21 October 2018

A new low in the treatment of directors

In June 1944, Jack Conway was hired to direct The Clock (1945), Judy Garland's first dramatic film since joining MGM ten years earlier. Due to illness Conway worked on the film for only one week and was then replaced by relative newcomer Fred Zinnemann. Garland and Zinnemann didn't get along and Garland complained to producer Arthur Freed about their incompatibility ("I don't know he must be a good director, but I just get nothing. We have no compatibility", she reportedly said). After three weeks of shooting, Garland asked Freed to remove Zinnemann from the picture. Freed complied with the wishes of his star and at Garland's request hired Vincente Minnelli to continue the film. (Garland and Minnelli, who had dated during production of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), would rekindle their romance during the filming of The Clock and got married a year later.)

On the set of The Clock-- pictured above: producer Arthur Freed and leading lady Judy Garland looking over the script/ below: Judy Garland and co-star Robert Walker listening to director Vincente Minnelli .
Unhappy with being removed from the film, Fred Zinnemann wrote the following letter to Vincente Minnelli on 28 August 1944. While Zinnemann harboured no ill feelings against Minnelli, he did think Garland "behaved pretty badly" and also had "great contempt for the conduct of Arthur Freed". In the end, The Clock became a success under Minnelli's direction (although not a huge box-office hit) and was also well received by the critics. Most of Zinnemann's disappointing footage was not used.

Via: icollector


August 28, 1944

Dear Vince

Thanks very much for your very nice note. I was glad to have it and I would like to assure you that I have no hard feelings against you. In fact I do not see what else you could have done under the circumstances, but to accept the assignment.

I wish I could look upon the whole thing as a joke, but somehow it doesn't strike me very funny. I think this incident marks a new low in the treatment of directors, in professional ethics, tact and consideration which a director has a right to expect.

I think that Judy has behaved pretty badly in this whole setup and I have great contempt for the conduct of Arthur Freed- both as a producer and as a man.

However, for your sake and for the sake of Bob Walker and Bob Nathan*, I hope this turns out to be a very fine and very successful film. Please believe me when I say that I hold nothing but good thoughts and the best wishes for you. 

Once again, thanks for the note - and the very best of luck.

Fred Zinnemann

[* Robert Walker was the film's male lead and Robert Nathan the screenwriter.]

Fred Zinnemann would enjoy his greatest successes a decade later with such classics as High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Oklahoma! (1955).

14 October 2018

To memo or not to memo

Mega-producer David O. Selznick first started to dictate memos when he was a teenager working as an apprentice for his father, silent film producer and distributor Lewis J. Selznick. "I was self-conscious about my youth and in giving orders and expressing myself verbally, but dictating permitted me to hide behind the front of what I liked to think were impressive memos", he later recalled. Selznick got into the habit of writing memos early on and it became his way of communicating with everyone. He liked memos because they were written proof of what had been said and agreed upon and could be referred to if necessary. Also, like his father, he had no patience for small talk, so communicating via memos served him well. But while Selznick was an avid memo writer --the memos collected in Rudy Behlmer's wonderful Memo from David O. Selznick (1972) are only a fraction of what he actually wrote-- every once in a while he did try to cut down on them.

During the filming of his production of Rebecca (1940), Selznick decided to abandon his usual communication via memo by giving verbal instructions regarding the 'look' he wanted for the second Mrs de Winter, played by Joan Fontaine. However, as Selznick would later discover, his instructions were communicated wrong, leading to confusion on the set. Apparently someone had said that Selznick wanted Fontaine to look 'glamorous' while in fact he wanted the exact opposite. Appalled that people were given the wrong message, Selznick wrote to production manager Ray Klune (via memo of course), complaining about the situation and also wishing to know who the culprit was.


October 6, 1939
To: Mr Klune
Every time I try to cut down on my memos by giving verbal instructions, something happens which discourages me.
For months now I have been trying to tell everybody connected with Rebecca that what I wanted in the girl, especially in the first part, was an unglamorous creature, but one sufficiently pretty and appealing, in a simple girlish way, for it to be understandable why Maxim would marry her. But I was apparently unsuccessful with everybody for a long period of time.
The other day I sent verbal word to the set to be sure there was no misunderstanding that I wanted the girl to look as pretty and appealing as she could as long as she was not glamorous. The message was delivered to Miss Fontaine, to the cameraman, hairdresser, and everybody else that I wanted her to look "glamorous... more than at Manderley." This naturally threw everybody into confusion and obviously must have made everybody think I had suddenly gone mad. For the sake of whatever is left of my reputation for sanity, I should appreciate it if you would trace this error and explain what happened to those who received the message. And I should like to know, for my own sake, just who, stupidly or mischievously, delivered the message wrong.
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer 

Above: David Selznick with two of his secretaries Virginia Olds (back to camera) and Frances Inglis while dictating a memo in 1941. Below: Joan Fontaine as the unglamorous second Mrs de Winter in Alfred Hitchock's Rebecca (1940).