A superb new book by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall gives us over 130 communications from Hollywood’s filmmakers, covering 50 years of film history.
I hope a volume 2 might be in the works!
Here are some samples:
John Barrymore writes a note to Edward G. Robinson ,praising his performance in 1932’s SILVER DOLLAR, calling it – “a superlative piece of cumulative natural acting and made one proud to be in the same game!”
Tallulah Bankhead to David O. Selznick In 1936:
“I feel it is only fair to tell you I will not make any more tests,either silent or dialogue, for Scarlett O’Hara , on probation.”
(Selznick has refused to guarantee her the role.)
In 1939, Alfred Hitchcock, having signed with David Selznick, wrote from his home at 153 Cromwell Rd, London to Daniel Winkler of the Myron Selznick Agency, asking him to find a house for his family, including a pool for his ten year old daughter,Pat – and a nice flat for his assistant, Joan Harrison.
A lovely note from Fred Astaire to David Selznick in 1940:
“Phyllis and I have just seen “Rebecca” and really had to write this note to express how really great we think it is.
We thought nothing could ever follow “Gone”, but this one certainly does….. Joan Fontaine’s performance absolutely amazing.”
Tyrone Power to Darryl Zanuck In 1944. (Power was a Marine Corps Officer/pilot.)
”I see from the billboards that you are not suffering any acute manpower shortage…….I trust there is still a place for me.”
Raymond Chandler , himself an alcoholic, to Charles Brackett, writer with Billy Wilder of “The Lost Weekend.”
”I haven’t the slightest doubt that it is the best picture I am likely to see this year……..the performance by Ray Milland is the finest piece of sustained acting I have ever seen in ages, and I never expected him to bring it off.”
Alan Ladd’s letter of thanks to Director George Stevens in 1951:
”I would like to repeat again how honored I was being in your capable hands during the making of SHANE.”
Joel McCrea to Sam Pekinpah in 1962 after the making of “Ride The High Country.”
”It was a pleasure to do a picture with a man who can write, direct and knows the West…….I expect to hear big things about you in the years ahead.”
And my favourite:
RKO head Pandora Berman to Director Mark Sandwich regarding difficulties with Ginger Rogers before the start of filming CAREFREE:
”I refer specifically to a conversation you had with Lela (Rogers) in which you told Lela that if Ginger didn’t learn to improve her singing and dancing, she would at some future date find herself in great difficulties in the picture business…….
And the numerous times in which Ginger has been made to feel that she is of less importance to any given picture than Fred Astaire.”
Mark Sandwich directed five of the Astaire/Rogers films but ‘Carefree’ was his last picture at RKO. Ginger as we know went on to win an Oscar.
In her autobiography Ginger said Mark Sandrich was at times patronising and dismissive of her during their working relationship.
And yet he did so many of their hits. Sounds awful, the way he treated Ginger and hard to fathom.
I’ve read several accounts by musicians and crew of those great musicals which note that Irving Berlin was a terrible musician, technically, but a transcendent composer.
I can’t imagine it!! But basically, if the stories be true, his songs were written by… a musical cripple.
Berlin never learned to read or write music but taught himself to play just enough piano to create his songs. A musical transcriber would write the notes.
He was a genius.