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.