29 February 2016

Edward G. Robinson: Art Lover & Collector

While Edward G. Robinson is mostly known for playing gangsters and tough guys on the big screen, in real life he was a man of refined taste. He loved art and was Hollywood's first major art collector, owning quite an impressive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Robinson didn't think of himself as a collector, though. He once stated: "I am not a collector. I am just an innocent bystander who has been taken over by a collection. [...] I am just a lover of paintings. I do what I do for the sheer joy of it."*

In 1956, Robinson was forced to sell his art collection in order to pay for his divorce from his first wife Gladys Lloyd. He sold the collection for more than $3 million to Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. After marrying Jane Adler in 1958, Robinson started to collect art once again. This second collection, which was even bigger than the first, was sold for more than $5 million to an American industrialist a few months after Robinson's death in 1973.

The Praying Jew
There were a few major exhibitions featuring Robinson's art collection. One of them was an exhibition in 1953 called Forty Paintings from the Edward G. Robinson Collection, which included works by Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso. The exhibition was first shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 4 March to 12 April, and later travelled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC where it was displayed from 10 May to 24 June. It was at the exhibit in Washington where a Mr. Goldberg saw Marc Chagall's painting The Praying Jew and immediately fell in love with it. Wishing to own a reproduction of the painting, Goldberg wrote a letter to both its owner Robinson and its maker Chagall, asking for permission to have a copy made. Both men wrote Goldberg back --their letters are shown below-- with Robinson granting the permission Goldberg had asked for.


June 9, 1953

Mr. William Goldberg
726 Somerser Place, N.W.,
Washington 11, D.C.

Dear Mr. Goldberg:

Thank you for your letter of May 30th, 1953. I am very happy that you enjoyed my pictures displayed at the National Art Gallery, in your city. It is quite a coincidence that as you say, "you fell in love" with "Old Jew with Torah" by Chagall, as that picture is one of my favorites also. 

I genuinely regret that I have no copy or reprint of the picture; otherwise I would be very happy to send it to you. 

If you wish to have said picture photographed while it is hanging in the gallery, you have my permission to do so and may use this letter for that purpose.

Yours sincerely,

Edward G. Robinson


25 septembre 1953

Monsieur W. GOLDBERG
726 Somerset Place N.W.

Cher Monsieur,

J'ai bien reçu votre amaible letter. Malheureusement, je ne peux pas vous donner le renseignement que vous me demandez. Il faut, pour cela, vous addresser au collectioneur Robenson [sic] qui pourra vous indiquer si des reproductions de ce tableau ont été faites. 
Veuillez recevoir, cher Monsieur, l'assurance de mes sentiments distingués.



Dear Sir,

I have received your kind letter. Unfortunately, I cannot give you the information you ask for. For this you need to contact the collector Robenson who could tell you if reproductions of the painting were made.
Please accept, dear Sir, the assurance of my highest consideration.


Images of both letters via ebay.

*Click here for Robinson's statement accompanying the exhibition at the MOMA in New York in 1953 (beginning with the words "I am not a collector..."), and for a list of the 40 paintings Robinson had loaned to the museum.

19 February 2016

A fitting tribute to your judgement and courage

With a little more than a week to go until Oscar night, here is a short letter from an Oscar winner to a fellow winner. On 26 February 1942, John Ford and Darryl F. Zanuck both won the coveted statuette for their work on How Green Was My Valley, respectively for Best Director and Best Picture. In the following (undated) letter to Zanuck, Ford congratulates the producer on his well-deserved prize, knowing what problems Zanuck had in getting the film made (see note below). Ford was serving as a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve at the time, thus signing his letter with "Cmdr. John Ford USNR".

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.


Dear Darryl,

Congratulations on the Award for "How green was my valley". It was a well deserved choice. Even you+ I will admit that. It was a fitting tribute to your judgement + courage. I know what a scrap you had with the company about its production-- well you won!
Please grant me a favor. Would you have a miniature Oscar made up for me as a memento? You know quarter size- "best production" etc? Would appreciate it and it looks like a long time before I compete again.

Hoping you are in the best of health + with kindest regards
I am
yr old servant

Cmdr John Ford USNR
Kaneohe Naval Air Station
Oahu T.H.

John Ford (left) with young Roddy McDowall (who played the role of Huw) and screenwriter Philip Dunne on the set of "How Green Was My Valley".

Darryl F. Zanuck
When How Green Was My Valley was well into pre-production, Zanuck's bosses at 20th Century Fox decided to pull the plug on the film. Unhappy with the script that focused too much on labour issues, and also dissatisfied with the first director William Wyler who they feared would not stay within budget, Fox executives in New York refused to put up the money for the project. Zanuck was furious and fought hard for his film, even threatening to take it to another studio. Eventually Fox gave in, and John Ford was brought in to replace Wyler. (Wyler, who had been borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn and whose contract with Fox had expired anyway, went back to Goldwyn to direct The Little Foxes.)

13 February 2016

Let's bring the art of letter-writing back into vogue!

I know that Olivia de Havilland will be celebrating her 100th birthday this year, but I hadn't realised there's another Hollywood legend who will also turn 100. To be honest, I didn't think Kirk Douglas was still alive, but he is and will have lived exactly a century on 9 December of this year. And like Miss De Havilland who is currently working on her autobiography, Douglas announced his plans last year to start a new book too. A book after my own heart, I might add, as it involves his personal correspondence. 

The letter for this post is about letter-writing, and in particular Kirk Douglas' view on it. It's an open letter to readers of The Huffington Post written in April of last year, in which Douglas expresses his longing for the days when people didn't correspond through e-mail, whatsapp or twitter. And so, he urges readers to write physical letters again, preferably by hand. Having saved decades' worth of his own correspondence, Douglas also tells of his plans to publish his letters in a new book (despite his statement a year earlier that his poetry collection Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters (2014) was his last book). Of course, I can't wait for this book to come out...

I am closing in on 100. When I reflect on the many satisfactory experiences of my long life, I must include my correspondence with some of the world's most fascinating people. There is a special sensory enjoyment involved in writing a letter, stamping the envelope and sending it on its way. Whether you are getting something off your chest (some letters are indeed written in anger) or writing a love letter (my own favorite), it remains the most personal way to communicate, especially when written by hand.
After my stroke, I had fans who wanted me to tell them about my road to recovery. Answering their letters became part of my therapy, and signing them in my own handwriting part of my pleasure. 
In a world where "everything old is new again," I am amazed to hear that young people are now buying vinyl records. Does this bode well for the return of letter-writing? I hope so.
Despite the convenience of the new technologies, this ancient form of communication remains impactful and should be used more often.
Imagine a child writing to Santa Claus in a letter parents can treasure; a Dear John or Dear Jane letter the recipient can stain with tears and reread when the heart has mended; a New Testament without the Epistles.
While no one doubts the ego-satisfying thrill of the 140-character tweet sent to a multitude of followers or the convenience of emails complete with acronyms that substitute for words and cute little emoticons substituting for feelings, I urge readers to rediscover the pleasure of communicating by what is known today by the derogatory term "snail mail." 
My wife Anne has kept a trove of letters and poems I've written to her over our 60 year marriage. She can even quote from some of them. She can also see in them the man I was and the man I became. Anne has also meticulously archived decades of letters between me and people like my friends Henry Kissinger, Francis Albert Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and others, as well as colleagues such as Lord Laurence Olivier and Dalton Trumbo. They all attest to a state of mind; they all reflect what was happening in their lives or mine; they all offer insight into the private thoughts and dreams of that moment in time.
I have written 11 books, and I was sure the one published on my 98th birthday would be my last. However, I have been reading through a lot of that saved correspondence and have decided on another book, much more ambitious than a man my age usually contemplates. I have already begun work on my book of "Letters."
Now, here's my challenge to all of you reading this open letter:
Write a letter today to someone you love that can be kept, savored, and passed along to family members when the time is right. Send a handwritten invitation by mail instead of an evite. Receive a gift and handwrite a thank-you note. Express your feelings to a member of government on an issue you care about and put it in a mailbox. Remember, when you sign a letter in your own hand, you are attesting that you and you alone are responsible for its content. I don't think that's possible with an email.
Let me hear from you, preferably not as a comment, but as a real letter between you and me. At first, rediscovering this form of communication may seem strange -- but I promise you, it gets easier the more you use it -- and ultimately more rewarding. 
I hope you will join my crusade to bring the art of letter-writing back into vogue.
Kirk Douglas
 Source: The Huffington Post

10 February 2016

Bogie, Chess & Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart learned how to play chess from his father and eventually became an avid and also expert player. In the early Depression years, he played chess for money in New York City parks, Times Square and Coney Island. Playing for 50 cents a game, he won more games than he lost. More than an average chess enthusiast, Bogart became director of the United States Chess Federation and was active in the California State Chess Association in the 1940s. In 1955, he drew against Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky in a 70-board simultaneous exhibition. Chess was one of the main interests in Bogart's life. He played almost daily, and during movie breaks he was often seen bent over a chess board playing fellow actors or crew members (his wife Lauren Bacall was a chess enthusiast as well).

It was Bogart who wanted Rick Blaine, his character in Michael Curtiz' famous classic Casablanca (1942), to be a chess player. And so, in the opening scene when Rick is introduced to the viewer, he is shown playing a solitary game of chess. Rick is later joined by Ugarte (Peter Lorre), and we see him making chess moves while he listens to Ugarte talk about the German couriers and the transit letters. The game set up on the board was a real game that Bogart was playing by mail against Irving Kovner, brother of a Warner Bros.' employee. The two men had started the chess game in January 1942, corresponding by postcards and letters to indicate their moves. Bogart eventually sent Kovner a total of 17 postcards and two letters  three of his cards are shown below. 

Filming of Casablanca started on 25 May 1942 and officially wrapped a few months later, on 3 August. The first postcard from Bogart that is shown was written during production and is postmarked 8 June 1942. The chess moves that Bogart executes in the scene with Lorre are mentioned in this card. Bogart's two other cards are from a much later date when filming had already wrapped, postmarked resp. 17 November and 7 December 1942. Apparently the game went on and on... 

(Click here to watch the chess scene from Casablanca.)
Source: bonhams 


Dear Irving Kovner 

You're too hot-headed-- calm down! 
My 6 move a bad one- think should have been BxB. 
Now I'm in a jam.
8 knt- knt 5-- Castle Kings side 9?

H. Bogart

Via: iCollector.com (here and here)


Dear Irving

14-------Kt (Kt)-B3
15 Kt - K2- P- Q5

H Bogart


Dear Irving

14- - - - - P- Q5
15 Knt- B4- - - P- Q6

If I see [??]
you bet I will

H Bogart

Bogie and Paul Henreid playing chess on the set of "Casablanca" with Claude Rains looking on. Henreid was reportedly the better player.
 Joan Bennett and Bogie taking a break during the shooting of "We're no Angels" (1955). 
Bogie visits Lauren Bacall on the set of "Confidential Agent" (1945) where he plays her co-star Charles Boyer. The man sitting next to Bacall is chessmaster Herman Steiner who also taught Bogie. Steiner formed a chess club in the 1940s, later known as the Hollywood Chess Group.
Bogie plays chess with his fourth wife Lauren Bacall who was also an excellent player. There's a famous chess game between the two from 1951 that you can follow in an online chart here

2 February 2016

Dear Club Members

In early 1951, after the completion of An American in Paris, Gene Kelly spent a well-deserved and much-needed vacation in Europe. In the following letter addressed to members of his fan club, Kelly tells them that it was the first real vacation he had in two years and talks about how much he enjoyed Paris, London and skiing in Switzerland (where he was joined by his wife, actress Betsy Blair). Kelly furthermore talks about the preparations for his next project Singin' in the Rain (1952) and how he hoped the film would be well received. (Little did he know then...)

Gene Kelly and his first wife Betsy Blair to whom he was married from 1941 to 1957.
Source: gene kelly fans


March 22, 1951

Dear Club Members:

I'm sorry if this letter has delayed the printing of this current issue of the Journal but I can't say it wasn't worth it. 

My trip to Europe was very successful because I had a nice rest and a change of environment which I sorely needed after working so hard on AMERICAN IN PARIS. It was my first real vacation in two years, all my other trips having been business or semi-business with just a few days off in between. I went to Paris for several days and saw some old friends, and then jumped over to London to see the theatre there. There were many fine plays and it was an extremely worthwhile part of my trip. By this time Betsy had finished her play, RICHARD II, playing the Queen opposite Maurice Evans, and her movie, KING LADY, with Ethel Barrymore and she was ready to join me for the "vacation" part of my trip. Hopping a plane, she met me in Switzerland in a little village called Klosters, and for a month we did nothing but ski around the Alps and got our fill of snow, which is a rarity in Beverly Hills. We met many interesting people and found to our surprise that the Swiss are even bigger movie fans than the French and English. Their favorite picture seems to be THE THREE MUSKETEERS, although as in England, ON THE TOWN went over wonderfully well.

Well, here I am home again and back at work preparing SINGING IN THE RAIN which I am going to co-direct with Stanley Donen as we did on ON THE TOWN. We both hope it will be as well received. We have some great old songs in it and a very funny idea for a premise- but I'm not going to tell you too much about it or maybe you won't even go to see it. Little Debbie Reynolds will be my leading lady and I'm sure you're all going to love her. She's so sweet and nice, a real breath of fresh air on that old movie screen.

And so, until the next Journal I shall be digging away at new dance routines, new jokes, new recordings, and I hope, a new hit.

I want to thank and congratulate all you hard workers and contributors to the last Journal. It was excellent. Dolores Witt did a wonderful cover!

Good luck and



Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly and that "real breath of fresh air" Debbie Reynolds on the set of "Singin' in the Rain".