28 October 2014

Clara Bow & her fan letter to Marlon Brando

Clara Bow was one of the greatest stars of the 1920s. She was the ultimate flapper, the original "It girl" and Hollywood's first sex symbol. An extremely popular actress in her time, Bow received more than 45,000 fan letters per month, a number seldom equalled. Born in 1905 in Brooklyn, New York, Bow grew up in poverty with a sexually abusive father and a schizophrenic mother. To escape her miserable life, Bow found comfort in movies ("For the first time in my life I knew there was beauty in the world"). She dreamed of being an actress and, after winning an acting contest, made her film debut at age 16. Between 1922 and 1933, she starred in 57 films, including box-office hits like Mantrap (1926), It (1927) and Wings (1927). It was the film that made her a star and gave her the nickname the "It girl".

Although Clara Bow was adored by the public, she was shunned by Hollywood. Actors like Douglas Fairbanks jr., Mary Pickford and Marion Davies, who belonged to Hollywood's high society, distanced themselves from her, thinking she was vulgar and bad-mannered. And Bow's studio, Paramount, was none too happy with her unconventional lifestyle and the scandals that surrounded her (scandals that involved her public love affairs, her gambling addiction etc.). The tabloids, meanwhile, were having a field day covering Bow's life in detail. Eventually, Bow couldn't handle the pressures of Hollywood anymore and retired from acting in 1933 at age 28. She left California and moved to Nevada with actor husband Rex Bell with whom she had two sons. By that time, Bow had already been showing signs of mental illness and was ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia (like her mother). In 1950, Bow separated from her husband, moved back to California and spent the last 15 years of her life in seclusion, all the while struggling with her mental health. She died of a heart attack in 1965, 60 years old.

In the early 1950s, Clara Bow became a fan of upcoming star Marlon Brando. Until then, Bow's favourite actor had been Gilbert Roland (her ex-fiancé), but in Brando she found a new favourite actor. According to David Stenn (author of Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild (1988)), Bow met her new idol somewhere in the mid-50s. After she discovered that Brando was a fan of hers, she visited him at his home (leaving her house was something she would only rarely do). Bow and Brando reportedly enjoyed their meeting, and Brando later sent the retired actress a signed photo with the inscription: "For Clara Bow Bell, a memorable personality who has given so much to so many. With sincere respects, Marlon Brando". 

Written before they met, Clara Bow sent the following letter to Marlon Brando in December 1954 (it's actually a lengthy message written on a Christmas card). In it, Bow asks Brando for a new autographed photo. Apparently Brando had sent her one in 1952, but the ink on it had faded ("You didn't by any chance write with vanishing ink, did you?"). What is quite interesting is that, apart from being a fan letter, Bow also touches upon her Hollywood days, mentioning her wild behaviour, Paramount and Hollywood's social elite.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission



Dear Mr. Brando,

May I at this time, again, congratulate you on your superb performances in "On the Waterfront" and "Desiree".
I know how busy you are with your career, but if in the future, you take ten, I'd appreciate a new autographed photo from my favorite artist. The one you autographed and sent me almost two years ago is still framed and on my dressing table, but the writing on it has almost vanished- for what reason I can't understand- thus the above request. You didn't by any chance write with vanishing ink, did you? Although we have never met personally I feel as we did. I know two of your friends, however, and they told me how much you enjoyed playing tricks on them. I adore a good sense of humor, wit and whimsy in people, so I would not mind a past photo written in vanishing ink. -When I was in my teens and even older I did things that most people considered crazy, wild and unconvential [sic]! Paramount raised hell when they found out I was rolling-skating [sic] on the streets of Beverly Hills. I still went on skating, nevertheless, I liked doing it and could not understand the consternation I provoked in the studio- heads hearts [??] I don't need to tell you that the so-called social elite of Hollywood snubbed me, and you know what- I didn't give a hoot!
Don't forget that new photo and this time- no ink that disappears into thin air- please Marlon B.
Sincerely, Clara Bow

A rare photo of Clara Bow from the 1950s, and Bow's idol: hunky Marlon Brando
*I must admit that I never knew much about Clara Bow. I am no fan of silent films and have so far only seen a couple of Charlie Chaplin pictures. But my curiosity is now piqued and I will definitely check out her films! 

This is my contribution to the CMBA Blogathon "Forgotten Stars". Click here to see all the other entries!

23 October 2014

Thanks for the champagne!

On 17 February 1962, six months before her untimely death, Marilyn Monroe wrote this short note to Volkmar von Zühlsdorff thanking him for his champagne. Von Zühlsdorff, whom Marilyn mistakenly calls Von Fühlsdorff, was a German attorney and diplomat (at the time he was Consulate General in Los Angeles). Little is known about his meeting with Marilyn, but according to the Berlin auction house that auctioned the note in April 2008, Von Zühlsdorff and Marilyn had dinner once after which he sent her champagne. Short and to the point, this is Marilyn's note.


February 17, 1962

Mr. Volkmar von Fuehlsdorff
German Consulate General
3450 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles 5, California

Dear Mr. von Fuehlsdorff:

Thank you for your champagne.

It arrived, I drank it, and I was gayer.

Thanks again.

My best,

Marilyn Monroe


20 October 2014

Dean, you weren't very tall last night

John Wayne was one of Hollywood's most prominent Republicans. In 1968, the Republican Party asked him to run for president thinking it could profit from Wayne's huge popularity. Wayne declined as he believed people would not take a Hollywood actor in the White House seriously. So instead of running for president himself, he publicly supported Republican candidates such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (even though Reagan had been an actor too).

On 20 January 1969, Richard Nixon and vice-president Spiro Agnew took office. Wayne, who had actively campaigned for Nixon-Agnew, was not amused after friend and fellow actor Dean Martin had made jokes about the vice-president during a show. On 24 January, Wayne sent a telegram to Martin reprimanding him for his conduct. Four days later Martin sent Wayne his reply. Both telegrams can be read below.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Telegram- January 24, 1969 
10:10 AM 
(operator DJ)

Mr. Dean Martin
601 Mountain Drive
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dear Dino:

You weren't very tall last night. Spiro Agnew is Vice President of the United States of America.


Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


1969, JAN 28 PM 3 20




John Wayne and Dean Martin in Howard Hawks' great western "Rio Bravo" (1959). They would appear together in one other western, "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965).

16 October 2014

I am in my usual state of cursing

After briefly meeting in the early 1930s, Greta Garbo and renowned photographer Cecil Beaton met again in the 1940s, became friends and even lovers. It is said that Beaton, who was openly gay, was obsessed with Garbo and that he had at one time proposed marriage (which she declined). The two remained friends until 1972 when Beaton made the unforgivable mistake of talking in detail about his affair with Garbo in his memoir The Happy Years. A betrayed Garbo abruptly ended their friendship. The only time they would see each other again was in 1974 after Beaton had suffered a stroke. 

Greta Garbo sent Cecil Beaton the following letter on 2 April 1965 while they were still friends. In it, she tells him she's not feeling too good and that she's in her "usual state of cursing". 

Source: bonhams/ image reproduced with permission


Dear Beaty, thank you for your letters. I am in my usual state of 'cursing'. I am having my annual cold since over two months. I wonder why I never seem to be able to shake them off. Maybe because I never had a child or never married or perhaps I am not nice enough. I wish I knew so I would know what to curse. I went to the trouble of flying to an island to get well. After five days I had to leave. It was so windy that I was much worse then [sic] before going there. And now is taxtime troubles and when that is settled I must try to go somewhere for a couple of weeks, out of New York's air. Otherwise I will not be able to do spring cleaning and do not ask what that means. I would not tell you. I have no plans yet for anything. I cannot think now. But if I get this head of mine unclogged perhaps I will be able to figure something out, I don't speak English yet!!! I don't know if Cecile de R. is going to charter a boat this year. If she does she might ask me since I am not thinking I cannot carry on any further. These little papers I send you really only to thank you for your practically unreadable letters. As soon as I feel clearer I will tell you about some possible plans.

Love. G. 
Greta Garbo photographed by Cecil Beaton; Beaton shot more than 200 photos of the actress.

14 October 2014

Hedy Lamarr's art choice

Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr is an actress I never knew that much about. Only recently I've learnt that, apart from being an actress, she was also an inventor. In 1941, Lamarr and composer George Antheil co-invented 'frequency hopping', which would serve as a basis for modern technology like WiFi and Bluetooth. The letter for this post has nothing to do with this invention, but I simply had to mention it. Hedy Lamarr, a glamorous Hollywood actress, contributed to WiFi --how cool is that!

And now, to the matter at hand. The following letter tells us a little bit more about Hedy Lamarr, i.e. her taste in art. Apparently Lamarr was a lover of abstract expressionism, and on 15 July 1959 she wrote a letter to New York artist Franz Kline whose work she admired. The two would meet later that same year attending some of the same celebrity parties. (And Lamarr is also said to have bought one of Kline's paintings.)

Franz Kline photographed in his New York studio by Fritz Goro in 1954


614 No. Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, Calif.

19 July 1959

Dear Mr. Franz Kline:

When I first saw one of your paintings, done about 1950, I had to sit down because it did something to me.

Since then I've found out that you're one of the leading forces in contemporary American painting. This by itself wouldn't at all influence me to get anything of yours unless I really otherwise respected your guts.

But, there is something I'm anxious to find out: Are you by any chance of Austrian descent- since I am.

Please do let me know.



Hedy Lamarr

Incidentally I do have a small 1953 picture of yours done on a telephone book page which I cherish very much.

9 October 2014

The boy has much talent

In October 1954, 24-year-old Clint Eastwood had yet to make his film debut. By then Billy Wilder was already a successful director and not far from casting his next film The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) on aviator Charles Lindbergh. Fellow director Arthur Lubin introduced Eastwood to Wilder and suggested him for the Lindbergh part. Whether Wilder had actually considered Eastwood for the part I don't know; in any case, he eventually cast 47-year-old James Stewart to play the 25-year-old Lindbergh. Clint Eastwood would make his film debut a year later with an uncredited role in Revenge of the Creature, followed by more uncredited and minor roles before finally having his breakthrough with A Fistful of Dollars (1964). 

Below you'll find two letters both written in October 1954. The first one was written by Arthur Lubin to Billy Wilder in which he recommended Eastwood for the Lindbergh role ("the boy has much talent, though still undeveloped"). The second one is a handwritten letter from young Clint Eastwood to Billy Wilder. Eastwood was not happy with a test he had done earlier for Universal and, worried that it would diminish his chances for the Lindbergh part, asked Wilder not to use it but invite him for a personal interview instead.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


October 20, 1954

Dear Billy Wilder:

Thank you very much for talking with Clint Eastwood to whom I introduced you on your busy set yesterday. Only because of Solly Baiano's enthusiasm for his possibilities for the forthcoming Lindbergh picture did I take of your time and mine to bring him out. Believe me, the boy has much talent, though still undeveloped. I urge you to give him consideration when you are casting. As I will be in England on a picture, the lad can be easily reached by contacting the Casting Department at Universal. 

Much appreciation.


Arthur Lubin

Mr. Billy Wilder
"The Seven Year Itch" Company
Twentieth Century Fox
Beverly Hills, California

left: Billy Wilder; right: Arthur Lubin

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Tuesday, October 26, 1954

Dear Mr. Wilder,

Thank you for taking your time to see me last Tuesday when Mr. Arthur Lubin was kind enough to introduce us on your set. Mr. Solly Baiano of Warner Brothers seemed quite enthusiastic about my possibilities for the Lindbergh role, when he met me here at Universal where I am under contract. 
I was concerned when you mentioned to Mr. Lubin that you would like to see a test. The only one Universal has made was one of those difficult interviews in which I felt I was not very good, even though I was given a contract on the strength of it. When the time comes for casting, I would appreciate so much your letting me talk with you rather than seeing this test, for I have improved in every way since that time. I feel the qualities you might be seeking can better be found in a personal interview.
Again may I thank you and trust I did not take too much of your time. I now look forward to our next meeting.

Respectfully yours,
Clint Eastwood

4020 Arch Drive
North Hollywood 

7 October 2014

Who does Hitchcock think he is?!

Alfred Hitchcock had always wanted to make a movie involving the famous Mount Rushmore monument. A chase across the monument was what he dreamed of. In 1959, he fulfilled his long ambition with the spy thriller North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint. But before the film could be made, Hitch first had to get permission from the National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of the Interior. 

In the summer of 1958, permission was granted to film at Mt. Rushmore, but on the condition that no scenes of violence were filmed on or near the sculpture, or even on studio replicas of the monument. Hitchcock ignored the rules. Admittedly, he did not shoot any of the chase scenes on the actual monument, but he did film them in the studio on a giant replica and also used the sculpture as background for further violent scenes. (The replica was so convincing that one film critic mistakenly said that the sequence had been shot at the real monument.) Of course, the NPS and Department of the Interior fiercely objected to the scenes being used, but in the end there was little they could do about it. (They did ask to be removed from the credits which acknowledged their cooperation in the film.) 

Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint relaxing on location at Mount Rushmore (left) and on the run in the thrilling Mt. Rushmore sequence (right and below).
In September 1958, Hitchcock started filming on Mount Rushmore. Shortly thereafter, complaints came pouring in from citizens who felt that their beloved monument was being desecrated. Below you'll find three short letters from angry citizens: one sent to a newspaper, one to the National Park Service and the last one addressed to President Eisenhower.


left image
Oak Park, Sept. 10
I agree with this morning's letter protesting the movie now being made which will "come to a climax on Mount Rushmore, where the chase ends with Grant running up and down Lincoln's face." The lofty sculpture cannot help but instill a feeling of reverence, and I am sure the sad eyes of Abraham Lincoln would be sadder if he thought the people of his country would allow a man to run up and down on his face. There are plenty of other places Cary Grant can run up and down.

right image:
Just who does the English director Alfred Hitchcock think he is that he could send another Englishman running up & down over Lincoln's face?
Rushmore is a shrine to the American people and they don't want it defaced or debased by Alfred Hitchcock. An American director wouldn't have have [sic] tried such a thing. People are on the alert to such things American.


Los Angeles, Calif.
September 17 1958

Dwight D. Eisenhower,
President of the United States;

My dear President:

Are you going to allow these crazy Hollywood producers to desecrate our National Park? Read the inclosed clippings from recent issues of the Los Angeles Examiner (Louella Parsons' column). This is no laughing matter. It concerns every red blooded American. It is not only in very bad taste, but a violation of all common decency. 
Is Mount Rushmore a national shrine of democracy or just another "setting" for motion pictures?

Hitchcock flanked by three members of his cast: Cary Grant, Eve Marie Saint and James Mason.

4 October 2014

Hello Character

Here is an amusing letter from Danny Kaye to fellow actor and friend Clifton Webb. At the time of writing, Kaye and his wife Sylvia had just moved from New York City to Beverly Hills. Although his new home wasn't as bad as he had thought it would be, Kaye was hit by occasional waves of nostalgia for New York and the people there. 

On 26 March 1943 --not wishing to neglect his New York connections-- Danny Kaye wrote Clifton Webb the following letter, or rather, as becomes clear in the final paragraph, dictated the letter to a girl named Jerry.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


March 26, 1943

Mr. Clifton Webb
Booth Theatre
45th Between Broadway and Eight
New York City

Hello Character:

During this brief respite from my very heavy labors I'm stealing a moment to write you a brief note which I hope you appreciate. I haven't been able to write very much to anyone else because of the tremendous task involved in making a few million dollars for Mr. Goldwyn. But I said to him one morning, I said, "Sam, I simply can't go on this way without writing to Clifton. I feel that he will be terribly hurt and I must keep up my connections in New York, because who knows when I might have to go back to the theatre?" So I'm sending you photographs and a brief biography of myself so you can keep me in mind when you decide to turn producer and use me in one of your glittering successes.

Sylvia and I have a lovely house out here and we enjoy living in it. It would be nice if we had some friends from the East to make it more pleasant, but everyone has been wonderful to us out here, and except for the fact that I get up a couple of times a week with a terrific nostalgia for New York and the people I know and love, it's not as unpleasant as I thought it would be.

Jerry, that's the girl who is writing this letter, is starving. She's drooling from the mouth, her eyes are bulging out of her head, steam is whistling from her nose, and her seat is bouncing up and down with impatience. So before the telephone, the lamp and the typewriter are thrown at me, I'd better say goodbye and tell you that we think of you and miss you and hope we see you soon.

Sylvia and I send our best to you and Mabel.

Love and kisses,

Danny (signed)

917 North Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, Calif.

*Note: Mabel was Clifton Webb's mother, whom Webb lived with until she died at age 91 (he was 70 at the time himself). Webb was inseparable from his mother and never recovered from her death. 

left: Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine, who were married from 1940 until Kaye's death in 1987; right: Clifton Webb.

2 October 2014

An irreparable loss to the motion picture industry

On 14 September 1936, producer and MGM executive Irving Thalberg died of pneumonia at the early age of 37. His premature death shocked the whole film industry. Known as MGM's "Boy Wonder", Thalberg was responsible for many of the studio's earliest successes, including such classics as Greed (1924, co-produced with Erich von Stroheim), Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and A Night at the Opera (1935). Always striving for both commercial success and the highest quality --he was the first man to realise that a good film needed a good script, not only big stars--, Thalberg oversaw the production of more than 400 films during his twelve years at MGM. To achieve the quality he wanted, he introduced several production methods which became standard for the whole industry (including sneak previews to gauge the public's reaction and the re-shooting of scenes). Furthermore, Thalberg created many new stars and helped the careers of established stars, like Norma Shearer who became his wife in 1927. During his lifetime, Thalberg never wanted screen credit as producer; it wasn't until his last picture The Good Earth, which was completed after his death and released in 1937, that he was finally credited on screen. 

Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer photographed in 1929. The couple was married from 1927 until Thalberg's death in 1936.

The document for this post is not a letter, but a statement to the press issued on the day of Irving Thalberg's death. On 14 September 1936, Will H. Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), addressed the press with the following words.


Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc.
28 West 44th Street 
New York, N.Y.

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 1936


Hollywood, Calif., Sept. 14---Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, today said:
"The death of Irving Thalberg is an irreparable loss to the motion picture industry. No one can take his place, though others may come to do his work. 
"Brilliant, courageous, a careful workman, who always gave his best, he had the vision and the genius which made him a leader in the industry's constant progress toward the highest levels of art and entertainment. It is a tragedy that he should be taken from us in the very fullness of his youth. For one of his abilities, life offered so much more to do. 
"Such productions as THE BIG PARADE, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and ROMEO AND JULIET will stand as monuments to Irving Thalberg, but he was destined for ever finer things.
"He will be a living memory. He had the highest esteem and the deepest affection of everyone in the industry. Through his death the industry has lost one of its foremost figures and I have lost a friend."

Clockwise: Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg and son; Norma and Irving in July 1936; Will H. Hays, president of the MPPDA; Irving, Norma and Louis B. Mayer at the premiere of "The Great Ziegfeld" on 18 April 1936.