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 – 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 14th

Hal Roach
  • Hal Roach announces his deal to go with United Artists for distribution of his films bringing to an end his 12 year arrangement with MGM. His deal with UA is to run for 8 years. He is to deliver four to six feature films per year and also four Laurel and Hardy features. [See May 11th, 1938]
  • With an emphasis on economy spreading across the studios, the effect was being felt among those actors who free lance. Those performers currently with contracts were not affected. The free lancers at one time held contracts, but at the end of the contract’s term, if their popularity was such that they were in demand, it was more lucrative to go out on their own and not be tied down to one studio. And a big plus was the ability to choose scripts to their liking, and not to be herded into programmers. Probably the actors most effected by the pull back were the character actors, those who fill the supporting roles to the stars. Their names filled the files of the casting directors at each studio, but they were being passed by for now.

ON THE MOVE

  • Mr & Mrs Spencer Tracy left for Honolulu from LA on the Lurline. [Tracy’s latest film ‘Test Pilot’ with Clark Gable just came out in April. He would return from vacation to work on Boys Town. Then MGM, his contracted studio, would loan him to 20th Century Fox for the 1939 film ’Stanley and Livingstone.’ His only film released that year. Separated from his wife Louise in 1933, they reconciled in 1935, but the marriage continued to be troubled].
  • Joe Schenck, chairman of 20th Century Fox and president of the Association of Motion Picture Producers, arrives in NY from Florida with his brother Nick. [Nicholas Schenck was the president of the Loew’s Theater circuit, and also controlled MGM. Louis B Mayer thus reported to him].

Gunga Din The Making of a Classic Pt 1 #1939TheMiracleYear

1939 the Miracle Year the Making of a Classic. Pt 1

Gunga Din was given the greenlight and George Stevens launched out on the waters of production despite being not exactly satisfied with the script. But he was not overly concerned. He had his two scripters along to sand down the rough spots and paper over the cracks.

Stevens was used to flying by the seat of his pants. He had cut his teeth at the Hal Roach studio as a cameraman. First with the action filled adventures of Rex the Wonder Horse, and then later adding gag man to his lenser chores on Laurel and Hardy shorts. These experiences had helped him on his features thus far and would bring solid gold to his production of Gunga Din.

So the following will be part chronology and part discussion of how problems arose and how they were solved.

Casting had been a long process, stretching back to when Howard Hawks was in charge.

Before a script was in place RKO looked to finagle a deal to trade with MGM for the services of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Robert Montgomery. That was 1936, two years later after many more names (and combinations) were considered along the way they landed their dream cast of Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Victor McLaglen – the term of their contracts – to run from 6/1/1938 to 9/3/1938.

The million dollar production did not kick off until the last week of June with work on interiors at the studio (stage 14 the punch bowl scene). Work was ongoing constructing the outdoor sets up in Lone Pine CA (in the shadow of Mt Whitney, the surrounding Sierras dubbing in for the Khyber Pass) and on the RKO ranch in Encino.

All was ready when the caravan of technicians set out on the morning of July 13, with the coterie of performers following three and a half hours later.

They had no sooner settled in to the tent city prepared for them when a fire broke out on the outdoor set of the village (called Tantrapur in the film). Despite everyone’s efforts five buildings and many props were destroyed (Lloyd’s of London was on the hook for $5000, or $91,000 in 2019 dollars).

Fortunately the village set was not the only one they had built, two more were available- the Kali-Thuggee temple and the British army canton.

Stevens met this first obstacle the very next day by setting to work on the canton set. With his writers in tow he put together a scene with the army parade ground as the backdrop. It was a great example of making lemonade from a bad situation. While the extras were put through the paces of learning their drill, Sam Jaffe (Din) and Cary Grant enacted a scene that gives the viewer crucial information about these characters. They were getting excellent value for the money spent.

And nothing makes a studio happier than when they can see the money they are spending reflected back to them on the screen.

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.”