The Year Was 1938 – May 30th

Director Frank Lloyd circa 1940
  • Director Frank Lloyd will work the holiday (Decoration Day, i.e.  Memorial Day) in the cutting room at Paramount, going through the footage from his latest film ‘If I Were King,’ just so his star Ronald Colman can get a shave tomorrow. He needs to be certain that no retakes will be necessary before his star lops off the whiskers that have been sprouting the past eight weeks for his portrayal of Francois Villon, the 15th century French poet. [Frank Lloyd only had this one film for 1938, and would have only one for 1939 – ‘Rulers of the Sea’].
  • Frank Factor, the 34 year old son of Max Factor, legally changed his name to Max Factor jr. He, like his father, is a Hollywood makeup artist. He lists his reasons for doing so – for the sake of their business of manufacturing makeup – and for the family connection, a sentimental reason. [His father would pass away in August of 1938. Max jr would supervise the wigs for ‘The Wizard of Oz’].
  • Producer Walter Wanger has bought the movie rights to the upcoming biography of James Farley, the former Postmaster General. It will be serialized in American Magazine this fall. [Entitled ‘Behind the Ballots.’ Nothing was done with it as far as I could ascertain. Many credit Farley with the election of FDR to the presidency, and as a reward for his help was appointed the Postmaster General. He also was made the head of the DNC and held the posts concurrently. Later with his position with Coca Cola he was responsible (with government help) for its proliferation around the world].
  • Officials at the Columbia Studio speak up to squelch rumors that Lionel Barrymore, then in an important role on ‘You Can’t Take It with You,’ is down with a fatal illness. They admit that the actor had been in for a hospital stay 6 weeks prior for a mild case of arthritis, but nothing since has deterred him from his performance. [More contemporary articles about the actor state that he was in so much pain on this film that hourly shots of painkillers were administered to help him play his character’s role on crutches. Having broken his hip twice and suffering from severe arthritis, from here on out he did not stand in his films].
  • In his column Ed Sullivan points out that he has screen credit for his story that Hal Roach picked up to produce – There Goes My Heart, with Fredric March and Virginia Bruce.
  • Mervyn LeRoy was reported to be planning a film with the Marx Brothers to be called ‘Three Ring Circus.’ [To be done next after ‘Room Service.’ This eventuated in their film ‘A Day at the Circus’ for MGM].

ITEM OF INTEREST

  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky points out the irony that forest scenes for movies are usually shot in Sherwood Forest near Hollywood, but WB’s ‘Robin Hood’ which takes place in Sherwood Forest, was shot at Ridwell Park in Chico, CA

ON THE MOVE

  • Darryl F Zanuck arrives in NY from LA. [Word was making the rounds that Zanuck was being insured by his company, 20th Century Fox for $10,000,000. Agent, producer and insurance broker Artie Stebbins was seeing to the deal. Stebbins was a nephew of Joseph Schenck]. Ed Sullivan adds that he took two cutters on the train with him, and cut (or edited) two pictures along the way.

The Year Was 1938 – May 25th

Boris Morros in 1938
  • Boris Morros, musical director at Paramount has been made an officer of the French Legion in recognition of his work in behalf of the music of France. [This item bears more scrutiny. I have run across his name repeatedly in my research into this era. I was aware of his position at Paramount (he hired composers and conductors on a film by film basis). And Paramount was not his only master – for he played the same role for Walter Wanger films – ‘Blockade’ for this year, and ‘Stagecoach’ for 1939. He must have had a special agreement with Paramount. And the mention of the French honor seems strange, as he was Russian, and as of 1934 had been enlisted as a Soviet spy, and was actively in contact with a handler from 1936 on – until 1947 when he became a counterspy for the FBI. A movie based on him was made in 1960 ‘Man on a String’].
  • The Senate of the US passes an anti-block booking bill that will change the way film companies do business, if it also passes the House. Though the latter is not likely for the moment, with the remake of Congress after the elections, things could change.
  • (This led in 1940, to the gov’t opening up an investigation into the practice, which eventually led to legislation against block booking and studios owning theaters).
  • Selznick is pairing Carole Lombard with Jimmy Stewart for “Made for Each Other.”
  • Joe Penner, vaudeville and radio comedian has been signed to headline on an RKO film scheduled for the fall football season. “Mr Doodle Kicks Off” will include Lucille Ball as his college sweetheart. Production to commence in June. [Lucille Ball must have had something else to do, because June Travis took the female lead in this opus. Penner has one film for 1939 – ‘The Day the Bookies Wept’].
  • Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen have finished the first song for ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – The Jitterbug, Judy Garland will sing the tune. [The number was filmed, but left off of the final version, the running time being the main consideration].
  • Going before the cameras today at Paramount – ‘Bulldog Drummond in Africa.’ John Barrymore was to have played one of the roles, but was replaced by H B Warner. Barrymore was tied up in ‘Spawn of the North,’ and was slated for the upcoming ‘Zaza.’
  • Harold Lloyd putting on a private exhibition of his water colors. [The film comedian had only the one film this year – ‘Professor Beware,’ and nothing for 1939. In fact nothing at all until 1947].
  • Clark Gable’s stand-in Lew Smith given his first speaking role by Metro. [For this speaking role I could not locate what film it was for at MGM, but he is listed as Gable’s stunt double for Gone with the Wind].
  • Henry Fonda presented with birthday pipes by James Stewart and Chico Marx. (See May 19th, for mention about his May 16th birthday).

ON THE MOVE

  • George Stevens back from a hunting tour in New Mexico. [On a prior date I knew he was looking in Mexico for location to shoot ‘Gunga Din.’ Perhaps he was mixing pleasure with business].
  • James Cagney due back from Martha’s Vineyard in June for work at WB in ‘Angels with Dirty Faces.’

ITEMS OF INTEREST

  • Early silent film star Maurice Costello has sued for maintenance from his daughter, Dolores Costello, a later silent film star, (and was probably a bigger name than his, having the sobriquet “The Goddess of the Silent Screen,” and having been the wife at one time to John Barrymore). She had been paying him $200 per month for ten years, but since she had been paying the medical bills for her ailing sister for almost two years, she could no longer afford to carry him at that rate.
  • Bibles have been placed in dressing rooms at all major studios by the Gideons.
  • Ed Sullivan writes about ‘The Coolest Sets in Town” – the ice rink at 20th Century Fox where Sonja Henie is making ‘My Lucky Star.’ (See May 9th and May 18th). The one constructed at Paramount for ’Spawn of the North’ – a stream in Alaska, beside which a grip had the enviable job of sitting by the tank and paddling the water so that the water will glimmer in the lights – George Raft and Dorothy Lamour in their heavy parkas would gladly exchange places with him. And the snowstorm scene on a stage at RKO on the film ‘Ground Crew,’ in which the star Richard Dix forgets the reality and tosses a cigarette only to ignite the ‘cotton snow.’ [‘Ground Crew’ was released as ‘Sky Giant’].

The Year Was 1938 – May 20th

Cecilia Parker in 1937
  • Just finishing ‘Love Finds Andy Hardy,’ a  long term contract at MGM is awarded to Cecilia Parker for her work in the family series. She began the role of Mickey Rooney older sister in 1937. [She has one more ahead for 1938, then three more Hardy features and one short for 1939].
  • A meeting was held at the home of Sam Goldwyn to discuss the deal they will receive for releasing via United Artists for the 1938-39 season (the distributor will sell only on percentage, not flat). Also present were David O Selznick, Dr A H Gianninni, Walter Wanger, Edward Small, Hal Roach.
  • Shake up at Universal, with VP in charge of production, Charles R Rogers, on the way out, Cliff Work will take his place under President Nat Blumberg and VP Matthew Fox. [Active since the silent days, Rogers had been head of production at RKO in 1931, switching to Universal in 1935. He had some notable successes with them – ‘My Man Godfrey’ for instance, and for signing the teen singing sensation Deanna Durbin. He would wind up at Paramount in 1939, and produce The Star Maker with Bing Crosby, a fictionalized version of the life of Gus Edwards].
  • At WB, ‘For Lovers Only’ begins filming, with Dick Powell in the lead and with Olivia DeHavilland playing opposite him. [The romantic comedy is released under the title – ‘Hard to Get’].
  • Margaret Sullivan is discussed as the lead for Hal Roach’s new romantic comedy ‘There Goes My Heart.’ The part had been turned down by Irene Dunne. [Sullivan must have turned it down too, as Virginia Bruce is credited in the part].
  • Ed Sullivan points out that Gene Reynolds is playing a lot of roles when the lead character needs to be shown as a child – for James Stewart in ‘Of Human Hearts’; for Tyrone Power in ‘In Old Chicago’; for Ricardo Cortez in ‘The Californian’; and for John Beal in ‘Madame X.’ [Gene Reynolds has four films for 1939. He had a long career in entertainment, and later was a TV producer for MASH and Lou Grant].
  • Jackie Coogan is in San Francisco working on a personal stage appearance, making jokes about his impoverished situation. And hoping to earn enough until August when the suit with his parents will be tried. Bob Hope has written his routine, between takes on his current film ‘Give Me a Sailor.’ Hope and Coogan will have a vaudeville tour together in the East beginning in June. (See May 13th)

ON THE MOVE

  • Pat O’Brien will be taking off for a three week vacation, and will start ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ upon his return. [Per Ed Sullivan he plans to take in the War Admiral – Seabiscuit match race. The race scheduled for May at Belmont did not come off with Seabiscuit. The race finally took place on November 1st].
  • Joel McCrea heads off to Montana for a fishing trip, accompanied by his stand in, Carl Andre. His station wagon is fully equipped for the expedition. Upon their return they will report to Universal along with other Goldwyn contracted people – Andrea Leeds and director Archie Mayo. Some think it strange that so many from the Goldwyn stable would be going to a rival studio. Shooting to begin June 4.
  • The 20th Century Fox film ‘Five of a Kind’ with the Dionne quintuplets will see its company leave for Canada tonight, but without Joan Davis. She is now home from the hospital after her back injury, sustained will rehearsing with Buddy Ebsen. She plans to join them next week. [Davis must not have made it, for she is not listed in the credits]. (See May 9th).

OPENED IN THEATERS THAT DAY

  • Swiss Miss with Laurel & Hardy (directed by John Blystone) from MGM.
  • Mystery House with Humphrey Bogart from WB.

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.

Gunga Din The Making of a Classic Part 3 #1939TheMiracleYear

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One of the scenes filmed within the confines of the sound stages of RKO in September 1938 was set in the interior of the Kali temple. The action for one sequence called for a snake pit. Cobras, the venomous snake indigenous to India were the obvious choice to writhe their menace down in its depths, but none were to be had in Hollywood. That didn’t mean that Hollywood didn’t have any. It did. But every single one was committed to another production in town. Walter Wanger had cornered the market on cobras for his film ‘Trade Winds.’

There being no way around but forward. RKO technicians came up with a solution. Other snakes were to be had – of the harmless, nonpoisonous variety. They just fitted them up with a cape (or cowl) that would mimic the signature cobra hood. The cow snakes and other serpents, thus attired, didn’t cotton much to the appendages. (No Union reps for these reptiles).

As director George Stevens took his forces back out to Lone Pine to shoot the battle that would close Gunga Din, the PR department stepped up their efforts to keep the production in the news. One article (Variety 9/7/1938) talked up the Herculean effort put forth by James Parker’s makeup department in preparing and maintaining the hundreds of extras (per another Variety article, a number put at 700) portraying the dark skinned Indians – Hindu, Muslim and Thuggee. In assembly line fashion, coupled with turn tables and spray nozzles, many coats of the nut colored dye (called “dark Samoan stuff”) were applied as needed throughout the day.

It was a little harder for cast and crew this time around up in the Sierras. They were no longer plagued by the heat of summer. Still it could get up to 90 degrees, but now the lows dropped below 50. This change particularly affected the extras who wore little more than g-strings, who for continuity’s sake were restricted to the same costumes worn over the summer months. The warmth generated by the action shots must have been welcome indeed.

And George Stevens climactic battle scenes are masterful – well thought out and intelligently rehearsed. Once the suspense of the pending ambush is broken by the alarm raised by Gunga Din’s heroic bugle blowing (acted out on the sound stage), the action breaks out seemingly on every front. Skirmish lines of British soldiers, charging lancers, sniping Thuggees perched atop lofty rocks, cannons firing, massed forces colliding in mortal combat – altogether a fitting and satisfying denouement to the main action of the film.

Stevens wrapped production in mid October 1938, and handed over his footage to the cutting room at RKO. Other departments in the post-production process set to work too.

But more of that next time, on Watch This Space.

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?