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.

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 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].