30 September 2014

You have the guts of a lion

Lauren Bacall and John Wayne made two movies together. The first one was the 1955 Blood Alley, directed by William Wellman and produced by Wayne's production company Batjac. And two decades later, the two were reunited for The Shootist (1976), which was Wayne's final film. 

On 7 May 1979, Lauren Bacall wrote the following letter to John Wayne in which she finally thanked him for standing up for her almost 25 years earlier. Both Wayne and director Wellman wanted Bacall to be the leading lady in Blood Alley, but for some reason gossip columnist Hedda Hopper tried to keep them from hiring Bacall. Wayne told Hopper to mind her own business ("Don't tell me how to cast my picture") and then went ahead and gave Bacall the female lead. 

John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in "Blood Alley"

Here is Lauren "Betty" Bacall's warm note to John Wayne, which was written just a month before Wayne lost his battle against stomach cancer.

Source: heritage auctions/ images reproduced with permission


Dear Duke-

This has been on its way to you for months. You have been so very much in my thoughts. 
I never have been able to tell you how much your standing up for me in 'Blood Alley' days meant to me. I wanted to say it on 'The Shootist'- never could somehow. I know how difficult that film was for you. You have the guts of a lion-I do admire you more than I can say. 
It was so great to see you Academy Award nite. I'm being inarticulate-
I want you to know how terrific you are and how really glad I am to know you. You give more than [you] know- I send you much love-
constant thoughts-

John Wayne and Lauren Bacall having fun during "The Shootist"

28 September 2014

My dear Ava

After her roles in Mogambo (1953) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Ava Gardner --often seen as one of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies-- was beginning to be taken seriously as an actress. Her next film Bhowani Junction (1956), in which she played an Anglo-Indian woman, earned her critical praise, as did several of her later films like On the Beach (1959) and The Night of the Iguana (1964).

Not long after Ava had finished making Bhowani Junction, her friend and manager Jess Morgan wrote her this very entertaining (undated) letter, presumably written while Ava was in her home state North Carolina. Being away from the Hollywood hubbub, Morgan kept Ava in the loop on all the news. In the letter, he first talks about his plane catching fire and then tells her --in a fascinating paragraph that gives us a peek inside MGM's executive room-- that she probably will be getting her well-deserved car. Next, he updates Ava on the latest Hollywood gossip before urging her, in the final paragraph, to do a couple of photo shoots to promote Bhowani Junction ("Know how you hate it"). 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission



My dear Ava:

Wanted to write a few lines to you earlier but goddamn it there really hasn't been time. I really jumped into a hotbox here. Lotsa production, lotsa problems and headaches, lotsa work. Believe me, I didn't know when I was well off. At least in London-- or [redacted] anywhere else for that matter, you're away from all this hulabaloo. Can I come to Spain with you?

First off-- suppose you've heard by now that your dolls and your painting and your x-ray were all delivered. For a time there I didn't think they'd make it. [redacted] The damn plane caught fire in Iceland-- fortunately just before we took off-- and we all had to climb out in [redacted] whatever we were wearing (nylon shorts for me) and look on from a distance. It seemed the plane might explode any minute and of course it's a miracle that it didn't. [redacted] Somehow as I stood there on that icy volcanic island --it was in the middle of the night-- and watched the flames licking about the fuselage I thought of all my clothes going up (a little sadly) and then I thought of the x-ray of your kidney -- and somehow I saw the humor of it. Anyway -- they finally put the flames out and later were able to climb [redacted] aboard and rescue everything -- although we had to sit on the darned island 24 hours and wait for another plane to come from Paris.

I had the M-G-M office in New York mail the dolls and painting to N. Carolina. Hoped they arrived safely.

[redacted] The first day I was in New York I was in Howard Dietz's office and was showing him photographs of you (the ones made in the rain cabin) and raving about your performance -- and the picture as well.  I also told him about your message to Benny Thau. And told him I thought you deserved the car. Well-- a couple of hours later it was lunchtime and Dietz took me up to the executive dining room to give Nick Schenk, Arthur Loew and others a run down on the picture and your performance -- also showing them the stills. It happened Benny [redacted] Thau was sitting at the table. Dietz then said-- "You have a message for Benny, don't you, Morgan?" I asked Thau if he wanted me to give it to him just as you had told it to me. He said "yes"-- So I said "Ava says you can go fuck yourself and she says she'll know what she means". Thau laughed weakly -- and Schenck wanted to know what the message meant. Then Thau told about Allenberg's visit to your office and the request for the car. He said that for tax reasons or something (I never did get it [redacted] straight) it hadn't seemed a good idea either for you or the company. But Thau then launched into a long discussion about what a great job you're doing in the picture --how cooperative you've been-- how hard you've been working, etc. Schenck nodded approval and said he could see by the photographs what a superb job you're doing. Thau said he thinks you should have the car-- or indicated he thought you should have it. Soon after that I left the dining room so I don't know final disposition. But I certainly would be surprised if you don't get the car (handwritten comment: Think you should have Allenberg follow through again).

Here at the studio things seem more hectic than ever. I'll write a few lines of gossip: 
Eddie Fisher and Debbie seem washed up, although he flew out to see her [redacted] over last weekend... Sinatra was on the lot yesterday to test wardrobe for "The Tender Trap" which he is doing with Debbie and David Wayne... it's [redacted] an amusing script and a good part for him ... Chuck Walters is directing... Understand Frank resented Brando on "Guys and Dolls" .. he wasn't very cooperative on the picture from all accounts..... but that's his business of course.... Lana and Lex have been tiffing but are still happy on the surface.... Lex was made [sic] about her trip to Mexico.... Lana is telling everyone she won't be happy unless she can you to do "My Most Intimate [redacted] Friend" with her.. she thinks it's a good script...Understand "The Female" is off for a while... I talked to Grace Kelly in New York... she is due out here end of this month.. will do "The [redacted] Swan" with Charles Vidor directing .... Dave Boulton is here... what a surprise...Bob Taylor's baby due any minute.. Ursula went to [redacted] hospital two days ago but it was false alarm... Gable probably will be married before end of the month-- to Spreckles.... everyone is raving about "Bhowani", what they've seen of it. 

Hope to hell you'll be able to do that special art and the glamor pictures, Ava. There's nothing more important as far as exploitation on the picture goes. Even if Dave isn't there-- try to do a few glamor covers for magazines. They have nothing left in New York and of course it'll be a hell of a long time before you're in a gallery again. You've done such a wonderful job --in every way-- on the picture that you might as well go all the way and do your part for us, too. Try to do what you can. Know how you hate it. But, believe me, it is important. We want to put a really big selling campaign behind the picture and you know that Ava Gardner is what we're selling the mostest.

Love to you-- let me know if anything I can do for you-- miss you and hope it won't be too long before we see you.

Love -

Ava Gardner in a publicity photo for "Bhowani Junction", and Ava with Stewart Granger having fun on the set.
Ava Gardner with good friend Lana Turner. Jess Morgan says in his letter that Lana wanted to do the film "My Most Intimate Friend" with Ava; the film, however, was never made.

25 September 2014

Joan, forgive me

Classic Hollywood had its fair share of real life couples. During the 1930's, one of those couples was Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone. The two had met in 1933 on the set of their first film Today we live, got married two years later and were eventually divorced in 1939. The fact that Joan was much more successful than her husband --Franchot Tone was even referred to by the press as Mr. Joan Crawford-- was one of the main reasons the marriage failed. Tone began to drink heavily and became physically abusive towards Joan which caused her to file for divorce. After the marriage was over, the two maintained a cordial relationship and eventually rekindled their friendship. Tone even proposed marriage again in 1964 but Joan declined. After she moved to New York, Joan saw a lot of her ex-husband, and during the 1960s she even took care of him (especially after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and bound to a wheelchair). When Tone died in 1968, it was Joan who arranged for him to be cremated.

Franchot Tone and Joan Crawford in the 1934 "Sadie McKee". They would make a total of seven films together.

On 10 August 1967, Franchot Tone sent the following letter to Joan Crawford, apologising for something he had said or done (of which he had no recollection).


Darling Joan-

I was sick -smog, excitement, convivial excesses, etc.- and under sedation and I truly didn't remember after I awoke, until Pat told me. 
I am ashamed. Please forgive. I pray never again to let you for a minute think I do not love and glorify and thank you for all your kindnesses and thoughtfulnesses (is that a word???)
Hope to reach you by phone.

22 September 2014

What a waste of time!

In 1950, novelist Raymond Chandler was hired by Alfred Hitchcock to write the screenplay for Hitch's next film Strangers on a train (1951), based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Their collaboration, however, was not a happy one. Chandler hated the script conferences that Hitchcock insisted upon --"god-awful jabber sessions" he called them-- and disagreed with Hitch's approach to the film; he complained that Hitch was more concerned with getting good camera shots than with the story's plausibility or character development. The relationship between the two men got even worse after Hitch had overheard Chandler call him "a fat bastard". In the end, Hitchcock replaced Chandler with Czenzi Ormonde who rewrote Chandler's script. (Hitch initially wanted Ben Hecht, but Hecht was unavailable and recommended his assistant Ormonde.)

On 6 December 1950, having read Ormonde's final script, a clearly annoyed Chandler wrote a letter to Hitchcock. Unfortunately I don't have an image of the original letter to show you, but below you'll find the transcript taken from Letters of Note.

Robert Walker and Farley Granger in "Strangers on a train"

December 6th, 1950

Dear Hitch,

In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay—for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity—in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing your mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a "far less brilliant mind than mine" to guess what they were.

Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I'm not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They'll know damn well I didn't. I shouldn't have minded in the least if you had produced a better script—believe me. I shouldn't. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place? What a waste of money! What a waste of time! It's no answer to say that I was well paid. Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting his time.

(Signed, 'Raymond Chandler')
Letter via: letters of note/ original source: The Raymond Chandler Papers (2000)

*NoteAlthough Hitchcock got rid of Chandler's script and had Czenzi Ormonde rewrite it, Chandler did receive screenwriting credit (against Hitch's wishes but on the insistence of the studio). And it is said that Chandler never mailed his angry letter to Hitchcock, so in the end Hitch never got to read it.

18 September 2014

Dear Golden Boy

21-year-old William Holden made his film debut in 1939 with Golden Boy. His female co-star Barbara Stanwyck, who was eleven years his senior, was already a veteran by then. When the inexperienced Holden was almost fired from the film (Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, was not too pleased with his work), Barbara came to his aid and convinced Cohn to let him stay on. After that she would help Holden with his lines and became his mentor, and ultimately his friend. Holden never forgot what Barbara had done for him and in 1977, when they were joint presenters at the Oscars, he surprised her by thanking her for saving his career. 

Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden: friends for life

In 1981, Barbara Stanwyck was given an honorary award by The Film Society of Lincoln Center. The Gala Tribute was held at the Lincoln Center in New York City, and in a letter to her "Golden Boy", dated 18 April 1981, Barbara thanked him for coming to New York and attending her tribute. 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Dear "Golden Boy"

That you are and always will be to me.
Thank you so much for making the trip to New York to be with me and for me at Lincoln Center.
I know what a busy life you lead and to give some of it to me is deeply appreciated. 
Just being there gave me courage to get thru the whole event.
You are indeed "My Golden Boy" and I love you


April 18/81 

On 12 November of that same year, William Holden died at the age of 63 after he had slipped and lacerated his forehead while home alone in his apartment in Santa Monica, California. Months later, in March 1982, when Barbara Stanwyck got an Academy Honorary Award (it's hard to believe that throughout her entire career she had never won a 'normal' Oscar), she remembered her friend in a moving acceptance speech: "A few years ago I stood on this stage with William Holden as a presenter. I loved him very much, and I miss him. He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish."

Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden in a publicity still for "Golden Boy"

16 September 2014

Still in a daze about my Oscar...

During her career, Ingrid Bergman won an Academy Award three times. Twice she got the statuette for Best Actress (Gaslight (1944) and Anastasia (1956)) and once for Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express (1974)). In her first Oscar-winning role --the demanding role of Paula Alquist, a woman driven to madness in Gaslight-- Ingrid Bergman was directed by George Cukor. A few days after the Academy Awards Ceremony, which was held on 15 March 1945, Bergman wrote this sweet note to Cukor thanking him for his insightful direction. 

Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission


March 18,  - 45

Dear George-----

I am still in a daze about my Oscar and I can hardly express my-self in any language, but I wanted very much to tell you how grateful I am to you for your help and understanding of my poor Paula in "Gaslight."



Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in a scene from "Gaslight"
On the set of "Gaslight" with Ingrid Bergman, George Cukor, Joseph Cotton and Charles Boyer

14 September 2014

Perhaps it wasn't as disastrous as I'd feared

In March 1942, Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons received both positive and negative reactions from preview audiences. Focusing on the negative reactions (which said the film was too long and too depressing), RKO decided that the film needed serious editing and eventually cut it down from 131 to 88 minutes. The man in charge of post-production was film editor Robert Wise, who became later known as the director of West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). While Wise was busy editing The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles was in Brazil working on a propaganda film as part of the war effort. In Welles' absence and under Wise's supervision, approximately 40 minutes were cut from the original version and -in order to prevent a possible reconstruction- the deleted footage was destroyed. Outraged by the butchering of his film, Welles later said: "They destroyed 'Ambersons' and 'it' destroyed me."

English theatre critic and writer Kenneth Tynan was a great admirer of Orson Welles. In 1943, when Tynan was only 16 years old, he wrote Welles a letter in which he commented on The Magnificent Ambersons. Delighted with the boy's positive remarks on his film, Welles answered Tynan's letter on 29 April 1943. Welles' letter can be read below.

Left photo: Orson Welles and Anne Baxter on the set of "The Magnificent Ambersons"; right: Kenneth Tynan.
Via: mike in mono


April 29, 1943

Mr. Kenneth P. Tynan
229, Portland Road 
Birmingham, 17

Dear Mr. Tynan:

It is difficult for me to tell you how mightily cheered and heartened I was by your kind letter. What you said about "The Magnificent Ambersons" particularly made me happy. While I was away in South America, the studio cut it without my knowledge or consent, and released it before I could work on it. The picture suffered from all this meddling, but your letter makes me feel the result perhaps wasn't as disastrous as I'd feared.

Again, many thanks, and all good wishes.



Orson Welles

8 September 2014

Turning down Freud

For his film about psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud entitled Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), director John Huston had initially offered the female lead to Marilyn Monroe. Huston and author Jean Paul Sartre (who had written the original script for the film) both thought Marilyn was perfect for the role of Cecily whose character was based on Anna O., one of Freud's real life patients. The part, however, eventually went to Susannah York after Marilyn had turned it down. The main reason for Marilyn's refusal was Anna Freud. Freud, who had (like her father) specialised in psychoanalysis and had at one time briefly treated Marilyn, was opposed to the making of any film on her father. Consequently, Marilyn decided not to accept the role. On 5 November 1960, she wrote a letter to director Huston informing him of her decision.

John Huston and Marilyn Monroe


November 5, 1960

Dear John,

I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture of the life of Freud-- so I wouldn't want to be a part of it, first because of his great contribution to humanity and secondly, my personal regard for his work. Thank you for offering me the part of "Annie O" and I wish you the best in this and all other endeavors.


Left photo: John Huston and Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), they would also work together on "The Misfits"(1960)-- Right photo: Montgomery Clift as Freud and Susannah York as Cecily in Huston's "Freud: The Secret Passion"(1962).

5 September 2014

Love letter to Grace Kelly

In May 1955, 25 year-old Grace Kelly was in Cannes for the annual film festival when she was invited for a photo shoot with Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Despite her reluctance to participate in the shoot, Grace accepted the invitation and met the prince at his palace in Monaco. Upon her return to the States, Grace began to work on her new film The Swan (in which she, quite prophetically, portrayed a princess), meanwhile starting a secret correspondence with Rainier. The prince visited the U.S. months later (in December of 1955) and seeing Grace again proposed to her after three days. On 18 and 19 April 1956, "The Wedding of the Century" took place. The private civil ceremony was held on the 18th, followed the next day by the church ceremony, which was watched by more than 30 million people on live television. The wedding was arguably the first modern multi-media press event and Grace Kelly reportedly called it "The Carnival of the Century".

Prince Rainier wrote Grace Kelly the following love letter in early April 1956, just before Grace left the U.S. for Monaco.


My darling

This to tell in a very mild way how terribly much I love you. Miss you, need you , and want you near me always. Safe trip my love. Rest relax and think of me burning myself out with this terrible longing of you, for you! I love you so

3 September 2014

The book cannot be picturised!

In early 1934, before James M. Cain's crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was even published, RKO submitted a synopsis of Cain's story to the censors to see if it could be made into a film. Columbia and Warner Bros. were also interested in adapting the story, but Joseph Breen, later head of the Production Code Administration (PCA), considered the material (containing adultery, illicit sex and murder) unsuitable for a motion picture. All three studios decided not to pursue the idea. MGM, however, was set on filming the story and purchased the film rights for $25,000 without consulting Breen or Breen's boss Will Hays. Breen then made several pleas to MGM not to proceed with the film. In April 1934, MGM gave in and decided to abandon the project.

Ten years later, when Billy Wilder got permission from the PCA to film Cain's novella Double Indemnity (which had the same moral taboos and was previously deemed unfilmable too), MGM resumed its plans to film The Postman Always Rings Twice. The PCA finally gave its approval in May 1945 after certain elements had been removed from the story. The film, starring Lana Turner and John Garfield, was released in 1946 and is still considered to be the best adaptation of Cain's novel.

John Garfield and Lana Turner in a publicity still for Tay Garnett's 1946 "The postman always rings twice".

On 28 March 1934, after Joseph Breen had already urged MGM to drop the film, Will Hays himself wrote a letter to MGM's president Nicholas Schenck. Hays strongly advised to abandon the project and reminded Schenck that the film would be rejected, if and when submitted to the censors for approval. Hays also gave a detailed synopsis of the story (spoilers!) to make his case. As stated above, MGM would follow the advice of the censors and drop the picture (for the moment).

Will Hays (left) and Nicholas Schenck

Source: mppda digital archive


March 28, 1934

Mr. Nicholas M. Schenck,
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Dist. Corp.,
1540 Broadway
New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Schenck:

Following the discussion at the meeting of the Board of Directors relative to certain books and plays, the filming of which will either have to be abandoned entirely or the very greatest care used:

You will remember the discussions of the necessities in this regard and the particular books and plays which were discussed and as to which it was agreed that the greatest care should be exercised and the concluded film made entirely in compliance with the Code or rejected in toto when concluded.

Pursuant to the suggestion of the Board that the discussion be followed by letters concerning each picture to the producing company, I am sending you this additional word supplemental to my letter to you of March 15 relative to


On March 9, while Mr. Breen was discussing another story with Mr. Mannix at Metro, he (added in pen: Mr. Mannix) casually mentioned the fact that he had just concluded the purchase, for $ 25,000, of the novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice". This information came to Mr. Breen as something of a shock because not two hours previously they had succeeded in persuading Columbia not to purchase the story; a fortnight previously they had done the same thing with RKO; and it had recently come to their attention that Warner Bros. had declined to purchase the novel, without consultation with our office, because they feared that it would be impossible to make a proper picture of the subject matter.

It seems to be a realistic story of a down-and-out hitchhiker who finds himself thrown off a hay truck near a roadside sandwich shop in California. He strikes up an alliance with the wife of the owner of the shop, and after a series of sex affairs with her they attempt the murder of her husband. This fails, the illicit sex affair is continued, and a second attempt to murder the woman's husband is made which succeeds. The man evades his complicity in the murder by signing an affidavit placing the blame on the woman but despite this she is acquitted. The illicit sex relationship is again resumed until the woman leaves the man to attend her mother during her mother's illness. While she is away, he meets another woman and has an illicit sex affair with her. The first woman, on returning, learns of the affair of the other woman and toys with the idea of killing the man who at the same time entertains a similar idea with respect to her. At this juncture the woman becomes pregnant and the man marries her. She suffers a miscarriage while swimming and the man hurries her to a hospital. In his anxiety the car is wrecked and his wife is killed. He is suspected of a deliberate attempt to murder her and, with his unsavoury reputation by reason of his previous connection with murder, is convicted. The story closes as he is about to walk to the gallows.

On March 19 Mr. Breen wrote Mr. Mayer that the novel which had been sent to him, had been read and that a number of the details "point definitely to several violations of our Production Code which are likely to compel us, in the dispensation of our responsibility under the machinery of the Code, definitely to reject the picture, if and when it is submitted to this office for approval."

Several in this office have also read the book and the opinion is unanimous that it can not be picturized. It is my reasoned judgment that the company should now, before further sums are expended in preparation of a script, announce that it will not attempt to develop a treatment of this story.

This opinion is based on the apparent difficulty in making a proper picture; upon the criticism that obtains; and the points made by the other studios, already coming to Mr. Breen, that "nothing you are asking us to take out of our script is as bad as THE POSTMAN story that Metro has bought"; the action of the other studios in connection with the book after consultation with Mr. Breen; the fact that this case is different from others, such as SAILOR, BEWARE (which is also causing worry as you know), because in that case the play was bid for by two other companies while in this case the book was rejected by three companies, two of them after consultation at length with our office. In support of the suggestion that it would be well to abandon the production now, I am submitting a memorandum herewith, marked Exhibit "A", which I will appreciate if you will read and which you may find useful if the company proceeds to endeavor to make a treatment. 

I am very mindful, indeed, of your suggestion to the Board that you thought it best to endeavor to make a treatment, that if a treatment could not be found entirely satisfactory under the Code that the whole matter would then be abandoned.

I know your personal interest in the matter and the company's purpose to protect itself and the industry against the difficulties, and I am confident of your cooperation.

I have heretofore forwarded you copies of several of Mr. Breen's letters.

With kindest personal regards, I am,

Sincerely yours,

Will H. Hays (sgd)

cc Mr. Joseph I. Breen