The Year Was 1938 – May 15th

Publicity shot from Room Service – The Marx Brothers
  • ‘Room Service’ with the Marx Brothers to begin shooting today at RKO under director William A Seiter. [The boys would return to MGM for ‘At the Circus’ released in 1939].
  • Director Herbert Leeds leaves for Callander, Ontario, Canada where he will direct a fictional story using the talents of the Dionne quintuplets for 20th Century Fox. Jean Hersholt went with him to play the doctor; also along was Lou Breslow, the writer; and Daniel B Clark, cameraman. Film — is entitled ‘Five of a Kind,’ and would be released in Oct 1938. [A documentary short from RKO in 1939 would cover the fifth birthday for the quints].
  • Frank Capra is elected president of the Screen Director’s Guild, replacing another director at the top, King Vidor who was then in London on assignment for Metro. Capra’s ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ was then in production at Columbia.

ITEM THAT PIQUED MY INTEREST

  • BIll Robinson to be the guest of honor of the Hollywood Vaudeville Frolics at the new Las Palmas Theater. [‘Bojangles’ the tap dancing wizard of vaudeville, Broadway, and film (Shirley Temple films, of course) had four films in 1938, but none in 1939. Instead he was on Broadway in The Hot Mikado, a jazz version of the Gilbert and Sullvan operetta].
Ann Miller in 1938 – seen in both ‘You Can’t Take It WIth You’ and ‘Room Service’

The Year Was 1938 – May 14th

Hal Roach
  • Hal Roach announces his deal to go with United Artists for distribution of his films bringing to an end his 12 year arrangement with MGM. His deal with UA is to run for 8 years. He is to deliver four to six feature films per year and also four Laurel and Hardy features. [See May 11th, 1938]
  • With an emphasis on economy spreading across the studios, the effect was being felt among those actors who free lance. Those performers currently with contracts were not affected. The free lancers at one time held contracts, but at the end of the contract’s term, if their popularity was such that they were in demand, it was more lucrative to go out on their own and not be tied down to one studio. And a big plus was the ability to choose scripts to their liking, and not to be herded into programmers. Probably the actors most effected by the pull back were the character actors, those who fill the supporting roles to the stars. Their names filled the files of the casting directors at each studio, but they were being passed by for now.

ON THE MOVE

  • Mr & Mrs Spencer Tracy left for Honolulu from LA on the Lurline. [Tracy’s latest film ‘Test Pilot’ with Clark Gable just came out in April. He would return from vacation to work on Boys Town. Then MGM, his contracted studio, would loan him to 20th Century Fox for the 1939 film ’Stanley and Livingstone.’ His only film released that year. Separated from his wife Louise in 1933, they reconciled in 1935, but the marriage continued to be troubled].
  • Joe Schenck, chairman of 20th Century Fox and president of the Association of Motion Picture Producers, arrives in NY from Florida with his brother Nick. [Nicholas Schenck was the president of the Loew’s Theater circuit, and also controlled MGM. Louis B Mayer thus reported to him].

The Year Was 1938 – May 13th

  • ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ opens – a WB release, directed by Michael Curtiz, with Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHaviland, Basil Rathbone, Alan Hale. Also opening – ‘Vivacious Lady’ from RKO – George Stevens directing with Ginger Rogers and James Stewart.
  • The WB publicity department to promote their Robin Hood film planted nearly 4,000 arrows in the lawns of local residents (Hollywood and LA). Particular attention was paid to the lawns of local newsmen, reviewers and columnists.
  • Jackie Coogan faces off with his Mom and stepfather over the money he claimed was from his earnings as a child star. He claimed his earnings totalled 4 million, his mother counters that it was only 1.5 million, of which only $500,000 remains. They further claim that he had no rights to any of it before he became of age, and in addition had no claim to anything his father had bequeathed after the auto crash that ended his life. Jackie does not accept their answer and vows to press on in court.
  • Director George Stevens is reported to be headed for Mexico to look for a location where an Indian (make that East Indian) village could be built. RKO is budgeting $800,000 to built it. But then again there is concern that Mexican President Cardenas could confiscate the site. [This would be for ‘Gunga Din.’ Stevens ended up going elsewhere].
  • At RKO writers Ben Hecht and Charlie MacArthur have turned in the first draft for ‘Gunga Din.’ They solved the problem of turning a poem into a film by borrowing from their successful play and film ‘The Front Page.’ They transferred the story element in which the newspaper editor is trying to retain the services of his reporter who wants to quit – over to a military setting. In this instance a soldier who wants to return to civilian life has his fellow sargeants plotting to keep him in harness.

The Year Was 1938 – May 12th

  • Exhibitors who recently complained about producers paying huge salaries to stars who are Box Office poison, are now complaining about double bills as the root of all evil in the film industry.
  • Strained relations between the producers and directors continues. Frank Capra accuses Zanuck of trying to split the Directors’ Guild and that Zanuck and the pesident of the Association of Motion Picture Producers, Joseph Schenck, have acted for the producers without authority. [I’m not sure how Capra could make that last statement, given that Schenck was the president of the producer organization. Unless perhaps by inference he was trying to divide the two from the other producers, by making it known what they were doing or not doing in the negotiations]. (See May 9th).
  • Stan Laurel as producer releases his western feature ‘Songs and Bullets,’ – director Sam Newfield with Fred Scott, Al St John, and Alice Ardell. Variety pans it. [Laurel has another film (Swiss Miss) with his partner Oliver Hardy coming out this month from Hal Roach. Laurel’s foray into production petered out after his 1939 offering ‘Two Gun Troubador,’ another western with Fred Scott. For the most part here on out, he stays in front of the camera].
  • Shirley Temple is appointed sponsor of National Airmail Week. She is visited on the set of ‘Little Miss Broadway’ for the presentation by acting Postmistress of Los Angeles, Mary D Briggs.
  • Nancy Kelly, a 17 year old actress, is just in from New York and her role in the play ‘Susan and God.’ Feeling very much the new face and lonely her first day on the 20th Century Fox lot, she spotted two actors that she had worked with as a child in films made in New York – Warner Baxter and Jean Hersholt – and felt more at home. [Fox had three films for her in 1939 – Jesse James, Tail Spin, and Stanley and Livingstone].
  • In an article about Clark Gable, it is noted that his girl friend Carole Lombard has a nickname for him – “Moose.” [Once married they began calling each other ‘Pa’ or ‘Ma’].

The Year Was 1938 – May 11th

Kate Hepburn
  • Katherine Hepburn refuses to play in ’Mother Carey’s Chickens’ at RKO. She entered into negotiations to cancel out of her contract (she’d been with them since 1932); they dropped the balance of her commitment to them (six months) and the two films she owed them. The cost to her was the $200,000 in salary she would have gotten for those films (plus an additional $75,000 that she personally coughed up). [Fay Bainter, Anne Shirley and Ruby Keeler anchor the film instead – a family comedy based on a novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the writer of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm].
  • Columbia began a billboard campaign all around Los Angeles – “Is it true what they say about Katherine Hepburn?” This was in reference to the complaint theater owners were making to the film producers – that Hepburn was Box Office poison. And was a backhanded way to produce curiosity in their new release of “Holiday” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. [Holiday was not a financial success, and Hepburn retreated to New York and the stage where she landed a success with The Philadelphia Story, and later brought it to Hollywood].
  • Darryl Zanuck came up with an original idea (perhaps in response to the above). For his forthcoming production of The Rains Came (based on the novel by Louis Bromfield). Aside from his main choice for the lead (Ronald Colman), he offered the opportunity for the exhibitors to send in their choices of actors to play the other characters from the best-selling novel. [By the time it went into production Colman was out and George Brent was in for this 1939 film].
  • United Artists has 24 features planned for the 1938-39 season. Hal Roach, currently producing for MGM, is looking to join the UA studio and contribute nine films in the next three years. [Actually his poor choice of partnering in a business with Mussolini in Italy, and Mussolini’s subsequent decision to join in with Hitler and his ant-semitism, led to the decision of those at the top in MGM to cancel Roach’s contract. Roach was just switching from short films, such as The Our Gang series (which he sold to MGM) to feature films and hit a gold mine with Topper (1937). Roach had some big films coming in 1939 – Captain Fury, A Chump at Oxford, and the prestigious ‘Of Mice and Men’].

ITEMS THAT PIQUED MY INTEREST

  • Story out of Hartford CT – where Snow White had opened – patrons complained afterwards to be victims of pickpockets. The investigating detectives reported that grifters were now following hit shows from town to town, like they used to follow the carnival. 
  • Laurence Olivier now being talked about for the part of Lawrence of Arabia, replacing Robert Donat who was originally to be the lead. [See May 6th]
  • Plagiarism damages for “Letty Lynton” may cost MGM one million dollars.  [This was a film made by MGM in 1932, starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. It was pulled from release in 1936, when they lost a suit brought by the authors of the play Dishonored Lady, who claimed that MGM had used it without their permission. Except for ‘bootleg’ copies the film is still not available].

ON THE MOVE

  • Claudette Colbert sailing on the Normandie from London to New York. [Zaza, Midnight, Drums Along the Mohawk in her future for 1939].
  • David Niven and Brian Aherne sailing on the Queen Mary from New York to London.
  • Donald Crisp yacht vacationing.
  • Walter Pidgeon on a motor trip to New Brunswick.
  • Dalton Trumbo writing weekends on his new ranch at Lebec. [Six films will be made from his scripts in 1939].
  • Cecil B DeMille back at Paramount after an operation. [And at work on his film for 1939 – Union Pacific].
  • Clark Gable, John Boles and Lanny Ross on a 110-mile horseback ride. [A big year ahead for Gable; not so for Boles; and Ross’s voice was used for the lead in the Fleischer animated film ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ for 1939].
  • Olivia DeHavilland vacationing in Europe. [She would return bouyed with the news of a major success in WB’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. And  she would be in good position to go after a major role in Selznick’s production of ‘Gone with the Wind’ – not the Scarlett part that every actress in Hollywood was vying for, but the Melanie Hamilton part].

The Year Was 1938 – May 10th

Joan Crawford
  • 20th Century Fox calls off their 2 million dollar building plan for two reasons: 1) the unsettled state of the foreign markets, and 2) the current tax situation at home. This effects plans for five new sound stages.
  • Republic Pictures plans to start building their own studio on a 48 acre lot next to the old Mack Sennett lot which they are currently leasing. 
  • RKO, in trouble financially since 1933, is looking to reorganize and emerge from their 77B bankruptcy by end of summer.
  • Paramount has over 2000 people currently employed at the studio – a high for the past 12 months. The number of the people in the back lot and in technical positions has increased 50%.
  • Major and minor companies are turning away from screwball comedies in favor of outdoor, big action historical and/or biographical films.
  • Joan Fontaine has been selected for a part in director George Stevens’ big action film “Gunga Din.” Her costars will be Cary Grant and Jack Oakie. Victor McLaglen will also be aboard, the Oscar winner is on loan from Fox. [Stevens had his latest film open on this date – ‘Vivacious Lady’ starring James Stewart and Ginger Rogers – a screwball comedy – so it seems the director is trying to get ahead of the curve for 1939].
  • Ginger Rogers is guaranteed a month long vacation between pictures as part of her new RKO contract. [Could screwball comedy be more tiring than dancing with Fred Astaire]?
  • Stan Laurel is marrying a Russian singer, Ileanna, (Vera Ivanova Shuvalova) for the fourth time since Jan 1. [This may be popping up over and over for they were battling constantly all the way through 1939].
  • Joan Crawford re-upped with MGM, signing a five year contract for 1.5 million dollars. She came to Hollywood in 1925, at the height of the flapper era, and could dance the Charleston. [In her interview with Ed Sullivan at this time Crawford states that her first picture was a western with Tim McCoy, entitled ‘Winners of the Wilderness,’ instead of ‘Pretty Ladies’ from 1925. I’m not sure if her memory was playing her tricks, for ‘Pretty Ladies’ was her first credited role, and the McCoy film was in 1927. Perhaps she remembers the western fondly because it was a co-starring role (with no other ladies sharing the spotlight). Or maybe, being from Texas, she liked playing a cowgirl].
  • To make westerns more realistic the William Hays office is proposing meeting with author Will James (author of Western fiction Smokey) and Harry Carey to work on a possible code.
  • Gene Autry goes back to work at Republic after holding out since December on salary and other contentions (radio and in person appearances – acting for other producers and for his own company). [Things look good for Westerns, if the film execs are sensing the right direction].

The Year Was 1938 – May 9th

  • Comedienne Joan Davis was taken to the hospital after a fall when doing a knockabout dance number with Buddy Ebsen in “My Lucky Star” at 20th Century Fox. At the top of the bill was Sonja Henie and Richard Greene. [Don’t worry Joan made it back to complete this film and was around for “Tail Spin “with Alice Faye in 1939].
  • By mutual agreement W. C. Fields and Paramount have called off making “Mr Bumpus Goes to Town.” Fields had been writing the script, but the studio was unhappy over story content. [The film was never made, under that title at least. He and Paramount also parted ways and the comedian ended up at Universal for the 1939 film “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”].
  • According to Ed Sullivan – Clark Gable and Carole Lombard claim they will be married by the end of the year. [But first Clark needs to obtain a divorce from his second wife. He and Lombard would marry in 1939].
  • Also according to Ed Sullivan – Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures was casting about for actors to play in a film based on the play by Clifford Odets. He had acquired Odets’ “The Golden Boy,” a drama about boxing. He wanted Tyrone Power, but he was not available. Instead he decided to look for an unknown to act opposite Jean Arthur. [The unknown would be William Holden in his first starring role. Barbara Stanwyck took the place of Arthur in this 1939 film].
  • Actress Billie Seward, asks in court for a divorce from her husband William R Wilkerson, testifying that he was always sullen and morose and told her that he did not love her. In the two years they were together he was so immersed in his businesses that he was never home. [Two of his enterprises were the trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter and the cafe the Trocadero (see May 7 1938), which he had just sold. I guess she had not heard. She wound up back in front of the camera in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island for 1939].
  • Zanuck writes Frank Capra a letter chastising him for airing their controversies publicly and reiterates the position of the producers – separate negotiations with the three branches within the Directors Guild – directors, assistant directors and unit managers.

The Year was 1938 – May 8th

Alice Faye in the film “In Old Chicago

Singer and actress Alice Faye turned 23 today, and though a singer, could not read a note of music. (The greats of that time – Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter held her talent in high esteem). At fourteen, she ran off to try out as a chorus girl, but was turned away as too young. She eventually got on as a dancer, and through a fluke her singing came to the attention of Rudy Vallee, and wound up on the radio. Through her connection to him she landed at Fox and continued there through the Zanuck regime. She married another singer and actor, Tony Martin, in 1937. They eloped to Yuma Arizona so it was a small wedding. But they made up for it in the film Sally, Irene and Mary, (which opened in March 1938), when their characters wed on screen. Her brother Bill Faye (who took her stage name too) acted as her business manager, before then he was an investment banker in NY. Her triumphs in two other 1938 films – “In Old Chicago” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” made her Queen of the Fox lot. Ahead in 1939, she would appear in Tail Spin, Rose of Washington Square, Hollywood Cavalcade, and Barricade.

The Year Was 1938 – May 7th

  • John Ford returns from Hawaii after a five weeks there, and meets with Zanuck about his next film for 20th Century Fox. An action film about midget subs in the last war. Two million for production has been set aside for it. But it is put off ’til August when Ford will return from vacation. [‘Pappy’ Ford sure goes on a lot of vacations].
  • Greta Garbo on vacation in her native Sweden is down with a cold at her estate in Haarby. Her companion on her European tour the conductor Leopold Stokowski, may conduct a concert in Stockholm.
  • Reports are in that Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has grossed $3,000,000 by this date.
Adriana Caselotti – the Voice of Snow White
  • Rumors are making the rounds about what is happening in the studios. Fears are rampant that things will be shaken up in the executive offices with new people to be brought in. Selznick who is always dickering with distributors could consider merging with RKO instead. Selznick currently leases the RKO lot in Culver City, and if Paramount were to move to a bigger lot that is not hemmed in like their Hollywood location, RKO – which makes up a tiny corner of the Paramount Studio there, could just expand in place.
  • The parents of child actor Bobby Breen have placed his earnings (so far $100,000) in a bank to be held in trust for him. [This has been in response to legislation that is being talked about since revelations about other child actors – Jackie Coogan, in particular, who have been deprived of the bulk of their earnings].
  • The Association of Motion Picture Producers is at loggerheads with the Directors’ Guild. Producers don’t think that assistant directors and unit managers should be in the same union as directors. Negotiating on behalf of the directors – Frank Capra and fellow director A Edward Sutherland. On the other side are AMPP president Joseph Schenck and Daryl Zanuck (both part of 20th Century Fox).
  • It was announced today that Nola Hahn, owner of night clubs around the Los Angeles area has bought the Trocadero from Hollywood Reporter owner William R Wilkerson. [The buy was bad timing for Hahn as the corrupt mayor Frank Shaw was recalled in September and reformer Judge Fletcher Bowron put in – Bowron sent the clean cops in to root out the vice. So, the gamblers and gangsters turned to Vegas as the place to set up shop. Thus, Hahn was one of the founding fathers of Las Vegas].
  • Currently at an art gallery on Hollywood Blvd are works of art by amateur artists from the films – Jean Hersholt, Anthony Quinn, and child actor Jane Withers.
Pretty fine for the “Tomboy Rascal.”

The Year was 1938 – May 6th

  • Opening day for ‘Jones Family in Paris’ from 20th Century Fox [a family comedy like the Hardy family at MGM] and ‘Torchy Blane in Panama’ from WB, two series that will continue in 1939 [a series about a wise-cracking female newspaper reporter].
  • Long pending deal whereby Alexander Korda was to make ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ for Paramount release now appears to be further distant in consummation than ever before as a result of the new United Artists distribution deal. Robert Donat is being considered for the lead.

This mention of Lawrence of Arabia intrigued me, as the David Lean masterpiece from 1962 is a personal favorite, about which I have written three posts in the past.

Memories in the Dark

Me and LoA – a Second Time Around

LoA Encounter of the Third Kind