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. 

Trying to figure out why John Ford was sending her these letters, Maureen O'Hara came to realise that it was not hér Ford was in love with, but the character Mary Kate Danaher she was going to play in The Quiet Man. O'Hara believed that Ford (who was born in the USA to Irish immigrants and wanted to get in touch with his Irish roots) was so absorbed in writing his script that she became his ideal Irish woman through Mary Kate and that the letters were all part of Ford's creative process as he was preparing The Quiet Man. Naturally, when filming finally began, O'Hara was curious to see how Ford would behave towards her, not having seen him since receiving the letters. In her autobiography 'Tis Herself  she recalled:

Obviously, I was eager to see how John Ford was going to act toward me on and off the set. His letters had me confused and curious, but not overly concerned. I wanted to know if he was still playing this Quiet Man romance-fantasy of me in his head. I was relieved to see that he was no different from how he had always been. He never mentioned the letters to me, and it was strange, as if they had never existed. On the set, he was the typical Mr. Ford-- happy at times, irritated at others, sometimes insulting, at times abusive, acerbic with his wit, a bastard, but always in control-- and so I felt everything was normal. I later learned, after the picture was finished, that he was still clinging to these fantasies about me. But while we were making the movie, he managed to hide that from me.
And she hastened to add:
With that said, let me get this out of the way once and for all: I did not have an affair with John Ford while we were making The Quiet Man, or at any other time. The man was old enough to be my father! I've heard the rumors that have been thrown around. These stories and assumptions are spewed out in interviews and end up printed in books about John Ford as though they are fact. I'm sorry, guys, but you have it wrong. You should have asked me. Ford did not assign me to a room at Ashford Castle that was adjacent to his, as one person alleged. What Ford did do, however, was deliberately assign me to a room that was very beat up, with holes in the worn-out carpet and wallpaper peeling off the walls. Duke, on the other hand, had a gorgeous suite. I thought, Oh, that old bastard. He did this on purpose, just so I'll make a fuss and complain. But I never said a word. I would never have given him the satisfaction.

Whether it was indeed as Maureen O'Hara believed (i.e. John Ford not really being in love with hér but with her character) -- well, who knows ... At any rate, in the years following The Quiet Man the relationship between O'Hara and Ford grew more difficult with an embittered Ford often verbally assaulting O'Hara, especially during production of The Long Gray Line (1955). (O'Hara once said about Ford's bitterness: "He wanted to be born in Ireland and he wanted to be an Irish rebel. The fact that he wasn't left him very bitter".) Still, O'Hara respected Ford and considered him a friend. She also felt that he was the best director she had ever worked with, having made a total of five films with him (i.e. How Green Was My Valley (1941), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Long Gray Line (1955) and The Wings of Eagles (1957)).
Maureen O'Hara as the feisty Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man (of all the films she had done, it was her favourite film)pictured below with co-star John Wayne as Sean Thornton in the film's romantic rain scene.

And now to the letters!

Seen below are two of John Ford's letters to Maureen O'Hara. The first one is part of a letter, not the whole letter, probably written in late 1950. The second letter was written in January 1951 in Korea, where Ford was making the documentary This is Korea! before returning to Ireland. (Incidentally, Ford signed his letters with "Sean", Irish for John, which was also the name for his male protagonist in The Quiet Man.)

Source: Bonhams


[darling Maisín, I have a great need of you- a great physical urge- not the bay but the heart- if I could only see you, just to hear you laugh]

I'm sorry about the mail business- the distance makes things tough but I'm not expecting too much. You've a job to do- that comes first. You know my dear, that whatever you feel like doing or do is OK with me. I'm so grateful for the few weeks happiness you've given me (few weeks! it was a lifetime!) You're still my darling loyal girl- come hell or high water- I'll always love + revere you- please think kindly of me- not much- a little bit.

BUSINESS: I think honestly we're getting a great story. The girl's part is simply terrific! It's the best part I've ever read for a gal- dramatic- comedic- wistful- pathetic- yet full of hell + fire- passionate + sweet. For goodness sake + your family's sake, bend every effort to get it. This is my farewell to movies + I want it good. It will be only great if you play it for I [sic] written it- guided it- slanted for you. As my last picture- if the shootin' war holds off. I can only force myself to enthusiasm if you + Duke are present—

frankly- before I pass on, I want to see you established as a great actress (which you are) with a great performance to your credit. Our personal friendship- past or present- doesn't enter into it. Altho' I'm selfishly professional in my attitude and you can't blame me, on my last pro. effort I still feel as tho' you're part of me- the things I love, I couldn't or wouldn't do it with anyone else. Something would be missing- They say "There's no fool like an old fool"+ I'm in love for the first time- and proud as all bloody hell about it- So you can see- Maisin [....] how important you are to the picture- (and you're important to me- will you laugh!

My darlin' my loved one my heart-Maisín!
Oh God-at last-at long last-I hear from you! And such lovely letters (Oh thank you my heart) the last dated Jan 6. And here I was moping like a gossoon-about my last & only love— Irish like- an' all the time you were writing regularly! And thru' it all I got the impression you were still fond of me. Darling-you've made me so happy! I looked at the letters for a whole day—afraid to open them—then I said, "I'll read one a day." Then like a drunk & his bottle I read them all-word for word-inflection for inflection-I thought I would have a heart attack- frankly, I damn near fainted several times. I've read them over a hundred times, each time they're different. Again my love thanks. You've made me so happy!!! I love you-I love you-I love you! I kiss you a million times! I'm delirious with happiness.
Oh Maisín agrad, why can't we just chuck it & go back to our lovely Isle-the three of us? Life is so different there-the people-our people-are nicer. We can social climb a bit and say we're peasants.
Did you like the "houseen"? It's at Ballyconnelly (Hell-I already told you) but it's lovely & lovely-so beautiful—
Brian Hurst and I have paid two years rent on Michael Killanin's church cottage (church of Ireland ol' dear) in Spiddal. Nice fishing-bathing- plain but comfortable- but too near my relations- Ballyconnelly is away up in Connemara-near Ballylahunch-
(Gawd what am I raving about! And me old enough to be your grandfather!) But a guy can dream can't he? And I'm in love-for once. Ireland was so pretty my darling-oh how I love it-and you.
I hope this letter makes sense. I'm writing by candlelight out in the boondocks. (I think I'll knock off a while and rest my eyes & hands & re-read your letters a couple of times-I feel sensual- all aglow & warm with love-I can feel your arms around me-and your lips pressed to mine and your red hair-oh my love).
Sleep tight my sweet. I hope I'm still y'fella- think kindly of me my love for I love you with all my heart & soul.
Source: 'Tis Herself (2004) by Maureen O'Hara with John Nicoletti 

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.

While Bette didn't shy away from portraying older women --for The Corn is Green she even insisted on her character being older, feeling it suited the part better (even though Warner Bros. wanted her to play someone younger)-- in some cases she did object to ageing for her role. For Mr. Skeffington Bette initially turned down the role of Fanny after Warners had acquired the film rights in 1940. The novel by Elizabeth von Arnim was mostly told in flashbacks by the female protagonist, and in the original script Bette would have long scenes as the older Fanny while talking about her past. Bette felt she wouldn't be convincing as the 50-year-old woman, as she explained to her boss Jack Warner in the following letter from December 1940. It wasn't until several years later that she was offered a revised script and agreed to play the part.

December 5, 1940 
Dear Jack, 
I have also heard rumors that Skeffington with Mr. [Edmund] Goulding [directing] was my next. This, I would be forced, for my own future career, to refuse. It is physically impossible for me to play this woman of fifty- I am not old enough in face or figure, and I have worked too hard to do something that I know I would never be convincing in. The Old Maid and Elizabeth [in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex] were different. They were very eccentric characters and wore costumes which always helps age. This is a chic modern woman.  
If your action in these matters is suspension, or if you decide to give me my three months vacation for next year in January, February and March, I would appreciate knowing as soon as possible so I can open my house in New Hampshire.
Bette Davis

Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and 
edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Make-up artist Perc Westmore adjusting Bette's makeup on the set of The Little Foxes.

Another project for which Bette had to age against her will was The Gay Sisters. According to a memo from producer Henry Blanke to co-producer Hal Wallis dated 7 June 1941 (as seen below), Bette was worried that she had to play an older woman again, at the time also playing the older Regina Giddens in The Little FoxesWhen assured that the character Fiona would not age beyond 32 years, Bette still had objections to the casting of Mary Astor as her younger sister (Mary was two years her senior). In the end, The Gay Sisters (1942) was made without Bette or Mary, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Geraldine Fitzgerald instead. 

TO: Mr. Wallis
FROM: Mr. Blanke
DATE: June 7, 1941
SUBJECT: "The Gay Sisters" - Bette Davis

Dear Hal:

When you got me on the dictaphone yesterday to inquire about the Bette Davis situation in regards to the Gay Sisters script, I forgot to tell you a rather important point which she made in her telephone conversation with me.

She stated that she likes Mary Astor very much and -as I could prove- helped her in every way on The Great Lie to make a success. So-  this as a preface in order not to misunderstand her motivations on the following point:

She is now in Little Foxes [for Samuel Goldwyn], playing an elderly woman and one of her main objections on the The Gay Sisters was that she was afraid in "Fiona" she would again have to portray an aged woman.

I set her at ease on this point by telling her that in the story she is six or eight years old at the time of 1918, which makes her for the most part of the story around thirty to thirty-two years old.

This set her at ease in regards to this point, but brought her to the criticism of casting Mary Astor as Evelyn, her next younger sister. Her point is that Mary Astor, no matter what we do, will always photograph older than Bette, and that Bette automatically would have to age herself considerably in order to make it believable that she is older than Mary Astor, and by doing this we would get to the result that she is afraid of-- namely, that she will arrive at an age similar to the one she is putting on in Little Foxes...  

Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and 
edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Bette Davis and Mary Astor in The Great Lie (1941). It would take a few decades before they would make another film together- Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).

This post is my contribution to the THE FOURTH ANNUAL BETTE DAVIS BLOGATHON, hosted by IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD. Be sure to check out all the other entries!

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.

Charmed by Doris' note to Lucy Ball, I searched the web to see if I could find more about these two ladies together. Apart from what I already knew they were both animal lovers (Doris still is at 97 (!) and with Lucy she had raised money in the 1970s for Actors and Others for Animals) I came across an interview from Lucy with Doris for Lucy's radio show, recorded on the set of Doris' film Do Not Disturb (1965). The interview is simply delightful and while it's been on YouTube since 2012 I had never heard it before. From the interview it's quite clear that Doris and Lucy liked and admired each other a lot. (I especially love the part where the women discuss their different styles of acting, i.e. Lucy liked to rehearse while Doris liked things to be spontaneous.)

So below you'll first find Doris' note to Lucy, written on 19 March 1971, and then the wonderful interview from Lucy with Doris which was recorded six years earlier.

Via: icollector.com


March 19, 1971

Mrs. Gary Morton
1000 N. Roxbury Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif. 90210

Dear, Dear Lucy:

It made me so happy that you enjoyed my special and it made me even happier that you told me so. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and again, thank you for taking the time.

Hope to see you soon.


(signed 'Doris')

This post is my contribution to THE THIRD DORIS DAY BLOGATHON, hosted by LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD. Click here for a list of all the other entries.