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.

2 March 2024

Rivalry at Warner Bros: Hal Wallis vs Jack Warner

I haven't posted here for a while, as some of you may have noticed. The reason is that I've been having serious health issues and consequently had to spend a few months in the hospital (five weeks in the ICU even). Luckily I'm doing much better now and, while recuperating at home, I am slowly returning to my old life again. This means that I also want to get back to blogging and continue to share with you interesting stories and correspondence. So, without further ado, let's get on with this post, which involves two of Warner Brothers' key people, Jack Warner and Hal Wallis.


In 1923, Hal B. Wallis started his career at Warner Bros as an assistant in the publicity department and not before long was appointed chief of publicity. Gradually Wallis involved himself in the production side of the business, to eventually become Warners' head of production in 1928 (being temporarily replaced by Darryl F. Zanuck from 1931 to 1933). Until his departure from the studio in 1944, Wallis was responsible for the production of numerous films, including classics like The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Now, Voyager (1942) and —perhaps the classic of all classics— Casablanca (1942). It was Casablanca that was Wallis' greatest triumph, a film he regarded as his film, having even provided the movie's famous last line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.").

On 2 March 1944 —on the evening of the 16th Oscar ceremony, with Casablanca being nominated in eight categories, among them Best Picture— it became abundantly clear that Warner Bros' studio head Jack Warner had different ideas about whose film Casablanca was. After director Sidney Franklin had announced Casablanca as the Best Picture winner, Wallis rose from his chair to accept the Oscar, only to find that Warner had also stood up and beaten him to the stage. Warner, as studio head, felt that Casablanca was his film and claimed the Oscar on stage, with many people in the audience shocked to see him upstage Wallis like that. The once-close relationship between the two men, which had been tense for some time, was now damaged for good. Shortly afterwards Wallis left Warner Bros to work as an independent producer, his films to be released through Paramount Pictures and later Universal.

Above: Hal Wallis signed a new contract with Warner Bros in January 1942, specifying that "A Hal Wallis Production" or "Produced by Hal Wallis" should appear after the main title of his films. With Casablanca, however, "Jack L. Warner Executive Producer" had been added to the WB logo, even though Warner had nothing to do with the film at all. Below: Jack Warner (left) and Hal Wallis. 
The following telegrams from Jack Warner to Hal Wallis clearly show that by the end of 1943 the relationship between the two had deteriorated. Warner felt threatened by Wallis and complained about not getting the credit he deserved.

November 28, 1943

...per L.A. "Dailey News" Article 23rd, I resent and won't stand for your continuing to take all credit for "Watch on Rhine", "This is the Army", "God is my Copilot", "Princess O'Rourke" and many other stories. I happened to be one who saw these stories, read plays, bought and turned them over to you. You could have at least said so, and I want to be accredited accordingly. You certainly have changed and unnecessarily so.


November 30, 1943

Stop giving me double talk on your publicity. This wire will serve notice on you that I will take legal action if my name has been eliminated from any article or story in any form, shape or manner as being in charge production while you were executive producer and in charge production since your new contract commenced. So there will be no misunderstanding it will be up to you to prove and see that my name is properly accredited in any publicity.

The day after Jack Warner had claimed the Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca at the 1944 Oscars, film critic Edwin Schallert wrote in his column about a rivalry between Warner and Wallis. In the following letter to Schallert, Wallis resolutely denied the rivalry, even claiming he "was glad to see Jack Warner accept the award". Of course this was not how Wallis really felt and almost forty years later, in his autobiography Starmaker, the producer described the Oscar incident, saying how Warner's action had left him "humiliated and furious" (excerpt from the book also seen below).

Edwin Schallert
Los Angeles Times 
202 W First Street
Los Angeles Calif

March 4 1944

I have been with Warner Bros for twenty years and during this time it has been customary here as elsewhere for the studio head to accept the Academy Award for the best production. Naturally I was glad to see Jack Warner accept the award this year for "Casablanca" as he did for "The Life of Emile Zola". I am happy also to have contributed my bit toward the making of that picture. Your comment in your column this morning on rivalry at Warner Bros. is totally unjustified. I would be grateful if you would correct the misleading impression created by it ...

Hal B. Wallis

Excerpt from Starmaker: The Autobiography of Hal Wallis (1980) by Hal B. Wallis and Charles Higham:

Matters came to a head that Oscar night. After it was announced that Casablanca had won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year, I stood up to accept when Jack ran to the stage ahead of me and took the award with a broad, flashing smile and a look of great self-satisfaction. I couldn't believe it was happening. Casablanca had been my creation; Jack had absolutely nothing to do with it. As the audience gasped, I tried to get out of the row of seats and into the aisle, but the entire Warner family sat blocking me. I had no alternative but to sit down again, humiliated and furious.  

[Eventually, Wallis did receive a Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca.]


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