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.’

The Year Was 1938 – May 18th

Zanuck’s strategy for 20th Century Fox
  • Darryl F Zanuck expounds on the biz – some are saying that negative costs must come down to meet a lesser box office take, but he points out that quality films never are made with short budgets. And that is why they are spending more on their films than ever before. He agrees with exhibitors when they say that double billing is a mistake. Little pictures are a good training ground for up and coming actors. He would rather go with his solution – cast the younger players in big pictures (and cites the example of Tyrone Power in ‘Lloyd’s of London’). He intends to gamble on Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Richard Greene and Arlene Whelan. He goes on to give credit to their writers – touting originals, written in “the technique of pictures.” The future of films counts on writers.
  • Twentieth Century Fox cut the vacation allotment for Tyrone Power down to 10 days this summer in order to ease his schedule once ‘Jesse James’ starts shooting.
  • Scat singer, Johnnie Davis is the latest added to the cast of ‘Brother Rat,’ being made for WB. Eddie Albert who had the lead in the NY play takes the lead here too. The leading lady is yet to be selected, between Priscilla Lane and Olivia DeHavilland. Camera crews are now at work shooting exteriors in Virginia at VMI, the film’s setting. [The decision was for Priscilla Lane (or did Olivia say no?). Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were also added to the cast. Johnnie Davis appeared in four films in 1939, 2 features and 2 shorts].
  • Carole Lombard is building a home for her mom in Brentwood.
  • Edward Small rests at home under a doctor’s care. [The powerhouse independent producer had ‘The Duke of West Point’ for this year, and two for 1939, one of which was ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’].
  • Leon Schlesinger is welcomed by an office party after a long hospital seige. [I can only imagine what that would have been like. Schelsinger was head of the animation unit at WB, so the likes of Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, and voice talent Mel Blanc would have been on hand].
  • Gene Autry starts work back at Republic today after nearly a half year absence.
  • According to Ed Sullivan, “most wigs for the movies are made from human hair from the Balkan and Scandinavian countries.”

SOME SIDE NOTES

  • Howard Hughes planning an around the world flight to promote the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. He will bear invitations to the European nations.
  • According to a reporter taking in the shooting of the latest Sonja Henie film at 20th Century Fox, she had to be provided with special socks, costing $35 a pair. Even then she puts runs in them when strained by the leaps she does, running through five pairs a day. The makeup department in preparing her for the day, sprays a glue in her hair to keep her tresses from flying every which way.

ON THE MOVE

  • Hal B Wallis, associate in charge of production at WB, in NY today for business & pleasure, to look over the current stage plays. [Given his position at the company his name is on linked to 47 film for 1939 – 16 credited (including The Old Maid, in which his wife, Louise Fazenda, played a maid), and 31 uncredited].
  • Departing for London from NY on the Normandie – Danielle Darrieux with her husband Henri de Coin, writer-director (though she would like to stay in US, she needed to return to France for her mandatory one film per year, according to French regulations), Brian Aherne, David Niven, Diana Barrymore
  • NY to LA – Billy Halop, Fredric March, Luise Rainer.
  • Arrivals in LA – Olivia DeHavilland, Mr & Mrs Paul Lukas, Lily Pons, Claudette Colbert, John Hay Whitney.

The Year Was 1938 – May 17th

Samuel Briskin
  • Sam Briskin, producer, left RKO last November, being recalled to Columbia to an exec prod post. Had been there between 1926-1934. [Briskin was the real talent behind the successes at Columbia in that earlier period. Cohn lost him over a dispute about the stock options in the company. Briskin could have gone anywhere in 1935 – Fox – MGM – Universal – and wound up at RKO. Cohn got him back at Columbia with a seven year contract and stock options. He was immediately involved in the dispute between the directors and the producers].
  • As part of their economy, Paramount announces they are trimming film budgets and film schedules (cutting 8 weeks to 6). No bidding against rival studios for novels or plays. Tightening in all departments. 
  • RKO now has a writing staff with 38 writers working on 22 scripts.
  • Tailors and seamstresses are busier than they have been for several years, because of a flock of historical films upcoming – for Paramount – 6 (includes ‘Zaza’ for 1939); for WB – 6 (includes ‘Juarez’ and ‘Dodge City’ for 1939); 20th Century Fox – 1; Metro – 1 (‘Northwest Passage’ for 1939). [20th Century Fox actually had many more – ‘Jesse James,’ ‘Young Mr. Lincoln,’ ‘Drums Along the Mohawk’; and the MGM title did not make it into release until 1940. MGM did have ‘Gone with the Wind,’ but not at this point in 1938].
  • Jerry Wald, writer at WB, is going to court to untangle the problem of three agencies claiming to represent him. They are – Zeppo Marx Inc, Myron Selznick & Co and Leland Hayward, Inc. [Wald had four screenplays made into films for 1939, including the gangster film ‘The Roaring Twenties’].
  • Deal in the making between David O Selznick and W C Fields. Selznick tried to borrow him from Paramount before, but was unsuccessful. Now that Fields left Paramount, it is possible that Fields will be in their film ‘Heartbreak Town,’ about the trials of Hollywood moppets. [Sounds like they were trying to capitalize on the Jackie Coogan situation. W C Fields ended up at Universal instead]. (See May 9th)
  • Cecil B DeMille settles with the IRS on a tax bill going back to his 1934 earnings.
  • Robert Pirosh and George Seaton called in to collaborate with Irving Brecher on the script for MGM’s ‘A Day at the Circus,’ the next Marx Bros movie. Brecher started it last week. [Pirosh and Seaton had worked together on Marx Bros films before, and ended with no credit on this one, their only film for 1939 was ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and even that was uncredited; Brecher did get the credit for ‘A Day at the Circus,’ but he also was uncredited for Oz].
  • Gene Autry to draw $10,000 per picture in his new pact. It had been $5000. When he was out due to  his feud with Republic, his side kick Smiley Burnett was assigned to work as Roy Rogers’s sidekick. (Roy was filling in for the missing Autry). [Now what to do about Burnett].
  • Buck Jones sues Republic to restrain the release of their serial ‘The Lone Ranger’ – for imitating those films in which he played a Texas Ranger. On top of that the name of horse was Silver also. [His only film for 1939 had him as a boxer, not a cowboy – ‘Unmarried,’ a remake of a 1932 film – both Paramount].

ON THE MOVE

  • Wesley Ruggles dueling with Paramount on a new contract (to produce and direct) before departing on a European vacation. [He got the contract and did ‘Invitation to Happiness’ for Paramount in 1939].

The Year Was 1938 – May 16th

Fay Bainter
  • Critics and patrons at the Pantages theater to see ‘Holiday’ like the George Cukor directed film – with Grant and Hepburn. [Are the theater owners wrong about ‘poison’ Hepburn?] (See May 12th)
  • Fay Bainter’s stock in Hollywood rose with her performance in Warner Brothers’ film ‘Jezebel’ which not only garnered her an Oscar but also earned her a contract to star in two future features at that studio. The stories are not yet chosen. [Not only was she nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1938 (for ‘Jezebel,’ which she won); she was also nominated for Best Actress (for ‘White Banners,’ which she lost to Bette Davis. Due to confusion about the double nomination, the rules of the Academy were changed].
  • W H Moran, the head of the US Secret Service, has been landed by WB to supply stories from his experiences for a new series about the Service to feature Ronald Reagan. [This led to a three picture series for 1939 – ‘Secret Service of the Air,’ ‘Code of the Secret Service’ and ‘Smashing the Money Ring.’ One of the films inspired a young boy to join the Secret Service, and is credited for saving President Reagan after he was shot by Hinckley in 1981].
  • Regarding Spencer Tracy’s trip to Honolulu, news was added that it was also to recover from his recent surgery. Upon his return two films we be waiting for his participation – both at MGM, ‘Northwest Passage’ and ‘Boys Town.’
  • Norman Taurog, known for his work with child performers, has been assigned to direct ‘Boys Town.’ Not for Spencer Tracy’s sake but for his supporting cast – Mickey Rooney and Spanky McFarland.
  • Universal will start shooting ‘Danger in the Air,’ their next installment in the Crime Club series. Louis Hayward and Nan Gray will top the cast. [Louis did not make the cut].
  • Per Ed Sullivan – Susan Hayward (no relation to Louis) has appeared in 1,373 publicity photos for WB, yet has never appeared on the screen. [Actually she appeared in the background in a few titles, uncredited. And for one film her scene was left on the cutting room floor. She had a small part in ‘Comet Over Broadway,’ the film that Bette Davis refused to do. Hayward would take the femme lead in the 1939 film – ‘Beau Geste’ for Paramount]. (See May 3rd)
  • Producer Walter Wanger has sent a communication to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Word is out that strongman Franco of Spain is unhappy about his current production ‘Blockade’ with Henry Fonda and Madeleine Carroll. Wanger says people had been caught and thrown off of his sets which depict the devasting effects of the civil war in Spain. Purportedly they were spies. He goes on to say that he has put $900,000 into this film and he will release it as is, and if it is banned in Europe, he’ll take the loss. [Wanger had an even bigger picture (in my estimation) for 1939 – Stagecoach].

ON THE MOVE

  • In New York, John Hay “Jock” Whitney returns from Europe to confer with Selznick Int’l head Henry Ginsberg (over from Hollywood) about 1938-39 season. Gone with the Wind is in a testing phase. UA a possibility to release it (they have a bonus system for rentals that look promising).
  • Claudette Colbert leaves for the Coast (from NY) after 4 months abroad to discuss her next project at Paramount. They have three possibilities for her.

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.