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 – 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 1938 – May 28th

The Pogany portrait of Constance Bennett at the center of the lawsuit
  • In court, portrait artist William Pogany gives his side about his work on the portrait of actress Constance Bennett. The jurors compared the image to the real thing as the testimony was given. Bennett made her view clear when she proclaimed that the portrait made her look like “a droopy sack of cement with a rope tied around it.” (See May 26th).
  • Jack Oakie gives an interview from his dressing room at RKO where he is preparing for work on his new film – ‘The Affairs of Annabel.’ He details his recent weight loss – in six weeks he has “lost 40 pounds, two chins, a bay window, and a desire for all potables stronger than skimmed milk.” [Oakie appeared in four films for 1938, but none in 1939. Since he was working with Chaplin for his role in the Great Dictator that released in 1940, he may have been tied up on that project, being at the beck and call of the perfectionist movie legend].
  • Art Beery Sr, a  man with the job of stand-in for the actor Herbert Marshall, takes on the job of harbor master at Santa Monica, and leaves his old position to his son Art jr who gladly takes over the stand-in position. [Beery jr may have started with Marshall’s next film ‘Zaza’ at Paramount with Claudette Colbert].
  • Today’s date marks the birthday of stage and movie actress Minna Gombell. She turns 46, and started soon in the production of ‘Meet the Missus,’ with Laurel and Hardy, playing the wife of Ollie. [‘Meet the Missus’ was released by MGM as ‘Blockheads.’ The veteran stage actress, Gombell, was in 4 films for 1938, and just three for 1939, including ’The Hunchback of Notre Dame”].
  • Also it was actor Richard Lane’s 39th birthday who was hard at work at RKO on the Astaire-Rogers vehicle – Carefree. [Lane would be at 20th Century for the rest of 1938 (for ‘Mr Doodle Kicks Off’ and ‘Charlie Chan in Honolulu’) and for the beginning of 1939 in ‘Mr Moto in Danger Island,’ before changing over to Paramount for the DeMille film ‘Union Pacific’].

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.

The Year Was 1938 – May 11th

Kate Hepburn
  • Katherine Hepburn refuses to play in ’Mother Carey’s Chickens’ at RKO. She entered into negotiations to cancel out of her contract (she’d been with them since 1932); they dropped the balance of her commitment to them (six months) and the two films she owed them. The cost to her was the $200,000 in salary she would have gotten for those films (plus an additional $75,000 that she personally coughed up). [Fay Bainter, Anne Shirley and Ruby Keeler anchor the film instead – a family comedy based on a novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the writer of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm].
  • Columbia began a billboard campaign all around Los Angeles – “Is it true what they say about Katherine Hepburn?” This was in reference to the complaint theater owners were making to the film producers – that Hepburn was Box Office poison. And was a backhanded way to produce curiosity in their new release of “Holiday” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. [Holiday was not a financial success, and Hepburn retreated to New York and the stage where she landed a success with The Philadelphia Story, and later brought it to Hollywood].
  • Darryl Zanuck came up with an original idea (perhaps in response to the above). For his forthcoming production of The Rains Came (based on the novel by Louis Bromfield). Aside from his main choice for the lead (Ronald Colman), he offered the opportunity for the exhibitors to send in their choices of actors to play the other characters from the best-selling novel. [By the time it went into production Colman was out and George Brent was in for this 1939 film].
  • United Artists has 24 features planned for the 1938-39 season. Hal Roach, currently producing for MGM, is looking to join the UA studio and contribute nine films in the next three years. [Actually his poor choice of partnering in a business with Mussolini in Italy, and Mussolini’s subsequent decision to join in with Hitler and his ant-semitism, led to the decision of those at the top in MGM to cancel Roach’s contract. Roach was just switching from short films, such as The Our Gang series (which he sold to MGM) to feature films and hit a gold mine with Topper (1937). Roach had some big films coming in 1939 – Captain Fury, A Chump at Oxford, and the prestigious ‘Of Mice and Men’].

ITEMS THAT PIQUED MY INTEREST

  • Story out of Hartford CT – where Snow White had opened – patrons complained afterwards to be victims of pickpockets. The investigating detectives reported that grifters were now following hit shows from town to town, like they used to follow the carnival. 
  • Laurence Olivier now being talked about for the part of Lawrence of Arabia, replacing Robert Donat who was originally to be the lead. [See May 6th]
  • Plagiarism damages for “Letty Lynton” may cost MGM one million dollars.  [This was a film made by MGM in 1932, starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. It was pulled from release in 1936, when they lost a suit brought by the authors of the play Dishonored Lady, who claimed that MGM had used it without their permission. Except for ‘bootleg’ copies the film is still not available].

ON THE MOVE

  • Claudette Colbert sailing on the Normandie from London to New York. [Zaza, Midnight, Drums Along the Mohawk in her future for 1939].
  • David Niven and Brian Aherne sailing on the Queen Mary from New York to London.
  • Donald Crisp yacht vacationing.
  • Walter Pidgeon on a motor trip to New Brunswick.
  • Dalton Trumbo writing weekends on his new ranch at Lebec. [Six films will be made from his scripts in 1939].
  • Cecil B DeMille back at Paramount after an operation. [And at work on his film for 1939 – Union Pacific].
  • Clark Gable, John Boles and Lanny Ross on a 110-mile horseback ride. [A big year ahead for Gable; not so for Boles; and Ross’s voice was used for the lead in the Fleischer animated film ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ for 1939].
  • Olivia DeHavilland vacationing in Europe. [She would return bouyed with the news of a major success in WB’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. And  she would be in good position to go after a major role in Selznick’s production of ‘Gone with the Wind’ – not the Scarlett part that every actress in Hollywood was vying for, but the Melanie Hamilton part].

Tidbits from Variety #1939TheMiracleYear

1939 The Miracle Year Tidbits from Variety

I like perusing the pages of old film related periodicals (such as Hollywood Reporter, Photoplay, Motion Picture World,  American Cinematographer), and among such titles Variety is a particular favorite. I am especially attracted to the shorter blurbs when a name or film title catches my eye.

Below I have a selection of a few from its pages for the month of January 1939. With some exceptions I will be writing about these films as I continue in #1939TheMiracleYear.

“Boris Morros, draws the musical direction on Walter Wanger’s “Stage Coach.”
It’s his first assignment since leaving Paramount, where he headed the music department. Louis Lipstone succeeded him there.”

“Desert near Yuma Ariz., is the location of main operations for Paramount’s ‘Beau Geste’ slated to roll late this month with William Wellman producing and directing.
Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston are cast as the three brothers. J. Carroll Naish and Brian Donlevy the heavies.”

“C. B. De Mille Monday (1/9) directed ‘Union Pacific’ from a stretcher.
He suffered a recurrent attack of an ailment, which forced him to undergo surgery last summer.”

“Ernst Lubitsch’s two-picture deal with Metro is due to net him more than $200,000. First job is the direction of ‘Mme Curie’ starring Greta Garbo. Second is ‘Shop around the Corner,’ which he intended to produce on his own before he made the Metro deal.”

“’Titanic’ story of the greatest modern sea disaster, gets the gun April 1 at the Selznick-International studio. Alfred Hitchcock, British director, arrives late this month with Richard Blaker, English novelist, who is doing the script.
Hitchcock was also set to direct ‘Rebecca,’ but it is not likely to be filmed this year.”

“Lee Garmes is en route from London to be chief cameraman for David O. Selznick on “Gone with the Wind.”  
Susan Myrick, Macon Ga., newspaper columnist and friend of Margaret Mitchell gets the job of head coach of Southern accents and customs on ‘Wind.’ Latest addition to the cast is Hattie McDaniel in the mammy role.”

So – as a quiz to you, dear reader, which of the titles above do you think won’t be written about as part of the 1939 the miracle year series?