25 August 2018

Dialogue is the foundation

In the late 1950s, following the decline of her film career, Barbara Stanwyck turned to television. Her television career would prove quite successful earning her three Emmy Awards-- one for The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1961), another for the western series The Big Valley (1965-1969) and a third for the hit mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983). In 1985, Barbara made a few guest appearances in the successful soap opera Dynasty before starring in its spin-off The Colbys for a full season. Dissatisfied with her role as Constance Colby Patterson ("I seemed to be saying the same things week after week"), Barbara quit the show after the first season. The role would be the last of her career. (When offered a leading role in another soap opera Falcon Crest, Barbara declined and the part went to Jane Wyman.)

After quitting The Colbys, Barbara donated 24 of the show's scripts to the University of Wyoming in October 1986. In a letter accompanying the scripts (as seen below), Barbara urged student writers and film historians to read them in order to learn from the bad dialogue. "Dialogue is the foundation", she emphasized while encouraging the re-reading of scripts she had previously donated to the University, among them gems like Ball of Fire (1941; written by Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett), Double Indemnity (1944; Billy Wilder/Raymond Chandler), Remember the Night (1940; Preston Sturges) and The Lady Eve (1941; Preston Sturges).

Great dialogue in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944)  (above) and  Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941) (below).


October 24, 1986

To the Student Writers and Film Historians at The University of Wyoming--

Here are the twenty-four scripts of the night time "soap" - THE COLBYS. The character I played was Constance Colby Patterson.

I quit the show after the first season. I seemed to be saying the same things week after week -- the only way people could see any difference in performance was the fact that I had a different dress on. At least that is the way I felt. Constance wasn't going anyplace - but I was- I quit!

I have no wish to denigrate any writers but pay attention to this dialogue and construction and I do believe you will learn. Noel Coward it isn't.

There are eighty some odd film scripts that I previously sent to the University. Please refresh your memories and re-read a few such as DOUBLE INDEMNITY, BALL OF FIRE, STELLA DALLAS, THE LADY EVE, REMEMBER THE NIGHT and SORRY, WRONG NUMBER.

Just because it is known as a "soap" does not mean it has to be poor writing-- it is still film and it should entertain.

There is an old saying in our business:
"If it ain't on Paper-- it ain't on the screen."

Dialogue is the foundation.

So, dear students-- be kind to us poor actors-- Good dialogue.


signed "Barbara Stanwyck"

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).

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.

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.

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." 

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


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! 

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.