31 July 2014

Young Liz's advice to a fan

In January 1946, Elizabeth Taylor was thirteen years old and one of Hollywood's most successful child stars. Her role in National Velvet two years earlier had made her a star, and with her new stardom came the fans and fan mail. After receiving a letter from a distressed young fan, Liz sent her this very charming reply; the girl's pet bird "Chips" had just died, so the young actress tried to offer some words of comfort and advice.


January 24th, 1946

Dear Jean,

I was so sorry to hear about your bird dying, Why dont you write a story about Chips? Just as if you were writing to me, and tell all about it right from the beginning, and all the cute things she did. That's what makes stories interesting, to have all the little details just as if you were telling a friend, and soon you'll find how easy it is to write.

Do you want me to tell you when my book comes out? Lots of luck.


Elizabeth Taylor (signed)

27 July 2014

The shindig was great!

The Friars Club is a private club with locations in New York and Los Angeles and is probably best known for its celebrity roasts. On 8 January 1961 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, a roast was held in honour of Gary Cooper celebrating his 30 years of movie stardom. Amongst the celebrity speakers at the testimonial dinner were Audrey Hepburn, Greer Garson, Dean Martin and Tony Curtis (to listen to the original recordings of Cooper's roast, click here and here). Funds that were raised at the dinner party later went to charities. 

Gary Cooper (flanked by Dean Martin and Tony Martin) having fun at his roast

Gary Cooper with daughter Maria at the party

The Friars Club Roast was one of Cooper's last public appearances. Cooper was having treatment for prostate and colon cancer and found out in February 1961 that the cancer was terminal. Several months later, on 13 May, Cooper passed away. 

The letter for this post was written by Cooper to Peter Lawford a month after the Friars' testimonial. Cooper thanks Lawford for the telegram he received on the occasion of his roast. 


February 9, 1961

Dear Peter:

Belated thanks for your swell wire at the occasion of the Friars' Testimonial for me.

This comes a little late but I went to Sun Valley immediately after to stop my head spinning from the flattery of it all. The shindig was great and I'm glad they made lots of dough for their charities.

Many thanks for making me feel good about it all. 



Gary Cooper

Mr. Peter Lawford
443 Ocean Front
Santa Monica, California

26 July 2014

Praise from the Postmaster General

Lewis Allen's Appointment with Danger (1951) is a film noir in which Alan Ladd plays a Postal Inspector of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service assigned to investigate the murder of a fellow officer. In April 1951, a month before the film was released, Postmaster General Jesse M. Donaldson had the opportunity to view it. Shortly thereafter, he wrote a letter to Barney Balaban (President of Paramount Pictures), praising the film and the accurate way in which the Post Office Department had been portrayed ("...such authentic exposition of a complicated system is a tribute to Hollywood's research methods."). 


April 12, 1951

Mr. Barney Balaban
Paramount Pictures Corp.
1501 Broadway
New York 18, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Balaban:

An opportunity was recently afforded me to see your new production, "APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER", and I must say that I viewed it with a great deal of pleasure.

Let me congratulate you first on having brought forth a picture which keeps the spectator -- at least it did this one-- on the edge of his seat with suspense and excitement.

Although I am no expert on films, I do feel that I can speak out with some certainty on those aspects of "APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER" that deal with the activities of the Post Office Department. You are to be congratulated on the accuracy with which the workings of the Department are set forth. Surely, such authentic exposition of a complicated system is a tribute to Hollywood's research methods.

Also, let me tell you that I'm greatly pleased that our Postal Inspectors receive in the picture appropriate recognition as one of the most efficient guardian forces of the nation. This force of fine men, the oldest investigative Agency of the Government, has never sought publicity, but I am delighted that your film will bring some of their exploits to the attention of the public.

As a former Chief Post Office Inspector, your film brought back many memories, and I wish to add that the film afforded me a genuinely entertaining evening.

Sincerely yours,


Postmaster General

21 July 2014

Bogart is ideal for it

George Raft was one of the leading male stars at Warner Bros. before Humphrey Bogart entered the picture. When offered the lead roles in High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941Raft, however, made some very poor choices. He rejected the roles, both of which went to Bogart. Consequently, Bogie became a star and Raft's career started to decline. One of the stories surrounding Raft is that he also turned down the male lead in Casablanca (1943). This story, however, is a myth. Warner Bros' studio executive Jack Warner did have Raft in mind for the role of Rick Blaine (like he stated in a memo to producer Hal B. Wallis dated 2 April 1942: "What do you think of using Raft in Casablanca? He knows we are going to make this and is starting a campaign for it"), but Wallis had someone else in mind for the role. And, as Casablanca was being produced independently by Wallis under the Warner Bros' logo, he was free to choose his leading man and didn't have to follow Warner's suggestion. Thus, on 13 April 1942, Hal Wallis (clearly annoyed with Raft) sent the following memo to Jack Warner.

Source: the humphrey bogart estate (facebook page)



TO MR. WARNER                                           


DATE  April 3, 1942                                    


Dear Jack:

I have thought over very carefully the matter of George Raft in "CASABLANCA", and I have discussed this with Mike, and we both feel he should not be in this picture. Bogart is ideal for it, and it is being written for him, and I think we should forget Raft for this property.

Incidentally, he hasn't done a picture here since I was a little boy, and I don't think he should be able to put his fingers on just what he wants to do when he wants to do it.


*Note:  Mike whom Wallis mentions in his memo is director Michael Curtiz.

left photo: Hal Wallis with Ingrid Bergman on the set of "Casablanca"; right: studio chief Jack Warner

15 July 2014

British censors applaud To Kill A Mockingbird

Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee's successful coming-of-age novel, was released on 25 December 1962 and became a big commercial and critical success. The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote) and Best Art Direction (Bumstead, Golitzen and Emert). On 31 December 1962, the British Board of Film Censors wrote a letter addressed directly to leading man Gregory Peck. To Kill a Mockingbird had been submitted to the Board for approval (for the UK release) and in the letter John Trevelyan (secretary to the Board) told Peck what they thought of it. Not only did they approve the film but they absolutely loved it, as can be read below.

Source: margaret herrick library, academy of motion picture arts and sciences


31st December 1962

Gregory Peck, Esq.,
Universal International,
Universal City,
California, U.S.A.

My dear Greg,

A few days before Christmas we saw "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD". We were all immensely impressed by this beautiful picture and think that it is one of the very best things you have done in your distinguished career. Quite apart from your own performance, which was faultless, we would particularly like to commend the children. Here was an example of real natural children on the screen, and this is quite a rarity. As I told you in a recent letter it set us a problem of category. While the film was basically suitable for the "A" category there were a few things in it which were really "X" material, but we decided that this was justified by the theme of the picture, by its honesty, and by the discretion used in dealing with the potentially troublesome material.

The theme is one which touches our work closely. We feel that it is not only wrong but impossible to shield children completely from the wickedness of the world, and we feel that through seeing something of it they may discover good things as well. The children's excited reaction to the madman who lived nearby, and their eventual discovery that he was a kindly defective, is just the sort of thing that children should learn. Whoever wrote this material, whether the author of the book or the writer of the screen play, really knows a lot about children.

Thank you for sending us such a lovely picture. We all hope that it will be a commercial success.

With good wishes to you all for 1963.

Yours sincerely,

John (signed)

Left photo: the film's little heroes from left to right: Phillip Alford (Jem), Mary Badham (Scout) and John Megna (Dill); right photo: Gregory Peck reading Harper Lee's novel

14 July 2014

My darling, are you alright?

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were both married to other people when they first met. It was during production of Fire over England (1937) that the two fell in love and started having an affair. After their divorces came through in 1940, Leigh and Olivier got married, their marriage lasting until 1960 when Olivier left Leigh for actress Joan Plowright. As Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder (having frequent violent outbursts), Olivier just couldn't live with her anymore. Leigh found a new partner in actor John Merivale but Laurence Olivier remained the love of her life.

Here's a telegram from Vivien Leigh to Laurence Olivier which she sent in August 1943, three years after they got married.

Source: vivandlarry.com




12 July 2014

Hitchcock's act of kindness

A big part of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) was filmed at the Universal Studios, but the exterior scenes were shot in Bodega Bay, California. In March 1962, while on location in Bodega Bay, Hitch stopped by a local school one morning to meet a group of school children. His visit had such a positive impact on one of the children that Duncan Coleman, the school's principal, wanted to thank Hitchcock and wrote him the following letter on 3 April 1962.

Hitchcock on location for "The Birds" with leading man Rod Taylor
Via: brainpickings


3775 Bodega Highway
Petaluma, California

April 3, 1962

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock Productions
Bodega Bay, California

Dear Mr. Hitchcock:

I wanted to take the time to say that your stopping one morning on your way to Bodega Bay to give a group of children a drawing and autograph of you was certainly a deed of thoughtfulness. It is realized that taking the time from your busy schedule is not an easy thing to do.

The real purpose of this letter is to inform you what your deed of kindness did for a boy to whom you gave your drawing and autograph. This boy is quite shy and does not participate readily in class activities, such as sharing his experiences before others during sharing time. He was so thrilled and moved by his experience that he proudly shared his experience and autograph, not only with his own class, but in every classroom in the school. The boy never before has done such a thing. Many times it takes such a spark as this to help a youngster out of his shell and on the road to confidence. You don't realize what your act of kindness has done for this boy.

I realize that many other people since then have tried to take advantage of the same opportunity and this has made it difficult and impossible for you to fulfill. None the less, your thoughtful act will not be forgotten by youngsters and teachers alike.


Duncan Coleman

4 July 2014

"If you need a sister every once in a while..."

Avid letter-writer Joan Crawford maintained a correspondence with many of her friends, among them fellow actress Barbara Stanwyck. The following letter was written in August 1965 when Barbara had just started to work on the television series The Big Valley, which would run from September 1965 to May 1969 and made her one of the most popular actresses on tv. Joan wrote the letter after she read an article in which Barbara had said some nice things about her.

Source: the best of everything: a joan crawford encyclopedia

Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck in the 1930s: Barbara visits Joan on the set of "The Gorgeous Hussy" (1936).

August 21, 1965

Barbara darling,

A friend of mine in Birmingham, Alabama sent me an article about you by Emmett Weaver of the Post-Herald, and you were a blessed angel to say such nice things about me. I am so touched and pleased with your lovely compliments.

I wish you so much good luck in your new series, and I'm so happy for you. If you need a sister every once in a while, just let me know!

God bless. I hope you are having a wonderfully happy and fruitful summer.

Love, Joan (signed)

*Note: The comment in red was added later by Barbara Stanwyck. I guess that upon receiving the letter from Joan, Barbara wanted to make a note for herself as to what she had said in the article (starting the note with "What I said was..."). I'm afraid I can't really decipher what she wrote, so any suggestions are welcome!

Edit 6 July 2014

Transcript Barbara's handwritten comment:

What I said was- where's another Crawford- when she makes an entrance people knew a star just entered the room etc.

Thanks to Vienna from Vienna's Classic Hollywood for deciphering Barbara's handwriting.

2 July 2014

Oscar dress code

On 25 March 1968, renowned costume designer Edith Head issued a dress code for the 40th Academy Awards ceremony. Gregory Peck, who had become President of the Academy in June 1967, wanted to restore "dignity" to the Oscar ceremony and had Edith Head write a dress code to be sent out to all of the 2500 attending guests. Minis were banned, actresses were now "requested" to wear maxi or floor-length dresses. In the letter shown below, Head (as costume supervisor for the ceremony) outlined the Academy's new dress-code rules. 

Incidentally, this 40th anniversary edition was held on 10 April 1968, two days after the scheduled date; it was postponed due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on 4 April. 

Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood were two of the many presenters at the 40th Academy Awards ceremony, both looking beautiful in their (floor-length?) dresses.


March 25, 1968

We in the Academy are delighted to know that you will appear on our 40th Awards Presentation Telecast Monday, April 8th.

However, so many questions have been asked about the style of dress expected on stage that I send you this information:

Actresses are requested to wear formal evening gowns either Maxi or floor length, preferably pastel shades since the setting is very formal and done entirely in white and gold. As you know, long dresses (no Mini or day length) are more graceful on stage and on camera in this type of background. The Academy feels that the dignity of this traditional affair on our 40th Anniversary deserves formal dress.

Men are expected to wear white tie with conventional formal evening accessories.


Edith Head
Costume Supervisor
During Hollywood's Golden Age, Edith Head was Hollywood's most successful costume designer. She was nominated for an Oscar 35 times, winning eight. Head worked with some of the greatest stars and in the pictures we see her with (clockwise) Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Grace Kelly.