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 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 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 Renton Cinemas Open

The Renton Cinemas Open

As I stated previously, having my father on site was a real boon for his company GCC. He kept an eye on things (like wrestling the safe through the completed lobby and into his office), and headed off potential problems before they happened, or became costly errors.
The cinema was built on the property of a shopping mall area called Renton Village just off Grady Way. The shopping complex wasn’t as big as Brockton, but well attended none the less. Right down the sidewalk from the theater was the Sheraton Renton Inn, a high rise hotel. At the far extremity away from the theater was Schumsky’s restaurant, with which my father horse-traded passes for meals. A Tradewell grocery store and an Ernst hardware were the main anchors.
The big circuit in the Seattle area was the Sterling Recreation Organization, and as such had the film market pretty well sewn up. But GCC beng a national chain wasn’t without some influence. There were a few distributors that were very glad to see a new player in the area. In those days, Seattle had its own”Film Row.” The distributors kept offices down on Second Avenue. In the main we played Columbia, Universal, Buena Vista and MGM, which were headed up respectively by Al Boodman, Russ Brown, Homer Schmidt and Connie Carpou.
That being said, the two opening bills for the Renton Cinemas were not auspicious. On one side was the feature Duffy from Columbia and on the other Secret Ceremony from Universal. I suspect no else in the area wanted to play them. Between the doormen and us ushers the code word for the latter was “Secret Garbage.”
Duffy, which starred James Coburn in the title role, is noteworthy in my estimation only tangentially, through a couple of the people associated with it. One was Donald Cammell, a rather unusual avant garde type who worked on the screenplay and would later co-direct with Nicholas Roeg the Mick Jagger film Performance. He pushed the envelope so far he shot and killed himself some say on purpose. The other was the director Robert Parrish, at probably the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. He was Old Hollywood, having started there as a child actor in the thirties (City Lights and the Our Gang comedies), and graduating to film editor (Body and Soul) and later director.
Not a thing did I know of any of this. Of all I was blissfully ignorant. Such information came as my interest in film grew. For the time being I probably had a feeling akin to Parrish’s old boss at Columbia – Harry Cohn, whose talented butt was his barometer to taste in film – if it wiggled in the seat it was no good.

The Renton Cinemas Open 2