27 May 2024

You brought eggsactly the right flavor to Batman

Today, on what would have been Vincent Price's 113th birthday, I am sharing a letter sent to Price by Adam West in 1990, on the occasion of Price's 79th birthday. West was Price's co-star in the 1960s Batman television series, in which he played the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. In season two and three of the series (1966-1967), Price had a recurring role as the villain Egghead, appearing in a total of seven episodes. Created especially for the Batman TV series, Egghead was in the character's own words "the world's smartest criminal", his crimes and speech patterns usually involving eggs. Price later said about the series: "I was thrilled to be on the Batman series. I really felt that it was one of the most brilliant television series ever done. The imagination and the creativeness that went into those shows were extraordinary. They were way ahead of their time..." The Batman series ran for three seasons (from 12 January 1966 until 14 March 1968) with 120 episodes. Ratings had dropped considerably by the end of the third season and, as a result, the show was cancelled. 

Vincent Price (l) and Adam West as resp. Egghead and Batman
Price as Egghead with Anne Baxter as Olga, Queen of Cossacks. Appearing in five episodes, Olga was Egghead's partner in crime and love interest. (Baxter played two villains in the series; apart from Olga, Baxter also played Zelda the Great in two episodes.)
Source: Heritage Auctions

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).