that he is the greatest film director in the world.

If this project interests you, I would ask you to let me know how you would like to proceed. I imagine that you are in the process of editing The Birds, and perhaps you would prefer to wait a while?

For my part, at the end of this year I am due to make my next films, an adaptation of a novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, which is why I would prefer the interviews to take place between 15 July and 15 September 1962.

If you were to accept the proposition, I would gather together all the documents I would need to prepare the four or five hundred questions which I wish to ask you, and I would have the Brussels Cinémathèque screen for me those films of yours with which I am least familiar. That would take me about three weeks, which would mean I could be at your disposal from the beginning of July.

A few weeks after our interviews, the transcribed, edited and corrected text would be submitted to you in English so that you might make any corrections that you considered useful, and the book itself would be ready to come out by the end of this year.

Awaiting your reply, I beg you to accept, dear Mr Hitchcock, my profound admiration. I remain

Yours sincerely,
Francois Truffaut

 

Dear Monsieur Truffaut – Your letter brought tears to my eyes and I am so grateful to receive such a tribute from you – Stop – I am shooting The Birds and this will continue until 15 July and after that I will have to begin editing which will take me several weeks – Stop – I think I will wait until we have finished shooting The Birds and then I will contact you with the idea of getting together around the end of August – Stop – Thank you again for your charming letter – Kind regards – Cordially yours – Alfred Hitchcock. 


Source: New Wave Film.com 

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And here is a letter from Hitchcock to Truffaut regarding the French edition of the book. Ever the perfectionist, Hitch even detected an error.

Source: Cinephilia and Filmmaking

In 2015 filmmaker Kent Jones made a documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut based on Truffaut's 1966 book. Directors like Martin Scorcese and David Fincher discuss how their work was influenced by the book.

10 May 2021

I have such a strong, tender, wonderful memory

During four months in 1960, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel while the bungalow next door was occupied by their French friends, famed film couple Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Miller had met Montand and Signoret in Paris in 1956, when the two starred in the play Les Sorcières de Salema French adaptation of Miller's own 1953 play The Crucible. (They would later also star in the 1957 French film version.) Miller became friends with the couple, sharing the same leftist political views. Several years later, in the fall of 1959, Montand and Signoret came to New York where Montand would enjoy great successes on Broadway with his one-man show An Evening with Yves Montand. It was then that the Montands also met Marilyn and eventually befriended her too.

While the two couples were living side by side at the Beverly Hills Hotel in bungalows No. 20 and 21, Marilyn and Montand were filming Let's Make Love (1961) and Miller was one of the writers working on the film's screenplay. Production of the film was plagued with difficulties, including the usual problems with Marilyn (her lateness and inability to remember her lines) and the fact that Montand didn't speak English, having to learn his lines phonetically. It is said that the issues Montand and Marilyn were each having during filming eventually caused them to bond. When their respective spouses left for other commitments, the two grew closer and started a much-publicised affair.  

The affair between Montand and Marilyn reportedly ended after shooting of Let's Make Love had wrapped. Marilyn's marriage to Miller was already in trouble when filming began and the two would divorce in early 1961. The Montands returned to France and remained married until Signoret's death of cancer in 1985. While Simone was very hurt and embittered by the affair and the scandal that followed, she never blamed Marilyn. In her autobiography Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be (1975) Signoret wrote:  
She never knew how thoroughly I had understood the story that was no one's business but ours, the four of us. Too many people were concerned with it during troubled times when many more important things were happening.
She's gone without ever knowing that I never stopped wearing the champagne‐colored silk scarf she'd lent me one day when I was being photographed. It went well with what I was wearing; so well that she made me a present of it. It's a bit frayed now, but if I fold it carefully, that doesn't show.
Marilyn was wracked with guilt after betraying the trust of her friend. After Marilyn died, Simone famously said: "She will never know how much I didn't hate her." Photos above and below by Bruce Davidson, Beverly Hills Hotel, 1960.







Below are a few pieces of correspondence, the first one a letter from Marilyn to Yves Montand written on 24 September 1959. Three days earlier Marilyn had attended the premiere of Montand's one-man show at the Henry Miller Theater on Broadway. Her escort mentioned in the letter was Montgomery Clift. 


Transcript:

September 24, 1959

Dear Mr. Montand:

First, I want to ask you to forgive me for not coming back stage the other night, but my escort was rather upset by the crowds and insisted we leave the theatre as soon as possible. 

I especially wanted to come back stage in order to give you my husband's deep regrets that he was not able to be with me on opening night (he had a deadline to meet). For myself, I want to tell you how marvelous you were and how wonderful it is that Americans will have an opportunity to see you.

When my husband does come to your performance I shall be there again. We are both looking forward to meeting you and Mrs. Montand at that time.

Warmest good wishes to you both.


Mr. Yves Montand
Algonquin Hotel
59 West 44th Street
New York City

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A Christmas card and drawing from the Montands to Marilyn. I don't know who was the artist here, Yves or Simone.

Source: Julien's Auctions

Simone and Yves sent Marilyn some flowers or perhaps left them at her bungalow when Marilyn was out. At any rate, the flowers were accompanied by the following card. 

Source: Julien's Auctions 


And a few lines from Marilyn regarding Montand. The lines were part of a P.S. in a letter she had written to her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson in 1961. Marilyn was reportedly in love with Montand, hoping against hope he would marry her. 

Source: Cursum Perficio

3 May 2021

It's a great feeling once you make the other side

Robert Taylor holds the record of having the longest running contract with one studio, i.e. MGM, having been on their payroll from 1934 to 1958. Dubbed "The Man with the Perfect Profile" by the studio's publicity department, Taylor appeared in films of different genres in the 1930s, always playing a nice guy. Moving into the next decade, MGM decided Taylor needed an image change, so the 1940s saw him tackle more gritty parts, including a criminal on parole in Mervyn Leroy's Johnny Eager (1941) and Katharine Hepburn's villain husband in Undercurrent (1946). 

In a letter to an admirer dated 15 September 1941, Taylor, who was in the midst of filming Johnny Eager, talks about this transition from "college boy" type of roles to "more mature" roles and about being recognised by one's peers. In the end, Taylor would never receive the ultimate peer recognition, i.e. an Oscar or a nomination. The only recognition he did receive during his career was the Golden Globe Henrietta Award for World Film Favorites in 1954, a prize he shared with Alan Ladd. 

Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Profile

Robert Taylor and Van Heflin in a scene from Johnny Eager. While Taylor delivered a fine performance, it was Van Heflin who stole the show with his Oscar-winning performance as Eager's loyal and sensitive friend.

Source: icollector.com

26 April 2021

The Failed Screenwriting Career of F. Scott Fitzgerald

The popularity of novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who achieved fame in the 1920s, began to wane considerably once the Great Depression hit. With the public no longer interested in reading about the extravagant lifestyles of the American elite, Fitzgerald was facing serious financial problems by the mid-1930s. Convinced that he could become a successful screenwriter, the author returned to Hollywood where he had briefly worked in 1927 and 1931.

In 1937, Fitzgerald was hired by MGM where he would earn $1000 a week (raised to $1250 after six months), his highest salary up till then. While under contract to the studio Fitzgerald was given three major script assignments: Three Comrades (1938), the only film for which he received screen credit; Infidelity, a Joan Crawford vehicle, which was abandoned after he had worked on it for several months; and The Women (1939), on which he and Donald Ogden Stewart collaborated but were eventually replaced by Jane Murfin and Anita Loos. In addition, Fitzgerald also worked (uncredited) on screenplays for A Yank at Oxford (1938), Marie Antoinette (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939) and Madame Curie (the project was shelved and not released until 1943).

F. Scott Fitzgerald (above) enjoyed great successes in the 1920s with his first two novels This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) as well as his short stories for popular magazines. While his novel The Great Gatsby (1925) was not a success at the time, it is now regarded as one of the greatest American novels ever written. The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald's unfinished novel about Hollywood, was published after the author's death. 


After eighteen months MGM decided not to renew Fitzgerald's contract. Much to the studio's annoyance, the writer often disregarded the rules of screenwriting, providing stylised dialogue and long descriptions that would be right for a novel but wrong for a script. Director Billy Wilder once said about Fitzgerald's screenwriting efforts that he was like "a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job”. Still, Fitzgerald was determined to succeed in Hollywood and not only because of the money he could make. He was passionate about films and at one point even dreamed about being both screenwriter and director. (In a September 1940 letter to his wife Zelda, Fitzgerald wrote: "They've let a certain writer here [probably Preston Sturges] direct his own pictures and he has made such a go of it that there may be a different feeling about that soon. If I had that chance, I would attain my real goal in coming here in the first place.")

In the end, Fitzgerald's Hollywood career ended in failure. After leaving MGM in 1939, the author went freelance, taking on assignments like Winter Carnival (1939), with his contributions again uncredited. A few other projects he had high hopes for were eventually shelved, most notably Cosmopolitan, a film that was to star Shirley Temple. Fitzgerald's screenwriting career just wouldn't take off and this prompted him to start drinking excessively again. On 21 December 1940, after years of severe and chronic alcohol abuse, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack, only 44 years old.


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As mentioned, the only film for which Fitzgerald had received screen credit was Frank Borzage's Three Comrades, produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Fitzgerald didn't even receive sole billing, being later paired with screenwriter Edward Paramore. Mankiewicz was not at all happy with the script, saying about it years later: "The actors, among them Margaret Sullavan, absolutely could not read the lines. It was very literary dialogue, novelistic dialogue that lacked all the qualities required for screen dialogue. The latter must be 'spoken'. Scott Fitzgerald really wrote very bad spoken dialogue." The producer, who had started his career as a screenwriter, made many changes to the script, and not just to the dialogue. Outraged by what was done to his work, Fitzgerald wrote to Mankiewicz on 20 January 1938, excerpts of his letter seen below. (His impassioned plea to undo the changes was ignored.)

Dear Joe: 

Well, I read the last part and I feel like a good many writers must have felt in the past. I gave you a drawing and you simply took a box of chalk and touched it up. Pat [played by Margaret Sullavan] has now become a sentimental girl from Brooklyn, and I guess all these years I've been kidding myself about being a good writer. 
[....]
To say I'm disillusioned is putting it mildly. For nineteen years, with two years out for sickness, I've written best-selling entertainment, and my dialogue is supposedly right up at the top. But I learn from the script that you've suddenly decided that it isn't good dialogue and you can take a few hours off and do much better. 

I think you now have a flop on your hands— as thoroughly naive as The Bride Wore Red [another Mankiewizc production] but utterly inexcusable because this time you had something and you have arbitrarily and carelessly torn it to pieces. [...]

You are simply tired of the best scenes because you've read them too much and, having dropped the pilot, you're having the aforesaid pleasure of a child with a box of chalk. You are or have been a good writer, but this is a job you will be ashamed of before it's over. The little fluttering of life of what's left of my lines and situations won't save the picture. 

[....]
My only hope is that you will have a moment of clear thinking. That you'll ask some intelligent and disinterested person to look at the two scripts. Some honest thinking would be much more valuable to the enterprise right now than an effort to convince people you've improved it. I am utterly miserable at seeing months of work and thought negated in one hasty week. I hope you're big enough to take this letter as it's meant — a desperate plea to restore the dialogue to its former quality — to put back the flower cart, the piano-moving, the balcony, the manicure girl— all those touches that were both natural and new. Oh, Joe, can't producers ever be wrong? I'm a good writer — honest. I thought you were going to play fair. Joan Crawford may as well play the part now, for the thing is as groggy with sentimentality as The Bride Wore Red, but the true emotion is gone. 


Source:  The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1963) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Andrew Turnbull. 

Note: As the letter indicates, Fitzgerald was not at all impressed with Joan Crawford. In a 1938 letter to a friend, he wrote while working on the script for Infidelity: "Writing for her is difficult. She can't change her emotions in the middle of a scene without going through a sort of Jekyll and Hyde contortion of the face, so that when one wants to indicate that she is going from joy to sorrow, one must cut away and then cut back. Also, you can never give her such a stage direction as "telling a lie", because if you did, she would practically give a representation of Benedict Arnold selling West Point to the British." (Infidelity was eventually abandoned due to the film's taboo subject of adultery.)

Joseph Mankiewicz (above) was a successful screenwriter, producer and director. His films include box-office hits like The Philadelphia Story (1940; as producer), Woman of the Year (1942; producer), All About Eve (1950; screenwriter, director) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959; director). On most of his films as producer, Mankiewicz also made uncredited contributions to the screenplay.

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One of Fitzgerald's freelance assignments was Cosmopolitan, based on his own short story Babylon Revisited. In March 1940, having bought the rights to the story, independent film producer Lester Cowan approached Fitzgerald and asked him if he would write the script himself. The author accepted, but after finishing the script he disagreed with Cowan about the casting of the lead, the youngster Honoria. Cowan wanted Shirley Temple in the role and it was only after Fitzgerald had met Shirley in July 1940 that he approved of Cowan's choice. Fitzgerald was optimistic about the project and wrote to his wife Zelda on 21 September 1940: "... the Shirley Temple script is looking up again and is my great hope for attaining some real status out here as a movie man and not a novelist." Despite Fitzgerald's high hopes, however, Shirley's mother objected to the film and the project was abandoned.

Below is a letter from Fitzgerald to his secretary Isabel Owens, dated 16 August 1940. A month earlier Fitzgerald had met Shirley Temple and the second paragraph of his letter refers to that meeting. 

Source: icollector.com