The Year Was 1938 – June 3rd

Henry Travers in 1938 (you may recognize him as Harold the Angel from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’)
  • Actor Henry Travers has arrived from New York. He will report to WB to play Bette Davis’s father in her latest, ‘The Sisters.’ [‘The Sisters’ was his only film for 1938, but he stayed around for seven more in 1939, including ‘Dodge City,’ ‘Dark Victory,’ ’Stanley and Livingstone,’ and ‘The Rains Came’].
  • Columbia expects hundreds of aspiring actors at their studio to try out for the part of Joe Bonaparte from the Clifford Odets play, Golden Boy. Julian Evans will have charge of the proceedings. The ballyhoo is so great surrounding this search, he forsees photographers from Life magazine to be there. [Harry Cohn was probably hoping for the same type of publicity that Selznick was generating over his search for Scarlett O’Hara].
  • Three tunes have been completed for MGM’s ’Sweethearts’ the next Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald musical by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest. [Wright and Forrest had supplied music the year before for the Eddy/MacDonald film ‘Maytime.’ And for 1939 there were many contributions they made for MGM films, including Eddy (without MacDonald) for ‘Balalaika’].
  • With ‘Crime School’ and the Dead End kids doing well, WB plans another to be called ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ once issues with the title have been cleared by the Hays Office. Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page are set to star. [Ronald Reagan and Margaret Lindsay would star instead].
  • John Litel has been cast by WB in the new prison picture ‘Blackwell’s Island.’ Project to be directed by William McGann. [John Garfield replaced Litel before shooting commenced].
  • Midget sets for ‘The Terror of Tiny Town’ now guarded to keep off the swarm of curiosity seekers.
  • Ed Sullivan makes the rounds of studio commissaries. At WB –  Bette Davis and Olivia DeHavilland were having lunch and arguing about the best way to put on weight. Spencer Tracy and Father Flannagan were at the MGM commissary, the good Father in town to talk about their production of ‘Boys Town.’ Boris Morros in his signature flashy attire, (this time a bright red check shirt) pauses to talk with Joan Bennett at the Paramount commissary. (See May 25th).

STARS IN OTHER NEWS

  • William LeBaron at Paramount announces that they are keeping Bob Hope on, and have assigned him his next picture – ‘Thanks for the Memory.’ He will have an engagment to play in Roberta locally before traveling to New York where he will start his personal appearance tour with Jackie Coogan.
  • Clark Gable had been home sick with the flu. After three days in bed he tried to return to work on the ‘Too Hot To Handle’ picture. The director judged his voice still too husky and sent him home. 

ITEM OF INTEREST

  • One hears stories about the malapropisms perpetrated by Samuel Goldwyn, like the declaration – “Include me out.” Columnist Sidney Skolsky reports the latest making the rounds around Hollywood – someone ran into Goldwyn and invited him to lunch – to which Goldwyn replied, “I can’t eat yet. I just had breakfast for lunch.”

The Year Was 1938 – June 2nd

Mervyn LeRoy
  • George Ungurian has brought a suit against film producer Mervyn LeRoy, his former employer. (George had been his butler). He is seeking $125,000 for false imprisonment, naming LeRoy and WB studio police chief, Blayney Matthews as those responsible. [Born in Romania, this former butler had been let go, and was finding it hard to obtain employment because he had been branded as a radical. Sneaking onto the WB lot he was stopped from confronting LeRoy and held captive for a time. At the time LeRoy was preparing for a couple of changes. He switches studios from WB to MGM, and leaves behind directing to produce. There he has one film for 1938, then for 1939 – ‘Stand Up and Fight,’ ‘At the Circus’ – and the huge production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’].
  • WB plans a world premiere in Columbia City, Indiana for their new film ‘White Banners.’ The director Edmund Goulding and stars Claude Rains, Fay Bainter, and Jackie Cooper will be in attendance. The town was chosen because it is the home town of the author of the book upon which the film is based – Lloyd Douglas. Douglas, a former minister, first gained fame with his novel, The Magnificent Obsession. [Goulding will go on to direct ‘Dark Victory’ in 1939].
  • Universal has signed Jackie Cooper to a three picture contract. First will be the next Deanna Durbin picture, ’That Certain Age.’ [Cooper would star in subsequent vehicles at Universal, but did not have the same impact as Durbin’s films through 1939].
  • Joan Fontaine and Chester Morris to take the starring roles of RKO’s The Clean-Up. Lew Landers to direct. [The film was released as ‘Smashing the Rackets’, (based on articles about Thomas Dewey cleaning up NYC), and though it did have Chester Morris, he played opposite Frances Mercer instead of Joan Fontaine – the two – Morris and Fontaine were in a previous film together ’Sky Giant,’ so perhaps there was some confusion on the reporter’s part. Fontaine’s talents were most likely tied up in ‘The Duke of West Point’ to finish 1938 and the mighty ‘Gunga Din’ to kick off 1939].
  • A bunch of old timers have been rounded up to appear in a jail sequence for ‘You Can’t Take it with You’ at Columbia. They are: Pert Kelton, from vaudeville and Broadway and sporadic films; Jim Thorpe, the Indian Olympic champ of 25 years ago; Jimmy Morton, of vaudeville fame; Kit Guard, famous for musicals; and Earl Askam, a singer. [Kelton, Guard and Askam do have listings for this film, but Thorpe and Morton have none].
  • For his performance so far in ‘Having Wonderful Time,’ RKO has signed Lee Bowman to a long term contract. [Bowman appeared in three more films for 1938 and eight for 1939, including ‘Love Affair’).
  • At Columbia, Harry Cohn wants to put to rest any rumors that an of his execs will lose their positions with the return of Sam Briskin to the company.  (See May 17th).
  • Ed Sullivan talked with cameraman Bill Daniels, the only one that Greta Garbo would permit to film her. According to Daniels, she has a certain quality that she projects on the screen – “She has the wisdom of a very old lady, and with it a remarkable tolerance. She is completely unlike the impression of her that’s been broadcast. It is her wisdom and tolerance that give her a certain spiritual glow. The camera picks that up.” [Away from the camera lens since 1937, she returns in 1939 in MGM’s ‘Ninotchka.’ With the tagline – “Garbo Laughs.”

ITEM OF INTEREST

  • A filler bit. The fan mail of Anthony Quinn has grown exponentially since his appearence in DeMille’s ‘The Plainsman’ from 1936. [DeMille used him again in 1938 for ‘The Buccaneer,’ and again in 1939’s ‘Union Pacific.’

The Year Was 1938 – May 31st

Bette Davis in 1938
  • Lots of news for Bette Davis. She is to begin work on ‘The Sisters’ this week. This is to be followed by ‘The Phantom Crown’ which will begin production as ‘Juarez.’ And another project calls her back to the old South – a post Civil War story called ‘Memphis Belle.’ [The Sisters which pairs her with Errol Flynn closes out 1938 for her. ‘Juarez’ did go ahead, but another project came on line before it – ‘Dark Victory’ (one of the biggies for 1939). The ‘Memphis Belle’ title remained on the shelf].
  • Sidney Franklin (director) due in tomorrow at Metro to conference about his next film – ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ – to be filmed in England with Robert Donat. 
  • Laurel and Hardy start shooting today their final Roach production for Metro. [This is the ‘Meet the Missus’ project that was released as ‘Blockheads’]. (Mentioned in prior posts – see May 28th)
  • RKO is so happy with the dailies on ‘The Affairs of Annabel’ that they are considering adding more titles and making it into a series. [There was a quick turn around on this idea for ‘Annabel Takes a Tour’ came out in the same year. Jack Oakie went directly between the two; Lucille Ball squeezed in her part in ‘Room Service’ between them].
  • Walt Disney is looking to expand to a bigger plant – his Hyperion Ave site – covering 70,000 sq ft and employing 735 workers has become too cramped, hence plans are going forward for a million dollar facility. As for this next projects, slated next is Pinocchio, then Bambi.
  • 20th Century Fox is prepping ‘The Little Princess,’ the beloved story by Frances Hodgson Burnett as a film for Shirley Temple. To start 9/1. [It would be released in 1939].

CONTRACT TIME

  • Metro signed Gabriel Dell and Huntz Hall to term pacts. [Two of the Dead End kids gang. Dell has one short and four features for 1939].
  • 20th Century Fox lifted the option on Pauline Moore. [Charlie Chan, Abe Lincoln and the Musketeers keep her busy for 1939].
  • Republic renewed director James Cruze’s contract for one year. [Former silent actor and director Cruze had one film on the screen at this moment – ‘Gangs of New York.’ He has only one more credit for the year, none in 1939. Alcoholism over-shadowed his career and life until his death in 1942].
  • Fay Bainter had her contract at WB extended for two more pictures.
  • Frank Wead inks writer contract at 20th Century Fox. [The former navy pilot had written the story upon which MGM’s ‘Test Pilot’ was based. After the freak accident in which he broke his neck in 1926, he turned his skills to a writing career. He would work on two projects for Fox in 1939, one of wich was ‘Tail Spin’].
  • John Huston signed for a writer’s contract at WB. [Huston’s contribution to the screenplay for ‘Jezebel’ no doubt raised him in the eyes of WB. His involvement with ‘Jaurez’ for 1939; and an uncredited contribution to ‘Wuthering Heights’ put him on course to reach his goal – to direct the films based on his own scripts].
  • Florence Rice’s new contract with MGM, guarantees her time off to go East to catch the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight.
  • WB lifts the ban in director Lloyd Bacon’s contract on flying, so he can fly to Florida to do his research in Pensacola before he shoots ‘Wings of the Navy.’

ITEMS OF INTEREST

  • Eight casting directors rate the top supporting actors. The top 8 were Mischa Auer, Beulah Bondi, Walter Connelly, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Hersholt, Donald Meek, Alan Mowbray, Frank Morgan. (With 7 of the 8 votes, none unanimous). Next group (with 6 votes each) – Billie Burke, Leo Carrillo, Andy Devine, Hugh Herbert, Lewis Stone, Charles Winninger. Next (with 5 votes) – Una Merkle, Reginald Owen, Basil Rathbone, Henry Stephenson, Fay Bainter, Alice Brady, Spring Byington, Walter Brennan. Next (with 4 votes) – Edward Arnold, Ralph Bellamy, Humphrey Bogart, Herman Bing, Donald Crisp, Fritz Feld, Glenda Farrell, Bonita Granville, Edna May Oliver, May Robson, C Aubrey Smith, Ned Sparks, Slim Summerville, George Sanders, Akim Tamiroff.
  • Regarding premiers in Hollywood – for “A pictures” six to eight arc lights were the norm. The prize houses were Grauman’s Chinese, the Village in Westwood, and the Paramount in downtown LA, and sometimes the Carthay Circle (seating 1600) on the edge of the Beverly Hills District. Disney’s ‘Snow White,’ garnered historic grosses there on a two-a-day run.  [Now you know why a replica of the Carthay Circle graces the main street in Disney’s California Adventure park].
  • Inside the sound stage of ‘Four Daughters’ at WB, the Lane sisters under the direction of Michael Curtiz arrive via a Pullman car at the station of a small town. The snow – cornflakes; the slush on the ground – cornflakes, gypsum, salt and water. The Pullman car was real, but there was no motive power. It was pulled into the station by a winch, which could only move the rail car 20 feet, but that was all they needed.

Before the Wind Came

before-the-wind-came

In writing my most recent Memories post (The SoCal Trip 1975), I was curious about one of the sites we visited on that particular vacation, so I did a little research.

The site was (and is) the Selznick Studio, which is wedged away in a small enclave in Culver City, California. (It still does business but now under the name of the Culver Studios). Formed in 1919 when Thomas Ince broke away from Triangle Pictures (whose other two partners of the troika were D. W. Griffith and Hal Roach), it has changed hands a number of times over the years. After the mysterious death of Mr. Ince in 1924, Cecil B. DeMille moved into the lot. He merged the concern with the Pathe company in 1926, which in turn was acquired by RKO in 1932. Selznick leased the lot from RKO in 1936.

[Check out this history, that chronicles some of the films (and TV shows) done on the lot. Of particular note were the old sets on the lot (i.e. ones for King Kong, etc.) that were torched for the burning of Atlanta sequence for GWTW.]

When doing some research for another project, I came across this brief article in Variety for October 30, 1935 p 7.

Shearer-Garbo in with Selznick-Whitney Prods.

Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo are among those who are reported tied in financially with the new Dave Selznick producing firm in which Jock Whitney is also concerned.

I realized this article heralded the genesis of Selznick’s involvement at the Culver Studio (then RKO). Shearer and Garbo disappear from any connection to Selznick, in so far as any corporate involvement is concerned. He had been pursuing Garbo prior to this for the role that finally went to Bette Davis in “Dark Victory” when the rights were sold to WB. Instead Garbo chose to do “Anna Karenina” as one of Selznick’s last projects as a producer in the employ of MGM. Garbo was close to Shearer and her husband Irving Thalberg, so this conjunction of their names is not unusual. The untimely death of Thalberg the following year and the subsequent turmoil may explain their absence from the concern going forward.

This article also set me off on another “rabbit trail,” in so far GWTW was involved.

The name in the last phrase, Jock Whitney, was completely new to me, and it proved fascinating to learn more about him.

Whitney was the young well-to-do scion of an East Coast family (who inherited 20 million from his father after 1927, and 80 million from his mother after 1944). His full name – John Hay Whitney gave the first clue to his family history. To anyone who has read about Abraham Lincoln, John Hay is a familiar name. He was one of Lincoln’s secretaries during his time in office. Later he was appointed ambassador to London, and later still served as Secretary of State under both McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. And Jock Whitney is his grandson and namesake. His other grandfather, served as Naval Secretary under Cleveland.

  Whitney graduated from Yale, and was a member of the Scroll & Key secret society while there, (his father also was an alumnus, but a member of the Skull & Crossbones secret society). He started as a clerk in a banking house. But once he came into money, he invested in personal interests. He was a major “angel” for Broadway productions during the 1930s. – “Here Goes the Bride,” “Life with Father,” and “Jumbo.” From there it was short hop to film.

He had been brought into the film business by Merian C. (“King Kong”) Cooper, then a producer and head of production at RKO. By 1933, Jock founded his own production company, Pioneer Films.  And around the same time he acquired a 15% interest in Technicolor. He used the process in making a musical short “La Cucaracha,” and later the first technicolor (three strip process) feature “Becky Sharp.” Pioneer was merged with Selznick Int’l Pictures in 1936, and Whitney ended up as chairman of the board of the new company.

Together on the Culver lot they were responsible for such films as “A Star is Born,” “Nothing Sacred,” “Rebecca,” and “Gone with the Wind.” In fact, it was through Whitney’s direct investment that Selznick acquired the rights to the Margaret Mitchell novel, which laid the foundation for what would be Selznick’s “signature” film.

In the Yale yearbook for 1926, in its write up about Whitney it noted that his future plans looked to an occupation in either the field of literature or diplomacy. Actually he “checked off both boxes.” The thirties and forties mark his time of involvement with literature as literary projects were translated to the stage and to the screen (in the 1940 census he lists himself as an executive in the Motion Picture Industry). He was an Eisenhower supporter in the fifties, and was consequently appointed the US ambassador to London, following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather.