25 May 2023

In my heart you are my dearest friend in the whole world

Linda Darnell hated the Hollywood social scene and made only one close friend in Hollywood, actress/dancer Ann Miller. As young starlets the two had first met at a benefit on Catalina Island and immediately got along. They had much in common, both being from Texas and having started their careers at a very young age. They both lived with their mothers, who also befriended each other. Linda and her mother Pearl often visited the Millers up in the Hollywood Hills. "While the two mama hens clucked," Ann recalled, "we would gossip about our two studios and all the goings-on there." (Linda was under contract to 20th Century-Fox while Ann had signed with Columbia.) The close friendship between Linda and Ann lasted for decades until Linda's untimely death in April 1965.

Linda Darnell (l) and Ann Miller

The story of Linda Darnell's death is a tragic one. Linda was staying at the home of her friend and former secretary Jeanne Curtis when the house caught fire. The women had stayed up late watching one of Darnell's old films on television (the 1940 Star Dust) and afterwards went upstairs to go to bed. They woke up to the fire, which had started in the living room. Curtis and her daughter escaped through the second-floor window while Linda, who was too afraid to jump, had gone downstairs trying to escape through the front door. Firemen eventually found her lying behind the living room sofa, still alive but with burns over 90% of her body. Immediately rushed to the hospital, the actress underwent surgery but ultimately couldn't be saved. On 10 April 1965 —thirty-three hours after the fire— Linda Darnell passed away, only 41 years old. 


While Darnell was in the hospital, letters, cards and telegrams from all over the world came pouring in to wish her well. Her friend Ann Miller sent her the following telegram, still hoping and praying Linda would recover. 


Dearest Linda. If there's anything that Mom and I can do, we'll be there to help. In my heart you are my dearest friend in the whole world and always will be. We are saying prayers for your recovery. Love, Annikat and Mommikat.


After Linda's death, Ann sent another telegram.  The telegram was read during the second memorial service held in Burbank on 8 May 1965.


To my dear friend Linda, lover of life and of people, a giver and not a taker. You will always live in our hearts. Farewell Tweedles. Love always, Annie and Mother K.  


Source: Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream (1991), by Ronald L. Davis.

According to Linda Darnell's biographer Ronald Davis, it was never determined what caused the fire. There was no evidence that careless smoking had started it, and rumours that Linda had been drinking that evening were denied by Jeanne Curtis. It remains a mystery, however, said Davis, why Linda, who was terrified of fire, went down into the smoke and flames. Relatives and friends firmly denied that it had been a subconscious suicide attempt. (After a period of feeling depressed, Linda felt much better again and her career was looking up with a few possible film offers.) Curtis stated that Linda was simply afraid to jump from the second-floor window and thought she could make it out the front door ("Linda had very weak wrists and ankles and I'm sure she was afraid to get out on the ledge and jump.").

Often dubbed the “girl with the perfect face”, Linda Darnell was known for her roles in films like The Mark of Zorro (1940), Blood and Sand (1941), Fallen Angel (1945), Unfaithfully Yours (1948) and A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Here Linda is photographed on the set of Unfaithfully Yours.

18 May 2023

I'm a great deal better now

In May 1956, during production of Raintree County (1957), Montgomery Clift attended a party at the house of co-star and friend Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Michael Wilding. On his way home from the party —feeling exhausted and having had too much to drink— Clift lost control of his car and smashed into a telephone pole. The actor had a severe concussion, broken jaw, broken nose and other facial injuries, which required surgery and several months of recovery. Clift's face eventually healed, although the left side of his face was left partially paralysed.

At the time of the accident, studio work at MGM had already been completed and the cast and crew of Raintree County were about to go on location to Mississippi. Due to the accident, however, the location shooting was postponed and it wasn't until 23 July that Clift returned to work. Two days earlier he had written a letter to his friend, theater actor William LeMassena, mentioning his recovery, his new dentures and the location shoot. Clift had reportedly been in a relationship with LeMassena during the early 1940s. The two remained close friends until Clift suffered a fatal heart attack in July 1966 (following years of drug and alcohol abuse). At the time of his death, Clift was only 45 years old. 

Source: Gotta Have Rock and Roll
Monty Clift and Liz Taylor on the set of Edward Dmytryk's Raintree County. While the film did well at the box-office —people went to see it en masse, if only to see the difference in Clift's facial appearance before and after the crash— it did not recoup its huge costs.

Billy LeMassena
Also addressed to William LeMassena is the following letter from Monty Clift several years earlier, dated 5 January 1952. Besides the personal content of the letter —with repeated use of the F-word— Clift fleetingly mentions David Selznick, whom he despised and reportedly called "an interfering f*ckface" behind his back. Clift worked with Selznick on Terminal Station (1953), a film directed by Vittorio De Sica and co-produced by De Sica and Selznick. The actor hated Selznick's interference with De Sica's picture and sided with the Italian director in his disagreements with Selznick. Terminal Station was re-edited by Selznick and in 1954 re-released in the USA under the title Indiscretion of an American Wife. When Clift saw the American cut, he hated it and called it a "big fat failure".

"Eternity" mentioned in the letter is Fred Zinnemann's From Here To Eternity (1953), in which Clift played the role of Private Robert Prewitt. He was the first actor to be hired for the film, with production starting in the spring of 1953. For his performance Clift would receive his third Oscar nomination but didn't win (the other nominations were for The Search (1948) and A Place in the Sun (1951)).

Monty Clift probably misdated his letter, the year being 1953 instead of 1952. Terminal Station was filmed in Rome, Italy from October until December 1952. So it seems likely that the letter was written in January 1953 after production of the film had ended, with Clift being more than eager to go home.

David Selznick and Monty Clift

11 May 2023

I think I have been a good dog for three years

In the summer of 1938, Warner Bros. cast Claude Rains as a tough New York City cop in They Made Me a Criminal, a Busby Berkeley film starring John Garfield in the lead as a boxer wrongly accused of murder. Rains, who had signed a long-term contract with Warners in November 1935, considered himself unsuited for the role and did not want to play it. Requesting to be released from the film, the actor sent studio boss Jack Warner a telegram on 31 August 1938. The role would do nothing to advance his career, Rains thought, and his miscasting could only hurt the picture. 

Claude Rains, John Garfield and Billy Halop (of The Dead End Kids) in a scene from They Made Me a Criminal.

August 31, 1938

Jack Warner
Vice President, Warner Brothers
First National Pictures

Dear Jack. Having thoroughly enjoyed my association with the studio and toed the line to cooperate to the best of my ability, I feel that you should know of my inability to understand being cast for the part of Phelan in "They Made Me a Criminal." Frankly, I feel that I am so poorly cast that it would be harmful to your picture. You have done such a good job in building me up that it seems a pity to tear that down with such a part as this, and I am confident that your good judgment will recognize this. Dogs delight to bark and bite and I think I have been a good dog for three years, so perhaps you will give me five minutes to talk it over.


Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (1985), selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.


When Warner threatened Rains with suspension, the actor accepted the role and indeed —I must agree with Rains and the general opinion— he was terribly miscast. (But I don't think he harmed the picture, considering how little screentime he had.) Later Rains said that of the films he had made They Made Me a Criminal was one of his least favourites.

One of my favourite character actors, Claude Rains had pivotal roles in a number of classic Warner Bros. films, among them The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (1942). Rains was nominated four times for Best Supporting Actor, i.e. for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Notorious (1946), the latter film on loan-out to David Selznick.

5 May 2023

Francis My Love

In her 1990 autobiography Ava: My Story, Ava Gardner said that Frank Sinatra was the love of her life. The two had met in 1943 at a Hollywood nightclub and, after seeing each other only occasionally over the years, met again at a party in 1949. They started an affair, with Sinatra still married to his first wife Nancy Barbato (with whom he had three children). On 7 November 1951, ten days after Sinatra's divorce had come through, Ava and Frank tied the knot, entering into a very tumultuous and highly publicised marriage. The two were both —in Ava's own words— "high-strung people, possessive and jealous and liable to explode fast", their temperaments often leading to heated fights, sometimes even in public. During their marriage, Ava got pregnant with Sinatra's child twice but in both cases had an abortion. On 29 October 1953, after two years of marriage, the couple formally announced their separation, with the divorce eventually being finalised in 1957. Ava and Frank remained good friends until Ava's death in 1990, at age 67. 

Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, who was Ava's third and final husband (Artie Shaw and Mickey Rooney being husband number one and two).

In April 1952, five months into their marriage, Ava wrote Sinatra the following note. At the time Ava was filming The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) at the 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles while Sinatra was in New York. 

Source: Lot-tissimo


Francis my love —

I finally tricked Bappie [Ava's older sister] + Ben into buying some stationery for me so now I have to use it, cause it's new + cause I love you — That's all I have to say so goodnight baby— I can't wait till next Tuesday— Love, love, love, yours