29 July 2016

Bette Davis is a joy to work with

One of the (many) Joan Crawford films I have yet to see is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), the only film Joan made with Bette Davis. Joan had always wanted to work with Bette and with Baby Jane she got her wish. Contrary to popular belief, the two actresses got along on the set. Admittedly, they didn't exactly become friends, but they were both professionals who were excited about the picture and also understood how important it was for their careers.

It wasn't until Bette received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Joan didn't that their relationship turned sour. Bette was convinced that Joan didn't want her to win and that she was actively campaigning against her among Academy voters. It didn't help matters when Anne Bancroft won for The Miracle Worker and Joan accepted the Oscar on her behalf. (Joan had contacted the nominees beforehand, saying she would be happy to accept the Oscar for them in case they were unable to attend the ceremony; click here to watch Joan steal the show from Bette by accepting Bancroft's Oscar.) In May 1963, things got worse between the two stars when Bette and director Robert Aldrich attended the Cannes Film Festival without Joan (Bette had told Aldrich she would only attend if Joan wasn't there). Joan later threatened to take legal action against Bette and Aldrich for not being included.

By 1964, things had quieted down somewhat and Aldrich succeeded in hiring both Bette and Joan for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the unofficial sequel to Baby Jane. However, not long after filming had started on location in Louisiana, Joan became ill and admitted herself to a hospital. While it was later announced that Joan had pneumonia, she reportedly feigned her illness to get out of the picture. (Apparently, Bette had done her best to make life on the set difficult for Joan and Joan couldn't take it anymore.) Production was eventually suspended on 4 August, after which Aldrich began to look for Joan's replacement. Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck were all offered the role, but declined. (Vivien Leigh supposedly said: "No, thank youI can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford's face at six o'clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis.") On 25 August 1964, Joan was finally replaced by Bette's good friend Olivia de Havilland. Joan and Bette would never work together again.

Bette Davis, studio boss Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and director Robert Aldrich pose for the press in July 1962, just days before filming on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane began.

Shown below are four short letters written by Joan Crawford in connection with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The first letter was written to Ann Gundersen (a fan?) in which Joan mentions Baby Jane and Bette Davis, calling her co-star "a joy to work with" and "a dear human being, with a divine sense of humor". In the second letter written to a friend called Larry, Joan shares her feelings about Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis following the Cannes Film Festival incident earlier that month. (The first paragraph of that letter deals with Cliff Robertson, Joan's co-star in the 1956 Autumn Leaves.) And the third letter (to Cecil) and fourth letter (to her friend Frances Spingold) were both written in connection with Hush... Hush



August 25, 1962

Dear Ann, 

Thank you so much for your sweet letter. I am so happy you enjoyed "The Ziegfeld Touch."

Thank you too for all the nice things you had to say about my article in the Good Housekeeping Magazine. I'm so grateful to you.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is going along very well, and Bette Davis is a joy to work with- very professional, completely dedicated to her work; and she and I get to the Studio every morning, a half hour before our calls, just longing to get in front of that camera. She is really a dear human being, with a divine sense of humor.

Bless you.




May 31, 1963

My dear Larry,

How wonderful it was to hear from you with such a warm, loving letter. I enjoyed the articles tremendously, and as you see, I am returning them in this envelope.

How beautifully you write, and I am so sad that you have been hurt by Cliff. You know, we were pretty good to him too, giving him "Autumn Leaves". I write him and congratulate him about "PT-109" and his television shows; and when I am in California, I write and ask him if we could see each other, and when he comes to New York, could we see each other- and I never receive a line from him. But that's life. I am sad he doesn't take care of his friends.

About the Bob Aldrich-Bette Davis treatment, well, their bitterness can only hurt them. It couldn't possibly hurt the one whom their bitterness is towards. It can only hurt them because they carry around the bitterness within their hearts, and certainly must reflect in their living and their lives. Hurt? Yes, that I am. Bitter? Never.

Thank you for your friendship and your dear letter. It made me very happy.

I am off to the West Coast in June to make a film, but all my mail is forwarded to me each day. 

Bless you, and keep that beautiful talent of yours. Nourish it and protect it. 



March 24, 1964

Dear Cecil,

Thank you for your nice air letter. Yes, Bette Davis and I are going to make "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" in May, probably right here in Hollywood although we may go on location in Louisiana for a short period. We are having story conferences now, and it sounds very exciting. The book was written by Henry Farrell, who wrote "Baby Jane".

I haven't seen Herb Sterne lately, but do hear from him frequently, by mail.

Bless you. Thank you again for writing.


Above: Script meeting for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Joseph Cotten, Bette Davis, Robert Aldrich and Joan Crawford.



August 12, 1964

Frances darling,

I adored your letter of August 6. It was in the newspaper that Loretta Young had been asked to replace me, but she has refused the role, so at the moment there is no replacement. It would be a blessing if they would replace me, as I must take a month's rest after I leave the hospital.

The twins are in Newsport, Rhode Island, at summer school, and they will be there only until the 22nd of this month.

What have you decided to do about the apartment? I know it would have been impossible for you to have moved during this awful heat wave.

My dearest, dearest love to you.


All letters taken from The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia

Joan in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte before she was replaced by Olivia de Havilland

This post is my contribution to the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Check out all the other entries here.

25 July 2016

Do you need a harp player?

On the third day of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, on 13 July 1960, senator John F. Kennedy secured his party's nomination for the U.S. Presidency. The next day he received this congratulatory telegram from Harpo Marx.


1960 JUL 14 PM 12 45




1 July 2016

Don't mess with Olivia de Havilland!

Classic cinema lovers all around the world are paying tribute to the marvellous Olivia de Havilland who has turned 100 today. Wow! My warmest congratulations to this remarkable, elegant lady who will always hold a special place in my cinematic heart. It was after all with Miss de Havilland and Errol Flynn that my love for classic Hollywood cinema began, especially after seeing them together in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939), films that have remained favourites to this day. It wasn't until much later that I saw films with Olivia without Errol and also began to admire her as a 'solo actress', both as a dramatic actress and a comedienne.

But not only on-screen, also off-screen Miss de Havilland is a lady to be admired. What immediately comes to mind is the lawsuit she filed against her studio Warner Brothers in 1943. Back then actors were given a seven-year contract with a studio, but every time they refused a role and were put on suspension, the period of suspension was added to the contract period. This also happened to Olivia when she wanted to leave Warner Bros. in 1943 after her seven years were up. The studio told her that six months had been added to her contract but Olivia refused to accept this, took Warner Bros. to court— and won! (In the 1930s, Bette Davis also sued Warner Bros. but without success.) The decision of the court became state law and is still known today as the De Havilland Law.

That Olivia goes after the things she feels entitled to is also apparent from the following letter written to her agent Paul Kohner in May 1956. This time it doesn't involve a big Warner Bros. lawsuit but something much more trivial — postage costs. 

Olivia and Pierre Galante
In 1955, Olivia married her second husband Pierre Galante, a French editor for the magazine Paris Match, and moved with him to Paris where she has lived ever since. To have her fan mail forwarded from her Beverly Hills P.O. Box to Paris, Olivia sent a check of $100 to her agent's office to cover the postage costs. When she was told a year later that the $100 had all been spent, Olivia wrote to Kohner stating that the money couldn't be all gone, having carefully calculated the postage costs herself. In the letter shown below, Olivia describes in a very detailed manner how low, according to her, the postage costs actually were and says she believes "a most understandable error" has been made but that she wants $55 back. (I'm sure she didn't need the money, so it must have been a matter of principle.) 

Incidentally, the handwritten comments were added later by (presumably) Miss Heymann, assistant to Paul Kohner, who had agreed to forward the fan mail. Heymann states that Olivia was wrong, that they had already sent numerous packages by the time Olivia's check came. Obviously annoyed with the whole business, Heymann concludes with: "Now I say give her back the whole damn $100 & we cover the postage!"


69 Avenue Georges Mandel
Paris 16 France
May 26, 1956

Dear Paul:

A little over a year ago, I wrote your office requesting that it extend me the courtesy of forwarding to me monthly the fan-mail which accumulates in my Post Office Box number 1100 at the Beverly Hills Post Office. Miss Heymann kindly agreed to do this for me and I sent her, in February of 1955, a check made out to you for $100.00 to defray the costs of mailing.

Paul Kohner
Between February and July, a period of 5 months, I received several packages of such fan-mail forwarded in the manila envelopes used by your office for the mailing of scripts. I do not recall exactly how many such packages there were, but let us say there was a total of 8 in that period. I do not think the number could have been higher as I did not have a release of a picture during or previous to that time.

In July there came 3 packages, then none until October when another 3 arrived. After that, none whatever.
The check for $100.00 was endorsed and cashed in July, and part of the money was used to pay the Post Office Box rental charges for the year, the bill for which fell due at about that time, and the amount of which was $24.00. This left a balance of $76.00.

From this remaining amount, I imagine Miss Heymann deducted the postal charges for, shall we say, 8 packages of fan-mail. I assume that the total of such charges could not have exceeded $14.50, as the 3 envelopes containing the mail sent July 11, which I have kept, show postage amounting to: $1.58, $1.92, and $1.84 respectively, or a total of $5.34. A mean of these 3 figures is $1.78, which multiplies by 8 amounts to $14.24.

The 3 October envelopes show that Miss Heymann sent the mail by a less expensive mail classification, and the envelopes carry the following postage: 26 c, 41 c, and 39 c respectively, or a total of $1.06.
Adding all these figures together, i.e. $24 for P.O. Box rental, $14.50 for postage for the 5 months February-July, $5.34 for the 3 parcels mailed July 11, together with $1.06 postage for the 3 parcels mailed October 11, the total expenditures amount to:
$44.90 or $45

Subtracting this sum of my advance of $100.00 would indicate that a balance of $55.00 is coming to me.
I recently asked a former secretary of mine, Mrs. Marjorie Allen, to take over the responsibility of forwarding the mail to me and to obtain from Miss Heymann both my P.O. Box key and whatever funds were remaining from my deposit with her. Miss Heymann told Mrs. Allen that she had kept track of the postage charges at the beginning of the year but not at the end, and was sure that the entire sum had been absorbed and even, perhaps, exceeded, but for me not to bother about the presumably minor difference.
I was gratly [sic] surprised that the entire sum had been dispensed, and in double-checking the matter in the manner described to you in the early part of this letter, I have come to the conclusion that in not keeping a record Miss Heymann did not realize how very small the postal charges actually were.  She must be a very busy woman and it is a most understandable error.

However, as you can see, it is clear that your office owes me a minimum balance of $55.00 and I would appreciate your check for this amount.
Pierre joins me in very, very best wishes to you, Lupita, and Susan,


Handwritten comment (in part):
She is very wrong- by the time the check came we had sent numerous packages & I remember postages of $6, 7, 8 & such on several occasions. Maybe she should look at the envelopes. 

I didn't keep a record and don't know if R. kept one, since in the U.S. postage is not written down, but I told R. to keep track of what we spent for her originally [...] I must admit I didn't keep track myself, later on though maybe I should have- by the way the check went to the Companynot to me personally. I told her secretary I assumed it was about taken up [....] 
Personally I didn't want to use the check at all, which is why we sat on it so long- then I said why not- now I say give her back the whole damn $100 and we cover the postage!

Images of Olivia's letter courtesy of eMoviePoster.com

From top left, clockwise: Olivia in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), Dodge City (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Snake Pit (1947) and The Heiress (1949). Centre photo: Olivia as beautiful and graceful as ever photographed by Andy Gotts in 2014.

This post is my contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out all the other entries here.