17 May 2017

It could be a very important and constructive film

After reading the Cold War novel Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey IIKirk Douglas knew it could be made into a great film. He bought the rights to the novel through his production company Joel Productions, teamed up with director John Frankenheimer and put together a cast of wonderful actors like Burt Lancaster and Fredric March (Douglas himself was to play an important role in the film too). Eventually released in 1964, the result was an excellent political thriller, which is still considered one of the best of its kind.

Having heard about Douglas' plans to picturise Seven Days in May, director Stanley Kubrick wrote Douglas a letter on 8 February 1963. Kubrick had been interested in filming the story himself, but now that Douglas was going to film it, Kubrick decided to offer him some unsolicited adviceDouglas wrote back 11 days later, saying he appreciated Kubrick's suggestions and also asked if they could make another movie together ("How about a comedy? I think I'm pretty funny, don't you?"). The two men had previously worked together on Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960) and reportedly had a difficult working relationship. Despite Douglas' suggestion that they work together again, in the end they never did.

Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick on the set of their second and last film together, Spartacus (1960). 


Mr. Kirk Douglas
707 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills,

February 8th, 1963.

Dear Kirk,

I thought I would be presumptuous enough to drop you a line about your forthcomimg film SEVEN DAYS IN MAY which, as you may know, I had some interest in myself.

I think it's a marvellous story and could be a very important and constructive film. There were a couple of things about it which, in my opinion, detracted from its potential meaning. The most important, I think, is the complete cop-out at the end when the President confronts the Air Force Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and gets him to admit that if the responsibility were his, he would have done things just in the same way. This is extremely unlikely and takes away from the most important theme in the book, namely the conflict in the Government between intelligent civilian management of the affairs of state versus the driving force of the military-industrial complex. Have you ever seen Eisenhower's famous last speech as President where he warned the country, in a manner extremely untypical for him, of the growing threat of the military-industrial complex - that was his expression.

I think it would be very good if you could dramatise the difficulty a President would have in agreeing to some form of sensible disarmament scheme and how the semi-paranoiac extremists can make great political trouble for him. This is very nicely touched on in the book when the President's Popularity Poll reaches a new low, but I think it's greatly dissipated by the ending. 

I should also prefer to see less physical action undertaken by Senators and high Government officials. There's a bit too much creeping and crawling and slugging and gun-play involving these characters and I think it would be much more realistic if this could be delegated to lower echelon characters.

I hope that John and Rod and Eddie don't resent this letter and I leave it to you to present any of these ideas, if you consider them worthy, in your own charming and inimitable manner. 

In any event, I wish you the best of luck with the film and give my regards to Eddie and Ann.

Best regards,

(signed "Stanley")

Stanley Kubrick



February 19, 1963

Dear Stanley,

How nice to hear from you again, and I certainly appreciate your suggestions -- but then you know how we geniuses work. You will be pleased to know that we have been thinking about all the points you mentioned. Your letter has served to give us more confidence about the work we must do in these areas. I think we should have an interesting picture and a pretty good cast.

By the way, what's cooking with your project-- what's happening with your lawsuit versus "Failsafe". If there's any way that I can help I wish you'd call on me. 

In the meantime, my sincere  wishes for the success of your picture. 
Also, I think it's about time we did another picture together. How about a comedy? I think I'm very funny, don't you? 

Let's keep in touch.


(signed "Kirk")

Kirk Douglas

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Shepperton Studios
Shepperton, Middlesex

Source: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Note: During the filming of his Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick learnt that Fail-Safe (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet, was being produced at the same time. Fail-Safe's plot was so similar to Red Alert (the novel by Peter George on which Dr. Strangelove was based) that George filed a lawsuit for plagiarism and later settled out of court. As both films were being produced by the same studio (Columbia Pictures), Kubrick insisted that his film was released first. He got his wish-- Fail-Safe opened eight months later than Dr. Strangelove and as a result performed poorly at the box-office. 

Burt Lancaster, Fredric March and Kirk Douglas-- powerhouse acting in Seven Days in May.

29 April 2017

I was in that state where one does not remember

I must admit that I had never heard of Sophie Tucker, but apparently she was one of the most popular entertainers (a singer, actress and comedian) in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Tucker was a good friend of fellow singer/actress Carol Channing, and in June 1964 she attended the premiere of Hello Dolly! on Broadway starring Channing in the leading role. After the premiere, there was a party with some of the day's biggest stars, among them Richard Burton and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor. Burton was drinking heavily (he was known for his alcohol addiction) and after Tucker had sung a song in honour of her friend Carol, Burton stood up and slurred: "Ladies and gentlemen, up until now I thought my wife was in charge of butchering the English language, but I must admit I was wrong. Tonight I have witnessed the Empress of Butchery. Long live the Queen, Miss Sophie Tucker". [source

The next day, Tucker received a telegram from Burton apologising for his behaviour.


New York NY Jun 19 1964

Miss Sophie Tucker
730 Park Ave NYK

Dear Miss Tucker

My wife tells me I was rude to you last night. I was in that state where one does not remember but Elizabeth never lies and so my deepest apologies to you. I am a great admirer of yours and can only think that I was very very much under the weather. Sincerely.

Richard Burton

17 April 2017

Tallulah & Billie

Tallulah Bankhead was perhaps more famous for her eccentric personality and stormy personal life than her acting career. She had lots of affairs with both men and women, one of the women being jazz singer Billie Holiday. Tallulah and Billie probably first met in Harlem in the early 1930s but didn't get together until the late 1940s when they were both performing on Broadway (Billie at the Strand Theatre while Tallulah was doing a play at a theatre nearby). The two women became close and had an intense relationship for a few years. 

The only photo I could find of Tallulah Bankhead and Billie Holiday together. December 1951, here the two women are photographed with jazz trombonist Dickie Wells.

In early 1949, Billie was charged with possession of opium. Tallulah tried to help her and got in touch with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was a close friend of her father's (wealthy politician Will Bankhead). In a telephone call with Hoover, Tallulah begged him to exonerate Billie of the charges, but Hoover told her that the case had been handed over to the state authorities, that it was out of his hands. Following their telephone conversation, Tallulah contacted Hoover again on 9 February 1949. Pleading Billie's case once more, this time she wrote him a letter.
Source: Groove Notes


Hotel Elysee
60 East 54th Street
New York, N.Y. 
February 9, 1949

J. Edgar Hoover
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Hoover:

I am ashamed of my unpardonable delay in writing to thank you a thousand times for the kindness, consideration and courtesy, in fact all the nicest adjectives in the book, for the trouble you took re our telephone conversation in connection with Billie Holiday.

I tremble when I think of my audacity in approaching you at all with so little to recommend me, except the esteem, admiration and high regard my father held for you. I would never have dared to ask him or you a favor for myself but knowing your true humanitarian spirit it seemed quite natural at the time to go to the top man. As my Negro mammy used to say - "When you pray you pray to God don't you?".

I have met Billie Holiday but twice in my life but admire her immensely as an artist and feel the most profound compassion for her knowing as I do the unfortunate circumstances of her background. Although my intention is not to condone her weaknesses I certainly understand the eccentricities of her behaviour because she is essentially a child at heart whose troubles has made her psychologically unable to cope with the world in which she finds herself. Her vital need is more medical than the confinement of four walls.

However guilty she may be, whatever penalty she may be required to pay for her frailties, poor thing, you I know did everything within the law to lighten her burden. Bless you for this,

Kindest regards,


Tallulah Bankhead

Sometime between 1949 and 1952, Tallulah began to distance herself from Billie. Afraid that her career would be destroyed if people knew about their relationship, Tallulah didn't mention Billie once in her 1952 autobiography. A few years later when Billie was working on her own autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, a copy of the manuscript was sent to Tallulah who threatened to file a lawsuit if she wasn't kept out of the book. On 12 January 1955, Billie responded with an embittered letter (shown below in transcript). Billie never received a reply to her letter, and in the end Tallulah was only mentioned as "just a friend who sometimes came around to the house to eat spaghetti."

Dear Miss Bankhead:
I thought I was a friend of yours. That's why there's nothing in my book that was unfriendly to you, unkind or libelous. Because I didn't want to drag you, I tried six times last month to talk to you on the damn phone, and tell you about the book just as a matter of courtesy. That bitch you have who impersonates you kept telling me to call back and when I did, it was the same deal until I gave up. But while I was working out of town, you didn't mind talking to Doubleday and suggesting behind my damned back that I had flipped and/or made up those little mentions of you in my book. Baby, Cliff Allen and Billy Heywood are still around. My maid who was with me at the Strand isn't dead either. There are plenty of others around who remember how you carried on so you almost got me fired out of the place.  And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!
I don't know whether you've got one of those damn lawyers telling you what to do or not. But I'm writing this to give you a chance to answer back quick and apologize to me and to Doubleday. Read my book over again. I understand they sent you a duplicate manuscript. There's nothing in it to hurt you. If you think so, let's talk about it like I wanted to last month. It's going to press right now so there is no time for monkeying around. Straighten up and fly right, Banky. Nobody's trying to drag you.
Billie Holiday 

2 April 2017

Nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie

Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959) was released at a time when the Production Code was slowly dying. In 1954, PCA's director Joseph Breen (a strict censor for two decades) had been replaced by his deputy director Geoffrey Shurlock who was far less strict than Breen, giving filmmakers room to be more creative. The Catholic Legion of Decency, however, strongly objected to Some Like it Hot, because of its subject matter of transvestism, hints at homosexuality and lesbianism, and double-entendre dialogue.

On 5 March 1959, Reverend Thomas F. Little of the Legion of Decency, wrote a letter to Geoffrey Shurlock, listing his objections to Some Like it Hot, which he felt "bordered on condemnation". Shurlock replied a few days later, apparently not agreeing with the Reverend, while referring to trade paper reviews which called the film "hilariously funny". Incidentally, both letters contradict some of the things I've read on the internet regarding Some Like it Hot. According to several sources, the Legion of Decency condemned the film giving it a C-rating, but Father Little's letter clearly shows that his rating was B (morally objectionable in part). Also, many sources say that Some Like it Hot was released without the approval of the PCA. However, Shurlock's letter (written before the film's actual release date) gives the impression that he didn't object to the film at all. 

The letters will be shown in transcript only
; click here for the original images.

Dressed in drag, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a publicity still for Some Like it Hot.

March 5, 1959
Mr. Geoffrey Shurlock,
Motion Picture Association of America
8480 Beverly Boulevard,
Hollywood 48, California.

Dear Geoff:

For your information and, I am sure, interested reaction the Legion on March 12 rated the United Artists film SOME LIKE IT HOT, starring Marilyn Monroe, as B (Morally Objectionable in Part for All), with the following objection noted:

¨This film, though it purports to be a comedy, contains screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency. Furthermore, its treatment dwells almost without relief on gross suggestiveness in costuming, dialogue and  situations. ¨

Since the initiation of the triple A method of classifying films in December 1957, this film has given the Legion the greatest cause for concern in its evaluation of Code Seal pictures. As you can well imagine, it bordered on condemnation. The subject matter of ¨transvestism¨ naturally leads to complications; in this film there seemed to us to be clear inferences of homosexuality and lesbianism. The dialogue was not only ¨double entendre¨ but outright smut. The offense in costuming was obvious. 

In the present atmosphere of our society, which seems to be calling for censorship and controls, this picture will only add fuel to the fire. 

I thought that you would be sincerely interested in our observations. Perhaps they might act as a stop gap in future decisions with which you are faced. 

With best personal wishes to yourself and the staff, I remain

Cordially Yours,

Very Rev. Msgr. Thomas F. Little
Executive Secretary

March 18, 1959 
Very Rev. Msgr. T. F. Little
National Legion of Decency
453 Madison Avenue
New York 22, N.Y.

Geoffrey Shurlock
Dear Father Little,

In reply to yours of March 5th, we have been scanning very carefully the trade paper reviews of SOME LIKE IT HOT. To date we have received eight such reports, including two from Martin Quigley´s publications. 

Not a single reviewer has been in the slightest way critical of this film, or questioned either its morality or its taste. So far there is simply no adverse reaction at all; nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie. 

I am not suggesting, of course, that there are not dangers connected with a story of this type. But girls dressed as men, and occasionally men dressed as women for proper plot purposes, has been standard theatrical fare as far back as AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT, and perhaps further. The classic example of a man masquerading in woman´s clothes without offense is CHARLEY´S AUNT, which has been a hilarious hit for three-quarters of a century.

It seems to boil down to the fact that if this material is handled properly it can and will be accepted. Of course, if it is handled improperly it could be enormously objectionable. But as indicated, eight reviewers to date have seen this film and their consensus without reservation is that it has been treated acceptably.

We can only trust that the general public will be of the same mind, and that the alarm the Legion very understandably expressed may prove in the long run to be no worry at all. At any rate, that is the hope we are nourishing. 

We are of course not defending the two exaggerated costumes worn by the leading lady; but we gathered these were not your major concern.
With kindest regards from the staff,
I am,
Very sincerely yours, 

19 March 2017

Hitchcock's financial problems

Recently I've moved from my hometown Amsterdam in The Netherlands to Barcelona, Spain. As things have been rather hectic, I haven't had time to blog for a while. I do miss it though and, now that everything has settled down a bit, I will try and post again on a regular basis. 

The letter for this post concerns the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. On 1 August 1977, Hitch wrote to a woman named Ann, speaking of the financial difficulties he was having. I was surprised to learn that Hitch was having money problems, since a decade earlier he had personally earned $15 million with Psycho (1960). I could find no information as to what happened to his fortune, but the letter shows that by 1977 Hitch was short on cash and had trouble paying for his wife Alma's medical bills, some of which were even covered by Medicare.

Incidentally, at the time Hitch was making Family Plot, which was to be his last film and which he referred to in his letter as "a miserable picture".



August 1st 1977

Dear Ann, 

I regret having to write you in this way, but we are entering a phase of financial problems.
It is mainly due to the fact that Alma's second stroke  has now gone on for two years, and the progress of recovery is extremely slow. 
At present we are involved with two nurses -day and night- two therapists daily at least five days a week with twelve hours each and they come to a considerable amount of money-- $420 each a week. Luckily a little of this is absorbed by Medicare.
In consequence I regret to say that we will have to reduce the gift to your mother to ten dollars a month starting with Sept 1977.
Incidentally I am already contributing to the maintenance of my sister in England, and this is natural as she is my only living relative. 
None of this would worry me so much if it wasn't due to the fact that I personally work on a salary and I haven't received any for the last picture since the first day of shooting which was May 12 1975.
It is a miserable picture, but remember I am basically a salary earner, just as you are today.
I do sincerely wish you well in spite of these unpleasant financial miseries. 

With fondest love
Hitch and wife Alma Reville photographed in 1939. The couple married in 1926 and remained married until Hitchcock's death in 1980; Reville died two years later.

26 November 2016

Remembering Ms Monroe

This year Marilyn Monroe would have celebrated her 90th birthday. To commemorate the event, the Nieuwe Kerk in my hometown Amsterdam is hosting a special exhibition "90 Years Ms Monroe: Reflecting on a Female Icon", which I visited last week and can still be visited until 5 February of next year. There are about 250 objects on show, many of which came from Marilyn's last home (at 5th Helena Drive in Brentwood, California) and now belong to Marilyn collector Ted Stampfer. Among the objects displayed are several pieces of clothing, including Marilyn's famous dresses from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, personal items like curlers (one still has Marilyn's hair in it!), books from Marilyn's private library, personal documents and photos. All in all, it's a nice exhibit in a nice setting that gives a fairly good insight into Marilyn's life, both on and off camera. 

Photos by me.
As for Marilyn's correspondence, there were just a few letters on display and they were only mildly interesting (for example, there was a letter from designer William Travilla to Marilyn, inviting her to attend a preview of his new collection). The letter for this post is therefore not from the exhibit itself, but it's one of the many letters written by Marilyn that can be found on the internet.

One of the things I didn't know but learnt from the exhibit was that Marilyn and her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio were planning to remarry and had in fact already set a date: 8 August 1962. (The previous year, DiMaggio had re-entered Marilyn's life and had come to her rescue when she was placed into a mental institution; read more here.) The marriage between DiMaggio and Marilyn, however, never happened. Marilyn died on 5 August 1962 from a drug overdose, leaving DiMaggio heartbroken. The day after Marilyn died, the following (unfinished) letter was found in her desk, tucked away in her address book.


Dear Joe,

If I can only succeed in making you happy- I will have succeeded in the bigest [sic] and most difficult thing there is- that is to make one person completely happy. Your happiness means my happiness.

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.