12 December 2015

Frank Sinatra's passion for puzzles

Growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was about fifteen years old when he was asked to do a summer job for a firm in Wall Street. Young Francis gladly accepted, and it was on the ferry to and from work that he fell in love with crossword puzzles. Seeing how fellow commuters worked on the puzzles, Francis began to tackle them himself and within a couple of weeks he was hooked. And it wasn't just a temporary thing solving crossword puzzles remained a passion for the rest of his life.

In the early 1980s, Eugene Maleska, editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle, made a reference to Frank Sinatra in one of his puzzles. After Sinatra had sent Maleska a thank-you letter, the two men began a correspondence and they became friends. One of the letters Sinatra wrote to Maleska is this great letter from 1989, in which he recalls how his passion for the crossword puzzle had begun.

Source: letters of note


September 19, 1989

Dear Gene, 

Many, many, many years ago (I was about 15) I was living with my parents in Hoboken, and a school chum of mine asked me if I wanted to work for the summer months. Of course I said yes I would and he helped me get hired with a firm in Wall Street...It was Stryker & Co. My salary was $12.00 a week. I had a wonderful time delivering stock orders, picking up stock orders, etc., etc., etc. The point of this small tale is to say that my job got me into the Crossword Puzzle world. 

Getting to work each morning and returning home cost me four cents each way on the ferry. I don't remember learning a hell of a lot about stocks and bonds but – I was introduced to the world of Crossword Puzzles. 

My first day to work I stood on the bow of the ferry boat to Christopher Street, where there were other men and women on their way to New York to work, doing my New York Daily News Crossword Puzzle – in pencil. Several days after I started working I noticed a man standing next to me on the ferry also doing a puzzle but in the New York Times. And what put me away was the bum was doing the puzzle in ink! Well sir, not to be outwitted, the next morning on my way to work lo and behold I whipped out a fountain pen. And boy did I ever make a mistake. I realized that without an eraser I was in a lot of trouble. After two or three weeks I wasn't doing too badly and I fell in love with "puzzles", and I still am, and I'm proud to say that I threw away my pencil and from that moment on I moved up to ink, and man was I ever in trouble. Obviously trying to rub out ink was impossible. The challenge delighted me. From that time on I kept timing myself to see how quickly I could complete one. Today I would say a daily puzzle is completed in 30 to 40 minutes. The Sunday puzzle is completed in 90 to 120 minutes. What a wonderful way to pass the time and also learn new answers every day. 

So Gene, my boy, keep up the good work and for all puzzlers, we thank you!

Francis Albert (signed)

Mr. Eugene T. Maleska
c/o The Players Club
New York City

Top row, from left to right: Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Gene Kelly, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and  Guys and Dolls (1955)-- middle row, l to r: From Here to Eternity (1953), High Society (1956) with Grace Kelly, and Suddenly (1954)-- bottom rowl, l to r: Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) with Gene Kelly, The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and On the Town (1949) with Betty Garrett  —And I can only imagine how Sinatra killed time in between takes.....

This post is my contribution to the Sinatra Centennial Blogathon hosted by The Vintage Cameo and Movie Classics. You can find the links to all the other entries here.

11 November 2015

Presenting Gone with the Wind

When Gone with the Wind was released in December 1939, it was first exhibited in a roadshow format. Roadshow films were generally lengthy, epic films (with components like an overture, intermission and exit-music after the film) and were shown in beautiful, selected theatres in the bigger cities before they were released nationwide. For the public, the experience was much like attending a theatrical play with tickets being sold in advance at a premium price. Tickets to GWTW costed no less than 75 cents for a screening during the day --twice the price of a regular feature film-- and $1 in the evening. It wasn't until 1941 that GWTW went into general release at normal prices. 

Concerned with the way GWTW would be presented in theatres during the roadshow run, producer David O. Selznick wrote to the theatres' exhibitors urging them to present GWTW in the best way possible. Selznick's letter was accompanied by a set of instructions regarding matters like the exact moment when to open or close the curtains, when to dim the house lights etc.. These GWTW presentation instructions essentially formed the basis for other roadshow presentations for the next few decades. Below you will find Selznick's instructions in full, preceded by his letter. (This presentation booklet was sent to the exhibitors along with the film print.)

David Selznick at the Oscars flanked by Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh (with  Laurence Olivier).

Via: reddit






DATE 1940

No time, effort, or money has been spared to make GONE WITH THE WIND as perfect as possible. We have fully realized our obligation to the countless millions of readers of Miss Mitchell's beloved work, and have gone to elaborate pains with every detail of production.

This picture represents the very finest obtainable in technical equipment, including a new, greatly improved Technicolor, and the use of many new devices designed to improve photography and sound effects.

But all of the time, money and effort, and all of the new devices, will have been in vain if we do not have the complete cooperation of the exhibitor, without whose showmanship and presentation abilities a perfect show is impossible.

It is with this in mind that we have addressed this booklet to you, the link between the producers and the public, the men who will finally determine whether GONE WITH THE WIND shall be presented in the perfect form in which the public demands to see it.

I shall be personally grateful if you will take the time to read this booklet carefully; and to abide by as many of the suggestions as you find practicable in your particular theatre.

Very sincerely yours,

David O. Selznick

Via: reddit




Reel one of Gone With the Wind begins with a 2 minute and 31 second musical Overture preceding the Main Title. During the last 30 seconds of this Overture, it is urged that the house lights be gradually dimmed so that all lights in the auditorium (with the exception only of exit lights required by fire ordinances) will be fully out at the end of this Overture.

Between the Overture and the Main Title there is a 7-second drum roll before the music of the picture begins. This is designed as your cue for opening the curtains. They should be fully open before the Main Title music commences, so that the first part of the long-awaited title of the film comes on the full and unobscurred [sic] screen.

The film running past the picture aperture during the Overture and the drum roll is black leader.

The opening bars of the musical accompaniment consist of ringing bells. The first bell is your cue to open the dowser to achieve the full effect of the picture fade-in.


There is a silent title reading, "Intermission", running for 10 feet, which comes in Reel 6 of the 2,000 foot reels. (In Reel 6b in those rare cases where 1,000 foot reels are still being used.) This is followed by approximately 30 seconds of silent black leader. This, in turn, is followed by approximately 4 minutes and 8 seconds of music on the sound track, also accompanied by black leader. (This is Southern music, especially prepared and scored for Intermission.)

The curtains should be closed over the INTERMISSION title and the house lights should gradually come up after the curtains are fully drawn. At the end of the title please close the dowser, but continue running the remainder of the reel, in order to play the Intermission music on the sound track that follows the 30 seconds of silence.

If it is decided that the audience requires more than the 7 minute musical intermission provided at the end of Reel 6 and the beginning of Reel 7, simply delay the start of Reel 7 accordingly, for as long as your experience dictates that you should increase the intermission. 




Reel 7 begins with another Overture, this one running a minute and 31 seconds, and it is suggested that you follow the same procedure used in opening the film. During the last 30 seconds of the second Overture, the house lights should be gradually dimmed so that all lights will be fully out when the Overture ends.

Between this Overture and the music of Part Two there is a 7-second drum roll.

The film running past the picture aperture during the second Overture and the succeeding drum roll is black leader.

The drum roll should be your cue for opening the curtains; and the cue for opening the dowser should be the first bars of music following the drum roll.


After the END title in Reel 13 there are 13 seconds of silence and black leader, followed by 4 minutes and 15 seconds of EXIT music. The house lights will presumably be gradually turned up following the END title, but because of the color effect of the last shot, it is requested that house lights should not be turned up until immediately after the END title.

Care should be exercised that a slow drawing of the curtains should not commence until "The End" is fully on the screen, as this title comes over a dramatically important pictorial effect.

The Overture to the two acts of the film have been carefully designed to establish a mood for the enjoyment of the film, and the cooperation of the house managers is earnestly sought to this end.

31 October 2015

Carl Laemmle: Father of Universal

This post is my contribution to The Universal Blogathonhosted by Silver Scenes. Click here for the links to all the other entries.

German-born Carl Laemmle moved to America with his family when he was seventeen years old. After doing a number of odd jobs, he worked as a bookkeeper for many years. In 1906, Laemmle bought a nickelodeon and started a chain of nickelodeons in Chicago. Soon he also started a film distribution service, The Laemmle Film Service, followed by the production company Independent Moving Pictures (IMP). In 1912, the IMP became Universal, and Laemmle became the studio's first president. Three years later, on 14 March 1915, Laemmle opened Universal City, the world's then largest production facility in the San Fernando Valley, California (until then, the studios of Universal were located only at Fort Lee, New Jersey).

Under Laemmle's reign, Universal was the biggest and most productive studio in the world from 1915 to 1925. Specialising in low-budget melodramas and westerns, the studio enjoyed its biggest successes with the comparatively expensive The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), both based on novels by French author Gaston Leroux and both starring Lon Chaney. Laemmle's son, Carl Jr., became head of production in 1928 and had great successes with All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and a number of horror films that the studio became famous for --films such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy  (1932). But "Junior" kept spending too much money which ultimately led to the downfall of the Laemmles. By the end of 1935, both father and son were removed from the company and Charles R. Rogers took over as Universal's new head of production.

Top row (left to right): Lon Chaney as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera and Bela Lugosi who became famous for his role as Dracula; below: Carl Laemmle Sr. with "Junior".

Looking back at Hollywood's formative years, it's hard to ignore the role Carl Laemmle Sr. has played. Not only did he turn Universal into Hollywood's most successful studio, but he was also a pioneer in several ways. Laemmle was the first to give actors credit on screen. Florence Lawrence --known as "The Biograph Girl"-- was the first actor he named publicly and she is often referred to as "the first movie star". By promoting her and other actors, Laemmle helped create the star system. Laemmle understood, better than his competitors, how to mix film entertainment with business. The Universal studio tours were also his idea. He suspected that the public would pay money to see how movies were being made, and he was right.

The correspondence for this post consists of two letters from Laemmle written in 1924 and 1931, respectively to a Mr. Duncan Boss and Miss Celia Brown. In the first letter, Laemmle discusses the picturisation of literary masterpieces and his reason for bringing The Hunchback of Notre Dame to the big screen. He also mentions that The Phantom of the Opera will be made into a film and that the sets will be exceptional. In the second letter, Laemmle talks about Dracula and how --thanks to Dracula's success-- Universal had plans to make two more films of a similar nature, Frankenstein and Murders in the Rue Morgue, once again literary adaptations. Interesting to note that in this letter Laemmle casually mentions Bette Davis as one of Universal's "feminine players of the present season". Laemmle reportedly wasn't very enthusiastic about Miss Davis, and it wasn't until cinematographer Karl Freund told him she had such "lovely eyes" that she was given a role in The Bad Sister (1931). A year later, Laemmle wouldn't renew her contract, and Bette moved on to Warner Bros. where she made her fame and fortune.



October 2, 1924,

Mr. Duncan Boss
299 Market Street,
Paterson, N.Y.

My dear Mr. Boss:

I enjoyed reading your letter of September 21st and agree that the educational possibilities of the screen are almost unlimited. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have neither the time nor the inclination to read a great many of the literary masterpieces of the world, and that is exactly the reason why I have wanted for years to bring THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to the screen. In some instances, it is of course necessary to make changes in the story structure in order to meet pictorial demand and the attitude of the censor, but we take particular pains to see that the beauty and spirit of the theme are not destroyed in this way. Of course, the first mission of the screen is to entertain and for that reason, we cannot put upon the market at one time too many pictures of the serious, heavier type, but I believe producers and patrons as well have come to realize that classics can be so picturized as to be entertaining and educational at the same time. We mean to make more of them.

I wonder if you have read that we are planning now to follow up THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with a picture of similar magnitude in the production of Gaston Leroux's famous story, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, with Lon Chaney in the leading role. Work has already started on the great sets for the picture, which, by the way, are to be built of structural steel. This is the first time such a set has ever been built at Universal City, and as far as I know, the first anywhere. Just a few days ago, I received an interesting studio note on this picture, copy of which I am going to enclose, because I believe it will prove of real interest to you.

Answering the question in the last paragraph of your letter, our studio in Fort Lee is used for the developing of all the negative prints that come in from our California studios. The positive prints are then sent to all parts of the world. 

I hope you will feel free to make suggestions or criticism at any time.

Cordially yours,

Carl Laemmle (signed)


June 9th,

Miss Celia Brown
4 1/2 Salem Street
Nashua, N.H.

My dear Miss Brown:

You may be sure I am indeed very glad to hear from you after a silence of considerable time. I am glad to know you still turn to my column in the Saturday Evening Post with pleasure, and trust it proves to be a guide to you in your selection of moving picture entertainment.

Of course, I was interested to have you tell me you found DRACULA such a thrilling tale and that it so thoroughly appealed to you. You will be glad to know its success has prompted us to arrange for the production of two other pictures of a similiarly [sic] fantastic nature on our schedule for this season- FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley and MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE by Edgar Allen Poe. We feel particularly fortunate to have secured the services of Bela Lugosi, who you felt played the part of Count Dracula with such consummate skill.

While we no longer have Lupe Velez under contract, I am sure you will be more than pleased with our feminine players of the present season- Sidney Fox, Bette Davis, Genevieve Tobin and Rose Hobart- who are all busily at work and are making pictures which you will find the last word in entertainment. Miss Hobart has just completed an interesting part in EAST OF BORNEO in which she plays with Charles Bickford and Georges Renavent.... John Boles and Sidney Fox are hard at work on STRICTLY DISHONORABLE. As a matter of fact, I think Universal has finer entertainment to offer its patrons this year than ever before.

In answer to your inquiry about my biography- it was published in April by G.P. Putnam's, Sons, 2 West 45th Street, New York City. The author is John Drinkwater and he has called the book "The Life and Adventures of Carl Laemmle". If you are not able to secure it in your local bookstore, I am sure you can get it by writing directly to the publishers. Outside entirely from my own part in it, you will find shining through its pages much of interest in the moving picture business in general.

Cordially yours,

Carl Laemmle (signed)

Images of both letters courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

5 October 2015

A belated thank-you from Hitchcock

In early 1950, Patricia Highsmith's debut novel Strangers on a Train was published. Almost immediately after publication, several filmmakers expressed interest in turning the book into a film, among them Alfred Hitchcock. In trying to secure the rights to Highsmith's novel, Hitch made an anonymous bid as he always did in order to keep the price low— which Highsmith accepted. The winning bid was $7,500, and Highsmith was reportedly annoyed when she heard that Hitch was the bidder, realising she could have asked for a higher price. 

Having secured the film rights to Strangers on a Train, Hitch remembered to thank the woman who had made him take note of Highsmith's novel in the first place. Ramona Herdman was publicity director at Harper & Brothers (Highsmith's publisher) and had sent him a copy of the novel to read. On 17 May 1950, Hitch sent Miss Herdman the following thank-you note, informing her that he would be using the novel for his next film. Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train was released in 1951, starring Robert Walker and Farley Granger, and is generally regarded as one of his finest efforts.

Source: Patricia Highsmith Papers (Swiss Literary Archives)



May 17, 1950

Miss Ramona Herdman
Publicity Director
Harper & Brothers
49 East 33rd Street 
New York 16, N.Y.

Dear Miss Herdman,

I know this is a very belated note, but thought you would like to know that as a result of your sending me "Strangers on a Train" I'm using it as the basis for my next picture.

Thanking you,



Alfred Hitchcock

Note: Raymond Chandler was hired by Hitchcock to write the screenplay for Strangers on a Train. To read about their troublesome collaboration and the angry letter Chandler wrote to Hitchcock, feel free to visit this post.

4 September 2015

A toast, a toast to dearest Joan...

Joan Crawford not only had many friends, but her friendships were also deep and long-lasting. One of her friends Carl Johnes (writer of the book "Crawford: The Last Years: An Intimate Memoir" (1979)) once said: "She never took any friendship for granted. In fact, I think one of her many talents was the one for friendship perhaps it was her greatest. Once she made the decision to enter into a real friendship with another person, she became devoted to that person forever. She worked at it, and understood the importance of it" [source].

One of Joan's Hollywood friends was director George Cukor. The two first started working together in 1935 when Cukor directed Joan in No More Ladies; three more pictures followed, i.e. The Women (1939), Susan and God (1940) and A Woman's Face (1941). With The Women Cukor helped reboost Joan's career (after she had been labelled box-office poison), and it was around this time that they also entered into a lifelong friendship. Shortly after Joan's death, Cukor remembered his friend in an article for the New York Times: "In private life, Joan was a lovable, sentimental creature. A loyal and generous friend, very thoughtful dear Joan, she forgot nothing: names, dates, obligations. These included the people at Hollywood institutions who had helped to make and keep her a star..." [click here to read Cukor's tribute in full; the same text was read by Cukor at Joan's memorial service in June 1977].

As with many of her friends, Joan Crawford also kept up a correspondence with George Cukor. Shown below are two of the letters they wrote to each other. In October 1973, Joan wrote to Cukor while she was busy moving house. At the time she was still on the Board of Directors of Pepsi Cola, hence her reference to her "Pepsi work" (her fourth and final husband Alfred Steele was CEO of Pepsi Cola and when he died in 1959, Joan was elected to fill the vacant seat on the board). The letter from Cukor to Joan was written in January 1974, in which he most eloquently thanked her for the food she had sent him for Christmas. As you can read in one of my earlier posts, Joan Crawford loved to cook and was apparently also good at it (there is even a book with her recipes).


October 15, 1973

George darling,

I've been trying to write you since the last of August but things have been too hectic between my Pepsi work and packing linens, towels, dishes, etc. I've been up to my "you know what" in packing cases and will be until I make the big move the first week in November.

How good you were to write me about my New York Times article. I adore your letters. They are so very articulate, so visual.

The boys from the University of Connecticut's Film Society sent me a copy of "The Films of George Cukor." I thought it was excellent.

Forgive the brief letter, as I really feel like a visit with you, BUT those empty cartons are yelling "fill me, fill me."

I'm only moving to another apartment in the same building, but it might as well be to Switzerland. Dear God, the things we collect.

All love, dearest, beautiful friend.

Joan (signed)

Mr. George Cukor
9166 Cordell Drive
Los Angeles, California 90069

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions 


Jan. 3, 1974

My dearest Joan,

They're always misusing the word delicious- 'what a delicious dress... what a delicious room...' and on and on. But in this case it's the mot juste. What a delicious Christmas present you gave me! What's more, the 'presentation' was almost as grand and impressive as the steaks themselves.

Then came the proof of the pudding... the steaks were super. After we'd taken a couple of bites we raised our forks with a luscious piece of steak on them and cried 'A toast .... a toast to dearest Joan'.... You've been toasted under all conditions on all continents, but I'm sure never with delicious broiled (Omaha) steaks. They were not consumed in one sitting, no fear - I hoarded half of them for some other great occasion- for myself.

Dearest Joan, I wish for you a wonderful New Year- that you're well, happy - and with your enormous energy and zest for life, that you'll be kept on the run all the time- doing the things that you really enjoy.

As for me, I'm doing okay. In a few days Peter Schaffer is coming out to work on the script of his play, BLACK COMEDY, to be done in England. It's a funny, funny farce (we hope!) We figure that the poor public will be delighted and relieved to see something jolly after all the torments and degradations of Exorcism, police brutality and other such unappetizing subjects.

Grateful thanks, dearest Joan
and all love, George

On the set of "The Women": eating water melons with Joan Crawford, George Cukor, Norma Shearer and crew.

20 August 2015

I want you for the part, I need you for the part

Producer David O. Selznick was a perfectionist. Not only did he strive to always get the best cast and crew possible, but he also involved himself in every aspect of the film making process (this led to fights with many a director). His biggest hit came with the 1939 Gone with the Wind, and the rest of his career Selznick spent trying to match or even outdo GWTW's success. One of his films Selznick had high hopes for was Duel in the Sun, starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones (who was to be Selznick's second wife) and Joseph Cotten. Although the film could by no means live up to the success of GWTW, it did end up being a major box-office hit as well as being the second highest grossing film of 1947. 

For the part of Jesse in Duel in the Sun Selznick also wanted to get the best man possible, in his opinion Joseph Cotten. Cotten, however, wasn't interested, whereupon Selznick wrote him an eight-page letter trying to persuade him to accept the role. Unfortunately, I only have the first and last part of the letter to show you, but it will give you an idea of how determined Selznick was to get Cotten aboard. In the excerpt below Selznick tells Cotten to have faith in his judgment, like many others had before him. To make his case, Selznick mentions Claudette Colbert as an example. Colbert initially didn't want to play the leading role in Since You Went Away (1944) in which she had to be mother to adolescent daughters Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple. After her initial misgivings, however, Colbert decided to accept the role and afterwards "was happier about it than with any other picture or any other role in her career."  

Written on 8 February 1945, this is the first part of Selznick's letter.


Dear Joe: 

I couldn't tell yesterday whether your attitude toward the part of Jesse was simply that you preferred not to play it, or whether you were determined not to play it. I have just learned from Dan O'Shea [one of Selznick's associates] that the latter is the case.

I had hoped never to reach such a situation with you, or indeed with any of my people, and certainly not in connection with a picture of my own. Actually, this is the first time that anything of this sort has happened in a rather long, and I like to think successful relationship with a great many players under contract to me. Without exception, there has been a complete faith in my judgment, a faith which I have guarded jealously and zealously; and it has of course pleased me to know that my people were always eager and ready to do anything in any of my pictures that I wished, confident in the knowledge that I would not let them down. This attitude has extended to a great many free-lance stars. For instance, Claudette Colbert was terribly reluctant about playing the mother of children in their teens; I had no script to show her; but despite all her fears, she took me on faith. And while it is true that during the making of the picture, she had long periods when she was miserable and wished she had never done the picture, I repeatedly gave her my assurances that when it was finished she would be very happy; and I took this obligation, as indeed I always do, most seriously. When the picture was finished, and Claudette saw it, she apologized to me for ever having been unhappy, told me she didn't care about her photography or anything else, and that she was happier about it than with any other picture or any other role in her career. It was Claudette who originated the phrase, "This is the finest picture in which I have ever appeared".... What is true of Claudette has been true of others who are not under contract to me. Even other studios have taken me at my word when I have assured them that I would protect their people.

Claudette Colbert with teenage daughters Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple in "Since You Went Away".

Selznick then goes on for several more pages telling why Cotten should accept the part, saying among other things: "I must also say in all candor, Joe, that I cannot concede that you or any other actor is a better judge of what he should or should not do than I am... I am dealing also with the fact that it has been proven over decades of picture-making that no player has a perspective on himself or his own career... Clark Gable told me only the other night how miserable and unhappy he was over having to play Rhett...". 

Finally, he concludes his letter with the following paragraphs.


I shall not speak to you further about this, Joe. I shall ask King [King Vidor, the film's director] not to put it on a basis of friendship. I shall not write you further about it. I am simply saying to you that I want you for the part, that I need you for the part, that I should like you to trust me in relation to the part.

I must know promptly, because we are in trouble concerning tests and starting date. Therefore, if I don't hear from you by tomorrow night, I suppose I have no alternative but to assume that you have refused. And I shall, I suppose, have simply to reconcile myself to the unfortunate fact that there is a first time for everything.

Sincerely yours,
David (signed)

Mr. Joseph Cotten
1425 Monaco Drive
Pacific Palisades
Santa Monica, California

Whether it was indeed the letter from Selznick that made Joseph Cotten decide to accept the role, I don't know. Here Cotten is in a scene from "Duel in the Sun" with Jennifer Jones.

Images of Selznick's letter courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

30 July 2015

John Wayne's personal favs

In 1977, 'The People's Almanac' sent out letters to all living Academy Award winning actors concerning a poll it was holding. For this poll the actors were asked to name their all-time favourite actors and films. One of the actors to receive such a letter was John Wayne, who had won the Academy Award for his leading role in True Grit (1969). Shown below are part of The People's Almanac's letter as well as John Wayne's lists of personal favourites. Amongst his favourite films were two John Ford pictures in which Wayne himself had played the lead roles (The Searchers and The Quiet Man), and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, i.e. the 1921 silent version by Rex Ingram, not the 1962 remake by Vincente Minnelli.

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.



1. Spencer Tracy
2. Elizabeth Taylor
3. Kathrine [sic] Hepburn
4. Laurence Olivier
5. Lionel Barrymore

Signed: John Wayne

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.



1. A Man For All Seasons
2. Gone with the Wind
3. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
4. The Searchers
5. The Quiet Man

Signed: John Wayne

27 June 2015

Joseph Breen and The Production Code

When we talk about censorship during Hollywood's Golden Age, one name that will invariably pop up is Joseph Breen. As head of the PCA (Production Code Administration), Breen had to make sure that filmmakers and studios were not violating the Production Code, a set of moral rules adopted in 1930 but not seriously enforced until the establishment of the PCA in 1934. Until his retirement in 1954, Breen, a devout Catholic, controlled the content of thousands of films. He demanded changes in numerous scripts and scenes he deemed inappropriate, much to the chagrin of directors, screenwriters and studio executives. 

Some of Joseph Breen's correspondence from his early years at the PCA (regarding Code-related issues) can be found in the MPPDA (Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America) Digital Archive housed at Flinders University, Australia. There are three letters from that database I would like to share with you, written by Breen respectively in September 1934, February 1935 and October 1935

The first letter was written shortly after the PCA had been established. No film was to be released without the approval of the PCA, and films that had been approved were given a seal of approval along with a certificate number (the first film to receive a seal of approval was John Ford's The World Moves On, given certificate no.1 in July 1934)The PCA seal appeared on each release print as a sign that the film had been deemed 'morally unobjectionable'. No film could be exhibited in American theatres without the seal, and any studio that dared to do so ran the risk of being fined $25,000.

Written to Sidney Kent, President of Fox Film, the following letter shows Breen's concern over the fact that the PCA seal was often hissed at during previews. What worried him most was that the hissing came from studio employees or friends of the actors. Breen was concerned that his business associates might think that the Production Code was "unworthy of support and not to be taken seriously" so could Kent please bring up the subject with his fellow studio heads?


Sept. 5, 1934

Mr. Sydney R. Kent, President
Fox Studio
Hollywood, Calif.,

Dear Mr. Kent:

I am presuming to address you in confidence about a matter which has given us some little concern here in the office of the Production Code Administration.

Frequently, at previews here in Hollywood, when our Production Code Administration seal is thrown upon the screen, it is greeted with loud hissing and cat-calls. We have noticed this several times, especially with pictures made by Warner Brothers. It has been noted also that most of this hissing is done by those who occupied the roped-off seats at the preview. These people, as you know, are usually either studio employees or the friends of the artists who appear in the picture. Admission to these roped-off areas is always reserved to the studio sponsoring the preview.

I hate like blazes to presume upon your kindness this way, but I wonder if you could find time, over the telephone, to mention this situation to the responsible heads of Warner Brothers, Paramount, Metro, Columbia and Universal. The hissing has had the effect of attempting to create in the minds of the people with which we have to do business, the thought that the work of the Production Code is unworthy of support and not to be taken seriously. It adds much to our already over-weighted burden.

It seems to me that a word from you in this regard would be very helpful and make our task less uneasy.

With assurances of my esteem, I am,

Cordially yours,


Joseph I. Breen

The second letter is addressed to Vincent Hart of the Eastern Studio Relations Office of the MPPDA. Worried about "the increased number of stories dealing with crime and bloodshed", Breen provides Hart with a list of don'ts for crime movies.


February 21, 1935

Mr. Vincent G. Hart,
28 W. 44th St.,
New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Hart:

In recent weeks our records here indicate that there is every likelihood of our being confronted with a greatly increased number of stories dealing with crime and bloodshed. These, of course, are giving us much concern. With the view to lessening the definitely anti-social element in such pictures, we have sought to evolve a formula for our guidance in handling these potentially dangerous themes.

To the end that you may share with us our general policy in this matter, I ask you that you read and study very carefully the following outline for your general guidance.

(1) "Details of crime" must never be shown and care should be exercised at all times in discussing such details.

(2) Action suggestive of wholesale slaughter of human beings, either by criminals, in conflict with the police, or as between warring factions of criminals, or in public disorder of any kind, will not be allowed.

(3) There must be no suggestion, at any time, of excessive brutality.

(4) Because of the alarming increase in the number of films in which murder is frequently committed, action showing the taking of human life, even in the mystery stories, is to be cut to a minimum. These frequent presentations of murder tend to lessen regard for the sacredness of life.

(5) Suicide, as a solution of problems occurring in the development of screen drama, is to be discouraged as "morally questionable" and as "bad theatre" - unless absolutely necessary for the development of the plot.

(6) There must be no display, at any time, of machine gunssub-machine guns  or other weapons generally classified as "illegal" weapons in the hands of gangsters, or other criminals, and there are to be no off-stage sounds of the repercussion of these guns. This means that even where the machine guns, or other prohibited weapons, are not shown, the effect of shots coming from these guns must be cut to a minimum

(7) There must be no new, unique or "trick" methods for concealing of guns shown at any time.

(8) The flaunting of weapons by gangsters, or other criminals, will not be allowed.

(9) All discussions and dialogue on the part of gangsters regarding guns must be cut to the minimum.

(10) There must be no scenes, at any time, showing law-enforcing officers dying at the hands of criminals. This includes private detectives and guards for banks, motor trucks, etc.  

With special reference to the crime of kidnaping-- or illegal abduction- it has been our policy to mark such stories acceptable under the Code only when the kidnaping or abduction is: 

(a) Not the main theme of the story
(b) The person kidnaped is not a child
(c) There are no "details of the crime" of kidnaping
(d) No profit accrues to the abductors or kidnapers
(e) Where the kidnapers are punished

With regard to the use of the word "nuts" in pictures, please note:

(1) The word "nuts" when used to characterize a person as crazy is acceptable. In other words, the expressions, "You're nuts"; "He's nuts"; or "He's a nut" may be used.
(2) The use of the word "nuts" as an exclamation should not be used, as in the case of "Aw, nuts", or "Nuts to you", etc.  

With kindest personal regards, I am,

Cordially yours, 
Joseph I. Breen

The final letter was written to Will Hays, head of the MPPDA and Joseph Breen's boss. The letter concerns the re-release of two Pre-Code pictures starring Mae WestShe Done Him Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel (1933). Studios that wanted to re-release films from the 1920s and early 1930s also had to obtain approval from the PCA. Re-releases of these Pre-Code films were generally rejected unless major cuts were made (films such as Animal Crackers (1930) and A Farewell to Arms (1932) were extensively cut and only their censored versions survived). Luckily, many Pre-Code films were too controversial to be re-released and thus remained intact.

When Paramount wanted to re-release She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel, the films were rejected by the PCA. Whenever a film was rejected, studios could still appeal the decision to the Board of Directors of the MPPDA. To make sure that Will Hays would turn down both pictures if Paramount decided to appeal, Joseph Breen wrote Hays the following letter, saying the pictures were "definitely wrong". Whether or not Paramount appealed, I don't know.



October 7, 1935

Mr. Will H. Hays
28 W. 44th St.,
New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Hays:

I acknowledge with thanks the receipt of your letter, bearing date of October 3, with reference to the Paramount pictures SHE DONE HIM WRONG, and I'M NO ANGEL, both of which have been the subject of discussion in connection with the application for a PCA seal of approval.

I have read your letter with care, as well as the documents attached thereto. I am not certain that an appeal will be taken from our decision, but there is a likelihood that such an appeal may be made. In any event, I wanted you to be "au courant" with our problem here.

I saw both pictures myself, and they are definitely wrong. It would be a tragedy if these pictures were permitted to be exhibited at the present time. I am certain that such exhibitions would seriously throw into question much of the good work which has been done and stir up enormous protest.

If an appeal is made, I hope the Board of Directors will turn down both of these pictures. 

With kindest personal regards, I am, 

Cordially yours, 
Joseph I. Breen

All letters taken from the MPPDA Digital Archive

This post is my contribution to the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, co-hosted by Movies SilentlyOnce Upon A Screen and Silver Screenings and sponsored by Flicker Alley. Check out all the other entries here.