18 August 2018

Groucho Marx's advice to Jerry Lewis


The highly successful, decade-long partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis came to an end in 1956. The comedy duo starred together in 16 films, numerous nightclub shows, radio and television shows. But in July 1956 it all ended, with Martin and Lewis going their separate ways and quickly finding success on their own.

The break-up of Martin and Lewis, who were also friends, had been initiated by Martin who was tired of playing second fiddle to his partner. Martin was fed up with the films in which he played the dull romantic lead who sang a few songs, while Lewis got all the best scenes playing the funny guy. The final straw for Martin came in 1954 during the promotion of the film Living it Up, when Look magazine gave the duo a cover photo but cropped Martin out of it. Legally bound by contracts, the duo stayed together for two more years before finally splitting up. For the next 20 years, Martin and Lewis didn't speak to each other until their mutual friend Frank Sinatra arranged a surprise television reunion in 1976 (watch here). However, it wasn't until the death of Martin's son Dean Paul Jr. in 1987 that the two men made up. They continued to speak on and off until Martin's death in 1995.

Photo above: the only photo I could find of Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis together-- here they are pictured with Judy Garland and Tony Martin (I don't know what the occasion was).
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On 5 April 1954, after reading reports that Martin and Lewis were having problems and might even split up, a concerned Groucho Marx wrote the following letter to Jerry Lewis. Being part of a team himself and having experienced similar problems with his brothers, Groucho urged Lewis to sit down with Martin and talk things out. (Incidentally, Groucho's letter is surprisingly serious with none of the typical Groucho jokes.) Three weeks later, Lewis sent his reply assuring Groucho he would follow his advice. As mentioned above, it would take two more years before Martin and Lewis finally split up.
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April 5, 1954
Dear Jerry:
I've been reading in columns that there is ill feeling between you boys and that there's even a likelihood that you might go your separate ways. I hope this isn't true for you are awfully good together, and show business needs you. I don't mean to imply that either of you couldn't make a living on his own. I am sure you could. But you do complement each other and that's one of the reasons you click so successfully. 
I am sure you have had disagreements and arguments, just as all teams, trios and quartets have had since the beginning of the theater. In the heat of working together there's inevitably a nervous tension and frequently it's during these moments that two high-strung temperaments will flare up and slash at each other. 
There may be nothing to the rumors of your separation. However, if there is any ill feeling or bitterness between you, it will eventually affect your work. If that feeling does exist, sit down calmly together, alone --when I say alone, I mean no agents, no family, no one but you two-- sit down alone, and talk it out.
Cordially,
Groucho 
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April 28, 1954
Dear Groucho:
I want you to know how very thrilled I was to receive your very nice note. It is most gratifying and heartwarming to know that a guy as busy as yourself cares enough about my problem to take the time to sit down and write. Believe me, I deeply appreciate your interest along with realizing the sagacity of your words, and have every intention of following your advice. I want to assure you that I will do the right thing in this matter.
Please convey to your family my warmest personal regards and again my many thanks for your letter. I hope some day soon I will see you so I can thank you in person. Until then, I will close with "the secret word-- is thanks." 
Sincerely,
Jerry 
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On  23 January 1962, Groucho wrote Jerry another letter referring to the advice he had given eight years earlier:
Do you remember some years ago when I wrote you and Dino a joint letter pleading with you not to go your separate ways? I said the separation would mean disaster for both of you. Since then you have made $18,000,000 (net) and Dino, I imagine, has made about the same. Therefore I will abstain from giving you any more advice.

8 August 2018

Errol Flynn, you are a hard man to get!

As a child Marilyn Monroe was a fan of Errol Flynn. After she became a star herself, Marilyn attended several of Flynn's notorious parties at Mulholland Farm. According to Hedy Lamarr, Flynn often held "greyhound" races around his house where six young men would chase a "rabbit", i.e. a topless girl dressed like a Playboy bunny. The bunny was sometimes a well-known actress and at one time she was Marilyn [source]. 

In 1950, Marilyn was not yet a star but a few years away from becoming one. With her supporting roles in two critically acclaimed films All About Eve and especially The Asphalt Jungle Marilyn got noticed by the critics, and at the end of 1950 she signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox where she would enjoy her biggest successes. It was around that same year that Marilyn received flowers from her childhood idol Errol Flynn. Thanking Flynn for his gift, Marilyn wrote him the following sweet note. Marilyn's note was not sent but is believed to have been left at Mulholland Farm's doorstep.

Source: Christies

Transcript:

Dear Errol Flynn. 
You are a hard man to get! I have called you several times to thank you for the lovely flowers and nice note, but have not been lucky enough to reach you - They were lovely, and it was so nice of you to have thought of sending them - Thank you - See you soon, have fun! 

love 
Marilyn Monroe
______________

Note: Marilyn's message to Errol Flynn was written on a calling card from "Mrs. Edward Francis Hutton", i.e. Dorothy Dear Metzger, Hutton's third wife. Why Marilyn used the card or how she came by it is not clear.


24 July 2018

It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all

I only know British actress Hermione Gingold from Vincente Minnelli's musical Gigi (1958) in which she portrayed Gigi's grandmother Madame Alvarez. (Her duet I remember it well with Maurice Chevalier is legendary.) Before coming to the US in the early 1950s, however, Gingold had done mostly stage work in England. Her stage work included several successful revues with Hermione Baddeley (from the 1930s until the 1950s) with whom she had formed a stage partnership.

Apart from the revues, Gingold and Baddeley also worked together on Noël Coward's play Fallen Angels, its original production dating back to 1925. In 1949, the play was revived in London with the two Hermiones playing the jilted wives who were contemplating adultery. Coward himself was appalled by the production and said: "I have never yet in my long experience seen a more vulgar, silly, unfunny, disgraceful performance." Despite Coward's criticism and bad reviews, the play proved a big financial success, running for a total of nine months. 


Noël Coward wasn't the only one who couldn't appreciate the Gingold/Baddeley version of his play. In April 1950, Hermione Gingold received a letter from a member of the audience (wishing to remain anonymous) who was also disgusted by the play and especially Gingold's performance. Known for her sharp-tongued wit, Gingold replied by letter which was later published in her 1952 book My Own Unaided Work.  

Via: Letters of Note
Original source: My Own Unaided Work (1952) by Hermione Gingold
____________________

The two Hermiones
April, 1950 
Dear Madam, 
Unless something is done at once about your disgusting exhibition in the filthy play you appear in every night, I and several of my friends will do something very unpleasant about it. 
What you and your co-partner Hermione Baddeley do nightly in public is a slur on English womanhood. "Fallen Angels" is disgusting as a play, but your performance in it makes it loathsome. How the powers that be could permit such an exhibition is past the understanding of a God-fearing woman who supports the present Government--and thanks God for them. 
I give you fair warning to leave the play, or it will be the worse for you. Our wrath will strike at you in your home, or maybe during a performance at the theatre. 
A. Friend 
____________________ 
Ambassadors TheatreW.C.2.
April 14th
Dear Friend,
How clever and capricious you are, cloaking yourself in anonymity, and I must confess I cannot for the life of me guess which of my many friends you can be. You have sent my head spinning and my imagination whirling. Could you be found among my dear friends, intimate friends, close friends, childhood friends, pen friends, family friends, friends of a friend, friends in distress, friends who are closer than a brother, friends in need, or school friends? Your letter quite clearly shows that you are not illiterate, and therefore we can rule out my school friends. Your masterly command of the language banishes the thought that you could be found among my friends from overseas. Your witty criticism of my performance makes me think that I might find you among my nearest and dearest “bosom friends,” that is if you did not choose to address me as “Dear Madam”--a clever move this, and one that reduces my last thought to mere stupidity and you to a casual acquaintance, and yet I must banish the thought “casual acquaintance.” for how many people are there in London today who realise that my “co-partner,” as you wittily dub her, is none other than Hermione Baddeley, and by the way, she wants me to thank you for the facsimile letter you sent her, and say that she is getting on in years and feeble, and is not able to attend to her correspondence as she would wish, and so she cannot answer your letter personally. 
An awful thought has dawned. It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all. I must try to dismiss this thought. It depresses me. To lose a friend like you in a few words, oh no. 
So, dear anonymous friend, if this should chance to meet your eye, please keep your promise and come round one night--yes, and bring your friends, too, for I know intuitively that your friends will be my friends. 
Cordially yours,  
Hermione Gingold 
P.S. If you wish to strike at me with your wrath in my home, I am always in between ten-thirty and twelve in the morning, excluding Tuesday, which is a bad day, as a lot of tiresome tradespeople call for the same reason. You will easily recognize my apartment, for, apart from the number “85” marked in plain figures on the door, over the knocker there is a notice, "strike twice and wait, bell out of order.”

18 July 2018

Every word was affectionately devoured and savoured

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford met in 1927 after Joan had seen Doug Jr. perform on stage in the play Young WoodleyCaptivated by the young and handsome Doug, Joan (who was on the brink of stardom) sent him a note which led to their first meeting. Soon after, the two fell in love and had a much-publicised romance, eventually leading to marriage in 1929.

Doug Jr. was only nineteen years old when he married Joan who was four or five years his senior*. While Joan grew up in near poverty, Doug came from a wealthy and influential family. His father was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his stepmother Mary Pickford, two of the greatest stars of the silent era and regarded in Hollywood as royalty. Fairbanks Sr. and Pickford were against Doug's marriage to Joan and didn't invite the couple to their legendary home Pickfair until eight months after the wedding. Later Fairbanks Sr. did warm up to Joan but the relationship between Joan and Pickford remained cool.

[* Joan's year of birth is uncertain; read here]

Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Joan Crawford photographed by Edward Steichen in Malibu, February 1932.
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About a year and a half into their marriage, Doug and Joan started having marital problems. Possibly during the filming of Possessed (1931), Joan began an on-and-off love affair with co-star Clark Gable that would last for several decades. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer was well aware of the affair and in order to separate Joan from her lover and to show the world that everything was fine between her and Doug, Mayer sent Joan and Doug on a belated honeymoon to Europe in June 1932. But by then it was already too late. While Doug wanted to save the marriage, for Joan it was over. The couple divorced in May 1933.

Doug and Joan maintained a friendly relationship for the rest of their lives. After Joan's death, Doug was one of her friends who defended her when Christina, Joan's adopted daughter, published Mommie Dearest (1978) in which Joan was accused of abuse. Doug couldn't bring himself to read the book and said: "The Joan Crawford that I've heard about in Mommie Dearest is not the Joan Crawford I knew back then." 



The letter below was written by a then 67-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Joan Crawford in January 1977 (with Doug addressing Joan by her nickname "Billie"). It's a reply to a note which Joan had sent earlier. Apparently Joan had said something nice about a painting on a Christmas card she had received from Doug, and with his letter Doug wanted to let her know how much her words meant to him (having just had a difficult year)Sadly, Joan would pass away four months later, so they probably never had that drink together like Doug suggested.


Transcript:

The Brook Club
111 East 54th St. 
NYC 10022

January 26, 1977

Billie dear,

Few things have happened to me this past year or so which have given me more pleasure, made me feel so nicely warm deep inside, than your sweet letter about my painting on my Christmas card. This may not sound like the compliment or thanks I mean to convey because this past year or so have (has?) been lousy! I've had a great deal of professional success and that was, of course, very gratifying-- especially as I consider myself virtually "retired" (professionally, that is).  I've been very lucky with the plays I've done-- but otherwise I've been in less than robust health, have worked too hard on too many things, have had more problems than Prof. Einstein and got thoroughly run down + depressed. I'm now down in Florida for a while trying to get in condition before going off to Australia where, at the end of February, I'm to play the same play I did in London last summer- "The Pleasure of his Company". However, I must also go up to N.Y. a couple of times before then-- for dentists, doctors, my regular office business, getting a bit more settled in a new apartment, having meetings of all sorts- with all sorts. All of which is to show the kind of state I was in when your dear, dear note came!

It arrived at just the right time, in every way -- and every word was affectionately devoured and savoured-- not only am I glad -indeed delighted- that you liked it but your reaction to it, and the way you phrased your note, was more appreciated than I can say.

Perhaps someday we can have another drink (the last was over a year ago I think!) and, with luck, another-- and we can do some more "catching up". Meanwhile, if you ever have reason or inclination to write me again, I suggest you send it to me c/o The Brook Club, 111 East 54th St., NYC, 10022, marked "Personal". In that way, no secretary or anyone else is apt to see it before I do (your last note did, happily, get to me directly, with no "interception" en route). This is a long-winded way of Thanking you  for thanking me-- but I did appreciate it so very much. 

Love, dear
Doug

If I'm not in N.Y, I leave word at the Club where to forward such mail as I may receive there (usually bills of some sort!).

Above: Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at Pickfair with Mary Pickford circa 1932. Below: Apart from being an actor, Fairbanks Jr was also a painter and had even studied art for a while in Paris.



3 July 2018

You are as wrong for role as role would be for you

Following her legendary role in Gone with the Wind (1939) Vivien Leigh desperately wanted to play the female lead in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). While initially uninterested in the part of the second Mrs de Winter, Leigh became eager to play it after Laurence Olivier (whom she was having an affair with and would later marry) had been cast as Maxim de Winter. Determined to be in a picture with Olivier, Leigh went after the part and was ultimately tested for it twice.

Rebecca's producer David O. Selznick, who had previously worked with Vivien Leigh on Gone with the Wind, was far from enthusiastic after seeing Leigh's screen tests. Selznick felt that Leigh didn't "seem at all right as to sincerity or age or innocence or any of the other factors which [were] essential to the story coming off at all". Others agreed with him, including Hitchcock and George Cukor, and even Laurence Olivier, who had lobbied to get Leigh cast, later said he found her wrong for the part.

David Selznick and Vivien Leigh on a plane to Atlanta for the premiere of Gone with the Wind in December 1939. 
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In August 1939, while aboard the ocean liner Île de France (having just spent a holiday with Olivier in Europe), Vivien Leigh received a radiogram from David Selznick, informing her that she would not be starring in Rebecca. The radiogram can be read below as well as a radiogram from Selznick to Laurence Olivier (sent that same day), in which Selznick also explained to Olivier his decision not to cast Leigh .

[Click here to watch Vivien Leigh during her screen test for Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier (see also photo below). I think David Selznick was right! Leigh was indeed wrong for the role while Joan Fontaine, who was later cast, was the perfect second Mrs de Winter.]

_______________
August 18, 1939
Vivien Holman* 
Île de France 
New York Radio  
Dear Vivien: We have tried to sell ourselves right up until today to cast you in "Rebecca", but I regret necessity telling you we are finally convinced you are as wrong for role as role would be for you. You must realize it is this same patience, care, and stubbornness about accurate casting that resulted in putting you in most talked-of role of all time in what everyone who has seen it agrees is greatest picture ever made. It would have been very simple to cast Bette Davis as Scarlett, thereby satisfying millions of people including everyone in the profession. It would be much simpler to cast you, who are under contract to us, in "Rebecca" lead, and thereby have saved us all great deal of expense and agony searching for right girl. And even though you must be completely wrong casting, we might still have put you in it had we thought it was good for you, regardless of the picture. But I am positive you would be bitterly criticized and your career, which is now off to such tremendous start with Scarlett, materially damaged. Although Hitchcock feels even more strongly than I do on this question, I was still not satisfied and therefore ran the tests of all candidates for Robert Sherwood, who is working on script, without giving him any hint of our feelings. His first and immediate reaction was how completely wrong you were for it. Still not satisfied, I repeated the procedure with George Cukor, knowing his high regard for you, and George's first and immediate reaction was identical with Sherwood's. Am hopeful of having something soon for you that we will both be happy about, and also hopeful you will recognize that same care that has gone into "Wind" and "Rebecca" will go into selection and production of your future pictures, which is something I have no hesitancy in saying does not exist in many studios. Affectionately,
David
 [*Vivien Leigh was married to Herbert Leigh Holman whom she divorced in 1940. She and Olivier were married that same year.]
_______________ 
August 18, 1939
Laurence Olivier
Île de France
New York Radio
Dear Larry: Please see my wire to Vivien. I know you must be disappointed, but Vivien's anxiety to play role has, in my opinion, been largely, if not entirely, due to her desire to do a picture with you, which was best demonstrated by her complete disinterest in part when I first mentioned it to her as possibility and until she knew you were playing Maxim. You will, after all, both be working here, so I think her eagerness has become exaggerated and not rationalized. Because of my personal affection for Vivien and my high regard for you both, am hopeful you will recognize that my judgment has been fairly sound and successful in these matters for many years. Hopeful we will be able to find something for the two of you to do together for us at some future date. Script is coming along splendidly, and glad be able tell you Robert Sherwood is doing final dialogue rewrite. Believe we are assembling exciting cast including Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers, George Sanders as Favell, Reginald Denny as Frank, and Nigel Bruce as Giles. Possible may be able let you have day or two in New York if you want it and if you will contact us before leaving for coast. Cordially,
David 
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Joan Fontaine received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of the second Mrs de Winter, but lost to Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foyle). Apart from Fontaine's nomination, Rebecca was nominated for ten more Oscars, eventually winning only two-- Best Picture (David Selznick) and Best Cinematography (George Barnes).

23 June 2018

Open letter to Ann Harding

Ann Harding hated being a celebrity and the publicity that came with it. Following her divorce from actor Harry Bannister in 1932, Harding was hounded by reporters and decided not to talk to them anymore. (She had hired Greta Garbo's agent Harry Edington who had advised her, like he had Garbo, to remain silent to the press.) Harding's aloofness and unwillingness to give interviews made her unpopular with journalists, Delight Evans being one of them.

Delight Evans was mostly known as editor of the popular Hollywood fan magazine Screenland. Throughout her career she had interviewed hundreds of movie stars and some of them she even befriended (among them Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith). As editor of Screenland, Evans wrote critical open letters to the stars, and in December 1934 it was Ann Harding's turn to be treated to such a letterWhether Harding ever gave a reaction to Evan's letter (which strongly criticised her for not cooperating with the press) I don't know.

_______________

Source: archive.org

DEAR ANN HARDING:

I demand an explanation!

When you chose to "go Garbo" and refuse interviews, that was your business. When readers wrote to me asking why I didn't have Harding interviews any more, I could only accept philosophically the sad news that "Annie doesn't live here any more." And that was that. I felt that it would hurt you more than it did me, because I can give my readers authentic stories about Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and Bing Crosby and Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow and Ruby Keeler, to name a few box-office stars. You, on the other hand, are presenting Ann Harding, by herself. You have only one star to give to your public. I have millions of 'em, bless them!

I repeat, denying yourself to reporters is your business. But it becomes my business and all my readers' business, when on the one hand you refuse to give interviews and on the other hand condemn wholesale the stories appearing in screen magazines. It doesn't make sense-- and you've always been noted for good sense. 

In an article signed by you appearing in a publication called "The Screen Guild's Magazine", issued by the Screen Writers' Guild and the Screen Actors' Guild* in Los Angeles, California, the following paragraph appears: "Fan magazines and actors draw their incomes from the same source. Both would profit by cooperating on a constructive policy for the benefit of the industry as a whole, instead of chasing each other around in this vicious circle. Mutual antagonism is burning brightly-- the mags bristling with pins to stick into us-- the actors locking themselves behind gates of reticence for sheer self-preservation. How silly, when we could really be of help to each other."

Exactly! How silly--I agree!  How extremely silly, Ann Harding, to suggest a cooperative constructive policy and then to refuse to cooperate! Never having had personal experience with this "vicious circle" and "mutual antagonism" you talk about, I cannot sympathize with your point of view. Particularly when such celebrated stars as Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Eddie Cantor, Norma Shearer, Bing Crosby, Janet Gaynor, Al Jolson and many others cooperate with me in SCREENLAND's constructive policy of giving motion picture fans interesting and authoritative stories. If the above-mentioned stars do it, I should think it would be not only gracious, but good showmanship for you to cooperate also! Why not join the distinguished company?

I am sure that you, Miss Harding, of all stars, must loathe cheap praise and fawning flattery. You can have nothing to fear from any reporter. Surely you are much too intelligent to pretend that your audiences are interested only in your "art"-- if that were so, you would not be among the foremost film personalities of the day. You have profited, as have other stars, from the consistent publicity given you in SCREENLAND. But you alone refuse to cooperate. You have chosen not to see an accredited, clever, accurate reporter who tried to get an interview with you for this magazine. Is it sporting to refuse to give decent, constructive interviews -- and then to condemn screen magazines for failing to publish them?

In the name of my readers who have taken the trouble to write to me to ask why I do not give them an Ann Harding story, I ask you, in all sincerity, for your explanation! You may deny me the right to ask. You may deny my reporter the right to interview you on the grounds that you may fear that you may, (to quote again from the article signed by you), "come out of the presses as a rubber stamp." But, Ann Harding, you have no right to hold out on the public that pays to see your pictures. What are you going to do about it?

Delight Evans
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*Note
At the time Ann Harding was 2nd Vice-President of the Screen Actors Guild. She was the first major female star who had joined SAG.

Above: Delight Evans in 1923. Below: Elegant and sophisticated Ann Harding in two of my personal favourites, When Ladies Meet (1933) with Myrna Loy and Double Harness (1933) with William Powell.

10 June 2018

I'm not that rich

Errol Flynn enjoyed his greatest successes in the late 1930s and the 1940s when he was one of Warner Bros.' biggest box-office draws. But by the early 1950s, Flynn's career started to decline and his financial problems to increase. Flynn's extravagant, hedonistic lifestyle left him with huge debts, including debts to his two ex-wives and the IRS. While Flynn had earned some $7 or 8 million throughout his career, by 1953 he was practically broke. The final blow had been a $430,000 personal investment in a film about William Tell which was never finished. Possibly around the same time, Flynn lost his home Mulholland Farm to his first wife, French actress Lili Damita, who had sued him for unpaid back alimony.

The letter for this post was written by Errol Flynn to Lili Damita in June 1951, nine years after they were divorced. (At the time Flynn was married to Patrice Wymore, his third wife.) Flynn wrote to Damita concerning a flute he had given their son Sean, presumably on the occasion of his tenth birthday. Obviously in need of cash, Flynn wanted to know if Sean had any intention of playing the instrument because if not, the valuable object should be returned to hím-- Sean's "poor, crippled, old Daddy, who would proceed, immediately, to take it around to the hock shops." Flynn's letter makes for a fantastic read and can be seen below.

Flynn reportedly once said: "My problem lies with reconciling my gross habits with my net income."



Transcript:

MULHOLLAND FARM

June 4, 1951

Miss Lilli Damita
803 No. Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, California

Dear Tiger,

I wonder if you would do me a favor? It's about Sean's flute. This horrible instrument, which vaguely resembles a stomach pump, and from which even stranger sounds immerge [sic], cost two hundred clams, bucks or fish- if you know what I mean- and I'm sure that you do.

I explained, as carefully as possible, in the excitement of the moment, to Sean, our worthy off-spring, that his Ole man did not have that kind of lettuce to fritter away on any small boy's whim. I went on to tell him that if he were to become another Harry James (does Harry James play the flute?), I wouldn't mind him having something as valuable as this; but the instrument was bought for him on the distinct understanding that if he wearied of it, or, for one reason or another, decided the flute was not to play any vital part in his future, it must, at once, come back to his poor, crippled, old Daddy, who would proceed, immediately, to take it around to the hock shops. 

He seemed to get the general idea but I do wish you would be a pal and stress the fact that he must take care of it, not lose it, charm snakes with it (or whatever else he wanted to do with it) - and if he gives up his musical ambitions, it has to come back to me, because I'm not that rich.

You looked very well, indeed, the other night and I must compliment you and also tell you that I enjoyed having you here enormously, as I always do- but, also, that I hope the next time I see you, there will be fewer Flynns present, especially wives.

Love,

Pop (added handwritten)

Errol Flynn  

Above: Errol Flynn with his first wife Lili Damita (married from 1935 until 1942). Flynn was married three times, his second wife was Nora Eddington (1943-1949) and his third wife Patrice Wymore (1950 until his death in 1959). Below: Flynn photographed in 1950 with his only son Sean. Sean eventually became a war correspondent and disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, never to be heard from again. It is assumed that Sean and a colleague were killed by the Khmer Rouge. After years of searching for her son, Lili Damita had him declared legally dead in 1984.

28 May 2018

We have got to get away from "arty" pictures

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) is often considered Orson Welles' second masterpiece, even if it's not the film Welles had envisioned. Welles' original film, 131 minutes long, was cut down to 88 minutes by RKO editor Robert Wise, with the original ending (Welles' favourite scene) changed and reshot. Welles was devastated and later said: "They destroyed Ambersons, and it destroyed me". (Welles was working on another project in Brazil when in his absence his film was "butchered".)

The decision to drastically change Welles' film was made by RKO after a disastrous preview screening in Pomona, California, on 17 March 1942. The Pomona audience consisted mostly of teenagers who had just seen the light-hearted musical The Fleet's In, starring Dorothy Lamour and William Holden. When served with Welles' long and somber Ambersons, the youngsters became restless, laughed in all the wrong places and turned in mostly negative comment cards after the show. During a second test screening in Pasadena a few days later, reactions were more positive, but RKO had already decided that something should be done about Welles' film.

Above: Orson Welles on the set of The Magnificent Ambersons with cinematographer Stanley Cortez. Below: Welles pictured with RKO president George Schaefer and Dolores del Rio (with whom Welles had a relationship for four years) at the premiere of Citizen Kane (1941), Welles' first masterpiece.


George Schaefer, president of RKO pictures, was in the audience at both the Pomona and Pasadena test screenings. In a letter to Orson Welles written on 21 March 1942 (as seen below), Schaefer informed Welles about the negative reactions from the audience and how he had "suffered" at the Pomona preview. Worried about his $1 million investment, Schaefer told Welles that something really had to be done ("Orson Welles has got to do something commercialWe have got to get away from "arty" pictures and get back to earth").

Apart from Schaefer's letter, also shown below are excerpts from a letter by Joseph Cotten to Orson Welles, written on 28 March 1942. In the letter, Cotten (a close friend of Welles and a leading character in The Magnificent Ambersons) not only talked about the disastrous test screening but also shared his own criticism on the film ("The emotional impact in the script seems to have lost itself somewhere in the cold visual beauty before us and at the end there is definitely a feeling of dissatisfaction"). The "butchering" of Ambersons eventually caused a rift in Cotten's friendship with Welles, but the two men later reconciled and also made more films together (including Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949)).
____________________ 
March 21, 1942        
PERSONAL-CONFIDENTIAL 
Dear Orson: 
I did not want to cable you with respect to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS as indicated in your cable of the 18th, only because I wanted to write you under confidential cover. 
Of course, when you ask me for my reaction, I know you want it straight, and though it is difficult to write you this way, you should hear from me. 
Never in all my experience in the industry have I taken so much punishment or suffered as I did at the Pomona preview. In my 28 years in the business, I have never been present in a theater where the audience acted in such a manner. They laughed at the wrong places, talked at the picture, kidded it, and did everything that you can possibly imagine. 
I don't have to tell you how I suffered, especially in the realization that we have over $1,000,000. tied up. It was just like getting one sock in the jaw after another for over two hours. 
The picture was too slow, heavy, and topped off with somber music, never did register. It all started off well, but just went to pieces. 
I am sending you copies of all the preview cards received to date. They speak for themselves and do not tell the whole story because only a small percentage of people make out cards. I queried many of those present and they all seemed to feel that the party who made the picture was trying to be "arty," was out for camera angles, lights and shadows, and as a matter of fact, one remarked that "the man who made that picture was camera crazy." Mind you, these are not my opinions—I am giving them to you just as I received them. 
The punishment was not sufficient, and as I believed in the picture more than the people did, I hiked myself to Pasadena again last night, feeling sure that we would get a better reaction. We did, but not, of course, in its entirety. There were many spots where we got the same reaction as we did in Pomona. I think cutting will help considerably, but there is no doubt in my mind but that the people at Pasadena also thought it was slow and heavy. The somber musical score does not help. 
While, of course, the reaction at Pasadena was better than Pomona, we still have a problem. In Pomona we played to the younger element. It is the younger element who contribute the biggest part of the revenue. If you cannot satisfy that group, you just cannot bail yourself out with a $1,000,000. investment—all of which, Orson, is very disturbing to say the least. 
In all our initial discussions, you stressed low costs, making pictures at $300,000. to $500,000.  We will not make a dollar on CITIZEN KANE and present indications are that we will not break even. The final results on AMBERSONS is still to be told, but it looks "red." 
All of which reminds me of only one thing—that we must have a "heart to heart" talk. Orson Welles has got to do something commercial. We have got to get away from "arty" pictures and get back to earth. Educating the people is expensive, and your next picture must be made for the box-office. 
God knows you have all the talent and the ability for writing, producing directing—everything in CITIZEN KANE and AMBERSONS confirms that. We should apply all that talent and effort in the right direction and make a picture on which "we can get well." 
That's the story, Orson, and I feel very miserable to have to write you this. 
My very best as always, 
George Schaefer

Source: Wellesnet

____________________
March 28, 1942 
Dear Orson: 
In cases such as this great difference of opinion in the editing and cutting of AMBERSONS, people usually say "nothing personal, of course" as an excuse to say whatever they think. In my case, I have no business interest in AMBERSONS, Mercury or you; but a great personal feeling about all three, especially you, and whatever I say I know you will take in a personal way, and I want you to. 
I have often been wrong in discussing scripts and plots with you, and I agree that I'm wanting in intellectual concept and understanding of art. I do, however, have a reliable instinct, and as often as I have been wrong about actual ideas, I have been right about audience reactions. I also know by now just about what your reaction to audiences is, and I am writing this to you because I know you would have been far from happy with the feeling in the theater during the showing last week. The moment the temporary title was flashed on the screen THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, a Mercury production by Orson Welles, there was a wonderful murmur of happy anticipation, which was warming and delightful to hear and feel.  And the first sound of your voice was greeted with applause. Certainly I was fair in assuming at this point that the audience was with us. Then something happened…  it happened gradually and awfully and the feeling in that theater became disinterested, almost hostile and as cold as that ice-house they had just seen and my heart as heavy as the heart of Major Amberson who was playing wonderful scenes that nobody cared about. 
You have written doubtless the most faithful adaptation any book has ever had, and when I had finished reading it I had the same feeling I had when I read the book.  When you read it, I had that same reaction only stronger. The picture on the screen seems to mean something else. It is filled with some deep though vague psychological significance that I think you never meant it to have. Dramatically, it is like a play full of wonderful, strong second acts all coming down on the same curtain line, all proving the same tragic point.  Then suddenly someone appears on the apron and says the play is over without there having been enacted a concluding third act.  ...It is a dark sort of movie, more Chekhov than Tarkington... The emotional impact in the script seems to have lost itself somewhere in the cold visual beauty before us and at the end there is definitely a feeling of dissatisfaction… chiefly, I believe, because we have seen something that should have been no less than great. And it can be great, I'm sure of that. It's all there, in my opinion, with some transpositions, revisions and some points made clearer… points relating to human relations, I mean. 
…Our cables that fly back and forth, I know, present everything in a very unsatisfactory manner.  They often must be misinterpreted at both ends. Jack [Moss, Welles' associate at Mercury Productions], I know, is doing all he can.  He is trying his best to get Bob Wise to you.  His opinions about the cuts, right or wrong, I know are the results of sincere, thoughtful, harassed days, nights, Sundays, holidays. Nobody in the Mercury is trying in any way to take advantage of your absence.  Nobody anywhere thinks you haven't made a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring picture. Everybody in the Mercury is on your side always. I miss you horribly and will be a happier soul when you return. 
We all love you… and until then remain forever, as all of us do, 
Obediently yours, 
Jo
Source: Wellesnet

Above: Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten having a laugh. Below: Robert Wise (second from left) with Welles and others on the set of The Magnificent Ambersons. Wise had also been editor on Welles' Citizen Kane a year earlier and would later direct such classics as West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

21 May 2018

My dear Bogie

In January 1956, Humphrey Bogart was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and a few months later underwent surgery to have his esophagus removed. While in hospital recovering from the surgery, Bogie received the following letter from director George Cukor. Knowing that the two men never made a film together, I browsed the web to see what the connection was between them. While they didn't seem to be friends, I found they did have mutual friends (Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Clifton Webb) and probably moved in the same social circlesIn any case, Cukor wanted to cheer up Bogie following his surgery and instead of sending flowers --Bogie hated flowers-- he sent this funny letter.

(Incidentally, the cancer had already spread and neither surgery nor chemotherapy could save Bogie's life. On 14 January 1957, just 57 years old, Bogie died.)

Via: icollector

Transcript:

March 14, 1956

My dear Bogie:

Having known for years from what a fine, old aristocratic New York family you come, and being reminded of that fact from time to time by you, I looked up in my Emily Post what should be done when a classy friend is in the hospital.

Emily says: ".... it's always thoughtful to take a gift of flowers, etc...." I was prepared to go along with this when Mr. Clifton Webb, who comes from a fine, old aristocratic Indianapolis family, as Maybelle [Webb's mother] reminds us archly from time to time, told me that above all things, you loathe flowers.

That did save me three or four bucks right there, but I was perplexed as to what my next move should be. Emily Post hasn't provided what to do in a case of Floraphobe. I decided, what better than to sit right down and write Bogie a Get-Well letter, a real comical one.

First, let me say I was rash when I said all actors were horses' you-know-whats. I should have said all actors-one-doesn't-like are horses' asses. As for those that one happens to like.... well, they have the potential of developing  into first-class H.A.'s.

It might please you, and maybe even surprise you a little, to know with what genuine affection people speak of you. I'd be less than truthful, though, if I didn't add that there's a slight note of surprise as they find themselves uttering these tender sentiments. Even the Old Man of The Sea, who's inclined to be grudging with his praise, became almost lyrical when talking of your many splendid qualities. You'll most likely be awful hard to get along with after all this.

Now a confession. As you know, it was in "Swifty" that I first saw you. I didn't flip. I didn't say, "That kid's got it! .... Stardust!" Blind fool that I was, I wasn't impressed. Never in my born days could I have imagined that you'd turn out to be a great beeg, beeg star-- and a fine actor besides. Be frank, aren't you surprised too?

Yet on that very same Playhouse stage, at a special matinee, I saw another young actor, Leo Mielziner, Jr..... no surprise finish there.

At this point you're probably muttering, "...... what does he mean, comical letter....". Well, I tried.

Go on and get well soon, so's we can all get off this sentimental kick and be our own natural, horrible  selves again.

(signed) George

Mr. Humphrey Bogart
Hospital of The Good Samaritan
1212 Shatto Street
Los Angeles, California