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.

In 1959, twenty years after Wuthering Heights, Merle Oberon contacted Olivier with regards to Shakespeare's Macbeth. As actor-director Olivier had done three successful Shakespeare film adaptations, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948) and Richard III (1955), and he desperately wanted to film Macbeth as well. However, his attempts to picturise the play had failed, mainly due to financial problems, and the project was shelved in 1958. When Olivier received Oberon's letter asking if he was interested in re-embarking on Macbeth, he was "touched and grateful" that she had thought of him, as he told her in his reply on 22 August 1959. Olivier didn't have time to do Macbeth, however, and wouldn't resume the project at a later date either. (While Olivier never made a film version of Macbeth, in 1955 he had starred in a much-praised stage production with himself in the title role and Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth.)

In his letter Olivier is quite affectionate towards Oberon. The hatchet between them had apparently been buried. 

Source: Bonhams


August 22nd. 1959.

Darling Merle,

Thank you so very much for your so sweet letter. I am deeply, deeply touched by your thinking of me and wishing to help in this way- and enormously grateful.

The trouble now is that I have got myself heavily booked up with other things. If the picture changes and it seems that I might be free for long enough to re-embark on "Macbeth", I will let you know, but right now it would not make sense to enter into discussions about it. So could we leave it like that for the time being?

Do please forgive this being in type, but things are hectic as always.

(added handwritten) I am so deeply touched and grateful for your infinite kindness, darling.

Ever your loving

Miss Merle Oberon.

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).

While Gable disliked Selznick, Selznick found Gable "a very nice fellow", but at the same time "a very suspicious one", a man who "very quickly and not infrequently [got] the notion in his head that people [were] taking advantage of him" (said Selznick in a 1939 memo). Selznick did his best to please Gable, especially during production of Gone With the Wind. For instance, when Gable complained about his ill-fitting costumes, Selznick commissioned Gable's favourite tailor Eddie Schmidt to provide Gable with a whole new wardrobe. Also, after George Cukor had been fired as director of GWTW, Gable's preferred director Victor Fleming (his longtime buddy) was hired to replace Cukor. But despite Selznick's actions to keep his star happy, Gable's hostility towards Selznick remained.

It was because of Gable that Selznick was reluctant to work again with Carole Lombard, Gable's wife from 1939 until her death in 1942. Lombard had a contract with Selznick for one more film following their collaboration on Nothing Sacred (1937) and Made for Each Other (1939). Seeing how Gable felt about him, however, Selznick wondered if another film with Gable's wife would be such a good idea. In a letter dated 22 January 1940, Selznick expressed his doubts to Lombard and, understanding the awkward position she was in, relieved her of the obligation to do another picture for him. While he mentioned a possible collaboration in the future, Selznick never worked with Lombard again. (Two years later Lombard was tragically killed in a plane crash.)

Above: Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and David Selznick-- also pictured below with Victor Fleming and Vivien Leigh.

January 22, 1940  
Dear Carole:   
I have received your messages through Myron [Selznick], and am anxious to get together on the [writer Norma] Krasna idea as soon as possible....  
Before we proceed, there is something I would like to discuss with you very frankly. Are you sure, Carole, that we should make another picture together? I know from countless sources how highly you think of me, both as a person and as a producer, and this is a source of great gratification to me. And I shall always look back on our past associations as among the most pleasant of my career. Certainly I have always held you up as the shining example of what a joy it can be to work with a star when that star appreciates a producer's problems and cooperates in their solution. But I must face the fact that you are married to Clark, and that Clark obviously feels quite differently about me.
I had hoped that my dealings with Clark on Gone With the Wind would once and for all disabuse him of any notions he had about me. I cannot think of any particular in which I could have gone further to make him happy in anything ranging from such details as his costumes to such important factors as the script and direction. I even cost myself a very substantial amount of money through keeping him idle, and paying his salary, in order to accommodate him on the schedule as he desired. All through the picture he was frank in expressing his suspicions that I intended to do him in, and I kept pleading with him to wait until the picture was finished and then tell me his opinion. I was under the impression that he was delighted with the final result, but he apparently disassociates me from this final result, if I am to judge from what has been reported back to me, and from items in the press. I regret all this more than I can say, because there has been nothing whatsoever on my side against Clark; and because, as I have repeatedly told him, he contributed in my opinion a really great performance to the effort that meant so much to me.

But if I couldn't and didn't satisfy Clark about myself, as person or producer, on Gone With the Wind, it is not likely that anything I could ever do with him or with his wife would change his opinion. On the contrary, it is much more likely that anything we did together would be regarded with suspicion by him; that you would forever have to be in the position of defending me and my moves to him; that if everything turned out all right, it would still not obviate any embarrassment you may be under through working with me, any more than Gone With the Wind did; and that, if, as can happen to everyone, things turned badly, he would have confirmation of his opinions and suspicions to point to.... Neither of us is used to such strained and peculiar situations as that on the night of the local opening of Gone With the Wind, when I like to believe we should have been in each other's arms. I certainly recognize the awkward position you are in, and cannot expect to come out on the right side when your loyalties are divided. And perhaps some day in the future, attitudes may change, as they do in this business, and it will again be possible for you to do a picture for me with the wholehearted pleasure that we once both knew in our endeavors.

The decision, however, is entirely yours. You would suffer much more from the repercussions in your personal life than would I; and I can stand it if you can. My principal thought in writing this letter is to tell you that freely, and with my blessings and steadfast affection, I will relieve you of your obligation to do a picture for me, provided only that I know in sufficient time to avoid making any commitments for it... And believe me, whichever way you decide, Carole Lombard can have no more earnest fan, personally or as an actress, than

Yours, affectionately and sincerely,
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Carole Lombard, director John Cromwell and David Selznick on the set of Made for Each Other (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".

Donna Reed's wholesome, ordinary girl image prompted many a soldier to write to her and confide in her, as if they were writing to a girl back home. After Reed's death in 1986, it came to light that she had kept about 350 letters from soldiers, secretly hidden in a shoebox. Reed's daughter Mary Owen, who made the letters public, said that her mother had never mentioned them. Still, they must have made an impact on young Donna, who was only 20 years old when America entered the war, about the same age as the majority of the soldiers.

One of the letters Donna Reed had kept in her shoebox was from Lieutenant Norman Klinker (as shown below). In April 1943, 24-year-old Klinker wrote to Reed after he had received a reply from her to an earlier letter. Stationed in North Africa, Klinker commented on his life on the front lines ("One thing I promise you - life on the battlefield is a wee bit different from the "movie" version"). The letter is especially poignant knowing that Klinker did not survive the war. He was killed in action in Italy on 6 January 1944.

Source: The New York Times



APO 251, c/o PM, NYC
April 12th, I think

Dear Donna,

Have just received your letter from the eight of December. And believe me or no, it was the first piece of mail I have received in the past two months. By the sound of your tale, life in the old U.S. is not quite as fine as it used to be. But I honestly feel that it is better than eating the same 3 meals out of the same 3 C-Ration cans for a month or three.

We have been in action for some time here in North Africa, you see. Quite an interesting and a heartless life at one and the same time. One thing I promise you - life on the battlefield is a wee bit different from the "movie" version. Tough and bloody and dirty as it is at times. There is none of that grim and worried feeling so rampant in war pictures. It's a matter-of-fact life we live and talk here. And here for the first time no one has the "jitters." 

I hear you have done your part and done got married. Congratulations and good luck! See you in your next "pic."


Norman Klinker

P.S. Can hardly wait for four years tho - no "pics" here.

This post is my contribution to THE WORLD WAR II BLOGATHON, hosted by MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS and CINEMA ESSENTIALS. Click HERE and HERE to read all the entries!