22 May 2024

I told you long ago that Walt Disney has the best idea

In a 1972 interview with Dick Cavett, Alfred Hitchcock was asked about the remark "Actors are like cattle" he had supposedly made in the 1930s. Hitch famously told Cavett: "I would never say such an unfeeling, rude thing about actors at all ... what I probably said was that all actors should be treated like cattle." Later Hitch would make another derogatory remark about actors to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich: "Actors are like children. They have to be coddled, and sometimes spanked." What seems clear is that Hitch didn't think very highly of actors and considered them a necessary evil in order to make films. It wasn't "the acting" or "the subject matter" Hitch really cared about, but most important to him were "the pieces of film ... all the technical ingredients that make the audience scream" (said Hitch in a 1973 interview with Oui Magazine). 

Hitchcock certainly didn't care for stars or their egos. While he realised that stars were necessary to draw audiences to theaters, during his long career Hitch had several times complained about the star system, especially when stars who were not suitable for their roles were forced upon him by the studio. For Torn Curtain (1966), Hitch was very unhappy with his leads Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, but Universal insisted they were cast. At the time the actors were two of Hollywood's biggest stars and much to Hitchcock's dismay— received a combined salary of $1.5 million, cutting very deeply into the film's $5 million budget. When Newman, a method actor, repeatedly asked Hitch for his character's motivation, the director (who hated method acting) famously retorted, "Your motivation is your salary".

Hitch with Julie Andrews and Paul Newman on the set of Torn Curtain

The exorbitant fees of Newman and Andrews were on Hitchcock's mind when he wrote the following letter to Grace Kelly. With Torn Curtain about to go into production shooting would start on 18 October 1965 Hitch complains to Grace about the salaries of his leads eating up a large part of his budget. Also, he talks about the salary demands of Shirley MacLaine, another big box-office star at the time. Hitch concludes his letter saying that Walt Disney had "the best idea". With his actors drawn on paper, if Disney didn't like them, he could just erase them or tear them up.

Source: Alamy


Her Serene Highness
Princess Grace of Monaco
Palace Monaco
Principality of Monaco

Dear Grace (handwritten),

Alma and I want to thank you so much for your thoughtful telegram.

I'm just about to start another movie, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. But the money these people get these days! Between them, they are collecting as much as I have to make the whole picture. You would be astonished if you knew some of the sums of money now being commanded on account of the acute shortage of "names". It was told me, I believe by her agent Herman Citron, that Shirley MacLaine refuses to read any material of any kind unless a million dollar fee, against a percentage, was agreed upon.

You'll remember I told you long ago that Walt Disney has the best idea. He just draws them, and if he doesn't like them, he tears them up.

Love, Hitch (handwritten)


Grace Kelly had left Hollywood almost ten years earlier to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. She had been Hitch's favourite actress, having worked with him three times, i.e. on Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace and Hitch got along quite well and became close friends. While the pair had wanted to make a fourth film together, in the end they never did. In 1962, when Hitch was preparing his next film Marnie (1964), he asked Grace (by then already Princess of Monaco) to play the female lead. She accepted but ultimately had to withdraw from the project, due to the objections of the citizens of Monaco. (Grace's correspondence with Hitch about their failed project can be seen here.) The role eventually went to Tippi Hedren.

Above: Hitch and Grace Kelly on the sets of their mutual films, clockwiseTo Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder and Rear Window, in the latter photo also with leading man James Stewart. Below: 29 April 1974, Hitch with Princess Grace of Monaco on the occasion of Hitch's tribute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. 

16 May 2024

Shearer does not seem to be associated with sex

Norma Shearer was one of the first serious contenders for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind (1939). On 21 March 1937, Walter Winchell, a famed newspaper gossip columnist and radio commentator, reported that Selznick desperately wanted her to play Scarlett. The announcement evoked a public response which was overwhelmingly negative. People felt that Norma, at the time a major MGM star, was not at all right for the part; while some could see her play Melanie, Scarlett she was not.

Above: Norma Shearer as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a publicity still for The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934). Below: Norma playing a loose woman in A Free Soul (1931), the first of three films she made with Clark Gable.
Two days prior to Winchell's announcement, Kay Brown (Selznick's representative and talent scout) had sent a memo to her boss, sharing the opinions on Norma Shearer of several people, including GWTW's author Margaret ('Peggy') Mitchell. Like the general public, none of them was enthusiastic about Norma playing Scarlett, feeling she was "not the type". Brown believed that the actress was being associated too much with her "good girl" roles in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and Romeo and Juliet (1936), despite having also played less virtuous characters in films like A Free Soul (1931) and Riptide (1934).


TO  Mr. David O. Selznick
FROM  Miss Katharine Brown
DATE  March 19, 1937

Dear David:

I am sorry to make this kind of report on Miss Shearer, as I was so terribly in favor of the idea when it was first discussed.

I selected three people, as we decided on the telephone, one of whom is the editor of RedBook, Edwin Balmer; Lois Cole of Macmillan, and a rank outsider to the picture business.

The suggestion in each case proved a shock and the response was "but, she's not the type." Then, as I advanced arguments about the fact that she is a great actress and could play Scarlett, they warmed up to the idea.

Mr. Balmer thought her selection would be analyzed as a compromise. They didn't feel that she could hurt the picture, but nobody reacted enthusiastically. This was all a great disappointment to me.

Peggy Mitchell was scared to death to say anything at first, but I reassured her that her conversation would be only for your ears. She, too, was very lukewarm; not against her but, like the others, not enthusiastically excited about the idea. 

Shearer seems to be tied up with pictures like JULIET and ELIZABETH BARRETT. People forget her first great success in THE FREE SOUL and RIPTIDE. Shearer does not seem to be associated with sex. Both Balmer and Mitchell said you couldn't imagine Shearer killing in cold blood and bargaining her body.

Everybody says get someone with no name so Scarlett can be Scarlett and it won't be Miriam Hopkins making believe she is Scarlett, just as if we weren't all half crazy trying to do this!

(signed) Kay

On 30 March 1937, following Winchell's announcement and the public outcry it had caused, both Selznick and Norma issued statements in which they denied Norma being a candidate for Scarlett. Selznick said: "Miss Norma Shearer and we of Selznick International have jointly come to a conclusion against further consideration of the idea of Miss Shearer playing the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind". Miss Shearer has made other arrangement, and we are continuing the search begun several months ago, and never interrupted, for an unknown, or comparatively unknown, actress for the part ..." And Norma said: "... I have other plans, which I cannot divulge at this time, which preclude my giving the idea any further consideration. I shall be watching with great interest to see who Mr. Selznick selects and whether she will be a well known star or a newcomer. I know she will be wonderful, and I will be wishing her luck."

Dallas Morning News, 24 June 1938
Despite these statements, Norma's GWTW adventure did not end here. About a year later, the actress would again be a contender for the role of Scarlett. In fact, on 24 June 1938, several newspapers announced that she had already been cast, including The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News. And again, like Walter Winchell's announcement had done a year earlier, this announcement also evoked a great many negative reactions from people who felt Norma was unsuited for the role. On top of that, people were shocked by the fact that she had asked Selznick to change the script in order to make Scarlett more sympathetic. (In a previous post, I reproduced four of the many letters that Selznick received regarding Norma's casting as Scarlett; you can read them here.) Ultimately, due to public pressure, Norma withdrew from the picture and gave up the role for good. 

In November 1938, several months after giving up Scarlett, Norma wrote the following letter to Marjory Pollock, one of her fans who had been in favour of her playing Scarlett. Norma reflects on her decision not to play the part and in particular talks about the traits of Margaret Mitchell's heroine that had bothered her. 

Source: Bonhams


November 10, 1938.

Dear Marjory Pollock:

Reading some of the thousands of letters that came in after the announcement that I would play Scarlett O'Hara, I find your gracious note. I am so happy to know that you wanted me to play the role, even tho I have decided against it. Your confidence in me is most inspiring.

When the studio asked me if I would accept the role, I gave it careful consideration; but I was troubled by traits - such as her disrespect for the death of her husband, her neglect of her child, her marriage to a man for whom she even had no respect, her indifference to the revelation of Rhett Butler's love at the end of the story - which I knew would be unpleasant to portray on the screen. I think any woman - no matter how hard she has been - must be redeemed by such a great love as Rhett's.

It has always been my desire to vary my roles, as you know, but I felt I had been associated with such idealistic characters in the past few years that to play Scarlett whole-heartedly might be offensive and leave an unpleasant impression on the minds of the public.

I was so glad to read that your father recovered so completely from his illness, and the nice things he said about me were most pleasant to listen to.

My sincere appreciation, and good wishes to you both,

(signed) Norma Shearer

Miss Marjory Pollock,
Fine Arts School,
South Bend, Indiana.

Norma Shearer and Clark Gable at a Hollywood event in 1938; they played in three films together (i.e. A Free Soul (1931), Strange Interlude (1932) and Idiot's Delight (1939)) but their fourth was not to be. Instead of Shearer, Vivien Leigh would star in GWTW in her only pairing with Gable.

5 May 2024

Dear Corse

When George Cukor decided to build three cottages on his Beverly Hills estate, his close friend Katharine Hepburn asked him if Spencer Tracy, her life partner and also a friend of Cukor's, might rent one of them. (Tracy was married to Louise Treadwell, but since 1933 the couple lived separately.) Throughout his adult life Tracy had struggled with depression and alcoholism, and with Tracy living on his estate Cukor could keep an eye on him and provide companionship whenever Hepburn was not in Los Angeles. Assured that Cukor would respect his privacy, Tracy moved into the cottage on St. Ives Drive in the fall of 1951 and lived there until his death in 1967. During the final years of his life, while in poor health, Tracy shared the cottage with Hepburn, this being the only time the two lived together. Hepburn rented the house from Cukor after Tracy's death. 
Spencer Tracy (left) and George Cukor. According to Cukor biographer Patrick McGilligan, Cukor was "endlessly fascinated by the sensitive and peculiar Tracy" and the two men became "the most unlikely best of friends". 

On 8 February 1951, Cukor wrote this humorous letter to Tracy about the progress being made on the "Tracy residence". The "Touring Actress" referred to in Cukor's letter is of course Katharine Hepburn. At that time Hepburn was still touring with the stage production of Shakespeare's As You Like It; the play had opened in January 1950 in New York City and after 145 performances went on the road until March 1951. Cukor's comment "She will be pleased to know that the sun hits this property regularly once a week..." is probably a comical reference to Hepburn's wish to have large windows installed in Tracy's cottage to allow sunlight to enter the house. Hepburn hated the lack of natural light in the small apartment Tracy was then renting on South Beverly Drive.

Incidentally, Cukor nicknamed Tracy "Corse" after Corse Payton, a popular American stage actor, known for billing himself as "America's Best Bad Actor".

Source: icollector.com
Left photo (taken in July 2023): 9191 St. Ives Drive in Los Angeles, the cottage in which Tracy had lived and later Hepburn. Right: Tracy inside his home, sitting in a chair that Hepburn had reupholstered.

Cukor, Tracy and Hepburn on the set of Keeper of the Flame (1942), the second of nine films Tracy and Hepburn made together.
Tracy and Cukor on the set of The Actress (1953). Tracy was directed by Cukor five times, more than by any other director. The other four films were Keeper of the Flame (1942), Edward, My Son (1949), Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).

27 April 2024

Casting "How Green Was My Valley"

When producer Darryl F. Zanuck bought the rights to Richard Llewellyn's 1939 best-selling novel How Green Was My Valley, he intended to make a four-hour, lush Technicolor production to match David O. Selznick's epic Gone with the Wind (1939). To direct the filmZanuck borrowed William Wyler from Samuel Goldwyn, and Philip Dunne was hired to adapt Llewellyn's novel into a screenplay. With Gregg Toland as cinematographer (also on loan from Goldwyn), the film was to be shot in Wales.

The first person to be cast was Roddy McDowall in the role of young Huw Morgan, the main character of Llewellyn's book. (In the book Huw is followed from boyhood to adulthood, the story of his Welsh mining family told from his point of view.) McDowall was one of several British youngsters who had tested for the role. Zanuck and Wyler were so impressed with the young actor that they decided to remove the adult Huw from the story the part that was going to be played by Tyrone Power and concentrate only on Huw as a boy. With the elimination of the adult Huw, the problems Dunne was having with his script were immediately solved. The overlong script could now be brought down to a manageable size. 

Above: Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall and Sara Allgood in How Green Was My Valley. Below: John Ford directs 12-year-old McDowall in a scene from the film.
When Dunne's script was presented to the Fox executives in New York, they refused to give Zanuck the money for his film. Zanuck's bosses believed that Valley was heading for failure, with its script focusing too much on labour issues. Furthermore, they were very worried about William Wyler's perfectionism and his reputation for going over budget. Zanuck was furious and stood by Dunne's script, even threatening to take it to another studio.

In January 1941, with Valley being delayed, Wyler and Toland returned to Sam Goldwyn to shoot The Little Foxes (1941), their contracts with Fox having expired. Zanuck replaced Wyler with John Ford and Toland with Arthur C. Miller. A few months later, Fox's New York executives finally gave their approval for Valley, albeit under a few conditions. The film would have to be shot in black-and-white, its length reduced to two hours and the budget limited to $1 million. Due to the war in Europe, shooting on location in Wales was not possible, so a replica of a Welsh mining town was built in the hills near Malibu, California. 

Above: Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon, How Green Was My Valley was their only pairing. Below: Anna Lee (right) and Sara Allgood in the moving film's finale.

Darryl F. Zanuck
Shooting on How Green Was My Valley would start in June 1941, with John Ford at the helm as the film's new director. Several sources claim that most of the cast was already chosen by Wyler when Ford took over. However, in her autobiography 'Tis Herself (2004), Maureen O'Hara stated: "One of the first things Mr. Ford did was to recast the picture. Mr. Ford was far too proud to ever let another director cast his movie, and only one of the originally cast actors appeared in the film (...) The only actor originally cast by Wyler that Mr. Ford kept was young Roddy McDowall as the boy Huw." 

O'Hara's views seem to be supported by the following memo from Zanuck to Ford, written in April 1941, a few months before production was to start. In his memo Zanuck put forward his casting ideas, which indeed imply that of the principal players only McDowall was already cast. Of the actors mentioned by Zanuck, Walter Pidgeon, Sara Allgood and Donald Crisp eventually ended up in the picture (Pidgeon borrowed from MGM and Crisp from Warner Bros). Zanuck's choice for Angharad, Gene Tierney, was rejected by Ford who picked Maureen O'Hara. Neither Martha Scott nor Geraldine Fitzgerald, suggested by Zanuck for the part of Bronwen, was chosen; Ford cast Anna Lee instead. Walter Pidgeon, who Philip Dunne thought was "the one really phony actor" in the film, was cast as the priest Mr Gruffydd to provide Valley with the necessary star power. (Incidentally, Wyler's choice for Angharad had been Katharine Hepburn, Greer Garson for Bronwen and Laurence Olivier for Mr Gruffydd.)


DATE: April 7, 1941
TO: Mr. John Ford

Dear Jack:

Over the weekend I went through the script again of How Green Was My Valley, and I think I have come up with some fairly good casting ideas.

You directed Gene Tierney in Tobacco Road and did a great job with her ...

In How Green Was My Valley, for the role of Angharad, where could we get a better actress? She has youth —a strange quality about her— and she has sex. We can understand her falling in love with the preacher and we can understand her marrying the miller's son*. We can also understand her going back to the preacher at the finish. There is a strange quality about her that might easily be adapted to this picture, and I think that with proper schooling she can master a slight accent.

For the part of Bronwen, who is the eldest of the two girls, what about the great actress, Martha Scott?

If there is some way we can borrow Ray Milland from Paramount, I think he would be great as the preacher. What about Walter Pidgeon for this role? He is giving a great performance in Man Hunt. Also, there is George Brent to be considered.

There is also another great actress who could play Bronwen. Her name is Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Sara Allgood cannot be beat for Beth.

Donald Crisp is perfect for the role of Morgan.

In order to get any of these people, we'll have to work far in advance— as you know what the casting troubles are.

We should discuss this sometime tomorrow.


[*This should be the mine owner's son.]

Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.
Suggested by Darryl Zanuck for principal roles in How Green Was My Valley, none of these actors ended up playing in the film. Clockwise: Gene Tierney, Ray Milland, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Martha Scott and George Brent. 

Released in October 1941, How Green Was My Valley was a huge success, both commercially and critically. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five, i.e. Best Picture (Darryl Zanuck), Best Director (John Ford), Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Cinematography (Arthur Miller) and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Interior Decoration (Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran and Thomas Little). Valley famously beat other Best Picture contenders, like Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon ánd William Wyler's The Little Foxes

18 April 2024

Errol was a proud, sensitive man ...

Tasmanian-born Errol Flynn became a U.S. citizen in August 1942. Eight months earlier, America had entered World War II, and Errol tried several times to join the U.S. Armed Forces. He was rejected, however, due to a number of health problems, including a weak heart and chronic tuberculosis. The press dubbed Errol a "draft dodger", seeing that the seemingly fit and athletic star was not serving in the military, as were so many of his colleagues.

Instead of going to war, Errol spent the war years working in Hollywood, making several films about the war, e.g. Desperate Journey (1942), Edge of Darkness (1943) and Objective, Burma! (1945). It was also during these war years that Errol faced a huge crisis in his personal life. In late 1942, the actor was accused of statutory rape by two 17-year-old girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, causing a major scandal. What followed was a high-profile trial, which took place in late January and early February 1943. Eventually Errol was acquitted of all charges defended by famed criminal lawyer Jerry Giesler but both his romantic screen image and his self-respect were damaged for good.

Playing a Norwegian resistance leader during WWII in Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness (1943), Errol is pictured here with co-star Ann Sheridan.
9 January 1943, Errol on the stand during his high-profile trial, while being questioned by his lawyer Jerry Giesler.


In the fall of 1989, film historian and biographer Tony Thomas was busy preparing his third book on Errol Flynn, which would be published the following year (entitled Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was). The best part of his new book Thomas would spend refuting the allegations made by Charles Higham that Errol was a Nazi spy during WWII. (Read more about Higham's controversial biography Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (1980) here.) One of the contributors to Thomas' book was Olivia de Havilland, Errol's eight-time co-star. Below you'll find her letter to Thomas, written on 25 October 1989. Olivia talks about Errol's frustration at not being able to contribute to the war effort and how this, as well as the 1943 trial, had left an indelible mark on him.

Source: RR Auction
Errol and Olivia 

10 April 2024

Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you

David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn were two of Hollywood's most successful independent producers, both with their own group of contract players. Among Selznick's contracted stars were (at one time or another) Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten, while Goldwyn had under contract such stars as Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, David Niven and Danny Kaye. One of the people also under contract to Selznick was British director Alfred Hitchcock, who came to Hollywood in early June 1938 at the invitation of Selznick. 

Before being signed by Selznick, however, Hitch met with Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn was also interested in Hitch but made no serious bid to land him. (According to Selznick, Myron Selznick (David's brother and Hitch's agent) could "not get bids for [Hitch] at the time I signed him".) Eventually in mid-July 1938, Selznick and Hitch struck a deal, entering into a seven-year contract. The two worked together only four times, i.e. on Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and The Paradine Case (1947). More often than not, Hitch was loaned out by Selznick to other studios at considerable profits (much to Hitch's resentment as he didn't share in the profits).

Above: Selznick and Hitchcock — the men had a difficult working relationship. Below: At a dinner in Los Angeles in October 1953, (l to r) Goldwyn, Jennifer Jones (Selznick's second wife) and Selznick. The two producers reportedly admired and liked each other.

In late December 1942, Hitch had a meeting with Goldwyn about a production deal. Shooting on Shadow of a Doubt (1943) had already ended and Hitch's next project would be Lifeboat (1944) on loan-out to Twentieth Century-Fox. When Selznick heard about the Hitchcock-Goldwyn meeting, he was furious and next wrote a letter to Goldwyn. With Hitch still having a few years left on their contractSelznick resented Goldwyn for trying to "seduce" Hitch into coming to work for him, and for telling Hitch not to waste his talents on projects like Shadow of a Doubt (which was not produced by Selznick but by Skirball Productions)Ironically enough, Shadow was to become Hitch's personal favourite.


January 6, 1943

Mr. Samuel Goldwyn
1041 North Formosa
Hollywood, California
cc: Mr. O'Shea

Dear Sam:
Recently, you have had a couple of occasions to remind us forcibly that you are a "frank" man, although God knows no reminder was necessary. However, I do hope that you grant to others —such, for instance, as myself— the right to be equally frank: 
Sometimes, Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you. You scream and yell about other people's ethics, and then behave in a fashion that makes my hair stand on end with a combination of anger and incredulity.
You recently have sent direct for one of my people, Alfred Hitchcock, and talked with him without so much as either asking us, or even letting us know after the fact. I wonder just how you would behave if I reciprocated in kind — or if any of the big companies did it with your people. I have always maintained that no one is in permanent bondage in this business, and that once a contract has expired, or is soon to expire, every individual in the business should be free to negotiate with anyone he sees fit, without giving offense to the studio to which he or she has been under contract, and regardless of the desire of the original contracting studio to make the bondage permanent. I am not talking about such a case: rather, I am referring to a man who you know full well is still under long-term contract to me. Or if you don't know it, everyone else in the business does, and you ought to know it. The very least you could have done was to find out. Ignorance is no more a defense in these matters, if that be your defense, than it is in the law. 

Hitch has a minimum of two years to go with me, and longer if it takes him more time to finish four pictures, two of which I have sold to Twentieth Century-Fox. And not alone did you try to seduce him, but you tried something which I have never experienced before with any company or individual— you sought to make him unhappy with my management of him. When you told Hitch that he shouldn't be wasting his talents on stories like Shadow of a Doubt, and that this wouldn't be the case if he were working for you, what you didn't know was that Hitchcock personally chose the story and created the script— and moreover that he is very happy about the picture, which I think he has every right to be. Further, that in the years since I brought Hitchcock over here from England (at a time when nobody in the industry, including yourself, was willing to give him the same opportunity...) and established him as one of the most important directors in the world with the production and exploitation of Rebecca, he has never once had to do a story that he was not enthusiastic about. This has always been my attitude about directors, and I happen to know that it has not always been your attitude toward directors under contract to you ...

By contrast with your own behavior, I have for months met criticisms of you with praise for your work, and for your contributions to the business, and for your integrity of production. I have said to literally dozens of people in important positions that you have never received as much recognition in the industry as is your due. And just yesterday, and despite my growing rage with you, I went even further than this with an important magazine writer who is doing an article about you. I not alone sang your praises, but I painstakingly corrected some impressions he had gained elsewhere, taking half an hour out of a very busy day for the purpose. When I hear of you doing the same thing, instead of doing your best (which would appear to be synonymous with your worst) in the opposite direction, I will believe your fine statements, and not before. I regret that I have to write you in this vein, and I do so not because I have any reluctance about rebuking you verbally, for you know from our past relationship that I have never been hesitant about such matters when I felt you to be in the wrong. I write you now, first, because I want it a matter of record, in connection with my future dealings with you; and second, because I have learned from experience that it is impossible to get you to listen to this many words unless they are in writing.

With best wishes for a fine and reformed New Year,

Sincerely yours ,

Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 
On the set of Shadow of a Doubt with Hitch (far right, seated) and Shadow's main players (l to r) Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey. The film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, California. It was  Hitchcock's own favourite of his films because —in Hitch's own words—  it "brought murder and violence back in the home, where it rightly belongs" .

Selznick's most successful achievement was his 1939 Gone with the Wind, and Goldwyn will probably be best remembered for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Both films won numerous Oscars, including Oscars for Best Picture.

30 March 2024

None were gum-chewings idiots, women chasers, etc. as you have so boldly portrayed the nation's fighting men

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is generally considered one of Stanley Kubrick's masterpieces (along with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971)). The film, which was co-written, produced and directed by Kubrick, is a satirical comedy about the Cold War. The plot involves a mad, paranoid American general who orders an unauthorised nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the U.S. president, his advisors and other high-ranking officials, all having gathered in the War Roomdesperately try to stop the attack in order to prevent a nuclear war. (For the full plot of the film, go here.)

Dr. Strangelove received numerous accoladesincluding four Oscar nominations (i.e. for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Peter Sellers) and Best Adapted Screenplay). The film was praised by the majority of critics and also proved a big hit at the box-office. However, not everybody was charmed by Strangelove when it first came out. In June 1964, Stanley Kubrick received the following letter from a Mrs Dobbs from Florida, "a conscientious American", who found the film "despicable" and warned her fellow Americans not to watch it. Dobb's letter was one of several letters displayed at the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition in Barcelona in late 2018/ early 2019. It was one of the many letters Kubrick had kept. In fact, Kubrick had kept almost all of his fan letters (or in Dobbs' case, a non-fan letter), yet only seldom responded.


13 Flamingo Drive
St. Augustine, Florida
June 9, 1964

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Producer-Director, Dr. Strangelove
Columbia Pictures Release
Hollywood, California

Dear Mr. Kubrick:

Doubtless, you have heard from many Americans who are proud of this country, proud of its heritage, and proud of the Armed Forces who are daily on the alert and ready to fight any and all enemies of this country. I am referring to letters that if you did not receive, you should have, in deep protest, utter dismay and complete disgust after viewing the despicable movie made by you and shown at our local theatre last week. 

Mr. Kubrick, I have known many officers of the Army and Navy in my lifetime, having worked at the State Headquarters for Selective Service in the '40's. I found the Generals, Colonels, etc. to be of the highest caliber. None were gum-chewing idiots, women chasers, etc. as you have so boldly portrayed the nation's fighting men. You have insulted the intelligence of my husband and myself. We found it impossible to view even an hour of the filth and boring dialogue such as was the case in "Dr. Strangelove."

Mr. Kubrick, I am reading now, the following, "When a film downgrading America or our will to resist the communist challenge is shown, withhold your dollars from the box office and encourage your friends to do likewise. Let the theatre managers and owners know why you're staying away." "We can begin by exercising our rights and duties as good Christians and good Americans whenever a film peddling a strong immoral or unpatriotic message is shown locally. If it's grossly immoral, warn your friends -- especially those with young children -- not to attend." I am following the above taken from a Life Line program and warning my friends in all letters I write.

As a conscientious American, I can do no less.

Most sincerely,
Mrs. F.J. Dobbs

Clockwise: Stanley Kubrick with Peter Sellers on the set of Dr. Strangelove, the latter playing three roles, i.e. RAF officer Mandrake (my favourite of the three), U.S. President Muffley and Dr. Strangelove, nuclear war expert and former Nazi; George C. Scott as the gum-chewing General Turgidson; and Sterling Hayden as the mad, cigar-smoking General Ripper. All three actors are great in their roles.

21 March 2024

Nobody deserves that kind of slaughter

A year after Joan Crawford's death, Christina Crawford —the eldest of Joan's four adopted children— published her memoir Mommie Dearest (1978), in which she accused her mother of emotional and physical abuse towards her and her siblings. The book became a huge success and in 1981 was made into a film of the same name (starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford). Several people corroborated Christina's story, stating they had personally witnessed some of the abuse (among them Helen Hayes, read more here), while others said that the allegations were pure lies. Among the latter group were Joan's twin daughters Cathy and Cindy, Joan's ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy. 

Joan Crawford and daughter Christina

Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn also belonged to the group of people who didn't believe Christina's stories about her mother. In the letters below, the two actresses give their opinion on the subject. First up is Dietrich's letter to Paramount executive Peter Bankers (i.e. only the part that deals with Mommie Dearest), followed by Hepburn's note to a friend. 

Source:  The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia (click on the link if you want to read Dietrich's full letter)
Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s
Source: The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia
Kate Hepburn

14 March 2024

For Kim Novak I have nothing but praise

James Stewart and Kim Novak starred together in two films, i.e. in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and the fantasy comedy Bell, Book and Candle (1958). The actors got along very well, and Novak later said that Stewart was her "all-time favorite man, next to [her] husband" and "the best, nicest person [she] ever worked with". According to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, the two had an affair during Vertigo which continued through Bell, Book and Candle. When author Marc Eliot asked Novak about it —while doing research for his 2006 biography on James Stewart— she categorically denied the affair. "She said she had been in love with Richard Quine, the director of Bell, Book and Candle", said Eliot. "She added that Jimmy was married, and there was no way that she would have an affair with a married man." 

In 1980, Larry Kleno published his book on Kim Novak, entitled Kim Novak on Camera. In preparation for the book, Kleno contacted several of Novak's co-stars, asking them how they had experienced working with her. Naturally he also got in touch with James Stewart, who sent the requested information via the following letter:

Source: Bonhams

Above clockwise: James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo, in a scene from Bell, Book and Candle and on the set of Vertigo.