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.
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JACK WARNER
WARNER BROTHERS STUDIO
JUNE 21, 1948
DEAR JACK: A COUPLE OF YEARS HAVE GONE BY SINCE I MADE A FILM FOR YOU AND SINCE THEN I AM SURE YOU WILL AGREE THAT THE SCRIPTS SUBMITTED TO ME HAVE NOT COMPARED WITH "THE FOUNTAINHEAD." I READ IN THE MORNING PAPERS TODAY YOUR OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT THAT MISS PATRICIA NEAL IS GOING TO PLAY THE ROLE OF "DOMINIQUE" IN "THE FOUNTAINHEAD." AFTER ALL, JACK, IT SEEMS ODD AFTER I FOUND THE PROPERTY, BROUGHT IT TO THE ATTENTION OF THE STUDIO, HAD THE STUDIO PURCHASE THE PROPERTY, AND DURING THE PREPARATION OF THE SCREENPLAY EVERYONE ASSUMED THAT I WOULD BE IN THE PICTURE, AND NOW I FIND SOMEONE ELSE IS DEFINITELY PLAYING THE ROLE. NATURALLY, JACK, I AM BITTERLY DISAPPOINTED. HOWEVER, I CAN REALISTICALLY SEE YOUR PROBLEMS, AND CERTAINLY BASED ON ALL OF THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE TO OUR MUTUAL ADVANTAGE TO TERMINATE OUR PRESENT CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. I WOULD APPRECIATE HEARING FROM YOU. KINDEST PERSONAL REGARDS.
BARBARA STANWYCK 
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Barbara flanked by Jack Warner (left) and the director with whom she worked five times, Frank Capra (r.)

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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,
Sincerely,
Jack 
_______________
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). 

10 comments:

  1. My goodness! "Kindest personal regards", my foot!

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    1. Haha, that is what I thought too. He was glad to be rid of her so that he could concentrate on his new contract player. Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. Producers... *eye roll* This was a very interesting subject for the blogathon! I learned a lot and I think Barbara took a wise decision to keep her independence!

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    1. Yes, good for Barbara to have stayed independent. Thanks!

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  3. Such etiquette, in both her telegram and his letter! I can only imagine what each was saying privately :)

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    1. Barbara must have been furious and her "bitterly disappointed" was of course an understatement. Thanks again!

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  4. This is a fantastic and very interesting article and totally fascinating regarding Hollywood history. Talk about maintaining composure in the face of such a situation! Thanks so much for your work!

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  5. Fascinating article. That telegram highlights that she was her own person and didn't stand for any nonsense. Good on her I say! If only more stars had stood up to the studio heads at the time. Thanks for joining our blogathon.

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  6. Thanks for co-hosting the blogathon!

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