30 April 2020

The Peculiar Marriage of Jean Peters & Howard Hughes

Eccentric billionaire, business tycoon, aviator and film producer Howard Hughes dated a lot of famous Hollywood actresses (including Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers and Gene Tierney) but married only one — Jean Peters. The two had met at a party in 1946 and had an on-and-off romance for several years. In 1954, Peters married Texas oilman Stuart Cramer but the marriage was shortlived and afterwards she resumed her relationship with Hughes. Peters and Hughes, then resp. thirty and fifty-one years oldeventually tied the knot in a secret ceremony in Tonopah (Nevada) in May 1957. During her marriage to Hughes, Peters abandoned her film career and hardly ever appeared in public. She refused to give interviews about her life with Hughes, even after their divorce in 1971. (As a divorce settlement Peters was given a relatively modest $70,000 per year. She never made any claims on Hughes' estate.)

Howard Hughes with (from left to right) Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis and Ava Gardner  three of the many famous Hollywood actresses he dated.

The Peters-Hughes marriage was, to say the least, unconventional. After the couple got married, they lived in separate bungalows at the Beverly Hills hotel for several years. When they finally moved in together at Peters' insistence— they still had their own living quarters, seeing each other only occasionally. It was during his marriage with Peters that Hughes became more and more mentally unstable. He got obsessed with germ contamination and also developed bizarre rituals (e.g. storing his own urine in jars). Hughes' behaviour grew increasingly weird and at some point Peters couldn't see her husband anymore unless she made an appointment through one of his aides. With Hughes turning into a recluse, Peters continued to live her own life while pursuing her own interests, like studying sociology at UCLA in 1969. In the end, the couple had spent more time apart than together during a marriage that lasted fourteen years. 

Jean Peters and Howard Hughes — not a single picture of them together can be found on the internet (and I looked hard!).

Several Hughes biographers have speculated about why Hughes married Peters when he did, having been a bachelor for thirty years.* They believe that Hughes (already mentally unstable by the time he married Peters) was afraid the CEO of his company Noah Dietrich was going to declare him mentally incompetent and have him committed. Being married would protect him from this, since in California a husband could not be committed without the consent of his wife. 

While Hughes may have had an ulterior motive for marrying Peters, he seemed to have loved her (and she him), judging from the following messages they wrote to each other. (It is even said that Peters was the only woman Hughes had ever loved.) Living in separate quarters, the couple was known to communicate through handwritten notes, i.e. messages often written on the same piece of paper which were (I imagine) carried back and forth between them by one of Hughes' aides. The notes below are undated, but were written at a time in their marriage when Peters and Hughes would see each other briefly around 11 PM before returning to their separate bedrooms.

Hughes was married once before to Ella Botts Rice from 1925 until 1929. Actress Terry Moore said she had also been Hughes' wife, having married him in 1949 aboard a ship with the ceremony performed by the ship captain. Moore claimed that Hughes had destroyed the ship log, so there was no official record of their marriage. 

Source: Heritage Auctions


My Very Dearest,

I love you so much. I will be expecting you tonight and I will try to have something you will like to watch. Please love me back and please don't give me up as a lost cause yet.

I hope not to have any stomach-aches tonight, and I am having the Dr. come now, so we won't be troubled with him. If something upsets you tonight, please write me a note and tell me about it.

I love you again and again and then some more.


Dearest love,

I will be looking forward to seeing you at 10:30 or 11:00. I love you very much.



It's only 1/2 finished + it's good. She's the old D W Griffith type. Vera is his daughter. He has absolute no scruples. I can't imagine where our hero is going to wind up after he takes out that policy. The boy plans to murder the old fox but I think Carradine will beat him to it.

That last close-up was overdone. C'est tous!  Why did you indicate disbelief?
It sounds terrific. Will it be the 1st Symphony in the new theater?

I think the conductor is very famous.
If you want to, ok - but that won't help my situation.
I just want to burp.

Source: Heritage Auctions


Dearest Love,

I adore you. I was thinking about your mother. I do so little for her - would you mind if I send a wire suggesting that we send a driver to any place along the way (where she may have had enough of billboards + good old U.S scenery) who would pick up her automobile and put her + Red on one of those beautiful brand new jets with the movies just like the president's.

Think about it, and tell me when we are together.

I love you some more,


You support her - that's enough 
I love you 
Hope you will be ready to say good-night about 11:00. I have the C 
So I am feeling mean and I want to get some sleep 
Tomorrow is my birthday - which you will probably forget - like the color sample book - which was not on the table as you promised.
I do not expect a present - but please send me some flowers - so I won't be embarassed if Shirl +  kids come by.


Me [drawing] grrrr 
(added by Hughes: Excellent artistry) 

You were very unfair to assume I forgot the samples. I went thru the pile of material to my left, as you can see from the placement of newsweek there. I gave samples to Geo. with clear and emphatic instructions to put on your table in hall the next time he passed thru hall. This to avoid any possible unnecessary walking in hall (footsteps, "scratching around door" etc.)

He evidently forgot, as I see the samples where he temporarily placed on marble table.

would have disclosed location + the man on duty could have brought out.

You'll see


I told you the other night

50 times I would have

I'm sorry. I sent John as soon as Dr. left

Source: Heritage Auctions


My Dearest Love,

This is just to let you know I am thinking about you.

Please, tonight, remember that every single minute I am loving you and please for this one night, tell your mind to stay on happy thoughts. I promise that you will feel it was justified.

I love you some more. Teahouse with Brando is on. Maybe you would like to try a few feet of it. I will send a smoke signal about eleven. I still love you more.


Dearest Love -

I will remember you are loving me. I love you too - I'm watching Secret Agent - I await your call-

Love, J.

If I am boatless I may kill myself.

Ferrer's alibi is that he was in hospital unable — actually he anesthetizes himself thru hypnosis so he can stand the pain.

you can imagine what a ball Ferrer can have with a scene like that.

I love you!

No, I have not done an about face in my type of movie. I just wanted to see a few minutes of this to see how you like the beard.

He made a trademark of it.

Prisoner of Zenda
Dean Jagger

Of course we both know this one just as
well but at least it's not quite as daffy.

And it has José the great.

That is a hideous airplane.
In the cigarette ad.


It's terrible - he rapes her

One of those early Ida Lupino quickies.

Then she cracks up completely

I love you little sweetheart.

20 April 2020

A fan - from a fan

Bette Davis, a fan of Elizabeth Taylor  who would have thought? 

Well, apparently Bette was, judging from a note written to Elizabeth for her birthday. Bette's note (accompanying a gift which was "a fan") read: Dear Elizabeth - Happy Birthday - I am one also! Bette

The fan and the note were among the items Elizabeth had kept at her home at 700 Nimes Road, Los Angeles  the house where she lived from 1982 until her death in 2011.

Bette and Elizabeth never worked together, but Elizabeth once did an impersonation of Bette on the big screen. In the opening scene of Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? (1966)Elizabeth imitates Bette saying the line "What a dump" a few times, a line Bette herself had uttered in the film Beyond the Forest (1949).

November 1981: Bette presents Elizabeth with the Filmex Trustees Award during a ceremony at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Source: Public Delivery

15 April 2020

We'll both be proud of our figures!

Mae West was a successful stage actress and playwright before she moved to Hollywood in 1932. At a relatively late age (almost forty years old), West was put under contract at Paramount and had her first starring role in She Done Him Wrong (1933), based on her own successful play Diamond Lil. Adapted for the screen by Harvey Thew, John Bright and West herself, the film became a box-office hit, allegedly saving Paramount from bankruptcy. West's next film I'm No Angel (1933) — story, screenplay and dialogue written by West with help from Harlan Thompson  was also a huge success and ultimately proved to be the most successful film of her career.

Mae West and Cary Grant in a scene from I'm No Angel. The film contains some of West's best-known lines, such as "Oh Beulah, peel me a grape!", "Well, it's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men" and "When I'm good I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better".

To promote I'm No Angel, West wrote letters to several theatres, encouraging them to play her new film. The letter below, written in true West fashion, was sent to a theatre in Louisiana just a month before the film's premiere. I'm No Angel was West's last film before the establishment of the Production Code Administration in July 1934, her films being heavily censored from then on.

Source: Mae West


September 11, 1933

Manager, Affiliated Theatres, Inc.
Mavins Theatre
Reseve, Louisiana

Dear Sir:

I'm no angel ... but I've spread my wings a few times!

I know what every young girl should know ... and a couple of things they ought to forget!!

But -- what I'm learning every day, is a little bit more about show business! I've learned a lot about it in the past, but anybody who thinks he knows all about show business is screwy! When the complete textbook on show business is written it will contain nothing but figures -- not the kind that bulge in front and behind -- and certainly not written in red.

The way I've doped it out ... it'll be full of figures that come from box-offices! I've been accused of writing with one eye on the script and the other on the box-office, and on that accusation I'm willing to stand convicted, and I promise never to get my eyes crossed, either.

"I'M NO ANGEL" --- (and you can take that title as a warning from me)--- is my new picture. I believe I've got a story that's a honey! Something the neighbors will talk about over their back-fences! My first starring picture --- "She Done Him Wrong"... got 'em all into a huddle. My new one will knock 'em for a goal! That's not a boast, it's confidence--- the only kind worth having.

There never was any kind of dame, anywhere, that worried more about her figure than a showman does about his! I mean the one he reads and either weeps or sings about at the end of the week.

I've produced shows of my own, so I know first-hand what co-operation between the show and theatre management means at the box-office. Let's co-operate.

Ask the folks to "come up and see me" in "I'M NO ANGEL"... and we'll both be proud of our figures!!


'Mae West'

10 April 2020

My face lit up with delight and pleasure

Jurassic Park (1993) was a huge success upon release. It became the highest-grossing film ever at the time, holding that record until Titanic in 1997. Of all the congratulatory letters director Steven Spielberg received following Jurassic's premiere, there was one he cherished in particular. The letter-writer was a classic Hollywood actor whom the director had long admired  Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. Unfortunately I don't have Fairbanks' letter to show you but Spielberg's charming reply, written two weeks after the film's premiere, can be read below.

Source: Doyle


June 22, 1993

Dear Mr. Fairbanks,

As you might have guessed, I've received a lot of wonderful, congratulatory letters about JURASSIC PARK, both about the film and the business it's doing. But no letter compares to the way my face lit up with delight and pleasure when I received your kind note.

You must know what a tremendous fan I am of you and your history in this industry I so dearly love. Your letter to me means so much, and I'm sure if you visit my office, you'll see it framed against one of the walls. 

All my best and thank you again,

Steven Spielberg

4 April 2020

"Rebecca": The Search for the Second Mrs de Winter

First published in August 1938, Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca was an immediate success. Before publication Alfred Hitchcock had read galley proofs of the book and thought about buying the property but felt the asking price was too high. In the end, it was David Selznick who purchased the film rights for $50,000 and then hired Hitchcock to direct. 

When casting Rebecca (1940), for the male lead Selznick fairly quickly settled on Laurence Olivier to play the role of brooding Maxim de Winter. The producer had initially wanted to cast Ronald Colman but Colman declined. Other actors considered for the part were William Powell, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Howard.

The casting of the female lead  to play the second Mrs de Winter, in the book described as a nail-biting girl, "insecure", "awkward" and "tortured by shyness"  was a different and longer story. In 1938, Selznick started testing 21-year-old Joan Fontaine who until then had appeared mainly in B-movies. While Selznick immediately considered Fontaine a serious candidate, no one understood what he saw in her. Fontaine's studio RKO had decided to let her go (feeling she had thus far shown little promise) and also at Selznick's studio nobody was impressed with her. In Hollywood Fontaine was even dubbed "the wooden woman" by a number of people who felt she lacked talent. With nobody else seeing Fontaine's potential, Selznick decided to forgot about her and began testing other actresses, both established and unknown ("At one point, I weakened and decided I couldn't be the only sensible person in the world, and allowed Miss Fontaine's option to drop").

Vivien Leigh, fresh from Gone with the Wind (1939), was one of the other actresses tested. Leigh was quite eager to play the role after her lover Laurence Olivier had been cast as Maxim, but she was considered totally unsuitable. Joan Fontaine's sister Olivia de Havilland was also anxious to play the part but Warners was unwilling to lend her out and besides, she was already committed to Raffles (1939) on loan out to Samuel Goldwyn. Despite being interested in the role, De Havilland had refused to be tested since her sister was also up for it. (If De Havilland had been available, Selznick may very well have cast her instead of Fontaine; a memo from Selznick to his associate Daniel O'Shea on 1 August 1939 indicates that at that time De Havilland was the producer's first choice: "Before we finally decide on who is to play the lead in Rebecca, which I think we must do in the next couple of days, I want to make sure we have exhausted every possible means of getting Olivia de Havilland."In all, about 30 actresses were tested for the role of the second Mrs de Winter, with most tests taking place from May through August 1939. Among the other candidates were Nova Pilbeam, Loretta Young, Anita Louise, Audrey Reynolds and Jean Muir. 

Screen testing for Rebecca: Joan Fontaine and a very young Anne Baxter who were the last two candidates (above) and Margaret Sullavan and Vivien Leigh (below). Leigh was tested twice, once with Laurence Olivier and once with Alan Marshal (in the photo). Leigh's screen test with Olivier can be seen here and Fontaine's test here

By mid-August 1939, with almost all of the candidates ruled out, there were three actresses left, i.e. Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter and Selznick's initial choice Joan Fontaine. In a memo to his business partner John Hay "Jock" Whitney (as seen below), Selznick talks about the ruled-out candidates, the final candidates and their pros and cons. With less than two weeks before filming was to start, Selznick was still undecided about who should play Du Maurier's heroine. While he felt that Fontaine was perfect in type, he still had doubts about her acting ability and wanted her to do more tests. At that point, the producer seemed more inclined to use sixteen-year-old Anne Baxter who he thought was more sincere and touching than Fontaine. Baxter had a lot of supporters, among them Hitchcock's wife Alma who thought Fontaine "too coy and simpering to a degree that [was] intolerable".

In the end, Selznick went with his first hunch, reminding himself that Fontaine would be directed by a great director. The film went into production in early September 1939 and Selznick's gamble eventually paid off. Fontaine proved to be the perfect second Mrs de Winter, earning herself an Oscar nomination for her performance (of course she should have won instead of getting the Oscar for Suspicion (1941))Rebecca was nominated for a further ten Oscars (including nominations for Hitchcock and Olivier), winning only two, i.e. George Barnes for Best Cinematography and David Selznick for Best Picture.

Jock Whitney (far left) and David Selznick (center) photographed at the premiere of Gone with the Wind with Selznick's wife Irene, Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

August 18, 1939 
To: Mr. John Hay Whitney 
The situation on the lead for Rebecca is as follows: 
We have definitely ruled out Anita Louise as giving a very good performance and one that we should bear in mind for the road company. 
I feel Loretta Young is a very good bet, and that with a few good pictures, she is the logical successor to Joan Crawford  but we don't think she is right for Rebecca. 
Olivia de Havilland, despite our conviction that she might be superb in the role, and her own anxiety to play it, we have had to rule out because it would mean dealing with Sam Goldwyn and the Warners. 
Our feelings about Vivien [Leigh] are very clearly expressed in the attached radiograms which I have sent today in answer to a series of them from Larry [Olivier] and Vivien respectively. [Robert] Sherwood and [George] Cukor respectively, and without any prompting whatsoever, made the same comments that Hitchcock and I made — that she doesn't seem at all right as to sincerity or age or innocence or any of the other factors which are essential to the story coming off at all. Sometimes you can miscast a picture and get away with it, but there are certain stories, such as Rebecca, where miscasting of the girl will mean not simply that the role is badly played but that the whole story doesn't come off — with, in some cases, the maddening result that the player who has been miscast is credited with a great performance and the picture is considered very bad. 
I am convinced that we would be better off making this picture with a girl who had no personality whatever and who was a bad actress but was right in type than we would be to cast it with Vivien. Bette Davis is also an enormously effective actress and she would, in our opinion, be just about as right for it as Vivien would — in fact, more right, since she doesn't have the wrong qualities that Vivien has, and apparently can't get away from. 
This brings us down to three candidates, apart from any that may show up from [Jenia] Reissar or from New York or Hollywood at the last minute, which is, of course, an extremely long-shot chance — which never comes true except in the case of Vivien Leigh and Gone With the Wind! 
The three candidates are Margaret Sullavan, Joan Fontaine, and Anne Baxter. 
Most of the people in the studio who haven't studied the picture or its casting, as have Hitch and Sherwood and myself, were more enthusiastic about Margaret Sullavan than about anyone else (until they saw the Anne Baxter test, which changed the opinion of a large number of them). Apparently, her voice and her personality are so appealing that they don't stop to think that there is practically not one scene in the picture the qualities of which would not be affected by casting Sullavan. Imagine Margaret Sullavan being pushed around by Mrs. Danvers, right up to the point of suicide! Imagine Margaret Sullavan wishing she were a woman of thirty in a long, black dress!! 
This then reduces it to two candidates. The first is Joan Fontaine. I had pretty well decided to forget her for the role since I couldn't get anybody on the studio staff, excepting only Hal Kern, or anybody in the New York office to agree with me that she was physically an ideal choice for the role and that from a performance standpoint she obviously (or at least, so I thought) was the only one who seemed to know completely what the part was all about. However, several things happened in succession — Hitchcock started swinging around to her after listening to discussions of the part by Sherwood, myself, etc.; John Cromwell (who had made her first test) in the course of a conversation stated that he thought we were out of our minds not to put her in the part; and when I ran the tests for Bob Sherwood, he stated unequivocally and without the slightest prompting on our part of any kind that apart from his liking for Sullavan, there was no question but that Fontaine was far and away the best for the role. Encouraged by this, I decided to get George Cukor over here to run all the tests, bearing in mind that George is a great enthusiast of Vivien's and a great personal friend of hers, and also that he and Cromwell are the two men who, in my career of producing, have demonstrated the most accurate sense of casting. I was careful not to give George any prompting whatsoever, and he looked at them all very seriously and quietly and conscientiously and with no comment at all during the running, except for some loud guffaws at Vivien's attempts to play it. When they were all over, he said that in his opinion the most touching test was that of Anne Baxter, but that if it were up to him and he had to start the picture immediately, he would without any hesitation select Fontaine from this group of six. (Leigh, Fontaine, Sullavan, Louise, Young, and Anne Baxter.) 
I neglected to mention above that Sherwood saw this same group, including the Baxter tests. But Sherwood voted third for Baxter. 
Now, the situation on Fontaine is curiously complicated since her engagement to Brian Aherne, whom she is marrying tomorrow, Saturday. I have told her of my feelings that she could not sustain the part and that she might be monotonous through the entire picture; and that as a consequence we would be very hesitant about casting her in the role until and unless we saw other tests of her which she had, for a couple of days before I spoke with her, refused to make (saying that she would be delighted and honored to play the part but that she didn't want to make any more tests). I said to her yesterday that what we would like to see is three or four scenes from various parts of the picture to get the full range of her performance. Unfortunately, her face is swollen with an impacted wisdom tooth (and not so good for a honeymoon), and therefore she couldn't make the tests today or any time before her marriage tomorrow. She said that she would be delighted to cut her honeymoon short, coming back after a week if we decide to put her in the part; and further that she would cut her honeymoon short to make further tests. 
As to Anne Baxter versus Fontaine: I think she has more sincerity than Fontaine, and that she is much more touching, in the word of Cukor, in the scenes. I think she is a shade young, although it is entirely possible that this would turn into an advantage. She is ten times more difficult to photograph than Fontaine, and I think it is a little harder to understand Max de Winter marrying her than it would be Fontaine. Yet I have decided that the best thing to do would be to try to work out a deal today with Baxter, closing with her, and gambling the comparatively small amount of money that would be involved if we don't use her. 
So at the moment, it looks as though the setup is about two-thirds in favor of Baxter, one third in favor of Fontaine. (Incidentally, Irene's vote is for Fontaine, with Baxter second.) 
I do wish you would be very careful not to let on anything about this final choice since it might affect our negotiations with one or both girls, since it would completely spoil our publicity breaking, and since it might get us in wrong with the press if it leaked and we should subsequently change our minds. 
I am in agreement with your comment that it would be a mistake to show the Baxter test to Vivien or Larry. And further, I think that if Vivien and Larry ask, as they almost certainly will, who is up for the role, it would be better if you both said that we have several girls from whom we haven't made our final selection.  
If there are any last-minute choices that turn up, please wire or telephone. 
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.


According to Selznick, at the time of dictating his memo, Hitch was just "swinging around to" Fontaine. Several sources claim that Hitch's first choice had been Margaret Sullavan. Hitch himself, however, remembered things differently in his 1962 interview with French director François Truffaut, saying he had wanted to cast Fontaine all along.
In the preparatory stages of Rebecca, Selznick insisted on testing every woman in town, known or unknown, for the lead in the picture. I think he really was trying to pull the same publicity stunt he pulled in the search for Scarlett O'Hara. He talked all the big stars in town into doing tests for Rebecca. I found it a little embarrassing my self, testing women who I knew in advance were unsuitable for the part. All the more so since the earlier tests of Joan Fontaine had convinced me that she was the nearest one to our heroine. 

This post is my contribution to THE 2020 CLASSIC LITERATURE ON FILM BLOGATHON hosted by SILVER SCREEN CLASSICS. For the other entries, go herehere and here!

Above: Joan Fontaine at the Oscar Ceremony, held in February 1941, with David Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock and Judith Anderson. The latter was the perfect Mrs Danvers. Below: Fontaine and Laurence Olivier on the set of Rebecca with Hitchcock.