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


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.

signed "Helen H."


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."


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

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.