The Year Was 1938 – June 1st

Cecil B DeMille in 1938
  • Paramount can no longer brag about the four name combination of C B Demille, Ernst Lubitsch, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. Only DeMille is left, and he only does one picture a year. [His one for 1939 is ‘Union Pacific.].
  • The picture biz is mulling a national exploitation campaign for September, to make the consumer more film minded. Emphasis – quality pictures, enlisting stars to ballyhoo – via their radio programs (so many have radio venues).
  • Talks stall between actors and producers on proposed amendment to the basic minimum contract.
  • In Germany, Nazis have an edict that all cash in Germany belonging to Jews of any nationality is to be confiscated. Several picture companies with leading execs that are Jewish were tipped that they are targeted. Warners took all of theirs out when Hitler came to power. But Metro, Paramount and 20th Century Fox have considerable cash there. US State Dept protesting. Universal the only company producing in Germany, (nearly kicked out when Hitler came in). UA moved out before the Nazis came in. RKO and Columbia never had much there.
  • ‘Letty Lynton’ victors (Edward Sheldon and Margaret Ayer Barnes) not happy with amount ($587,000) proposed by special master proposed settlement. (See May 11th).
  • At 20th Century Fox – in cutting rooms – Little Miss Broadway (Shirley Temple) and the Mysterious Mr Moto, (directed by Norman Foster with Peter Lorre). And a 14 member crew left yesterday to Canada where they will join those already there for the Dionne quint picture ‘Five of a Kind.’
  • W S van Dyke has returned from Idaho, and has selected locations for exteriors to be shot in Payette Lake and the upper reaches of the Payette River for the MGM produciton of ‘Northwest Passage.’ Col Tim McCoy is staying in Lewiston, ID for negotiations with the Nez Perce Indians for extras.
  • Jeanette MacDonald taking technicolor tests. [Most likely in preparation for Victor Herbert’s ‘Sweethearts.’ MGM’s first film in the three-strip Technicolor process. She only had one film for 1939, ‘Broadway Serenade’]. 
  • Wendy Barrie called back for retakes at Columbia. [For ‘I am the Law’ starring Edward G Robinson].

ON THE MOVE

  • Alfred Hitchcock leaving London for NY on the Queen Mary. Plans to negotiate a deal with David O Selznick to make a film in Hollywood at year’s end. He had signed with Mayflower Pictures (Charles Laughton and Erich Pommer) for their next picture – ‘Jamaica Inn’ – starting in three weeks.
  • Mr & Mrs Darryl F Zanuck leaving NY for London on the Normandie. Zanuck when in Paris, will be made a Commander of the Legion of Honor. 
  • Hal B Wallis to Honolulu.
  • LA to NY – Irving Berlin, Rudolph Mate.
  • Aldous Huxley gandering studios.
  • Ray Bolger is back in town, waiting for the call from MGM to play the part of the Tinman in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
  • A crew from 20th Century Fox has been sent to the Ozark mountain district to scout locations for ‘Jesse James.’
  • Soon as Claude Rains finishes ‘Sister Act,’ he is heading east to his farm in Pennsylvania.
  • Julian Johnson, the 20th Century Fox story editor, leaves tonight for New York. Half vacation – half business, for, while there he will look over the new plays, and scout other story material.

STARS IN OTHER NEWS

  • Judy Garland suffered a wrenched shoulder in a motor crash in Hollywood.
  • Bobby Breen’s parents set up a trust fund for his benefit – to date has earned $105,000. Parents to receive $200/month.
  • Eddie Cantor’s daughter Edna will be married to Jimmy McHugh jr (son of song writer) on 9/18. Will live in Beverly Hills.
  • Stan Laurel and thrice married wife Iliana have parted again. She is going to Vegas for a divorce.
  • C B DeMille a grandfather.
  • Merle Oberon is sued by her attorney Lyle W Rucker for a contract negotiated by him with Selznick Int’l. She was to have received $82,000 to star in an as yet untitled film by January 1937. Evidently the actress had litigation against Selznick regarding this. She never went through with the deal, but the lawyer wanted his percentage (14%).

ITEMS OF INTEREST

  • Talent schools at the studios, not effected by the studio economic reductions, in fact more talent is being using from these schools than ever. At Paramount – Oliver Hinsdell and Harold Helvinston are the heads – 20 young hopefuls in the stock company, training in dramatics, to be advised on dress and studio deportment. At WB, Frank Beckwith, head and Mavina Dunn (voice and diction teacher) – have a stage (to be ready within the week), where they can put on productions – they have a 13 point program, 6 in American technique, 6 in emotional acting from the Russian school, and one course to bridge the two. Also being taught – how to get along with people on the lot, when to give presents and what can and cannot be done. At 20th Century Fox – the talent director is Florence Enright, according to her philosophy there is no difference between acting for stage or screen (prepare for one, good for other). Their key, ndividual attention. Has a camera crew on call for her use, schools her people for particular roles to test for. Has 60 current students (grads – Arlene Whelan, June Lang, Lynn Bari, Robert Allen). At Metro, they have no such school per the desire of the head of talent forces, Bill Grady. Instead they have talent scouts (3 on Coast, 7 in NY) to feed prospects to him and he assesses their possibilities. His asst Glesca Marshall preps them for a reading with Grady. He keeps ahead of producers with future needs and mentally places the young talent needed. He has a staff of specialists – Ruth Roberts – former prof of phonetics at U of MI; Meastro Romani, singing teacher; Lillian Burns – diction & posture; Sidney Guilaroff – hair stylist. He considers stage and film acting different, though legit training an aid. Grady instructs his students in the idiosyncrasies of each director. Recent grads – Dennis O’Keefe, Alan Curtis, Lynne Carver, Ruth Hussey, Anne Rutherford.
  • Bill Robinson leaves next week for a personal appearance tour in the East. This evening he is throwing a benefit at the Lincoln Theater to help 1500 underprivileged kids to summer camp. He has enlisted the help of fellow Fox people – Tyrone Power and Don Ameche.

The Year Was 1939 – May 27th

Robert Preston in 1938
  • Paramount has signed their new discovery Robert Preston to a long term contract and he will make his debut in ‘King of Alcatraz.’ Filming will commence at the end of June. One of their talent scouts had spotted him in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse. [Preston would be in two films for 1938, and three in 1939, including ‘Union Pacific’ and ‘Beau Geste’].
  • Opening today – ‘Crime School’ from WB with Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Gang. A ‘B’ picture that did ‘A’ business – brought in for only $250,000.
  • Columbia is sending a company to Kanab, Utah to film exteriors for their serial ‘Wild Bill Hickock.’ The cast including Gordon Elliott, Kermit Maynard, Monte Blue, and Carol Wayne will spend 10 days in the area. [Gordon Elliott after this serial going forward would be known as Bill Elliott. He would be hard at work on westerns for Columbia throughout 1939].
  • President Harry Warner of WB announced that a new series of Technicolor featurettes will be made with patriotic themes – such as the Declaration of Independence, Clara Barton, Abe Lincoln, etc. He feels that they are needed to combat the subversive and undemocratic forces at work in the country.
  • RKO has seven films currently shooting at its Gower St lot, and intends to continue to keep seven going at once through the usually quiet summer period. 
  • Ed Sullivan details his time on the ‘If I Were King” set at Paramount, and relates the remarks by Basil Rathbone on how he likes being in this film – “It is the first time in years I haven’t kicked a baby or been killed in Reel 4.” [For this historical film set in France of the 15th Century, an enormous Paris street set was built on 73,000 square feet of the backlot].

ON THE MOVE

  • Darryl F Zanuck left for NY, from which he and Joe Schenck will sail to Europe. [Schenck ends up remaining stateside, intending to go over later].
  • Donald McBride is expected to arrive from NY today at RKO to assume the role of the hotel manager in ‘Room Service,’ a role he fulfilled in the play version.

What Tech Had to Do with It #1939TheMiracleYear

1939 The Miracle Year The Set Up What Tech Had to Do with It

By 1939 the technology behind filmmaking had attained a comfortable maturity. It was a decade after the innovation of sound so that element of the process had been integrated into the studio factory system  (Inroads also were being made for the standardization of sound systems in the field for better quality – for the equipment in theaters tended to be a hodgepodge mix).

Sound was now a reliable instrument in the tool-belt of the artistic minds charged with creating the projects. In fact coming to grips with the disciplines that good sound recording called for, led to other time and money saving innovations. For instance advances in process backgrounds like rear-projection and matte shots (originally developed to get around noisy environments), were now saving money.

Add to this the special effects and miniature departments (the film King King, for instance) which opened the imagination to become filmed ‘reality.’ If someone could think it, they could figure a way to capture it on film.

Improvements also came to the very basics – the film stock – faster and finer grain panchromatic films made for crisper black and white pictures – first introduced by Agfa-Ansco – and then right behind them, Eastman Kodak. One could almost “see” color in black and white for the range of gradations was expanded. As for color film, though fifteen different companies claimed to have their own version in the works, only Technicolor was then in use. And it was glorious and gorgeous.

Advances in cameras did their part. The Mitchell swaddled in its hood (aka ‘the blimp’) kept the noise of the camera machinery from intruding upon the soundtrack. And Walt Disney’s multi-plane camera would lead to more and better advances in the field of animation.

It was indeed a good time to have a studio in Hollywood.

Before the Wind Came

before-the-wind-came

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.