13 March 2018

I hope Mr G. will give me back my old dressing room

When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, British actor David Niven left Hollywood to rejoin the British Army. (In the early 1930s, Niven had also been in the Army but quit to pursue an acting career.) Back in Britain, Niven was recommissioned as a lieutenant, then later joined the British Commandos and eventually took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944. Despite public interest in his wartime experiences, Niven never really talked about the war. What he reportedly did say was: "I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war." 

From the following letter, written by David Niven to a friend named "Irving" several months after the end of WWII, it is quite clear that Niven wanted to forget all about the war. He was terribly excited to return "home" (i.e. Hollywood) having missed the life and his friends there. Before Niven left for Europe in 1939, he was under contract to independent producer Samuel Goldwyn and now, back from the war, was eager to pick up where he left off. 

As Goldwyn didn't have a project for him right away, Niven (while still in England) was loaned out to British producers Powell and Pressburger to star in their film A Matter of Life and Death (1946). He returned to Hollywood next, where he did a few other loan-outs, i.e. Magnificent Doll (1946), The Perfect Marriage (1946) and The Other Love (1947), before he worked for Goldwyn again. His first post-war film for Goldwyn was The Bishop's Wife (1947) co-starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young. (Production of The Bishop's Wife started in February 1947 and not in January 1946 like Niven said in his letter.) 

Niven and Goldwyn had a difficult relationship, with Niven often complaining about being loaned out to other studios while Goldwyn got the bulk of the loan-out money. In 1949, Niven was released from his Goldwyn contract and, despite the temporary career setback that followed, went on to have a successful film career, even winning the Oscar for Best Actor for Separate Tables (1958). 


c/o Boodles Club
St James's Street
London. S.W. 1

4 October

My dear Irving

I am afraid it is quite a while since I last wrote- forgive me.

Well, I am now once more a civilian and after over six years of Active Service believe me I am thoroughly satisfied with my blue suit and felt hat! 

It has been a long haul since I last saw you, and I just have to thank God for letting me come through O.K. without a scratch.

All I want to do now is to draw a heavy veil over the years since 1939 and forget I ever left Hollywood. 

I have missed the life the interest and above all my friends of the Industry so terribly during all this time and now when it seems that in a couple of months time I shall be back again-- I just can't believe it will ever come true!!

"Mr. G" 
I hope Mr. G will give me back my old dressing room-- No 5. I am terribly excited about coming "home" and will be reporting to the Studio a day or two before Xmas. I am supposed to start "Bishops Wife" on 1 Jan. At least that was the last information I had but I expect you know much more about all the arrangements than I do.

Mr Goldwyn has got me on his hands for five years "straight" so we ought to be working together a lot- - I hope so with all my heart. 

Please make certain that you are going to be on my first picture. I shall need all the help and encouragement I can get from my old friends-- I have six years to catch up! 

What is the news of Greg and Mac, Eddie and Ralph? And where is Bob Coburn? Is Bobby Webb still at the studio and will Bob Stephanoff be faced with the insurmountable task of trying to make me look good! Please give any of these old friends my best regards and of course Danny Mandel, Bob McIntyre and Al Evans, not forgetting Julie Heron, Frank Meyer, Eddie [?], Walter Mayo etc and all those great old pals in your department. Joe etc.

We'll have some great days together. Incidentally, I don't believe I was ever the temperamental type but if ever I show any signs of it please remind me of what I was doing exactly one year ago today-- I was working in Antwerp with showers of bloody V.1.s and V.2.s coming down on my head like hail, so compared with that and a lot of other things that have happened since I last saw you, I don't think anything the film industry can do to me will be anything but pure unadulterated heaven! 

While waiting for a boat and, most important, a new arrival in my family I am doing a picture here. A big Technicolor epic called "A Matter of Life and Death". Ray Massey is in it with me and we have laughed a good deal. I am due to sail for N.Y. on 10 Dec. and I am counting the days.

My very best wishes and kindest regards to all of your family. I am longing to see you again.

Yours ever
David Niven

P.S. Don't forget to find out about my dressing room!!

Images of Niven's letter courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Pictured above: David Niven and Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and below: Niven with Cary Grant and Loretta Young in The Bishop's Wife (1947).

2 March 2018

It seems to knock everybody cold

One of the great things about living in Barcelona, apart from the gorgeous weather and relaxed lifestyle, is having the Filmoteca de Catalunya right on your doorstep. Located in the old Raval neighbourhood, the Filmoteca is a film archive and film house where both old and new films (although not the latest) from all over the world are shown. Luckily, films are shown in the original version with either Catalan or Spanish subtitles. An added bonus is that film tickets are quite inexpensive (4 euros per film) and an annual pass costs only 90 euros (which is about $110) giving you unlimited access to films for a whole year! (Needless to say, I have one of those.)

With regards to the film screenings, I am of course mostly interested in classic Hollywood films and they are being shown here on a regular basis. In February, the Filmoteca started an Ida Lupino retrospective (in celebration of her 100th birthday) to be continued this month, and later this year Rita Hayworth's centenary will also be spotlighted. From the Lupino programme I'm looking forward to rewatching the 1940 They Drive By Night (a film I've seen ages ago) and to see a few films unknown to me like While The City Sleeps (1956) and Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951). Other films shown this month are classics such as Shane (1953), The Asphalt Jungle (1950)Midnight (1939)Cat People (1942), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Imitation of Life (1959), Spartacus (1960) and Steamboat Bill Jr (1928)-- most of them will be rewatches although never seen by me on the big screen before.

Another film programmed at the Filmoteca this month is Funny Face (1957), starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. This film will also be a rewatch for me, and while it's not a favourite musical of mine I look forward to seeing it on the big screen. The letter accompanying this post --of course there's also a letter!-- concerns Funny Face (among others) and was written by Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn shortly before the film was released. In this charming letter, Astaire talks about the reviews that rave about Audrey and her dancing, and the positive reactions from people who saw the film already. In the end, despite the overall good reviews, Funny Face did not become the box-office hit everyone had hoped for; in fact, it did not even earn back its $3 million cost.

Audrey wanted to do Funny Face with her big idol Fred Astaire, and Fred apparently wanted to work with Audrey too:" I just told my agents to forget all other projects for me. I was waiting for Audrey Hepburn. She asked for me, and I was ready. This could be the last and only opportunity I'd have to work with the great and lovely Audrey and I was not missing it. Period." Funny Face would be the only time Fred and Audrey worked together.
Source: Christie's



Dear Audrey:-

I tried for several days to find out from Kurt Frings office [Audrey's agent] where I could write to you but they knew nothing. There were rumors that you were off to Jamaica.
I did not see all of "Mayerling" because as always happens with T.V.- a phone call came in that I had to take. 
I loved what I saw however and you of course were divine. You looked so wonderful. I don't know how you + Mel [Ferrer] did it- such a big show-live!
You were both great.
Getting back to that other little item, "Funny Face", I'm quite sure now about that one. It seems to knock everybody cold. They just simply say "It's The Best Musical Ever Made!" That from all the wise ones too. They rave over you and your dancing. I've heard you were pleased when you saw it. I sure do hope so. In all my experience with musical pictures I have never experienced such a reaction from people. Now, I see no reason why the public should not fall for it too. 
Have a good rest and all best to Mel.

As ever-

26 February 2018

Marilyn, my girl is you

When River of No Return (1954) began its location shooting in Alberta, Canada in July 1953, it was not without difficulties. Director Otto Preminger not only had problems with Marilyn Monroe's drama coach Natasha Lytess who kept interfering with his direction*, but he also had to deal with the heavy drinking of leading man Robert Mitchum as well as frequent rainfall and dangerous conditions of the shooting location. As to the latter, Marilyn hurt her ankle after slipping on a rock and was eventually away from the set for a number of days while recovering at a hotel. (Marilyn's good friend Shelley Winters would later reveal in her autobiography that Marilyn had exaggerated the severity of her injury so that Preminger would treat her more kindly.) Apart from this delay, Marilyn also held up production in her more usual way. Preminger later recalled: "Some of it had to be done in short takes because she couldn't remember her lines. I didn't want to spend my entire life in Canada."

Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum on the set of River of No Return (above), and Marilyn on crutches with director Otto Preminger (below).
To apologise for the delay caused by Marilyn and to thank Robert Mitchum for his cooperation with the retakes, 20th-Century-Fox boss Darryl Zanuck (who openly disliked Marilyn) wrote Mitchum a letter on 10 December 1953. After reading Zanuck's letter, Mitchum probably felt protective of Marilyn and added remarks to the letter to show his support, i.e. the word "Dig!!!" and on the back of the letter he wrote: "MarilynYour girl is my girl, and my girl is you - Ever- Bob". Mitchum probably gave the letter to Marilyn afterwards. (The letter was sold in 2016 as part of a big Marilyn Monroe auction and is likely to have been one of the personal documents Marilyn once owned.)

Incidentally, Mitchum knew Marilyn from when she was still Norma Jean and he was working with her first husband Jim Dougherty at the Lockheed Aircraft plant; to learn more about how Mitchum first met Marilyn and to hear him talk lovingly about her, watch this clip.

Marilyn with Darryl F. Zanuck with whom she had a difficult working relationship. Zanuck wanted Marilyn to keep playing dumb blondes whereas Marilyn was interested in a serious acting career.
Source: Julien's Live


December 10, 1953

Dear Bob:

Many thanks for the cooperation you have extended to us in connection with the retakes. I am deeply appreciative but I am also very sorry about the delay with Marilyn. We could not possibly anticipate any such action.

In any event, I want you to know that you came through for us when we needed you.

Best always,

Mr. Robert Mitchum



Your girl is my girl, and my girl is you - 

Ever- Bob


*Note: Marilyn Monroe, who was River of No Return's biggest star, insisted on having her acting coach Natasha Lytess present on the set, much to the dismay of director Preminger. Lytess interfered with his direction, mostly by teaching Marilyn to over-enunciate each syllable of each word which caused her to make abnormal lip movements. When Lytess also tried to influence child actor Tommy Rettig, Preminger banned her from the set. Marilyn then complained to Darryl Zanuck who, knowing that without Marilyn there would be no box-office hit, had no other choice than to overrule Preminger. Lytess was allowed back on the set, and from then on Preminger directed Marilyn mostly through Robert Mitchum or his assistant director. 

10 February 2018

The censorship of advertising

During the heydey of Hollywood, film studios were required to submit all film advertising (publicity stills, posters, press books, trade paper material, trailers etc.) to the Advertising Advisory Council for approval. The AAC, created in November 1933 as a division of the MPDDA (aka the Hays Office), reviewed the submitted material and rejected anything which was considered objectionable. Publicity agent Jeff McCarthy was the AAC's first chief, in charge of AAC operations at the New York headquarters. (McCarthy died in 1937 and was succeeded by his assistant Lester Thompson.) There was also a subdivision of the Council in Hollywood which was headed by Joseph Breen, future head of the PCA.

Seen below are four letters concerning the censorship of advertising material, taken from the wonderful MPPDA Digital Archive of the Flinders University, Australia.  

First up is a letter dated 6 December 1933 (less than a month after the creation of the AAC), written by Robert Gillham (Head of Publicity at Paramount Pictures) to Jeff McCarthy, following the rejection of several film stills. Gillham protests the decision as he doesn't believe that "stills of girls showing their legs are salacious" nor that "girls photographed in underwear, in certain instances, is salacious or objectionable". He also feels that there's a need for clearer guidelines in order to keep the still departments from taking objectionable stills in the future. 


December 6, 1933.

Mr. J.J. McCarthy,
Motion Picture Producers &
Distributors of America, Inc.
28 West 44th St.,
New York City.

Dear Mr. McCarthy:-

I am returning the attached stills which have been rejected by the Hays Office. These have been shown to Mr. Shaefer and he does not believe they are objectionable, as neither do I. Therefore, this matter has to be arbitrated or settled in some way because we refuse to accept these rejections. In Mr. Shaefer's opinion, you are drawing the line a little close, and I also believe this is being done. If I may suggest it, I think you will have to be careful in drawing too close a distinction in what is salacious and what is not, otherwise you will kill the whole matter of censorship as it will fall down by its own weight.

I want you to bear in mind that I am 100% for censorship, and I am for censorship of stills and material which is definitely salacious. However, I do not believe that stills of girls showing their legs are salacious and I do not believe that girls photographed in underwear, in certain instances, is salacious or objectionable. I would like to call your attention to the countless ads in all magazines, showing women in all forms, kinds and conditions of underwear, none of which is objectionable to the public.

I understand that there has been some objection from the advertising heads of other companies in regard to the censorship of stills. It might be wise to have a meeting and try to thrash out some definite points on censorship of stills in order that we can prevent our still departments from taking stills of this nature.

Let me say, however, that I am certainly not going to ask our still department to refrain from taking the type of stills I am returning to you herewith.

Bearing in mind the fact that we have leeway to take this matter up with the head of our company in case we believe that the stills should not be rejected, I now have Mr. Shaefer's authority to say, as I stated before, that he does not want these stills rejected. Where do we go from here?

With best regards, I am

'signed Robert Gillham'

The following two letters concern advertising material for Men in White (1934), starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. In a letter to MGM's Frank Whitbeck, dated 16 January 1934,  John  Lewis (assistant to Joseph Breen at the Hollywood branch of the AAC) gives approval for two art displays to be used in billboard posters. In another letter to Whitbeck written a week later, Lewis withdraws his approval, having decided that the two sketches were in violation of the advertising code after all. 


January 16, 1934.

Mr. Frank Whitbeck
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios,
Culver City, California.

Dear Mr. Whitbeck:

We have inspected and approved two art displays to be used in 24-sheets in the advertising of MEN IN WHITE with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Elizabeth Allan.

We have taken into consideration that Myrna Loy is portrayed in an horizontal position in these displays, although fully clothed, but that the character of the art is passable, inasmuch as Clark Gable is clothed in his doctor's uniform, wears a stethoscope and obviously is performing the duties of a doctor.

We also approve the eleven advertising lay-outs on MEN IN WHITE after having inspected the three changes which you made in this office at our request.


John B. Lewis  



January 23, 1934.

Mr. Frank Whitbeck
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios,
Culver City, California.

Dear Mr. Whitbeck:

This is to confirm our conversation via the telephone in which I informed you that it would be necessary to withdraw approval of two sketches for use in 24-sheets on MEN IN WHITE, which were submitted to this office on January 16th.

These two sketches portrayed Myrna Loy in an horizontal position with Clark Gable leaning over her. These sketches are violations of the advertising code under the heading pertaining to horizontal stills, and, therefore, rejectionable.

Would you be kind enough to acknowledge this letter?

With all good wishes, I am,


John B. Lewis 


The final letter was written by Lester Thompson, assistant to Jeff McCarthy in New York, to John Lewis in Hollywood. The letter deals with the advertising of two films, Guilty Parents (1934) and Thirty Day Princess (1934). Thompson had been alerted to a large ad of Guilty Parents a few days earlier, showing risqué taglines like: "Did you ever see a strip-poker party?", "Exposes the crime horror of illicit love" and "What goes on in parked cars?" Trying to find more information on who was responsible for the ad, Thompson asks for Lewis' assistance. As to Thirty Day Princess, Thompson was at first hesitant about whether to approve a still of a "petting scene with the girl's arm up around the man's neck" but eventually gave his OK.

This is possibly the publicity still referenced in Thompson's letter which was okayed by him.
[Note: As is apparent from the letter by Thompson and the letters above by Lewis, it wasn't always easy to determine whether advertising material should be rejected or not (certainly in the early days of the AAC). Also, the two AAC branches didn't always see eye to eye on these matters. Material approved by Lewis was sometimes rejected by Thompson, and the other way around. (The still of Thirty Day Princess was probably first rejected by Lewis.) For further reading on the inconsistency of the AAC decisions, click here.]


March 16th, 1934.

Mr. John B. Lewis,
Motion Picture Producers and
Distributors of America, Inc.,
5504 Hollywood Blvd.,
Hollywood, California.

Dear Mr. Lewis:

I wrote you a day or so ago regarding an "indie" picture, GUILTY PARENTS. We are checking up on this and any information which you can give us by return airmail will be appreciated. All our records show is that it was produced by a Ben S. Cohen and submitted to the New York Censorship Board on October 3, 1933, at which time it was turned down.

At the continued insistence of Robert M. Gillham of Paramount, we reviewed a still on THIRTY DAY PRINCESS, key number 990-26. Personally, I did not think it warranted a rejection. However, that might have been my private opinion. In the absence of Mr. McCarthy, I took this still to Mr. McKenzie and our joint verdict was that it would just slip by. We, therefore, okayed it and notified Gillham, and I promised him that I would write you to this effect. If you do not recall the still, it is a petting scene with the girl's arm up around the man's neck. As Mr. McKenzie pointed out, if they were in a hot embrace it would be highly objectionable, but in the circumstances, we thought it okay.

Your still report and letter of March 12th just received. I am glad to note that you are straightening things out with Paramount.

Under separate cover, I am mailing you today the following completed and okayed books:

Warners: "Jimmy the Gent", "Journal of a Crime"
Paramount: "Wharf Angel", "Come on, Marines"
Fox: "Stand Up and Cheer", "Constant Nymph", "Three on a Honeymoon"

With all best regards, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Assistant to J.J. McCarthy

31 January 2018

Dear Miss Shearer

Canadian-born Norma Shearer arrived in New York in 1920 aged 17, hoping to become one of Florenz Ziegfeld's new 'Follies'. Ziegfeld, however, rejected her after which Shearer, determined to make it in America, sought and found work as an extra in several films. A year later, Shearer got a bigger break, landing a minor role in a B-film called The Stealers. Irving Thalberg, vice-president of Louis B. Mayer Pictures (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), was impressed with Shearer's work and eventually signed her to a contract in November 1923. Shearer's first contract was a six-month contract with options for renewal, her first salary being $250 per week.

On 6 May 1924, Irving Thalberg wrote the following letter to Norma Shearer regarding the renewal of her contract. Thalberg informed Shearer that her contract would be extended for one year and her salary raised to $450 per week. By the end of 1925, Shearer had signed a new contract with MGM at $1,000 per week, to be increased to $5,000 over the next five years. Shearer would be at the height of her career in the 1930s when she was known as the 'Queen of MGM'. In 1937, she signed her last contract with MGM, which was a six-picture deal at $150,000 per film (the deal included Marie Antoinette (1938), The Women (1939) and Escape (1940)). 

Thalberg's letter was written 3 years before he and Shearer would be married. The couple remained married until Thalberg's untimely death in 1936. They had two children.



Miss Norma Shearer
C/o Louis B. Mayer Studios, Inc.,
43800 Mission Road,
Los Angeles, California.

Dear Miss Shearer:

Referring to your contract of employment with us, dated November 14th., 1923, and particularly to paragraph Twenty-two (b) 22 (b) thereof, you are hereby notified that the undersigned elects to and does hereby exercise the option provided for in said paragraph Twenty-two (b) 22 (b), namely, of extending the term of your employment for an additional period of twelve (12) months, commencing June 14th., 1924, upon the terms and conditions contained in said contract, and that the compensation to be paid to you for a period of not less than forty (40) weeks during said period shall be Four Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($450.00) per week. 

Yours very truly,
BY "signed Irving Thalberg"

27 January 2018

We have simply got to do something about the Cukor situation

In 1936, George Cukor was hired by producer David O. Selznick to direct his next project Gone with the Wind (1939). Principal photography on GWTW, however, would not start until years later (in January 1939), mainly because of the long search for the perfect Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. Between his GWTW pre-production duties, Cukor was involved in other projects like MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), where he briefly replaced Richard Thorpe after he was fired, and Selznick's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938)*. As to the latter film, Cukor had declined Selznick's directing assignment but agreed to work on a couple of scenes (uncredited).

By the fall of 1938, Cukor had declined several other directing jobs offered to him by Selznick, including Intermezzo (1939). Having paid Cukor's salary since early 1937 without getting much in return, Selznick was beginning to see Cukor as "a very expensive luxury". On 21 September 1938, Selznick wrote to Daniel O'Shea (one of his associates at Selznick International Pictures) that something should be done about "the Cukor situation". In his memo (as seen below in transcript), Selznick expresses his annoyance to O'Shea over Cukor's refusal to accept any of his assignments, stating that they could no longer be "sentimental about it" since they were "a business concern and not patrons of the arts". 

In the end, Cukor was kept on Selznick's payroll for several months longer. On 26 January 1939, he began filming GWTW, but was fired from the project within three weeks and replaced with Victor Fleming. Cited as reasons for Cukor's dismissal were (among others) his slow work pace and disagreement with Selznick about the script.

George Cukor (above) and David Selznick (below) had been friends since the early 1930s. After Selznick had fired Cukor from Gone with the Wind the men remained friends, although it is said that Cukor never forgave Selznick for being removed from the film.

September 21, 1938
To: Mr. Dan O'Shea
I have reluctantly, and at long last, come to the conclusion that we have simply got to do something, and promptly, about the Cukor situation. I have thought that George was a great asset to the company, but I am fearful that he is, on the contrary, a very expensive luxury... regardless of his great abilities...
George has been with us now for a long time and we have yet to get a picture out of him. We are in danger actually of winding up paying him about $300,000 for his services on Gone With the Wind. 
There is a large measure of justice in George's statement that this is not his fault-- and that he could have done pictures; and this is because we have not forced him to do pictures. But it is also because we have deferred to his own wishes-- and we have got to make our position clear so that the same thing does not occur in the future....
When I first tackled A Star Is Born I spoke to George about doing it and he didn't feel that he wanted to do a Hollywood picture. When we took [director H.C.] Potter off Tom Sawyer I spoke to George about doing it, and he didn't want to. When we needed him for another picture, he preferred to direct Garbo. Probably when we need him for another picture later, he will prefer to do another Garbo....
Let's take the immediate situation: We have quite a period of time before George will be requiered on Gone With the Wind-- time for any director in the business to make a picture. We have only one picture for him to direct, and that is Intermezzo. George doesn't like it....
But let's say that we are nice enough not to force him to direct it. Then we offer him an outside picture with [Claudette] Colbert: he doesn't like it. We offer to try to get him a picture at Columbia: he doesn't want to work for Columbia...
As to Gone With the Wind, I would be willing to negotiate a new deal with him for this particular picture, without, however, the obligation to make such a deal if his terms are exorbitant. We must bear in mind that we could get great benefits for the future in the way of a contract director of importance if we were able to offer Gone With the Wind-- by contrast with George, who is willing to do Gone With the Wind for us but isn't willing to take our other pictures. For instance, I am confident that we could sign Victor Fleming if we would give him Gone With the Wind as his first picture-- and if we wanted him instead of borrowing [Jack] Conway from MGM. I am sure that we could even sign Frank Capra, who is dying to do Gone With the Wind-- although offhand I don't think I would want him to do it as I don't think we need him on it, and I mention this only to show the buying power of a directorial assignment on Gone With the Wind.
In any event, I think the biggest black mark against our management to date is the Cukor situation and we can no longer be sentimental about it.... We are a business concern and not patrons of the arts....
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

David Selznick and George Cukor pictured above in 1934 and below in January 1939 (at the contract signing for Gone with the Wind with Leslie Howard, Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland).

Note: *The Wizard of Oz was eventually directed by Victor Fleming; when Fleming replaced Cukor on Gone with the Wind, King Vidor finished the filming of The Wizard of Oz. And Norman Taurog directed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer replacing H.C. Potter who was fired; like Cukor, William Wellman also made uncredited contributions to the film.

18 January 2018

How to write a gift note- by Bette Davis

On 6 February 1950, Bette Davis wrote this very funny note to director Bretaigne Windust, with whom she had worked on June Bride (1948) and Winter Meeting (1948). Bette, known for her wicked sense of humour, wrote the note as an accompaniment to her gift to "Windy", which was a thermos-bottle case.

There are no initials on this thermos-bottle case (which can also be used as a golf-ball carrier, footstool, paperweight for blueprints, umbrella stand, something to accidentally drop on the toes of unpleasant people during arguments, something to hide behind while searching for the names of people you are about to introduce, superb storage place for scarves, tennis socks, useful rags, rain hats, gardening gloves, all kinds of mittens, potatoes, sockies, bulbs, and marshmallows) because I wasn’t certain you wanted one of these things for yourself, or for someone else, or whether or not you admired my case simply to endear yourself to me before launching into a trying afternoon’s work. I shall perfectly understand if you return it (Bon Voyage Shop, Beverly Hills). For one thing, it is apt to stretch the area above the hand you carry it with several inches, flatten your head if you like to carry things on your head, and it will certainly make your car lean slightly to the right, wearing down the tires on that side, heaven only knows what would happen if you and the case are on the same side of the car. It is not beautifully wrapped because I was afraid that if I gave it to you in the box it came in you would think that I had given you an electric quilt, or a portable television set, both of which might have had a disastrous effect upon your ulcer. 

Bette Davis with John Hoyt, Bretaigne Windust (with glasses), Jim Davis and Janis Paige discussing Winter Meeting.

11 January 2018

Steinbeck's complaints about Lifeboat

After Ernest Hemingway had turned down Alfred Hitchcock's offer to write the story for Lifeboat (1944)Hitchcock approached another novelist, John Steinbeck. Steinbeck accepted the offer and eventually gave Hitch a novella. Hitchcock then had several writers turn Steinbeck's novella into a workable screenplay, among them MacKinlay Kantor, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling and Hitchcock's own wife Alma Reville. In the end, Swerling was the only one credited for the screenplay, while Steinbeck was credited for having written the original story.

In January 1944, John Steinbeck saw Lifeboat in its finished form, and he didn't exactly like what he saw. He was especially appalled by the way one of his characters, the African American 'Joe' (played by Canada Lee), had been portrayed. In a letter to 20th Century-Fox, Steinbeck said that he had created a "Negro of dignity, purpose and personality" but that Hitchcock had turned him into a "stock comedy Negro". So appalled was Steinbeck that he wrote to his agent a month later to have 20th Century-Fox remove his name from "any connection with any showing of this film". Despite Steinbeck's protests, his name was not removed.

John Steinbeck (above), and Canada Lee and William Bendix in a scene from Lifeboat (below).
New York 
January 10, 1944 
Dear Sirs: 
I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me. 
John Steinbeck

A month later,  Steinbeck sent a telegram to his agent, Annie Laurie Williams:
FEBRUARY 19, 1944 

On 21 February 1944, Steinbeck wrote to his agent again, referring to his telegram sent two days earlier:
It does not seem right that knowing the effect of the picture on many people, the studio still lets it go. As for Hitchcock, I think his reasons were very simple. 1. He has been doing stories of international spies and master minds for so long that it has become a habit. And second, he is one of those incredible English middle class snobs who really and truly despise working people. As you know, there were other things that bothered me-- technical things. I know that one man can't row a boat of that size and in my story, no one touched an oar except to steer."

Source: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (1975), edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten

Alfred Hitchcock and his leading lady Tallulah Bankhead on the set of Lifeboat.