15 October 2019

80 Years of "Dark Victory": Spencer Tracy was born to play this part

Edmund Goulding's successful weepie Dark Victory is one of the many great films from 1939 celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. In a nutshell, the film is about a young, spoiled socialite who is terminally ill and falls in love with her doctor. Bette Davis stars as the socialite Judith Traherne, a role originally played by Tallulah Bankhead on the stage. (The original play Dark Victorywritten by George Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch, only had a short run on Broadway in 1934.)

11 October 2019

Book Review: Letters from Hollywood

Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking is a gem of a book. Compiled and edited by author/producer Rocky Lang and film historian/archivist Barbara Hall, this beautiful-looking hardcover volume contains 137 pieces of classic Hollywood correspondence (letters, notes and telegrams), spanning five decades from the early 1920s through the 1970s. The correspondence not only comes from famous Hollywood stars like Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo or Joan Crawford, but also from people less known to the general public yet important to Hollywood history, e.g. Irving Thalberg, Will Hays and Joseph Breen. (And there are also letter writers and recipients I had never heard of, among them screenwriters and agents.) Introducing the letters, authors Lang and Hall provide ample background information so the reader understands the context in which they were written.

Below: Rocky Lang grew up in the film business having agent-turned-producer Jennings Lang and singer/actress Monica Lewis as parents (here they are photographed in 1968). When a letter from his father to agent H.N. Swanson was discovered, Rocky got the idea for Letters from Hollywood and also included his father's letter in the book.

4 October 2019

The hottest tip I've got is a damn cold one

When filming on location, weather conditions are not always favourable. Anthony Mann's El Cid (1961) -- an epic film about the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, aka El Cid, who freed Spain from the Moors in the 11th Century -- was almost entirely filmed on location in Spain. Charlton Heston, who played the titular role, found the weather in the Spanish mountains unbearably cold and complained about it in a letter to Mike Connolly, journalist for the Hollywood Reporter (seen below). Heston said he was not the only one suffering from the cold; his leading lady Sophia Loren suffered as well as did the horses and two extras even passed out due to the cold. Fortunately for Heston and the others, their next shooting location would be the Comunidad Valenciana where the weather was considerably warmer.

Incidentally, the mountain scenes were shot in the Guadarrama Mountains in the autonomous region of Castilla y León, which borders Extremadura where the ice cold weather supposedly came from. Several other locations in Castilla y León were also used, as well as locations in other regions such as Comunidad Valenciana, Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid. Studio scenes were filmed in the city of Madrid and Rome.

Above and below: Charlton Heston,  Sophia Loren and director Anthony Mann on the set of El Cid.

25 September 2019

Darling Merle

Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon couldn't stand each other while making William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939). Although they had gotten along during production of the comedy The Divorce of Lady X (1938)their working relationship on Wuthering Heights was far from pleasant. Olivier had lobbied to get his then-lover and wife-to-be Vivien Leigh cast in the role of Cathy but producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted Oberon. (The supporting role of Isabella was offered to Leigh but she refused.) Olivier was unimpressed with Oberon's acting abilities and is said to have called her "an amateur", feeling that Leigh would have made a much better Cathy. Oberon, in turn, wasn't happy with Olivier either. During a kissing scene she accused him of spitting on her. When Olivier retorted "What's a little spit for Chrissake between actors? You bloody little idiot, how dare you speak to me..."Oberon fled the set crying and director Wyler made Olivier apologise to her.

Above: Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Below: Vivien Leigh visits Olivier and Oberon on the set of Wuthering Heights.

11 September 2019

I must face the fact that you are married to Clark ...

Clark Gable was no fan of David Selznick -- to put it mildly. Ever since they had worked together on Night Flight (1933), Gable did not like nor trusted Selznick and hated the producer's relentless perfectionism. (Due to Selznick's constant changes, production of Night Flight had run weeks over schedule causing Gable to miss one of his beloved fishing trips.) Although Gable wasn't eager to work with Selznick again after Night Flight, they made three more films together, i.e. Dancing Lady (1933), Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and of course the epic Gone With the Wind (1939).

1 September 2019

From the WWII battlefield to Donna Reed

During World War II, while being miles away from home, many American soldiers sent letters to their favourite actresses, asking them for pin-up photos and telling them about life on the war front. (It was during WWII that the term "pin-up" was coined, with soldiers literally pinning up photos on lockers and walls of barracks.) For the soldiers the pin-up actresses were a symbol of home, a reminder of what they were fighting for. For the actresses who posed for pin-up photos or wrote letters to lonely soldiers, it was a way to contribute to the war effort. The pin-ups were a huge morale booster for the troops, so it's no surprise that the creation and distribution of photos, magazines and calendars was encouraged by the US Army.

Probably the most famous pin-up actress during WWII was Betty Grable. Her now iconic photo (see left) was distributed to the troops in large numbers, five million copies having been provided by Grable's studio 20th-Century Fox. Other famous, sexy pin-up girls included Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Jane Russell. For a lot of soldiers, however, their favourite pin-up was not the sexy, sultry type but the type they'd most like to come home to. A farm girl from Iowa, Donna Reed belonged to the latter type. She was the girl next door who, according to biographer Jay Fultz, "probably came closer than any other actress to being the archetypal sweetheart, wife and mother".

27 August 2019

The Politics of Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe's political flavour was decidedly left wing. Having grown up in poverty during the Great Depression, Marilyn always identified with the working class, feeling they were her kind of people. She was passionate about civil rights and a staunch defender of black equality. But while her views had always been left wing, Marilyn's political awareness only fully blossomed after she married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. (Miller was a leftist too and particularly during their marriage, which ended in 1961, Marilyn often mixed with people who talked politics a lot.)

13 August 2019

Don't worry, everything will be Jake

John Barrymore fell instantly in love with Dolores Costello after she had been cast as his co-star in The Sea Beast (1926). Still married to his second wife Blanche Oelrichs, Barrymore started an affair with Costello which eventually led to their marriage in November 1928. Barrymore and Costello had two children, daughter Dolores in 1930 and son John Drew in 1932. (With Oelrichs Barrymore also had a daughter, Diana, born in 1921.)

By 1934, the marriage was in serious trouble, mainly because of Barrymore's excessive drinking. Barrymore, addicted to alcohol since the age of fourteen, had been drinking continuously for two years (according to Costello) and began to experience several alcohol-related health issues, both physical and mental. Afraid that his wife was going to declare him mentally incompetent, Barrymore left Los Angeles in the fall of 1934, travelling to England to work and afterwards spending time in India. He came back to the US at the end of January 1935, not returning to Costello in LA but settling in New York instead. There, a month later, Barrymore fell ill and was admitted to a hospital where he was visited by a 19-year-old fan, Elaine Jacobs. The two became friends and started a much-publicised relationship. Jacobs (later Barrie) eventually became Barrymore's fourth and last wife.

7 August 2019

This script would make a very good trailer

During her impressive career, Ginger Rogers had turned down many a role. Some of the parts she had refused were terrific parts, for example the female leads in His Girl Friday (1940), Ball Of Fire (1942), To Each His Own (1946) and The Snake Pit (1948). Ginger later admitted that she should have accepted these roles, but at the time she was waiting for something better to come along (the ultimate part that never came).

Ginger also rejected Bachelor Mother (1939). She hated the script and refused to do it, after which RKO production chief Pandro Berman suspended her without pay. Ginger eventually agreed to do the film, reluctantly. When the film was finished, she still didn't like it. Audiences, however, loved it and the film became a big hit, one of the biggest of Ginger's career.

Above: Ginger Rogers with Bachelor Mother's director Garson Kanin (middle) and Pandro Berman who suspended Ginger after she had refused to make the film. Below: Ginger and co-star David Niven in my favourite scene from Bachelor Mother.

27 July 2019

Praising "The Killers"

For his first independent production, Mark Hellinger paid $36,750 for the movie rights to The Killers, a short story written by Ernest Hemingway in 1927. The story is about two hit men who visit a local diner one night, searching for an ex-boxer aka "the Swede" whom they've been hired to kill. Nick Adams (generally regarded as Hemingway's alter ego) is in the diner and goes to the Swede to warn him, but the latter waits passively for the hit men to come and kill him. The whole plot of Hemingway's short story takes place in the opening sequence of the film — the first 15 minutes being a fairly faithful adaptation of the Hemingway story  while the rest of the film is original, explaining in flashbacks why the Swede was killed. Hellinger hired Anthony Veiller, John Huston and Richard Brooks to write the screenplay, the latter two giving uncredited contributions. (For the full plot, go here). 

(Left to right) Robert Siodmak, Burt Lancaster and Mark Hellinger are discussing the script of The Killers while office secretary Lois Regan is making notes on her typewriter.

23 July 2019

Deep feelings have never had adequate speech

I love letters that concern old Hollywood friendships. Here is a heartfelt letter from Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Clifton Webb, written in September 1931. Webb had just visited Fairbanks and his wife Joan Crawford and Fairbanks eloquently thanks him, calling Webb's stay "a welcome rain after a long drought". Joan was a close friend of Webb's too and I've also included a letter from her to him written around the same year. 

Incidentally, Clifton Webb was very loved in Hollywood. He and his mother Mabelle regularly hosted parties visited by Hollywood's finest. Webb maintained close friendships with a number of Hollywood stars including Humphrey Bogart, a letter concerning theír friendship can be read here.

14 July 2019

James Cagney on "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

This summer the Filmoteca in Barcelona is offering a wonderful retrospective of Hollywood musicals, giving me the opportunity to see some of my personal favourites on the big screen (like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Band Wagon and Hello Dolly) as well as a number of new-to-me films, such as Yankee Doodle Dandy which I saw last week. 

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), directed by Michael Curtiz, is a very entertaining musical biopic about American  composer/ actor/ singer/ dancer/ producer George M. Cohan who in his time was known as "The man who owned Broadway". The role of Cohan is energetically played by James Cagney (who worked hard to master Cohan's typical stiff-legged dance style), a performance which earned him an Academy Award. Cohan was still alive when Yankee Doodle Dandy was made, but due to ill health he wasn't really involved in the making of the film. Before his death in November 1942, Cohan did see the final result, approving of both the film and Cagney's portrayal. 

4 July 2019

To My Lady Of Courage

Barbara Stanwyck maintained a correspondence with Vivian Cosby while the latter was recovering from a horrible accident that happened on New Year's Day 1939. Cosby, a Broadway playwright, had just started working in Hollywood when in her new home her dress caught fire from a heater, leaving her burned so badly that doctors thought she would not survive. Luckily Cosby lived, but it took several operations and several years to recuperate.

Barbara was one of the Hollywood celebrities who stood by Cosby during her fight for survival and recovery. Apart from visiting Cosby whenever she could, Barbara also wrote to her regularly, keeping Cosby up to date about the films she was making, her daily life etcetera. Barbara's letters were published in the November 1941 issue of the fan magazine Photoplay, of which several are shown below. 

28 June 2019

Elia Kazan and HUAC: I believe what I did was necessary and right

Despite being one of the great American directors, Elia Kazan will always be remembered for his damaging testimony before the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on 10 April 1952, a testimony which would taint his reputation for the rest of his life. During his first testimony earlier that year in January, Kazan had refused to name the names of people who had been members of the Communist Party with him during the 1930s. In order to avoid being blacklisted, however, Kazan testified again a few months later, this time volunteering the names of eight of his old friends (including Clifford Odets and Paula Strasberg), thereby destroying careers.

Kazan decided to cooperate with HUAC so he could continue making films. While he was an established stage director and could have kept working if he had been blacklisted —the blacklist didn't have much effect on Broadway — he didn't want to focus on the stage any longer, wishing to make motion pictures instead. To his close friend, playwright Arthur Miller, Kazan said prior to his testimony: "I hate the Communists and have for many years and don't feel right about giving up my career to defend them. I will give up my film career if it is in the interests of defending something I believe in, but not this".

13 June 2019

The Curious Stage Career of Jean Arthur

By the early 1930s, Jean Arthur's Hollywood career had failed to take off, making Jean turn to the theatre instead. She made her Broadway debut in 1932 with a small role in the play Foreign Affairs and a year later had her first starring role in The Curtain Rises which earned her good reviews. Jean later recalled that these two years on Broadway had been "the happiest years of [her] life". She preferred the stage over Hollywood, having said at one time: "I don't think Hollywood is the place to be yourself. The individual ought to find herself before coming to Hollywood.... On the stage I found myself to be in a different world. The individual counted. The director encouraged me and I learned how to be myself." 

Having made a name for herself on the stage, Jean returned to Hollywood and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in February 1934. Ten years later, after a string of very successful films including Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) and The More The Merrier (1943), her contract with the studio ended and Jean reportedly ran through the streets of Columbia cheering "I'm free! I'm free!". Jean retired from making films, accepting only two more film offers, i.e. Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair (1948) and George Stevens' Shane (1953). Over the next few decades, she would return to the stage a total of five times.

26 May 2019

Dear Bill Holden

Fredric March and William Holden starred together in two films, i.e. Executive Suite and The Bridges at Toko-Ri, both released in 1954. March, who belonged to an older generation of Hollywood actors being 21 years Holden's senior, was one of Holden's acting idols. In September 1950, a month after the release of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard starring Holden in one of his best roles, March wrote the following letter to his younger colleague praising his performance in the film. Holden must have been thrilled to receive this letter from March, not knowing he would be working with him (twice even) in a few years' time.

14 May 2019

R.I.P. Doris Day

Doris Day has always been one of my mum's favourite singers and her beautiful, unique voice often filled our house when I was growing up. Long before I began watching her films, I listened to her songs. She was so much part of my childhood that I felt quite sad to hear about her passing yesterday.

Doris began her singing career in 1939 as a big band singer, scoring her first big hit with Sentimental Journey with Les Brown and His Band of Renown in 1945. A few years later she started a highly successful solo career, spanning several decades and recording hundreds of songs. But it was with Les Brown that Doris had her first success and in 2012 when Les was honoured at the Les Brown Centennial Festival, Doris sent the following heartfelt letter to 'Friends of Les', remembering those early days with Les and his band.

11 May 2019

Joan Crawford & her devotion to her fans

When biographer Donald Spoto was eleven years old, he went to the movies with his mother to see Sudden Fear (1952) starring Joan Crawford. Afterwards young Donald told his mum that he was going to write Miss Crawford a letter saying how much he had liked the film, to which his mum said: "Movie stars don't have time to answer letters from strangers, so try not to be disappointed". Not long after, a letter arrived in the mail.

Dear Don, 
Thank you for writing such a sweet letter.  
I am so happy that you liked my new picture, "Sudden Fear". It was a challenge for me, and there were some very hard scenes. But I enjoyed working in San Francisco, and I was very lucky to work with fine actors like Mr. Jack Palance and Miss Gloria Grahame. 
I am so impressed that you read Miss Edna Sherry's book that our movie was based on. I don't think there are many eleven-year-old movie fans who do that! 
Thank you again for writing to me. I hope you will stay in touch, and that we will meet some day. Good luck in school!  
Your friend,
Joan Crawford

(Source: Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford (2010) by Donald Spoto)

Spoto's mother obviously didn't know that when you wrote a fan letter to Joan Crawford you would always get a letter back-- guaranteed. No one was more devoted to his or her fans than Joan was and I guess it's safe to say that no other actor or actress has been ever since. Joan personally replied to all her fan letters, its number estimated at roughly three million (!) throughout her career.

4 May 2019

There is only one you

In his 1996 biography on Audrey Hepburn, Barry Paris stated that Audrey was not only a biographer's dream but also a biographer's nightmare. A beloved actress and a passionate advocate for children's rights, Audrey was (and still is) só admired and revered that practically nobody had anything negative to say about her. Paris found that the worst thing Audrey seemingly did was her failure to mention Patricia Neal at the 1965 Oscars (read more about that here).

Audrey is and has been an inspiration to a lot of people, even long before she reached her icon status. One of the people she inspired in the early 1960s was Cherylin Sarkisian, an insecure teenage girl who became later known as Cher.

21 April 2019

John Ford's love letters to Maureen O'Hara

After completing Rio Grande (1950) director John Ford started preparations for his magnum opus The Quiet Man (1952), his personal tribute to Ireland which he had wanted to make for a long time. In the fall of 1950, Ford left for Ireland developing his story and seeking locations, while his preferred leading lady Maureen O'Hara flew to Australia to make the film Kangaroo (1952). It was at a stopover in Honolulu where O'Hara received a strange letter from Ford addressed to "Herself", the first of many letters which surprised and confused her. In her 2004 autobiography 'Tis Herself, O'Hara described the moment when the letters, apart from confusing her, also started to worry her: "I hadn't been overly concerned about these letters up to this point, but now I was. Over the next several weeks, more letters arrived for Herself. By the end of February [1951], I had received a stack of them. I couldn't keep dismissing them as John Ford eccentricities or as harmless whims during a drunken stupor. I could no longer deny that, for whatever reason, John Ford was sending me love letters."

John Ford and Maureen O'Hara in Ireland-- above they are pictured with Ford's secretary and script supervisor Meta Sterne and below with John "Duke " Wayne. 

6 April 2019

The on-screen ageing of Bette Davis

During her impressive career, Bette Davis starred in a number of films in which she played characters older than her actual age. In 1939, Bette (aged 31) played spinster Charlotte Lovell in The Old Maid, her character ageing some 20 years to 40 at the end of the film, the look of 'middle-age' created by makeup artist Perc Westmore with pale makeup. The same year Bette portrayed 60-year-old Queen Elizabeth I in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, shaving her hairline and eyebrows to resemble the older queen. To play 40-year-old Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes (1941)Bette had Westmore give her a mask of white powder in order to look her character's age (much to the dismay of director William Wyler who felt she looked like a Kabuki player). Then in 1944, Bette played Fanny Skeffington in Vincent Sherman's Mr. Skeffington, being mid-20s at the beginning of the film while ageing to 50, with her looks not only affected by age but also by diphtheria (Bette wore a rubber mask to get the look she wanted). And in 1945, 37-year-old Bette was a schoolteacher in her fifties in The Corn is Green, wearing a grey wig and padding under her clothes to look the part.

Above (clockwise): Bette Davis playing older than her age in The Old Maid, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Corn is Green and The Little Foxes. Below: Bette as the younger and older Fanny in Mr. Skeffington.

3 April 2019

Doris & Lucy

In 1968, Doris Day started her own television show The Doris Day Show which would run successfully for five seasons until 1973 (at its peak watched by some 13 million households!). During the show's run, Doris was also offered to do a television special with a main focus on her songs. The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special was recorded in the summer of 1970 and aired by CBS on 14 March 1971. Following the show's broadcast, Doris received lots of praise, also from fellow actress Lucille Ball whom Doris sent a sweet thank-you note five days after the show (as seen below)

Doris Day and Lucille Ball, two of the greatest comediennes ever. Unfortunately they never got to work together.

30 March 2019

Dear Mr. Kubrick

A few days ago, my sister and I went to see the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition here in our hometown Barcelona. The exhibition has visited several cities worldwide since 2004 (including Los Angeles, Mexico City, Seoul and Paris) before coming to Barcelona with some added material. (I saw that the exhibition was also held in Amsterdam in 2012 when I still lived there, but I somehow missed it then.) While I am not a Kubrick fan --I do like his earlier work though, e.g. The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957)-- I enjoyed the exhibition a lot. It was very well laid out, each of Kubrick's films having its own dedicated space, with on display original props, costumes, storyboards, photos and lots of documents, including production documents, screenplays and correspondence. Attention was also paid to Kubrick's early days when he worked as a photographer and also his unrealised projects were presented in detail.

(Photo by me)
Of course I was glad to see a number of letters displayed at the exhibition. For this post I chose one letter concerning Kubrick's unrealised film about Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick was fascinated by Napoleon and had researched his subject meticulously, putting together a massive archive of research material. In 1969, Kubrick completed his script and also drew up a detailed shooting plan. In the end, the film was never made since no studio was willing to take on the exorbitant production costs. (More about Kubrick's Napoleon can be found in the 2009 voluminous book by Alison Castle Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made.)

24 March 2019

We really did not like Bob Montgomery

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Laurence Olivier became best friends in the early 1930s and remained so for the rest of their lives. Someone they used to hang out with was fellow actor Robert Montgomery, with whom they went fishing and yachting. The following letter from Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Betty Barker (known for being Joan Crawford's long-time secretary) shows that Fairbanks and Olivier put up with Montgomery but that they didn't really like him, feeling Montgomery was "pompous". Fairbanks wrote to Barker as he wanted to play a practical joke on his buddy Larry (the joke having to do with Montgomery) for which he needed her help. The letter is from 1987 when Fairbanks was 77 years old, but apparently not too old to play pranks.  

(left to right) Douglas Fairbank Jr., Laurence Olivier and Robert Montgomery in their younger days.

14 March 2019

The controversy of colourising classic films

During the 1980's, a number of famous classic black-and-white films started to appear on television in a completely colourised version. As most audiences (especially younger ones) were not really interested in watching black-and-white films, studios and copyright holders had turned to colourising classics in order to still make money from them. (Television stations paid far less for black-and-white films than they would for colour films and videos of black-and-white films were rarely sold.) One of the most important proponents of film colourisation was media mogul Ted Turner, who had acquired the film libraries of MGM, RKO and early Warner Bros. and thus became copyright holder of an enormous collection of films. Realising there was money to be made from 'dusting off' the black-and-white films in his collection, Turner commissioned the colourisation of numerous classics including Dark Victory (1939), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942). 

Needless to say, filmmakers were not at all happy with said development. Frank Capra protested the colourisation of his It's a Wonderful Life (1946)a film that was in the public domain at the time and, like other public domain films, had become fair game for colourisers. Other opponents of film colourisation were filmmakers such as Fred Zinnemann, Stanley Kubrick, Elia Kazan and Orson Welles, the latter having said weeks before his death: "Don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons." (While Turner did have plans to colourise Citizen Kane, in the end he left Welles' film alone.)

Above: While black-and-white photography is essential to film noir, even noirs like John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) couldn't escape colourisation. In 1988, Turner Entertainment had the film colourised, much to the horror of Anjelica Huston whose father had died the previous year. Huston started a law suit in France to stop the broadcast of the colourised version on French television and the French Supreme Court eventually ruled in her favour. Below: Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre colourised in Casablanca.

6 March 2019

"The Amazing Mrs. Holliday" does not deserve the Booby Prize

Deanna Durbin was Universal's biggest star in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. In 1946, she was the second-highest paid woman in the United States (after Bette Davis) and a year later even the highest-paid woman. Among Durbin's greatest successes at Universal were her films produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Henry Koster, such as Three Smart Girls (1936), One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), First Love (1939), Spring Parade (1940) and It Started with Eve (1941), the latter film being her last collaboration with both Pasternak and Koster.

Following the success of It Started with Eve and Joe Pasternak's move from Universal to MGM, Durbin wanted more control over her films and also the opportunity to work for other studios (most notably MGM as it had Pasternak under contract now). When Durbin refused to do the film They Lived Alone (which in the end was never made), Universal suspended her for six months. The dispute between Durbin and the studio was eventually settled by the end of January 1942 with Durbin coming out the winner: Universal agreed to give her story and director approval on all her films.

Deanna Durbin retired from making movies in 1949, only 27 years old. Joe Pasternak, who had produced some of her greatest successes, tried to persuade her not to retire but Durbin had made up her mind and reportedly said: "I can't run around being a Little Miss Fix-It who bursts into song – the highest-paid star with the poorest material."


22 February 2019

I am only just emerging from a small nightmare....

If I hadn't come across the following note from Audrey Hepburn to George Cukor, I never would have known about this interesting bit of Oscar trivia. Audrey wrote to Cukor after the 37th Academy Award Ceremony (which took place in April 1965), where Cukor was presented with the Oscar for Best Director for My Fair Lady (1964). In her letter, Audrey first talks about Cukor's Oscar and then continues to say that she just woke up from a small nightmare: "... the idea that I might have hurt Pat.... is agonizing."

So what happened?

Patricia Neal ("Pat") had won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Hud the year beforeand as the Oscar tradition goes, the previous year's winner of the Best Actress Oscar presents the Oscar to the current year's Best Actor. However, Patricia had suffered three strokes earlier that year (at age 39 while pregnant) and at the time of the Oscar ceremony was still recovering at home. To present the Best Actor award, Audrey was asked to replace Patricia. So when the time came for Audrey to give out the award to her My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison, Patricia, who was watching the Oscar ceremony on television with then-husband Roald Dahl, expected Audrey to say something about her. In her 1988 autobiography As I Am, Patricia recalled: "I had been told that Audrey Hepburn would bestow the honor in my place and I couldn't wait to hear all the nice things she would say about me. "There! There!" I pointed to the TV when Audrey was introduced. ... But suddenly she was handing Rex Harrison his award, and she hadn't said a thing about me. It had to be a mistake. I pounded on the table with my good hand. "God! God! Me! Not me!""

Audrey Hepburn and Patricia O'Neal on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), their only film together. During production of the film the two had gotten along well.

10 February 2019

I want to do it more than any script I have ever read

Elizabeth Taylor was fed up with the roles MGM kept giving her and wanted better roles, especially after being cast against her will in the period drama Beau Brummell (1954). In 1953, while in Rome with husband actor Michael Wilding, Elizabeth met director Joseph L. Mankiewicz who had started the preparations for his next film The Barefoot Contessa (1954)Elizabeth desparately wanted to play the Maria Vargas part and asked Mankiewicz if she could read the script. Back in London, she wired MGM-executive Benny Thau, letting him know that she had met Mankiewicz in Rome and that she wanted to do The Barefoot Contessa "more than any script [she had] ever read". Much to Elizabeth's dismay, Thau wired back that the role had already been given to Ava Gardner.

Elizabeth's telegram to Thau and her subsequent telegram to Mankiewicz (sent in November 1953) are seen below. Having been denied the role in The Barefoot Contessa, Elizabeth next starred in The Last Time I saw Paris (1954), a film she liked and of which she later said: "[It] convinced me I wanted to be an actress instead of yawning my way through parts."


7 February 2019

We bought Rebecca and we intend to make Rebecca

In late 1938, Alfred Hitchcock was approached by producer David Selznick to direct Rebecca (1940), based on Daphne du Maurier's acclaimed novel of the same name. Making his first American picture, Hitch would soon discover that his ideas about adapting a novel for the screen were quite different from Selznick's. While Hitch used novels purely as a starting point for his films ("If I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema"), Selznick insisted on staying as true to the source material as possible. It is no surprise then that the first story treatment Hitch submitted to Selznick in June 1939 (which he had worked on with his former secretary Joan Harrison and author Philip MacDonald) was rejected. Selznick was not at all happy with the treatment, in particular with Hitch's alteration of the main characters and the comical opening of the film. (Hitch later said that he considered Rebecca "not a Hitchcock picture" due to its lack of humour.) Soon a more faithful treatment was submitted, and this time Hitch had also worked with his wife Alma Reville and screenwriter Michael Hogan. Selznick eventually brought in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert E. Sherwood to prepare the final screenplay.

*spoiler ahead*

While Selznick got his way the final result is a fairly faithful adaptation of du Maurier's novel— there was one major concession that had to be made in order to get the film released. In the novel, Maxim kills Rebecca but is not punished for his deed. As it was impossible under the Hays Code to let a murderer go free, the murder of Rebecca became an accident in the film. Selznick hated it and said: "The whole story of Rebecca is the story of a man who has murdered his wife, and it now becomes the story of a man who buried a wife who was killed accidentally!"

2 February 2019

An Errol Flynn-Ava Gardner project that never was

With filming on Henry King's The Sun Also Rises (1957) hardly wrapped, Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner, two of the film's principal actors, were already talking about doing another film together. According to a letter from Errol Flynn to Benny Thau dated 10 July 1957 (as seen below), the film he and Ava were planning to make was The White Witch of the Indies with a screenplay by James Edward Grant. Searching for more information about the project, the only thing I found was a newspaper clipping from The Daily Gleaner from April 1957 (see image) which talks about an Errol Flynn project called The White Witch of Jamaica. I can only assume that it's the same project but Errol decided to change the setting/title from Jamaica to 'The Indies'. Well, whatever the title, the film was ultimately never made and The Sun Also Rises remained Errol and Ava's only film together.

Benny Thau (often spelled Thaw) was studio head of MGM between 1956 and 1958. As said, Errol Flynn wrote to him in July 1957 regarding the film he and Ava wanted to make. Ava had a long-running contract with MGM and had told Errol that her contract would end in 1958. Errol wanted to make sure that Ava would indeed be free from MGM to make said picture with him, hence his letter to Thau. 

Source: ebay


Yacht Zaca
Club Nautico
Palma de Mallorca.

July 10th 1957

Mr. Benny Thaw
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios,
Culver City, Calif.,

Dear Mr. Thaw:

James Edward Grant has been over here, writing a script for me, THE WHITE WITCH OF THE INDIES, (presume you know Grant-  Johnny Egar, many of John Wayne pictures, etc., etc.,)

We are nearly half-way through our shooting script. In my opinion is [sic] is going to be first class.

I went with Grant to Madrid a few days ago to see Ava Gardner, who told me that her contract with M.G.M. would finish in a little over a year, and Ava appeared extremely interested in this property, and doing it with me, with a Grant script. As a personal favour, I would like to ask you personally, without, of course, any kind of reflection on Ava, if it is true that she will be free to make any deals outside of Metro in one year's time? THE WHITE WITCH is perfect for her as a vehicle- so you can tell me if Metro is of her opinion, i:e: that she will be free to contract for her services in about a year and two months from now?

I shall certainly appreciate a personal word from you, Benny.

I hope Life is as pleasant for you as it is for me here. Why don't you come take a look? Great Spot!


E.F (signed)
Errol Flynn.


After having been under contract to MGM for seventeen years, Ava would indeed make her last film for the studio in 1958 (The Naked Maja). But instead of doing a film with Errol next, she subsequently did On the Beach (1959) for United Artists, co-starring with Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire.

- Flynn wrote his letter to Thau from his yacht Zaca in Palma de Mallorca (Spain) having just visited Ava Gardner in Madrid. Both Errol and Ava loved Spain. Errol fell in love with Mallorca after he and his third wife Patricia Wymore had spent their honeymoon there in 1950; his yacht was moored at Club Nautico in Mallorca from 1955 until 1959 (the year he died). Ava had moved to Madrid in 1955, where she lived until she permanently moved to London in 1968.

Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn with The Sun Also Rises co-stars Eddie Albert and Tyrone Power. Ava once said about Errol: "Of all the actors who worked with me on that film, I got along best with Errol Flynn. I adored him, but although I dated him a couple of times when I first arrived in Hollywood, we were never physically involved. Errol was probably the most beautiful man I ever saw, his perfect body equally at home in a swimsuit or astride a horse. And he was fun, gallant, and well mannered with a great sense of humor. When he walked into a room, it was as if a light had been turned on. As he grew older, he drank too much and was chased around by scandal and gossip. But Errol Flynn always had style, honey. Real style."

22 January 2019

Barbara Stanwyck & Warner Bros.

Unlike most of her peers, Barbara Stanwyck never signed a long-term contract with one studio. In the early 1930s, she signed a non-exclusive contract with Columbia and at the same time also had a non-exclusive contract with Warner Brothers. (Her early films for Columbia include Forbidden (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), and for Warners she made among others Night Nurse (1931), So Big! (1932) and Baby Face (1933).) When Barbara's contracts with both studios ended, she decided not to renew them but to become a free agent instead. Freelancing gave Barbara more freedom to choose her own projects, allowing her to work with every major director and studio in Hollywood. Apart from having control over the films she made, freelancing also brought her more money. By 1943, Barbara had become the highest paid woman in the United States.

Barbara returned to Warner Bros. in the early 1940s, again signing a non-exclusive contract and making (among others) The Gay Sisters (1942), Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and My Reputation (1946). Her contract with Warners was eventually terminated in 1948, following a dispute involving the film adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead. Barbara was a fan of Ayn Rand and had asked Jack Warner to buy the rights to the novel for her, which Warner did in late 1943. Due to WWII, however, production of the film was delayed, and Warner finally decided to cast newcomer Patricia Neal as the female lead instead of Barbara. (Warner had just signed Neal to a seven-year contract and was committed to making her a star.) "Bitterly disappointed" about Jack Warner's decision, Barbara sent him a telegram on 21 June 1948, informing him she wanted to end her contract with the studio. Warner replied by letter the following day.
JUNE 21, 1948
Barbara flanked by Jack Warner (left) and the director with whom she worked five times, Frank Capra (r.)

Miss Barbara Stanwyck
807 North Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, Calif.
June 22, 1948
Dear Barbara:
I have your telegram of the twenty-second and, while I know you brought The Fountainhead to [Henry] Blanke's attention, I want to make it very clear to you that we have a huge Story Department here in the Studio as well as in New York, that covers every book, periodical, etc.
The Fountainhead was called to the attention of our studio through the regular channels. I personally knew about it long before you suggested it to Mr. Blanke, and we were considering it for purchase and subsequently closed for it.
Naturally your interest in this property is well understood, but our studio does not confine its operations to cases where people bring in books or other stories and we buy them solely on their suggestion. It operates through regular channels, and did in this case as in most cases.
However, since our actions have offended you and you desire to terminate your contract with us, it may be that under the circumstances this would be the best thing to do.
It is with regret that I accede to your request and, if you will have your agent or attorney get in touch with our Legal Department here at the studio, the formalities of terminating your contract can be arranged. 
Kindest personal regards,
Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.

This post is my contribution to the THE SECOND REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON, hosted by IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD and MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS. Be sure to check out all the other entries too!

Barbara Stanwyck in nine Warner Bros. films-- top row from left to right: Night Nurse (1931), Ladies They Talk About (1933) and Baby Face (1933); middle row: Gambling Lady (1934), The Gay Sisters (1942) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945); bottom row: My Reputation (1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) and Cry Wolf (1947).