The Year Was 1939 – May 27th

Robert Preston in 1938
  • Paramount has signed their new discovery Robert Preston to a long term contract and he will make his debut in ‘King of Alcatraz.’ Filming will commence at the end of June. One of their talent scouts had spotted him in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse. [Preston would be in two films for 1938, and three in 1939, including ‘Union Pacific’ and ‘Beau Geste’].
  • Opening today – ‘Crime School’ from WB with Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Gang. A ‘B’ picture that did ‘A’ business – brought in for only $250,000.
  • Columbia is sending a company to Kanab, Utah to film exteriors for their serial ‘Wild Bill Hickock.’ The cast including Gordon Elliott, Kermit Maynard, Monte Blue, and Carol Wayne will spend 10 days in the area. [Gordon Elliott after this serial going forward would be known as Bill Elliott. He would be hard at work on westerns for Columbia throughout 1939].
  • President Harry Warner of WB announced that a new series of Technicolor featurettes will be made with patriotic themes – such as the Declaration of Independence, Clara Barton, Abe Lincoln, etc. He feels that they are needed to combat the subversive and undemocratic forces at work in the country.
  • RKO has seven films currently shooting at its Gower St lot, and intends to continue to keep seven going at once through the usually quiet summer period. 
  • Ed Sullivan details his time on the ‘If I Were King” set at Paramount, and relates the remarks by Basil Rathbone on how he likes being in this film – “It is the first time in years I haven’t kicked a baby or been killed in Reel 4.” [For this historical film set in France of the 15th Century, an enormous Paris street set was built on 73,000 square feet of the backlot].

ON THE MOVE

  • Darryl F Zanuck left for NY, from which he and Joe Schenck will sail to Europe. [Schenck ends up remaining stateside, intending to go over later].
  • Donald McBride is expected to arrive from NY today at RKO to assume the role of the hotel manager in ‘Room Service,’ a role he fulfilled in the play version.

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The Year was 1938 – May 26th

John Wayne in 1939
  • John Wayne was born on this day in 1907, making him 31 years old in 1938. [He toiled all of 1938 at Republic on their Three Mesquiteers series. A big year ahead for him with ‘Stagecoach’ for Walter Wanger, with John Ford directing, opening in January of 1939. Then back to Republic and the ‘B’ westerns].
  • Actress Constance Bennett was sued by portrait artist Willy Pogany, who was trying to be paid for a painting he made of her. He wants $3500, and she countered that it was only worth $500, as it was not done to her satisfaction – the shoulders were too round, and the thigh too large, and the mouth had a curlicue that she did not like. [Bennett was currently doing well in the ‘Topper’ comedies, ahead she only had one film for 1939 – ‘Tail Spin’ with Alice Faye at 20th Century Fox].
  • MGM director W S Van Dyke departed for McCall Idaho today to scout locations for Northwest Passage. Col Tim McCoy will hire 1,000 Nez Perces for work in the film. [Van Dyke is only credited for the background shots for the film].
  • George Brent and Ronald Reagan are set for the top roles at WB for ‘Wings of the Navy.’ Leading lady yet to be set. [George Brent had his lead in the film, but Reagan did not. He was replaced by John Payne. And the leading lady role was taken by Olivia DeHavilland, in this opus for 1939].
  • Director Henry King left in his private plane today for a trip east – St Louis, Miami and New York. On his return he will stop over in Kansas City MO in order to scout locations for his next film for 20th Century Fox – ‘Jesse James.’
  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky goes on about the hefty sums paid for two plays to be made into films – $200,000 for the Kaufman/Hart play “You Can’t Take it with You,” then shooting at Columbia under Frank Capra’s guidance; and $250,000 paid by RKO for “Room Service.” Both had challenges in preparing them for the screen, but probably most problematic was Morrie Ryskind’s task in converting ‘Room Service’ into a Marx Brothers’ movie, instead of a movie of the play. [Ryskind had plenty of practice, having working for the boys on ‘The Coconuts,’  ‘Animal Crackers,’ and ‘A Night at the Opera’].

Ed Sullivan’s quote on the occasion of the premiere of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ at the Carthay Circle Theater – he calls it a smash hit – but then he hears the criticisms come out, and he adds – “…this Hollywood is a strange town, bounded on the north by Malice, on the south by Envy, on the east by Exhibitionism, and on the west by old Virginia ham.”

The Year Was 1938 – May 25th

Boris Morros in 1938
  • Boris Morros, musical director at Paramount has been made an officer of the French Legion in recognition of his work in behalf of the music of France. [This item bears more scrutiny. I have run across his name repeatedly in my research into this era. I was aware of his position at Paramount (he hired composers and conductors on a film by film basis). And Paramount was not his only master – for he played the same role for Walter Wanger films – ‘Blockade’ for this year, and ‘Stagecoach’ for 1939. He must have had a special agreement with Paramount. And the mention of the French honor seems strange, as he was Russian, and as of 1934 had been enlisted as a Soviet spy, and was actively in contact with a handler from 1936 on – until 1947 when he became a counterspy for the FBI. A movie based on him was made in 1960 ‘Man on a String’].
  • The Senate of the US passes an anti-block booking bill that will change the way film companies do business, if it also passes the House. Though the latter is not likely for the moment, with the remake of Congress after the elections, things could change.
  • (This led in 1940, to the gov’t opening up an investigation into the practice, which eventually led to legislation against block booking and studios owning theaters).
  • Selznick is pairing Carole Lombard with Jimmy Stewart for “Made for Each Other.”
  • Joe Penner, vaudeville and radio comedian has been signed to headline on an RKO film scheduled for the fall football season. “Mr Doodle Kicks Off” will include Lucille Ball as his college sweetheart. Production to commence in June. [Lucille Ball must have had something else to do, because June Travis took the female lead in this opus. Penner has one film for 1939 – ‘The Day the Bookies Wept’].
  • Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen have finished the first song for ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – The Jitterbug, Judy Garland will sing the tune. [The number was filmed, but left off of the final version, the running time being the main consideration].
  • Going before the cameras today at Paramount – ‘Bulldog Drummond in Africa.’ John Barrymore was to have played one of the roles, but was replaced by H B Warner. Barrymore was tied up in ‘Spawn of the North,’ and was slated for the upcoming ‘Zaza.’
  • Harold Lloyd putting on a private exhibition of his water colors. [The film comedian had only the one film this year – ‘Professor Beware,’ and nothing for 1939. In fact nothing at all until 1947].
  • Clark Gable’s stand-in Lew Smith given his first speaking role by Metro. [For this speaking role I could not locate what film it was for at MGM, but he is listed as Gable’s stunt double for Gone with the Wind].
  • Henry Fonda presented with birthday pipes by James Stewart and Chico Marx. (See May 19th, for mention about his May 16th birthday).

ON THE MOVE

  • George Stevens back from a hunting tour in New Mexico. [On a prior date I knew he was looking in Mexico for location to shoot ‘Gunga Din.’ Perhaps he was mixing pleasure with business].
  • James Cagney due back from Martha’s Vineyard in June for work at WB in ‘Angels with Dirty Faces.’

ITEMS OF INTEREST

  • Early silent film star Maurice Costello has sued for maintenance from his daughter, Dolores Costello, a later silent film star, (and was probably a bigger name than his, having the sobriquet “The Goddess of the Silent Screen,” and having been the wife at one time to John Barrymore). She had been paying him $200 per month for ten years, but since she had been paying the medical bills for her ailing sister for almost two years, she could no longer afford to carry him at that rate.
  • Bibles have been placed in dressing rooms at all major studios by the Gideons.
  • Ed Sullivan writes about ‘The Coolest Sets in Town” – the ice rink at 20th Century Fox where Sonja Henie is making ‘My Lucky Star.’ (See May 9th and May 18th). The one constructed at Paramount for ’Spawn of the North’ – a stream in Alaska, beside which a grip had the enviable job of sitting by the tank and paddling the water so that the water will glimmer in the lights – George Raft and Dorothy Lamour in their heavy parkas would gladly exchange places with him. And the snowstorm scene on a stage at RKO on the film ‘Ground Crew,’ in which the star Richard Dix forgets the reality and tosses a cigarette only to ignite the ‘cotton snow.’ [‘Ground Crew’ was released as ‘Sky Giant’].

The Year Was 1938 – May 24th

Alice Faye with Buster Keaton in 20th Century Fox’s Hollywood Cavalcade from 1939.
  • Buster Keaton was brought in to work with Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice on their MGM film ‘Fast Company.’ He instructs them “how to take painless comedy falls.” [The silent comedian was an expert. Though I would be concerned because he once broke his neck on a stunt in one of his films and did not know it until years later].
  • French actors (like Danielle Darrieux and Annabella) are demanding dialog coaches on their films so that their accents won’t make them unintelligible to US audiences.  Charles Boyer has done so.
  • Midgets in Hollywood have formed their own guild the Tiny Town club. [Just in time for The Wizard of Oz].
  • More than 5000 extras were employed at Paramount last week due to a heavy run of mob scenes. ‘If I Were King’ led the list with 1600.
  • Fanny Brice takes the top comedienne spot in the upcoming film from MGM, ‘Honolulu.’ Eleanor Powell and Allan Jones are the stars. [The film was released in 1939, but without Fanny Brice or Allan Jones aboard. I believe the columnist (or whomever they were talking with at the studio) confused this production with ‘Everybody Sing’ since “Funny Girl” Brice and Jones starred in this film with Judy Garland, released in 1938].
  • Rumors are circulating that Walt Disney is looking for a new mouse house [er, studio] for his cartoon characters. Studio officials state that the idea is too nebulous to even be considered as a plan.
  • Mark Sandrich ends a 9 year director hitch at RKO in August, currently directing his 6th Astaire-Rogers musical. He intends to freelance next. [The film is ‘Carefree,’ see next item].
  • Franklin Pangborn was signed today by RKO for a role in the currently shooting Astaire-Rogers film. [The fussy Pangborn had a total of thirteen films for 1938, but only two for 1939. Perhaps there was little call for Maitre’Ds and put-upon hotel managers that year].
  • Bob Burns, film and radio comic salary increases. In 1934 $1500; in 1935 $9000; in 1936 $100,000; in 1937 $400,000. [And he had invented his own musical instrument that he used in his vaudeville act and on the radio – he called it the Bazooka. The anti-tank weapon in World War Two was named after it, due to their resemblance. He had three film credits in 1938; followed by two in 1939].
  • An assistant director at Selznick-International Eric Stacey solves a problem of what to do with an old car – (a British model) – rent it to a film studio – he got more in rental for it last week than he paid for it 10 years ago. [Stacey was busy in 1939, filling in as assistant director on ‘Made for Each Other’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’].

ON THE MOVE

  • Left LA for NY – Billy Halop, Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Curley Howard, Dashiell Hammett, Al Jolson, Pat O’Brien, Joe Louis.
  • Left NY for LA – Roy Disney, Leland Hayward, Henry Travers.

The Year Was 1938 – May 23rd

Roy Disney in 1938
  • Roy Disney returned to NY from a 2 month trip to Europe where he set distribution for ‘Snow White.’ While in England he acquired the Tenniel illustrations on Cinderella which Walt will use for his next animated film. [It would take awhile for Walt to get around to this feature].
  • Former US Secret Service head William H Moran to begin work today with writer Albert De Mond on a series to be based on his stories. [De Mond may have been reassigned for he does not show in the credits for the three Secret Service films in 1939]. (See May 16th).
  • Warner Brothers announces a sequel to the highly successful ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.’ And they are targeting next spring for its release. They even have a script, an original by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I Miller, entitled ‘Sir Robin of Locksley.’ Flynn and DeHavilland are tapped to repeat their roles. [Another idea that did not see the light of an arc light, despite this being a natural, and sure bet. Raine and Miller were behind the original. Raine kept busy in 1939 with four titles, including ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.’ Miller met disappointment when a script he’d completed was given to someone else to do over. He left WB].
  • The casting of Jane Clayton (Jan) in the latest Hopalong Cassidy film (‘The Return of the Fox’) at Paramount has been announced. The Miss Southwest from Tularosa, New Mexico already knows how to ride. Her father owns a 100,000 acre ranch there. She and Hoppy’s sidekick Lucky, Russell Hayden, plan to marry soon. [Come time to release the film, its title changed to ‘In Old Mexico.’ You might recognize her as Tommy Rettig’s mother from the early episodes of the TV series Lassie].
  • Per Ed Sullivan, Katharine Hepburn is headed for New York, and opines that it is probably on Howard Hughes’ plane. (See May 11th and May 18th).
  • Director Mervyn LeRoy in talking about his future film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ promises to have “cartoon tricks” in it, like trees talking to one another. [One of the biggies for 1939].

STARTING PRODUCTION

  • ‘Paris Honeymoon,’ starts shooting at Paramount – director Frank Tuttle, starring Bing Crosby, Franciska Gaal, Shirley Ross and Akim Tamiroff.
  • Arthur Lubin starts production at Universal today on ‘State Prison,’ starring Barton MacLane and Glenda Farrell.  [The title was changed upon release to the more actionable ‘Prison Break.’] This same day MacLane and Farrell struck a deal with WB to reclaim the roles they played prior in the Torchy Blane series. [Paul Kelly and Lola Lane took the roles in the fifth installment, but were not well received by the fans, hence the return of the original pair to the cop and reporter duo].

The Year Was 1938 – May 22nd

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
  • Laurence Olivier turned 31 today. He was hard at work on the stage in England. He had made a couple of films in Hollywood, beginning at RKO in 1931, and again in 1933 for ‘Queen Christina’ opposite Greta Garbo. On that film he was replaced after two weeks when he was judged unsuitable for the role. Now, Sam Goldwyn was about to tempt him away from the stage and England with the promise of $50,000 and the role of Heathcliff in his production of ‘Wuthering Heights.’ One of the big films of 1939.
  • MGM had the Marx Brothers and 20th Century Fox the Ritz Brothers. Harry Ritz, one third of the Ritz Brothers comedy act, also turned 31 today – just two days after the release of their film ‘Kentucky Moonshine’ from 20th Century Fox. He would be in front of the cameras soon in a Damon Runyon story ‘Straight, Place, and Show.’ The year 1939 would be up and down for them – on a high, comedy relief in the Don Ameche version of  ‘The Three Musketeers’ – and a low in ‘The Gorilla’ with Bela Lugosi. [Peter Lorre refused to play the Lugosi part; and the Ritz Brothers objected also but could not refuse to play without facing a law suit].
  • Also sharing a birthday with these two was Alla Navimova (see May 19th), who was born in Yalta (Crimea, then a part of the Russian Empire). She was just turning 59. The year 1938 found her back in LA after an illness cut short her return to the stage in NY. She took up residence in Villa 24 at The Garden of Allah. Ironically she had owned this former property once called Hayvenhurst. After she acquired it in 1919 with the profits from her successful silent film career, she named it after herself, calling it the Garden of Alla. When hard times came along she built 25 villas on its 2.5 acre plot and ran it as a hotel beginning in 1927. Over the years there were many famous celebrities that called it home – F Scott Fitzgerald, Greta Garbo, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, to name a few.

The Year Was 1938 – May 21st

Robert Montgomery in ‘Yellow Jack’
  • Robert Montgomery’s 34th birthday. Until September he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. The Oscar nominated actor, for 1937’s ‘Night Must Fall,’ has his next film coming out in six days – ‘Yellow Jack’ about the fight against yellow fever in Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898. The following month Montgomery launched an investigation into Willie Bioff at IATSE, which revealed his criminal past and connections to the Frank Nitti gang in Chicago. [He has one credit for 1939 – a mystery comedy ‘Fast and Loose.’ This may have been due to the fact that when WW2 broke out in Europe in September of that year, he went to London and enlisted in the American Field Service and drove an ambulance in France until the defeat at Dunkirk. (His daughter, little Elizabeth “Bewitched” Montgomery, was then six)].
  • Negotiating committees between the producers and actors about an amendment to the basic minimum contract call a halt until both parties can go through the cross demands. (Producers had presented a 100 pages worth). The producer committee had conferred with the casting directors and other studio execs to look into cost estimates based on the acceptance of the actors’ demands.
  • Columbia contract player, Ann Doran was recovering from a case of kleig eyes suffered when working on Capra’s ‘You Can’t Take it with You.’ [Long exposure to the arc lights used to light the sets could result in conjunctivitis and eye watering. Twelve films lay ahead for Doran in 1939, including Capra’s ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’].
  • Lola Lane’s 32nd birthday. Busy in 1938 at WB, playing the lead in ‘Torchy Blane in Panama,’ and with her sisters, Priscilla and Rosemary in ‘Four Daughters’ (which introduced John Garfield), and in its follow up for 1939, ‘Four Wives.’

The Year Was 1938 – May 20th

Cecilia Parker in 1937
  • Just finishing ‘Love Finds Andy Hardy,’ a  long term contract at MGM is awarded to Cecilia Parker for her work in the family series. She began the role of Mickey Rooney older sister in 1937. [She has one more ahead for 1938, then three more Hardy features and one short for 1939].
  • A meeting was held at the home of Sam Goldwyn to discuss the deal they will receive for releasing via United Artists for the 1938-39 season (the distributor will sell only on percentage, not flat). Also present were David O Selznick, Dr A H Gianninni, Walter Wanger, Edward Small, Hal Roach.
  • Shake up at Universal, with VP in charge of production, Charles R Rogers, on the way out, Cliff Work will take his place under President Nat Blumberg and VP Matthew Fox. [Active since the silent days, Rogers had been head of production at RKO in 1931, switching to Universal in 1935. He had some notable successes with them – ‘My Man Godfrey’ for instance, and for signing the teen singing sensation Deanna Durbin. He would wind up at Paramount in 1939, and produce The Star Maker with Bing Crosby, a fictionalized version of the life of Gus Edwards].
  • At WB, ‘For Lovers Only’ begins filming, with Dick Powell in the lead and with Olivia DeHavilland playing opposite him. [The romantic comedy is released under the title – ‘Hard to Get’].
  • Margaret Sullivan is discussed as the lead for Hal Roach’s new romantic comedy ‘There Goes My Heart.’ The part had been turned down by Irene Dunne. [Sullivan must have turned it down too, as Virginia Bruce is credited in the part].
  • Ed Sullivan points out that Gene Reynolds is playing a lot of roles when the lead character needs to be shown as a child – for James Stewart in ‘Of Human Hearts’; for Tyrone Power in ‘In Old Chicago’; for Ricardo Cortez in ‘The Californian’; and for John Beal in ‘Madame X.’ [Gene Reynolds has four films for 1939. He had a long career in entertainment, and later was a TV producer for MASH and Lou Grant].
  • Jackie Coogan is in San Francisco working on a personal stage appearance, making jokes about his impoverished situation. And hoping to earn enough until August when the suit with his parents will be tried. Bob Hope has written his routine, between takes on his current film ‘Give Me a Sailor.’ Hope and Coogan will have a vaudeville tour together in the East beginning in June. (See May 13th)

ON THE MOVE

  • Pat O’Brien will be taking off for a three week vacation, and will start ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ upon his return. [Per Ed Sullivan he plans to take in the War Admiral – Seabiscuit match race. The race scheduled for May at Belmont did not come off with Seabiscuit. The race finally took place on November 1st].
  • Joel McCrea heads off to Montana for a fishing trip, accompanied by his stand in, Carl Andre. His station wagon is fully equipped for the expedition. Upon their return they will report to Universal along with other Goldwyn contracted people – Andrea Leeds and director Archie Mayo. Some think it strange that so many from the Goldwyn stable would be going to a rival studio. Shooting to begin June 4.
  • The 20th Century Fox film ‘Five of a Kind’ with the Dionne quintuplets will see its company leave for Canada tonight, but without Joan Davis. She is now home from the hospital after her back injury, sustained will rehearsing with Buddy Ebsen. She plans to join them next week. [Davis must not have made it, for she is not listed in the credits]. (See May 9th).

OPENED IN THEATERS THAT DAY

  • Swiss Miss with Laurel & Hardy (directed by John Blystone) from MGM.
  • Mystery House with Humphrey Bogart from WB.

The Year Was 1938 – May 19th

Virginia Weidler in 1938
  • Today child actor Virginia Weidler was added to the RKO production ‘Mother Carey’s Chickens.’ She was borrowed from MGM where she was at work in ‘Too Hot to Handle.’ She is also currently loaned out to Paramount on ‘Men with Wings.’
  • United Artists board to meet today to finalize the releasing deal with Hal Roach. Roach can bring his own production money. Dr A H Gianninni, president of UA prepared the way for him. Mary Pickford to attend the meeting also.
  • Independent exihibitors at a confab in Pittsburgh have asked the government to do an investigation into the picture industry, especially pricing policies and terms of film leasing, all to be included in any anti-trust action that is pending in Washington.
  • Silent film actress Alla Nazimova has been brought into Paramount to help tutor the Italian actress Isa Miranda. Producer Albert Lewis and director George Cukor brought Nazimova in to help Miranda recreate a role that Nazimova played on the Russian stage 37 years prior. [The film was released in 1938 – but not with Isa Miranda. Claudette Colbert took the role instead. I wonder what happened].

Columnist Sidney Skolsky often wrote about “Watching Them Make Pictures” for this week he details three happenings:

  • On the MGM backlot, Jack Conway was directing Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon in a scene for ‘Too Hot to Handle.’ Playing competing newsreelmen Pidgeon was to chase Gable and Gable was to trip and fall face first into a mud puddle especially prepared for him. He fell into the mud perfectly – but Pidgeon blew his line, so they had to do it all over again.
  • Out on the movie ranch in the Valley, Richard Thorpe was shooting a scene for “Give and Take” with Robert Taylor and Maureen O’Sullivan. A man was plowing in the far background and was whistling. The sound man warned the director that his mic was picking up this whistling. Thorpe said to just keep it as background – but then the sound man broke in again and told him that they would not be able to use it as the man was whistling “Thanks for the Memory,” a Paramount song. [The film was released as ‘The Crowd Roars’].
  • He checked in at Paramount and entered a sound stage where “The Spawn of the North” was being shot. Business was on hold for the moment, for they were celebrating Henry Fonda’s birthday (May 16th). Fonda was serving out the cake when two Western Union messengers arrived and sang Happy Birthday to Fonda. They had been sent by his former roommates John Swope and James Stewart. Before he knew it Fonda had handed out all the pieces, not having reserved one for himself. One of the visitors surrendered his piece to Hank. Soon, director Henry Hathaway had Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, Louise Platt and George Raft back to work.

ITEMS OF INTEREST

  • Ed Sullivan in his column extolls a list of names you were never meant to see in the credits. Claire Meyers – Sally Sage – Marjorie Lane – Eadie Adams – Virginia Verrill. The legs of Meyers, or more properly Myers, stood in for closeups of those of Joan Crawford, Virgina Bruce and other ladies in the MGM stable. Sage’s hands stood in for those of Bette Davis in ‘Jezebel.’ [She had uncredited parts in six WB films for 1939]. The last three lent their voices for songs that came from the lips of, respectively, Eleanor Powell for ‘Broadway Melody of 1936,’  ‘Born to Dance,’ ‘Rosalie,’ as well as ‘Broadway Melody of 1938’; for Jean Harlow in ’Suzy’ and ‘Reckless’; and for Andrea Leeds in ‘The Goldwyn Follies.’