26 February 2021

Audrey and Holly are both such wonderful girls

In one of the interviews Lawrence Grobel conducted with writer Truman Capote between July 1982 and August 1984, as recorded in Grobel's book Conversations with Capote (1985), Capote said that Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) was "the most miscast film [he had] ever seen." Capote, who had written the 1958 novella on which the film is loosely based, further said:
It made me want to throw up… And although I’m very fond of Audrey Hepburn, she’s an extremely good friend of mine, I was shocked and terribly annoyed when she was cast in that part. It was high treachery on the part of the producers. They didn’t do a single thing they promised. I had lots of offers for that book, from practically everybody, and I sold it to this group at Paramount because they promised things, they made a list of everything, and they didn’t keep a single one. The day I signed the contract they turned around and did exactly the reverse. They got a lousy director like Blake Edwards, who I could spit on!
Capote's choice for the part of Holly Golightly had always been Marilyn Monroe, who was also a good friend of his ("Holly had to have something touching about her... unfinished. Marilyn had that."). Capote said that Marilyn had really wanted the role, so much even "that she worked up two whole scenes all by herself and did them for [him]."

While Capote felt betrayed by the studio's decision to give the role to Audrey, it must be noted that the role had been offered to Marilyn first. Marilyn's drama coach Paula Strasberg, however, felt the part of a call girl was wrong for Marilyn and thus Marilyn declined. When Audrey was asked for the role, she wasn't eager to play it initially, also considering herself unsuited for it. It was director Blake Edwards who eventually convinced her to accept. (In the end, it proved to be Audrey's most iconic performance, for which she also received an Oscar nomination.)

Photo booth pictures of Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in New York City, taken around 1956.

In the spring of 1960, it was announced that Audrey had been cast as Holly Golightly, with the shooting of Breakfast At Tiffany's to start in September of that year. On 17 July Audrey gave birth to her first child, son Sean by her first husband Mel Ferrer. To congratulate her on the birth of her son, Capote wrote Audrey the following letter from Spain where he was working on a new book. In the letter he also told her how pleased he was that she was going to do Tiffany's. Capote's words are in sharp contrast to his later statements about Audrey being totally wrong for the part. It's unclear whether his remark in the letter was a white lie (not wishing to burst his friend's happy bubble after she just had a baby?) or if he was simply less opposed to Audrey playing Holly than he would later claim. At any rate, this is not the only instance when Capote had expressed himself positively about Audrey regarding Tiffany's. At one point he had also said: "Audrey was not what I had in mind when I wrote that part, although she did a terrific job." (Indeed she did!)

Incidentally, Capote closes his letter with "Mille Tendresse", the last words Holly wrote to Fred in the novella. 

Source: Christie's



23 July 1960

Dearest Audrey,

With two such parents, I'm sure it must be a most beautiful little boy, wicked-eyed but kindly natured. My life-long blessings on the three of you.

May I say, too, how pleased I am that you are doing "B.ATT." I have no opinion of the film script [written by George Axelrod], never having had the opportunity to read it. But since Audrey and Holly are both such wonderful girls, I feel nothing can defeat either of them.

I am spending the summer here (until end of Oct.), and then going somewhere in Switzerland- the point being that I am working on a new book, and plan to stay abroad until I've finished it.

Please give my love to Mel.

Mille Tendresse, 


23 February 2021

Never not dare to hang yourself

Bette Davis said that the best professional advice she had ever received came from Charles Laughton. Laughton, an actor Bette greatly admired but with whom she had never worked (to her enormous regret), visited her one day on the set of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). It was the first time the two had ever met. That day Laughton would give Bette a piece of advice which she treasured for the rest of her career. 

On 9 April 1972, at the request of a journalist, Bette described in a letter Laughton's visit to the set and the advice he gave her. As can be seen from the hotel stationery she used, Bette was writing from Rome where she was probably filming Lo Scopone Scientifico (1973).

Source: RR Auction


April 9, 1972

Dear Mr. Letters (?),

I hope the enclosed will be a satisfactory answer to your request.

I'm sorry it has taken so long to answer you. I came to work here very suddenly and some of my mail has just reached me.

Thank you for including me in your book. If you do.

Most sincerely,
Bette Davis

Will you send me a copy to o.k.
Will be here another month

During the filming of "Elizabeth and Essex" Charles Laughton visited the set one day. The best advice professionally came from him that day. As he played my professional father, Henry the Eighth, I said "Hello papa." I told him I had my "nerve" playing his daughter at sixty years old. I was at the time thirty, myself. He replied "Never [not] dare to hang yourself." In other words attempt parts that you feel are beyond your capability. That is the only way for an actor to improve his work.

Bette Davis

Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and Charles Laughton as her "father" King Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

19 February 2021

Most of my pleasures today are vicarious

In the winter of 1959, Billy Wilder was on location in New York City shooting the exteriors for his film The Apartment (1960). While staying near the United Nations Headquarters, he got the idea to make a Cold War satire involving the U.N. and the Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx liked the idea and Wilder then wrote a 40-page treatment with writing buddy I.A.L. Diamond and gave the film the title A Day At The United Nations. The Marx Brothers were to play robbers who, after stealing suitcases full of diamonds from Tiffany's, are mistaken for the UN's Latvian delegation (read in detail here). 

The making of A Day At The United Nations was officially announced in the press in November 1960 but unfortunately the film never saw the light of day. Harpo suffered a heart attack and Chico died shortly thereafter, ruling out the possibility of another Marx Brothers film ever being made. Wilder did make his Cold War comedy eventually, i.e. One, Two, Three (1961) starring James Cagney.

In Cameron Crowe's Conversations with Wilder (1999), Wilder talked about the Marx Brothers and their aborted project. (Interestingly, in this interview Wilder mentions Zeppo as one of the four Marx Brothers to appear in the film, while Zeppo had already left the act in 1933.)
We had an idea of doing a Marx Brothers picture set against the background of the United Nations. They were the four representatives of a republic. And that is always good, because the Marx Brothers were at their best against a very serious, pompous background. They were very good in A Night at the Opera because it’s very pompous, the opera. They were also quite good at the race track in Day at the Races. But other things they did, they were not so good because there was nothing good to poke at. I wanted to do a Marx Brothers picture, but then Chico died, and Harpo was very, very unstable. But Groucho was a genius, absolutely a fabulous, fabulous man. They were at Metro. The movie would have been a combination of at least six of their top stars of the early sixties. Zeppo was the leading man. Zeppo as lead was incredible, absolutely incredible. When you went to see A Night at the Opera, you were not disappointed. [Irving] Thalberg was very smart, you know, because he treated it like a serious picture. [via]

And now the letter! Groucho Marx wrote to Billy Wilder on 13 December 1960 —in his typical Groucho way— with the last paragraph of his letter briefly touching upon the subject of their proposed film. (The rest of the letter mostly speaks of Groucho and Wilder exchanging newspaper articles and letters from esteemed screenwriter Nunnally Johnson.)

Source: icollector.com

14 February 2021

All the Chaplins and their ilk must be dealt with

On 18 September 1952, Charles Chaplin left the USA for Britain to embark on a tour promoting his latest film Limelight. The next day, Attorney General James McGranery revoked Chaplin's reentry permit, thus banning him from the USA, the country which had been Chaplin's home for nearly forty years. McGranery made his decision after consulting FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, who had been building a file on Chaplin since 1922. It was announced that Chaplin's reentry permit had been rescinded because he "[had] been publicly charged with being a member of the Communist Party, with grave moral charges* and with making statements that would indicate a leering, sneering attitude toward a country whose hospitality [had] enriched him". Before being allowed back into the USA, Chaplin, who was British and had never sought American citizenship, had to appear before the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and answer questions about his political views and moral behaviour. In the end, Chaplin never applied for reentry and remained in Europe (in Switzerland) for the rest of his life. 

*Apart from being accused of political subversion, Chaplin was also accused of being morally subversive. With the "grave moral charges" McGranery referred to material in the FBI file concerning Chaplin's affair with actress Joan Barry, which occurred in the 1940s. 

Above: Charlie Chaplin photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Below: Chaplin and Buster Keaton in a scene from Limelight, the only film in which these icons appeared together. 
The revocation of Chaplin's reentry permit made headlines and especially conservative journalists were having a field day with the news. One of them was famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who had actively campaigned against Chaplin for years. In her column she said that while Chaplin may be a good actor it "doesn't give him the right to go against our customs, to abhor everything we stand for, to throw our hospitality back in our faces [...] I've known him for years. I abhor what he stands for, while I admire his talents as an actor. I would like to say, 'Good riddance to bad company'." (This vicious attack from Hopper was one of the "worst press lashings" Chaplin had ever received, according to Charles Maland, one of Chaplin's biographers.)

The American Legion, one of Hopper's allies and a very powerful organisation with 2.5 million members, went even further and passed a resolution in October 1952, calling on film theaters not to show any of Chaplin's films and in particular to boycott his newest film Limelight. Limelight was subsequently picketed in New York, and theaters in Los Angeles and also in other cities succumbed to the Legion's pressure and cancelled the film's screenings. The Legion also approached United Artists, the distributor of the film, urging them to join "in this drive to rid our country of the likes of Charles Chaplin, his person and his films" (see the disturbing letter below). In their fight against Chaplin, the Legion received support from Ward Bond, president of The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and RKO boss Howard Hughes.

The actions of the American Legion eventually paid off. Limelight played in approximately 150 of the 2,000 theaters in which it was initially booked and consequently Chaplin withdrew the film from circulation. It wasn't until 1972 that Limelight was rereleased in the USA. 

In April 1972, after a period of twenty years, Chaplin returned to the USA to receive an Honorary Oscar for his work (watch a very emotional Chaplin here, being given a 12-minute standing ovation, the longest in Oscar history). At the Oscar ceremony the following year, an absent Chaplin was awarded his only competitive Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score for Limelight, a score which he co-wrote with Ray Rasch and Larry Russell. As Limelight was not released in Los Angeles until 1972, it was then eligible for Oscars despite being a 20-year-old film.


February 11, 1953

United Artists Corporation
302 North 13th Street 
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear sirs:

I have this day been informed that the World Theatre, this City, will discontinue the Charles Chaplin film "Limelight" immediately.

The American Legion in the spirit of true Americanism calls on you as the distributor agency of the film to discontinue distribution of "Limelight" and follow the lead of the local World Theater and Grauman's Chinese, the Downtown and El Rey Theatres in Los Angeles, California.

Howard Hughes of RKO has stated: "I have been making a most concerted effort to persuade the management of the theater corporation to take the necessary legal measures to cancel all bookings of "Limelight"." The same opposition to the film has been taken by actor Ward Bond as president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.

A recent radio poll in Philadelphia has disclosed overwhelming opposition to the picture.

Charles Chaplin by his repeated un-American behavior through the years has spurned the good will of the American people who must answer him in kind. His disrespect for our country and its ideals and his active sponsorship and affection for foreign isms inimical to the United States makes it imperative that we display our objection by refusing to patronize any of his productions.

The American Legion requests all right thinking and loyal Americans to join in this crusade. All the Chaplins and their ilk must be dealt with- and that dealing, in spite of their stand, will be fair and just.

We call on United Artists Corporation to join the World Theatre, the Fox theatres in California, Mr. Ward Bond, Mr. Howard Hughes, the American Legion and all Americans in this drive to rid our country of the likes of Charles Chaplin, his person and his films.

Very truly yours,
Joseph A.C Girone
Phila. County Commander
The American Legion


7 February 2021

Clarence Sinclair Bull, Master Portrait Photographer

During Hollywood's Golden Age stars were created by the film studios, with portrait photography playing an essential part in the starmaking process. The portraits taken of the stars were used to promote them and advertise their upcoming films in newspapers and fan magazines. The man who is probably most associated with the Hollywood portrait photography along with the renowned George Hurrell — is Clarence Sinclair Bull, best known as the man who shot Greta Garbo.

In 1918, 22-year-old Bull arrived in Hollywood and worked for several film studios as assistant cameraman and part-time stills photographer. He was hired in 1920 by Samuel Goldwyn to take publicity stills of Metro stars. After Metro Pictures became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, Bull was appointed chief of MGM’s stills department and held that position until his retirement in 1961.

Besides his management tasks, Bull continued to take portraits of the MGM stars. Of all the stars he had photographed  Bull had estimated the number to be at least 10,000 throughout his career Greta Garbo was his most photographed subject. Bull had taken over 4,000 individual studies of her during the time they worked together, often using innovative lighting techniques (e.g. some of his dramatic close-ups of Garbo were shot by illuminating her face through the glow of a kerosene lamp). Bull became Garbo's personal photographer as she didn't want to be photographed by anyone else. (In 1930, a then unknown photographer by the name of George Hurrell was hired to shoot Garbo's portraits for the film Romance. He drove her crazy and after two shots she fled the room, later saying of Hurrell: "He was a twittery artistic type. He started hopping around and crawling on the studio floor looking for 'angles'.")

Not only Garbo but also many other stars loved working with Bull. He had a quiet professional manner and quickly succeeded in making his subjects feel at ease. As Bull had worked for MGM his entire career, he became familiar with the studio's stars and maintained both a personal and professional relationship with several of them, including Clark Gable and Johnny Weissmuller. 

While the 1930s were Bull's most productive years, the 1940s and 1950s saw him photograph a whole new generation of stars, including Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. From the late 1940s Bull started to work extensively in colour, after having first experimented with colour photography in the 1930s (his first colour portrait of Garbo dating back to 1936). Bull eventually retired from MGM in 1961. In the late 1970s, he started to work on a limited edition portfolio of his Garbo prints, in collaboration with film historian and collector John Kobal. Before the project was completed, however, Bull died of a heart attack on 8 June 1979, 83 years old.

Just three of the numerous iconic photos taken of Greta Garbo by the great Clarence Sinclair Bull.
Top row, from left to right: Loretta Young, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford; middle row: Clark Gable, Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor; bottom row: Hedy Lamarr, Fred Astaire and Katharine Hepburn.
Ava Gardner and C.S. Bull in 1945 on the set of The Killers.

One of the many MGM stars who had been photographed by Bull was Gene Kelly. In a letter to a Fred Schmidt dated 8 May 1979, Kelly remembers Bull, describing him as a "real artist" and a "fine gentleman". 


May 8, 1979

Fred Schmidt
138 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. 11201

Dear Mr. Schmidt:

I remember Clarence Bull with great fondness, and although I only saw him while doing portraits at the end of each film I completed at M.G.M., I recall vividly his great patience with all of us spoiled actors who had been photographed so many times candidly on the set and tried every trick to get Mr. Bull to hurry through his sittings. They were generally done on our free days. His calmness and almost paternal-like treatment of us would invariably get cooperation and he would always end up making the ones who needed it look better than they were. Clarence Bull was a real artist and very importantly, a fine gentleman.

And needless to say, an important factor in the success of presenting Metro films.

Sincerely yours,
('signed Gene Kelly')
Gene Kelly  

Gene Kelly photographed by C.S. Bull