29 August 2014

Greta Garbo and President Kennedy's "tooth"

Greta Garbo retired from acting in 1941 to lead a reclusive life far from the public eye. Despite her need for solitude, at times she did socialise with friends or acquaintances and occasionally hung out with the rich and famous. On 13 November 1963, Garbo was invited at the White House for a private dinner party with President Kennedy, the first lady and a few other guests. She enjoyed the evening immensely and would later refer to it as "magical". To thank her hostess, Garbo wrote Jacqueline Kennedy a short letter on 18 November. The letter was written just four days before the tragic events in Dallas. Upon hearing the news of Kennedy's death, Garbo was devastated. It wouldn't be long before she wrote another letter to the first lady, this time to offer her condolences.

In her thank-you letter to Jackie Kennedy (as seen below), Greta Garbo mentions President Kennedy's "tooth" which she had in her possession. Curious to know what she meant, I found the following fascinating story. President Kennedy was a collector of scrimshaw, and one of the items in his collection was a decorated whale's tooth. As a memento of her visit to the White House, Kennedy gave the tooth to Garbo who had a small collection of scrimshaw herself. Having been a spontaneous gesture from the president, his gift to Garbo was never officially listed in the White House files. Thus, when the collection of President Kennedy was catalogued in 1964, the tooth was missing and nobody knew what had happened to it. It wasn't until 1999 that James Wagner of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum came across Garbo's letter and became intrigued by her reference to the president's "tooth". Wagner realised that she had to be talking about the missing tooth and assumed Kennedy had given it to her. So he got in touch with Garbo's family who confirmed his beliefs. Much to Wagner's delight, he got permission to borrow the tooth (which now belonged to Garbo's heirs) for display in a special exhibit at the JFK Library in 2000. 

Here is Garbo's letter that solved the mystery of Kennedy's missing "tooth".


450 East 52nd Street
New York 22, New York

November 18, 1963

Dear Mrs Kennedy,

It was a most unusual evening for me that I spent with you in the White House. It was really fascinating and enchanting. I might believe it was a dream if I did not have in my possession the President's "tooth" facing me.

I shall forever cherish the memory of you, the President and the evening.

With all my affection,

Greta Garbo (signed)

To: Mrs. John F. Kennedy

27 August 2014

I shall await a braver mood

Cary Grant always looked good. Dashingly handsome, Grant was always impeccably dressed in both tailored suits and casual attire. When it came to casual clothing, Levi's was a favourite brand of his. However, not everything from Levi's was to his liking. On 6 June 1958, after being given four shirts by Levi Strauss, Grant wrote a letter to Art Roth of the public relations department. In it, he not only thanks Roth for the shirts, but also tells him (in a rather amusing way) that they're a bit too eccentric for his taste.

Source: esquire


June 6. 1958

Dear Art Roth:

It's about time you were thanked for those four Western shirts that greeted my return from another recent trip to Europe: if they had not been buried under the usual mess of accumulated trivia that demanded immediate attention, your kindness would have been acknowledged days ago. Still, I am once again grateful to you, as you must know. The shirts are, for a conservative such as myself, rather, rather....if you dig me....and I'm not at all sure if I can swagger out in gold-threaded finery. I shall await a braver mood.
My temerity is at a low ebb today, but I venture to ask that you let me know if Levi Strauss ever evolve a line of absolutely plain un-checked, un-metal-threaded, absolutely solid-colored shirts....no matter what the colors, I will rush to the nearest shop.
You have my happy and grateful thoughts, Art Roth; when are you and I going to meet?

Cary Grant (signed)

25 August 2014

Dear Mr. DeMille

I had never heard of Lois Weber before today. A little ashamed am I to admit it, as she is one of the most important female directors the American film industry has known (film historian Anthony Slide even calls her the most important American female director ever). And not only was she a director, she was also an actress, screenwriter and producer. A filmmaker during Hollywood's silent era, Weber has often been mentioned in the same breath as her renowned colleagues Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith. She was a true pioneer, being the first American woman to direct a full-length feature film, the first woman to own a film studio, one of the first directors to experiment with sound and also one of the first to catch the attention of the Hollywood censors (she didn't shy away from controversy; her Hypocrites (1915) was the first film to contain full nude scenes). Her films were extremely popular and at one point she was even Universal's best-paid director. In 1960, because of her contribution to the film industry, Weber was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Although Lois Weber continued to make films in the early 1930s, her greatest successes are from the 1910s and 1920s. In 1939, when she was no longer making movies (her final film White Heat came out in 1934), Weber was eager to make a comeback. In a letter to Cecil B. DeMille dated 24 June 1939, she told him of her plans to make a new film ("If this is as good as I think, it will make a sensational success"). The film, however, was never made. Later that year, on 13 November, a penniless Weber died of a bleeding ulcer at the age of sixty.

Lois Weber with Cecil B. DeMille

22 August 2014

Love from your Eliza

George Cukor is best known for his successful collaborations with women and has often been labelled a "woman's director" (even though he was equally successful at directing men). During a career which spanned 50 years, he worked with some of the finest female stars in the industry, amongst them Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Ingrid Bergman. A lot of these actresses adored Cukor and counted him as a friend; best known is his long-lasting friendship with Katharine Hepburn which began in the 1930s. An actress who became Cukor's friend much later in his career was Audrey Hepburn. In 1964, Audrey and Cukor worked together on My Fair Lady, and during production of the film the two became very close and stayed friends until Cukor's death in 1983. After doing My Fair Lady, Audrey and Cukor kept looking for projects together, but My Fair Lady remained their sole collaboration. 

Here is a lovely (undated) note from Audrey Hepburn to George Cukor in which she shows her warm feelings for him.

Source Audrey's note: bonhams, image reproduced with permission


Dearest, dearest George,

Am at a loss
for words- so 
'say it with flowers' 
much prettier than 
'respect', 'admiration'
'gratitude', 'devotion'
'adoration', though
not longer lasting
xx LOVE xx 
your Eliza

18 August 2014

Anne Baxter's book choice

In 1978, staff members of the Marshall District Library (located in Marshall, Michigan) sent letters to celebrated people in literature, politics, television etc. asking them about their favourite books and authors. One of the many people who responded to the library's letter was actress Anne Baxter. Baxter, best known for her roles in All About Eve (1950) and The Ten Commandments (1956), was an avid reader, and in the following letter she shares with us some of her favourite books.

Anne Baxter in one of the finest performances of her career: the role of Eve Harrington in "All About Eve" (1950).


March 22, 1978

Ms. Marion Bennett
Marshall Public Library
111 East Mansion Street
Marshall, Michigan 49068

Dear Ms. Bennett:

In principle I am against "favorite" anythings, most especially in the field of literature. It's like standing in front of a magnificent smorgasbord and having someone slap your wrist as you reach. However, I will make a stab at just a few.

In the children's department, all "The Goop" books by Gelett Burgess, particularly "Goops and How to Be Them." "Noisy Nora" by Hugh Lofting. Also his "Twilight of Magic." "Zeee", the story of an irascible fairy by my second cousin, Elizabeth Enright.

I am an avid short story reader and among my favorites are those by Thomas Mann, James Joyce's "Dubliners," anything by Colette, Willa Cather, Katherine Mansfield or Isak Dinesen. Mark Twain's "Roughing It" is delicious. I'm very keen on all of Joseph Conrad. Recently I was fortunate enough to come upon a British paperback in its 85th printing: "The Story of San Michele" by Alex Munthe. For sheer unadulterated entertainment, I highly recommend a cold night, a hot fire, some mulled wine and his unforgettable book.

Anne Baxter (signed)

P.S. Required reading: "Animal Farm" by George Orwell and "The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir.

14 August 2014

R.I.P. Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

Love letter from Humphrey Bogart to Lauren Bacall
Source: letters of note

12 August 2014

I do appreciate your kindness

On 14 May 1939, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor got married. Their marriage had been arranged with the help of Taylor's studio MGM. The two stars had been seeing each other since 1936 (after they starred together in My Brother's Wife), but it wasn't until 1939 that the studio thought it was time for them to get married. An article on unmarried Hollywood couples in the January issue of the popular magazine "Photoplay" (click here to read the article) had apparently opened MGM's eyes and the big boss Louis B. Mayer now insisted on the couple marrying. Mayer even went as far as supervising the wedding arrangements himself.

The newlyweds on 14 May 1939; their marriage would last until 1951. Barbara Stanwyck never remarried and would later state that Robert Taylor was the love of her life.

The following note was written by Barbara Stanwyck to Eddie Mannix, vice-president at MGM. Two days after her wedding to Robert Taylor, Barbara thanks Mannix for the flowers he sent her, presumably on the occasion of her wedding.

Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission


May 16/39

Dear Eddie.

Thank you so much for your beautiful flowers. I do appreciate your kindness to me and I sincerely hope I shall please all of you as much as I know Bob has. The very best for you always Eddie, and bless you,


11 August 2014

Help save The Quiet Man train station!

In June 1951, John Ford's wonderful Irish tale The Quiet Man (1952) was shot on location in the west of Ireland (in County Mayo and County Galway). One of the locations used in the film was the Ballyglunin railway station, situated in County Galway. The train station, which was named "Castletown" for the film, was used in two scenes, i.e. the opening scene where John Wayne arrives at the station by train, and the scene where Maureen O'Hara wants to leave by train but is then dragged off by John Wayne to get her dowry from her brother. 

Today the pittoresque Ballyglunin railway station is in a state of dilapidation. The Ballyglunin Railway Restoration Project, established ten years ago, has therefore made it its mission to restore the station to its former splendour. Irish-born Maureen O'Hara supports their cause, and to get people to sponsor the restoration she wrote a letter of endorsement in March of last year. Her letter is shown below and if you'd wish to read more about the restoration and/or contribute to the cause, click here


March 2013

The wonderful Ballyglunin Railway Station is one of those special locations used in The Quiet Man that helped bring the cozy village of Innisfree to life. John Ford loved the name 'Castletown' used for the station and I can still remember sitting in the last carriage of that grand old steam train waiting for John Wayne to come and save me. I hope everyone will join the cause and help save the Ballyglunin Railway Station. It truly is part of Ireland's great cinematic history.

Maureen O'Hara (signed)

June 1951, location shooting at the Ballyglunin railway station

9 August 2014

You made me very happy with your performance

Michael Curtiz's film noir Mildred Pierce (1945) is based on the novel by crime writer James M. Cain and stars Joan Crawford in the title role. For her portrayal of the overbearing Mildred, Joan won the Oscar for Best Actress (the only Oscar of her career). On 7 March 1946, the day of the Oscar ceremony, James Cain wrote Joan Crawford a letter accompanying a gift he had meant to give her for Christmas. In the letter (sent to Grauman's Chinese Theater where the ceremony took place), Cain told Joan how happy he was with her performance and that he would be rooting for her that night. Cain didn't know then that Joan wasn't going to attend the Oscar ceremony. Convinced that the Oscar would go to Ingrid Bergman for her role in The Bells of St. Mary's, Joan stayed in bed that night claiming she had pneumonia.

Left photo: James M. Cain; right: Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth in "Mildred Pierce".


7 March 1946

Miss Joan Crawford
c/o Grauman's Chinese Theater
6925 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, California

Dear Miss Crawford:

By one of those idiotic mischances I was driving West during the run of Mildred Pierce, and didn't see it until mid-November. I was so stirred I decided on this little memento for you and expected to send it for Christmas. What with the book seller's delay, though, in finding a first edition and the book binder's in doing his part, that wasn't possible. Here it is, however, and I can only say you made me very happy with your performance.

Naturally I shall be tuned in tonight pulling for you, and I wish you all the luck in the world. Nobody could deserve this award more than you do. 

Sincerely yours,

(signed Jim)

James M. Cain

Joan with her Oscar and director Michael Curtiz at her home. Earlier that night at the Oscar ceremony, Curtiz had accepted the Oscar on Joan's behalf. When Joan heard she'd won, she invited the press to her home to photograph her accepting the award from Curtiz.  

5 August 2014

Leonard, you're a smash!

The original Broadway production of West Side Story premiered on 26 September 1957 at the Wintergarden Theatre and became a big hit. The production would run for almost two years (732 performances), then went on tour for nearly a year before returning to Broadway in 1960 for another 253 shows. In 1961, West Side Story was adapted for the big screen, receiving high praise and 10 Academy Awards to boot (no movie musical has ever won more).

On 26 September 1957, after West Side Story had opened so successfully, Lauren Bacall sent a telegram to the show's composer Leonard Bernstein. The Bogarts were close friends of the Bernsteins, and with the telegram Lauren Bacall (using her real name "Betty") wanted to congratulate Bernstein on the success of the show. 

Via: telegrams from last century


LOS ANGELES CALIF     1957 SEP 26 PM 4 33


BETTY (added in pen) Bogart

2 August 2014

I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things!

The only time Charles Laughton and Billy Wilder worked together was on Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1958), based on Agatha Christie's short story and play. For their great efforts both Laughton and Wilder received Oscar nominations but neither won. (Incidentally, none of the nominees -six in total- was awarded the Oscar.) On 28 March 1958, Laughton wrote a letter to Wilder, saying that he was glad he didn't win the Oscar ("I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things"). Laughton's view on receiving the statuette had obviously changed, as he had won and accepted the Best Actor award for The Private Life of Henry VIII 24 years earlier. The play Laughton mentions in the penultimate paragraph is presumably Jane Arden's The Party, which opened on 28 May 1958 in London; in the play Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife whose role in Witness had earned her an Oscar nomination) co-starred with her husband.

Billy Wilder, producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich on the set of "Witness for the prosecution".
Source: rr auction/ image reproduced with owner's permission.


7, Dorset House, 
Gloucester Place,
London, N.W.1.

28th March, 1958.

My dearly beloved Billy,

I hope you know me well enough to see that I am telling the truth when I tell you that I am very glad I was not awarded the Oscar. Every time I thought of it, I got into a frightful state of mind. I do not believe in the integrity of the damn things when I think that Garbo never had one, Chaplin never had one, and Hitchcock's never had one. Have you had one, my dear fellow? I don't remember.

It would have made a nasty mark on me not to turn down something which I so heartily look down on, and I had been advised by Loyd Wright that I must not. 

I was terribly shocked when I heard that you were not even nominated for your script and directing of "Witness", as I am not one of those fools, and I know the score of what's what. I sometimes think that in some ways it is bad for you that you are not an actor, and that you do not see ordinary people's faces light up when they come and tell you that they have seen a film like that. It is the only thing that really makes our so difficult game worth the candle.

Bless you, my dear Billy, and "Witness", and the time we had after on holiday; it was one of the most innocent and best times of my life. I do hope that it is going to turn up in the cards that we work together again soon. I have lost all relish for jockeying for position, or making any compromise in working with people whom I do not admire and like.

The script of the play is now completed. Taft Schreiber has a copy. I cannot get another one to send to you. The management is close-fisted about money, which is probably a good thing in the theatre. All I have is a script for me and a script for Elsa. I have dropped Taft a note to give you the script I sent him. I shall be dithering until I know your opinion.

Love to Audrey. Elsa arrived yesterday, thank God- I was very lonely. Elsa has just shouted from the next room that she sends her love.


Charles (signed)

1957, Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria: (from left to right) Tyrone Power, Billy Wilder and Charles Laughton.