IT’S THE PICTURES THAT GOT SMALL

image  “IT’S THE PICTURES  THAT GOT SMALL: CHARLES BRACKETT ON BILLY WILDER AND HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE”, edited by Anthony Slide.

 

Another powerful insight into the workings of Hollywood, this time from the diaries of Oscar winning writer,CHARLES BRACKETT who is best known for his long collaboration with Billy Wilder.

Diaries, like letters, put you right there at the time when they were written. No need to ask someone to recall events of more than half a century ago. Charles Brackett (1892 – 1969) was at the very centre of Hollywood life and he chose to record his own experiences almost daily, in diary form.

The best way I can recommend this new book is by quoting some of the entries  which are so interesting and revealing. Showing how important sneak previews at various venues were – audience reaction on cards were carefully counted – 112 good, 12 bad.  What can we change if anything.

How dependent even top notch writers were on their producers – writing a few pages and taking them to the producer at the end of the day to see what changes he wanted.

Being  sent to another studio for a few days to polish a script.

On the need for a writer to be a producer and/or director, to get some control over what they wrote.

It’s all there in this wonderful book and here are some of my favorite entries.

(Brackett worked briefly at RKO then joined Paramount where he stayed till 1950, after which he had a seven year writer/producer contract at Fox. It’s never stated whether he ever considered directing.)

 

1932:

I worked on LITTLE WOMEN all morning…

…..Cocktails with RUTH CHATTERTON and GEORGE BRENT. – she is  a shorter person than I thought……George Brent,unlike his suave self on the screen, is quite a tough faced Irishman.

Ruth Chatterton

Ruth Chatterton

 

1936:

Lunched with Ruth Chatterton. She talked about her airplane, her consuming passion at the moment. Recently flying to San Francisco,she got about 150 miles beyond it, due to false directions. “I am accustomed to more competent direction that that” , she said.

 

There’s a new preoccupation in town which has taken the place of GONE WITH THE WIND: the MARY ASTOR case. Mary has decided to fight for her child, and her husband has produced her diary, with lurid details of various affairs.

 

August 17,1936;

Learned I am to be teamed with Billy Wilder, a young Austrian I’ve seen about for a year or two and like very much.

 

(Charles meets Edna Mae Oliver at a dinner):

I was impressed with Miss Oliver’s charming,urbane clothes – a daintiness which is never apparent on screen.

 

1937:

We were taken off BLUEBEARD’S EIGHTH WIFE for a couple of days to work on THE BIG BROADCAST – a hurry-up job. Billy and I read the script and talked it over with Mitch Leisen….

 

1938:

(At the Academy Awards):

I was heartbroken that SPENCER TRACY got the reward for Best acting instead  of Bob Montgomery whose NIGHT MUST FALL seemed to merit it so incomparably.

Also resented that Rainer got the woman’s instead of GARBO for her beautiful CAMILLE.

 

We were told to go to Universal to work on the next DEANNA DURBIN picture (THAT CERTAIN AGE) for four weeks…

We went to Universal, a friendly shabby little studio – met Deanna DURBIN who came from the school house on the lot…..

 

1939:

…..ERNST LUBITSCH gave us a summary of the script that had been done for him – NINOTCHKA – he felt it was very bad. He gave us the script – we came to my place and read it, and the dialogue is enchanting and the situations excellent.

 

NINOTCHKA

NINOTCHKA

 

My last day on NINOTCHKA – took my typed suggestions for changes to Ernst and got some words of praise from him which were very sweet to me.

 

1941:

At the end of the day,GARY COOPER came to the office to be told  the story of A TO Z (Ball of Fire).

 

…..the last sequence for Dawn ( HOLD BACK THE DAWN), took it to Leisen’s to read to Arthur and Mitch in its entirety – they didn’t like it at all – worked on it all afternoon – but unable to give it the drama they seem to want.

 

Got to the studio at 9 to see DANCE  GIRL DANCE with Hawks. We viewed it to see LUCILLE BALL who seemed to me ideal for Sugarpuss, but Hawks thought her essentially a second lead.

 

Motored to Long Beach for preview of Hold Back The Dawn……the cards were excellent.

 

Goldwyn read me a letter from CAROLE LOMBARD saying that she found neither our story nor the role of Sugarpuss interesting.

 

Lucille Ball was tested for Sugarpuss today. I thought her very right, a saucy clowning face and a great chrysanthemum of blondined hair.

 

1942:

……Went to the premiere of MRS. MINIVER, an absorbing and superb picture. Felt GREER GARSON’S performance  was thin and artificial, and didn’t much like WALTER PIDGEON, but the picture itself is so good that individual performances didn’t matter.

 

I lunched HITCHCOCK at Romanoff’s ,took him a copy of THE UNINVITED  and asked him to read it and say if he was interested.

 

1943:

Billy got a phone call and consulted me  about DOUBLE INDEMNITY, a story Joe Sistrom  suggested to him, which he wants to do.

 

Billy and RAYMOND CHANDLER called me into consultation this morning. They are in second act trouble and I was of very little use.

 

BUDDY DE SYLVA advised telling “To Each His Own”to both Olivia and Ginger immediately, to be sure and get one or the other.

 

image

 

1944:

I pitched into a book called THE LOST WEEKEND for which Billy has a passion. It has not gripped me as yet.

 

Henry Ginsberg called  us to veto CARY GRANT  as Don Birnam and replace him with RAY MILLAND. We didn’t much mind.

 

The Lost Weekend

The Lost Weekend

 

1947:

Billy and I met JEAN ARTHUR at MCA and sold her on the idea of playing in “Foreign Affairs.”

 

Started work with Billy on “The Honorable Phoebe Frost.”

 

Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur

Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur

 

1948:

Billy and I spent morning in discussion of the Hollywood story. It all centered around a swimming pool owned by an old silent days’ star….

 

…Billy arrived at the office with a new slant on our Hollywood picture. MAE WEST as the faded glamor item,MILLARD MITCHELL as her manager.WALLY  BEERY as a Texas oil man who finances her.

 

Billy came across with the wildest, most arresting frame for our picture. Our hero is brought dead into the morgue and tells the other dead occupants of the morgue the events leading up to his death.

 

1949:

I spent the evening reading THE AFRICAN QUEEN, not very impressed with it as a story possibility.

 

MONTGOMERY CLIFT  has turned down “Sunset Boulevard” – a staggering blow which ended work for the day.

 

ALAN LADD may be endurable. Billy thinking JOHN GARFIELD.

 

All day they shots scene of VON STROHEIM driving Gloria’s car up to the gate. The reason it consumed so much time being that Von Stroheim can’t drive a car.

 

July 13, 1949:

Got to the studio about 10 and worked  with Billy on the commentary ( the Holden’s character voice-over) all morning……in the afternoon Billy finished the commentary and our 15 years of collaboration with mutual relief.

 

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

 

A book I found difficult to put down.

Charles Brackett loved the social scene in Hollywood and he was also involved in the Screen Actors Guild and in the organisation of the annual Academy  Awards.

The impression given is that he felt somewhat inferior to his fiery co-writer,Wilder, though he went on to win another writing Oscar  ( with Walter Reisch and Richard Breen) for the 1953 TITANIC.

Brackett and Wilder  wrote together for a very long time and it doesn’t seem unnatural that finally they needed to separate and find new inspiration.

What a run they had.

Their story would make an amazing movie.

 

 

Charles Brackett,Gloria Swanson,Billy Wilder

Charles Brackett,Gloria Swanson,Billy Wilder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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