30 September 2023

It’s very regrettable that so many people think of you as a special problem

The critically and commercially successful Splendor in the Grass (1961), directed by Elia Kazan and starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in the leads, was Beatty's screen debut. At age 23, Beatty was an ambitious young man who —in Kazan's words— "wanted it all and wanted it his way". Natalie Wood said in interviews that throughout production of Splendor she and Beatty had not gotten along, describing the actor as being "difficult to work with". Others shared her opinion, including Don Kranze, assistant director on Splendor. "Warren was a pain in the ass", recalled Kranze. "He was very young, anyway, but his emotional maturity was about thirteen... we all sort of felt about Warren that he's an immature boy playing a man's game." According to Splendor's production designer Richard Sylbert (a good friend of Beatty's), Beatty was going to do whatever he wanted to do, not caring what anybody thought.

Warren Beatty, Elia Kazan and Natalie Wood on the set of Splendor in the Grass. Long after production of the film had ended Beatty and Wood entered into a tumultuous two-year relationship.

A few years and a few films later, Beatty apparently hadn't changed his tune. During the shooting of Lilith (1964), co-star Jean Seberg wrote to a friend of hers: "Warren Beatty’s behavior is just unbelievable. He’s out to destroy everyone, including himself". While the entire cast and crew had to endure Beatty's behaviour, it was director Robert Rossen who received the brunt of it. Beatty was constantly arguing with Rossen, changing his lines, asking for his character's motivation and wishing to analyse each scene (which led Rossen to eventually remark: "I hired you because I thought you knew how to act, for Christ's Sake. Don't ask me how to play the part. You're supposed to know how to play the part."). Assistant cameraman Tibor Sands said that Beatty's behaviour grew increasingly worse "until Rossen slapped him in front of everybody. That calmed him down." 

At some point, word of Beatty's insufferable conduct on the set of Lilith reached Elia Kazan. Worried about what he had heard, Kazan next wrote Beatty a letter, addressing the actor's behaviour while also offering a bit of advice. Beatty was reportedly "upset" by the letter, seeing that the reprimand came from Kazan, whom he considered a mentor and a friend. (According to Beatty biographer Suzanne Finstad, during production of Splendor in the Grass Beatty and Kazan had actor-director discussions prior to every scene, something Beatty apparently wanted to have with Rossen too.)

May 22, 1963

Dear Warren:

Forgive the impertinence of a friend. I really do like you, and it disheartens me when I hear from the underground that you are giving everybody a bad time in Maryland. I know rumors are unreliable and it’s not right to repeat them. But, damn it, they dishearten me. I always say: "Warren at bottom is a damn fine guy!" But there’s some contradiction all through your behavior. On the one hand you say that you want to be a movie star. You’ve said it again and again not only to me but to lots of people. But I must tell you that becoming a first flight movie star depends, as you well know, on working with the elite directors on the real good stories. And when these director-glamour boys hear that you are being "difficult" their only reaction can be: "Who needs it?"

It seems to me that you must find a way of legitimately asserting yourself and even forcibly making your opinions and impulses felt. While, at the same time, being agreeable to work with, decent to deal with, fun to be with, and a contributor to an overall effort. It’s very regrettable that so many people think of you as a special problem. You have so much: intelligence, talent, sensitivity. You are handsome, vigorous, physically able. But all this can be nullified or badly handicapped by the kind of stories — true, part true, quite false, whatever — that have been getting back to me here.

As I said, it’s possibly impertinent of me to write you this way. I am not your father or your brother, only a friend. But think about what I say.


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

Warren Beatty, Robert Rossen and Jean Seberg during filming of Lilith. The film was to be Rossen's last film. Rossen had previously directed the now-classics All the King's Men (1949) and The Hustler (1961). The director reportedly said following the clashes he had with Beatty, "I was making Oscars when Warren was a baby pissing in a pot."

Warren Beatty (an actor I don't particularly care for) pictured here with Elia Kazan. Beatty later said that Kazan "had given him the most important break in his career." Once called by a journalist "the most enfant of the enfants terribles", Beatty eventually became —next to being an actor— a successful producer, director and screenwriter. His first achievement as a producer was the acclaimed Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which Beatty also played the male lead opposite Faye Dunaway. Other successes include Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981), both films as actor, producer, director and screenwriter. Beatty was nominated for an Oscar 14 times (in different categories) but only won for Reds, for Best Director.

15 September 2023

We accepted a severe financial risk and merely want the exhibitor to compensate us ...

By 1934 Walt Disney was no longer satisfied making animated shorts, despite their popularity with audiences. Shorts made very little money for the company, with the highly successful Three Little Pigs (1933) earning only $64,000 while it had cost $60,000 to make. ("Every time I produce another Mickey Mouse or Silly Symphony, I'm accused of making another million dollars. I only wish it were true," Disney once said.) In order for the studio to grow —both financially and artistically— Disney decided to make a feature-length animated film and as its subject chose the story of Snow White, the famous German fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm. 

While Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) would not be the first animated feature film in history —that distinction goes to the Argentinian film El Apóstol (1917)— it would be the first cel animated feature film. Production was to last three years, during which the project was mockingly referred to as 'Disney's Folly'. Many people believed that audiences wouldn't go see a feature-length cartoon and that the film was going to bankrupt the studio. While this didn't happen, Snow White cost a whopping $1.5 million, six times more than its original budget of $250,000. Disney took a huge financial risk and even mortgaged his house to help finance the film. Halfway through production, he also needed an extra loan of $250,000 to complete his picture. Although bankers were reluctant to lend Disney money, Joseph Rosenberg of Bank of America —after watching a rough cut of Snow White— approved the loan and reportedly said, "Walt, that thing is going to make a hatful of money!".

Premiering in Los Angeles on 21 December 1937, after a long and difficult production, Snow White did what Rosenberg had predicted and made a hatful of money, in fact more than $8 million during its initial release. Apart from being a huge commercial success, the film was also hailed by the critics. To this day, Snow White is still considered one of the greatest animation films in history. It set the standard for other animation features and remains one the most popular Disney pictures of all time. (For this blogathon I rewatched Snow White and still loved it!)

Above: Snow White meets the Seven Dwarfs (gif made by my sister who blogs at Classic Movies Round-Up). Below: On 23 February 1939, at the 11th Oscars ceremony, Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney with an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the award consisting of one full-size Oscar and seven little ones (watch the clip here).

On to the correspondence!

Amidst all the praise for Snow White and Disney, there was also criticism. Many exhibitors resented both Disney and distributor RKO for the amount they were being charged to show the film in their cinemas (reportedly having to hand over 50% of the revenue). Also, Disney-RKO didn't allow Snow White to be played as part of a double bill, meaning that exhibitors couldn't make money from the second film with its more favourable conditions. As a result, exhibitors complained about not being able to make a profit and some claimed they were even losing money. 

In June 1938, (Sidney?) Skolsky wrote about this subject in his column, which caught the attention of a Mrs Barker from Chicago. Feeling that Disney's tactics smelled "unpleasantly of greed or unfairness", Barker next typed a letter to the big man himself. The extensive and very cordial response she subsequently received did not come from Walt but from his older brother Roy (who handled the company's finances while Walt was the creative brain). It's quite an interesting correspondence, with Roy Disney explaining the business practices of the company and how they —considering the enormous financial risk that was taken— were only demanding their rightful share.


901 N. Waller Ave.,
Chicago, Ill.
June, 11, 1938.

My dear Walt Disney:

If this column is a reliable picture of the whole case, it smells unpleasantly of greed or infairness [sic] somehwere [sic]. And I hope you can correct it pronto. Even my eleven year-old boy when hearing only that part which can be put in a sentence --- "Snow White is a headache to the exhibitors because it costs so much to book that they can't make a profit"--- said, after a thoughtful silence,"Looks like success has gone to Disney's head." Then he added, loyally, maybe it is the distributors and not Disney's doing."

The great power of your art is the clean, fine spirit that shines through it all. Neither greed nor unfairness is clean or fine. Any such getting into your creative make-up must spoil the spirit and effective charm. My personal belief is that no artist who ever lived has been as great as you, because no other ever gave so much good to a needy world. That makes you and all that is your good my sincere concern, heart-felt.

For all of us, then, I let you see my hope, and why, that you can make this unlovely impression a most short-lived one. Loyalty only allows time to correct mistakes, not excuse for their continuance.

In reading this over, it sounds like a churchy reformer! How awful! Honestly I'm not. I am just a movie fan of such long standing and real interest in my hobby that I had much time to think, to observe, and by adding introspection to learn a bit of understanding of why we "tick" as we do.

Very sincerely,


June 15, 1938

Mrs. Beulah Barker
901 N.Waller Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Mrs. Barker:

I am answering your letter of June 11th, addressed to the attention of Mr. Walt Disney, because he confines himself entirely to production, while I supervise the sale and handling of our product.

The motion picture business, from production to distribution, is a very involved industry. It has many different personalities and entities engaged in its various ramifications. All the problems of any manufacturing and selling organization come into play in the motion picture business, with a great number of angles peculiar to our field. 

We are an independent organization; that is, we have no tie-up with any organization in the production or distribution field. To retain our independence as we have through the years has required a willingness on our part to stand up for our rights. One must expect under such a policy to differ with a great many people. Without going into detail, but merely as a matter of courtesy to you because of your nice letter and the interest you express, I want to tell you that under our policy my brother makes the very best pictures he possibly can, without stint of expenses or work. Of course, this has to be kept within the realm of reason and commercial limitations. We expect and want exhibitors to make money with our pictures. 

On the other hand, we want and demand our full share. This objective has been impossible of achievement with our Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony pictures for the reason that it is difficult to prove that anybody really comes to a theatre to see a Mickey Mouse. Therefore, I say to you very sincerely, that our short product has not been a financial success to any great extent. A number of our pictures have never returned our costs. This may sound like a Ripley "Believe it or Not"; nevertheless, it is true.

Now we have ventured into the field of feature picture production. We can now definitely claim credit for the people who come to the theatre because our picture is the meat of the program. Here we demand our rightful share and if, by virtue of playing square with our product through the years, we have gained the good will and following of the public at large around the world, we feel we are entitled to share accordingly. This is all we are asking. We accepted a severe financial risk and merely want the exhibitor to compensate us for this risk and the public good will we have through the years so painstakingly sought. We must also consider the risk and financial necessity of future production. Our attitude has created quite a furor in the picture business because it is a precedent and people always dislike precedents. Other companies sell thirty, forty or fifty pictures in one group, many of which are merely titles and before the particular story or cast is decided upon. Their ultimate entertainment value is, of course, only a matter of speculation. On such a basis, naturally, people sell their product for much less than we ask on a product in the production of which we have taken our own gamble. We are delivering something the public can see and judge on its merits.

All this sales resistance shows itself in many different ways, including press comments such as you read in Mr. Skolsky's article. Specifically to the point, is a well known West Coast exhibitor who attempted to take his problem direct to us in place of our distributor, claiming our distributor was asking too much money for our picture. These people by their own statement have been losing money for twenty-five years but in the meantime have built up a chain of almost one hundred theatres. That tells the story briefly. 

I trust you will pardon this long letter. It is not customary for us to attempt to justify ourselves in this manner. However, yours was an unusual letter and deserved a proper reply.

(signed) Roy O. Disney

Source both letters: icollector.com 

Walt (l) and Roy Disney photographed in 1932 (with Walt's special Oscar for the creation of Mickey Mouse). On 16 October 1923, the brothers had founded their company and named it Disney Brothers Studio. Later the name was changed to Walt Disney Studio (1926–1929), Walt Disney Productions (1929–1986) and since 1986 it's named The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney was both the creative force and the public face of the company, but without Roy's financial brain Walt could never have realised his dreams. "If it hadn't been for my big brother, I swear I'd have been in jail several times for check bouncing", Walt once said. After Walt's death of lung cancer in 1966 (aged 65), Roy postponed his retirement, took control of the company and supervised the completion of the theme park in Florida which Walt had started. In October 1971, the park finally opened and Roy named it Walt Disney World in honour of his brother. Roy Disney died from a stroke less than three months later, 78 years old.


This post is my contribution to The 100 Years of Disney Blogathon, hosted by the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes. Click on the link for all the other entries!

26 August 2023

Olivia de Havilland's first Oscar win

On 13 March 1947, the 19th Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles, honouring the films released in 1946. Olivia de Havilland was one of the nominees in the Best Actress category, being nominated for her role as Jody Norris in Mitchell Leisen's To Each His Own. Also nominated were Celia Johnson for Brief Encounter, Jennifer Jones for Duel in the Sun, Rosalind Russell for Sister Kenny and Jane Wyman for The Yearling. The Oscar eventually went to Olivia, this being her first of two Oscar wins. 

A day before the Oscar ceremony, Margaret Herrick (Executive Secretary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) sent telegrams to the Oscar nominees with instructions regarding the ceremony. The following telegram was sent to Olivia.

Source: Bonhams

Olivia de Havilland with Ray Milland at the 1947 Oscars, holding her coveted prize. Olivia would receive a second Best Actress Oscar a few years later, i.e. for her performance in William Wyler's The Heiress (1949). Apart from her two Oscar wins, the actress also received nominations for the 1939 Gone with the Wind (for Best Supporting Actress) as well as Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Snake Pit (1948) (the latter two for Best Actress). 
Olivia de Havilland and John Lund in To Each His Own


As instructed in Margaret Herrick's telegram, after receiving the Oscar for To Each His Own, Olivia exited off stage to meet the press. There to congratulate her was her sister Joan Fontaine who had just presented the Best Actor Oscar. "After Olivia delivered her acceptance speech and entered the wings, I, standing close by, went over to congratulate her as I would have done to any winner", recalled Joan in her 1978 memoir No Bed Of Roses. "She took one look at me, ignored my outstretched hand, clutched her Oscar to her bosom, and wheeled away just as Photoplay's photographer Hymie Fink captured the moment with his camera". The reason for Olivia's rebuffing her sister was reportedly a derogatory comment Joan had made to the press about Olivia's first husband, author Marcus Goodrich ("All I know about him is that he's had four wives and written one book. Too bad it's not the other way around."). The two sisters had a lifelong feud which lasted until Joan's death in 2013.

The infamous picture of the two sisters, shot by Hymie Fink

12 August 2023

You force me to refuse to make the picture unless the billing is mine

By the spring of 1939 Bette Davis was already a star. She had just won her second Academy Award for Jezebel (1938) and had recently starred in successful films like Dark Victory (1939) and Juarez (1939). While the actress was still working on The Old Maid (to be released in September 1939 and also to become a big hit), her next project —a film based on Maxwell Anderson's 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen was already underway. For a long time Bette had wanted to play Queen Elizabeth I in a film adaptation of Anderson's play and was thrilled when producer Hal Wallis bought the property for her. Bette wanted Laurence Olivier to play the role of the Earl of Essex, but Warners wanted Errol Flynn, the studio's then biggest male star.  

Bette and Errol had played together in The Sisters a year earlier and at that time Bette was very happy to be co-starring with Flynn ("He was a big box office star at the time and it could only be beneficial to me to work with him"). For this project, however, she found Flynn "the only fly in the ointment", feeling he was not up to the task, not being "an experienced enough actor to cope with the complicated blank verse the play had been written in." Apart from being unhappy with the casting of Flynn, Bette was also unhappy with the title of the film. The title of the original play, Elizabeth the Queen, was initially set to be the film's title, but Flynn was opposed to it, demanding to be acknowledged in the title too. Warners consequently came up with a new title, The Knight and the Lady, to which Bette, in turn, fiercely objected.

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn as Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; below they are pictured rehearsing a scene, with producer Robert Lord (l) and director Michael Curtiz looking on.
In April 1939, Bette Davis sent the following telegram to Warner Bros' studio head Jack Warner, demanding that the title The Knight and the Lady be changed.

Jack L.Warner, Personal  

Warner Bros Studio 

April 28, 1939 

I have been trying for some weeks to get an answer from you concerning the title of my next picture. I felt confident that you would of your own volition change it, considering the fact the play from which it is taken was bought for me and was called "Elizabeth the Queen". I have found out today you are not changing it. You of course must have realized my interest in the title change concerned the billing ... The script "The Knight and the Lady", like the play, is still a woman's story. I therefore feel justified in requesting first billing, which would automatically change the title, as the present title is obviously one to give the man first billing. I feel so justified in this from every standpoint that you force me to refuse to make the picture unless the billing is mine. If you would like to discuss this matter with me I would be more than willing. 

Bette Davis 
Bette Davis and Jack Warner

A week later, Jack Warner informed Bette that she would get first billing while assuring her The Knight and the Lady would not be used. The title was later changed to The Lady and the Knight, but Bette was still not satisfied. Again she sent Warner a telegram, demanding another title change. 
J.L Warner 
June 30, 1939

I have waited now since day picture started for title to be settled. I was promised it would not be "The Knight and the Lady". The present title "The Lady and the Knight", as announced in paper and called such in fan magazines, I consider the same thing ... You have the choice of "Elizabeth and Essex", "Elizabeth the Queen", or "The Love of Elizabeth and Essex". If Mr. [Paul] Muni is allowed the title "Juarez", another historical picture ... you need have no worry about the box office with the title "Elizabeth and Essex" with far more well known people than "Juarez". 

Bette Davis
Source of both telegrams: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

The title Elizabeth and Essex was already under copyright (as the title of a book by Lytton Strachey) so it couldn't be used. As said, Flynn objected to Elizabeth the Queen, so this title couldn't be used either. Apparently Warner didn't approve of Bette's last suggestion (The Love of Elizabeth and Essex) and eventually opted for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, inspired by other historical films, such as the successful The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex became the box-office hit Warner Bros. had anticipated. It received five Oscar nominations, yet none in the major categories. While Bette Davis was expected to receive a nomination for her performance, she was not nominated for thís role but for her role in Dark Victory (also a Warners production). Eventually, the Oscar for Best Actress went to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind, GWTW being that year's big winner.

Billing for The Sisters (top photo) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. For The Sisters, Flynn would initially receive sole billing above the title. "At that time I had no billing clause in my contract," Bette recalled. "I felt after Jezebel that my name should always appear above the title. That is star billing." She held her ground and Warners eventually gave her above-the-title billing, although she came after Flynn. For The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, like she had demanded, Bette came first.

29 July 2023

My dear Cole

In the summer of 1948, George Cukor was in England directing Edward, My Son (1949), which was being filmed at the MGM British Studios in Borehamwood near London. Cukor was a happy man, seeing that Spencer Tracy (his male lead) was in a rare good mood, needing fewer takes than usual and being helpful to other actors. Production of the film went smoothly and was ahead of schedule by several days. Besides being happy with the film's progress, Cukor was also glad to be away from Hollywood, feeling at home in London while comfortably staying at the Savoy. 

On 14 July 1948 —a month after production of Edward, My Son had started— Cukor wrote a letter to composer Cole Porter, thanking Porter for his birthday greetings and telling him how things were going in England. Cukor was pleased with the quality of the material they had been shooting, but despite his hopes for the film it ultimately became both a critical and commercial disappointment. (Leading lady Deborah Kerr did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but lost to Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress.)

George Cukor flanked by his leading actors Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr on the set of Edward, My Son
George Cukor and Cole Porter

Incidentally, Cukor and Porter were friends and would work together twice, i.e. on Adam's Rib (1949) and Les Girls (1957). An interesting titbit about the two is that there was an unspoken rivalry between them that started in the years after World War II. Both men were homosexual and Cukor was known for his extravagant Sunday pool parties, which attracted Hollywood's gay crowd. Porter, after moving to Hollywood, was a regular guest there. At some point, however, Porter started to hold his own Sunday pool parties, an invitation to hís parties eventually becoming more coveted than an invitation to Cukor's. There were people who attended both parties, but they were always careful not to tell one host about the other.


14th July, 1948.

My dear Cole,

It was mighty sweet of you to remember little me..... far, far away on alien shores. Your kind birthday greetings cheered me up to no end. Not that I am depressed at all, but I do have occasional twinges of home sickness for my dogs and for my house.... and oh yes! for my friends too of course.

I am comfortably settled in a very nice apartment facing the river at the Savoy, directly over Sophie Tucker, but so far no "Some of these Days". I am far too well fed and treated with great courtesy and consideration - more than I usually get at what you once so aptly called "the Elephants Grave Yard".

We are half-way through the picture and so far so good. If I were pressed, I would say 'So far...... better than good'. In fact there is real danger of us becoming smug! We are ahead of schedule by about four days. That is no mean accomplishment because the English take their picture-making at a much more leisurely clip than you Hollywoodians do - and it has been said by my enemies that I am a very slow director. But no longer!

However, I mustn't take all the bows. Spencer Tracy, who carries the picture - he appears in every scene, is so wonderfully accomplished and such a sure actor that we are able to do long, long scenes, five pages in fact, in one take. That is how we manage to get on with it so well.....

I think we are talking an awful lot about me and my picture.... so I will say one thing more. We are rather pleased with the quality of the stuff we are getting, but you will be the judge of that when we have a great big Premeerr at the Iris on Hollywood Boulevard.

People have been very kind and hospitable, but I very prudently spend the weekends "layin' on de bed" at the Savoy, instead of being brilliant and scintillating at some great house and telling them all my comical stories. 

After I finish, which according to present computations will be in the early part of August, I hope to take a little trip to Paris, France, and maybe as far as Rome, Italy, and then home sometime in September. I feel sure that I am missing all kinds of delightful lunches and dinners and galas with you. I am even longing to hear Kay Francis tell of her feud with Miriam Hopkins again - or am I going too far?

I hope, dear Cole, that you are well and happy, that your work is going on as you wish it to, and that your life - and your pool are full. I have a pretty good idea that they are.

Again my thanks to you, and affectionate regards,

(signed) George


I am intrigued by Cukor's comment about Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins: "I am even longing to hear Kay Francis tell of her feud with Miriam Hopkins again ...". I didn't know about a feud between them and browsing the web I found nothing regarding a feud. In fact, several sources (including IMDB) claim the opposite. Francis and Hopkins reportedly became good friends ever since they had starred together in Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932). So perhaps Cukor didn't mean a "feud" literally and Francis was just telling him about a fight she'd been having with Hopkins?? (The only actress Hopkins seemed to have had a feud with was Bette Davis; read more here.)

Francis (l) and Hopkins

16 July 2023

There is no one even second to her ...

From the mid-1940s until the early 1950s, Jeanne Crain was one of the biggest stars at 20th Century-Fox. After signing a long-term contract with Fox in 1943, Crain made her (uncredited) debut in the musical The Gang's All Here (1943). Her first substantial role was in the horse racing drama Home in Indiana (1944), followed by roles in Winged Victory (1944) and in such box-office hits as the musical State Fair (1945) —opposite Dana Andrews, with her singing voice dubbed— and the film noir Leave Her to Heaven (1945) playing the good sister to Gene Tierney's bad one. By 1946, Crain had become one of the studio's main box-office draws. The actress received more fanmail than anyone on the Fox lot (except for Betty Grable) and was also a personal favourite of studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. 

Since Crain was a big Fox star, Zanuck wouldn't let her play the relatively small role of Clementine in John Ford's western My Darling Clementine (1946). In the memo below, Zanuck informs director Ford of his decision not to cast Crain in the part, which eventually went to newcomer Cathy Downs. According to John Ford biographer Ronald L. Davis, the director later responded to Zanuck's memo, saying he didn't care much who played Clementine, "providing she doesn't look like an actress".

DATE: February 26, 1946

TO: Mr. John Ford

CC: Sam Engel [producer]


Dear Jack:

There will be no chance for us to get Jeanne Crain to play in My Darling Clementine. I know she would be delighted to be directed by you but the part is comparatively so small that we would be simply crucified by both the public and critics for putting her in it. She is the biggest box-office attraction on the lot today. There is no one even second to her ...


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

Crain with Zanuck and his children
Jeanne Crain went on to make successful films for Fox like Margie (1946) and Apartment for Peggy (1948), in the latter picture playing William Holden's young, chattering bride. Her most acclaimed films were still to come, however. Being top-billed, Crain starred alongside Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas in A Letter to Three Wives (1949); and she played the titular role in Pinky (1949) as a light-skinned black girl passing for white. The latter performance earned Crain an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, the only nomination of her career (losing to Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress).

It's interesting to note that the directors of A Letter to Three Wives and Pinky, respectively Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Elia Kazan, were both unimpressed with Crain's acting skills. Mankiewicz was unhappy with her performance in his film —against his will he would direct her again in People Will Talk (1951)— and once said about Crain: "I could only rarely escape the feeling that Jeanne was, somehow, a visitor to the set. She worked hard. Too hard at times, I think, in response to my demands, as if trying to compensate by sheer exertion for what I believe must have been an absence of emotional involvement with acting... She was one of the few whose presence among the theatre-folk I have never fully understood." And Kazan said about her: "Jeanne Crain was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher. I did my best with her, but she didn't have any fire. The only good thing about her was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is what 'passing' is." While I agree that Crain was an actress of limited range, I have always liked her and I think she did a fine job in both A Letter to Three Wives and Pinky. (And I've just rewatched the delightful Apartment for Peggy and Crain is great in that.)

After appearing in several other films including Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951), Dangerous Crossing (1953) and Vicki (1953), Jeanne Crain eventually left 20th Century-Fox in 1953. A few years earlier, Marilyn Monroe had (re) joined the studio and would soon become Fox's biggest star.

Clockwise: Jeanne Crain with Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945); Crain in Margie (1946); with William Holden in Apartment For Peggy (1948); with Linda Darnell and Ann Sothern in A Letter To Three Wives (1949), and with Ethel Waters in Pinky (1949). 

2 July 2023

Working with you and knowing you has been a gentle and rare experience

Following her role in Green Mansions (1959), Audrey Hepburn was cast as a Native American girl in John Huston's The Unforgiven (1960), the only western of her career. The film, in which Audrey co-stars with Burt Lancaster, Lillian Gish and Audie Murphy, was plagued with problems. While shooting a scene Audrey was thrown from her horse, breaking several vertebrae in her back and causing production to be suspended for a number of weeks. Audrey recovered —nursed back to health by Marie Louise Habets, the Belgian nun Audrey had portrayed in The Nun's Story (1959)— and eventually completed the film. (Audrey later suffered a miscarriage, due to her fall.) Besides Hepburn, co-star Audie Murphy was also in an accident, which occurred during a break in filming. On a duck-hunting trip Murphy's boat capsized and, unable to swim due to a war injury, the actor nearly drowned and had to be rescued. 

There were also problems on the artistic front. Director John Huston was in constant disagreement with Burt Lancaster, whose production company Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions financed the film. Huston wanted the picture to be a bold commentary on racism in America, while Lancaster wanted it to be less controversial and more commercial. In the end, The Unforgiven failed both commercially and critically. Unhappy with his film, Huston later said, "Some pictures I don't care for, but The Unforgiven is the only one I actually dislike...". (For the plot of the film, go here.)

Above (left to right): Burt Lancaster, Lillian Gish, Audrey Hepburn, Doug McClure and Audie Murphy as the Zachary family in John Huston's The Unforgiven. Below: The cast is getting directions from Huston whose back is turned to the camera.
The Unforgiven was shot on location in Durango, Mexico. Audrey Hepburn had her horse riding accident in late January 1959 and, as said, it took several weeks before she recovered and started filming again (wearing an orthopaedic brace). Probably in March, after she had returned to the set, Audrey wrote the following two letters to Lillian Gish (on The Unforgiven horse-themed stationery). The women got along quite well, The Unforgiven being the only film they made together. In the first letter Audrey tells the veteran actress how "working with [her] and knowing [her] has been a gentle and rare experience" and also talks about the gift she made for Gish. In the next letter Audrey thanks Gish for always being there for her. The film Audrey refers to here is Green Mansions, which premiered in March 1959 and was directed by Audrey's then-husband Mel Ferrer. Despite Audrey's hopes for Green Mansions, it was a disaster at the box-office.

Source: Bonhams



Dearest Lillian

I made this for you for chilly rehearsal halls or stages, drafty sets etc. In each stitch all my love — the wool comes from Finland and is soft but warm. Working with you and knowing you has been a gentle and rare experience — you are even more than what Herbie said you were. My gratitude and hugs

P.S. It was hard to buy something for you in Durango — hence the home-made
You wear it this way

See you tomorrow— or else shall find out when you leave.

About the tips— 50 pesos maximum should cover any one person— or a handbag for instance for Georgina— 25 pesos is fine for those you have been tipping as you went along.

Lillian Gish and Audrey Hepburn as resp. Ma Zachary and her adopted daughter Rachel in The Unforgiven. I think that Audrey was miscast as the Kiowa Indian girl and agree with Bosley Crowther when he wrote for the NY Times in April 1960: "As the girl, Audrey Hepburn is a bit too polished, too fragile and civilized among such tough and stubborn types as Burt Lancaster as the man of the family, Lillian Gish as the thin-lipped frontier mother and Audie Murphy as a redskin-hating son."
Audrey Hepburn knitting on the set of The Unforgiven
Source: Bonhams



Darling Mother Lillian

How good, how very good you always are to me — how like you to know just how I felt yesterday and bring me yourself a bouquet of love and warmth and understanding — all my hearts thanks and love.

Mel is HAPPY, terribly so, over the results— notices were mixed so far— most argue with the advisability of telling the story— Bosley Crowther said very nice things— N.Y. Daily News gave it 3½ stars!!! Motion Picture Daily excellent— O Lillian! and lovely ones for me— how deeply happy I am for Mel's sake— and how proud I am of him. [hearts drawing] Your completely devoted Audrey

Audrey Hepburn recovering in the hospital following her horse riding accident, with husband Mel Ferrer by her side.
Director John Huston with Lillian Gish behind the scenes of The Unforgiven

Lillian Gish on the set of The Unforgiven. Gish was an expert shot. For the film John Huston and leading man Burt Lancaster wanted to teach her how to shoot, but Gish turned out to be a better marksman than either Huston or Lancaster. Early in her career she had been taught how to shoot by ex-bank robber Al J. Jennings, who had become an actor and had played in one of her films.

15 June 2023

A big big thank you for what you do

Martin Landau began his acting career in the late 1950s. At one time a student at Lee Strassberg's prestigious acting studio and a good friend of James Dean, Landau made his Broadway debut in Middle of the Night in 1957. His first important screen appearance was in a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), playing James Mason's creepy henchman. Other film roles followed, including supporting roles in the epics Cleopatra (1963) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Landau's big breakthrough occurred on television, however, with leading roles in the series Mission: Impossible (1966–1969) and Space: 1999 (1975–1977). The late 1980s saw a revival of the actor's film career when he was cast in Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), both roles earning him Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Landau's only Oscar win came several years later for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), starring opposite Johnny Depp who played Ed Wood. Landau continued to act in both film and television productions until his death in 2017, aged 89.

Seen below are two letters addressed to Martin Landau. First, a letter from Alfred Hitchcock with whom Landau had worked on North by Northwest. During production of the film, the two got along very well. Hitch wrote to Landau in connection with Cleopatra, in which Landau had played the role of Rufio, Julius Caesar's right-hand man. In his letter Hitch expresses his indignation about Landau not being included in Cleopatra's Gala Premiere Program. The second letter to Landau is from fellow actor Anthony Hopkins. After rewatching Ed Wood, Hopkins liked the film even better than the first time and in particular Landau's performance in it. His letter is what Hopkins himself calls a "fan letter", showing his great admiration for Landau's work. 

Source: Heritage Auctions

 Landau with Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra
Hitchcock and Landau on the set of North by Northwest

Source: Heritage Auctions


15 August 96

Dear Martin

It seems we meet only at award events in Hollywood; we manage a brief hello and then are whisked off in different directions to do our ... whatever it is we have to do. In order to avoid the usual actor's chit chat about how one admires another one's work etc etc I've always regretted the lost opportunity to say just that to you.

My favourite Woody Allen movie was "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and of course your performance in that. Also your amazing performance in "Ed Wood". I am up in the wilds of Alberta, about to start a movie with Alec Baldwin. I've had a few evenings free, and so rented a few videos. I picked out "Ed Wood" because I wanted to watch it again ... I just wanted to see how the hell you created Bela Lugosi!! Suffice to say, I don't know how you did it, and it doesn't really matter. So I thought: "well here goes ... write the man a fan letter" You were amazing!! I loved the movie when it was released, and even more now. Your performance was so moving (and funny of course) .... I don't know what else to say really. That's it I guess. I sometimes write letters to actors expressing my admiration for their work, and I think I could do it more often. I think that what I find so moving (and I really mean it - emotionally moving) is the work and detail and care and love and obsession that has gone into the performance. You and Johhny Depp were extraordinary ... It is altogether a strange business this acting stuff. Sometimes scary and mysterious and it takes vast courage to give it one's best shot. Your performance in Crimes and Misdemeanours was also excellent.

I just wanted to write you this note to express my appreciation for your work which is so powerful -what you captured in Ed Wood, as did Johnny Depp was the loneliness and pain of people desperately trying to make a mark in dreamland ... the hopes and longings for fame and success, and whatever it is that drives people sometimes into wonderfully rich and rewarding lives, and others over the edge to disaster and self destruction. I think what I am trying to say, Martin, is a big big thank you for what you do .... Thanks.

(signed "Tony")
Tony Hopkins

Landau and Johnny Depp in Ed Wood (l) and Sir Anthony Hopkins