28 June 2022

Your truest and best admirer, Edna

In early 1915, Charlie Chaplin was looking for a leading lady for his next film A Night Out, when one of his employees saw Edna Purviance at a café, thinking she might be suited for the role. At the time Edna was working as a secretary and had no previous acting experience. Enthralled by her beauty and charm, Chaplin hired Edna, which was the start of a long working relationship. Edna would appear as Chaplin's leading lady and often romantic interest in 33 of his films, all of them shorts except for The Kid (1921) and A Woman of Paris (1923). In the latter film she had her first and only leading role and it was Chaplin's attempt to launch her career as a dramatic actress. Sadly, the attempt was unsuccessful and after two more films —the unreleased A Woman of the Sea and a French film Éducation de Prince (1927)— Edna's film career was over. (While several sources, including Wikipedia and IMDB, state that the actress made uncredited appearances in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952), apparently she doesn't appear in those films at all; read more here.)

Apart from working together, Chaplin and Edna were also romantically involved (from 1915 until 1917) and remained friends after their relationship had ended. When Edna retired from acting, she lived a quiet life away from Hollywood. Chaplin, feeling responsible for her well-being, kept her on his payroll until her death in 1958. 

Above: Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplin pictured together off-screen. Below: Edna and Charlie in (left) The Immigrant (1917) and A Dog's Life (1918).

When Chaplin was casting Monsieur Verdoux (1947), he considered Edna for the role of Madame Grosnay (which eventually went to Isobel Elsom). In his 1964 My Autobiography, Chaplin writes about meeting Edna again after not having seen her for twenty years. A melancholy and touching excerpt from the book in which he describes their reunion is seen below. Included in the excerpt are two letters from Edna to Chaplin. At the time of writing these letters, Edna was battling throat cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease on 13 January 1958, 62 years old. 

During the casting of Monsieur Verdoux, I had thought of Edna for the important part of Madame Grosnay. I had not seen her for twenty years, for she never came to the studio because her weekly cheque was mailed to her by the office. She confessed afterwards that when she received a call from the studio she was more shocked than thrilled.

When Edna arrived, Rolly, the cameraman, came into my dressing-room. He, too, had not seen her in twenty years. ‘She’s here,’ he said, his eyes glistening. ‘Of course, she’s not the same – but she looks great!’ He told me that she was waiting on the lawn, outside her dressing-room.

I wanted no emotional reunion scene, so I assumed a matter-of-fact manner as if it had been only a few weeks since I last saw her. ‘Well! Well! We’ve eventually got round to you,’ I said cheerily.

In the sunlight I noticed that her lip trembled as she smiled; then I plunged into the reason why I had called her, and told her about the film. ‘It sounds wonderful,’ she said – Edna was always an enthusiast.

She read for the part and was not bad; but all the while her presence affected me with a depressing nostalgia, for she was associated with my early successes – those days when everything was the future!

Edna threw herself into the role, but it was fruitless – the part required European sophistication, which Edna never had – and after working with her three or four days I was forced to admit that she was unsuitable. Edna herself was more relieved than disappointed. I did not see or hear from her again until she wrote to me in Switzerland to acknowledge her severance pay:


Dear Charlie,

For the first time I am able to write my thanks for your friendship down the years, and for all you have done for me. In early life we do not seem to have so many troubles and I know you have had your share. I trust your cup of happiness is full with a charming wife and family.…

[Here she described her illness and the terrific expense of doctors and nurses, but she finished as she always did with a joke:]

Just a story I heard. A chap was sealed in a rocket ship and shot upwards to see how high he could go – was told to keep track of the altitude. So he kept counting 25,000 – 30,000 – 100,000 – 500,000… When he got this far he said ‘Jesus Christ!’ to himself, and a very silent soft voice answered back: ‘Yessss –?’

Please, please, Charlie, let me hear something from you in the near future. And please come back, you belong here.

Sincerely your truest and best admirer,

Love, Edna.


Through all the years I had never written a letter to Edna; I always communicated with her through the studio. Her last letter was an acknowledgement of the news that she was still on the payroll:


November 13th, 1956.

Dear Charlie,

Here I am again with a heart full of thanks, and back in hospital (Cedars of Lebanon), taking cobalt X-ray treatment on my neck. There cannot be a hell hereafter! It all comes while one can wriggle even a little finger. However, it is the best known treatment for what ails me. Hope to be going home at the end of the week, then can be an outside patient (how wonderful!). Am thankful my innards are O.K., this is purely and simply local, so they say – all of which reminds me of the fellow standing on the corner of Seventh and Broadway tearing up little bits of paper, throwing them to the four winds. A cop comes along and asks him, what was the big idea. He answers: ‘Just keeping elephants away.’ The cop says: ‘There aren’t any elephants in this district.’ The fellow answers: ‘Well, it works, doesn’t it?’ This is my silly for the day, so forgive me.

Hope you and the family are well and enjoying everything you have worked for.

Love always, Edna.

Shortly after I received this letter she died. And so the world grows young. And youth takes over. And we who have lived a little longer become a little more estranged as we journey on our way.

Source: Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography (1964)

Charlie en Edna in Behind the Screen (1916)

19 June 2022

I am asking of both Budd and you that you treat me fairly ...

After the screenplay of On the Waterfront (1954) was finished, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg went to see Darryl F. Zanuck, producer and studio boss at 20th Century-Fox, to offer him the script. The two were very confident that Zanuck would like it and would be willing to produce it. During their meeting, however, the producer was not interested in Waterfront at all but kept talking about Prince Valiant (1954) and how wonderful it would be in CinemaScope. CinemaScope was Fox's new widescreen process (with all films to be shot in colour) and it was all Zanuck could think and talk about. (He knew full well that Waterfront was to be shot in black-and-white and in standard format.) In a 2004 interview with William Baer, Schulberg recalled Zanuck's reaction when Kazan finally asked him about the Waterfront script: "I'm sorry, boys, but I don't like a single thing about it ... What have you got here, boys? All you've got is a lot of sweaty longshoremen. I think what you've written is exactly what the American people don't want to see." Having previously worked with Schulberg on the script himself, Zanuck had now completely turned against it.

Devastated by Zanuck's rejection, Kazan took the script to other studios but they turned him down as well. Then quite unexpectedly, when Kazan and Schulberg believed Waterfront would never be filmed, independent producer Sam Spiegel came along and agreed to take on their project. With Spiegel as producer and eventually released by Columbia Pictures, On the Waterfront became a huge critical and commercial success. The film also won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture (Spiegel), Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Supporting Actress (Eve Marie Saint), Best Director (Kazan) and Best Story and Screenplay (Schulberg). 

Above: Sam Spiegel (second from left), Marlon Brando and Brando's parents visiting their son on the set of On the Waterfront.

Darryl Zanuck regretted his rejection of Waterfront even before the film was showered with accolades and awards. In the following letter to Elia Kazan ("Gadg") from 15 July 1954, Zanuck admitted that "the advent and debut of Cinemascope was responsible more than anything else for [his] final decision against the property". He resented the suggestion made by Schulberg in a New York Times article that he had rejected the film because "he lost his courage and ran out on a "touchy" subject." (In the 11 July 1954 article Schulberg had said: "The head of the studio had changed his mind, Waterfront wouldn't fit in with the program of costumed horse operas he was lining up ... The picture was still too controversial, we were told. Too grim, too shocking. And, would the people care about the struggle on the docks?".) 

Annoyed that Kazan and Schulberg didn't acknowledge his role in the making of Waterfront, Zanuck also reminded Kazan of the important contributions he had made to the script and of being the one who had first suggested Brando to them.

July 15, 1954
Mr. Elia Kazan 
Warner Bros. Studios
Burbank, California
Personal & Confidential 

Dear Gadg:

Thanks for your letter of June 28th. I just returned from Europe and only received it today ...

The only thing in your letter that disturbs me is when you say that I let Budd and you come out to California on the Waterfront story and then gave you a cold turn-down— and that a telegram would have served just as well.

You have a short memory, Gadg. Budd came to see me more than once. I spent many hours on many days working with him and trying to develop and alter the script. He accepted all but one of my major suggestions. You accepted them. Four of them are a part of your finished picture, or at least I have been told so by those who have seen the picture and who also had read the original treatment and script and had also read the conference notes.

I am not asking for screen credit but I am asking of both Budd and you that you treat me fairly and that you recognize the facts. I have just reread my conference notes and my various communications on this story. I think both Budd and you should read them again and think of them in the light of your finished picture. I think you should also remember that I am the one who insisted in writing that only Marlon Brando should play the role and that I first suggested him in a telegram to you.

I have just seen an article in last Sunday's New York Times written by Budd in which he does not mention me by name but in which he indicates that I lost my courage and ran out on a "touchy" subject.

I am really astonished that Budd should write anything such as this. Even more than this, he knows how I sweated and worked with him in a conscientious effort to improve the dramatic construction of the story, and particularly the love story, etc. etc. The last day I saw him he shook my hands and told me that no matter how it turned out he had received valuable assistance and that working with me had been a "unique and exhilarating experience."

Actually the advent and debut of CinemaScope was responsible more than anything else for my final decision against the property. At that time I felt that since we had overnight committed ourselves to a program of CinemaScope "spectacles" I had no alternative but to back away from intimate stories even though they were good stories. I have since changed my mind as one of our most successful CinemaScope pictures [Three Coins in the Fountain, 1954] is based on an intimate story. 

I understand your picture has turned out to be wonderful. I am happy because every great picture is helpful to the best interests of our industry.

I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of this letter to Budd. I just cannot accept the idea that I lost my courage or gave you a quick brush-off. I spent more time on your project than I do on some of the pictures that we actually produce. In addition to this I invested $40,000 in the property. If this is a brush-off then I have a wrong interpretation of the phrase.

You and I are due for a hit next time we get together ...

I look forward to seeing you. Come over when you finish [East of Eden (1955) at Warners].

Best always,


Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Above: (l to r) Schulberg, Zanuck and Kazan. Below: Eve Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in a scene from On the Waterfront.

12 June 2022

She is an extremely clever little artist

In September 1935, 13-year-old Judy Garland signed a seven-year contract with MGM at a starting salary of $100 a week. It would take some time, however, before Judy made her first feature film for the studio. Her debut film Pigskin Parade (1936) was on loan-out to 20th Century-Fox and her first MGM appearance was in the musical short Every Sunday (1936) with Deanna Durbin. It wasn't until 1937 that MGM finally put her into her first feature film, Broadway Melody of 1938, starring Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor. In the film Judy sang You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It) to a photograph of Clark Gable, her performance turning her into an overnight success. 

About a year earlier, in June 1936, while still waiting to be cast in her first film, Judy was sent by MGM on a promotional tour to New York City. It was her first visit to the Big Apple, during which she made several appearances on the Rudy Vallee radio show and recorded Stompin' at the Savoy with Decca Records (the first single she ever released). Furthermore, Judy paid a visit to MGM's New York offices, where she met executives like Nicholas Schenck and MGM representative Florence Browning.

Before Judy left for New York, Ida Koverman had given her a letter of introduction to take with her and give to Miss Browning at MGM. Koverman was executive secretary to MGM's boss Louis B. Mayer and is regarded as one of the most powerful women in Hollywood during the 1930's and 40's. She was a big supporter of Judy and was also the one who had convinced Mayer to sign her. Koverman's letter to Browning, in which she has nothing but good things to say about young Judy, is seen below. Also shown is a letter from Judy to Koverman after she had just arrived in New York as well as Koverman's reply. (Incidentally, in her letter to Browning, Koverman said that Judy was twelve years old although she was about to turn fourteen.)


June 1st, 1936

Dear Florence:

This will be presented to you by little Judy Garland, who is under contract to us. 

She is twelve years old and an extremely clever little artist. Her mother, who will be with her, plays her accompaniments, and I hope you will be able to arrange to hear her sing a few numbers. She is really a marvellous child. 

Her agent is taking her East to try to book her in some of the theatres, and I think it would be very wise to have someone connected with our office see the child before she gets into an opposition house. 

She sings very well and is an excellent dancer, and does the Eleanor Powell routines, and is a little genius.

In addition to this she is a dear little thing, and I am devoted to her. I know you will like her too.

Sincerely yours, 

Miss Florence Browning,
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation,
1540 Broadway,
New York City.


June 5, 1936

Dear Mrs. Koverman-

We arrived today in New York. I could hardly wait to write you to tell you how thrilled and dazed I am. 

We were at the M.G.M. offices today and saw Miss Florence, Mr. Rubin, Mr. Schenck and so forth. They were all so lovely to me. 

I hope my singing pleased them. 

Thank you so much for your letter to Miss Florence. It helped me so much and I sincerely appreciate it. 

As you have found out I certainly don't take any medles [sic] for writting [sic]. 

Please forgive it

Nothing else to say except thank you again

Sincerely yours

P.S Have you Jackie Copper's [sic] address? 

I forgot to get it before I left and he told me to be sure to write to him.

Please, if you have time, answer this.


June 8, 1936

My dear Judy:

I was very glad to get your nice little note, and to know you are having such a thrilling time. I was sure you would like Miss Florence Browning -- she is a very fine person, and I am sure also that your singing pleased them all.

We all miss you very much and certainly will be glad to see you when you return. Do write and let me know all that happens to you.

With kindest regards to your mother and Mr. Rosen [Judy's agent], and much love to yourself, I am 

Sincerely yours,
IRK (signed)

P.S. Jackie Cooper's address is 141 South Grand Avenue, Santa Monica.

Miss Judy Garland
Edison Hotel
47th and Broadway
New York City 

Source letters: Bonhams

Two days late but still — Happy 100th Birthday, Judy!

Ida R. Koverman

8 June 2022

Women do not do any of the creative work

During the National Board of Review awards ceremony in January 2014, Meryl Streep caused quite a stir when she labelled Walt Disney a "gender bigot". To prove her point, Streep had read from a 1938 rejection letter, written by Walt Disney Productions to a female job applicant who was seeking work in animation. "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men", the letter read. "For this reason girls are not considered for the training school. The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions".

As the letter indicates, women worked in the inking and painting department while men worked in story, art direction and animation. In this pre-feminism era, it was a policy exercised not just by Disney but by every other animation studio in Hollywood. Still, there were women who found jobs at Disney in non-ink-and-paint departments, even as early as the 1930s. 

The women artists who worked at Disney in those early days were mainly story artists, like Bianca Majolie, the first woman to be hired by Disney's story department in 1935. Grace Huntington was employed in 1936 and in her autobiography Please Let me Fly she recalled how reluctant Disney was to hire women. "It takes years to train a good story man", he told her. "Then if the story man turns out to be a story girl, the chances are ten to one that she will marry and leave the Studio high and dry with all the money that had been spent on her training gone to waste as there will be nothing to show for it." For that same reason, Disney also wouldn't hire women as animators. (By contrast, the training period for inkers, painters and stenographers was relatively short, so if these women left the company to get married not much would be lost.) Nevertheless, since Disney valued real talent, Huntington was still hired and soon others followed, like Dorothy Ann Blank and Retta Scott who joined the story department in resp. 1936 and 1938.

Above: Walt Disney chats and laughs with some of the ink-and-paint employees at his studio in August 1939.

The first female animator at Disney was hired some time later, which actually happened by chance. Story artist Retta Scott was working on Bambi (1942) when her male colleagues saw her amazing drawings of hunting dogs. Very impressed by Scott's work, Disney then allowed her to do her own animations. Scott was tutored by animator Eric Larson and soon other women were being trained as well (in various fields). In a company speech from February 1941, Disney acknowledged the importance of women in creative jobs and explained why they were being trained, one of the reasons being World War II. With America possibly joining the war, Disney realised he simply needed women artists in order to keep his business going ("I believe that if there is to be a business for these young men to come back to after the war, it must be maintained during the war. The girls can help here."). Some of the talented women who had started in the inking and painting department were trained to be animators, among them Mildred Rossi and Virginia Fleener.

Other important talented women who were hired by Disney include Mary Weiser (master chemist who established the Walt Disney Studio's Paint Lab in 1935), Sylvia Holland (storyboard artist who was especially known for her work on the 1940 Fantasia) and perhaps the most influential of Disney's female artists Mary Blair (art supervisor and color stylist for films like Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953)).

Retta Scott (left) and Mary Blair pictured above

Article in Glamour of Hollywood, May 1941. Source: archive.org

It is clear that, especially in the early days, Disney was not at all eager to hire women in creative jobs. He didn't want to lose his investment once women left the company to start a family and was also worried that women wouldn't survive in a male-dominated workplace. To Grace Huntington Disney had said in March 1936: "It is difficult for a woman to fit in this work. The men will resent you ... If you are easily shocked or hurt, it is just going to be bad". Female artists indeed had a lot to put up with, working in a mostly hostile environment while not receiving the recognition they deserved. Still, despite his own hiring policy, Disney did employ women from time to time, the ones mentioned above and many others (as said, WWII playing an important role). "If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man", Disney had said in his 1941 speech to his employees. "The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe that they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could".

Seen below is the letter Meryl Streep had read from during the award show, written in 1938 and addressed to Mary Ford. Another rejection letter (almost identical) to Frances Bowen is also shown, this one being from 1939. Both letters were signed by Mary Cleave (secretary?), containing a standard text that was taken from the Disney policy handbook. For how many years thereafter this form letter was used I don't know, the only copies to be found online are these from the late 1930s.


June 7, 1938

Miss Mary T. Ford

Dear Miss Ford,

Your letter of recent date has been received in the Inking and Painting Department for reply.

Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.

The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.

In order to apply for a position as “Inker” or “Painter” it is necessary that one appear at the Studio, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. It would not be advisable to come to Hollywood with the above specifically in view, as there are really very few openings in comparison with the number of girls who apply.

Yours very truly,


(signed) 'Mary Cleave'


May 9, 1939

Miss Frances Brewer
4412 Ventura Canyon Avenue
Van Nuys, California

Dear Miss Brewer:

Your letter of some time ago has been turned over to the Inking and Painting Department for reply.

Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.

The qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and als of water color. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.

In order to apply for a position as “Inker” or “Painter” it is necessary that one appear at the studio on a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. We will be glad to talk with you further should you come in. 

Yours very truly,


By: (signed) 'Mary E. Cleave' 

2 June 2022

Dear Mr. Wayne

When John Wayne received a letter from ten-year-old Ross Brook who wrote how much he had liked Wayne's performance in the 1968 box-office hit Bullitt, the actor was undoubtedly amused by the boy's mistake. Of course, it wasn't Wayne who had starred in the film but Steve McQueen, Bullitt being one of McQueen's best-known films. Asked by Ross for an autographed picture, Wayne forwarded Ross' note to McQueen, accompanying it with a note of his own. 


Dear Mr. Wanye [sic] 
I love the movie Bulit [sic] and I thought your acting was great. I would like to know if I could have a autographed picture of you. I would like to see you some day.

Ross Brook
age 10
55 Oak St
Los Altos Ca.


9570 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 400
Beverly Hills, California 90212
September 23, 1977

Mr. Steve McQueen
8899 Beverly Blvd., Suite 501
Los Angeles, California 90048

Dear Steve:
Would you please send him a picture of me from "Bullitt." 
I will be forever grateful.

(signed) Duke

Steve McQueen and John Wayne at an event in Los Angeles in 1969