8 June 2015

Dear L.B.

After working for Columbia Pictures for twelve years, director Frank Capra's contract with the studio ended in 1939 following the release of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington". Out of a job, Capra decided to start his own production company, Frank Capra Productions, with screenwriter Robert Riskin, with whom he had worked on a number of films including the multiple Oscar-winner "It Happened One Night" (1934). The first film Capra and Riskin produced was "Meet John Doe" (1941), starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. It would also be their last film together, as Frank Capra Productions was dissolved in December 1941 due to tax problems. 

For "Meet John Doe" Frank Capra and Robert Riskin were in need of a studio willing to release their picture. In early 1940, they approached MGM and met with Louis B. Mayer, MGM's big boss, to discuss the matter. Below you'll find a letter from Capra to Mayer, shortly written after their meeting. Capra couldn't make a deal with MGM, and "Meet John Doe" was eventually released through Warner Brothers. The only time Capra did work with MGM was in 1948. MGM released "State of the Union", a production of Capra's second production company Liberty Films, which produced only two films ("It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) being the other one).


January 24, 1940

Mr. L.B. Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Culver City, California

Dear L.B.:

As you have advised, we have signed a one-picture deal with Warner Brothers, under extremely favorable terms.

I understand the situation at MGM quite well, and I know why you couldn't push our deal through without causing some concern for the welfare of your company. As a going organization, with one picture under our belt, we will be definitely a producing unit, and perhaps in a better position to talk to you later on. I sincerely hope you will feel the same way about it.

Meantime, I want to thank you for the time and effort you gave to us, and I want you to know that both Bob and I appreciate it deeply. We came away from your conference with a very friendly feeling for you and for MGM, and we know that we are going to stay that way.

I also want to thank you for your advice and help, which has been invaluable to us because, although we have certain ability, we are still neophytes in producing and organization matters, and we are deeply grateful to you for your kindness.


(signed Frank Capra) 

Louis B. Mayer and Frank Capra with Luise Rainer and Spencer Tracy's wife Louise at the Academy Awards of 1937 (above), and Frank Capra and Robert Riskin (below). 


  1. That's not Gale Sondergaard in that picture ,more likely the wife of Spencer Tracy.
    Great letter.

    1. Hi Vienna,

      It was in the caption of the photo and although I thought it was a strange photo of her I assumed the caption was right, since both Sondergaard and Rainer were Oscar winners. Anyway, you are totally right. It is indeed Mrs Spencer Tracy accepting the award on behalf of her husband (I found a similar photo with the original press caption). Thanks for being so observant and letting me know!! I will correct it.