26 June 2014

Don't be afraid of being afraid

Suffering from ill health and depression, Marilyn Monroe voluntarily admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital in February 1961. During her hospital stay, which she would later call a 'nightmare', Marilyn received a telegram from Marlon Brando. The two had met at a party for the Actors' Studio in the 1950s and, according to Brando's autobiography Songs my mother taught me (1995), they had an affair seeing each other on and off till Marilyn's death in August 1962. 

Here is Brando's supportive note to Marilyn, written on 27 February 1961.

Source: letters of note


TELEGRAM  Feb.27th

Marilyn Monroe
Nurological [sic] Institute Clinic
Presbyterian Hospital
168th & Broadway
New York City, N.Y.

Dear Marilyn:

The best reappraisals are born in the worst crisis. It has happened to all of us in relative degrees. Be glad for it and don't be afraid of being afraid. It can only help. Relax and enjoy it. I send you my thoughts and my warmest affections.


22 June 2014

You are tops as a director!

Although its subject matter -alcohol addiction- was quite controversial at the time, Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) became a huge success. The film was not only a hit at the box office, but critics also named it one of the best films of the decade. Furthermore, The Lost Weekend won many awards including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (which Wilder co-wrote with producer Charles Brackett) and Best Actor (Ray Milland), not to mention Golden Globes and awards at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Billy Wilder accepts the Golden Globe for Best Director, March 1946

Wilder had finished filming in December 1944, but The Lost Weekend would not be released until almost a year later. Paramount kept the film from being released due to a catastrophic sneak preview, after which certain scenes were reshot in April 1945. It was thanks to positive press screenings that the studio finally decided to release the film mid-November. 

The letter for this post is dated 22 January 1945, a month after initial production had ended, and was written by Jane Wyman to Billy Wilder. Having seen The Lost Weekend for the first time (which apparently wasn't the film's final version), Wyman thanks and praises Wilder for his picture, hitting the nail on the head by predicting it will be a "smash hit". The letter can be read below.

Source: rr auction/ image reproduced with owner's permission


January 22, 1945

Dear Billy:

I do so want to thank you for running Lost Weekend for me. I was thrilled to pieces to see it. Think it is wonderful, and proves what I have always known- that you are tops as a director. Milland, of course, is out of this world in it. 

I'd like to lay you-- ten to one-- that it is going to be a smash hit! And the best I can hope is that I can see it "but fr-r-r-requently!"

Thanking you again, and hoping that you know that working with you was one of the pleasantest experiences I have had, I am 

Sincerely yours,

Janie (signed)

Ray Milland and Jane Wyman in a publicity still for "The Lost Weekend"
This post is my entry for the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by "Once Upon A Screen"" and "Outspoken & Freckled". Click on the link to either blog to see all the other entries.

20 June 2014

Selznick abandons Fritz Lang project

Austrian-born director Fritz Lang decided to make the move to Hollywood in the early 1930s. On 1 June 1934, Lang met with producer David O. Selznick in London (Selznick still worked for MGM at the time) and they agreed to make a film together. However, as their film would be about a crazed group overthrowing the government, the Department of Justice strongly objected to the film being made. In the end, Selznick saw no other alternative than to abandon the project.

The following correspondence took place between Will Hays and David Selznick. As President of the MPPDA (the organisation responsible for the creation of the Production Code), Hays advised Selznick not to proceed with his project. A few days later, Selznick answered Hays' letter saying he would drop the idea altogether. 


June 19, 1934.

Mr. David Selznick,
Culver City, California.

Dear David:

Following our conversation relative to the picture being considered for Mr. Fritz Lang: Mr. Pettijohn returned from Washington and I am enclosing his original office memorandum to me reporting his talk with the Department of Justice on this subject matter.

It is my reasoned judgment, in which Mr. Pettijohn concurs, that under all the circumstances it would not be wise to proceed with the contemplated picture and I so recommend.

With kindest personal regards, I am

Sincerely yours,


cc-Mr. Nicholas M. Schenck.

From left to right: David O. Selznick, Will Hays and Fritz Lang

Source: mppda digital archive


June 22, 1934.

General Will Hays
M.P.P. &D. of A., Inc.,
28 West 44th Street,
New York, New York.

Dear General Hays,

I am in receipt of a letter from Charlie Pettijohn stating the Department of Justice's violent objection to the picture idea suggested by Mr. Fritz Lang and proposed through me. I regret exceedingly that there is obviously no other course open to us but to drop the idea, although I think we could have done a real public service. 

Thank you for your co-operation in the matter.

Cordially yours,

David Selznick (signed)

*Note: Charlie Pettijohn who is mentioned in both letters, was the MPPDA's general counsel. Nicholas Schenck who is cc'd in Hays' letter was an important executive at MGM. And David Selznick addresses Will Hays as General, presumably because Hays had been U.S. Postmaster General in the early 1920s. 

17 June 2014

Little or no regards from Rosalind Russell

Rosalind Russell's comedic talent shines through in such wonderful classics as The Women (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940). That Russell was not just funny on screen but also off screen shows the following letter she wrote to George Cukor. The two had worked together on The Women and apparently also saw each other socially. On 31 March 1942, Russell wrote this letter to Cukor while she was staying at the La Quinta Hotel in Palm Springs, California.

Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission


Mar 31 '42

Dear George:

I am thinking of you. Don't ask me why because I don't know. I hope to God I have not placed myself mentally or otherwise in the category of all those old crows you insist upon reviving in your pictures. Am down here regaining my looks, which is no easy matter. The phone rings constantly with MacCarey, LaCava, Hawks and all the better directors screaming at me for my services. Dietrich is here next door with Gabin....her phone never rings. They sun in the nude and it is a sight....a sight, I tell you/
Presume you are at Tommys' for dinner to-night. He asked US but knew in advance we would be out of town. He promised to give me that desert hole of his many times and when I tried to actually RENT it made excuses....something about Howard Hughs [sic]....whoever he is. Tommy does not seem to appreciate a good connection like myself. After all, I had him repair a dining room chair this year and told a few friends about it. My picture was in the paper Sunday too.... doing my war work. Well, he'll learn.
I shall be back in town after the season and would love to hear from you once you're free-lancing. Now that you're not giving those lunches anymore and I have repaid you with a full course dinner I see no reason to contact YOU....unless you have a script worthy of my abilities. 
My love to Jimmy and little or no regards to you.

Rosalind (signed)

Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford and George Cukor on the set of "The Women"

13 June 2014

Praise for the Academy

The 12th Academy Awards Ceremony, held on 29 February 1940 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, was a memorable one. Not only did Gone with the Wind take home almost all of the Oscars, but amongst the winners was also the first African American ever to win an Oscar. For her great performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind Hattie McDaniel was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, beating co-star Olivia de Havilland who was also nominated. The fact that the Academy had the courage to award an African American inspired John Weaver (an African American himself) to put pen to paper. Two weeks after the ceremony, on 15 March 1940, Weaver wrote the Academy the following letter.

Photo: Hattie McDaniel with presenter Fay Bainter at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940


Dear sirs:

Please accept my belated congratulations for your "Courage" in Judging (Our) Miss Hattie McDaniels [sic] the Best Supporting Actress. 
I am Proud to see the Motion Picture Industry grow more Detirmined [sic] to Apply Democracy.
I know your Act will Create a Vast amount of Goodwill and will help Americans to Grow out of their Mistaken Beleifs [sic] about each other.
May All of you Grow in Wisdom and Understanding and enjoy Good Health, Happiness and Success in All of your Efforts.

Sincerely yours

John Weaver

*Click here if you'd like to watch a clip of Fay Bainter presenting the Oscar to Hattie McDaniel, followed by McDaniel's acceptance speech.

7 June 2014

Robert Donat lends a hand

Robert Donat is best known for his roles in two films from the 1930s: Alfred Hitchock's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and Sam Wood's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). For the latter film he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, beating other nominees like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind and James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The letter for this post, dated 24 May 1939, is from Donat to A.B. Horne (also known as Anmer Hall), who was the owner of the Westminster Theatre in London. Donat wanted to help a friend (his former secretary) find a job and recommended her to the theatre's owner. 

Source: ebay


24th May, 1939

Anmer Hall, Esq.,
The Westminster Theatre,
Palace Street,
S.W. 1.

My dear A.B.H.,

I wonder if you can help me in the matter of the parttime employment of a friend who has just returned from Switzerland after two wretched years in a sanatorium. She used to be my secretary and was very efficient at her job; this sort of work is now debarred as she can only do a few hours a day and has to live quietly in the country.

I was wondering if you ever get any plays sent to you for consideration and if so whether you could let her read the plays- or some of the plays- for you. She is thoroughly experienced at this sort of thing and can be relied on to judge a play quite efficiently and produce a thoroughly comprehensive synopsis in a short space of time. This sort of thing would be admirable for her, because plays could be sent to her by post and could be returned in the space of a day or two. Naturally I am not suggesting that she should replace any readers you may already have, but if there is the possibility of using her for a few extra plays it would be an encouraging start for her.

Perhaps you will be good enough to let me know if there is any likelihood of your being able to use her in this way.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Donat (signed)

P.S. I am addressing a similar request to Michael Macowen. 

3 June 2014

Gene's proposal for "Take me out to the ballgame"

I have seen quite a few MGM musicals, but Take me out to the ballgame (1949) is one that I have yet to see. Directed by Busby Berkeley, this musical stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Esther Williams. After his collaboration with Frank Sinatra in the musical Anchors Aweigh (1945), Gene Kelly was eager to work with Sinatra again and thought up a story for a new musical with help from Stanley Donen. This story, quite similar to Anchors Aweigh, was eventually made into Take me out to the ballgame after having been sold to MGM for $25,000. Below you'll find Gene Kelly's proposal letter for the film --shown in transcript only-- written to MGM's Roy Myers on 27 July 1946.

July 27, 1946

Mr. Roy Myers
M.C.A. Square
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Roy,

Anent our conversation of last week, I'm putting down on paper, as you asked me to, the general background, environment, and situation ideas of the baseball story that I described to you. I've decided to state here only a few plot ramifications, for until they're written up in detail they won't be as interesting as I'd like them to be on a first reading. However, this will give you a rough idea. To begin with, I tried to think of a story that would do for Sinatra what "Anchor's [sic] Aweigh" did: i.e. to put him in a situation that would make him appear so unequivocally masculine that no male movie-goer could resent him. In "Anchors" this was done well because he was a fighting man in the U.S. navy, and a nice, modest guy. In my story he'll be a helluva 2nd baseman and a nice, modest guy.

Most of it is situation comedy and needs exposition, dialogue, or detailed description for you to get the full flavor. As you know, musical comedy scenes, just like musical numbers, can't be described adequately on paper.

Again, the character of Frankie's love interest is not clearly drawn purposely because her entrance and the details of the gangster's entrance into the plot have only been touched upon. A lot of this is dependent on the girl chosen for Frankie. Personally I feel she should be one with a lot of schmalz. Let it suffice to say that this can all be worked out as the story is worked on in detail. For the same reason, Durante also falls by the wayside. I've only concerned myself at present with the three personalities in "Anchors Aweigh." The obvious substitution, of course, is Durocher for Iturbi.

The gangster business is "old hat", but this kind of stock characterization, I think, is good in musical comedy, because it doesn't worry the audience too much, but gives everybody someone to hiss at. Naturally a million similar gimmicks on which to hang the menace and the trouble could be found. This seems the funniest mainly because of the scene with the lady manager and her ball players raking the bums over, and the laughs that would arise from Sinatra knocking Kelly out and Kelly going after him later.

Anyway, enough of this-- and I think you have what you want. Let me know if it is sufficient.

Best regards,

Source: Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

*Note: The role which Gene Kelly suggested Leo Durocher (manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers) should play was eventually played by Jules Munshin. Betty Garrett was cast as Sinatra's love interest and she would also play his love interest in On the town, which was released later that same year (directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and once again starring Kelly and Sinatra).

Publicity still for "Take me out to the ballgame" with Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Betty Garrett.

1 June 2014

Was Marilyn actually reading "Ulysses"?

Photographer Eve Arnold is perhaps best known for the photos she took of Marilyn Monroe. From 1951 onwards, Arnold photographed Marilyn many times, and amongst those photos are the famous images of Marilyn reading James Joyce's Ulysses, a novel that has often been labelled unreadable. 

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Eve Arden, Long Island, New York, 1955

Richard Brown, a Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Leeds with a special interest in James Joyce, was intrigued by Eve Arnold's photos of Marilyn. Curious to know if Marilyn was indeed reading Joyce's novel or if she was merely posing for the photo, Brown wrote Arnold a letter, which she replied on 20 July 1993. Unfortunately, I don't have Arnold's complete letter to show you, just a fragment (and it's not an original image either). In any case, the excerpt from Arnold's letter is interesting as she was telling Brown exactly what he wanted to know.

Via: zuihitsu
Excerpt taken from Richard Brown's essay "Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: Goddess or Postcultural Cyborg?".

Left photo: Eve Arnold; right: Richard Brown