31 December 2014

Fred Astaire really did not like champagne

In December 1961, Fred Astaire received an advance copy of the newest issue of Playboy Magazine which showed a photograph of him holding a glass of champagne. The photo was from one of his movies (The Pleasure of his Company (1961)) and would appear in the Playboy article despite Astaire's repeated refusal to be shown with a drink in his hand. Seeing his wishes so blatantly ignored, Astaire wrote a letter to Playboy's editorial director A.C. Spectorsky. Both Astaire's letter (in which he remained surprisingly civil instead of getting angry) and Spectorsky's apology (sent shortly thereafter) are shown below.

1956, Fred Astaire photographed by Richard Avedon
Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


December 22, 1961

A.C. Spectorsky, Editorial Director
232 East Ohio Street
Chicago 11, Illinois

Dear Mr. Spectorsky:

Thank you for sending me the advance copy of January Playboy Magazine in which there is a photo of me in the "Toasting the New Year" article.

However, since you have asked me for my comments, I feel it only fair I should tell you the circumstances under which this photograph appeared. First I was asked from the Eastern Office of the magazine to pose for a picture with a drink in my hand. I stated that I respectfully declined the invitation since I have no favorite drink and did not wish to appear in the article. A few weeks later I was called on the telephone by someone at the local Playboy office and was again approached about posing with a drink in my hand, which I again declined. I was then asked if I objected to the use of a photograph from one of my pictures, namely "The Pleasure Of His Company", in which I am holding a glass of champagne, to which I again specified that I did not wish it used and that I did not wish to participate in this article with a drink in my hand since I had no favorite drink. This was thoroughly understood.

Perhaps you can understand now why I am amazed at the use of this photograph of me with a glass of champagne in my hand "Toasting the New Year". Obviously there is no harm done but I just want to point out to you that I really do not happen to like champagne.

With kindest regards, I remain,

Sincerely yours, 

And here is Spectorsky's answer, dated 2 January 1962.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


January 2, 1962

Mr. Fred Astaire
1129 Summit Drive
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Mr. Astaire:

Thank you for your letter of December 22. Had I been aware of the facts you put forth, your picture most certainly would not have been used. I apologize for the entire organization-- and simultaneously thank you for the reasonable tone and lack of heat in your letter. We could not be more pleased.

I would like to take this occasion to extend you season's greetings as best I can, being in process of still recovering from convivial imbibing of that drink whose dislike you and I share completely.

May I repeat that we are sorry for the treatment we accorded you, and may I also assure you that this is totally atypical of our behavior and contrary to our policies. I would also like to cop a plea for those of my colleagues who were involved: I assure you they are innocent of piratical intent and can only be charged with that dread disease known as lack of communication which afflicts us all in this rapidly growing and proliferating enterprise known as PLAYBOY. Apparently, your ultimate refusal for the use of a picture from one of your films either failed to register with those responsible or filtered through too late to make a change.

We hope this unfortunate incident won't prejudice you against this magazine and this organization, and we (and I, personally) want to express gratitude for your writing.


A.C. Spectorsky
Associate Publisher and Editorial Director


29 December 2014

What wonderful news!

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly starred together in only one movie, Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955). Grant loved working with Grace and would state many years later that she was his favourite leading lady of all time ("Well, with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity.") But it was not only on the set he got along with Grace, the two stars also enjoyed each other's company outside of work. After Grace had become Princess of Monaco in 1956, they kept in touch and Grant would make occasional visits to Monaco.

On 26 February 1966, Cary Grant became a father for the first and only time (he was 62 years old). With his fourth wife Dyan Cannon, to whom he was married from 1965 till 1968, he had a daughter named Jennifer. Two days after she was born, Grant received a telegram from his friend Grace congratulating him on becoming a father.


(..) FEB 28 66 (..)

(..) MONTECARLO (..)




27 December 2014

Waiting for Thalberg's reply

The film adaptation of Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth (1937) was producer Irving Thalberg's final achievement. For the music score of the film Thalberg initially wanted to hire Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg after hearing his Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night") on the radio. Impressed with Schönberg's music, Thalberg arranged for a meeting with the composer at the MGM studios in November 1935. 

Screenwriter Salka Viertel who was also present at the memorable meeting described it in her memoir The Kindness of Strangers (1969): "Thalberg [....] was explaining why he wanted a great composer for the scoring of the Good Earth. When he came to: "Last Sunday when I heard the lovely music you have written...", Schoenberg interrupted sharply: "I don't write 'lovely' music" [.....] He had read the Good Earth and would not undertake the assignment unless he was given complete control over the sound, including the spoken words. "What do you mean by complete control?" asked Thalberg incredulously. "I mean that I have to work with the actors," answered Schoenberg. "They would have to speak in the same pitch and key as I compose it in. It would be similar to Pierrot lunaire but, of course, less difficult." [source

While Thalberg felt his enthusiasm slowly vanish, he still wanted to work with Schönberg. In the end, it was not a creative issue but money that killed the deal. During a second meeting, Schönberg demanded a fee of $50,000 whereupon Thalberg lost interest completely. The assignment was eventually given to composers Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward. 

Irving Thalberg died before production of "The Good Earth" was completed, he was only 37 years old.

After the second meeting between Thalberg and Schönberg, three weeks passed by without Schönberg hearing from the MGM producer. Upset and offended to be treated with so little respect, Schönberg wrote Thalberg this letter on 6 December 1935.

Source: the rest is noise


Mr Thalberg, Producer
Metro Goldwin [sic] Mayer Studio
Thalberg Bungalow
10202 Washington Boulevard
Culver City

December,6, 1935

Dear Mr Thalberg,

when I left you, about three weeks ago, you told me you would answer in a few days. Having got no answer untill [sic] today, I can not believe this is your intention: to give me no answer at all. Maybe you are disappointed about the price I asked. But you will agree, it is not my fault, you did not ask me before and only so late, that I had already spent so much time, coming twice to you, reading the book, trying out how I could compose it and making sketches. I should be very, very sorry if I had to realize, that you do not only not pay attention to the respectfull [sic] way in which I am accostumed [sic] do [sic] be treated as a person of international reputation, but even not for the time I have spent on this occasion. And I should be very sorry if you should write me, it were only a mistake of an officer, that I got not an answer in time, because I came personally to you and have the right to expect, that you personally examine whether I have been answered so as it is fitting to my rank.

As before said, I cannot believe it is your intention not to give me an answer at all. But even in case you are still considering to make me a proposition, I wanted to ask you to give me your decision or at least to write me a letter.

Looking forward to such a letter with many regards I am,

yours very truly

Note: Despite his letter, Schönberg never heard from Thalberg or anyone else at MGM.

Arnold Schönberg and a poster of the film for which he would not compose the music. 

24 December 2014

Happy Holidays!

Here are a few Season's Greetings from Hollywood stars sent to their fellow actors and friends. First up are four telegrams from Greta Garbo to Clifton Webb. Garbo would send Webb a holiday telegram every year on Christmas Eve, signing them with "Harry Brown" (short for Harriet Brown), the pseudonym she used while travelling. The telegrams shown are from 1946, 1953, 1955 and 1962.

Source: first image heritage auctions (reproduced with permission)/ second image: telegrams from last century


1946 DEC 24


Note: Mabel was Webb's mother whom he lived with.


NEW YORK NY= 1953 DEC 24


Source: both images heritage auctions (here and here) / reproduced with permission


NEW YORK NY =1955 DEC 24



DEC 24 62

One of my earlier posts showed a fan letter from Clara Bow to Marlon Brando (here). This is a Christmas card Bow sent her idol somewhere in the 1950s (I can't make out the postmark on the envelope, so I don't know from what year this card is exactly).

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Dear Mr Brando:

A belated thanks for your most gracious note, and the autographed picture of your son- it is on my den wall in the place of honor- I will always cherish it, so thanks once again for your kindness. I do hope you and yours enjoy the happiest of holidays! good luck to you always! 
Sincerely and gratefully,
Clara Bow

And two notes sent to Joan Crawford. The first one is a belated New Year's greeting from Anne Baxter, followed by a note from Barbara Stanwyck.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Dear Joan-

Your Christmas greeting was forwarded to me on tour.
It is always so heart warming to feel your kind thoughts reaching out to all of your far-flung friends and acquaintances.
Have the best New Year in the world.

Fondly always,

Anne Baxter (signed)

Miss Joan Crawford
150 East 69th Street
New York, N.Y. 10021

January 12, 1974


Joan dear,

What a beautiful Christmas basket just arrived filled with so many wonderful things! You are a dear generous friend and I thank you so very very much and I hope and pray the New Year will bring you all you desire-
Love always,

Dec 24/75

19 December 2014

The world's most disgraceful men's room

Here's a very entertaining letter from director King Vidor --known for such movies as The Champ (1931), Stella Dallas (1937) and War and Peace (1956)-- to sports journalist Jim Murray of the L.A. Times. Written in May 1974, 80-year old Vidor complains about the deplorable condition of the men's room at the Dodger Stadium. Vidor's letter is amusing, especially the last paragraph where he tells Murray to disregard the political crisis in America and focus on the problem of these men's rooms instead.


May 23, 1974

Jim Murray
L.A. Times
Times Mirror Square
Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

Dear Jim Murray:

Have you ever had to stand in line in the men's room on the lower level of the Dodger Stadium during the playing of a Ball game? I say lower level because I have not done research on the other levels. Without a doubt, I think it is the most inadequate and disgraceful facility of a major stadium in the world. When I say "in the world," I mean just that, because I have attended events in Moscow. Madrid, Zagreb Yugoslavia, Rome and Paris and in comparison, the facilities at the Dodger Stadium are, without a doubt, the most disgraceful.

Here, patrons who have paid three and a half dollars per seat, move painfully up to a common metal trough. The design of these tiolet [sic] rooms would be inadequate for the friends and fathers at a Little League play-off.

During a recent game, it was necessary that I avail myself of this unbelievable facility. I believe every man in that shoulder-to-shoulder group, of five across and ten deep, deeply resented the indignity to which he was subjected, the outcome of an obviously penurious attitude in the planning and construction of the stadium. I have heard that drinking fountains (water) are nil or almost so, as a part of a plan to sell more beer and  soft drinks. Whether this scheme is true or not, there is something about a two and a half hour ball game that makes bladder relief frequent and imperative.

Jim, (and I feel that I deserve that first name calling privelege [sic] because we sat next to each other at a awards banquet a few years ago in Oceanside), do me a favor of visiting the men's room about Row 23, Lower Level, between innings, any game, and see if you are not as fired up by this disgrace as I am. Forget the impeachment of President Nixon. Instead, let's try to gain some sense of humanity for the suffering customers at Dodgers Stadium. 


King Vidor

King Vidor (left) and Jim Murray

15 December 2014

Now that we have made up...

One of my earlier posts (here) showed an angry telegram from playwright Arthur Miller to Billy Wilder. Wilder had publicly criticised Marilyn Monroe for her behaviour during the shooting of Some Like it Hot (1959), and in the telegram -dated 11 February 1959- Miller basically accused him of having contributed to Marilyn's miscarriage (which occurred shortly after production). That same day Wilder sent Miller a lengthy telegram back, saying (in part): 

"Of course I am deeply sorry that she lost her baby, but I must reject the implication that overwork or inconsiderate treatment by me or anyone else associated with the production was in any way responsible for it. The fact is that the company pampered her, coddled her and acceded to all her whims. The only one who showed any lack of consideration was Marilyn, in her treatment of her co-stars and her co-workers right from the first day, before there was any hint of pregnancy... Her chronic tardiness and unpreparedness cost us eighteen shooting days, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and countless heartaches. I recall one typical morning when she showed up two and a half hours late, carrying a copy of Thomas Paine's The rights of man, and when a second assistant director knocked on her dressing room door and humbly asked her if she was ready, her humanity shone through and she replied quote drop dead unquote. This having been my second picture with Marilyn, I understand her problems. Her biggest problem is that she doesn't understand anyone else's problems. If you took a quick poll among the cast and crew on the subject of Marilyn [you] would find a positively overwhelming lack of popularity." [source: "Arthur Miller" by Christopher Bigsby (2008)]  

Tony Curtis. Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe at a party for "Some Like it Hot". Curtis was also more than annoyed with Marilyn during production of the film. And his remark "Kissing her is like kissing Hitler" didn't really help matters between the two of them.

I don't know what happened after Wilder sent his telegram, but the two men apparently reconciled judging from Wilder's note to Miller several months later.

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


April 20, 1959

Mr. Arthur Miller
444 East 57 Street
New York, New York

Dear Arthur:

Now that we have made up (I hope!), I want you to read this stunning review of our picture. In case you don't read Hebrew, I suggest you have Elizabeth Taylor translate it for you.

My best to Marilyn.

Fond regards,


*Note: Billy Wilder and Arthur Miller were both Jewish, and Elizabeth Taylor had just converted to Judaism earlier that month--hence Wilder's remark. 

On the set of "Some Like it Hot" with Billy Wilder, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

10 December 2014

A bone to pick with Chaplin

Louise Brooks and Charlie Chaplin had a love affair in New York during the summer of 1925. At the time, 18-year old Brooks was a chorus girl with the Ziegfeld Follies and had yet to make her film debut, while Chaplin --36 years old and married to Lita Grey-- was already a popular filmmaker (he was in New York for the premiere of The Gold Rush). Their intense love affair lasted for two months after which Brooks and Chaplin went their separate ways. Although Brooks' views on Chaplin were mostly positive throughout the years, in 1964 after reading Chaplin's autobiography she said some very nasty things about him (see the two letters below). By 1966, Brooks had changed her tune considerably, remembering Chaplin in an essay in "Film Culture" (read here). 

Louise Brooks wrote the following letter about Charlie Chaplin to Frank (a friend?) on 27 November 1964. The letter is quite vicious but makes for a fascinating read.


7 N Goodman Street
Rochester 7 NY

27 November 1964

Dear Frank

You were right about having a bone to pick with Chaplin. I would have forgiven him everything if he had written a first-rate film book. This he did not chose [sic] to do because of his vulgar need to please. At least he has made me understand why I never liked him. When I met him again after New York at the Hollywood home of Arthur Hornblow, I did not speak but moved into a corner. From that lovely vantage point, I watched him doing all his tricks -like a poodle- for Garbo, whom he had just met. She sat smugly on the arm of a chair leaning on the back, watching him under her lashes (like centipedes) with her slight contemptuous smile while her feet pawed idly at the slippers she had cast on the floor. He could not afford emotionally to remember her in the book. Did I say poodle? Well, she did a jolly job of altering him.

Oh, the book has made me ill. His sex pride! His intellectual fatuity! All those babes knocking on his bedroom door. He still tries to pass off a crude bunch of lies to a world who would not know the difference. He grew to hate Paulette, who was, as I told Herman, a bitch in a ditch. They did a sneak marriage in Mexico because she was putting the freeze on him during THE DICTATOR and that could have ruined him. And he does not even mention Martha Raye, who was so magnificent in M VERDOUX or Von Sternberg or Monta Bell. And picture after picture of how pretty he was in his youth!

I am working very long hours. Manya tired me. Since I left the Church, I have had few human contacts. I prefer the blank paper to the needy companion.


(signed) Louise Brooks

Charles Chaplin photographed by Edward Steichen in 1925, and the first edition of Chaplin's autobiography.

And this is an excerpt from a letter by Brooks written to a woman named Dorothy. The letter is undated but was also written after the publication of Chaplin's autobiography in 1964. 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


The BBC interview, which ran 50 minutes, was pretty good, although the kid who interviewed me was a screaming pansy. Happily, we did not discuss Chaplin. That such a barren little man could have produced [redacted] such a monumental collection of work is beyond belief. I have been so busy defending him over the last decades that I had forgotten, until I read his book, how very vulgar and cheap he was. His sex pride! All [redacted] those babes knocking on his bedroom door! His character becomes more and more Dorian Gray-ish-- his films becoming more wonderful as he devolves into something frightful, vapid, and crass. Another fine example of the missing link between genius and humanity!!


(signed) Louise Brooks

8 December 2014

Lobbying for Dracula

Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi is best remembered for his role as the vampire Count Dracula in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931). Many people still think he is the quintessential Dracula, not least because he was actually born in Transylvania giving him the ideal appearance and accent. Lugosi's Dracula adventure began in the summer of 1927 when he was asked to play Dracula on Broadway. The stage play was very successful, ran for 261 shows in New York before going on tour in the U.S. throughout 1928 and 1929. But despite the fact that Lugosi was a success both with audiences and theatre critics, he wasn't Universal Pictures' first choice for the film adaptation (Paul Muni and Lon Chaney were amongst the studio's first choices). Universal didn't like the fact that he was unknown to movie audiences and also feared his being foreign would be bad for box-office results. Lugosi, however, was determined to reprise his role for the screen and lobbied hard to get it. 

One of the persons Lugosi had asked to help him secure the film role was Harold Freedman. Freedman was agent to John Balderston, one of the two playwrights who had adapted Bram Stoker's novel for the stage (the other one was Hamilton Deane). In early 1930, Lugosi heard about the potential plans to bring Dracula to the screen and, as Freedman was trying to sell Balderston's rights to the play, he got in touch with Freedman to offer himself as the ideal Dracula. Freedman subsequently suggested Lugosi to Universal, but without success. By June 1930, Universal was still not interested in Lugosi, and on 25 June a desperate Lugosi sent Freedman this telegram: "Spent many months to promote Dracula. Spent many cables with London to bring down price. Will you please express opinion to Universal for me being the logical choice to be cast for Dracula? Your kindness will be greatly appreciated" [source]. Freedman sent him a letter back the next day, after which Lugosi wrote him this letter on 12 July. 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


July 12: 1930

Mr. Harold Freedman,
Vice-Pres. & Gen. Mgr.
Brandt & Brandt Dramatic Dept.
101 Park Avenue
New York: N.Y.

Dear Mr. Freedman:

I have your letter of June 26th in reply to my wire, and wish to thank you very much for your kind effort in suggesting that I play the part in "Dracula" when it is filmed. I am sure that the success of this enterprise will be largely due to your endeavors, which I very much appreciate. 

Hoping we may have future business interests together, and again thanking you, I remain,

Yours very truly,

(signed) Béla Lugosi

N.B. If you have plays in which there are great character parts suitable to my kind of ability, I would appreciate it if you would send me copies; my permanent address is: 1146 North Hudson Avenue, Hollywood, California  


By August 1930, Universal was still very indecisive on whom to cast for the role of Dracula. Lugosi, meanwhile, had gained the support from the trade journal "Hollywood Filmograph" that began to promote him as the ideal candidate. And director Tod Browning also supported him, saying he preferred an unknown European actor over a well-known American star. Persuaded that Lugosi was the right choice, Universal finally offered him a contract on 12 September 1930 (and they paid Lugosi a very small salary because he was so desperate to play the role).

Publicity photo for "Dracula" with Helen Chandler and Bela Lugosi.

3 December 2014

Agatha Christie praises Billy Wilder

There are many examples of movie adaptations that were hated by the original author. For instance, Ernest Hemingway is said to have disliked all of the adaptations of his short stories and novels, in particular the 1932 version of A Farewell to Arms; Ayn Rand hated the movie adaptation of The Fountainhead (1949) even though she had written the screenplay herself; and Tennessee Williams was none too happy with the 1958 film version of his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, seeing that the homosexual elements had been removed for the film. On the other hand, there are also authors who were pleased with the adaptation of their work. Harper Lee, for instance, thought that the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was "one of the best translations of a book to film ever made" and -apart from some minor criticisms- Margaret Mitchell was content with Gone with the Wind (1939). 

In 1957, Billy Wilder adapted Agatha Christie's play Witness for the Prosecution, based on Christie's own short story. Agatha Christie was very happy with Wilder's adaptation and reportedly said it was the best adaptation ever done of her work. Wilder had followed the basic story of Christie's play, but also made several changes giving the film his personal signature. The most significant change was the addition of the character Nurse Plimsoll, played by Elsa Lanchester whose scenes with husband Charles Laughton are imbued with Wilder's delightful sense of humour. Witness for the Prosecution became a big hit, praised by audiences and critics alike. And Agatha Christie herself enjoyed it so much that she wrote Wilder the following note (shown below).

Billy Wilder (left), and a publicity still for "Witness for the Prosecution" with Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton.
Celebrated author Agatha Christie sold the rights to her play "Witness for the Prosecution" for $435,000.
Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


Dec 11

Dear Billy Wilder

Larry Bachman tells me that you never heard whether I liked your picture Witness for the Prosecution. 
Well- I did.
What's more- I enjoyed it - a thing I never suspected to when seeing a film made from one of my books or books [?] !
You did a wonderful job + I admire that film very much still. 
Most people do.
So let me make amends.
Agatha Christie