23 November 2022

Broadway Bogie

Like many Hollywood actors, Humphrey Bogart began his acting career on the stage. He appeared in 18 Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935, making his debut in the play Drifting. Bogie's early Broadway roles were mostly romantic juveniles in drawing-room comedies and he sometimes referred to them as his 'Tennis, anyone?' roles. In a 1948 interview he explained: "I used to play juveniles on Broadway and came bouncing into drawing rooms with a tennis racket under my arm and the line: 'Tennis anybody?' It was a stage trick to get some of the characters off the set so the plot could continue."

When the Great Depression hit and theatre attendance dropped, Bogart tried his luck in Hollywood. His first feature film was Up the River (1930) co-starring Spencer Tracy, followed by Bad Sister (1931) with Bette Davis. The early 1930s saw Bogart shuttling back and forth between Hollywood and the New York stage, and during that period he was also often out of work. 1935 proved a turning point in Bogart's career when he was offered the role of the escaped murderer Duke Mantee in Robert E. Sherwood's play The Petrified Forest. The play, which starred Leslie Howard in the leading role, was a big success, running for 197 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. The Petrified Forest would be Bogie's final stage appearance.

Warner Bros. bought the rights to The Petrified Forest and wanted Edward G. Robinson for the role of Duke Mantee but Leslie Howard, who held the production rights, wanted Bogie. For that purpose, Howard sent a telegram to Jack Warner which read: "Att: Jack Warner Insist Bogart Play Mantee No Bogart No Deal L.H." Bogart was cast, with the film proving his breakthrough in Hollywood. (The Petrified Forest, directed by Archie Mayo, was released in 1936, with Bette Davis co-starring with Howard and Bogart.) Having been friends with Howard ever since they played together on Broadway and grateful for everything Howard had done for him, in 1952 Bogart named his daughter Leslie Howard Bogart (Bogie's second child with wife Lauren Bacall), in honour of his friend who had died in a plane crash during WWII.

Bogie and Shirley Booth in the Broadway play Hell's Bells (1925)
Bogie and Ruth Gordon in the Broadway play Saturday's Children (1927). Apart from being an actress Gordon was also a successful screenwriter, known mostly for her screenplay of Adam's Rib (1949), co-written with husband Garson Kanin.
Bogie and Judith Anderson on Broadway in The Mask and the Face (1933). While Anderson was a leading stage actress, she is best known for her role as Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940).

On the Broadway stage in The Petrified Forest (1935), with Bogie (far left) and Leslie Howard (far right).

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Humphrey Bogart wrote the following letter sometime in the late 1920s when he was still years away from becoming a famous movie star. At the time he was performing on the New York stage, although I'm not sure which play he was in. His letter is addressed to "Lyman", possibly Lyman Brown; Lyman and his brother Chamberlain were theater agents and producers of Broadway plays.



Transcript:

March 15

Dear Lyman:

Am enclosing the notices for Washington and Boston.  Stopped in to say "Hello" on Monday but you were, as usual, out to lunch.

As far as I know we continue playing after a lay-off Holy Week; but have received no booking as yet.

If the show is as brilliantly handled as it has been so far, will probably play the Century Theatre – Madison Square Garden not being available.

Hope your new play gets over – Ruth Gordon told me she thought it a very funny play – it appears that Gregory and Harpo were going to buy it for her at one time.

Regards and premature Easter Greetings etc.

Humphrey

13 November 2022

For Lord's Sake, don't let those bulbs stick out

In July 1934, Joseph Breen and his Production Code Administration (PCA) started to strictly enforce the Motion Picture Production Code, Hollywood's own set of censorship rules that was adopted in 1930 (aka the Hays Code). Up till then PCA's predecessor, the Studio Relations Committee (SRC), had been tasked with implementing the Code. The SRC had no authority, however, to censor content or order studios to remove content; all they could do was advise studios on how to change the scripts in order to meet the Code's requirements. As the SRC only had an advisory capacity and no penalties were given for violating the Code, studios often ignored the SRC's suggestions. This did not mean, however, that pre-Code films (made between 1930 and mid-1934) went uncensored. City and state censorship boards could order studios to cut films or they could even ban films from playing in cinemas. With the costs for cutting films being paid by the studios, a major concern for studio executives was the fact that each censorship board had different rules, so what was allowed in one state/city could be forbidden in another. This often meant making different cuts of the same film, costing studios large amounts of money. (By giving studios advice, the SRC tried to save them from making these costly cuts and to help them get their films past the censors. Nevertheless, as said, the SRC's advice was frequently ignored.) 

Adolphe Menjou flanked by Joan Blondell (l) and Mary Astor in a publicity still for Convention City.

Of all the major studios Warner Bros. was the most recalcitrant when it came to following the Code. Joseph Breen hated the pre-Code Warner films and called them "the lowest bunch we have". Nevertheless, at times the studio had to give in to the censors, for example with Baby Face (1933), which was initially rejected by the New York State Censorship Board; only after Warners made the changes that had been demanded by the New York censors —financially NYC was too important a market to lose— the film got accepted. 

Here are two memos, showing two slightly nervous Warner Bros. executives, worrying about the censors. The first memo was sent by studio boss Jack Warner to producer Hal Wallis regarding Convention City and the second is from Wallis to director Michael Curtiz re: Mandalay, the latter film released just before the enforcement of the Code. 
 

DATE: October 5, 1933
SUBJECT: "Convention City"

TO: Mr. Wallis
FROM: Mr. Warner

We must put brassieres on Joan Blondell and make her cover up her breasts because, otherwise, we are going to have these pictures stopped in a lot of places. I believe in showing their forms but, for Lord's sake, don't let those bulbs stick out. I'm referring to her gown in Convention City.

J.L. Warner

[*More about Convention City, see the note at the bottom of this post.]

 

_____

 

DATE: October 21, 1933
SUBJECT: "Mandalay" 
TO: Curtiz
FROM: Hal Wallis

I am just looking at your dailies ...

Generally your stuff is beautiful and I don't want to start limiting you and restricting you ...

However, when you show Kay Francis in the bathtub with [Ricardo] Cortez in the shot and a close-up of Kay Francis in the tub and show her stepping out of the tub and going into Cortez's arms, then you get me to the point where I am going to have to tell you to stick to the script and not to do anything else. For God's sake, Mike, you have been making pictures long enough to know that it is impossible to show a man and a woman who are not married in a scene of this kind. The situation itself is censorable enough with Cortez and Francis living [together] ...

Hal Wallis 


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

Above: The scene (as described in the memo) was changed, with Cortez now leaning in through an open hatchway and kissing Francis (out of the bath and wrapped in a towel) through the hatchway, with the final shot of Francis' bare legs and the towel landed on the floor. While the scene was still risky, it got accepted.  However, when Warners applied for a certificate of approval to re-issue Mandalay in 1936, the application was denied. Below: Kay Francis fabulously dressed by Orry-Kelly in a scene from Mandalay.


*Note: 
Convention City
, directed by Archie Mayo and starring Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Mary Astor, Guy Kibbee and Adolphe Menjou, is considered a lost film. When it was released in 1933, the film was successful at the box-office but, due to its racy content, was taken out of circulation once the Code was enforced. The story of the film revolves around the convention of the Honeywell Rubber Company in Atlantic City, with the company's employees being mostly preoccupied with booze and sex. In 1936, Warner Bros. tried to re-release the film but PCA's Joseph Breen considered it beyond redemption and rejected the studio's request for a seal of approval. Subsequently, studio boss Jack Warner reportedly ordered the prints and negatives of the film to be destroyed. According to this interesting article by Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project, however, not all prints were destroyed and prints of the film were shown as late as WWII. Hutchinson seems convinced a print still exists but "we just have to find it!". At any rate, until that happens (if it ever will happen), Convention City remains one of the more coveted lost Hollywood films. Leading lady Joan Blondell once said about it: "That is the raunchiest thing there has ever been. We had so many hysterically dirty things in it ..." (Incidentally, the original screenplay of the film still exists and can be found in the Warner Bros. script archives.)

Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee in Convention City

5 November 2022

Buster Keaton, whom I have selected to follow in my footsteps ...

I am not a fan of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle but I love Buster Keaton and recently watched a lot of Buster shorts, including several he made with Arbuckle (The Cook (1918) being my favourite of the Buster-Arbuckle shorts). It was through Arbuckle that Buster had his first break in Hollywood. The two met in early 1917 and Arbuckle, who was then at the height of his popularity, took Buster under his wing. Until then Buster had been performing with his parents in a vaudeville act (as The Three Keatons) and had never stood in front of a camera before. When asked by Arbuckle to do a scene for his newest two-reeler The Butcher Boy, Buster proved to be a natural and Arbuckle immediately hired him. The two men entered into a very successful working relationship, with Buster appearing in a total of 14 Arbuckle shorts. 

In 1920, after completing their final film together The Garage, Buster went on to make films on his own, starting with a series of two-reelers including One Week, Convict 13 and Neighbors. Due to his success with Arbuckle, Buster was given his own production unit by independent producer Joseph M. Schenck —Buster Keaton Productions— which first produced two-reelers and later feature films. Arbuckle, in turn, signed a very lucrative contract with Paramount Pictures in 1921 and made several full-length features for the studio before becoming involved in a huge scandal. Accused of the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe, Arbuckle faced three highly publicised trials which —despite his eventual acquittal— destroyed his career, while also leaving him bankrupt.

Apart from being colleagues, Buster and Arbuckle were close friends. Buster was one of the people, along with Charlie Chaplin, who had supported and defended Arbuckle during the scandal. After his acquittal Arbuckle tried to make films again, but he was banned from the screen and could only work behind the camera under a pseudonym. Buster attempted to help his friend by hiring him as co-director on Sherlock Jr. (1924). Arbuckle proved very difficult to work with —a nervous wreck after the trials, he lost his temper easily and screamed at actors on the set— which made Buster end their collaboration. Nevertheless, the two men remained friends and Buster financially supported Arbuckle for the remainder of Arbuckle's life. (In 1933 Arbuckle died of a heart attack, only 46 years old.)

_____


For the letter of this post, let's go back to the period before the scandal. Having completed The Garage (his last short with Buster), Arbuckle was excited to move on and make feature films. He also wanted to give Buster a hand with his solo career, and for that purpose a printed copy of the following letter was sent to 25,000 of Arbuckle's fans. Calling Buster "a worthy successor" and "one who could make you laugh even more than [he] did", Arbuckle encouraged his own fans to go out and see Buster in the theatre.

Via: Pinterest

Transcript:

Dear friend:

I am sending you a photograph of "Buster" Keaton, the little sad faced fellow who used to work in my pictures and whom I have selected to follow in my footsteps and make two-reel comedies.

As you know, I am now making five-reel comedy features but I did not desert the two-reelers until I felt perfectly sure I had found a worthy successor -- one who could make you laugh even more than I did.

Up to date "Buster" has made three pictures entitled: "One Week"; "Convict 13" and "The Scarecrow". These pictures are first-class laughing successes.

If you want to see them ask the manager of your favorite moving picture theatre when he is going to play "Buster" Keaton's comedies and he will give you the exact date.

Always your friend,

(signed) Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle

25 October 2022

You are the most talented woman at friendship

Helen Hayes and Joan Crawford became friends in the 1930s. In her (third) memoir My Life in Three Acts (1990) Hayes said that Joan had adopted her as her best friend, despite the fact that they were very different. Joan probably didn't feel threatened by her, Helen thought, not considering her a rival. In any case, Helen was fascinated by the glamorous Joan and the two women entered into an unlikely friendship. 

According to her memoir, Hayes didn't see much of Joan anymore after Joan became involved with Pepsi-Cola, while Hayes herself was busy working in the theatre. (In 1955, Joan married Alfred Steele, president of Pepsi-Cola, and after Steele's death four years later she became a board member of Pepsi, to eventually retire in 1973.) Nevertheless, the women would still meet on occasion and also sent each other telegrams/letters. In her 1962 autobiography, Joan said that she and Helen were "staunch friends, sometimes only by letter". Below is some of Helen's correspondence to Joan from the 1970's, clearly showing that Joan never forgot her friends.

Sources: letter above left The Concluding Chapter of Crawford and the two other letters The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia

Transcript:

March 6, 1970

Dearest Joan:

As I said at "Pavillion", you are the most talented woman at friendship (along with some other things) that I have ever known.

Thank you for being so helpful to my morale with your wire and your visit to "Harvey" and for helping me through that lunch last Monday.

You look great, so there's no need to tell you to be careful not to work too hard.

Blessings, 
signed "Helen H."


Transcript:

October 20, 1972

Dear Joan: 

Thank you for your thoughtful wire.

I can't get over you. You are always right there - never forget.

Love and blessings,
signed "Helen H."


Transcript:

October 26, 1974

Dear Joan:

Just back from England to find your birthday wire.

You are rapidly becoming my favorite person.

Bless you,
signed "Helen H."
_____


In 1978, a year after Joan's death, Joan's adoptive daughter Christina published Mommie Dearest, a tell-all book in which she accused her mother of mental and physical abuse towards her and her adoptive siblings. Joan's two other daughters, Cathy and Cindy, denied the allegations made against their mother as did many of Joan's friends, including Joan's ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy. Helen Hayes, however, was one of the people who said she had personally witnessed some form of abuse (others were, for example, June Allyson and Betty Hutton). This is an excerpt from Hayes' memoir, published thirteen years after Joan's death:

"Joan was not quite rational in her raising of children. You might say she was strict or stern. But cruel is probably the right word. [...]

When my young son Jim came to stay with me, we would go out to lunch with them [Joan and her son Christopher]. Joan would snap, “Christopher!” whenever he tried to speak. He would bow his little head, completely cowed, and then he’d say, “Mommie dearest, may I speak?” Joan’s children had to say [that] before she allowed them to utter another word. It would have been futile for me or anyone else to protest. Joan would only get angry and probably vent her rage on the kids. 

On one of my Hollywood trips about this time, I ran into Dinah Shore in the hairdressing department of MGM. She beckoned me to come over, and then began talking in a whisper. “Helen, everybody knows that you’re Joan Crawford’s close friend. Can you do something about her treatment of those children? We’re all worried to death.” ... Well, I was frightened to do it. We were all afraid of Joan – which is the biggest problem in this kind of situation, as we’ve seen with fatal results. No one would speak up. 

I have read that people who are abused as children often become abusive parents. Maybe it was Joan’s tough childhood that made her exert her power like that over her own children. But understanding the reason did not make their suffering any easier to watch."

(l to r) ca. 1956, Helen Hayes, Alfred Steele, Joan Crawford and James MacArthur; Steele was Joan's fourth husband and MacArthur was Hayes' adopted son.


20 October 2022

I can’t think of anyone who could do it as you could

Author Ayn Rand immigrated from her native Russia to the United States in 1926 and had her first big success with the novel The Fountainhead (1943). After selling the film rights to her book to Warner Bros. in 1943, Rand was hired by producer Hal Wallis to work as a screenwriter and script doctor (her work includes Love Letters (1945) and You Came Along (1945)). Adapting her own novel, Rand also wrote the screenplay for The Fountainhead, which was finally made into a film in 1949.

Barbara Stanwyck was an avid fan of Ayn Rand and desperately wanted to play the role of Dominique Francon, the female protagonist of The Fountainhead. For that purpose she had urged Jack Warner to purchase the film rights for her. As said, Warner bought the rights, but production got delayed and in the end Warner chose a different leading lady for the film. Patricia Neal got cast instead of Barbara, much to Barbara's dismay (read more in this post). 

While Barbara never got to play Dominique Francon, in a 1946 letter (seen below) she was approached by Rand to play one of Rand's other characters, the female protagonist in Red Pawn. Red Pawn was Rand's very first screenplay, which she sold to Universal in 1932; Paramount later bought it from Universal, reportedly as a vehicle for Marlene Dietrich. The script deals with the evils of dictatorship, in particular of Soviet Russia. The role Rand offered Barbara was that of an American woman, Joan Harding, who infiltrates a prison for political prisoners in order to free her Russian husband. Due to the anti-Soviet theme of the script, the filming of Red Pawn was postponed by Universal several times. In the end, Barbara rejected Rand's offer by telegram, simply stating that she and her manager found it not "the right kind of story". Red Pawn was never made into a film and was ultimately shelved.

Above: Barbara Stanwyck and Ayn Rand who eventually became friends. Below: Rand on the set of The Fountainhead, flanked by the leads, Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. 

September 7, 1946 

Dear Barbara: 

Now that I have a better idea of the kind of story and characterization you like, it occurred to me that I should show you Red Pawn, a synopsis of which is attached. 

This is an original by me, the first story I ever sold. Paramount owns it, but has never produced it. 

I would like you to read it, keeping in mind that if it were to be made now, I would suggest changing the locale and having the story take place in an unnamed dictatorship, rather than in Soviet Russia. It would give the story deeper significance. 

I called this story to Mr. Wallis’ attention, when I first started to work for him. He read it and liked it, but hesitated for a long time over the question of the locale, saying that he did not like to have a story in an unnamed background. I don’t agree with him on that. He did admit that the story has the same dramatic pattern and the same basic situation as Casablanca (I wrote it long before that), but he could not quite make up his mind to do it, so I let it go and have not discussed it with him since. 

As far as I am concerned, since Paramount owns the story, I would not get any kind of extra payment for it — so this is not an attempt to sell you an original of mine for any reason except that I love this story. I think it is still the best film story I ever wrote, and I would rather work on it than on anything I know. 

The starring role is an acting part of the kind which a writer can succeed in devising very rarely; I know it, because I’ve tried since. She is the only woman in the story—and a kind of advance echo of Dominique. After seeing [The Strange Love of] Martha Ivers, I can’t think of anyone who could do it as you could. 

Since you said that what you were anxious to find was a love story, a story about positive characters, and a story that had a quality of prestige — I could not help sending you this one. It is all three. 

If you like it, I think we can persuade Mr. Wallis to make it; and I would be one of the happiest authors in Hollywood. But if you don’t, I shall do my best with Be Still, My Love, as we discussed it. 

I will telephone you Monday morning to learn your reaction before I make an appointment to see Mr. Wallis. If the time is not convenient to you, would you leave a message as to what time I may reach you, and I will call then.  

[Source: Letters of Ayn Rand (1997)— via archive.org]

 
The 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's best-known work, her magnum opus, and in the fall of 1957 Rand again approached Barbara Stanwyck to see if she would be interested to play the novel's heroine: "As you see, I don't forget, even if Warner Brothers do. I will be very interested to hear your reaction to Atlas Shrugged. ...  Before I make any decision in regard to the movie rights of this novel, I would like to know whether you feel about Dagny Taggart as you did about Dominique Francon". Barbara replied a few days later, saying that she loved the book and even "lost a week’s sleep" over it. Nevertheless she declined, thinking that Hollywood would probably want somebody "young, beautiful, and all the rest that goes with it." Rand was working on a screenplay of Atlas Shrugged when she died in 1982, with only one-third of the script completed. 

13 October 2022

She was like all Charlie Chaplin’s heroines in one

Elia Kazan met Marilyn Monroe, by his own account, on the set of Harmon Jones' As Young as You Feel (1951), a comedy in which Marilyn played a small role. The two would later embark on a brief love affair. At the time, Kazan —seventeen years Marilyn's senior— was married to his first wife, dramatist Molly Day Thacher (their marriage lasted from 1932 until Thacher's death in 1963). Kazan was a very close friend of playwright Arthur Miller and was the one who introduced Marilyn to Miller. Marilyn and Miller (the latter also married then) fell for each other immediately but wouldn't become romantically involved until 1955 and eventually married a year later. Marilyn and Kazan reportedly remained friends after their affair.

Top photo: Arthur Miller (left) and Elia Kazan were close friends until Kazan named names before HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Committee) in early 1952, thereby destroying their friendship. Marilyn Monroe was reportedly instrumental in reuniting them years later. After her death, the two men worked together on Miller's 1964 play After the Fall, which Kazan directed. Bottom photo: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller who were married from 1956 until 1961. When they met, Miller was still married to Mary Slattery whom he divorced in 1956; Marilyn would marry Joe DiMaggio in 1954, only to divorce him nine months later.  
_____




Seen below are two telegrams and a letter written by Elia Kazan. First shown are the telegrams, sent by Kazan to Marilyn during their affair. Noteworthy is that the first telegram was signed "B", which stands for "Bauer". Kazan and Miller had adopted Marilyn as their "mascot" and nicknamed her "Miss Bauer" following a prank they had played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn. In a meeting with Kazan and Cohn —during which Kazan tried to sell Cohn Miller's script The Hook— Marilyn had posed as Kazan's private secretary Miss Bauer, without Cohn ever recognising her. 

Source: Bonhams




The following letter —not shown in full but the part that deals with Marilyn— was written by Kazan to his wife Molly Day Thacher on 29 November 1955. In it, the director confesses to his affair with Marilyn four years earlier. The "boy friend, or keeper" to whom Kazan refers was Marilyn's agent Johnny Hyde. Thirty-one years Marilyn's senior, Hyde was in love with Marilyn and even left his wife for her. Marilyn didn't return Hyde's feelings but did love him dearly and was heartbroken when he died on 18 December 1950 (a few days after production on As Young as You Feel had started). When Kazan met Marilyn, she was grieving over Hyde's death. 


In one sense it’s true to say that it meant nothing. On the other hand it was a human experience, and it started, if that is of any significance, in a most human way. Her boy friend, or “keeper” (if you want to be mean about it) had just died. His family had not allowed her to see the body, or allowed her into the house, where she had been living after the death. She had sneaked in one night and been thrown out. I met her on Harmon Jones set when I went over to visit Harmon. Harmon thought her a ridiculous person and was fashionably scornful of her. I found her, when I was introduced, in tears. I took her to dinner because she seemed like such a touching pathetic waif. She sobbed all thru dinner. I wasn’t “interested in her”; that came later. But I did feel terribly touched by her and did think she had a lot of talent. .... I got to know her in time and introduced her to Arthur Miller, who also was very taken by her. You couldn’t help being touched. She was talented, funny, vulnerable, helpless in awful pain, with no hope, and some worth and not a liar, not vicious, not catty, and with a history of orphanism that was killing to hear. She was like all Charlie Chaplin’s heroines in one. 

I’m not ashamed at all, not a damn bit, of having been attracted to her. She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. I don't know what she is like now, except I notice Lee Strasberg [Marilyn's acting mentor and friend] has the same reaction to her that I did. She was a little stray cat when I knew her, total possession a few clothes, and one piano. I got a lot out of her just as you do from any human experience where anyone is revealed to you and you affect anyone in any way. I guess I gave her a lot of hope, and Arthur gave her a lot of hope. She had a crush on Art, not me. I was more interested in her, especially humanly than he was. She is not a big sex pot as advertised. At least not in my experience. I don’t know if there are such as “advertised” big sex pots. I didn't have anything to do with her when I went out during the testifying. She was sleeping with [Joe] DiMaggio. She told me a lot about him and her, his Catholicism, and his viciousness (he struck her often, and beat her up several times). I was touched and fascinated. It was the type of experience that I do not understand and I enjoyed (not the right word) hearing about it. I certainly recommended her to [playwright] Tennessee’s [Williams] attention. And he was very taken by her. 

I’m not sorry about it. I don't think a man can go thru a life without lesions, faults, slips and all that. I have no will towards same, and I have no desire to harm you. .... I am human though. It might happen again. I hope not, and I have resisted quite some other opportunities. No loss. I got a lot out of this one, can’t say I didn’t. I think I helped her. I don't know the answer to all this. If you don’t like what I say and feel it necessary for your own sense of honor and cleanliness to divorce me, divorce me. ... I don’t think I should not be married or anything like that. If you divorce me, I’ll tell you plainly I will in time get married again and have more children. I feel I’m a family man and I want a family, and am a damned good one. I don’t care what your judgment is on that. .... Let me repeat: I had nothing to do with her getting into the Actors' Studio, or Lee Strasberg's classes. Nor am I coaching her, advising her, seeing her or cuddling her. I'm really weary of the whole subject just as you are. ....


Source: The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan (2014), edited by Albert J. Devlin.  

Above: Marilyn Monroe and Johnny Hyde pictured dancing at the Palm Springs Racquet Club on New Year’s Eve 1949. Below: Elia Kazan with his first wife Molly Day Thacher. After Thacher's death in 1963, Kazan remarried twice —to actress/director Barbara Loden (m. 1967 until Loden's death in 1980) and author Frances Wright (m.1982 until Kazan's own death in 2003).

6 October 2022

Fred Zinnemann's views on "High Noon"

Fred Zinneman's High Noon (1952) was one of Hollywood's first psychological westerns, focusing on character rather than action. The story involves a town marshal (played by Gary Cooper) who faces a gang of notorious gunmen alone, after the townspeople refused to help him. High Noon is often seen as an allegory on the Hollywood blacklist. During production of the film, Carl Foreman —the film's screenwriter who was once a member of the Communist Party— was summoned before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the committee that was investigating communism in the USA in the early 1950s. Foreman refused to name names of his former Party members and was consequently labelled an "unfriendly witness" by HUAC and later blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. Foreman eventually wrote the script of High Noon as a metaphor for his own HUAC experience. Like the film's marshal who ends up standing alone, the screenwriter had found himself shunned by his friends and people in the industry with no one having the courage to back him. Knowing he would no longer be able to work in the USA, Foreman sold his partnership share to production partner Stanley Kramer, moved to England and would not return to the States until 1975. 

In his 1991 autobiography A Life in the Movies, director Fred Zinnemann gave his own point of view on High Noon, feeling Foreman's point of view was "narrow". Zinnemann had not intended his film to be a metaphor for McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist. Instead he thought:

There was something timely -and timeless- about it, something that had a direct bearing on life today. To me it was the story of a man who must make a decision according to his conscience. His town -symbol of a democracy gone soft- faces a horrendous threat to its people's way of life. Determined to resist, and in deep trouble, he moves all over the place looking for support but finding that there is nobody who will help him; each has a reason of his own for not getting involved. In the end he must meet his chosen fate all by himself, his town's doors and windows firmly locked against him. It is a story that still happens everywhere, every day.

Above: Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane walking down the streets of his town while looking for volunteers to help him fight the bad guys. Below: High Noon's director Fred Zinnemann (left) and screenwriter Carl Foreman. 

Three years prior to the publication of his autobiography, Fred Zinnemann had presented his views on High Noon in the following letter to Mr Caparros-Lera, a Spanish professor who worked at the University of Barcelona, Spain. The professor wanted to know what Zinnemann's intention was behind his film. Apart from the blacklist angle, some people believed High Noon was an allegory on the Korean War, a theory Zinnemann also refuted.

Source:  publicacions.ub.es

Note
Director Howard Hawks made his western Rio Bravo (1959) in response to High Noon, hating the way High Noon depicted its main character: "I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him." Rio Bravo's leading man John Wayne agreed with Hawks and also hated High Noon, saying that "real cowboys didn't have mental problems, and didn't have time for this couch-work.” A staunch anti-communist and fervent supporter of HUAC, Wayne even found the film "the most un-American thing" and in an interview said he would "never regret having helped run Foreman out of the country". Quite ironically, when Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon but was unable to attend the awards ceremony, it was Wayne (a longtime friend of Cooper's) who accepted the Oscar on Cooper's behalf. (Incidentally, Cooper himself had been a "friendly witness" before HUAC but later became an ardent opponent of blacklisting.)
 
On the set of High Noon with Gary Cooper, Fred Zinnemann and Grace Kelly, the latter having her first major role as Cooper's young Quaker bride.

30 September 2022

My deepest love & respect, Bowie

David Hemmings' Just a Gigolo (1978) was Marlene Dietrich's last picture. Dietrich had a small role as Baroness von Semering, a madam who runs a brothel for gigolos in post-WWI Berlin. The then 77-year-old actress, who had not made a film since Judgement At Nuremberg (1961), worked on Gigolo for just two days and was reportedly paid $250,000. 

The film's main character, an army officer-turned-gigolo, was played by popstar David Bowie who later said that he had accepted the part, mainly because "Marlene Dietrich was dangled in front of [him]." Bowie and Dietrich shared two scenes in the film —the only scenes Dietrich was in— but in the end they never met. Gigolo was shot in Berlin, where Bowie lived at the time. As Dietrich refused to leave her city of residence Paris, the scenes were filmed with Marlene alone in a Paris studio while Bowie was in Berlin acting to a wooden chair. The separate parts were eventually edited together, the results to be watched here (with Marlene also performing the song Just a Gigolo).

Although Dietrich and Bowie never met, they did talk to each other on the phone and also wrote each other letters. One of these letters, from Bowie to Dietrich, is seen below. It was written on 8 April 1978, while Bowie was doing his Isolar II world tour. In the end, Just a Gigolo (which also co-starred Kim Novak) became a huge flop, lambasted by both the critics and audiences. Bowie later referred to the film as "my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one."


Transcript:

April 8th 78
Chicago

Dear Miss Dietrich,

Please, please forgive this disgusting lapse of time to answer your delightful note.

I have no excuse.

If, for any reason, you should wish to reach me, here is the address and no: (tel) of my lawyer and friend in L.A. 
Stanley Diamond 
10850 Wilshire Blvd.
L.A 90024 (Tel) (213) 879 3444.

I hear from David H [Hemmings] that, putting apart the bad areas, the film is looking SPLENDID. Hurrah!

I will be in Paris for 2 or 3 concerts in April or May and will certainly telephone or write before I arrive (staying at Plaza of course).

I do hope we can meet this time. 

I will sing for you at the concert.

My deepest love & respect 

Bowie
78

Above: On the set of Just a Gigolo with (l to r) director David Hemmings, Kim Novak, Maria Schell and David Bowie. Below: Marlene Dieterich as Baroness von Semering in a publicity still for Just a Gigolo.

23 September 2022

I’m very sorry to lose her because she is great

Following their successful collaboration on The Pirate (1948), Gene Kelly and Judy Garland were to star together again in Charles Walters' Easter Parade (1948). Before filming began, however, Kelly broke his ankle and Fred Astaire —in retirement after Blue Skies (1946)— was asked to replace him (at Kelly's suggestion). Anxious to come out of retirement and to work with Judy, Astaire didn't hesitate for a moment to accept the role. While filming Easter Parade,  he and Judy got along famously and proved to be a wonderful match. Astaire later recalled: "Of course, Judy was the star of the picture. And it's a joy to work with somebody like Judy, because she's a super talent, with a great sense of humor. She could do anything. She wasn't primarily a dancer, but she could do what you asked her to do .... [Our numbers together] remain with me as high spots of enjoyment in my career. Judy's uncanny knowledge of showmanship impressed me more than ever as I worked with her."

Easter Parade was a big success, both critically and commercially. While the film was still in production, producer Arthur Freed was already working on a new project, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) —also to be directed by Charles Walters— and again he wanted Astaire and Garland to play the leads. Astaire was elated to be working with Judy again and vice versa ("Fred put me completely at ease. He's a gentleman and lots of fun to work with."). But while Judy was in great spirits during Easter Parade, after two weeks of rehearsals on The Barkleys her health —both physical and emotional— deteriorated and she kept calling in sick. Finally, on 18 July 1948, Judy was removed from The Barkleys and put on suspension.

Judy and Fred chatting on the set of Easter Parade



MGM needed a last-minute replacement for Judy Garland and contacted Ginger Rogers to see if she was available and interested in working with Astaire again. The two had worked together for six years and done nine films together (all for RKO) but with the 1939 The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle their partnership had ended. There had been rumours that the couple didn't part amicably, that they had been fighting and didn't even get along. These rumours, however, have always been denied by both Fred and Ginger. About their relationship Ginger said in her 1991 memoir Ginger: My Story: "Fred and I were colleagues, and despite occasional snits... we worked together beautifully ... we had fun, and it showsTrue, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests." Delighted to be working with Fred again, Ginger accepted the role and, not having danced in years, worked very hard to get back into shape. Ginger's hard work eventually paid off, her dancing in The Barkleys being as good as ever (especially during the wonderful Bouncin' the Blues, one of my favourite Astaire-Rogers dance numbers; watch here). 

The Barkleys of Broadway, the only film Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did in colour, became a commercial success and also received positive reviews. In the end, Ginger was probably better suited for the role of Dinah Barkley than Judy Garland, considering the Barkleys are a long-lasting showbiz couple and the part called for an older actress (Ginger was eleven years older than Judy). Below: On the set of The Barkleys with (l to r) Fred Astaire, director Chuck Walters, Oscar Levant and Ginger Rogers.
In his autobiography Steps in Time (1959) Fred Astaire looked back on his re-pairing with Ginger Rogers with great fondness. However, others working on The Barkleys (including choreographer Hermes Pan) recalled a lack of enthusiasm in Astaire, who felt they were trying to get back something that couldn't be recaptured. In Brent Philips' biography Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance (2014), Walters is quoted as saying: "It came as quite a shock to find out that Mr. Astaire was not too keen about Miss Rogers ... They got along well, [but] Fred complained about her incessantly ... He would say, for example, that he couldn't stand a woman who was taller than he was ... [Fred could be] a real nag." 

What seems certain is that Astaire had been terribly disappointed when Judy Garland dropped out of The Barkleys. Ginger Rogers also mentioned it in her memoir and even claimed Fred had a crush on Judy: "On the first day of work, I went down to the rehearsal hall to see Fred. He was sweet and friendly, but I could see he was slightly disappointed. I had learned that Judy Garland had originally been signed as his co-star. They'd just worked together on Easter Parade and I knew Fred had a slight crush on her." And Astaire's stand-in Joe Niemeyer commented: "I've never seen him as happy as he was during the making of Easter Parade. It's a wonderful story and a wonderful picture. But to him, the joy came from working with Judy, a girl whose own sense of timing and comedy and perfection is as intense as his. With Judy, the film was nothing but play [for him]." 

After their collaboration on The Barkleys fell through, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland got another chance to work together, this time on Royal Wedding (1951) when June Allyson dropped out due to pregnancy. But again, it was not to be. Once production on the film had started, Judy again kept calling in sick and was eventually fired from the film and replaced with Jane Powell. Easter Parade would remain Fred and Judy's only collaboration.

_____


Below is a small fragment of a letter, dated 1 August 1948, which Fred Astaire wrote to his good friend Jack Leach, jockey and trainer of horses. (Astaire had a passion for horseracing and Leach trained horses owned by Astaire). The segment deals with Judy Garland dropping out of The Barkleys and Ginger Rogers replacing her, with Fred clearly disappointed over the loss of Judy. 

If you're interested in reading the entire letter, which mostly deals with the subject of horses, click on the source link below the image. 



Transcript: 

August 1st [1948]

Dear Jack:-

Have been wanting to write but you know what happens when I start on a picture.

We’ve had complications & Judy Garland had to retire from the picture on acct. of illness. I’m very sorry to lose her because she is great – but Ginger Rogers has been brought in to replace her. I haven’t worked with Ginger for 8 years & it’s a lot of work for her to get back to dancing again. I just did a hell of a good picture “Easter Parade” with Judy. It’s a big hit, I think the biggest I’ve ever had. Well – nuts with pictures I want to know about your horses. How is Delerium? Hope he has held up well this year.

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire on the set of Easter Parade, in costume for their terrific act A Couple of Swells.



16 September 2022

I might have gotten a contract with Metro if I had gone to bed with him

Searching information online about actress Susan Fox, I found little to nothing. Apparently Fox was one of the many women considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939) and, according to IMDB, she co-starred with Orson Welles in the 20-minute Welles' comedy The Green Goddess (1939). But that's all I found, with no photo of Fox anywhere. She was obviously an aspiring actress whose Hollywood career never took off.

Robert Ritchie was a MGM publicist and talent scout, responsible for recruiting Hedy Lamarr, Luise Rainer and Greer Garson. He is probably best known for his relationship with Jeanette MacDonald in the early 1930s. Ida Koverman (a friend of MacDonald's and secretary to MGM boss Louis B. Mayer) had once described Ritchie as "a schnorrer or parasite". 

In the letter below —postmarked 3 January 1940 and addressed to Howard Hughes— Susan Fox complains about Ritchie hindering her career after she had refused to sleep with him. It's ironic that Fox should be complaining to Hughes about Ritchie, considering Hughes also abused his power to obtain sexual favours from women. Reportedly Hughes was a friend of Fox, as was Katharine Hepburn who is also mentioned in the letter. In the end, as said, Fox's film career never happened; perhaps it was her experience with Ritchie that made her pursue a different career.

(l) Robert Ritchie pictured with Jeannette McDonald circa 1931 and (r) Howard Hughes


Transcript:

Wednesday

Dear Howard -

Just a note to tell you how nice it was speaking to you over the phone last night - it made me feel much better - I felt pretty low after I spoke to Katherine [sic] - even if she does think I'm a good actress - Gosh, why couldn't I be a raving beauty? You know it's funny I always thought I was pretty attractive - and had been told so many times - but I'm beginning to get an inferiority complex about it now - not so good -

And now for Mr. Ritchie - and I'm going to be very frank - He's a bastard - I know that's not a very nice word for me to use - but it's the only appropriate one - Katherine [sic] said the same and I was very pleased when she used the same word - I know he's a friend of yours - but then you're a male - and Bob's behavior is quite different towards males - as you can well imagine - I might have gotten a contract with Metro if I had gone to bed with him - but no job in all this world is worth that - not to me anyway - so now he won't even speak to me - much less do anything for me as far as Metro is concerned - but I'll be damned if I'll throw all conventions and pride to the winds for one by the name of Robert Ritchie - I may be wrong - others have done it before - but I just couldn't and can't - I'm getting mad now just thinking about it - I wanted to tell you all of this last night over the phone - but I decided to write it to you instead - I'll let you know what George does about Fox -

Thanks for not being in the shower last night when I called - it was very considerate of you -

Love to you Howard - and I do - 
Suzy

P.S. Did you get the magnificent hat?