28 October 2016

I'm not insane about Brando for this

When offered the lead role of dockworker Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954), Marlon Brando initially rejected it. Brando, who had worked with Kazan before oA Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Viva Zapata! (1952), didn't want to work with Kazan again due to the director's damaging testimony before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. In April 1952, Kazan had been a "friendly" witness for HUAC, naming names of eight colleagues who were former Communists and thereby ruining their careers. Kazan was heavily criticised for his actions and it is generally believed that On the Waterfront was his way of justifying them (read more here).

Following Brando's rejection, Frank Sinatra (who had just made From Here to Eternity) was approached to play Terry Malloy in September 1953. Sinatra was eager to play the role and made a verbal agreement with producer Sam Spiegel. Elia Kazan, however, had doubts about Sinatra due to his limited availability. Then Brando decided to play the part after all and Kazan went with his first choice, also because casting Brando meant having a bigger budget and more shooting time. Sinatra was extremely upset about not getting the part, and Spiegel then offered him the role of Father Barry which in fact had already been promised to Karl Malden. When Kazan refused to let Malden go in favour of Sinatra, Sinatra sued Spiegel for $500,000 damages. (The matter was later settled out of court.) 

The three letters for this post (or rather, excerpts from letters) were written by Elia Kazan in connection with the casting of Terry Malloy. The first letter is addressed to Budd Schulberg (the film's screenwriter who also named names before HUAC), showing that Kazan wasn't too enthusiastic about Brando at first; Kazan also talks about another alternative to Brando, an actor named Paul Newman who had just made his Broadway debut in Picnic. (Newman did a screentest with Joanne Woodward in the role of Edie, the role that later went to Eva Marie Saint.) In the second letter, written to Marlon Brando, Kazan tried to persuade Brando to take the role, even though he still considered Brando "not right for this part"; noteworthy is that Kazan admits that the script shows parallels with his HUAC experience. And the final letter is addressed to Abe Lastfogel, Frank Sinatra's agent, in which Kazan explains his choosing Brando over Sinatra.

In late July 1953, Elia Kazan wrote Budd Schulberg the following:
I'm not insane about Brando for this. In fact in my opinion he is quite wrong. But he's a fine actor and if he's really excited about it and will work like a beginner trying to get a start, he can be fine. [....] At any rate he arrives in town Sunday the second of August and leaves on the fifth, and it is imperative repeat imperative that he read the script and give us his yes or no. He cannot take the script to Europe with him. Our time is running short and we cannot wait for his majesty to get comfy in Paris and send us an answer when he feels it... If we don't get Brando, and I think it most likely we won't, I'm for Paul Newman. This boy will definitely be a film star. I have absolutely no doubt. He's just as good looking as Brando and his masculinity which is strong is also more actual. He's not as good an actor as Brando yet, and probably will never be. But he's a darn good actor with plenty of power, plenty of insides, plenty of sex. He and Malden are working on two scenes to show to Sam and yourself. I'm for him without seeing more.
Budd Schulberg (l.) and Elia Kazan won Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Director. On the Waterfront won a total of 8 Oscars, including Best Picture (Sam Spiegel), Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint). 

Also in late July 1953, Kazan wrote to Marlon Brando:
I cant pretend that its easy or simple to write you. Ultimately, in our little world, everyone hears everything. I will always feel most warmly and devotedly for you, but this does not blot out the things unsaid between us. I will for the time leave them unsaid. I will write you here professionally, and you can behave as you wish from whatever criteria you wish to act from. That's your business and even your problem. I'm sending you the script of a movie in a state of preparation. I'm very very hopeful of the script. I've worked very hard on it, and I'm going to do a lot more work on it. But you're a sensitive person and you will realize its not finished, you will sense its intention and the hope involved in it. Its yet not realized, though its a great deal closer than what you read before. Its meant very seriously. It is taken from living people, though distilled and compacted. The problem which it mirrors still exists and the moral problem it treats - the social responsibility of a citizen as it comes into conflict with his personal allegiances- is one of the oldest and most universal of all problems a man can face. My own point of view towards this problem and Budd's too, is clearly set forth. But the script is more of an involvment in the problem than an exhortation of any kind.  Make no mistake about it, there is a parallel inference to be drawn to the Inquiries into Communist Activities. This parallelism is not the main value of the script. This is the story of a human in torment, and in danger. The first thing I would do if you did become interested would be to take you over [to] HOBOKEN and introduce you to Tony Mike DeVincenzo who went thru exactly what our TERRY goes thru. This is a confrontation which would put flesh and blood on the issue on which our script is built. I've spent three evenings with him and its like being in the presence of a denizen of Dante's Purgatorio. And finally with him and with the whole waterfront of New York Harbor, the issue is not decided, and will probably be in the process of being decided as we shoot the picture.
I dont want to say more about the picture's theme. Just one word about the part. By the common measure which producers and directors use for casting, you are not right for this part. But you weren't right for the Williams Play either and you weren't right for Zapata. This boy is a former fighter, half pure, half hoodlum. He is a boy who has lost his sense of inner dignity or self-worth. At the beginning of our story he doesn't know when he lost it or how. He only discovers that he is behaving like a hoodlum and he has been a contributor to a murder. Slowly thru the unfolding of the incidents of the story and thru his relationship with a girl he discovers the shameful estate to which he has sunken. The body of the story has to do with his effort to find his own dignity and self esteem once more. He's a boy who suffers at the slightest introspection or self examination. He goes thru hell. Finally he acts to make himself respect himself, first putting his life in danger and secondly even going out to meet a violent end, so that he will re-establish himself in the sight of his own inner eye. With this "inside", there is a jaunty exterior which is the pathetic remnant of a career where he was once the white haired boy of the neighborhood, and etc.  There's much more to say, but you can go on from here, if you care to. I think its a giant of a part and a tremendous challenge. 
 [this letter was a draft letter and possibly never sent]

And on 2 November 1953, Kazan wrote to Abe Lastfogel:
Obviously from my point of view the decision to go ahead with Frank was a severe compromise. Not on artistic grounds. I was quite happy that way. Frank would have been fine in the part. Brando was my first choice, but since I could not have him and had completely abandoned hope of having him, Frank was a happy choice for me.... The alternate to Frank was an unknown boy in the cast of PICNIC. His release was a dubious matter. [.....] Then, after Frank was all set, Brando walked in one day, to my complete surprise, and said he wanted to go ahead. I wanted him. Not just Sam. I wanted him. Not that I was unhappy with Frank. But with Brando there would be no time pressure. My guess is that this picture will take 42 days, even possibly a few more. We now have a decent budget.... I dont like to get hurt and I hate to hurt any one. Nor do I feel that the thing was handled well by Sam. Sam says that's the only way he could have done it. I'm not all sure it was. I'm, on the other hand, not sure it wasn't. One thing sure: the change was necessary. We had done something desperate in accepting Frank with 27 days, desperate and foolish. Its terrible and regrettable that Frank had to be hurt. But couldn't the hurt be partially assuaged by having Frank announce that he withdrew because the schedule did not permit. And couldn't another part of his hurt be softened by my writing him and assuring him that the basis of the change WITH ME was time. I had gotten myself in a foolish and desperate (But by me, necessary) spot, and I had to get out of it when I saw a way out. I'm not callous to Frank's feelings. But say this much for us: when we went into it with Frank we went in on complete good faith. In fact our demands were craven. We begged him to give us a few more days. He was unable to, so I got us three more on the phone with Lew. We did not ask him to give up the Fox musical or anything like that. We were beggars. And we begged. But too much work and pain and time from Budd and myself are riding on this thing-- to do anything else than what we allowed Sam to do. I wish Sam had done it differently but Abe I want you to know I'm glad right now that we have Marlon. And make no mistake about that. 
Excerpts taken from The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, edited by Albert J. Devlin with Marlene J. Devlin; published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf.

13 August 2016

Educating Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn was a largely self-taught man. While he did receive a formal education in his teens, Flynn, whose father was a biology professor at the University of Tasmania, mostly educated himself through reading. It was in Papua New Guinea where Flynn went to seek his fortune at the age of 18 that he began to read anything he could get his hands on. In his 1959 autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn remembered: "[..] I was consuming all sorts of books with genuine greed, with more interest than if I had been studying at Cambridge or Trinity College, Dublin. I knew now I had to make another effort to overcome my lack of formal schooling, somehow to make up for my delinquent and disinterested years."

But by 1948, Flynn felt there was still something lacking in his formal education. Wishing to study history and philosophy, he made inquiries (through his lawyer) to several small colleges in New England. One of the colleges he considered attending was Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, which was not a mixed or male college, but a college only for women.

Errol Flynn and Robert Ford
On 14 October 1948, Robert Ford, Flynn's lawyer, wrote a letter on behalf of his client (without mentioning Flynn's name) to the Director of Admissions of Connecticut College, Robert Cobbledick, and asked him if it was possible for his client to enroll at the college. Cobbledick replied a week later stating that Connecticut College was a woman's college and that, unless the circumstances were "distinctly unusual", Ford's client had better look for a different college. The letter shown below is the letter Ford sent to Cobbledick on 27 October, in which he revealed the identity of his client, wondering if the circumstances couldn't indeed be considered "distinctly unusual"? Cobbledick could not be swayed and recommended Flynn apply to the University of Bridgeport instead. (I could find no information if Flynn had indeed applied to the suggested university or to any other university.)

Source: Linda Lear Center, Connecticut College


October 27, 1948

M. Robert Cobbledick
Director of Admissions
Connecticut College
New London, Connecticut

Dear Mr. Cobbledick:

I addressed a letter to you under date of October 14 inquiring concerning the possibility of a client of mine enrolling at your school for a few months to study history and philosophy. Under date of October 20 you replied as follows:
"Your letter of October 14 has just been received. As your client is a man, I am wondering if he knows that Connecticut College is a college for women, although we have had an occasional man as a student during the regular session. Unless the circumstances are distinctly unusual, we recommend that men enroll in a coeducational or man's college."
The client on whose behalf I made the inquiry is Errol Flynn, the actor. He has requested that I write you and ascertain if you consider that "the circumstances are distinctly unusual."

Seriously, Mr. Flynn, who is a prolific reader and is largely self-educated, feels that there are certain gaps in his education and for that reason is contemplating spending a few months at some small eastern college that specializes in education rather than in football. I addressed letters to various small colleges located in New England close to the sea because Mr. Flynn thought he might live on his boat while attending school.

If you will be kind enough to recommend several schools that might serve this purpose, it will be deeply appreciated.

Thanking you for your courtesies, I am

Cordially yours,


29 July 2016

Bette Davis is a joy to work with

One of the (many) Joan Crawford films I have yet to see is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), the only film Joan made with Bette Davis. Joan had always wanted to work with Bette and with Baby Jane she got her wish. Contrary to popular belief, the two actresses got along on the set. Admittedly, they didn't exactly become friends, but they were both professionals who were excited about the picture and also understood how important it was for their careers.

It wasn't until Bette received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Joan didn't that their relationship turned sour. Bette was convinced that Joan didn't want her to win and that she was actively campaigning against her among Academy voters. It didn't help matters when Anne Bancroft won for The Miracle Worker and Joan accepted the Oscar on her behalf. (Joan had contacted the nominees beforehand, saying she would be happy to accept the Oscar for them in case they were unable to attend the ceremony; click here to watch Joan steal the show from Bette by accepting Bancroft's Oscar.) In May 1963, things got worse between the two stars when Bette and director Robert Aldrich attended the Cannes Film Festival without Joan (Bette had told Aldrich she would only attend if Joan wasn't there). Joan later threatened to take legal action against Bette and Aldrich for not being included.

By 1964, things had quieted down somewhat and Aldrich succeeded in hiring both Bette and Joan for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the unofficial sequel to Baby Jane. However, not long after filming had started on location in Louisiana, Joan became ill and admitted herself to a hospital. While it was later announced that Joan had pneumonia, she reportedly feigned her illness to get out of the picture. (Apparently, Bette had done her best to make life on the set difficult for Joan and Joan couldn't take it anymore.) Production was eventually suspended on 4 August, after which Aldrich began to look for Joan's replacement. Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck were all offered the role, but declined. (Vivien Leigh supposedly said: "No, thank youI can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford's face at six o'clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis.") On 25 August 1964, Joan was finally replaced by Bette's good friend Olivia de Havilland. Joan and Bette would never work together again.

Bette Davis, studio boss Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and director Robert Aldrich pose for the press in July 1962, just days before filming on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane began.

Shown below are four short letters written by Joan Crawford in connection with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The first letter was written to Ann Gundersen (a fan?) in which Joan mentions Baby Jane and Bette Davis, calling her co-star "a joy to work with" and "a dear human being, with a divine sense of humor". In the second letter written to a friend called Larry, Joan shares her feelings about Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis following the Cannes Film Festival incident earlier that month. (The first paragraph of that letter deals with Cliff Robertson, Joan's co-star in the 1956 Autumn Leaves.) And the third letter (to Cecil) and fourth letter (to her friend Frances Spingold) were both written in connection with Hush... Hush



August 25, 1962

Dear Ann, 

Thank you so much for your sweet letter. I am so happy you enjoyed "The Ziegfeld Touch."

Thank you too for all the nice things you had to say about my article in the Good Housekeeping Magazine. I'm so grateful to you.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is going along very well, and Bette Davis is a joy to work with- very professional, completely dedicated to her work; and she and I get to the Studio every morning, a half hour before our calls, just longing to get in front of that camera. She is really a dear human being, with a divine sense of humor.

Bless you.





May 31, 1963

My dear Larry,

How wonderful it was to hear from you with such a warm, loving letter. I enjoyed the articles tremendously, and as you see, I am returning them in this envelope.

How beautifully you write, and I am so sad that you have been hurt by Cliff. You know, we were pretty good to him too, giving him "Autumn Leaves". I write him and congratulate him about "PT-109" and his television shows; and when I am in California, I write and ask him if we could see each other, and when he comes to New York, could we see each other- and I never receive a line from him. But that's life. I am sad he doesn't take care of his friends.

About the Bob Aldrich-Bette Davis treatment, well, their bitterness can only hurt them. It couldn't possibly hurt the one whom their bitterness is towards. It can only hurt them because they carry around the bitterness within their hearts, and certainly must reflect in their living and their lives. Hurt? Yes, that I am. Bitter? Never.

Thank you for your friendship and your dear letter. It made me very happy.

I am off to the West Coast in June to make a film, but all my mail is forwarded to me each day. 

Bless you, and keep that beautiful talent of yours. Nourish it and protect it. 





March 24, 1964

Dear Cecil,

Thank you for your nice air letter. Yes, Bette Davis and I are going to make "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" in May, probably right here in Hollywood although we may go on location in Louisiana for a short period. We are having story conferences now, and it sounds very exciting. The book was written by Henry Farrell, who wrote "Baby Jane".

I haven't seen Herb Sterne lately, but do hear from him frequently, by mail.

Bless you. Thank you again for writing.


Above: Script meeting for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Joseph Cotten, Bette Davis, Robert Aldrich and Joan Crawford.



August 12, 1964

Frances darling,

I adored your letter of August 6. It was in the newspaper that Loretta Young had been asked to replace me, but she has refused the role, so at the moment there is no replacement. It would be a blessing if they would replace me, as I must take a month's rest after I leave the hospital.

The twins are in Newsport, Rhode Island, at summer school, and they will be there only until the 22nd of this month.

What have you decided to do about the apartment? I know it would have been impossible for you to have moved during this awful heat wave.

My dearest, dearest love to you.


All letters taken from The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia

Joan in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte before she was replaced by Olivia de Havilland

This post is my contribution to the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Check out all the other entries here.

25 July 2016

Do you need a harp player?

On the third day of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, on 13 July 1960, senator John F. Kennedy secured his party's nomination for the U.S. Presidency. The next day he received this congratulatory telegram from Harpo Marx.


1960 JUL 14 PM 12 45




1 July 2016

Don't mess with Olivia de Havilland!

Classic cinema lovers all around the world are paying tribute to the marvellous Olivia de Havilland who has turned 100 today. Wow! My warmest congratulations to this remarkable, elegant lady who will always hold a special place in my cinematic heart. It was after all with Miss de Havilland and Errol Flynn that my love for classic Hollywood cinema began, especially after seeing them together in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939), films that have remained favourites to this day. It wasn't until much later that I saw films with Olivia without Errol and also began to admire her as a 'solo actress', both as a dramatic actress and a comedienne.

But not only on-screen, also off-screen Miss de Havilland is a lady to be admired. What immediately comes to mind is the lawsuit she filed against her studio Warner Brothers in 1943. Back then actors were given a seven-year contract with a studio, but every time they refused a role and were put on suspension, the period of suspension was added to the contract period. This also happened to Olivia when she wanted to leave Warner Bros. in 1943 after her seven years were up. The studio told her that six months had been added to her contract but Olivia refused to accept this, took Warner Bros. to court— and won! (In the 1930s, Bette Davis also sued Warner Bros. but without success.) The decision of the court became state law and is still known today as the De Havilland Law.

That Olivia goes after the things she feels entitled to is also apparent from the following letter written to her agent Paul Kohner in May 1956. This time it doesn't involve a big Warner Bros. lawsuit but something much more trivial — postage costs. 

Olivia and Pierre Galante
In 1955, Olivia married her second husband Pierre Galante, a French editor for the magazine Paris Match, and moved with him to Paris where she has lived ever since. To have her fan mail forwarded from her Beverly Hills P.O. Box to Paris, Olivia sent a check of $100 to her agent's office to cover the postage costs. When she was told a year later that the $100 had all been spent, Olivia wrote to Kohner stating that the money couldn't be all gone, having carefully calculated the postage costs herself. In the letter shown below, Olivia describes in a very detailed manner how low, according to her, the postage costs actually were and says she believes "a most understandable error" has been made but that she wants $55 back. (I'm sure she didn't need the money, so it must have been a matter of principle.) 

Incidentally, the handwritten comments were added later by (presumably) Miss Heymann, assistant to Paul Kohner, who had agreed to forward the fan mail. Heymann states that Olivia was wrong, that they had already sent numerous packages by the time Olivia's check came. Obviously annoyed with the whole business, Heymann concludes with: "Now I say give her back the whole damn $100 & we cover the postage!"


69 Avenue Georges Mandel
Paris 16 France
May 26, 1956

Dear Paul:

A little over a year ago, I wrote your office requesting that it extend me the courtesy of forwarding to me monthly the fan-mail which accumulates in my Post Office Box number 1100 at the Beverly Hills Post Office. Miss Heymann kindly agreed to do this for me and I sent her, in February of 1955, a check made out to you for $100.00 to defray the costs of mailing.

Paul Kohner
Between February and July, a period of 5 months, I received several packages of such fan-mail forwarded in the manila envelopes used by your office for the mailing of scripts. I do not recall exactly how many such packages there were, but let us say there was a total of 8 in that period. I do not think the number could have been higher as I did not have a release of a picture during or previous to that time.

In July there came 3 packages, then none until October when another 3 arrived. After that, none whatever.
The check for $100.00 was endorsed and cashed in July, and part of the money was used to pay the Post Office Box rental charges for the year, the bill for which fell due at about that time, and the amount of which was $24.00. This left a balance of $76.00.

From this remaining amount, I imagine Miss Heymann deducted the postal charges for, shall we say, 8 packages of fan-mail. I assume that the total of such charges could not have exceeded $14.50, as the 3 envelopes containing the mail sent July 11, which I have kept, show postage amounting to: $1.58, $1.92, and $1.84 respectively, or a total of $5.34. A mean of these 3 figures is $1.78, which multiplies by 8 amounts to $14.24.

The 3 October envelopes show that Miss Heymann sent the mail by a less expensive mail classification, and the envelopes carry the following postage: 26 c, 41 c, and 39 c respectively, or a total of $1.06.
Adding all these figures together, i.e. $24 for P.O. Box rental, $14.50 for postage for the 5 months February-July, $5.34 for the 3 parcels mailed July 11, together with $1.06 postage for the 3 parcels mailed October 11, the total expenditures amount to:
$44.90 or $45

Subtracting this sum of my advance of $100.00 would indicate that a balance of $55.00 is coming to me.
I recently asked a former secretary of mine, Mrs. Marjorie Allen, to take over the responsibility of forwarding the mail to me and to obtain from Miss Heymann both my P.O. Box key and whatever funds were remaining from my deposit with her. Miss Heymann told Mrs. Allen that she had kept track of the postage charges at the beginning of the year but not at the end, and was sure that the entire sum had been absorbed and even, perhaps, exceeded, but for me not to bother about the presumably minor difference.
I was gratly [sic] surprised that the entire sum had been dispensed, and in double-checking the matter in the manner described to you in the early part of this letter, I have come to the conclusion that in not keeping a record Miss Heymann did not realize how very small the postal charges actually were.  She must be a very busy woman and it is a most understandable error.

However, as you can see, it is clear that your office owes me a minimum balance of $55.00 and I would appreciate your check for this amount.
Pierre joins me in very, very best wishes to you, Lupita, and Susan,


Handwritten comment (in part):
She is very wrong- by the time the check came we had sent numerous packages & I remember postages of $6, 7, 8 & such on several occasions. Maybe she should look at the envelopes. 

I didn't keep a record and don't know if R. kept one, since in the U.S. postage is not written down, but I told R. to keep track of what we spent for her originally [...] I must admit I didn't keep track myself, later on though maybe I should have- by the way the check went to the Companynot to me personally. I told her secretary I assumed it was about taken up [....] 
Personally I didn't want to use the check at all, which is why we sat on it so long- then I said why not- now I say give her back the whole damn $100 and we cover the postage!

Images of Olivia's letter courtesy of eMoviePoster.com

From top left, clockwise: Olivia in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), Dodge City (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Snake Pit (1947) and The Heiress (1949). Centre photo: Olivia as beautiful and graceful as ever photographed by Andy Gotts in 2014.

This post is my contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out all the other entries here.

26 June 2016

Please help me!

Wishing to become a serious actress, Marilyn Monroe began to study 'method acting' at the Actors Studio in 1955 under the guidance of Lee Strasberg. Because of her shyness Marilyn was also privately tutored by Strasberg at his home, and she also got lessons from Strasberg's wife Paula (a former actress) who became her personal acting coach and confidante. The Strasbergs soon became like a family to Marilyn and were very important to her during the rest of her life and career. (When Marilyn died in 1962, she left the bulk of her fortune to them.)

Marilyn and Paula Strasberg
It was at the recommendation of Lee Strasberg that Marilyn underwent psychoanalysis to deal with her severe depressions. Her first psychoanalyst was Dr. Marianne Kris at whose suggestion Marilyn admitted herself to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Hospital in New York on 7 February 1961. There she was placed on a ward with severely mentally ill people and was put in a padded cell which was a most harrowing experience to her. (Dr. Kris later admitted that the choice of hospital had been a mistake.) Fortunately, with the help of ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn was able to leave the hospital after a few days and was moved to the Columbia University Presbyterian Medical Center where she recuperated. 

Shown below is a letter from Marilyn to Lee and Paula Strasberg, written in February 1961 while she stayed at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Hospital. Crying out for help to get her out of this horrible nightmare, this is what Marilyn wrote:

Source: cursum perficio


Dear Lee and Paula,

Dr. Kris has had me put into the New York Hospital- pshichiatric [sic] division under the care of two idiot  doctors- they both should not be my doctors 

You haven't heard from me because I'm locked up with all these poor nutty people. I'm sure to end up a nut if I stay in this nightmare- please help me Lee, this is the last place I should be - maybe if you called Dr. Kris and assured her of my sensitivity and that I must get back to class so I'll be better prepared for 'rain'.

Lee, I try to remember what you said once in class "that art goes far beyond science"
And the science memories around here I'd like to forget- like screening women etc.
Please help me- if Dr. Kris assures you I am all right- you can assure her I am not. I do not belong here!

I love you both

P.S. forgive the spelling- and there's nothing to write on here. I'm on the dangerous floor its like a cell. Can you imagine- cement blocks. they put me in here because they lied to me about calling my doctor and Joe and they had the bathroom door locked so I broke the glass and outside of that I haven't done anything that is uncooperative.

Rain (referenced in Marilyn's letter) is a short story by William Somerset Maugham which was going to be adapted for television, starring Marilyn as the prostitute Sadie Thompson. The project never happened, as NBC wouldn't hire Lee Strasberg whom Marilyn insisted on having as her director. 

Marilyn flanked by Lee and Paula Strasberg (above); the Strasbergs attending Marilyn's funeral on 8 August 1962 (below).

15 June 2016

The art of faking letters

The practice of faking letters and documents has existed ever since men started putting pen to paper. While the earliest forgery dates back to the 8th Century and was about gaining political power, now the forger's aim usually is profit. I only recently read about Lee Israel who was a master literary forger in the 1990s. A biographer and editor, Israel had a hard time finding work in the early 1990s and for more than a year, while broke and addicted to alcohol, she made a living manufacturing and selling numerous letters that she said had been written by famous (dead) people. Israel meticulously researched her subjects, bought several period typewriters and stole vintage paper from the library to make her letters appear authentic. (Two of Noël Coward's letters that she forged even ended up in The Letters of Noël Coward, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2007.) Later Israel even stole original letters from libraries which she would replace with her forgeries, and the originals she then sold. In June 1993, after having been arrested by the FBI, Israel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months house arrest and five years probation. Israel's memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger was published in 2008.

The only names of Hollywood actors I found in connection with Israel are Humphrey Bogart and Louise Brooks. Of Bogart Israel did a one-off letter, but Brooks was a subject she used more often. The following Brooks letter is one of Israel's forgeries.

source: vice

Here are three more letters which are not by Israel but which I believe are fake as well. 

Allegedly written by Barbara Stanwyck, the first letter has Barbara call Vivien Leigh a "whore". Seeing that Barbara was such a professional and was even shocked by Joan Crawford's language in this letter, I believe she would never have called Vivien that. But more importantly (as others have pointed out before me), the letter seems to have been written on a computer instead of a typewriter. (Incidentally, I saw the letter being offered on several auction sites, so someone did try to sell it as an authentic Barbara Stanwyck letter.)

via: via margutta 51

The second letter is a letter Bette Davis allegedly wrote to Joan Crawford on the occasion of her birthday and was reportedly found in Bette's desk drawer. I have serious doubts about the stationery used here, it's very unlike the type of stationery I've seen of Bette. And would she really have written this to Joan, calling her "sluttiest MGM star" and "most psychotic" (not to mention the rest of the letter)? But then again, Bette was reported to have said some nasty things about Joan, like when Joan died: "You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good... Joan Crawford is deadGood." Ouch. 

At any rate, I very much doubt this letter is authentic. Makes for fun reading, though.

via: the frisky

And then there's the following note. It was supposedly written by Marlene Dietrich to Elizabeth Taylor, two women who also hated each other. I don't believe this note is genuine either. It looks like someone was trying hard to copy Marlene's handwriting. (For comparison, see this letter where Marlene writes both in small letters and capitals.) As for the content —even though she hated Elizabeth, would Marlene really have written this?

via: opera queen
During a visit to the set of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), Marlene Dietrich reportedly said to Elizabeth Taylor: “Darling, everyone is so fantastic! You have a lot of guts to perform with real actors."

4 June 2016

Loaning out Thomas Mitchell

During Hollywood's Golden Age, it was very common for a studio to loan out a contract player to another studio. Actors usually didn't have a say in the matter as they were virtually owned by the studios. In 1939, Thomas Mitchell was under contract to Columbia Pictures when he was loaned out to other studios for several pictures. While Mitchell did make a few gems for Columbia that year (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Only Angels Have Wings), his loan-outs were equally impressive. There was The Hunchback of Notre Dame for RKO Radio Pictures, Stagecoach for independent producer Walter Wanger and Gone with the Wind for Selznick International Pictures.

For Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick had to borrow several of his key players. Not only was Mitchell borrowed from Columbia, but Clark Gable came from MGM and Olivia de Havilland from Warner Brothers. (Vivien Leigh was one of Selznick's own contract players.) And of course, each loan-out required a contract. Shown below is part of the agreement between Selznick and Columbia regarding the loan-out of Thomas Mitchell. Interesting to note is that Mitchell would be simultaneously working on GWTW and a Columbia picture entitled Plane No.4 which he had already started to work on (Plane No.4 was the working title for Only Angels Have Wings). Furthermore, it is noteworthy that for his role as Gerald O'Hara in GWTW Mitchell was to earn "on per diem basis at daily rate of 1/6th of $1500.00 per week", which makes $250 per day. 

Thomas Mitchell as Gerald O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, in bottom photo shown with film daughter Vivien Leigh.
Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions


Dated; January 26, 1939





Selznick and Columbia agree that Artist, who is presently portraying a role for Columbia in "PLANE NO.4", will be permitted to render his services for Selznick in portrayal of role of "Gerald" in Selznick's photoplay "GONE WITH THE WIND" during the remainder of his present term with Columbia, and on January 27th and 28th particularly. Artist's services may be used by Selznick on such other days as required by Selznick and not required by Columbia.


Selznick to pay Artist on per diem basis at daily rate of 1/6th of $1500.00 per week. 

Artist has agreed that, except where he renders services for both Selznick and Columbia on the same day, he shall not be entitled to compensation from Columbia on days he is entitled to compensation from Selznick.

Columbia will pay Artist's compensation for days he does not render services for either Columbia or Selznick during remainder of Artist's term for Columbia.

Further services:

It is expected that Selznick will use services of Artist for role of "Gerald" at later date after he shall have completed his services for Columbia. 

By Daniel O'Shea
Secretary [to Selznick]

Thomas Mitchell and Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings, one of the two films Mitchell made for his own studio Columbia in 1939.

23 May 2016

James Stewart's favourite role

I imagine all actors have a favourite role, whether a role they enjoyed playing most or a role they found most challenging or a role they simply have the fondest memories of. In this short, undated note written to a guy named Larry (a fan?), James Stewart tells us what his favourite role was and also mentions his great admiration for director Frank Capra with whom he had worked three times (i.e. You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) and It's A Wonderful Life (1946)).

Source: Christie's


Dear Larry 

Thank you for kind letter,
I think my favorite role is George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life". 
I think the main reason for this is that it was the first picture I was in after being in the war for 4 1/2 years and also I will always have great admiration for Frank Capra.

James Stewart

The 1941 Ziegfeld Girl was Stewart's final film before he joined the US army. Stewart became a bomber pilot in 1943 and received several awards during his military service (right photo: Stewart receives the French Croix de Guerre in 1944). For further reading on Stewart's military service, click here.
On the set of It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra (above), and Stewart as George Bailey in one of his emotional moments (below).