Before the Wind Came

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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.

18th Century England: the Pillory

18th Century England: the Pillory

The Pillory.

You know you’ve seen one.

I’d seen one or more too. I was somewhat familiar with the practice and the hardware involved, having grown up in New England (Salem, Mass., to be precise). And then cartoons and films to which I’d been exposed, enlightened me with their insights. But I wanted to gain a better understanding, to better tackle a scene built around a character undergoing this punishment in my first screenplay.

The pillory as a form of punishment was not new to 18th Century England. In fact, by that time, it had been in use for over five hundred years.

So what was the pillory? It consisted of a pole atop of which was fixed a pair of boards, from which cut outs had been made to create holes for the head and hands of the convicted party. These boards would be secured together, holding him or her in place. Most were constructed on top of a platform in a very public area, such as the market place in a church parish. Notable ones in London were at Charing Cross and Seven Dials. [I chose the Seven Dials area as the site for my scene.]

The objective behind the pillory was two-fold: to chastise and to warn. The English system of law at that time was called by many the “Bloody Code.” And death was the penalty for breaking most of its statutes, so one could say that a sentence to the pillory was merciful by comparison.

Set times would be announced when the miscreants were scheduled to stand in the pillory before the community they had wronged. As they were chastised in this manner, the public was notified (warned) about what the person had been up to, con-men, gambling cheats, brothel keepers, blackmailers, sexual deviants, dishonest tradesmen. For instance in the last example, a baker may have skimped on the size of his loaf or a butcher added his thumb to the scales when selling his wares.

The time in the pillory would be limited to one hour in one day, and sometimes the sentence would call for multiple appearances over a range of days at that hour. For that hour they were at the mercy of the crowd. And this is where it could turn deadly. It would all depend upon the severity of their transgression in the judgement of the crowd. Unable to defend themselves the person standing in the pillory would be pelted with eggs, vegetables, any manner of dead animals, and/or with examples of the culprit’s shoddy products. If their crime was adjudged heinous in their eyes, more deadly projectiles would fly.

The authorities kept to their responsibility of carrying out the sentence. They were not invested in protecting the individuals, after all the criminals were there for punishment. But the individuals themselves could have or hire others to protect them, and run interference.

And this aspect of the pillory became a central element in the scene I wrote, as I put my protagonist in the role of protector for another character whose crime has landed her in the pillory.

LoA Encounter of the Third Kind

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Serendipitous moments are to be treasured. C. S. Lewis expressed it beautifully in his autobiographical title “Surprised by Joy.” Though I am taking it in the original sense, rather than in the double meaning that it held for him.
In 2009 Karen and I flew to Holland to visit our daughter and her family in Nieuw Vennep, (near Hoofddorp) where they were serving as missionaries. They showed us around Amsterdam and together we explored Leiden. After five days in the Netherlands, we took them with us on a hop over the Channel to London.
Well before this trip we had each plotted out the sites we wanted to see and the places we wanted to visit. On my list was the Imperial War Museum.
On the day it was slated, the kids slept in as they had other plans for the morning. So just Karen and myself walked down to the Pimlico station and took the tube over to Lambeth. The museum was a short jaunt from that station.
From the large naval guns outside in front to the other big items in the main hall (tiger-tanks, and spitfires and buzzbombs, oh my) it was all rather amazing. Being interested in most things historical I was in sixth heaven. We wandered the trenches of WWI and the bomb shelters of WWII, and a special exhibit that dealt with the experience of the British children during the Blitz.
And then the other smaller exhibits that went on and on (the clandestine section had almost too much to take in). But in all of that I stumbled upon this:
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The headdress and robes of T E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.