30 September 2020

"Golden Arrow" seems to make unusually good sense

Bette Davis hated most of the films she made during the first half of the 1930s. There were exceptions like Of Human Bondage (1934), Dangerous (1935) and Petrified Forest (1936), but on the whole she thought the films were duds, doing nothing to advance her career. One of the films Bette despised the most was The Golden Arrow (1936)one of her many collaborations with George Brent. "I was actually insulted to have to appear in such a cheap, nothing story", she later said. The film was one of the "stinkers" responsible for Bette's breach of contract with Warner Bros. and her eventual lawsuit against the studio, which she lost. (During the latter part of the 1930s, she did get significantly better roles, starting with Marked Woman (1937).)

Seeing how much Bette hated The Golden Arrow, it's surprising how she still found something positive to say about it. Not about the film itself or her role in it, admittedly, but about the film's title. On a postcard, postmarked 18 May 1936, Bette wrote that, compared with the average film title, The Golden Arrow made "unusually good sense". Bette's handwritten message, consisting of just two lines, was sent to esteemed collector Saul Goodman and can be seen below.

I actually like a lot of the lighter, fluffier films Bette herself hated, including Golden Arrow. Bette and George are pictured here together in a scene from the film. I think they had the best chemistry.
Source: icollector.com


The title "Golden Arrow" —as compared with the average moving picture title seems to me to make unusually good sense. It means Cupid’s dart—or arrow—instead of being shot because of love—in this case is shot for gold-money!

Bette Davis

[Bette plays a (fake) heiress, chased by suitors who are after her money. In order to get rid of these fortune-hunters, she enters into a marriage of convenience with a reporter, played by Brent]

22 September 2020

The friendship of Martin Landau and James Dean

Martin Landau and James Dean got to know each other in the early 1950s when Dean moved from Fairmont, Indiana, to New York City. Landau had been working as a political cartoonist for the New York Daily News since he was seventeen but, like Dean, wanted to pursue an acting career. The two young men both studied at Lee Strassberg's famous and prestigious acting studio in New York and quickly became friends. Landau, who was three years older than Dean, recalled years later: "James Dean was my best friend. We were two young would-be and still-yet-to-work unemployed actors, dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment... We'd spend lots of time talking about the future, our craft and our chances of success in this newly different, ever-changing modern world we were living in."

When asked if his friend had been destined to die young, Landau resolutely answered "no". "Jimmy never talked about dying. Jimmy talked about living. Jimmy's only concern was that he would become an old boy, like Mickey Rooney. When Elia Kazan tested actors for East of Eden, Paul Newman and Jimmy auditioned on the same day. Paul looked like a man when he was 20, whereas Jimmy was still playing high school kids at 23. That bothered him a bit. But Jimmy did not want to die."

Still, Dean died at the much too young age of 24 on 30 September 1955, after he crashed his Porsche trying to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car. Shocked and devastated by the loss of his friend, Landau wrote the following letter of condolence to Dean's uncle and aunt, Marcus and Orteuse Winslow (who had raised Dean after the death of his mother in 1940), and his father Winton. The image below is a rough draft of the letter that Landau eventually sent.


Dear Mr. + Mrs. Winslow
+ Mr. Dean,

I feel as though I know you, having been one of Jim's oldest + closest friends in New York. I had heard him speak of you, the farm, and Indiana many, many times, with the greatest admiration, love and respect.

In fact, we almost met in November of 1953, when Jim went home for a visit. He asked me to come along but I was rehearsing a play at the time and was unable to get away. I'm sorry now that I didn't, I would have liked very much to have been able to meet you.

I am writing this letter because I know and understand how much you meant to Jimmy. It is hard to believe that he is gone. Last Christmas night, Jimmy had dinner at home with me + my family. For three years my mother had heard me speak of Jimmy, and although they had spoken to him on the telephone, this was the first time they had ever met him. They practically fell in love with him, as did my entire family, and feel now as though they've lost a son.

The news of Jim's death was a terrible shock to me, I can't begin to imagine what his loss must mean to you who raised him and were closer to him than anyone else in the world. I want you to know how terribly sorry I am.

I wish I were better at expressing my sympathy. This boy had every reason in the world to live. None of the comforting phrases apply. All there is to be grateful for is that, young as he was, he had shown his genius, and that remains, even though a thin substitute for his continuing life.

I am proud and happy to have known Jim, both as a fellow actor and a friend. I am going to miss him very much.

There's really nothing more I can say. I am heartsick for you and for everyone who loved him.

Sincerely -

Marty Landau

Source: Indiana Historical Society
(click on the link to read the Winslows' reply)

James Dean and Martin Landau photographed in a New York City diner in 1955. While Dean's career was tragically cut short, Landau would go on to have a long career. Landau's best-known work includes the tv series Mission: Impossible (1966-1969) as well as supporting roles in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest  (1959), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Ed Wood (1994), the latter film earning him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

15 September 2020

It shows that our industry has a warm heart

On 17 April 1961, Elizabeth Taylor received what is generally regarded as a Sympathy Oscar. After having been nominated in the Best Actress category for three consecutive years (i.e. for her performances in Raintree County (1957), Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)), Elizabeth finally won the Oscar for her role in Butterfield 8 (1960).

The role of call-girl Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield was not a part Elizabeth had wanted to play. In fact, she hated it and she also hated the film. However, due to her contractual obligation to MGM, Elizabeth still owed the studio one more film before she was free to do Cleopatra (1963) for 20th Century-Fox. Butterfield was the film MGM wanted her to make, which she then did under protest. (When Butterfield became a box-office hit she famously said: "I still say it stinks".)

Elizabeth had not been a favourite to win the Oscar, but a few months prior to the ceremony she suddenly became very ill. While filming Cleopatra, she contracted double pneumonia and an emergency tracheotomy was performed to save her life. Thinking that Elizabeth had not survived, some newspapers already ran her obituary. (Joan Collins was standing by to take over Elizabeth's role as Cleopatra in case of her death.) The fact that Elizabeth almost died is considered by many the main reason why she ultimately won. Elizabeth herself later acknowledged that her Oscar win had indeed been a sympathy win: "The reason I got the Oscar was that I had come within a breath of dying of pneumonia only a few months before. Nevertheless, I was filled with gratitude when I got it, for it meant being considered an actress and not a moviestar. My eyes were wet and my throat awfully tight. Any of my three previous nominations was more deserving. I knew it was a sympathy award, but I was still proud to get it."

Elizabeth Taylor, seated next to husband Eddie Fisher, is congratulated on her Oscar win by Greer Garson at the Oscar after-party. Elizabeth won a second Best Actress Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), this time for a performance which earned her much critical acclaim. 

Greer Garson was one of Elizabeth's fellow nominees, being nominated for her role as Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at CampobelloThe rest of the nominees were Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment — considered a favourite to win the Oscar, MacLaine would later quip: "I lost to a tracheotomy"Deborah Kerr for The Sundowners and Melina Mercouri for Never on SundayA month after the Oscar ceremony was held, Garson wrote the following letter to Ted Ashton, unit publicist at Warner Bros., in which she gave her opinion on Elizabeth's "sentimental" Oscar win. 

Incidentally, Greer had won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of Mrs. Roosevelt a month earlier, beating Elizabeth who was also nominated.

Source: icollector.com


May 1, 1961

Dear Ted:

How nice of you to write. Have been out of town and found your letter just now on my return.

Certainly missed you at the Academy Awards presentation and am so disappointed that you were prevented from seeing it even on television. Bob Hope paid me a fine compliment when he introduced me and said I had played E.R. so convincingly that now Westbrook Pegler [journalist who had a feud with Mrs. Roosevelt] hates me! If the award of Oscar this year to Elizabeth was a sentimental award, as many claim, then I am very glad indeed because it shows that our industry, often accused of being cold and cynical, has a warm heart. I for one was well pleased to see it go to her at this time and I am sure it will speed her good recovery. She is a fine actress, too, and has done splendid work before and will do lots more, I am sure. As for me, I was thrilled and very happy to have a nomination and to be part of the whole exciting business and occasion.

So you speak German... I have been invited to represent the USA as one of the nine judges at the West Berlin Film Festival this summer. I don't think I am going to be free to accept, but if I were I would beg Messrs. Warner and Orr to give you a couple of weeks leave to come along and help me - provided, of course, that it seemed an interesting project to you.

Well, maybe there will be another opportunity before too long for us to work together. I do hope so. Meanwhile, good luck, Amigo, and all the best as always from

Yours sincerely,

(signed 'Greer')

-Go here to watch a still weak Elizabeth Taylor receive her Oscar.
-Go here to watch the ever elegant Greer Garson present the Best Actor Oscar after being introduced by Bob Hope (as mentioned in her letter).

Greer Garson and Elizabeth Taylor in Julia Misbehaves (1948), their only film together in which Garson played Elizabeth's mother.

11 September 2020

I strongly feel that "The Maltese Falcon" is not an important picture

During his career, George Raft had rejected a lot of roles. He seemed to have made a habit of turning down good parts, often in films that turned out to be classics, e.g. Dead End (1937), High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944). (After rejecting Double Indemnity, Raft later said: "I wasn't very intelligent then".)

One of the roles Raft had refused was the role of private investigator Sam Spade in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. Raft didn't want to work with an inexperienced director the film was Huston's debut and he had no faith in Dashiell Hammett's story as it had been filmed twice before, having flopped both times*. Raft chose to do Raoul Walsh's Manpower (1941) instead, in which he received third billing after Edward G. Robinson and Marlene Dietrich.

*The Maltese Falcon (1931), the first version, was a pre-code starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. The second version was Satan Met a Lady (1936), a loose comedy adaptation of Hammett's story, starring Bette Davis and Warren William as the detective, renamed Ted Shane. 

The role of Sam Spade eventually went to Humphrey Bogart, turning him into a major star. Bogart had been Huston's first choice from the start and Huston was over the moon when Raft rejected the part. I guess we should be grateful to Raft for considering The Maltese Falcon "not an important picture", as he wrote to his boss Jack Warner in the following letter on 6 June 1941. Had Raft accepted and played Spade instead of Bogie, The Maltese Falcon would most likely not be the classic it is today.

Mr. Jack Warner
Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.
Burbank, California
June 6, 1941
Dear Jack:
I am writing to you personally because I feel any difference of opinion that may have arisen between us can be settled in a most friendly manner. As you know, I strongly feel that The Maltese Falcon, which you want me to do, is not an important picture and, in this connection, I must remind you again, before I signed the new contract with you, you promised me that you would not require me to perform in anything but important pictures  in fact, you told me in the presence of Noll Gurney [agent], you would be glad to give me a letter to this effect. A long time has passed since you made this promise to me and I think you should let me have this letter now.
I understand that you are quite agreeable to use someone else in The Maltese Falcon, provided you get an extension of my time. This I think is only fair....
Very sincerely,
George Raft 
Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

6 September 2020

My thanks to you for the break you gave me

Following his successful portrayal of Count Dracula in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi was typecast in horror roles for the rest of his career. He often played opposite his rival Boris Karloff (e.g. in The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939)), with Karloff always receiving top billing, even when Lugosi had the bigger role. Lugosi repeatedly tried to break away from his horror image, but due to his strong Hungarian accent the roles he could play were limited. (He did have a rare non-horror role in Ernst Lubitsch's box-office hit Ninotchka (1939).) 

In the mid-1930s, Universal stopped producing horror films and Lugosi's career started to decline. While Boris Karloff found work in other genres, Lugosi did not. For two years he didn't receive any film offers and tried to work on the stage. Facing serious financial problems, Lugosi had to borrow money from the Actors Fund of America to pay for his baby son's medical bills.

Below: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in a scene from the 1935 The Raven. While Lugosi had the bigger role, he received second billing after Karloff.

Quite unexpectedly, Lugosi's career received a big boost in August 1938 when a Los Angeles film theater showed the 1931 films Dracula and Frankenstein as a double bill. The screening of these two films together was so successful that extra shows were scheduled and Lugosi was hired to make public appearances at the theater. Because of the enormous success of the LA screenings, Universal decided to re-release both pictures nationwide, which led to a major success at the box-office.

Not having produced a new horror film in two years but realising there were still lots of fans of the genre, Universal began to make horror films again. The first film was a big-budget Frankenstein sequel, reuniting Lugosi and Karloff. Entitled Son of Frankenstein (1939), the film became a huge success and Lugosi's role in it is generally considered one of his best. A year later, Universal made another film with Lugosi and Karloff, Black Friday (1940). Although the two men didn't share one single scene, the film did bring them together for a bit of Hollywood publicity.

On 14 January 1940, famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper devoted an article to Lugosi and Karloff in The Los Angeles Times. Hopper had visited and interviewed the men at Karloff's house and had found them to be just a "pair of home-loving folks", talking about the birth of their children, the books they read etc.. A powerful and influential force in Hollywood, Hopper could make or break a career and her positive article inspired Lugosi to write to her and thank her, hoping the article would "increase [his] popularity and cement [his] comeback". Unfortunately, despite his hopes, Lugosi would mainly appear in forgettable low-budget films from then on. (There were a few exceptions such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), a re-teaming with Karloff in The Body Snatcher (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).) In the end, Lugosi died a poor man, buried in the black cape of the character that made him famous.


January 23, 1940

Hedda Hopper
c/o Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, Calif.

My dear Miss Hopper:-

Thru my clipping office I just received that wonderful article you wrote about Karloff and myself on January 14, 1940.

I cannot find the words that would adequately express my thanks to you for the break you gave me . I am sure it will increase my popularity and cement my comeback.

Hopeing [sic] that you will have the kindness to preserve that attitude of goodwill, I beg to remain always - 

gratefully yours.
(signed 'Bela Lugosi')


In November of that same year, Lugosi wrote Hopper another letter in response to an article she had written about the appeal of horror films. Again, he was "deeply grateful" to her for her article, which had been published in the LA Times on 10 November 1940.

Nov. 13, 1940 
Miss Hedda Hopper
Guaranty Bldg.
1945 Hollywood Blvd.
My dear Miss Hopper:

I am writing to express my appreciation for your article in Sunday's Times. 
In my decade as a bogeyman I have read a number of explanations of the popular appeal of horror pictures, but none gave such a lucid and understandable analysis as you did. You hit the nail squarely on the head. 
I feel that your article will help me both in the film industry and with the public in general. So, naturally, I am deeply grateful to you. 
Therefore, my profound thanks.

(signed 'Bela Lugosi')

Source: Robert Edward Auctions

In case you're interested, both Hedda Hopper's articles can be read here.