30 August 2022

Groucho's letter to Woody Allen

Groucho Marx and Woody Allen met in 1961 and struck up a friendship that lasted sixteen years. Forty-five years younger than Groucho, Allen was a big fan of his fellow comedian and often made references to Groucho and the Marx Brothers in his films. He once said that Groucho reminded him of "a Jewish uncle in [his] family, a wisecracking Jewish uncle with a sarcastic wit". In 1976, Groucho complimented Allen by saying that he was "the most important comic talent around".

After they became friends, Groucho and Allen fell out of touch for several years. At some point Allen had written Groucho a letter but never got an answer. Allen was offended by this and word about his hurt feelings eventually reached Groucho, who then wrote Allen a letter of apology. Shown below is Groucho's letter, written on 22 March 1967 and filled with his characteristic humour. The letter ended the silence between the two men and they remained friends until Groucho's death in 1977.

Dear WW:

Goodie Ace told some unemployed friend of mine that you were disappointed or annoyed or happy or drunk that I hadn't answered the letter you wrote me some years ago. You know, of course, there is no money in answering letters – unless they're letters of credit from Switzerland or the mafia. I write you reluctantly, for I know you are doing six things simultaneously – five including sex. I don't know where you get the time to correspond.

Your play, I trust, will still be running when I arrive in New York the first or second week in April. This must be terribly annoying to the critics who, if I remember correctly, said it wouldn't go because it was too funny. Since it's still running, they must be even more annoyed. This happened to my son's play, on which he collaborated with Bob Fisher. The moral is: don't write a comedy that makes an audience laugh.

This critic problem has been discussed ever since I was Bar Mitzvahed almost 100 years ago. I never told this to anyone, but I received two gifts when I emerged from childhood into what I imagine today is manhood. An uncle, who was then in the money, presented me with a pair of long black stockings, and an aunt, who was trying to make me, gave me a silver watch. Three days after I received these gifts, the watch disappeared.

The reason it was gone was that my brother Chico didn't shoot pool nearly as well as he thought he did. He hocked it at a pawnshop at 89th Street and Third Avenue. One day while wandering around aimlessly, I discovered it hanging in the window of the hock shop. Had not my initials been engraved on the back, I wouldn't have recognised it, for the sun had tarnished it so completely it was now coal black. The stockings, which I had worn for a week without ever having them washed, were now a mottled green. This was my total reward for surviving 13 years.

And that, briefly, is why I haven't written you for some time. I'm still wearing the stockings—they're not my stockings anymore, they're just parts of my leg.

You wrote that you were coming out here in February, and I, in a frenzy of excitement, purchased so much delicatessen that, had I kept it in cold cash instead of cold cuts, it would have taken care of my contribution to the United Jewish Welfare Fund for 1967 and '68.

I think I'll be at the St Regis hotel in New York. And for God's sake don't have any more success – it's driving me crazy. My best to you and your diminutive friend, little Dickie.

Groucho 

Via: The Guardian

 

Groucho Marx died on 19 August 1977, just three days after the death of Elvis Presley had shocked the world. While there was an abundance of tributes in the press for Elvis, the press paid little attention to Groucho's passing. The lack of coverage for his friend in Time Magazine (which devoted only one small paragraph to Groucho) led Woody Allen to write to the editor: "Is it my imagination, or were you guys a little skimpy with the Groucho Marx obituary?

The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933) was a big influence on Woody Allen's films. Allen said in a 1976 interview that the film was "probably the best talking comedy ever made".

19 August 2022

We are catering to an audience and that is why you get your money and I get mine

The successful collaboration between director Alfred Hitchcock and music composer Bernard Herrmann abruptly ended over Torn Curtain (1966). The two men had worked together on eight films, with Herrmann composing the score for The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and Marnie (1964). On The Birds (1963), which doesn't have actual music but natural and electronic bird sounds, Herrmann had served as a sound consultant. Following MarnieTorn Curtain was the next Hitch-Hermann project but artistic differences led Hitchcock to eventually fire Hermann, thereby ending their longtime collaboration and friendship. 


Universal initially didn't want Herrmann to score Torn Curtain but Hitchcock insisted he'd be hired. Once Herrmann was on board, Hitch —under pressure to deliver a hit film after the critical and box-office failure of Marnie— instructed him not to compose a conventional symphonic score but a pop/jazz score that would appeal to younger audiences. Universal wanted a modern score and Hitch went along with the studio, also because he was afraid of becoming old-fashioned. In the end, Herrmann composed music he felt was appropriate for the film, a typical Hermann score which was precisely what Hitch and Universal did not want.

A confrontation between Hitchcock and Herrmann seemed inevitable and things eventually came to a head in late March 1966. Herrmann was recording his score at the Goldwyn Studios in Los Angeles when Hitch walked in unannounced. The director was extremely unhappy with what he heard and there was a big scene, with Hitch sending home the orchestra, cancelling the rest of the recording session ánd firing Herrmann. It was the sad end of a decade-long collaboration and friendship. Hitch and Herrmann never spoke cordially to each other again. Years later when asked if he would work with Herrmann again, Hitch simply said: "Yes, if he'll do as he's told".

British composer John Addison was eventually hired as Herrmann's replacement, but his score couldn't save Torn Curtain from becoming both a critical and commercial failure. To listen to Addinson's "Main Title" for Torn Curtain, click here; for Herrman's unused score, go here (I personally prefer Hermann's music).  

_____


Several months before their collaboration would come to an end, on 4 November 1965 Hitchcock sent the following telegram to Herrmann. At that time Hitch was still eager to work with the composer, although he criticised Herrmann's score for Joy in the Morning (1965), finding it "extremely reminiscent of the Marnie music". To meet audience demands, Hitch urged Hermann to write a modern score for Torn Curtain, something with "a beat and a rhythm". Herrmann answered Hitch the very next day, his telegram (possibly meant ironically) seen below as well.

DEAR BENNY

TO FOLLOW UP PEGGYS CONVERSATION WITH YOU LET ME SAY AT FIRST I AM VERY ANXIOUS FOR YOU TO DO THE MUSIC ON TORN CURTAIN STOP I WAS EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED WHEN I HEARD THE SCORE OF JOY IN THE MORNING NOT ONLY DID I FIND IT CONFORMING TO THE OLD PATTERN BUT EXTREMELY REMINISCENT OF THE MARNIE MUSIC IN FACT THE THEME WAS ALMOST THE SAME STOP UNFORTUNATELY FOR WE ARTISTS WE DO NOT HAVE THE FREEDOM THAT WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE BECAUSE WE ARE CATERING TO AN AUDIENCE AND THAT IS WHY YOU GET YOUR MONEY AND I GET MINE STOP THIS AUDIENCE IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE ONE TO WHICH WE USED TO CATER IT IS YOUNG VIGOROUS AND DEMANDING STOP IT IS THIS FACT THAT HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY ALMOST ALL OF THE EUROPEAN FILM MAKERS WHERE THEY HAVE SOUGHT TO INTRODUCE A BEAT AND A RHYTHM THAT IS MORE IN TUNE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE AFORESAID AUDIENCE STOP THIS IS WHY I AM ASKING YOU TO APPROACH THIS PROBLEM WITH A RECEPTIVE AND IF POSSIBLE ENTHUSIASTIC MIND STOP IF YOU CANNOT DO THIS THEN I AM THE LOSER STOP I HAVE MADE UP MY MIND THAT THIS APPROACH TO THE MUSIC IS EXTREMELY ESSENTIAL I ALSO HAVE VERY DEFINITE IDEAS AS TO WHERE THE MUSIC SHOULD GO IN THE PICTURE AND THERE IS NOT TOO MUCH STOP SO OFTEN HAVE I BEEN ASKED FOR EXAMPLE BY [DIMITRI] TIOMKIN TO COME AND LISTEN TO A SCORE AND WHEN I EXPRESS MY DISAPPROVAL HIS HANDS WERE THROWN UP AND WITH THE CRY OF QUOTE BUT YOU CANT CHANGE ANYTHING NOW IT HAS ALL BEEN ORCHESTRATED UNQUOTE IT IS THIS KIND OF FRUSTRATION THAT I AM RATHER TIRED OF BY THAT I MEAN GETTING MUSIC SCORED ON A TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT BASIS STOP ANOTHER PROBLEM THIS MUSIC HAS GOT TO BE SKETCHED IN AN ADVANCE BECAUSE WE HAVE AN URGENT PROBLEM OF MEETING A TAX DATE STOP WE WILL NOT FINISH SHOOTING UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF JANUARY AT THE EARLIEST AND TECHNICOLOR REQUIRES THE COMPLETE PICTURE BY FEBRUARY FIRST

SINCERELY 

HITCH

_____

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK

DELIGHTED COMPOSE VIGOROUS BEAT SCORE FOR TORN CURTAIN ALWAYS PLEASED HAVE YOUR VIEWS REGARDING MUSIC FOR YOUR FILM PLEASE SEND SCRIPT INDICATING WHERE YOU DESIRE MUSIC CAN THEN BEGIN COMPOSING HERE WILL BE READY RECORD WEEK AFTER FINAL SHOOTING DATE GOOD LUCK

BERNARD 


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

The seven Hitchcock films that were scored by Bernard Herrmann, my favourite scores being Vertigo and Marnie.

11 August 2022

She walked through the film without trying to give herself

Lauded for her consumate professionalism, Barbara Stanwyck was an actress whom directors, fellow actors and crew members loved to work with. When Ella Smith was preparing her 1973 biography Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck, she received many letters from those who had worked with Barbara, all having nothing but praise for her (read some of those letters here). However, director William Dieterle, who collaborated with Barbara on The Secret Bride (1934), was not as enthusiastic about her as others were. Below you'll find his letter to Ella Smith in which he talks about Barbara and The Secret Bride (mentioned here under its working title Concealment). 

At the time of The Secret Bride, Barbara had a non-exclusive contract with Warner Bros that she wanted to get out of. However, as much as she hated the film's script, according to Victoria Wilson's A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 (2013) Barbara couldn't afford to be suspended. She accepted the roleneeding the income to support her husband Frank Fay and their adopted son Dion and to pay for the staff, the house, the cars et cetera. For The Secret Bride Barbara was paid $50,000.

Barbara Stanwyck and Warren William in The Secret Bride. Barbara plays the daughter of a governor, having to keep her marriage to the attorney general (William) a secret after her father is accused of taking a bribe. 



Transcript:

8012 Riemerling- Munich. Geranienstr. 29

3.7.72

Dear Miss Smith:

Your letter of Feb.3.72, was forwarded to me and I will try to answer your questions, as good as I can. The work on the film "Concealment" was not very pleasant. The script was bad. I could not refuse it, for contractual reasons. Why Miss Stanwyck not rejected the script, as Betty Davis would have done, I can only guess. She was not happy at Warners and wanted to get out of her contract as quick as possible. But still, bad as the script was, instead to work hard and show that she can make even out of such poor material something interesting, she walked through the film without trying to give herself. Of all the films I directed, "Concealment" is the picture I don't like to think about anymore.

I am sorry to give you no better news.

Wishing you good luck for your work- I remain

Yours cordially

signed "William Dieterle"

[Via: Ebay]

_____


Incidentally, Victoria Wilson mentions an incident in her book that involved Barbara and Dieterle while filming The Secret Bride. Barbara's stand-in Katie Doyle, of whom the actress was very fond, had accidently walked through a scrim which the crew had just spent an hour repairing. Dieterle was furious with Doyle and began reprimanding and scolding her. Barbara then walked up to the director and said: "Don't you ever dare talk to anybody on any set that I am on, don't you ever dare talk to anybody like that again. The next time you do, I walk. I go right up to the office and I will not finish the picture under your direction.

William Dieterle was a German-born director who fled Germany for the USA in 1930 due to the political situation in his country. His films include The Life of Emile Zola (1937), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), I'll Be Seeing You (1945) and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Dieterle always wore gloves on the set, presumably because of a germ or dirt phobia.

4 August 2022

James Dean at UCLA

In May 1949, James Dean graduated from Fairmount High School and then moved back to California to live with his father Winton and stepmother. Until then he had been living with his aunt and uncle, Ortense and Marcus Winslow, on their Quaker farm in Fairmount, Indiana, following the death of his mother when he was nine years old. Back in California, Dean's intention was to enrol at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and study drama. His father didn't approve of his choice, however, and by the end of the summer had persuaded Dean to enrol as a pre-law student at Santa Monica City College. While majoring in pre-law, Dean took as many drama lessons as he possibly could, still determined to become an actor. After a year at Santa Monica College, he transferred to UCLA and finally changed his major to drama ("I wasn't happy where I was. I was studying a field I didn't like, so I transferred to UCLA for a drama major. I figured I might as well pursue this dream now, cause you'll never know if you'll have time to do so later."). During his time at UCLA, Dean was chosen out of a group of 350 actors to play the role of Malcolm in Macbeth and also attended James Whitmore's acting workshop. In 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to fully dedicate himself to his acting career. 

After graduating from high school in May 1949, James Dean wanted to study at UCLA in the fall and also attend the university's summer session. Needing his school records from Fairmount to attend UCLA, in early June Dean wrote the following letter to F. Stanton Galey, Superintendent of Schools in Fairmount. As said, Dean would major in pre-law at Santa Monica City College, like his father wanted, and it still took a year before he enrolled at UCLA and switched his major to drama. Although Dean spent only one semester at UCLA, it marked the beginning of his acting career, eventually leading him to the New York stage and finally to Hollywood.



Transcript:

June 6, 1949

Dear Mr. Galey, 

Well here I am, and I have inquired as to my education at U.C.L.A. (summer session). I hope this reaches you without any detainment because I must have my records or transcripts just as soon as possible. I would appreciate it deeply if you would send them special airmail and then send me the bill for postage. 

I really got a break on the first day. I met Mr. Wooten a Prof. at UCLA. He is from Fairmount and tomarro [sic] he is introducing me to the staff head of the Theatrical Dept. A mister McCowain used to be a director for Fox + Paramount. 

Send to room 10 University of California, Los Angeles 
Administration building

With all due appreciation and respect
Jim Dean

James Dean (right) as Malcolm in UCLA's production of Macbeth. The faculty newspaper criticised his performance: "Malcolm failed to show any growth, and would have made a hollow king."