31 January 2021

You must be told how shamelessly little I have to offer

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten met in 1934, became good friends and ultimately worked together on a number of films, including Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Third Man (1949). In the summer of 1966, Welles was casting his forthcoming film The Immortal Story (1968) and, eager to work with Cotten again, asked his friend to participate. (Renowned French actress Jeanne Moreau, who had worked with Welles on The Trial (1962) and Chimes at Midnight (1965), had already agreed to star in the film.) 

Apparently Cotten wasn't very enthusiastic after reading the script, after which Welles tried to persuade him through a letter (seen below), even though he had very little to offer his friend ("If you should be tempted to comfort me by agreeing to this, you should realize that you’d be trapping yourself into ten day’s hard work for almost no money"). Cotten eventually declined and accepted a part in Norman Foster's Brighty of the Grand Canyon (1966). Welles had presumably wanted Cotten to play the role of head clerk Elishama Levinsky, a role that eventually went to Roger Coggio. In the end, Welles and Cotten never worked together again.

The Immortal Story, which runs just under an hour, is based on a short story by Karen Blixen and was first broadcast on French television, followed by a theatrical release in France and the US. It is the only colour film Welles ever made. Welles disliked colour cinematography, but he received financing for his project from the Organisation Radio-Télévision Française and part of the deal was that he would shoot the film in colour. (The colour cinematography by Belgian cinematographer Willy Kurant is, I think, one of the film's biggest assets, along with the captivating presence of Jeanne Moreau and Welles' clever use of Erik Satie's beautiful piano pieces.)

Source: Heritage Auctions
Above: Roger Coggio in the role of head clerk Elishama Levinsky (a role initially meant for Joseph Cotten), with Jeanne Moreau in the background; Welles himself played Levinsky's master, the rich merchant Mr. Clay. Below: Welles and Moreau on the set of The Immortal Story.

21 January 2021

Dear "Millie" Monroe

The wonderful Filmoteca in my city of residence Barcelona currently holds a Marilyn Monroe photo exhibition entitled Marilyn Monroe by Milton H. Greene. The 50 sessions, which my sister and I visited last Saturday. While Marilyn has been photographed by a number of renowned photographers including Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Eve Arnold, she had a special bond with Milton Greene. The two were not just close friends but for a while also business partners. (In 1956, they formed Marilyn Monroe Productions which produced Bus Stop (1956) and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).) Of the nearly 4,000 photos taken between 1953 and 1957 during 50 sittings Marilyn and Greene did together, the Filmoteca displays a selection of 84 photos, showing an intimate Marilyn away from the spotlight. It's an exhibit I really enjoyed, especially since many of Greene's wonderful photos were unknown to me. (For those few readers who live in Barcelona, the exhibit still runs until 21 February and admission is free.)

Apart from the photo exhibit, the Filmoteca dedicated a retrospective to Marilyn last month with the screening of ten of her films. I was most looking forward to watching The Misfits (1961) as I had never seen it before. The film is terribly bleak and sad but I loved it and seeing it on the big screen made the experience all the more special. While all the players were excellent, it was Marilyn in particular who moved me, her raw and fragile performance at times showing us glimpses of the real her.

Concluding this post, I will leave you with some of the photos displayed at the Filmoteca exhibit, followed by a note written during the filming of The Misfits by the inimitable Thelma Ritter, one of Marilyn's co-stars. The note, dated 29 August 1960, was addressed to Marilyn and seemingly the women had gotten along during production, even sharing some inside jokes.

May 1954 — Milton Greene and Marilyn at a horse ranch in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles.
March 1956 —One of my favourite photos from the exhibit. Marilyn photographed during a break while filming Bus Stop in Phoenix, Arizona.
Marilyn cooling off in the swimming pool of composer Richard Rodgers on a hot summer's day in June 1955.
May 1954 — One of the photos from the Peasant Sitting series. Marilyn photographed in the costume that Jennifer Jones wore in The Song of Bernadette (1943).
Marilyn photographed at the home of 20th Century-Fox executive Joseph Schenck in 1953.
Marilyn pictured with Greene's son Joshua during a break from Bus Stop in the spring of 1956.

August 29, 1960

Dear "Millie" Monroe:

I no sooner opened the box than that damned lizard escaped.

I spent all day looking for him, and finally found him under the refrigerator with the quarter in his mouth making like a slot machine.

Incidentally, the bag is beautiful. And I thank you very much. But it doesn't take you off the hook with regard to the "honor system".

Big Brother is watching you.

Keep your eye on Paula, May, Hazel, Agnes, and Shirley.

[on the other side, not shown in the image] 

Love to you, and all the very best for the rest of the picture.

T. Ritter

Source: Bonhams

14 January 2021

Howard, Howard, Howard - could it be I love you a little?

Apart from competing for film roles and the attention of their mother, sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine also competed for men. Olivia was the first to date actor Brian Aherne but it was Joan who eventually married him (the couple was married from 1939 until 1945). Besides Aherne, both sisters were involved with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, which complicated their relationship even more.

Olivia was also the first to date Hughes. But while she was dating him, Hughes proposed to her sister. At a surprise party given in Joan's honour shortly before her wedding to Aherne, Hughes proposed to Joan on the dance floor, telling her it was a mistake to marry Aherne. In her autobiography No Bed of Roses (1978), Joan recalled:

I was shocked. Olivia had been seeing him steadily. I knew her feelings for him were intense, that the relative tranquility at Nella Vista now rested upon the frequency of his telephone calls. No one two-timed my sister, whatever our domestic quarrels might be. Not if I could help it. I had heard rumors that Howard saw girls in shifts (no pun intended). Olivia was on the early shift, while actresses such as [Katharine] Hepburn and [Ginger] Rogers were rumored to have later dates with him. Howard evidently needed very little sleep.

As I was leaving the nightclub with Olivia, Hughes slipped me his private telephone number, whispering that I was to call him as soon as possible. The next day I phoned him and arranged to meet him that afternoon. I had to find out whether he was serious or indulging in some ghoulish jest. [...] He seemed in deadly earnest and had not changed his mind from the previous evening. I, seething inside at his disloyalty to Olivia, said nothing.

Upon returning to Nella Vista, I showed Olivia the slip of paper with Howard's private number written in his own handwriting and told her about my afternoon's encounter. I gently tried to explain that her heart belonged to a heel. In addition to the rumors in newspaper columns, the warnings from her friends, now she had real proof. Sparks flew. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ... especially in favor of her sister. This, plus my engagement to Brian, was very hard for her to take. 

 Joan, Olivia and Joan's husband Brian Aherne are having tea in the early 1940s.

While the relationship between Olivia and Howard Hughes ended, Hughes would ask Joan to marry him two more times, i.e. first after her divorce from Aherne and next when Hughes became her boss at RKO as she was divorcing producer William Dozier. On both occasions Joan again rejected him. In her autobiography Joan said she was never in love with Hughes and never had an affair with him. She felt he had "no humor, no gaiety, no sense of joy" and everything with him "seemed to be a "deal", a business arrangement." Still, judging by some of the letters Joan had written Hughes in 1949, she seemed to have been under his spell more than she would let on in her memoir. 

Seen below are three of Joan's letters, two in full and the third letter in part. The first two letters were written in Italy where in the summer of 1949 exteriors for the film September Affair (1950) were shot. After her film duties in Italy and seeing the sights there, Joan took a trip to Cyprus from where she wrote the third letter. In particular the last two letters show Joan's obvious adoration for Hughes. Ultimately, however, she realised there was no future for them unless she was willing to share him with his "6900 gals". (At the time of writing these letters, Joan was in the middle of her divorce from Dozier, a divorce which would not be finalised until 1951.) 




I hated our telephone conversation in every way. You were so right to warn me how lousy connections were and all we seemed to do was say "hello, hello, can you hear me?" Wedged into that went something about whether I'd been on a binge or was someone in my room! Really, you are the most hopelessly suspicious guy. Why are you like that? 

You want to trust someone, then you defy her to be anything but honest with you. I simply couldn't live like that and I see only real, terrifying unhappiness for you. Hell! What a dog's life you lead without your trying to make it worse. 

I've just begun to live, I realize. The Italians have a superb philosophy which we might well adopt. They're all so happy— no psychiatrists in the country for the Italians are better intergrated [sic] than any people I've yet seen. Sure —  they have little ambition and their children run in ragged, filthy clothes about the streets — but they are enjoying life as few of us Americans know how.

Why are we all so ambitious, so intent on emphasising all our assets, talent, social position —all— and we ruin our health and never enjoy our life for one moment.

I am resolved to live a different life upon my return, by golly. I've roped myself down so many years during which I have had few moments of real happiness or real pleasure. I intend to be very selfish from now on and think of pleasing Joan for a change. Maybe I can teach you a little sense in the process.

Be a nice boy — stop quarrelling with me — it's such a waste of valuable time.

Will cable you next week when I know definitely what my plans will be.



Saturday Sept 2nd

Howard dear:

You've got me scared again! This time I loved our telephone conversation and every word was very clear - especially the "come home" part of it! 

That's all very well, you spoiled boy - but what happens to Joan? I see it quite clearly - I come home - empty house, divided friends, no "occupational theopathy" until "September" [the film September Affair] starts about Nov. 1st. I can't be seen with you, let's face it. You've got a lousy reputation - mebbe good for you but not the girls. No one would believe I wasn't one of your 6900 gals and there's no way to prove I'm not. (Bill does not believe I'm not one of them either, by the way.) 

So, then what happens? I stay home waiting all hours for you to telephone to say you got tied up and can't come over this evening? And this I do night after night like Olivia until you get bored with me or I go to the looney-bin? No, no, no - you've got the wrong girl, or rather - you just ain't got her at all. 

I do adore you - but I just can't see how it can work. Strangely enough, though I scarcely know you, I miss you- or perhaps I just can't bear being alone and I have to have someone to love. At any rate, I'm going to try to enjoy the remainder of this so-called holiday and leave tomorrow for, at this moment, an unknown destination.

Venice was so beautiful I could hardly bear it. The festival is the most ridiculous farce imaginable due to the fact they can't get enough good films to show + therefore must give awards to those they have. Selznick + Litvak brought theirs so they were a cinch to win - though Joe's performance in "Jenny" [sic] hardly warrants anything. The city was crawling with people we know so it was rather like an inundated Hollywood and Vine. The city itself is the most fabulous I've ever seen, however, fairly beyond the realm of possibility!

Do hope your 4 days' vacation did all the right things for you. Rupert Burns c/o Shell Oil, Nicosia, Cyprus will be my next address. Should reach there between Aug. 8th + 12th.

Just the same.


This is the last part of one of Joan's other letters, written on 11 September 1949 from Cyprus.


Darling Howard - either you should be with me or out of my life entirely - I DREAM of you every night - almost. I see you many times a day in other people - something about their walk or expression - something sometimes, when someone glowers at me - it's exactly like you!! 

I DREAD returning to California and probably would remain in Sicily for the rest of my life- but I miss you - I'm not just a little intrigued by you - and I desperately need a little bit of comfort and a soft shoulder to lean on. Have I at least one shoulder of yours?

Bill now writes me short cryptic notes when he forwards my mail - why can't people be nicer about these things? 

And look you - isn't this letter-writing a bit one-sided? Don't you think you could take the time to pen me just one postcard? Funny fellow- wish you were here or I were there right this very minute.

Hope you're so damned busy you haven't time to see all those gals every night - but not too busy so that you don't think of me just occasionally. 

Howard, Howard, Howard - could it be I love you a little?


The Venice Film Festival, mentioned in the second letter, held its 10th annual edition from 11 August until 1 September 1949. Joan mentions David Selznick, producer of Portrait of Jennie (1948), and Jennie's leading man Joseph Cotten who received the Best Actor Award for his performance (a performance apparently not to Joan's liking). Joan also mentions director Anatole Litvak, whose film The Snake Pit (1948) won the International Award. Interestingly, she doesn't say anything about her sister Olivia who was awarded the prize for Best Actress for The Snake Pit. (Incidentally, the date on the letter is "Saturday September 2nd", but Joan had mistaken either the day or the date as 2 September 1949 was on a Friday. Also, Joan said she would reach Cyprus "between Aug. 8th + 12th", but that of course should be September.)

Source of the letters: icollector.com

5 January 2021

I am your same solid true friend no matter what you ever do

For the film adaptation of his 1940 acclaimed novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway wanted Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman to play the lead roles. The author was a good friend of Cooper's but didn't meet Bergman until January 1941 at Jack's Restaurant in San Francisco. During lunch they discussed the possibility of Bergman portraying the Spanish Maria, a part she really wanted to play. Being a Nordic, however, Bergman was concerned that she wouldn't be right for the role. Hemingway immediately told her not to worry and afterwards gave her a copy of his novel with the inscription: "For Ingrid Bergman, who is the Maria of this story". (For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) was eventually made with Cooper and Bergman in the leads, like Hemingway wanted, and was directed by Sam Wood.)

Life magazine was invited to take photos of the first meeting between Ingrid Bergman and Ernest Hemingway in January 1941—above at Jack's Restaurant and below at St. Francis Hotel.

Bergman and Hemingway eventually became close friends. Hemingway was one of the people who had supported Bergman during one of the most difficult periods of her life. In 1949, the actress started an affair with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, leaving her husband Petter Lindström and daughter Pia behind in Sweden and causing a huge scandal (read more in this post). Exiled from Hollywood and declared persona non grata in the USA, Bergman fortunately still had her friends to count on, many of whom sent her letters of encouragement and support.

In the midst of the scandal Hemingway wrote Bergman the following letter, wishing to let her know that he loved her and that he was her unconditional friend. He also included a warning for Rossellini to better treat his friend right or else (".. he better be a damned good boy for you or Mister Papa will kill him some morning when he has a morning free"). Hemingway is said to have disliked Rossellini, whom he referred to as "the twenty-two pound rat".


Dear Ingrid:

Here's your contact, daughter. How is Stromboli? How is Calabria? I have a sort of idea how they are. (Beautiful and Very Dirty.) But how are you? That's what's important. (Maybe you are very beautiful and very dirty too?)

Your letter with Petter's fine P.S. came here to hospital in Padova where I have been with an infected eye. I got it the day you arrived in Italy. How's that for long-distance contact?

Am on my fifth million units of penicillin (they punch my derriere like a time clock every three hours) but fever now is normal and the infection which turned into Erysipelis (no relation to syphilis) but knocked it finally....
[The above part was written from Villa Aprile, Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy and then Hemingway continued from Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula in Cuba:]
What happened was that I got sicker after I wrote that first part and I had to use a lot more penicillin and my eye was too bad to write.

Then I read all that stuff about you and Rossellini and Petter and I didn't know what to write. Now I've had time to think it over (still knowing nothing of what goes on) and I do know I love you very much and am your same solid true friend no matter what you ever do, or decide or where you ever go. The only thing is that I miss you.

Listen daughter, now I have to make speech. This is our one and only life as I once explained to you. No one is famous nor infamous. You are a great actress. I know that from New York. Great actresses always have great troubles sooner or later. If they did not they would not be worth a shit. (Bad word you can delete it.) All things great actresses do are forgiven.

Continue speech: Everybody reaches wrong decisions. But many times the wrong decision is the right decision wrongly made. End of speech.

New speech: Do not worry. It never helped anything ever
Finished with speeches. Daughter, please don't worry and be a brave and good girl and know you have, only this short distance away, two people, Mary and me, who love you and are loyal to you. 

Let's be cheerful now like when we used to drink together... Remember this is Holy Year and everybody is pardoned for everything. Maybe you can have quintuplets in the Vatican and I will come and be a first time godfather...

If you love Roberto truly give him our love and tell him he better be a damned good boy for you or Mister Papa will kill him some morning when he has a morning free.


P.S. This is a lousy letter but we live in the lousiest times there ever were I think. But it is our one and only life so we might as well not complain about the ball park we have to play in.

We had a wonderful time in Italy. I love Venice in the non-tourist time and all the country around it and the Dolomites are the best mountains I know. I wish you had not been working and could have come up and stayed with us in Cortina d'Ampezzo. I tried to call you up from the hospital, but they said you were in some place without a phone.

Maybe this will never get to you. It certainly won't if I don't send it off. Good luck my dear. Mary sends her love.

Ernest (Mister Papa)

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