31 March 2021

Much affection and constant admiration

Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford never worked together nor saw each other socially. Hepburn once said in a 1979 letter to Joan's daughter Cathy that she really didn't know Joan at all: "I suppose we met once or twice but that is all and those only brief how-do-you-do's ... She wrote me very sweet notes at Christmas. And I was aware that she thought well of me or rather of my work. And I always enjoyed her work." 

The correspondence between the two actresses wasn't just Christmas-related, though, as can be seen here and below. In June 1975 Kate wrote a letter to Joan, apparently after Joan had told George Cukor that she had never received any answers from Kate to her notes. Cukor was a very close friend of both women and passed on Joan's message to Kate.

Apart from Kate's letter, also seen below is a letter from Joan to Kate written around the same time. In it, Joan praised Love Among the Ruins (1975), a television film directed by Cukor, starring Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. The film was a big hit and received several Emmy awards at the ceremony in May 1975, including Emmys for the two leads and Cukor. Joan applauded their great team work and also expressed her joy for their Emmy wins.


Dear Joan -
I have answered every sweet note you have written me 
enjoyed them all -
+ cannot understand why you have never received the answers - very rude you must have thought + stupid too not to enjoy the praise of one's contemporaries - I know all this because George sent me your letter to him-
I talked to him Sunday- He's fine- + likes the stuff - of course it's a pain in the neck- But - he survives in good spirits-
My thanks to you- wasn't it nice that the Love among the Ruins turned out. Such a relief.

Below is a draft of the letter Joan eventually sent to Kate. According to the source of both letters —the wonderful The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia— it's unclear whether this was sent before or after Hepburn's letter.


My very dear Kate
How wonderful to receive your lovely warm letter-
I was so overjoyed with the three of you winning because if ever I saw team work- "Love Among the Ruins" was team work to perfection. 
It was difficult to believe that you and Larry had never worked together before; and of course our beloved George knows how to get the best out of all of us.
Thank you again for your letter and I am eagerly awaiting your film with the "Duke" [Rooster Cogburn (1975)]
Much affection and constant admiration

26 March 2021

Robin Hood is no picture for me

In January 1938, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was in his native country Austria when he received a telegram from Hal Wallis, head of production at Warner Brothers, which read: "Can you be in Hollywood in ten days time to write the music for Robin Hood?" (i.e. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland as Robin and Marian). Korngold, who had left Hollywood for Vienna in May 1937 to work on his opera Die Kathrin, immediately left on the next ship that sailed for America. Although he had not read the film's script, producer Henry Blanke had told him that the love story between Robin and Marian was similar to that in Captain Blood (1935), a film Korngold had also scored.

The day after his arrival in Hollywood, Korngold went to the studio to attend a screening of a rough cut of the film. During the screening the composer grew increasingly concerned and distressed, seeing a fast-paced adventure film filled with action unfold before him. Convinced that he was not the right man for the job, he wrote a letter to Hal Wallis, informing him of his decision not to go through with it.

Shortly thereafter, however, something happened in Europe which made the composer change his mind. On 12 February 1938, Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg met with Adolf Hitler, their meeting ultimately leading to the "Anschluss", Austria's annexation into Nazi Germany. Korngold had just heard about the meeting when he received a visit from Leo Forbstein, head of Warners' music department, who had been sent to the composer's LA home to beg him to reconsider his decision. Due to the explosive situation in Austria, Korngold eventually gave in to Forbstein's pleas and agreed to write the score after all. (Korngold's home in Vienna was later confiscated by the Nazis and the composer would not return to Austria until after the war.)

While still plagued with doubts and on the verge of giving up several times, Korngold ultimately delivered a fantastic score. I think it's safe to say that The Adventures of Robin Hood wouldn't be the masterpiece it is without Korngold's music. Quite deservedly he won an Oscar for it, his second after winning for Anthony Adverse two years earlier. Other film scores by Korngold include Juarez (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), The Sea Hawk (1940) and Kings Row (1942). Korngold would influence many others composers, among them John Williams who cited him as the inspiration for his music for the Star Wars series.


Here is Korngold's letter of rejection to Hal Wallis after attending the screening of Robin Hood on 8 February 1938.

February 11, 1938

Dear Mr. Wallis:

I am sincerely sorry to have to bother you once more. I do appreciate deeply your kindness and courtesy toward me, and I am aware of the fact that you have made all concessions possible to facilitate my work.

But please believe a desperate man who has to be true to himself and to you, a man who knows what he can do and what he cannot do. Robin Hood is no picture for me. I have no relation to it and therefore cannot produce any music for it. I am a musician of the heart, of passions and psychology; I am not a musical illustrator for a 90% action picture. Being a conscientious person, I cannot take the responsibility for a job which, as I already know, would leave me artistically completely dissatisfied and which, therefore, I would have to drop even after several weeks of work on it and after several weeks of salary.

Therefore let me say "no" definitely, and let me say it today when no time has been lost for you as yet, since the work print will not be ready until tomorrow. And please do not try to make me change my mind; my resolve is unshakable. 

I implore you not to be angry with me and not to deprive me of your friendship. For it is I who suffers mentally and financially. I ask you to weigh the pictures for which I composed the music, such as Midsummer Night’s Dream, Captain Blood, Anthony Adverse, Prince and [the] Pauper, against the one I could not make, Robin Hood. And if during the next few weeks you should have a job for me to do, you need not cable all the way to Vienna.

With my very best regards, I am,

Gratefully and sincerely yours,

Erich Wolfgang Korngold 

Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 

Above: Recording session for The Adventures of Robin Hood with Erich Korngold and Basil Rathbone who played Robin Hood's arch-enemy Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Below: Korngold at the Oscar Ceremony in February 1939 receiving his prize from Jerome Kern. A few years earlier Korngold had written the Oscar-winning score for Anthony Adverse, but it was Leo Forbstein who was awarded the prize; at the time it was customary to award the head of the music department instead of the composer. 

20 March 2021

She is fearless and has more guts than most men

Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck made a total of six films together and became friends during the making of their first film Gambling Lady (1934). Their other five films are Banjo On My Knee (1936), Internes Can't Take Money (1937), Union Pacific (1939), The Great Man's Lady (1942) and Trooper Hook (1957). Right from the start McCrea was impressed by Barbara's work ethic. During production of their first film, Barbara had given McCrea a lesson in professionalism after he didn't show up for the stills shoot of the cast. When she asked him where he was and he indifferently said they didn't need him, she reportedly told him off: "I was in burlesque. We used to have to change our clothes on the train, and our makeup, and we couldn’t take a bath and we lived out of a suitcase. You’ve grown up in California where you go to the beach on your days off and ride the waves, and you’re a happy Southern Californian kid. Just get off your big fat ass and get to work."

Regarding the films in which he had starred with Stanwyck, McCrea was once asked to fill in a questionnaire, which is seen below. The questionnaire is undated and I don't know who composed it or for what purpose. At any rate, it told me a few things I didn't know, like the crucial role McCrea had played in Barbara's casting in Stella Dallas (1937). McCrea's opinion of working with Barbara, however, came as no surprise. Like many of his co-workers, he thought she was simply the greatest, the best he had ever worked with. By contrast, McCrea was quite modest about his own achievements: "All I had to do was try and stay aboard".

Transcript of Joel McCrea's answers:

From Joel McCrea, Rt #1, Camarillo, Calif.—93010-1


1. She was unhappy & they were not treating her like the important star she was.

2. Mayo was great fun to work with. He kidded a lot and you were relaxed & happy working with him. I was inexperienced in 1934. He helped me a lot. Stanwyck was always great- as a person & actress.



1. Zanuck wrote a disparaging letter to Barbara showing his ego & stupidity —Walter Brennan stole the picture.

[As is apparent from his answer, McCrea didn't like producer Darryl Zanuck. He thought Zanuck was "an egotistical little bastard; a gutty little guy and a chaser, but smart."]


1. All I can remember is that Stanwyck & Lloyd Nolan were good & I was trying.

2. Barbara might know. I don't.


1. King Vidor, the director, wanted Stanwyck from the start but [Samuel] Goldwyn wanted to test 3 or 4 other good actresses to be sure. Barbara didn't want to test and I got Vidor to promise to hold out for her if she made the test. He agreed. Then I talked her into taking the test. She was far and away the best but she shouldn't have had to test, anymore than you would test [Clark] Gable for a part. There is no better actress than Stanwyck if she is cast correctly. Goldwyn was a peculiar man but he made fine pictures. Stanwyck should have gotten an award for Stella Dallas.

2. No, "Banjo on my knee"


1. No. Four months- in all of it.

2. Good conditions.

3. Yes, De Mille was great with process. Witness Ten Comandments [sic].

4. No, he did it all with us. 2nd Unit director was Mr. Rosson.

5. In everything - she is fearless & has more guts than most men.

6. Stanwyck was there with De Mille. I was working in a picture with Jascha Heifetz [They Shall Have Music (1939)] and had to talk via telephone.


1. She can tell you.

2. Don't know

3. Wild as ever, but good.

a. [play it for him as] we [thought it should be done]
Stanwyck should have gotten an award for this film, if ever any one deserved it.
b. —
c. yes
d. no
e. all three
f. yes

4. She would know.

5. She did.

6. She was great. All I had to do was try and stay aboard. 

7. Paramount 2 months

8. Wellman can tell you

9. She was touched- cried- delightful, delightful


1. As always, she was a pro. I could ride the horse well & we talked constantly of Bob Taylor whom we both admired a great deal.

[Barbara and Robert Taylor were married from 1939 to 1951.]

Only the greatest.
No reservations- best I ever met.

Every crew we ever worked with loved and admired her and so did I. She taught me a lot & I shall be ever grateful to her.

Joel McCrea

Clockwise from top row left: Gambling Lady, Banjo on my Knee, Internes Can't Take Money, Trooper Hook, The Great Man's Lady and Union Pacific.
Barbara Stanwyck in the heartwrenching finale of Stella Dallas, her performance earning her an Oscar nomination. The film became a huge hit.

14 March 2021

You have upset me so that I could die

Before Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, she was romantically involved with famed couturier Oleg Cassini and was also said to have been engaged to him. Cassini, who was once married to Gene Tierney (from 1941 to 1952), was responsible for creating the famous Grace Kelly look. The fashion designer said that Grace dressed "like a school teacher" when they first met, so he encouraged her to "put a little sex in her clothes". 

Since Grace's strict Catholic parents didn't consider Cassini a suitable match for their daughter (being a playboy and a divorced man), the relationship between the two eventually fell apart and not long thereafter Grace got engaged to Prince Rainier. About her break-up with Cassini Grace was later quoted as saying: "Do you realise if my mother hadn’t been so difficult about Oleg Cassini, I probably would have married him? How many wonderful roles I might have played by now? How might my life have turned out? That one decision changed my entire future.” 

During their relationship Grace wrote several (love) letters to Cassini, two of which are seen below. The letters were written in 1954 when the actress was staying at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles while promoting her latest film The Country Girl (for which she would later win her only Oscar). The second letter is especially interesting, with Grace reprimanding Cassini for being jealous of Bing Crosby, her co-star in The Country Girl and later High Society (1956)Grace told Cassini that Crosby was just a good friend, so there was no reason for him to be jealous. It has often been said that Grace and Crosby did have an affair during production of The Country Girl and that he even proposed marriage. (If this were true, Grace naturally wouldn't confess to it in her letter to Cassini.) Incidentally, Crosby was dating Kathryn Grant at the time, whom he eventually married in 1957.


Thursday Night


How lovely it was to come home and find your flowers. We are watching Charles Boyer on television - and as much as I love him I can only think of you - I don't understand how such a thing could happen 

The last few days have been so hectic at the studio that I haven't been able to write all the things I have wanted to tell you — and even if I could it would be impossible as I think of you constantly -

The few minutes we speak each night are so wonderful for me - but I'm sorry I sound like an idiot - 

Had lunch with [producer William] Perlberg and most of his crew- He was telling me about the two previews of Country Girl  - apparently they were most successful and we all came off very well - I should be able to see it in a couple of weeks 

There are so many words for tomorrow that I will say good-night in order to be able to get a few of them right -

I think I'd rather have a ring instead of an automobile.

I love you -


Sunday -

Darling -

You have upset me so that I could die — I just don't understand your attitude -

It is incredible to me that having dinner with Lizanne [Grace's younger sister] and the Crosbys can make you behave like a schoolboy - If I went out with Bing alone you would be absolutely right - and I would never do that to begin with - Because I have no interest in anyone but you - but this I shouldn't have to explain -

Bing is a wonderful person and a very dear friend. I have great respect for him and I hope he will be our friend for many years -

I told you he said that he was in love with me- but there are many people that he feels that way about - and after the emotional strain of playing Country Girl - this was only natural - But Bing would never try to do anything about it - unless he thought I wanted it that way -

I have very few friends here - please don't ask me to give up their friendships -

Source of both letters: Harper's Bazaar

Above: 1954, on the set of The Country Girl Crosby signs a record for Grace. Below: 1955, Bing Crosby visits Grace on the set of The Swan.

8 March 2021

David Selznick and Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

When America entered World War II in December 1941, David Selznick very much wanted to join the Army. About his wish to be a soldier Selznick's then-wife Irene said: "His spirit was fine, his idea impractical— he was nearsighted, slewfooted, overweight, overage. He didn't need an enemy, he'd kill himself.

While Selznick never fought in the war, he desperately wanted to make his contribution to the war effort. Apart from being Hollywood's chairman to the China War Relief, at one point the producer intended to make a film adaptation of Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf (1925). For his film Selznick considered hiring Ben Hecht to write the screenplay and Alfred Hitchcock to direct. In the end, however, the US government torpedoed Selznick's plans and the film was never made. (It would have been quite interesting to see what kind of film Selznick had in mind, especially with Hitchcock directing.) 

The war film Selznick eventually did make was Since You Went Away (1944) about an American housewife and her teenage daughters living life on the homefront, while the husband/father is fighting overseas (starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten). Selznick had written a long speech about the war effort and shot the scene with Charles Coburn delivering it but in the end decided not to use it.

Three days after America had entered WWII, Selznick sent the following memo to his associate Kay Brown. Determined to turn Hitler's book into a film, he told Brown to immediately register Mein Kampf with the Title Registration Bureau of the Hays Office and to keep the whole affair "utterly secret". Even Alfred Hitchcock and Ben Hecht were not to know about his plans yet.  

December 11, 1941

To: Miss Katharine Brown

Immediately upon your receipt of this wire please drop everything and rush over to the Hays Office to register "Mein Kampf" as well as anything else necessary to protect it, such as "Life of Adolf Hitler" and "My life, by Adolf Hitler." I hope that there will be no nonsense about whether this is copyrighted or noncopyrighted work, and I hope the Hays Office has the good sense to realize that I consider it noncopyrighted and have no intention of buying rights or of paying royalties, which in circumstances would of course be ridiculous. Even before we were at war, publishers considered it in these terms... Keep it utterly secret until I have had opportunity to check with Washington on the making of this film... Will await wired word from you, but better address me to my home to further guard secrecy, and please caution not to leave any wires concerning it around the desks, and not to even discuss it with people in our own organization... For purpose of wires and letters suggest you refer to it as "Tales from History"... To point out importance of treatment I plan for subject, I am thinking about Hecht for script and Hitchcock for direction, but don't want anything said even to these two. 

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

David Selznick and Katharine Brown, photographed in 1936 with John Hay Whitney and John Wharton.

3 March 2021

I'm not good at writing to people I love

Tallulah Bankhead was born into an important political Alabama family, the Brockham Bankheads. Her grandfather and her uncle were both U.S. Senators and her father William B. Bankhead was a member of Congress and served as Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1936 and 1940. Growing up, Tallulah and her elder sister Eugenia mostly lived with their grandparents —their mother died three weeks after Tallulah's birth— and they also spent a fair amount of time with their aunt Marie (who later became Head of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, succeeding her husband Thomas Owen upon his death in 1920). 

Although William Bankhead was an often-absent father, he was adored by both his daughters, especially Tallulah. She thought the world of him, valued his opinions and worried about hurting his political career whenever she got herself into trouble. In 1932, for instance, Tallulah caused quite a storm when in an interview with Motion Picture Magazine she had ranted about how much she wanted a man. She was very concerned about what the controversy would do to her father and vowed never to speak to the press again (read more in this post). 

Her father was someone Tallulah could turn to in her hour of need. In November 1936 she wrote him the following letter, seeking his assistance in an income tax matter. While asking for his help, she urged her father not to do anything that would jeopardise his career ("...if in my ignorance I am suggesting that you do anything that is unethical please forgive me, and if that is the case just forget this letter..."). 

The letter was written at a time when Tallulah was being considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). Tallulah told her father that hopefully in a few weeks time she would have some good news regarding the film. As we all know, howeverthe news she had hoped for never came.

To this Congressman Bankhead responded (in part): 
I am, of course, glad that you wrote to me about this matter and it will be no embarrassment whatever to me to undertake to be of every possible assistance…. It does seem to me that it is a very large claim for excess taxes for one year…. We have been most anxious to hear something definite about whether you would be engaged to play the part of Scarlett O’Hara in "Gone with the Wind." We have daily inquiries from everywhere from your friends, many of whom seem to think that the matter has already been settled, but I have told them that it had not….
Source: RR Auction

Above: Tallulah and her sister Eugenia (left photo) and the sisters photographed with their grandfather Alabama Senator John Hollis Bankhead in 1917 (r.) Below: 1937, Tallulah with her father William B. Bankhead and her stepmother Florence McGuire Bankhead, whom her father married in 1914.