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.
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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."


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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

Transcript:

Yacht Zaca
Club Nautico
Palma de Mallorca.
SPAIN

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!

Sincerely,

E.F (signed)
Errol Flynn.


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Notes
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."