The Year Was 1938 – May 30th

Director Frank Lloyd circa 1940
  • Director Frank Lloyd will work the holiday (Decoration Day, i.e.  Memorial Day) in the cutting room at Paramount, going through the footage from his latest film ‘If I Were King,’ just so his star Ronald Colman can get a shave tomorrow. He needs to be certain that no retakes will be necessary before his star lops off the whiskers that have been sprouting the past eight weeks for his portrayal of Francois Villon, the 15th century French poet. [Frank Lloyd only had this one film for 1938, and would have only one for 1939 – ‘Rulers of the Sea’].
  • Frank Factor, the 34 year old son of Max Factor, legally changed his name to Max Factor jr. He, like his father, is a Hollywood makeup artist. He lists his reasons for doing so – for the sake of their business of manufacturing makeup – and for the family connection, a sentimental reason. [His father would pass away in August of 1938. Max jr would supervise the wigs for ‘The Wizard of Oz’].
  • Producer Walter Wanger has bought the movie rights to the upcoming biography of James Farley, the former Postmaster General. It will be serialized in American Magazine this fall. [Entitled ‘Behind the Ballots.’ Nothing was done with it as far as I could ascertain. Many credit Farley with the election of FDR to the presidency, and as a reward for his help was appointed the Postmaster General. He also was made the head of the DNC and held the posts concurrently. Later with his position with Coca Cola he was responsible (with government help) for its proliferation around the world].
  • Officials at the Columbia Studio speak up to squelch rumors that Lionel Barrymore, then in an important role on ‘You Can’t Take It with You,’ is down with a fatal illness. They admit that the actor had been in for a hospital stay 6 weeks prior for a mild case of arthritis, but nothing since has deterred him from his performance. [More contemporary articles about the actor state that he was in so much pain on this film that hourly shots of painkillers were administered to help him play his character’s role on crutches. Having broken his hip twice and suffering from severe arthritis, from here on out he did not stand in his films].
  • In his column Ed Sullivan points out that he has screen credit for his story that Hal Roach picked up to produce – There Goes My Heart, with Fredric March and Virginia Bruce.
  • Mervyn LeRoy was reported to be planning a film with the Marx Brothers to be called ‘Three Ring Circus.’ [To be done next after ‘Room Service.’ This eventuated in their film ‘A Day at the Circus’ for MGM].

ITEM OF INTEREST

  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky points out the irony that forest scenes for movies are usually shot in Sherwood Forest near Hollywood, but WB’s ‘Robin Hood’ which takes place in Sherwood Forest, was shot at Ridwell Park in Chico, CA

ON THE MOVE

  • Darryl F Zanuck arrives in NY from LA. [Word was making the rounds that Zanuck was being insured by his company, 20th Century Fox for $10,000,000. Agent, producer and insurance broker Artie Stebbins was seeing to the deal. Stebbins was a nephew of Joseph Schenck]. Ed Sullivan adds that he took two cutters on the train with him, and cut (or edited) two pictures along the way.
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Gunga Din The Making of a Classic Part 3 #1939TheMiracleYear

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One of the scenes filmed within the confines of the sound stages of RKO in September 1938 was set in the interior of the Kali temple. The action for one sequence called for a snake pit. Cobras, the venomous snake indigenous to India were the obvious choice to writhe their menace down in its depths, but none were to be had in Hollywood. That didn’t mean that Hollywood didn’t have any. It did. But every single one was committed to another production in town. Walter Wanger had cornered the market on cobras for his film ‘Trade Winds.’

There being no way around but forward. RKO technicians came up with a solution. Other snakes were to be had – of the harmless, nonpoisonous variety. They just fitted them up with a cape (or cowl) that would mimic the signature cobra hood. The cow snakes and other serpents, thus attired, didn’t cotton much to the appendages. (No Union reps for these reptiles).

As director George Stevens took his forces back out to Lone Pine to shoot the battle that would close Gunga Din, the PR department stepped up their efforts to keep the production in the news. One article (Variety 9/7/1938) talked up the Herculean effort put forth by James Parker’s makeup department in preparing and maintaining the hundreds of extras (per another Variety article, a number put at 700) portraying the dark skinned Indians – Hindu, Muslim and Thuggee. In assembly line fashion, coupled with turn tables and spray nozzles, many coats of the nut colored dye (called “dark Samoan stuff”) were applied as needed throughout the day.

It was a little harder for cast and crew this time around up in the Sierras. They were no longer plagued by the heat of summer. Still it could get up to 90 degrees, but now the lows dropped below 50. This change particularly affected the extras who wore little more than g-strings, who for continuity’s sake were restricted to the same costumes worn over the summer months. The warmth generated by the action shots must have been welcome indeed.

And George Stevens climactic battle scenes are masterful – well thought out and intelligently rehearsed. Once the suspense of the pending ambush is broken by the alarm raised by Gunga Din’s heroic bugle blowing (acted out on the sound stage), the action breaks out seemingly on every front. Skirmish lines of British soldiers, charging lancers, sniping Thuggees perched atop lofty rocks, cannons firing, massed forces colliding in mortal combat – altogether a fitting and satisfying denouement to the main action of the film.

Stevens wrapped production in mid October 1938, and handed over his footage to the cutting room at RKO. Other departments in the post-production process set to work too.

But more of that next time, on Watch This Space.