RAFT AND SHEARER

PICTURE SHOW magazine, December 14th, 1940:

“The long-heralded casting of Norma Shearer and George Raft in a co-starring film will be realised shortly when “The World We Make”, a film version of the best-seller novel, ‘The Outward Room’, goes on the floor at MGM.

The drama has been in preparation for some months. The plot deals with a girl who becomes a mental case after the death of her brother in a spectacular car crash. Taken to an asylum, she is permitted to escape and takes up her life alone in one of the poorer sections of a large city.

Her romance with a steelworker,portrayed by George Raft, finally effects her cure.”

Well, this sounds like a done deal but it never happened, though this item in a 1940 issue of Picture Show magazine has all the details.

Norma Shearer and George  Raft were dating for a while in 1940 and 1941 and it would have been something to see the two of them together on film.

Raft was under contract to Warner Brothers and made THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT in 1940, while Norma was still at MGM in ESCAPE.

Would Jack Warner  and Louis B. Mayer have considered  such a teaming? I wonder.

Norma Shearer only made two more films before leaving films altogether – WE WERE DANCING and HER CARDBOARD LOVER, both in 1942.

Raft only did one film in 1941, MANPOWER and in 1942 he was  in BROADWAY. (In “Broadway”  Raft plays himself, reminiscing about his early life.)

Norma Shearer married Martin Arrouge In 1942 and they were together till her death in 1983. She had previously been married to Irving Thalberg from 1927 till his death in 1936.

George Raft was married to Grace Mulrooney from 1923 till 1970. Although separated early in their marriage , they were never divorced.

 

 

 

At the races. Adolph Menjou says hello.

 

 

With Gary Cooper.

 

On the dance floor.

 

Not sure what the event is but there’s George and Norma and in front of them, Charles Boyer and his wife Pat (?).

 

 

Ray Danton watches George who shows him a few of his moves. (Ray played Raft in “The George Raft Story”)

 

JAMES STEPHENSON

JAMES STEPHENSON  came to Hollywood in 1937 at the age of 48. In the few years before his sudden death in  1941, his studio Warner Brothers cast him in nearly 40 films – in just 4 years. But he will probably be remembered for only one , 1940’s THE LETTER for which he was Oscar-nominated.

With no formal acting training, James moved from amateur productions to professional work on the London stage and in 1937 made a few films at Warner Brothers’ Teddington  Studios in England. Jack Warner offered James the prospect of work in Hollywood.

Married in 1936, James arrived in Hollywood and wrote constantly to his wife Lorna until she was able to join him.

David A. Redfern, Stephenson’s biographer, had access to some of James’s letters to his wife and they give quite an insight into what it was like getting started in one of the big studios.

”We were shown around the studio. It is a colossal place – there are 20 sound stages and the place is like a town…….

(James had crossed the Atlantic with two other actors bound for Warner Brothers – Bruce Lester and Chili Bouchier)

”We went to the publicity dept and had to fill in long questionnaires, asking absurd questions for ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ publicity……what is your favourite dish, favourite colour. What foreign countries have you visited…”

We’ve to have photographs and make-up tests, then we make real tests which will decide our fate.”

James arrived in November 1937 and started work in January of 1938.

 

When you see James in his Oscar-nominated role as ‘Howard Joyce’ the lawyer in THE LETTER, you see a tall distinguished Englishman with a beautiful speaking voice, a quiet authority, sharing the screen and not being overshadowed by Bette Davis.

But If you look at the films James was in before The Letter , it’s obvious Warner Bros. didnt  see what they had in this actor.

James Stephenson.BEAU GESTE

Often billed far down the credits, he had small parts in The  Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, A Dispatch From Reuters,Nancy Drew Detective and Beau Geste.

He played suave gangsters. He was loaned to Republic for The Wolf of New York, as ‘Hiram’, a mastermind behind murders and robberies.  (One of his films  I’d love to see.)

WHEN WERE YOU BORN, Margaret Lindsay (right), 1938

When Were You Born starred  Anna May Wong as an astrologist. James was only in the first ten minutes of the film. ( as was Lola Lane). This film is on You Tube and was fun to watch.

Obviously made on a low budget, I was impressed by Anna May Wong whose Hollywood career never took off.

 

James did better in 1939’s King Of The Underworld. He was third billed behind Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis. Another film I want to catch up with. ( this film was a remake of Paul Muni’s Dr.Socrates.)

James did get the starring role in PHILO VANCE RETURNS  but it didn’t do him any favours or show what he was capable of.

With Ed Brophy.

 

 

 

And then came The Letter:

”I knew they were looking for someone to play the role of Howard Joyce,the lawyer. I couldn’t see the sense of hiring an outside player for the part when they had me under contract…..I wanted to do that role very badly……”

 

With Bette Davis as ‘Lesley Crosbie’.

 

With Herbert Marshall and Bette Davis.

 

On working with William Wyler, Stephenson said: “By the end of th first  week I’ d been convinced that I was the worst damn actor in the world. I dreaded leaving home for the studio . I envied every man I met who didn’t have  Willie Wyler to face that day.”

But later he said: “What if he did give me a hell of a time. With it, he gave me a new lease of life for which I shall be everlastingly grateful.”

 

For the first time in his film career, Stephenson was receiving critical praise for his substantial role in The Letter.

Famous writer Damon Runyon said: “In The Letter Bette Davis has a fellow working  with her who is no sucker in the acting  racket and who makes her hustle to keep up with him. His name is James Stephenson and he reads line for line and plays scene for scene with Miss Davis.Only she could escape larceny of the picture at his hands…”

James lost  the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Walter Brennan (for The Westerner). But he was promoted to starring roles in his next two films, FLIGHT FROM DESTINY and SHINING  VICTORY, both with Geraldine Fitzgerald.  I hope to catch up on both if they are available.

 

 

Bette Davis in a cameo role for Shining Victory, seen above with Stephenson and Director Irving Rapper.

 

After the release of The Letter In November 1940, James had been advised by a heart  specialist to rest for three months but he continued filming .

James suffered a fatal heart attack in July 1941. He was survived by his wife Lorna and young son Peter. I came across a now defunct blog, The Claude Rains Fan Club and found a comment from Peter Stephenson regarding a review of The Letter.

The comment, made in 2018, said: “Here I am, J.S’s 78 year old son, enjoying this commentary. Seeing his films is like viewing a vital life through thick of course unbreakable glass.”

(Peter Stephenson was born in 1940 and was only one year old when his father died.)

 

Who knows whether James, if he had lived longer, would have got another role to match that of Howard Joyce in The Letter. But we can be grateful for his memorable performance in this memorable film.

One further quote from James to his wife Lorna before she joined him in Hollywood:

”If you get a  chance to see a picture called The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, do see it. It is the funniest thing ever and has sent Cary Grant rocketing to the top.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO MIX 34

Looking almost real, This scene from THE SET UP, with Robert Ryan was filmed on the RKO backlot. Ryan looks as if he is going to the office instead of a boxing match.

 

 

MGM goes overboard with advertising for Lana Turner and Robert Taylor. They’re combustible! And look at that supporting cast.

 

Tallulah gets the star treatment, her name above the rest of the cast. No Hitchcock in person in this film.

 

George Stevens, Fred Astaire. SWINGTIME.

This is what I’m planning, George. Ok with you?

 

Cary Grant, Constance Bennett. TOPPER.

Nice  photo which makes you wish the film had been in colour.

 

Helen Broderick and her son Broderick Crawford.

 

That look!

 

Robert Taylor and Audrey Totter In THE HIGH WALL. Audrey’s a psychiatrist, quite a change for her.

 

Glenn Ford.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (1940)

What a fun film this is. Best way to describe it is probably to call it a sci-fi screwball comedy – not at all what I expected. It’s fast paced and a great cast led by Virginia Bruce as Kitty, an unhappy model at a dress company. She sees an ad and promptly answers it.

The ad has been placed by eccentric (that’s a given) inventor, Prof. Gibbs, played in great style by John Barrymore.

Gibbs has found a way to make people invisible and hopes he can repay his friend Richard (John Howard) who has been financing his research. Richard is a rich playboy whose mansion is run for him by his butler and general factotum, George (Charlie Ruggles).

 

Professor Gibbs’s assistant and housekeeper is played by Margaret Hamilton (who is only in a few scenes unfortunately).

 

 

John Barrymore, Charlie Ruggles

Charlie Ruggles has some of the funniest scenes in the film, as George the butler who is always resigning, or doing pratfalls, or fainting.

 

 

Virginia Bruce, Charles Lane.

The main reason Kitty answers Prof. Gibbs’ ad is because she hates her boss, the hard hearted Mr Growley (Charles Lane) who is mean to all his employees, firing them for the slightest infraction like having a cold or coming in late.

As soon as she is invisible, she immediately leaves the Gibbs laboratory and heads straight for the dress company. She reaks havoc and frightens Growley so much, he becomes a changed man.

 

Charles Lane

Some great scenes for Charles Lane. It’s so funny to see Lane become kind and thoughtful, telling the models they’ll stop for tea every afternoon and suggesting the girl who has a cold should stay at home till she is well.

He’s never quite sure if the invisible body is still there and asks if he is doing ok. Nobody replies.

 

I thought John Barrymore was excellent and made the most of his dotty character.

 

Eddie Conrad, Oscar Homolka, Donald MacBride, Ed Brophy and Shemp Howard.

A not so sharp trio of crooks want to steal the Gibbs invisibility machine and take it to their boss, Blackie (Oscar Homolka) who’s holed up in Mexico and longing to get back home. Blackie figures being invisible is the best way to escape the cops.

Great to see Donald MacBride and Ed Brophy but Shemp Howard had little to do. MacBride is nicknamed ‘Foghorn’ and when Blackie insists Foghorn be the first to try the machine, he comes out of it with his voice now falsetto!

 

Virginia Bruce, John Howard

Richard finally gets to see what Kitty looks like after joking with her,

“Any girl that’d become  invisible  cant be very easy on the eye.”

Prior to this, Kitty, in order to remain invisible , has to take all her clothes off. She comments, “Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it.”

At one point Prof.Gibbs says to Kitty, “You’re materialising. Get your clothes on!”

 

Apparently Margaret Sullavan owed Universal a picture but refused to do this one. (She eventually agreed to do BACK STREET in 1941.)

The film got an Oscar nod for special effects but I didn’t find them as good as in The Invisible Man.

I didn’t spot Maria Montez  as one of the shop models.

I don’t care if the New York  Times in 1940 said the script was “as as creaky as a two wheeled cart, only saved by John Barrymore taking a ride in it.” 

The Invisible Woman will  hardly be confused with the other Invisible Man films. It’s more akin to TOPPER, with a super cast led by Bruce, Barrymore and Ruggles. I’m so glad I caught up with it.

And  why wasn’t Virginia Bruce a bigger star.

 

John Howard, Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore

HOLLYWOOD MUSEUM : At Last

Hopefully opening later in 2019, Hollywood will finally have a museum celebrating the art and history of film.

Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said, “It’s been 90 years since the Academy founders proposed creating a museum of  film in Los Angeles.”

That says it all. You might well ask why it has taken 90 years.

If Debbie Reynolds was still with us, she would be asking the same question. She saw how appropriate it would be if Hollywood history was preserved for future generations. And it is sad that her priceless collection from the 1970 MGM sale could not be kept together.

 

The new museum on Wiltshire Blvd.was formerly the May Company building which was constructed in 1939. It has a new spherical addition which connects to the main building via glass bridges.

Drawing from the Academy’s own collection of objects, there will be six storeys of space. There will be a 1000 seat cinema and a smaller 300 seat space ( named for Ted Mann).

 

The Grand Lobby will open with an exhibition about the making of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Items like the doors from Rick’s Cafe Americain from CASABLANCA and Shirley Temple’s tap shoes from THE LITTLE COLONEL are just two examples of what might be on display.

There will be major film events, daily screenings, exhibitions and live performances.

For more information you  can visit http://www.academymuseum.org

 

 

 

 

A WOMAN’S FACE. 1941

I wonder why , after  THE WOMEN and A WOMAN’S FACE , the films MGM gave JOAN CRAWFORD were much poorer – Susan And God, Above Suspicion, Strange Cargo, Ice  Follies  of 1939. Were they losing interest in one of their biggest stars?

Set in Sweden, “A Woman’s  Face” is undoubtedly Joan Crawford’s film and I’m surprised it’s not her name alone above the title.

After proving she had no problem playing a conniving gold digger in “The Women”, Joan didn’t object to having one side of her face heavily disfigured  for half of “A Woman’s Face”.

Joan plays ‘Anna Holm’ who, as a child, was severely burned in a fire started by her drunken father. One side of her face was badly burned and she feels shunned by society. She runs a roadhouse and takes her resentment and anger out by blackmailing beautiful rich women who come there.

I like the  way the story unfolds, starting in a court in Sweden where Anna is standing trial for murder, though it is not immediately clear who  she has murdered.

Each witness recounts their knowledge of Anna through flashbacks, starting with the three people who worked for her and helped in her various nefarious enterprises  , Donald Meek, Reginald Bruce and Connie Gilchrist.

 

All the witnesses are told they must tell the truth .

Osa Massen, Melvyn Douglas, Donald Meek,Marjorie Main, Connie Gilchrist, Albert Basserman.

The film has a strong cast including Conrad Veidt as the evil and manipulative ‘Torsten Barring’ whom Anna meets one fateful night at her roadhouse.

Melvyn Douglas is Dr. Segert, the surgeon who performs surgery on Anna ,reclaiming her beauty and wondering what changes it will make in her.

 

Two photos showing the scarring.

Anna falls for Torsten Barring, mainly because he doesn’t make her feel less of a woman because of her disfigurement.

Conrad Veidt, Joan Crawford, Reginald Bruce.

 

Conrad Veidt, Joan Crawford.

The Veidt character has a  plan for ‘Anna’  after she falls under his spell. And the plan involves murder. She lets him know that blackmail is her profession. ”What sort of dirty work do you want me to do?”

 

Connie Gilchrist, Donald Meek, Reginald Owen, Joan Crawford.

 

Joan Crawford, Osa Massen.

For most of the first half of the film, Anna keeps the scarred side of her face covered. Reviewer Fernando F. Croce on IMDB describes her perfectly, “Crawford hides behind a slanted chapeau or a curtain of hair.”

Poor Osa Massen (1914-2006) plays Melvyn Douglas’s faithless wife. All she seems to do is whine throughout her scenes.

 

Melvyn Douglas, Osa  Massen.

 

Melvyn Douglas, Joan Crawford.

Dr. Segert, before the bandages are removed,  says,

If this operation’s a success, I’ve created a monster – a beautiful face and no heart.”

 

 

Joan Crawford.

Great shot  when Anna is able to look at herself in a mirror, in this case the huge mirror in the hallway leading to Barring’s apartment. With the reflection from the mirror on the opposite wall.

(Earlier, Donald Meek , at the roadhouse, has said, “Mirrors are verboten here.” )

 

Marjorie Main, Joan Crawford, Richard Nichols, Albert Basserman.

Hard to recognise Marjorie Main as Emma, the housekeeper who is jealous of Anna’s attachment to her employer, Magnus Barring (Albert Basserman ) and the little boy, Lars-Erik who is heir to the Barring fortune.

Good to see Marjorie in such a different role from her usual  type casting.

 

Richard Nichols.

I rate 6 year old Richard Nichols as one of the most natural child actors I have ever seen. He’d melt anyone’s heart including the cold and calculating Miss Holm.

Richard left movies at the age of 12 and was a minister  for 44 years. His other big movie was “All This And  Heaven Too”, with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

 

 

J

Joan Crawford, Richard Nichols.

A well edited, gripping scene  involving Anna and Lars-Erik on a cable car. There’s a lot of back projection but it’s still suspenseful. And in case you haven’t guessed, the dastardly Barring wants Anna to ‘arrange’  an accident for Lars-Erik so Barring can inherit his uncle’s estate.

 

 

One of the  minuses for me in the film is the sudden romance between Anna and Dr. Segert ( Crawford and Douglas.) It is woefully underwritten and makes no sense at all. When, at the end, Anna announces that she loves the doctor who has healed her scars, it comes as quite a surprise! (He’s left his wife.)

I’m a Melvyn Douglas fan but it’s not a great part for him. Conrad Veidt has much the better part as the smooth talking  villain who uses Anna’s insecurities for his own ends.

I normally am not too keen on flashbacks ,but this film is so well constructed, all the flashbacks make sense.

The film has such a strong cast. Did I mention George Zucco and Henry Daniell as opposing lawyers at the trial. And the two trial judges are Robert Warwick and Henry Kolker.

I suppose the film could be described as high melodrama and for me it works. Joan Crawford deserved at least an Oscar nomination.

 

 

Joan Crawford, George Cukor.

 

George Cukor, Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas.

Coincidence: Within a couple of years George Cukor directed three films with similar titles – THE WOMEN, A WOMAN’S FACE and TWO FACED WOMAN. A pity the last one with Garbo didn’t match up to the first two.

 

 

A WOMAN’S FACE

First filmed in Sweden in 1938 and starring Ingrid Bergman, it would be interesting  to compare the two.

 

Ingrid Bergman.

 

 

BLACKMAIL.

 

 

ONCE UPON A TIME. (?)

 

Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas by the artist Morr Kusnet .