Josephine and Daphne relax.
1949: George Stevens, Darryl Zanuck (accepting for Howard Hawks), George Marshall, Fred Zinnemann, Joseph Mankiewicz.
In 1949, the Screen Directors’ Guild of America decided to launch their own awards ceremony, to honour their own for the first time .
(The Directors’ Guild had been formed in 1936, three years after the Screen Actors Guild and the Screenwriters Guild started.)
The Guild president, George Marshall commented,
”We just want awards of our own,judged on technique only…..at the Academy Awards, the public’s interested only in the stars and they don’t give a damn about directors.”
Marshall told Guild members that, “the purpose of the awards is to enhance the position of the director in the eyes of the press, public and industry.”
Before 1949, none of the Hollywood Guilds had awards ceremonies, so the Directors Guild was breaking new ground. (The Golden Globes had been around for just 5 years and of course the Oscars were the main event.)
They decided on 4 awards, to be presented at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel , and an annual award for outstanding directorial achievement.
The first winners were Fred Zinnemann (“The Search”); Howard Hawks (“Red River”) ;Joseph Mankiewicz (“A Letter To Three Wives”) and Anatole Litvak (“the Snake Pit”).
Joseph Mankiewicz also received the first annual award for directing ,1948/49.
200 of 287 Guild members voted. The SDG prize was a medallion designed by Delmer Daves.
In the same year the Screen Writers Guild followed the Directors Guild and started their own Awards . It took the Screen Actors Guild another 40 years before they decided to follow suit.
Al Werker,Joan Fontaine, Albert Rogell. 1950. (Werker won for “Lost Boundaries.”)
“Lost Boundaries “ is a film I’d never heard of until recently, apparently based on a true story of a black family passing as white for many years. Has anyone seen it?
By 1950 assistant directors were allowed to vote and the awards were at the Beverly Hills hotel and presenters were Ruth Roman,Mel Ferrer and Ida Lupino.
The winners were Robert Rossen (“All the King’s Men.”); Mark Robson (“Champion”); Al Werker (“Lost Boundaries”) and Carol Reed (“The Fallen Idol”).
Robert Rossen won the annual award (after his film won a Best Oscar.)
By 1951 , the Awards were broadcast by NBC and many stars, including Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, attended, attracting a lot more media attention.
The 1954 Awards.
I found an interesting story about the Hollywood guilds and their fight for union recognition by the studios.
In 1936, leaders of the Actors Guild sent telegrams to members asking them to boycott the Academy Awards that year.
Ernest Pascal, president of the Screen Actors Guild, said, “We consider the Academy a company union with nothing in common with the Guild.”
Studio bosses told the stars to turn up. Jeanette MacDonald spoke of the telegram she received from Louis B. Mayer, “it was like the iron fist in a velvet glove.”
I love this studio comment : ”Artists are not common laborers and therefore have no place in a union.”
Frank Capra was president of the Academy and said that the boycott fizzled out, that most of the winners were there. Only Dudley Nichols and John Ford didn’t show up to accept their Oscars. ( both awards were for THE INFORMER).
In 1938, when the Screenwriters Guild was finally recognised as the sole bargaining representative for motion picture writers, Dudley Nichols finally received his 1935 Oscar.
The Screen Actors Guild didn’t have its first awards ceremony until 1995. Angela Lansbury spoke at that first evening:
“I’ve been Elizabeth Taylor’s sister, Spencer Tracy’s mistress, Elvis’ mother and a singing teapot! ………Tonight is dedicated to the art and craft of acting by the people who should know about it – Actors.”
Writing this piece has brought to my attention three films I have never seen – The Search, The Fallen Idol and Lost Boundaries. Must try and get hold of them.
”He’s on to you.”
”They’re onto you.”
That’s how you did it. Loop in the cord means a message for collection.
The Mailbox. A chess piece, a hollow black queen.
Robert Strauss, as ‘Animal’, practically steals the movie. So funny. Strauss was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
The original Broadway play was written by two ex-POW’s, Edmund Trzcinski and Donald Bevan.
For the film Billy Wilder created a small role for Trzcinski as the prisoner who gets a letter from his wife telling him that she found a baby on her doorstep who looks just like her. He keeps saying, “I believe it.”
In an uncredited role as one of the prisoners was Richard Beedle, the younger brother of William Holden.
William Holden wins the Best Actor Oscar in 1954. His competition included Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift for “From Here to Eternity” , Marlon Brando for “Julius Casear” and Richard Burton for “The Robe”.
Peter Graves, Jay Lawrence, Harvey Lembeck, Neville Brand, Don Taylor, William Holden, Robert Strauss, Richard Erdman, Michael Moore.
In the original Broadway production of Stalag 17, directed by Jose Ferrer, the part of Sefton (William Holden in the film) was played by John Ericson.
Gloria Swanson visits the cast.
6 Oscars? I’m trying to figure out what they are for.
Best Director, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment.
Best screenplay, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment.
Irving Thalberg Award.
Made with seemingly no limit on the budget, the 1943 German version of the Titanic tragedy was pure and simply propaganda, made during the Second World War at the behest of the German minister of propaganda,Joseph Goebbels.
So , if there was a hero of the fatal maiden voyage of the Belfast built Titanic, this film introduces an entirely fictitious German first officer who appears to be the only official on board who knows the ship has to slow down to avoid icebergs.
Aside from the fact that the film takes place on board the famous ship, most of the story centres on the machinations of the stockholders of the White Star Line which built the Titanic. Led by J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star, he and his fellow directors plan to manipulate the stock value.
John Jacob Astor is portrayed as a rival who will also stop at nothing to beat Ismay.
Everything is contingent on the Titanic reaching New York in a new record time. So Ismay pressures the ship’s captain to proceed at full speed, despite the pleadings of the selfless First Officer Peterson.
Sybille Schmitz was very moving as one of the passengers . The whole cast and production were impressive , but the film is best viewed for what it is and not for the history of the Titanic.
Peterson stands up to Ismay who is desperate to get on one of the lifeboats. (Peterson is saved only because he rescues a small child who appears to have been left in a cabin by her callous parents!)
The British enquiry into the disaster is only touched on , and we only hear from First Officer Peterson condemning the Captain and ship’s owners. The judgement is speedily given, blaming Captain Smith for speeding , and absolving J. Bruce Ismay.
The film’s final shot :
“The deaths of 1500 were due to the British endless quest for profit.”
Ironically, one of the most expensive films of the time was never shown in Germany till 1950. Apparently , by the time of its completion, it was felt the scenes of chaos and death would weaken German morale.
But it was shown in the occupied countries including France, having a premiere in Paris in November 1943.
After the war, the film was screened in East Berlin in 1950, but the UK government objected to it being shown in West Germany.
The Director of Titanic, Herbert Selpin, was arrested before the end of filming, accused of speaking out against the Nazi regime. One day after his arrest, he was found hanged in his cell.
The film was completed by Werner Klingler.
With no expense being spared, scenes were filmed on board the SS Cap Ancona in the Baltic Sea and hundreds of German soldiers were used as extras.
Tragically, in 1945, the Cap Ancona was sunk by the RAF. Unknown to the British military, on board were concentration camp prisoners who were being moved by the Nazis.
Of 5000 souls on board the Cap Ancona, only 350 survived.
There’s still another Titanic story to be filmed and that’s the critical American enquiry into the sinking. There is a book which contains details of the entire proceedings in New York and it would make a powerful drama.
The factual reasons for the Titanic disaster are many ,and they reflect seamanship of the time. For example, the British enquiry stated that it was common practice for ships to maintain speed in icy waters.
It was also common practice for these liners not to have sufficient life boat places for everyone on board, in the belief that other ships in the busy shipping lanes would come to the rescue of any ship in distress.
After the collision and in the two hours forty minutes it took for the Titanic to sink, many more lives could have been saved if there had been lifeboat drills. One lifeboat , which could take forty,left with twelve people aboard.
There was no public address system, stewards had to go from door to door advising passengers to get to the boat deck.
The Titanic wreck, found by Robert Ballard in 1985.
Kino Video restored this rare film and I have the special edition from 2005. Kino Lorber have issued it on blu Ray in 2017.
I enjoyed this collection of interviews with JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ (edited by Brian Dauth) , especially since Mr. Mankiewicz wasn’t known for public comments.
Aside from an interview for Life magazine in 1951 , the interviews are from the 1970s till two years before his death in 1993.
I got hold of this 2008 book after coming across this photo of Mankiewicz receiving the second of his two Oscars in 1950 for A LETTER TO THREE WIVES.
Not only did he receive the two Oscars for writing and directing, but he did the same thing in 1951 for ALL ABOUT EVE!
As far as I know, no one else has ever done this double.
Joseph Mankiewicz, his wife Rose Stradner, with his Oscars for “A Letter to Three Wives.”
In his 20s, Mankiewicz was already a top writer for MGM in the 1930s:
“I wrote a couple of successful films at Metro- including “Forsaking All Others” and “Manhattan Melodrama”, But I really wanted to be a director.”
But MGM made him a producer:
“I started off with FURY with Spencer Tracy. It didn’t do much business but was a critical success…..then LOVE ON THE RUN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, THREE COMRADES…….Some hits, some runs, mostly errors…..
On most of them I did some writing but without screen credit.
”I left Metro before my contract was up and went to work at 20th Century Fox, with a raise and a promise they’d let me try directing…..I did DRAGONWYCK, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, THE GHOST AND MRS.MUIR.
I’ve always felt that directing his script is the other half of the writer’s job.”
In the earliest interview in the book from 1951, Mankiewicz discussed the origins of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES:
“Vera Caspary had made an adaptation of a novel, ‘A Letter to Five Wives’ by John Klempner……..I wrote the screenplay about four wives. Zanuck excised one, so we ended with ‘A Letter to Three Wives.’
The most extensive interview is with Gary Carey in 1972. (Carey would write an excellent book the same year, “All About All About Eve”.
Talking to author Gary Carey in 1972, Mankiewicz says of Thelma Ritter: “Birdie (in All About Eve) was written for only Thelma Ritter. I adored her.”
He called her , “the great character comedienne.”
And the director had nothing but praise for Bette Davis:
“Working with Bette was, it goes without saying, from the first day to regrettably our last, an experience as happy and rewarding as any I have ever known……a superbly equipped professional actress who does her job responsibly and honestly.
On the first day of “Eve” rehearsals:
“Bette was letter-perfect. She was syllable-perfect. There was no fumbling for my words; they’d become hers – as Margo Channing. The director’s dream: the prepared actress.”
The history of the Sarah Siddons Award in “All about Eve” is a story on its own.
Dreamed up by Mankiewicz,
“…..One day I was rummaging through some old theatrical portraits ……Sir Joshua Reynolds’s famous portrait of Sarah Siddons as The Tragic Muse popped up at me. And that was that…..I created both “The Sarah Siddons Society” and the award…….
”Working from an enlarged print of the Reynolds portrait, the Twentieth Century-Fox prop shop started making up statuettes according to my specifications. The first approved model is right over there on my mantelpiece. Walter Scott (the set dresser) even put my name on it.
“But, mirabile dictu, In 1952,in Chicago,a ‘Sarah Siddons Society’ came into being…..the ‘Sarah Siddons Award’ was to be bestowed annually upon an actress chosen by the society for ‘Distinguished Achievement’ in the Theatre of Chicago.”
The Curran Theatre in San Francisco was used for the interior theatre scenes in “All About Eve”. But the above photo was taken at the Golden Theatre,West 45th street in New York.
Not the Oscars, but the director and star won other awards for All About Eve.
A favourite line from All About Eve:
Lloyd: “Eve would never ask to play the part of Cora.”
Karen: “Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello.”
Some of the recipients of the Sarah Siddons Award : Myrna Loy, Helen Hayes, Celeste Holm, Lauren Bacall, Claudette Colbert, Ann Miller.
In the same year as All about Eve, Mankiewicz directed NO WAY OUT, Sidney Poitier ‘s first film. I’ve only just seen this film and was very impressed. Good roles for Poitier, Darnell, Richard Widmark and Stephen McNally.
With Linda Darnell and Sidney Poitier on the set of NO WAY OUT.
Mankiewicz also directed GUYS AND DOLLS.
“Dora, I suspect you’re a treasure.”
I suspect that’s how many of us think of Mary Wickes who was active on stage, films , radio and television from the 1930s through to the 1990s.
At 5 feet 10 inches and rather sharp featured , her niche was in roles requiring a nurse, housekeeper, maid, secretary, landlady. She never walked slowly, she had a deadpan ,sometimes caustic , often loud delivery. Being a servant didn’t mean she wouldn’t say what she thought in any situation. Generally the families Mary worked for were better off for knowing her. She knew her place but she wasn’t second fiddle to anyone.
In other words, Mary perfected her screen character and played it on stage,films and TV for 50 years.
A young Mary . Born in St. Louis in 1910, she was in New York by the early 1930s and appeared on stage in “Stage Door” in 1936.
Mary had been in the Broadway cast of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. She and Monty Woolley reprised their roles for the Warners screen version and that was the start of her Hollywood career.
Who can forget ‘Miss Breen’ who had to put up with the put-downs of Mr. Woolley as ‘Sheridan Whiteside’. Perhaps the only time that Mary didn’t have a quick retort to any criticism. Still, it was her first film and screenwriters got wise to what suited her.
She took it on the chin when Whiteside compared her to his great – aunt who “when she’d been dead three days, looked better than you do now!”.
With Rosemary Clooney in WHITE CHRISTMAS. Mary could be a busybody, but usually with a good heart.
Mary was the very first MARY POPPINS, on television in 1949. Would love to see it.
Rehearsing with Bob Hope and Lucy.
With her friend Lucile Ball.
Lucille’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz , gave the eulogy at Mary’s funeral.
Mary , as Miss Cathcart, renders ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ in an episode of “Dennis The Menace”. (On You Tube).
Not to be missed!
One of Mary’s many radio appearances in ALICE ADAMS, with Judy Garland in the title role, with Thomas Mitchell. (1950) . Available on You Tube.
Not sure what the occasion is, but here’s Mary with June Havoc and Jan Sterling.
Mary , who died in 1995, left $2 million to her Alma mater, Washington University to establish a memorial library fund for film and theatre arts, in memory of her parents. The University, in St.Louis, has her personal papers and memorabilia which are open to researchers ( if only they were online.)
Mary was ‘artist in residence’ at the University in 1968.
Some correspondence kept by Mary.
Mary was in Bette Davis films “Now Voyager,” “June Bride” And an unsold TV pilot which Bette did in 1965, called “The Decorator.” In which Mary played her assistant – Bette is an interior decorator. (Viewable on You Tube)
With Bette Davis in “The Decorator ”.
(reference to”Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.”)
I’ve just discovered on You Tube a TV movie from 1952 starring Mary It’s called “Miss Hargreaves “ and is set in an English village – Mary’s accent is good. She plays an eccentric writer who stirs up the village – also she may not be real! A sort of female Sheridan Whiteside. Very interesting.
Oh, and Mary did adverts for Ford Automobile, Cristo Oil and Snowy Bleach.
And I haven’t forgotten her in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS in 1966 and SISTER ACT nearly 30 years later. She had already played a nun on The Lucy Show.
Definitely a treasure!