24 October 2020

I forgot everything you had done for me

A Swedish elevator boy, who worked in the New York building where Kay Brown had her office, once told Brown of his parents' enthusiasm for a new Swedish star named Ingrid Bergman and her role in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936). A talent scout and assistant to producer David Selznick, Brown sought out the film and went "madly overboard about the girl", feeling she was "the beginning and end of all things wonderful". Her boss was very interested in remaking foreign films for the American market and as he loved the story of Intermezzo, Brown was sent to Europe (London) in the fall of 1938 to purchase the film rights. Later Selznick sent Brown back to Europe, this time to Stockholm to find the girl and sign her to a contract. (Bergman and Brown hit it off right away and became close friends.)

In May 1939, Bergman met Selznick for the first time at a Hollywood party at Miriam Hopkins' house. Selznick immediately told her that certain things wouldn't do —her name was impossible, her eyebrows too thick and her teeth no good— to which Bergman said she would go back to Sweden if he tried to change her. Realising she meant it, Selznick got an idea. He would do what no one in Hollywood had ever done before. He would allow Bergman to keep her real name and to remain herself. No heavy make-up, no plucking of eyebrows, nothing about her was to be changed. Ingrid Bergman, the Swedish star, was going to be the first "natural" actress in Hollywood.

Earlier, in Stockholm at Bergman's home, Kay Brown had already negotiated Bergman's contract. Selznick wanted to give Bergman the standard seven-year contract, but her husband Petter Lindström objected. In the end, a contract was signed for one picture with the option to do another. 

The picture was, as said, Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), Selznick's remake of the Swedish Intermezzo, in which Bergman reprised her role of the piano teacher. Immediately after production of the film had ended, Bergman returned to Sweden to make Juninatten (1940). She had loved her Hollywood adventure and desperately hoped that Selznick would want her back for another film. Well, she needn't have worried, because aboard the Queen Mary en route to Sweden she received a telegram saying: "Dear Ingrid. You are a very lovely person and you warm all our lives. Have a marvellous time but come back soon. Your boss." 

In her diary (her "Book"), Bergman wrote about Selznick in the summer of 1939, while aboard the Queen Mary:
From the first minute, I liked him and every day my admiration and my affection grew. He knew his metier so well; he was artistic and stubborn and worked himself to the bone. Sometimes we worked until five o'clock in the morning. I would come to him with all my problems. He left important meetings to come out and discuss with me a pair of shoes. Hundreds of times he saved me from the publicity department. I trusted him when we saw the rushes and he told me what he thought. His judgement was very hard but it was just. To work for him is often terribly demanding and very hard on the nerves. But always there is the feeling that you have somebody to help with understanding, encouragement, and wisdom, and that is beyond price. When I left, he asked me to sign an enormous photograph, and I wrote: For David, I have no words, Ingrid. Which is true.

Back in Hollywood, Bergman was signed to a five-year contract with Selznick. During those five years she would work with him on only two more films, both directed by Alfred Hitchcock, i.e. Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946). For her other films she was loaned out to other studios — e.g. Casablanca (1942) to Warner Bros, For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943) to Paramount, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and Gaslight (1944) to MGM, and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) to RKO. Towards the end of the five-year period, Selznick tried to sign Bergman to a new contract (for seven years) but she wanted more freedom and decided to go freelance

Being loaned out all these years, Bergman knew that Selznick had made huge profits on her. She didn't mind, as she loved her work and was earning a lot more than she ever did in Sweden. However, with the expiration of her contract, Bergman felt she was entitled to some of the money Selznick had earned by loaning her out. When she asked him for money, Selznick became offended and angry and would not speak to her anymore. He found her ungrateful, seeing that he was the one who had made her a big star. Bergman, in turn, was very hurt by Selznick's anger, as she had always looked up to him and regarded him as a father and mentor. 
The three films Bergman did for Selznick: Intermezzo with Leslie Howard, Spellbound with Gregory Peck and Notorious with Cary Grant. Notorious started out as a Selznick production but, busy with Duel in the Sun (1946), Selznick lost interest and sold the rights to RKO. Nevertheless, with a 50% stake in the profits, Selznick (being Selznick) kept meddling in the project. Hitchcock was eventually credited as the film's producer.

In January 1947, Selznick wrote Bergman a long letter, pointing out all he had done for her and accusing her of being ungrateful and unreasonable for demanding a $60,000 compensation for a film she had never made. Selznick's letter is seen below, although it won't be shown in full as it really is quite looong. The letter is very unusual, because —in order to get his point across— Selznick had made it appear as though it was a letter from Bergman to him. David Thomson, Selznick's biographer, once said that he found it a wonderful idea for a letter but "one that a grown man should have abandoned in the morning".

Incidentally, the $60,000 compensation was eventually paid.

Mr. David O. Selznick
Selznick Studio
Culver City, California

January 13, 1947

Dear David:
I shall set forth herein a summary of the facts in my dispute with you. It is agreed that upon your receipt of my signature to these facts, you will pay me $60,000 in payment for the picture that I did not make for you under my contract, and for which I am claiming compensation.
These facts are as follows: 
You brought me to this country when I was unknown to American- or English-speaking audiences. When I finished my contract with you, under your management, I had become one of the greatest stars in the world, this development taking place entirely while I was under your management.  
When my contract drew near to an end, our negotiations for a new contract bogged down upon your insistence on an exclusive contract for a period of seven years. Through these long negotiations, which had gone on for years, I repeatedly assured you that there could be not the slightest question about my continuing with you, but that I wanted to be free to do an occasional picture on the outside. I stated to you verbally and in writing, and repeatedly, that there could be not the slightest question but that I would continue with you. I made these statements right up to a few months before the expiration of my contract with you.
When I went to Europe, I sent you a letter, a copy of which is attached hereto, in which among other things I said, "I think friendship and trust are of more worth than a piece of paper called contract. And if you never get that slip of paper you still will have, changed or unchanged, whatever you think, but still, your Ingrid.
Unfortunately for you, when I returned from Europe, and had everything that I wanted, I forgot all about my promises and statements through the years. I forgot everything you had done for me. I forgot my promises, and even my letter. And I demanded payment for the picture which I asked you to give up, and which you had given up, and which could have been one of the subjects listed above, on which you would, of course, have made a great deal of money, as well as absorbed your overhead, which was idle, largely as a result of my not making a picture. It is true that I entertained the troops on my own insistent desire to do so, but I didn't see and still don't see why you shouldn't pay me $60,000 for having done so.
complained that you did not make more pictures with me, both privately and in the press. I neglected to say to anybody that you wanted to buy The Valley of Decision and make it with me, but that I didn't want to do it; or that you wanted to make The Spiral Staircase with me... or that you wanted to do Katie for Congress [The Farmer's Daughterwith me; or that you wanted to buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and make it with me, making it more the story of the mother, but that I didn't care to do it, and that Twentieth Century-Fox thereupon bought it and made it into a great success for themselves and for your Dorothy McGuire; or that you wanted to make Anna Christie with me, but that I didn't want to do it because Garbo had done it; or that you wanted to make Anna Karenina but that I didn't want to do it, for the same reason; or that there were half a dozen other stories you wanted to make with me, but that I didn't like; or that you took the unprecedented attitude that you would lend me to others for pictures I wanted to make rather than ask me to do pictures that you wanted to make, but in roles that I didn't care for.
Throughout the years, you devoted an enormous amount of time to going over material for me, and to reading scripts submitted from every studio in town, in order to be sure that I was the first actress in the history of the screen that had her pick of the best stories of every studio in town, plus the insistence of yourself as to how the picture should be set up and who should make them in each department. This insistence on your part meant that I had Fleming, Cukor, Curtiz, Wood, McCarey as my directors; that I had the best cameramen in the business, all selected and approved by you, since I didn't know any of them; that I had Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant as my leading men, although any other rising young actress would have given her eye teeth for any one of these occasionally, and all of this through the formative period of my career. I am aware that I was the envy of every young actress in town, and even of every already established star, and that a great deal of trouble was caused at other studios by actresses who contrasted your handling of me with what they had to play in, whom they had to be directed by, and scripts, stories, leading men, publicity, etc..
When everyone in Hollywood disbelieved in me and wondered why you had brought me over, and through the long period when you couldn't lend me to anyone, and through the secondary period when you were lending me at cost and at less than cost, you insisted that I was the great actress of this generation, that I would be the greatest star in the industry, that I would be the Academy Award winner, that I would be universally acclaimed...
And in consideration of the above, I herewith make demand upon you for €60,000 for the picture which I asked you not to make, and for the period that I was entertaining troops. Upon payment of this amount to me, you are free of the obligation which I feel that you owe me, having had the privilege and glory of lifting me from obscurity to great stardom.
Ingrid Bergman 

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

In the end, Bergman and Selznick did part as friends. Realising he had to let her go, Selznick wrote Bergman this goodbye letter, wishing her luck for the future.

Dear Ingrid, 
I am informed that even Dan O'Shea [Selznick's associate] has reluctantly and at long last come to the conclusion that no new deal with us has been seriously envisaged as part of your future plans. This conclusion comes as no surprise to me, despite our final reliance and faith that I expressed in our conversation and in no way lessens my sorrow over our 'divorce' after so many years of happy marriage. You once said you had 'two husbands'. But Petter was the senior, and of course he knew all the time that his will would prevail. I do regret all the futile gestures and elaborate 'negotiations' but that is all I do regret in a relationship which will always be a source of pride to me. I am sure you know that I have the greatest confidence that your career will go steadily up to new heights, achieving in full the promise of your great talent; and that my good wishes will always be yours no matter what you do. So long Ingrid! May all the New Years beyond bring you everything of which you dream. 

Source: Ingrid Bergman: My Story (1980) by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess 

15 October 2020

Hoping I will always live up to your praises

In Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) fifteen-year-old Judy Garland sang You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It) to a photograph of Clark Gable. It proved to be her breakthrough performance, making her an overnight sensation. Wishing to capitalise on her success, Judy's studio MGM immediately paired her with Mickey Rooney, at the time a big box-office star, their partnership subsequently bringing about a string of successful films. By the end of the 1930s, Judy had become a big star herself. Her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939) along with her immortal rendition of Over the Rainbow forever established her fame.

On 2 August 1937, a few weeks before the release of Broadway Melody of 1938, Judy wrote the following letter to famed gossip columnist Walter Winchell after he had said some nice things about her in his column and radio program. "They mean so much to a person who is just getting started like me", she wrote to him, not knowing then that Broadway Melody would soon catapult her career and her life would never be the same again.

Source: psacard.com


San Francisco
Mon. Aug 02, 1937

Dear Mr. Winchell

This is just a note to tell you how much I appreciate the lovely things you said about me, both in your column and on your radio program.

They mean so much to a person who is just getting started like me.

Hoping I will always live up to your praises, and deserve them.

I'm sincerely yours



At a fundraising event in 1951: Judy Garland flanked by Milton Berle, Ray Robinson and Walter Winchell (far right).

11 October 2020

Grace Kelly's favourite teenage books

In April 1966, Evelyn Byrne (Faculty Advisor at the Elizabeth Barrett Browning High School in New York City) wrote Grace Kelly a letter on behalf of her students, asking her for a list of her favourite teenage books. Grace, who had been Princess of Monaco since 1956, was busy at the time with the Monte-Carlo Centenary and through her secretary initially rejected the school's request. Eventually, a year or so later, Grace did comply, giving Miss Byrne the information she had asked for. 

Below you'll find Grace's letter with her favourite teen books, showing that apart from poetry she seemed to have favoured adventure books. 

Grace reads The Silent World, a 1953 book co-written by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Frédéric Dumas. 


Among my favorite books as a teenager were, "The Call of the Wild", "Typhoon" and, of course, "Black Beauty". Since I was a teenager during World War II, I was also very impressed with books like "The Raft" and "The White Cliffs of Dover". 

I was very fond of poetry, such as "Evangeline", and among my favorite poets are Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley.  

(signed 'Grace de Monaco')

Princess Grace of Monaco 

In case you're not familiar with the books in question, here are the authors:
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
Typhoon by Joseph Conrad (1902)
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)
The Raft by Robert Trumbull (1942)
The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller (1940), poem
Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847), poem

6 October 2020

Tying at the Oscars

Oscar ties rarely happen. Of the 92 times the Oscars have been awarded, there were only six ties. Four times the ties occurred in minor categories: 

1950 (22nd Oscars) – Best Documentary Short Subject: A Chance To Live (Richard De Rochemont and James L. Shute) and So Much For So Little (Chuck Jones and Edward Selzer) 
1987 (59th Oscars) – Best Documentary Feature: Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got (Brigitte Berman) and Down And Out In America (Joseph Feury and Milton Justice)
1995 (67th Oscars) – Best Live Action Short Film: Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (Peter Capaldi and Ruth Kenley-Letts) and Trevor (Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone)
2013 (85th Oscars) – Best Sound Editing: Skyfall (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers) and Zero Dark Thirty (Paul N.J. Ottosson) 

Twice in Oscar history the tie happened in a major acting category. The first time was in November 1932 at the 5th Academy Awards, when both Fredric March and Wallace Beery took home the prize for Best Actor. March won for his role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Beery for The Champ. Technically, March alone should have won since he got one more vote than Beery. At the time, however, the Academy rules stipulated that if a fellow nominee came within three votes of the winner, both would get the Oscar. By 1950, the rules had been changed, and only if candidates received the exact same number of votes it would qualify as a tie.

Wallace Beery (far left) and Fredric March with their Oscars, pictured here with Lionel Barrymore and Master of Ceremonies Conrad Nagel.

Another tie occurred on 14 April 1969 at the 41st Academy Awards, which is now the best-known tie in Oscar history. In the Best Actress category there were two actresses who had received exactly 3,030 votes each, i.e. Katharine Hepburn for her role as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand for her debut film performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Presenter Ingrid Bergman was shocked and surprised after she opened the envelope, exclaiming: "The winner... it's a tie!" It was Hepburn's 11th Oscar nomination and her third win. (She had previously won for Morning Glory (1933) and for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and would even win a fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981).) Hepburn never came to the ceremony to receive her Oscar  "As for me, prizes are nothingMy prize is my work", she once said  and on this occasion it was the film's director Anthony Harvey who received the Oscar on her behalf. Of course newcomer Barbra Streisand did show up and was very happy with her prize, as can be seen in this clip.

Veteran Katharine Hepburn and newcomer Barbra Streisand in their Oscar-winning roles (above) and Streisand receiving her prize while Anthony Harvey accepts Hepburn's (below).
Following the Oscar tie, Hepburn sent Streisand a congratulatory telegram. Unfortunately I don't have this wire to show you, but below you'll find Streisand's reply to Hepburn. Streisand concludes her note jokingly with the remark "Do you have start singing as well!!!", referring to Hepburn's first and only Broadway musical Coco which would premiere later that year. Hepburn had no illusions when it came to her singing and reportedly later said: "I sound like Donald Duck". (Watch Hepburn as Coco Chanel here; she starts singing 8:15 minutes into the clip.)

Source: oscars.org


Dear Kate — (I feel I should still call you Miss Hepburn)
How very nice of you to send me such a lovely wire —
I, too, am most honored to share this with you —
but, there's one question I have to ask —
It's tough enough being in the same business with you—
but, do you have to start singing as well !!!!
with much admiration