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 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 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 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 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.”

They Call It Screwball

They Call it Screwball

No. I’m not writing about the baseball pitch that behaves in an opposite manner to the curve ball.

I am referring to the meaning of the word when it is applied to a slightly (or totally) off-kilter personality. When it comes to film, the word is usually shackled hand and foot to another word – “comedy.” In this genre, these aforementioned personalities are thrown together into situations that range from the absurd to the downright silly.

And they’re a lot of fun.

My wife and I received our indoctrination into the form in Seattle in 1974. A little storefront theater had sprouted out of “nowhere” down in the Pioneer district. The young couple (the Curtises) who gave it “birth,” christened it – The Rosebud Movie Palace. It was all of 88 seats, to which you gained access by running the maze of plywood walls thrown up to enclose the auditorium area. To my notion it was a throwback to the old Nickelodeon era.

[Research aside – The whole film industry in these United States owes its existence to similar tiny beginnings. In New York City of, say, 1904 – these establishments in the statutes of the city were known as “common shows.” This term described theaters of under 299 seats, and were not subject to the fire code of the larger legit theaters. And because the admission was five cents, they gained the moniker Nickelodeon.]

I first ran across the Rosebud theater when perusing movie ads in the newspaper. A film title caught my eye – “The Philadelphia Story.” It was a film we had heard about, but never seen. So we paid them a visit on my day off from the Fifth Avenue Theater (a bus man’s holiday). And we were delighted to watch the trials and tribulations of the three main characters played by Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. Want to know anything more? I don’t do spoilers. Catch it for yourself.

We kept a weather eye out for other titles in the genre and soon tracked down the likes of:

It Happened One Night

Bringing Up Baby

You Can’t Take It with You – (my personal favorite)

His Girl Friday

Will you look at that  – Capra – Hawks – Capra – Hawks. I am aware that other directors toiled in the genre, but those two are easily the best. But I am thankful to Cukor, as the director of The Philadelphia Story, the “gateway drug,” as it were, to this rather mild addiction.

I come to the end of this post and hesitate to mention that we also saw films of other genres at the Rosebud. Like “Fury” the Fritz Lang thriller with Spencer Tracy; and “Queen Christina” the historical drama with the enigmatic and beautiful Greta Garbo.

But look I’ve gone and done it anyway. I didn’t hesitate at all.

Just call me “screwball.”