27 February 2022

I thought we were considered GUESTS, not thieves!

The luxurious Savoy Hotel in London was home to many classic Hollywood stars, including Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich loved the Savoy and lived at the hotel on and off throughout her career for extended periods of time. Her good relationship with the hotel abruptly ended in 1975, however, after she had been accused of stealing the hotel's cutlery. While the actress was indignant at being accused (see the letter below), according to a 2011 article in the Daily Mail she did have a habit of stealing cutlery from the Savoy as well as silver salt and pepper pots delivered to her suite via room service. In her book Marlene Dietrich: The Life (1992), Maria Riva confirmed that her mother had kleptomaniac habits. Dietrich used to nick the clothes which she wore for her various film roles, said Riva, and she also took gloves, scarves, handbags and hats.

July 1949, Marlene Dietrich at the Savoy in London, waving to fans outside. Dietrich was in London for the shooting of Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950).

This is Marlene Dietrich's letter to the manager of the Savoy Hotel, written on 16 April 1975. I don't know what the hotel's reaction was, but apparently a reply was sent to Dietrich a month later.

Source: Gotta Have Rock and Roll


16 April 1975

Dear Mr. Griffin,

What a shame that after all these years the haggling over hotel hardware should be the termination of my relationship with the Savoy Hotel. For no matter how much I have loved this hotel in the past, being accused of "stealing" certainly makes it impossible for me to ever reside there again.

Actually the situation is so ludicrous that it has taken me some time to realize that you really meant such an insult.

Assuming that I would wish to travel around the world with my luggage full of cutlery — I assure you that it would be of stirling and not your tawdry stuff! What happens, once the tables have been pushed into corridors in a frenzy to get rid of them after waiting for hours for the atrociously bad room service pick-up, should have nothing to do with your guests.

So we have come to the operative word, "Guest". I thought I, and the many friends I encourage to stay at the Savoy, were considered GUESTS, not thieves!

I shall certainly now inform them of their new status should they ever decide to stay at the Savoy Hotel, which, of course, I shall never do again!

Ms Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich talking to the press at the Savoy in July 1949

20 February 2022

Remembering Michael Curtiz

Born in Hungary as Manó Kertész Kaminer, director Michael Curtiz arrived in Hollywood in 1926 at age 39. Having already directed numerous films in Europe, Curtiz was signed to a contract by Warner Bros, the studio where he would make nearly all of his Hollywood films. While Curtiz didn't have a signature style like some of his peers (like Alfred Hitchcock or Frank Capra), he was a versatile director who could handle a variety of genres, including adventure, western, musical, drama, comedy and film noir. A lot of films that are now considered classics were directed by Curtiz, among them The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945) and White Christmas (1954).

Curtiz was a workaholic, working long hours without pausing for lunch and dismissing actors who ate lunch as "lunch bums" (which led Peter Lorre to remark: "Curtiz eats pictures and excretes pictures"). A lot of actors as well as crew members found the director very difficult to work with. Biographer Alan Rode said that Curtiz's "demonic work ethic approached savagery" and that the working conditions on his sets had contributed to the founding of the Screen Actors Guild. As mentioned in this post, Bette Davis hated working with Curtiz. Among the actors who also had problems with the director were Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and the latter once said: "Mike was a pompous bastard who didn’t know how to treat actors, but he sure as hell knew how to treat a camera"

Struggling with the English language, Curtiz was known for his use of malapropisms. For example, a well-known anecdote is that Curtiz had asked for a "poodle" on the set of Casablanca; some time later the prop master brought him a little dog, not realising Curtiz had meant a "puddle" (of water),  not a "poodle".

Seen below are three letters from actresses who remember what is was like to work with Curtiz. The letters, all written in 1975, are addressed to Curtiz's daughter Candace Curtiz who was working on a book about her famous father. (I couldn't find any information regarding the book, so I guess it was never published.)

The first letter is from Olivia de Havilland who had quite a hard time with Curtiz, finding him "exigent, emotional, and even harsh". She was directed by him nine times, i.e. in Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Gold Is Where You Find It (1938), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Four's a Crowd (1938), Dodge City (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and The Proud Rebel (1958). 

Not all actors found Curtiz difficult to work with, however. Claude Rains, for example, whom Curtiz had directed in ten films, got along with the director quite well. And there were others, including Ingrid Bergman and Rosalind Russell, who said they enjoyed working with the man. Bergman, who was directed by Curtiz in Casablanca (1942), and Russell, who worked with him on Roughly Speaking (1945), talk about their experiences in the second and third letter of this post, written on resp. 5 February 1975 and 22 August 1975.

On the set of Gold Is Where You Find It with Olivia de Havilland, George Brent and Mike Curtiz.

(The image on the left only shows the back of Ingrid's letter.)

I belong to the people who loved your father. He was extremely nice to me during the shooting of “Casablanca”. He was under such stress because the script was written day by day. All his actors were nervous not knowing what was going to happen, all of them asking for their dialogue. He sat mostly by himself in deep thoughts, while the lights were being changed. He was very impatient and couldn’t stand people that worked slowly. How wonderful, if he had known he was making a masterpiece, a classic that would be loved for generations! I never met your father outside of work, so I really only know him from the set. I think Hal Wallis, the producer and still here in Hollywood, could help you. They fought over the story every lunch hour!! 

I wish you best of luck —

Ingrid Bergman 

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Mike Curtiz on the set of Casablanca.


Dear Miss Curtiz:

Forgive my not answering your letter. It was because I really had nothing to offer your book of great value.

I worked for your father but he did not use the "bon mots" many others said he did. He was hardworking + thorough, full of enthusiasm.

I enjoyed working with him + felt he put a good deal of his own unique energy on to the film he was making.

Good luck with your book about a splendid filmmaker!

Rosalind Russell

Mike Curtiz  and Rosalind Russell on the set of Roughly Speaking.

Source of all letters: One Of A Kind Collectibles Auctions

13 February 2022

I'm fed up with being interviewed

In March 1957 on the television show Caesar's Hour, Joan Crawford conducted a short interview with fellow actress Ingrid Bergman after presenting her with the Look Magazine Award. The award was to honour Ingrid as Best Actress of the Year for her performance in Anastasia (1956). While the interview lasts only a few minutes, it's really nice to see these two actresses together, Joan being her glamorous self and Ingrid natural and graceful as always. Here it is:

During their careers Joan and Ingrid never played in a film together, although they did play the same role of a disfigured woman in A Woman's Face, Ingrid in the original Swedish film from 1938 and Joan in the 1941 Hollywood remake. Also, they were contenders for the Best Actress Oscar in 1946, Joan being nominated for Mildred Pierce and Ingrid for The Bells of St. Mary's. (Joan eventually won but, convinced that Ingrid would win, she had stayed at home during the Oscar ceremony, feigning pneumonia.) While I don't think the women were friends, they obviously admired and respected each other and occasionally sent each other letters. 

Below is some of Ingrid's correspondence to Joan. First up is a 1946 notecard, congratulating Joan on her Oscar for Mildred Pierce (written the day after the Oscar ceremony). 

March 8- 46

Dear Joan —

My very sincere congratulations!

Ingrid Bergman

Next is a letter (shown in part) from 22 April 1969, in which Ingrid tells Joan that she is sorry to have missed her at the Oscars, held the week before. At the time Ingrid was filming A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970) and had just finished Cactus Flower (1969).

Source: Heritage Auctions


I am sorry I didn't see you at the Oscar affair except a second on the monitor backstage. Hope you are well and happy (you looked marvelous!) and all is well with your children. Mine came for a brief visit over Easter vacation. It's too bad my two pictures are so close together. I had no time to go home.
All my warmest wishes and love,

Finally, this letter was written in May 1975 and apparently Ingrid had agreed to do an interview with a friend of Joan's but decided not to go through with it, fed up with being interviewed. (By the looks of it, she didn't mind being interviewed by Joan years earlier!)

Source: icollector.com


Dear Joan —

Sorry, but I just couldn't see your friend for an interview. I have been so pressed for time and am also fed up with being interviewed. 
I am going home tomorrow for a rest and I send you my warmest wishes —

May 13- 75

6 February 2022

To credit or not to credit

A month after filming on Torn Curtain (1966) had ended, Alfred Hitchcock received a note from a Universal executive, asking him to include the name of set decorator John McCarthy in the film's credits. Baffled by the request, Hitch next sent a memo concerning the matter to production associate Paul Donnelly ("I never saw John McCarthy during the whole of our production. Who is he?"). Hitch was also confused about another credit which apparently was a customary credit and appeared on the Universal logo, i.e. the byline Edward Muhl In Charge of Production. In 1953, Muhl had been appointed the studio's vice-president in charge of production and was responsible for a run of very successful films (including comedies such as Pillow Talk (1959), Operation Petticoat (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961)). After MCA acquired Universal in 1962 and other executives became co-responsible for production, the Edward Muhl credit was still used and continued to be used until 1967. Hitch wondered "What is the point of this insignia?", sending a memo to Edd Henry, Universal's then vice-president.

The two memos mentioned are seen below. Apparently Hitchcock got what he wanted as neither John McCarthy's name nor the byline Edward Muhl In Charge of Production appeared in Torn Curtain's credits.

Hitchcock during production of Torn Curtain with leading man Paul Newman. The film proved to be a flop and is generally considered one of Hitch's lesser films.



Date       March 18, 1966



JOE DUBIN [head of Universal's legal department]

I have received a note from Joseph S. Dubin to the effect that the name of a set decorator, John McCarthy, should be included in our credits.

I never saw John McCarthy during the whole of our production. Who is he? I know you'll answer that he is the head of a department, but who is he as a contributor to our picture? If Mr. McCarthy thinks he should be included in our credits, then I think that Governor Brown also should be included, because he came on the set, and I shook hands with him, and that is more than I did with Mr. McCarthy.

Emphatically yours,

In the end, it wasn't John McCarthy but George Milo who was credited on screen for the set decoration of Torn Curtain.

Date   March 18, 1966

Dear Mr. Henry, 

In the list of comments on the credits I received from Mr. Dubin there was a mention concerning a 'custom' of putting the name of 'Edward Muhl, in charge of production'. What is the point of this insignia? Am I to believe that 1,000, or if we are successful, 1,050 people are looking at the screen and on seeing the words 'Edward Muhl, in charge of production' an agreeable murmur goes over the audience? If so, then I have no further comment.

However, I am reminded of an Apocryphal story that is told concerning a dispute among a family of three about which picture they should go out to see that evening:-

"The father said, "I'd like to see the Laurel and Hardy comedy".

"Oh no", said the mother, "I want to see that Greer Garson picture".

The daughter intervenes rather emphatically, "I don't want to see either of those pictures, what I want to see is that Edward Muhl picture around the corner".

Yours informatively, 


Source of both memos: Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized And Illustrated Look Inside The Creative Mind Of Alfred Hitchcock (1999) by Dan Auiler. 

Above: The opening and closing of Torn Curtain without the Edward Muhl credit. Below: The Universal logo with the Muhl credit, taken from Pillow Talk (1959).