22 September 2020

The friendship of Martin Landau and James Dean

Martin Landau and James Dean got to know each other in the early 1950s when Dean moved from Fairmont, Indiana, to New York City. Landau had been working as a political cartoonist for the New York Daily News since he was seventeen but, like Dean, wanted to pursue an acting career. The two young men both studied at Lee Strassberg's famous and prestigious acting studio in New York and quickly became friends. Landau, who was three years older than Dean, recalled years later: "James Dean was my best friend. We were two young would-be and still-yet-to-work unemployed actors, dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment... We'd spend lots of time talking about the future, our craft and our chances of success in this newly different, ever-changing modern world we were living in."

When asked if his friend had been destined to die young, Landau resolutely answered "no". "Jimmy never talked about dying. Jimmy talked about living. Jimmy's only concern was that he would become an old boy, like Mickey Rooney. When Elia Kazan tested actors for East of Eden, Paul Newman and Jimmy auditioned on the same day. Paul looked like a man when he was 20, whereas Jimmy was still playing high school kids at 23. That bothered him a bit. But Jimmy did not want to die."


Still, Dean died at the much too young age of 24 on 30 September 1955, after he crashed his Porsche trying to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car. Shocked and devastated by the loss of his friend, Landau wrote the following letter of condolence to Dean's aunt and uncle Marcus and Orteuse Winslow (who had raised Dean after the death of his mother in 1940) and his father Winton. The image below is a rough draft of the letter that Landau eventually sent.


Transcript:

Dear Mr. + Mrs. Winslow
+ Mr. Dean,

I feel as though I know you, having been one of Jim's oldest + closest friends in New York. I had heard him speak of you, the farm, and Indiana many, many times, with the greatest admiration, love and respect.

In fact, we almost met in November of 1953, when Jim went home for a visit. He asked me to come along but I was rehearsing a play at the time and was unable to get away. I'm sorry now that I didn't, I would have liked very much to have been able to meet you.

I am writing this letter because I know and understand how much you meant to Jimmy. It is hard to believe that he is gone. Last Christmas night, Jimmy had dinner at home with me + my family. For three years my mother had heard me speak of Jimmy, and although they had spoken to him on the telephone, this was the first time they had ever met him. They practically fell in love with him, as did my entire family, and feel now as though they've lost a son.

The news of Jim's death was a terrible shock to me, I can't begin to imagine what his loss must mean to you who raised him and were closer to him than anyone else in the world. I want you to know how terribly sorry I am.

I wish I were better at expressing my sympathy. This boy had every reason in the world to live. None of the comforting phrases apply. All there is to be grateful for is that, young as he was, he had shown his genius, and that remains, even though a thin substitute for his continuing life.

I am proud and happy to have known Jim, both as a fellow actor and a friend. I am going to miss him very much.

There's really nothing more I can say. I am heartsick for you and for everyone who loved him.

Sincerely -

Marty Landau
_________________

Source: Indiana Historical Society
(click on the link to read the Winslows' reply)

James Dean and Martin Landau photographed in a New York City diner in 1955. While Dean's career was tragically cut short, Landau would go on to have a long career. Landau's best-known work includes the tv series Mission: Impossible (1966-1969) as well as supporting roles in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest  (1959), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Ed Wood (1994), the latter film earning him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

15 September 2020

It shows that our industry has a warm heart

On 17 April 1961, Elizabeth Taylor received what is generally regarded as a Sympathy Oscar. After having been nominated in the Best Actress category for three consecutive years (i.e. for her performances in Raintree County (1957), Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)), Elizabeth finally won the Oscar for her role in Butterfield 8 (1960).

The role of call-girl Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield was not a part Elizabeth had wanted to play. In fact, she hated it and she also hated the film. However, due to her contractual obligation to MGM, Elizabeth still owed the studio one more film before she was free to do Cleopatra (1963) for 20th Century-Fox. Butterfield was the film MGM wanted her to make, which she then did under protest. (When Butterfield became a box-office hit she famously said: "I still say it stinks".)


Elizabeth had not been a favourite to win the Oscar, but a few months prior to the ceremony she suddenly became very ill. While filming Cleopatra, she contracted double pneumonia and an emergency tracheotomy was performed to save her life. Thinking that Elizabeth had not survived, some newspapers already ran her obituary. (Joan Collins was standing by to take over Elizabeth's role as Cleopatra in case of her death.) The fact that Elizabeth almost died is considered by many the main reason why she ultimately won. Elizabeth herself later acknowledged that her Oscar win had indeed been a sympathy win: "The reason I got the Oscar was that I had come within a breath of dying of pneumonia only a few months before. Nevertheless, I was filled with gratitude when I got it, for it meant being considered an actress and not a moviestar. My eyes were wet and my throat awfully tight. Any of my three previous nominations was more deserving. I knew it was a sympathy award, but I was still proud to get it."

Elizabeth Taylor, seated next to husband Eddie Fisher, is congratulated on her Oscar win by Greer Garson at the Oscar after-party. Elizabeth won a second Best Actress Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), this time for a performance which earned her much critical acclaim. 
_______________

Greer Garson was one of Elizabeth's fellow nominees, being nominated for her role as Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at CampobelloThe rest of the nominees were Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment — considered a favourite to win the Oscar, MacLaine would later quip: "I lost to a tracheotomy"Deborah Kerr for The Sundowners and Melina Mercouri for Never on SundayA month after the Oscar ceremony was held, Garson wrote the following letter to Ted Ashton, unit publicist at Warner Bros., in which she gave her opinion on Elizabeth's "sentimental" Oscar win. 

Incidentally, Greer had won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of Mrs. Roosevelt a month earlier, beating Elizabeth who was also nominated.


Source: icollector.com

Transcript:

May 1, 1961

Dear Ted:

How nice of you to write. Have been out of town and found your letter just now on my return.

Certainly missed you at the Academy Awards presentation and am so disappointed that you were prevented from seeing it even on television. Bob Hope paid me a fine compliment when he introduced me and said I had played E.R. so convincingly that now Westbrook Pegler [journalist who had a feud with Mrs. Roosevelt] hates me! If the award of Oscar this year to Elizabeth was a sentimental award, as many claim, then I am very glad indeed because it shows that our industry, often accused of being cold and cynical, has a warm heart. I for one was well pleased to see it go to her at this time and I am sure it will speed her good recovery. She is a fine actress, too, and has done splendid work before and will do lots more, I am sure. As for me, I was thrilled and very happy to have a nomination and to be part of the whole exciting business and occasion.

So you speak German... I have been invited to represent the USA as one of the nine judges at the West Berlin Film Festival this summer. I don't think I am going to be free to accept, but if I were I would beg Messrs. Warner and Orr to give you a couple of weeks leave to come along and help me - provided, of course, that it seemed an interesting project to you.

Well, maybe there will be another opportunity before too long for us to work together. I do hope so. Meanwhile, good luck, Amigo, and all the best as always from

Yours sincerely,

(signed 'Greer')
GREER GARSON
_______________

-Go here to watch a still weak Elizabeth Taylor receive her Oscar.
-Go here to watch the ever elegant Greer Garson present the Best Actor Oscar after being introduced by Bob Hope (as mentioned in her letter).

Greer Garson and Elizabeth Taylor in Julia Misbehaves (1948), their only film together in which Garson played Elizabeth's mother.

11 September 2020

I strongly feel that "The Maltese Falcon" is not an important picture

During his career, George Raft had rejected a lot of roles. He seemed to have made a habit of turning down good parts, often in films that turned out to be classics, e.g. Dead End (1937), High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944). (After rejecting Double Indemnity, Raft later said: "I wasn't very intelligent then".)

One of the roles Raft had refused was the role of private investigator Sam Spade in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. Raft didn't want to work with an inexperienced director the film was Huston's debut and he had no faith in Dashiell Hammett's story as it had been filmed twice before, having flopped both times*. Raft chose to do Raoul Walsh's Manpower (1941) instead, in which he received third billing after Edward G. Robinson and Marlene Dietrich.
_______________

*The Maltese Falcon (1931), the first version, was a pre-code starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. The second version was Satan Met a Lady (1936), a loose comedy adaptation of Hammett's story, starring Bette Davis and Warren William as the detective, renamed Ted Shane. 


The role of Sam Spade eventually went to Humphrey Bogart, turning him into a major star. Bogart had been Huston's first choice from the start and Huston was over the moon when Raft rejected the part. I guess we should be grateful to Raft for considering The Maltese Falcon "not an important picture", as he wrote to his boss Jack Warner in the following letter on 6 June 1941. Had Raft accepted and played Spade instead of Bogie, The Maltese Falcon would most likely not be the classic it is today.

Mr. Jack Warner
Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.
Burbank, California
June 6, 1941
Dear Jack:
I am writing to you personally because I feel any difference of opinion that may have arisen between us can be settled in a most friendly manner. As you know, I strongly feel that The Maltese Falcon, which you want me to do, is not an important picture and, in this connection, I must remind you again, before I signed the new contract with you, you promised me that you would not require me to perform in anything but important pictures  in fact, you told me in the presence of Noll Gurney [agent], you would be glad to give me a letter to this effect. A long time has passed since you made this promise to me and I think you should let me have this letter now.
I understand that you are quite agreeable to use someone else in The Maltese Falcon, provided you get an extension of my time. This I think is only fair....
Very sincerely,
George Raft 
Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

6 September 2020

My thanks to you for the break you gave me

Following his successful portrayal of Count Dracula in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi was typecast in horror roles for the rest of his career. He often played opposite his rival Boris Karloff (e.g. in The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939)), with Karloff always receiving top billing, even when Lugosi had the bigger role. Lugosi repeatedly tried to break away from his horror image, but due to his strong Hungarian accent the roles he could play were limited. (He did have a rare non-horror role in Ernst Lubitsch's box-office hit Ninotchka (1939).) 

In the mid-1930s, Universal stopped producing horror films and Lugosi's career started to decline. While Boris Karloff found work in other genres, Lugosi did not. For two years he didn't receive any film offers and tried to work on the stage. Facing serious financial problems, Lugosi had to borrow money from the Actors Fund of America to pay for his baby son's medical bills.

Below: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in a scene from the 1935 The Raven. While Lugosi had the bigger role, he received second billing after Karloff.

Quite unexpectedly, Lugosi's career received a big boost in August 1938 when a Los Angeles film theater showed the 1931 films Dracula and Frankenstein as a double bill. The screening of these two films together was so successful that extra shows were scheduled and Lugosi was hired to make public appearances at the theater. Because of the enormous success of the LA screenings, Universal decided to re-release both pictures nationwide, which led to a major success at the box-office.

Not having produced a new horror film in two years but realising there were still lots of fans of the genre, Universal began to make horror films again. The first film was a big-budget Frankenstein sequel, reuniting Lugosi and Karloff. Entitled Son of Frankenstein (1939), the film became a huge success and Lugosi's role in it is generally considered one of his best. A year later, Universal made another film with Lugosi and Karloff, Black Friday (1940). Although the two men didn't share one single scene, the film did bring them together for a bit of Hollywood publicity.

On 14 January 1940, famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper devoted an article to Lugosi and Karloff in The Los Angeles Times. Hopper had visited and interviewed the men at Karloff's house and had found them to be just a "pair of home-loving folks", talking about the birth of their children, the books they read etc.. A powerful and influential force in Hollywood, Hopper could make or break a career and her positive article inspired Lugosi to write to her and thank her, hoping the article would "increase [his] popularity and cement [his] comeback". Unfortunately, despite his hopes, Lugosi would mainly appear in forgettable low-budget films from then on. (There were a few exceptions such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), a re-teaming with Karloff in The Body Snatcher (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).) In the end, Lugosi died a poor man, buried in the black cape of the character that made him famous.



Transcript:

January 23, 1940

Hedda Hopper
c/o Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, Calif.

My dear Miss Hopper:-

Thru my clipping office I just received that wonderful article you wrote about Karloff and myself on January 14, 1940.

I cannot find the words that would adequately express my thanks to you for the break you gave me . I am sure it will increase my popularity and cement my comeback.

Hopeing [sic] that you will have the kindness to preserve that attitude of goodwill, I beg to remain always - 

gratefully yours.
(signed 'Bela Lugosi')

_______________

In November of that same year, Lugosi wrote Hopper another letter in response to an article she had written about the appeal of horror films. Again, he was "deeply grateful" to her for her article, which had been published in the LA Times on 10 November 1940.

Nov. 13, 1940 
Miss Hedda Hopper
Guaranty Bldg.
1945 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood 
My dear Miss Hopper:

I am writing to express my appreciation for your article in Sunday's Times. 
In my decade as a bogeyman I have read a number of explanations of the popular appeal of horror pictures, but none gave such a lucid and understandable analysis as you did. You hit the nail squarely on the head. 
I feel that your article will help me both in the film industry and with the public in general. So, naturally, I am deeply grateful to you. 
Therefore, my profound thanks.

Sincerely,
(signed 'Bela Lugosi')
Source: Robert Edward Auctions

In case you're interested, both Hedda Hopper's articles can be read here.

30 August 2020

Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis & the Hitler Quote

In 1959, Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis shared a kissing scene in Billy Wilder's comedy Some Like It Hot and afterwards Curtis made his infamous remark about Marilyn, that kissing her was "like kissing Hitler". Throughout the years, when interviewed about the subject, Curtis kept denying he had made the remark. His constant denial seems strange, given the fact that there were multiple witnesses who heard him say it. 

The now notorious line was uttered by Curtis when he and others were watching the rushes of the kissing scene in the screening room. Co-star Jack Lemmon and still photographer Richard Miller were among those present and describe the incident in the 2001 documentary Nobody's perfect: The Making of Some Like It Hot (watch in full here). After the rushes had ended, Curtis stood up and made the Hitler comment, causing everybody in the room to fall silent. While shocked when he heard it, in the docu Lemmon 'defends' Curtis, saying "he didn't really mean it, of course", and that if he (Lemmon) had said it he'd probably deny it too. At that point Marilyn was impossible to work with, unable to remember even the simplest of lines, requiring numerous retakes, and always showing up late or not showing up at all. Curtis was clearly fed up with her (as was the rest of the cast and crew) and, according to Richard Miller, he was also mad at Marilyn for having refused to kiss him during rehearsal. (Billy Wilder wanted to rehearse the kiss so the cameraman could check the lighting etc., but Marilyn wouldn't kiss Curtis until they were shooting the actual scene.)

Towards the end of his life, Curtis finally admitted to making the vicious remark. In his 2009 memoir The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, co-written by Mark Vieira and published a year before Curtis' death, the actor implied it wasn't serious but meant sarcastically: "The lights came up. I had to leave. On my way out, some guy whom I didn’t recognize called out to me. "Tony," he said. "That was terrific. Hey. Tell me. What was it like kissing Marilyn?" I didn’t stop to acknowledge him. I kept walking. "What do you think it was like, buddy?" I got to the door. "Like kissing Hitler?" I went through the door and slammed it after me". 

Film critic Mick LaSalle argued in this interesting article (and I think his argument makes a lot of sense) that if Curtis had really meant to be sarcastic, he wouldn't have chosen Hitler but someone else, like Milton Berle for example. LaSalle said that "Hitler may be a reference point, but not for ugliness or physical revulsion. He's a reference point for moral horror, for someone you really, really hate".

Below: Marilyn and Curtis talking on the set of Some Like It Hot, with Paula Strasberg behind Marilyn looking on.

Marilyn herself was not in the screening room to hear Curtis say it but her drama coach and confidante Paula Strasberg was. Whether Marilyn heard it from Strasberg or from someone else, the remark got back to her and she would later comment on it in a 1962 interview.

.... You’ve read there was some actor that once said about me that kissing me was like kissing Hitler. Well, I think that’s, you know, his problem. And if I really have to do intimate love scenes with an individual who really has these kind of feelings towards me, then my fantasy can come into play. In other words, out with him, in with somebody else. There was somebody else there, not him. He was never there. [To hear Marilyn say the words, go here.]

It is believed that the following note from Marilyn was also a reaction to Curtis' Hitler remark. Moreover, the note contradicts the claims that Curtis would make decades after Marilyn's death of having been romantically involved with her. In his 2008 memoir American Prince, Curtis said they had an affair before Marilyn became famous. And in his 2009 book he went even further, claiming they rekindled the affair during Some Like It Hot and that she got pregnant with hís child, not Arthur Miller's (i.e. the child she later miscarried). While Marilyn wasn't alive anymore to deny what sounds like a fantastical story, this one-line note, handwritten by Marilyn, seems to refute Curtis' claims. As said, the note was reportedly written in response to the "kissing Hitler" remark.

Source: Julien's Auctions

Transcript:

There is only one way he could comment on my sexuality and I'm afraid he has never had the opportunity.

Credit: gif made by my twin sister who runs this great classic Hollywood blog.

16 August 2020

Bette Davis' advice: Every human being should be self-supporting

In 1943, Bette Davis had her own advice column "What Should I Do?" in the popular fan magazine Photoplay-Movie Mirrror. Numerous letters were written to the Hollywood diva asking her advice, in particular on love and relationships. Here is a letter from housewife Patricia J., which appeared in the July 1943 issue. Patricia was wondering if she should get a job, like her husband wanted, and learn to be self-supporting. Seeing that Bette herself was an independent career woman, her advice to Patricia should come as no surprise. 


Dear Miss Davis,
I am a bride of six months and have a very dear husband. We love each other deeply. He has had a very difficult life as he has worked since he was fourteen. Now, he has a rather important job and we get along very nicely on his salary. 
After two months of marriage, he brought up the subject of a wife’s being independent. He wants me to go to school and to learn to be something. He says that he has seen so many changes concerning work that he feels a woman should be able to share in supporting a home, if need be. 
I love being a housewife and I know I would be very unhappy if I had to go to work. I like to cook, and clean, and have my home attractive. How can a woman keep up with household duties when she has to go off to the office? I told him a girl marries to have someone to depend on. 
Do you believe a woman has to learn to be self-supporting? 
Patricia J. 
_________________
Dear Mrs J: 
I happen to agree with your husband. 
I think that every human being should be self-supporting. Who knows what the future may bring, or of what great value trained women may be in the post-war world. 
I, personally, have a pretty big job to do, yet I manage to do lots of things in my own home in spare time snatched after working hours. 
It seems to me that you are fortunate to have the sort of husband you do. After all, housework for the first six months is fun, but after four or five years of it you won’t find it satisfies you all day, every day. 
Also, I believe you will find that learning to become self-supporting will bring something new and very interesting into your life.
Sincerely,
Bette Davis



Transcript of Bette's note:

After the appearance of my first column I received a great many letters asking if my column had been "ghosted" -- I should like to assure each person who writes to me - your letters are read by me - I select those for answer which I feel are representative of the problems I am dealing with in the next issue. I don't have time to completely edit my material for publication. Photoplay- Movie Mirror has given me Fredda Dudley to help me.
Bette Davis

5 August 2020

I keep your face and figure in mind as I write it

Nearly twenty years after the release of John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), John Steinbeck, author of the novel on which the film was based, sat down and played a 16 mm print of the film on his home projector. Reluctant to watch the film again for fear it would be dated, Steinbeck was immediately hooked at the sight of Henry Fonda: "Then a lean stringy dark-faced piece of electricity walked out on the screen, and he had me. I believed my own story again". Producer Darryl Zanuck had initially wanted to cast Tyrone Power but Fonda was Steinbeck's first choice from the start, his portrayal of Tom Joad being everything the author had hoped for.


At the time of his rewatching The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck was working on what may have been a modern version of the famous Don Quixote story, which he titled Don Keehan, The Marshal of Manchon. The author had high hopes for the project and thought of Henry Fonda as the lead in a possible film version with Elia Kazan directing. In the following letter to Fonda, written on 20 November 1958, Steinbeck told the actor he was writing the book with him in mindIn the end, however, the project was abandoned and Fonda never played a Steinbeck character again.

(Incidentally, Steinbeck and Fonda were good friends. At the author's funeral in 1968, Fonda read Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses.)



New York
November 20, 1958

Dear Hank,

It is strange but perhaps explainable that I find myself very often with a picture of you in front of my mind, when I am working on a book. I think I know the reason for this. Recently I ran a 16 mm print of The Grapes of Wrath that Kazan had stolen from Twentieth Century Fox. It's a wonderful picture, just as good as it ever was. It doesn't look dated, and very few people have ever made a better one  and I think that's where you put your mark on me. You will remember also that when I was writing Sweet ThursdayI had you always in mind as the prototype of Doc. And I think that one of my sharp bitternesses is that due to circumstances personality-wise and otherwise beyond our control you did not play it when it finally came up. I think it might have been a different story if you had.
Now I am working on another story, and again I find that you are the prototype. I think it might interest you. It will be a short novel and then possibly a motion picture, possibly a play  I don't know. But it's just the character and the story that remind me so much of you that I keep your face and figure in mind as I write it. I don't know whether you're in town or not  but if you are I wish you'd come over some evening, and maybe we can talk. I'd like that very much. And you might be very much interested in the story I am writing. It seems made for you. In fact it's being made for you — let's put it that way.
Yours,
John

Note*
Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday was a short novel which was made into the musical Pipe Dream, written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. The musical premiered on Broadway in November 1955. Steinbeck discussed the part of Doc with Fonda who was interested to play it. As Fonda couldn't sing, he took singing lessons but after six months he said he "still couldn't sing for shit". Richard Rogers thought so too and the role eventually went to William Johnson, a regular Broadway actor/singer. Pipe Dream became a flop as well as a financial debacle for Rogers and Hammerstein.
_______________

Source of Steinbeck's letter: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (1975), edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten

29 July 2020

R.I.P. Olivia de Havilland (1916-2020)

I must have mentioned once or twice before that Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn were more or less responsible for my becoming a classic Hollywood fan. At a young age (I think I was around ten years old), seeing them together in Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939), I fell in love with them, Errol becoming my hero and Olivia my heroine. When I grew older I had other heroes, but Olivia (and Errol too, of course) always held a special place in my cinematic heart. It is therefore with great sadness that I heard of Olivia's passing last Sunday. She died peacefully in her sleep at her Paris home at the incredible age of 104.

The films of Olivia that I saw as a child and loved (and still do!) were not the films she herself was most proud of. Olivia was very unhappy with her career by the time she made Dodge City ("I was in such a depressed state that I could hardly remember the lines") and was quite eager to take on more challenging roles. She would soon get her wish when David Selznick cast her in the role of Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. There were more challenging, dramatic roles still to come with films like Hold Back The Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948) and The Heiress (1949), earning her a further four Oscar nominations. Olivia eventually won the statuette twice, for her performances in To Each His Own and The Heiress.

Among Olivia's dramatic roles, probably the most demanding was that of schizophrenic Virginia Cunningham in Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit — the role often cited as one of her personal favourites. To prepare for her role, Olivia did extensive research, visiting mental hospitals and observing treatments, such as hydrotherapy and electric shock. Furthermore, she attended therapy sessions and also spent time with patients at social functions. Olivia's hard work eventually paid off, earning her good reviews, an Oscar nomination ánd praise from people in the psychiatric field.

One of the professionals who was very impressed with The Snake Pit and Olivia's portrayal of Virginia was Dr. William Menninger, a renowned psychiatrist and after WWII a leader in reforming state mental hospitals. Here is a correspondence between him and Olivia from March 1949, several months after the release of the film. As one can imagine, Olivia was "tremendously thrilled" to receive Dr. Menninger's praise and approval.

Transcript:

436 N. Rockingham Road
Brentwood Park, California

March 5, 1949

Dear Dr. Menninger,

Your kind letter, written in November, arrived while my husband and I were visiting out of the state, so that it was not until our return that I received it. The holidays, a New York trip, and a recent illness have kept me until now from telling you how tremendously thrilled I was by your approval and praise of "The Snake Pit" and "Virginia". As you have no doubt learned from Mr. Litvak, all of us associated with the film earnestly hoped to create both a work of art and one of service. Therefore to have won your commendation of it as "a perfectly wonderful service to psychiatry and the public" is, indeed, a great satisfaction.

With warm good wishes,

Gratefully, 

Olivia de Havilland Goodrich
[Marcus Goodrich was Olivia's first husband to whom she was married from 1946 until 1953]

Transcript:

March 10, 1949

Mrs. Olivia de Havilland Goodrich
436 North Rockingham Road
Brentwood Park, California 

Dear Mrs. Goodrich:

Your note of March 5 was indeed a very gracious and warm note and I appreciated it deeply.

It is possible that you may have had an inquiry, through Mr. Spyros Skouras [President of 20th Century Fox], from me recently.  I don't need to tell you how backward our state hospitals are and we in this organized group, The American Psychiatric Association, plan to have a mental hospital institute in Philadelphia for the entire week of April 11 to 15. We have written to the Governors of the various states and to the mental health authorities and urged them to send representatives and I am hopeful that most of our states and territories will send men to this institute. It was planned that we would have a mass meeting in Philadelphia on Monday evening the 11th to open the program and I contacted Mr. Skouras as to the possibility of whether we might be able to persuade you to attend this opening meeting. Mr. Skouras confidentially reported back to me of your great expectations for this summer and that it was extremely unlikely that you would feel that such an expenditure of effort was practical. I am certainly in full agreement with such a point of view and do hope that all things go happily and well for you. 

Charles Schlaifer sent me the brochure of many, many reviews and editorial comments about THE SNAKE PIT. He also told me of the enormous box-office returns, all of which made me very happy and I am sure it must make you happy too. To have the satisfaction of making a remarkable piece of art and at the same time doing such a phenomenal public service I think must be a source of great satisfaction to yourself. Again I say that all of us in psychiatry are deeply in your debt.

Sincerely yours, 

William C. Menninger, M.D.  

Source of both letters: Kansas Historical Society

21 July 2020

Audrey, call us!

Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins starred together in Stanley Kramer's On The Beach (1959) and during production of the film they realised they had all been leading men to Audrey Hepburn. Peck was Audrey's romantic lead in Roman Holiday (1953), Astaire in Funny Face (1957) and Perkins in Green Mansions (1959). While filming on location in Australia, the men decided to send Audrey a message ("Dear Audrey. If you need any help call us!") via this fun picture, autographed by the three of them. I'm sure Audrey must have been thrilled to receive this.

Source: Christie's


13 July 2020

You are the best musical composer in the industry

Austrian-born music composer Max Steiner moved to Hollywood in 1929 and was one of the first composers to write music scores for films. According to Steiner, filmmakers at the time generally regarded film music as a "necessary evil" but this would all change in the early 1930's. Put under contract at RKO, Steiner composed his first film score for Cimarron (1931) and after several films was asked by David Selznick (the studio's new head of production) to write the score for Symphony of Six Million (1932). The score for Symphony was groundbreaking. It was the first time underscoring (music played under dialogue or a scene) was used throughout an entire picture. Steiner later said that Symphony was "the most important picture [he] did as far as trendsetting". But while the film was a turning point for both Steiner's career and the film industry, it wasn't until a year later with King Kong (1933) that Steiner had his big breakthrough. Many people believe it's this score which marks the true beginning of the Hollywood film score.

In 1936, due to salary issues with RKO, Steiner went to work for David Selznick at his new studio Selznick International Pictures. A year later, following a professional disagreement with Selznick over A Star is Born (1937), Steiner left Selznick and signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. under the condition that he was still allowed to work for Selznick if needed. Steiner desperately wanted the assignment to write the score for Gone with the Wind (1939), the rights to the novel having been purchased by Selznick in 1936.

In April 1939, Warners agreed to lend Steiner to Selznick who had never considered any other composer for GWTW than Steiner. Steiner had only three months to write the score and worked around the clock to meet the deadline (meanwhile also composing scores for Warners, 1939 being his busiest year with thirteen (!) films). Worried that Steiner wouldn't make it in time, Selznick asked Franz Waxman to write an additional score. In the end, Steiner came through and delivered a great score, which at nearly three hours is still one of the longest scores ever composed.

Max Steiner credited on screen for Gone With The Wind (above) and for Now, Voyager, My Reputation, Since You Went Away and Mildred Pierce (below, clockwise), which are some of my favourite Steiner scores.
As said, Steiner had been quite eager to work on GWTW and to make sure his boss Jack Warner would lend him to Selznick, he wrote Warner a letter in the spring of 1939. Warner wrote back immediately, giving Steiner the go-ahead while emphasising the composer's importance to the studio and calling him "the best musical composer in the industry". Steiner's letter (shown in part and only in transcript) as well as Warner's reply can be read below. 

Incidentally, the film score for GWTW (with its famous Tara's Theme) remains one of Steiner's most famous and best loved scores. Steiner was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz. (That same year, Steiner was also nominated for another film, Dark Victory.) In all, Steiner composed more than 300 film scores and was nominated for an Oscar 24 times, ultimately winning three, i.e. for The Informer (1935), Now, Voyager (1942) and Since You Went Away (1944).

My dear Mr Warner: 
Charlie Feldman told me ... that it would be all right for me to do the music for Gone with the Wind .... When I came over to work at Warners, I had an understanding with Leo [Forbstein, responsible for Warners' contracts] that whatever happened I was to do Gone with the Wind .... In fact, the only way I could get my release from Mr. Selznick was with that promise .... It is absolutely necessary that I do a top picture of the type of ... Gone with the Wind with their vast opportunity for music .... One cannot win Academy Awards with ... Oklahoma Kid, etc.... Please do not misunderstand me .... I haven't slept for days, and it is all can [do to] try and get [Confessions of a] Nazi Spy finished in time. Really, Mr. Warner, I'm counting on you .... Will you please give your consent and tell ... Mr. Selznick ... should he find it necessary to get someone else, I would never get over it ...  
Source: Max Steiner: Composing, Casablanca, and the Golden Age of Film Music

Source: AuctionZip

Transcript: 

April 6, 1939

Dear Max:

Received your circular letter about doing GONE WITH THE WIND, and first I want to say that irrespective of what pictures you score, you are the best musical composer in the industry. If this is not true, I am sufficiently a music critic to prove it.

Therefore, I come to the point of replying to your letter reference your doing GONE WITH THE WIND. I have told Leo and Hal Wallis that this is satisfactory and that you can do it, and Mr. Forbstein and Mr. Obringer will handle the business of loaning you over there.

Just want to add that while I realize we have brought another composer in to do certain pictures from time to time, it is with great pride that we can point to the important music in pictures such as ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, DODGE CITY, OKLAHOMA KID, FOUR DAUGHTERS, CRIME SCHOOL and JEZEBEL and I am sure that the important music you have placed in these and many other films, have contributed much to their success, and I assure you it isn't the bigness of the picture that counts.... for you won an Academy Award for doing a picture no one ever heard of, THE INFORMER.

However, I do hope that with GONE WITH THE WIND you will not only win the Academy Award, but the plaudits of the public, who are after all, our most important judges.

Yours for more work and longer hours,

Sincerely,
(signed)
Jack Warner

P.S. Keep away from the Hollywood Turf Club .... because I am going to be there every Saturday.

Mr. Max Steiner
Studio