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"It's the Pictures That Got Small"Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age$

Anthony Slide

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231167086

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231167086.001.0001

Show Summary Details

1941

1941

Chapter:
(p.147) 1941
Source:
"It's the Pictures That Got Small"
Author(s):

Anthony Slide

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231167086.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords

In these diary entries written between January and December 1941, Hollywood screenwriter Charles Brackett lists his activities: met Gary Cooper for the story A to Z; read Arsenic and Old Lace to Billy Wilder and went to see the B picture Tall, Dark and Handsome; conferring with Wilder regarding Hold Back the Dawn; having lunch at Paramount; writing A to Z until Wilder was called aside by the Orsatti Brothers, who wanted to buy up Rosalie Stewart's contract; having a conference with Sam Goldwyn; finished outline of Dust on My Heart with Wilder; hearing on the radio the news of the sinking of The Hood, one of the capital ships of the British Navy; writing a foreword for Ball of Fire; discussing Polonaise with Wilder; eating luncheon with Sam Spiegel and Boris Morros; and waking to the news that Germany had declared war on the United States and Italy.

Keywords:   Gary Cooper, A to Z, Billy Wilder, Paramount, Sam Goldwyn, Ball of Fire

[On January 2, Brackett makes the first reference in the diaries to James Larmore, whom Xan has invited to dinner. On January 25, Brackett notes that Larmore is staying with the family; and there are frequent mentions of his trying to obtain acting jobs for Larmore at Paramount.]

January 3

Went to the studio thinking we would start to work. Billy had attitude all day, and we did nothing but dictating. …

January 6

… At the end of the day, Gary Cooper came to the office to be told the story A to Z.1

January 15

At the studio from nine in the morning until eleven at night. Making real progress on the script. …

January 18

Billy arrived at the studio pale, haggard—eloquent and sleepless. He had gone to see Night Train and glimpsed Second Chorus and [costar] Paulette Goddard had kept him awake. He was all for refusing to finish the script. …

January 20

A day of adjustment to our new assignment at Goldwyn’s … Stopped at Billy’s & rode to the bleak, chilly studio with him. … Read through (p.148) his original A to Z & got offices & a secretary, had an interview with Goldwyn in which he told us that Arise[, My Love] had been very much criticized. … He said he wanted nothing that could be criticized. I said that was simple, complete mediocrity would do it. He worried we would quarrel. I said Sam, the floor of this office will run red with blood. …

January 22

At the Goldwyn studios all day, save for luncheon at the commissary at Paramount, accomplishing nothing. …

January 23

… still nothing accomplished. …

January 24

At the studio all day working like crazy. … Dined at home and after dinner went to Billy’s where we worked until midnight.

January 29

At the studio reading Arsenic and Old Lace2—the first excellent act aloud to Billy, and seeing Tall, Dark and Handsome—a very entertaining B picture. … Tea with Goldwyn and a sketchy conference. …

February 2

At Billy’s suggestion met at Mitch Leisen’s at nine o’clock. Billy turning up at 9:45 for further conferences on Hold Back the Dawn—conferred until about twelve when we disbursed. …

February 5

At Goldwyn’s all morning, discussing A to Z and cutting Dawn. Lunched at the Paramount commissary and dictated our changes, back to Goldwyn’s … back to Paramount to dictate. Then to Lucey’s for dinner. By that time, I had begun to feel lousy, and sat by the fire apart from Billy and some merry friends at the bar … went to Paramount where we discussed the ending for Dawn until eleven. I felt as miserable as I have ever felt in my life and contributed less than nothing. … Crawled to my room and my castor oil bottle.

(p.149) February 6

Awoke feeling far better than I had any right to expect, but stayed in bed drinking liquids and working on my income tax records. Got a call from Olivia De Havilland who likes the script and thinks she’s set for it.

February 7

… to Goldwyn’s where Billy and I sat really trying to concentrate on From A to Z … [Playwright and screenwriter] Howard Emmett Rogers called me to help him start a committee to get some ambulances for England,3 and later Sam [Goldwyn] summoned me to write a speech for Tyrone Power to thank those helping in the Greek Loan Relief broadcast. …

February 9

… to a conference at Mitch Leisen’s … the stormiest ever. Billy’s idea for the frame of the picture being turned down & some reviewing requested—we rather successful in getting over the idea I have nurtured which was balm to my ego which has been badly battered by his wildly changing ego lately. … Back to Mitch’s to discuss until five, when we separated to utter confusion. …

February 11

At the studio by 9:30 and worked completing the Goddard-Boyer meeting. Took it to Paramount and had it typed, then drove out to the Warner studios to a luncheon for the Special Awards Committee of the Academy—suggested [journalist and World War II correspondent] Quentin Reynolds for a special award [which he did not receive], voted against Gene Autry … and for the man who photographed the Tacoma Bridge.4 Back to Goldwyn’s, accomplished nothing in the afternoon. …

February 15

At Goldwyn’s discussing the sequence all morning. Joined by Jacques Théry who was … yesterday getting his final citizenship papers, an advance, $12,000 for a story and a contract at $1,000 a week. …

(p.150) February 22

Worked at U.A. all morning… Went to Paramount to Dawn stage where we heard [character actor] Walter Abel giving a coloratura reading of Hammock which sickened us … to the projection room where we saw rushes… Goddard pretty good. …

February 24

At Goldwyn’s all day—most of it searching for the right slang word for our Professor to read. …

February 26

Lazy day. Lunched at Paramount where I saw yesterday’s rushes, sitting with Olivia who made a pretty picture of nervousness, and said she found it difficult to act with Boyer because he was so terribly attractive. …

March 1

At Goldwyn’s all morning, arrived finally at a slang word for the picture which satisfies us both: hoytoytoy. …

March 5

Wrote A to Z until Billy was called aside by the Orsatti Brothers5 who wished to proposition us—suggesting … that they would buy up Rosalie’s [Stewart] contract. They are gangsters—the least respectable of the agencies, and nearest to which we need. We are now considering the matter. …

March 6

Hard at work at Goldwyn’s all morning but angry at notice of the Dawn credits—“Screenplay by C.B. and B.W., from a story by Ketti Frings.”6 Lunched at Paramount, Billy at Lucey’s, where he ran into [Charles] Boyer who was shabbily dressed. Billy (in his accent) asked what scene they were doing. … “The cockroach scene?” suggested Billy. “I don’t like cockroaches. We are not doing the cockroach scene.”7 “It’s in the script, isn’t it?” Billy asked. … I had heard from Joe Sistrom of Boyer’s refusing to play a scene where he ordered (p.151) [the fish] pompano because he didn’t like pompano and couldn’t put his heart into it. I suggested a maneuver and we announced, “No cockroach scene, no end of the picture, and not just a casual cockroach scene, a well done one.” Mitch got mad—fumed. “I don’t think it’s such a charming scene.” We yelled at him, “It’s not supposed to be charming. You’ve shot the charming scene … this is a lump of black in contrast to that.” Back at Goldwyn’s and worked until Ernst called us to join him for coffee, told us that he is signing a three-year contract with Twentieth Century and doing as the next picture before that contract starts—Margin for Error.8

March 7

Stopped at the Orsatti office on my way to the studio, was depressed by the striking mausoleum décor and the “Where do you buy the beer?” gangsterism of Orsatti, though he seems to me to have a kind of vitality which might be needed. At the studio learned that Boyer had not made the cockroach scene and started to raise more woe. …

March 8

At Goldwyn’s all morning accomplishing very little. … Billy and I went out to Leo McCarey’s. Billy told A to Z. I read as much as we have done. It didn’t go very well with McCarey. …

March 10

Hell of a day. An angry call from Goldwyn in the morning—we were dedicating the whole day to cleaning up Dawn. We began at nine in the morning and finished at Paramount at 3:15 in the following morning. Luncheon a sandwich at the Goldwyn coffee shop, dinner a snack at Lucey’s enraged by the fact that Boyer was there and Billy wouldn’t speak to him, embarrassing me. …

March 11

Slept very little—getting to Paramount at nine and going over the stuff, before Billy and I went over it with [assistant to the producer] Dick Blumenthal. Billy called the studio only to learn Mr. Goldwyn had called. He said we would come right over … we raced expecting a dressing down. Goldwyn was charming, liked our stuff very much, as did Frances [Mrs. Goldwyn]. …

(p.152) March 17

… a call from Goldwyn demanding a new title which we haven’t. …

March 20

Wrote hard. Lunched at the studio, Claudette joining the word game at the writers’ table and throwing everyone off string. I had the worst score ever. …

March 21

At the studio working hard—but not accomplishing anything. Billy’s terrifying neurosis that everything isn’t crystal clear to the audience coming out very strongly. …

March 27

In the morning … the last sequence for 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. …

March 28

Got the last sequence of Dawn completed—satisfactorily to Arthur and Mitch.

March 30

A day on which I expected to work—but Judith called to say Billy was “having a nervous breakdown” to my horror & relief. …

March 31

My little Manic Depressive had one of his depressing days. …

April 1

All morning discussed the continuity of our story nervously. At noon, we went to RKO & the dressing room of Ginger Rogers, waiting there till she came from the set—We had luncheon together, she on a coffee table before a couch. Billy and I on a card table, then Billy told the story of our picture, after which I read her the script as far as it goes—she seemed to like it pretty well, and the idea of playing with Cooper better. …

(p.153) April 2

Tried to digest the addled plot we told Ginger and found it more and more indigestible. Lunched at the table at the commissary & found Claudette sitting there playing the word game. In the afternoon, Sam [Goldwyn] telephoned us to tell Leland [Hayward] the story, which we did. Sam’s explanation was difficulty with Ginger—she wants to play a lady. I tell him ladies stink up the place. …

April 3

A humiliating day—Leland called to say Ginger would not play the girl. … Billy suggested a consultation with Ben Hecht which Sam arranged for tonight. … Very kind & made some suggestions. There is a fifty fifty chance that Billy will be well launched in a nervous breakdown by tomorrow.

April 4

Wrong about Billy’s breakdown—he was on time and fairly gay—we discussed story, worked a little on a scene for Dawn. …

April 8

Grim day. Conference with Sam at nine—he liked nothing, but was kind and nervous. … Appointment with Bill Dozier at 2:15. He made an amazing notification: Both of us wanted Billy to get a raise, it could be brought about he was sure, but only in one way. If I signed for two years straight before Billy was given his raise. It was against company policy that employees should dictate terms—In fact, as it developed, I went to the hiring person with my suggestion of Billy’s raise—Bill LeBaron, and I should have gone to [Henry] Ginsberg. I said I did not regard my suggestions as dictation. … Pointed out that Billy and I were not Romeo and Juliet—that I could face with equanimity a year of his getting the same salary. He asked if this meant we’d do inferior work—I told him we’d give him the best we had in the shop, we were that kind of writers. He said, “I wish you would have confidence in me and the company.” I said, “Let’s see who said that to me last, sitting in that chair …” [preceding ellipses in original]. …

April 10

The desert hell continues as far as our work is concerned. … Went to Paramount and delivered a final scene—final really I hoped. Lunched at (p.154) Lucey’s with Ernst Lubitsch and he came back to our office and really tackled the story with us and was useful—bless him.

April 15

Start a new volume of this journal with a sad realization that instead of making entries which catch some unique facet of the day they record—I made every record of the routine events. No diary—and certainly not mine—should be written every day, but unless I write it every day I am sure not to write it at all. So I will undertake on these pages the logical successor to those of my boyhood diaries. … The British Empire seems to be cracking, and America in a fair way of being left friendless in a greedy world. In the afternoon coffee and naps—Billy let his wild imagination run wild on the subject of what is in store for the Jews of Hollywood—Ernst noting the storm troopers at his door with a friend and a profoundly funny wisecrack, Louis Mayer being smuggled towards Mexico in the rumble seat of Arthur Freed’s car, Sam caught and slaughtered in Bakersfield, etc. He himself was to find refuge on a ranch and [unidentified] and I were to send him 65 cents worth of supplies a week.

April 17

Today the story seemed to slip into shape, thought still is far from the right word-jolt into some kind of wild architecture like an ice jam, but I am infinitely relieved that a shape has emerged acceptable to everyone. …

April 18

Went to the studio feeling fresh and alert. Billy arrived extraordinarily chipper, and things hummed. We began our line treatment and from it evolved a title we like: Dust on My Heart.9 At noon went to Pesterre’s10 for Billy to try on a coat, then back to the studio lunchroom. Bette Davis, all made up and in costume, was at another table, looking like an extraordinarily ugly bisque doll. …

April 19

Finished our outline of Dust on My Heart. Incidentally Goldwyn has decided, or more probably Frances has, that the title is no good. …

(p.155) April 21

We hoped to begin the actual writing of this draft of the picture but were stymied by our affection for stuff already written. … Ernst [Lubitsch] took us over to the coffee shop and told us an idea for a picture I thought grand and titled The Self-Made Cinderella. … Went to an open Board meeting of the [Screen Writers] Guild. It began with the new Guild lawyer speaking of legislation dangerous to the cause of labor, some of which seemed bad but most of it excellent. The leftist, unsympathetic-to-the-war attitude of the majority of Guild members present seemed to me depressingly obvious. They see the thing as a forward step in the class struggle for which they are waiting, smacking their lips. Frank Partos, Sam Lauren and I took Mary McCall to the bar and we all viewed with alarm and I laughed with Mary about the portrait of her Budd Schulberg did in the heroine of What Makes Sammy Run. “I want it distinctly understood,” she said, “that I did not sleep with Norman Krasna.”

April 22

Billy arrived, very cheerful, but remarked that he imagined in about six months he would no longer be allowed to write motion pictures because of his Jewish blood. Later I called in Ernst [Lubitsch] to cheer him up and say that such talk was dangerous. Ernst said, “Oh, I think it’s highly probable if England loses the war.”

April 23

A day of completing the design for the first sequence. Leland came in and read what we have, then I tried to get him to cheer Billy, and his prognostications were gloomy beyond anything I have heard. England gone, anti-Semitism so rife that with class hatred he expects some kind of revolution in America, invasion possible. …

April 27

… About 5 Elizbabeth and I went to the Melvyn Douglases to a party for Mrs. Roosevelt. It was held on their terrace, and as we entered Dotty [Parker] and Alan [Campbell] Yelled “Spies, spies!” Melvyn introduced us as Loyal Opposition. Mrs. Roosevelt was exactly as I had known she would be—tired, charming, gracious, a plain woman with beautiful gray eyes, dressed in Ida Carletonish clothes, so accustomed to seeing people that she no longer sees them. A dear, nevertheless. We stayed only a short time. …

(p.156) April 28

Day of solid dialogue work at the studio, only semi-successful. In the afternoon a Leftist with a diabetic tongue upset and angered me with his delightful prophesies of a revolution. This is a way when the laborer has to take it all. After the defeat of England, Russia is to take over. For some mysterious reason they feel no compunction about accepting blindfold the beneficence of a nation which has shown beneficence to none. The class war—for them it dwarfs any national problem. They seem to me to be working towards an ideal as unworkable as Prohibition, and I know no positive things to say about the system I love which they will ever hear. …

April 30

At the studio at 9, but Billy forgot our appointment and wasn’t there until 10. He and Sam had a conference with Howard Hawks in the evening and sold him the idea of directing this picture [Ball of Fire], but Sam summoned us, shaken by an objection of Hawks’ that the heroine had been the villain’s mistress under our set-up. …

May 1

… Niven Busch came to our office and not only pleaded for our 25 pages a week but threatened “Goldwyn can break anyone in this town.” We worked hard at our second sequence all day. …

May 6

The first really hot day of the year. Billy and I worked like demons on the script (we’re always better in hot weather, I think). …

May 9

A day of hard work, leading to a reading of the first fifty pages of the script to Sam, Niven and the publicity man at 4:30. I approached it nervously but they were all pleased though Sam said, rightly, that the beginning of the script was overwritten.

May 12

Billy upset by the fact that Willie Wyler, to whom he told the story yesterday and read the script as far as it has gone, with a view of getting him as a director for it, wasn’t interested. Partly as a result we accomplished nothing. …

(p.157) May 14

… At 1:00 went to Paramount … to projection room 5 to see the long rough cut of Hold Back the Dawn. Billy and I both thought it to be a pretty bad picture—jerky, undistinguished in writing, [Walter] Abel sadly lacking in menace—not a disgrace, but nothing to crow about. …

May 15

Worked all day with some success. … Arrived home to find that Billy was sitting here alone, Goldwyn having told him that the interview with [William] Wellman was out. [Howard] Hawks had the direction of the picture. …

May 19

… In the afternoon worked till we had to tell the remainder of the sequence to Goldwyn and Niven [Busch]. Neither very enthusiastic.

May 24

On the way to the studio at 9 o’clock heard on the radio—the terrible news of the sinking of The Hood, one of the capital ships of the British Navy. Had luncheon in the commissary with Billy, Spiegel, Abel Fink and John Garfield—all Jewish. Was never so impressed by the complete absence in the Jewish nature of an instinct like our feeling of patriotism. Their curious detachment from this disaster to a country which has done more for them than any mother country. … Perhaps my perceptions were sharpened by the fact that Garfield, a complete stinker, spent the luncheon airing his hatred of England and his passion for Russia. …

May 25

… E., the kids and I went to a British War Relief party at C. Aubrey Smith’s place on top of Coldwater Canyon. It was a large party filled with professional and non-professional characters parts, and it was a grave troubled party—none of the British arrogance so irritating in times past, which would be so welcome now. I had a feeling that it was an odd and touching way to see an empire shake, if not crumble, at a garden party in Hollywood. …

May 26

At 9:30 read the last finished part of the script to Sam who was pleased with it, so pleased that we declared the day a holiday, went down to Bullock’s where Billy spent some money for shorts, as usual. …

(p.158) June 2

… I went to the office and Billy and I were starting to work when Sam [Goldwyn] rang up. I answered and said “How was your trip, Sam?” “Terrible,” he answered. “I have never been so disappointed in my life as when I got back and didn’t find the script you promised. You lead me into expense I can’t face—I wish I was out of the whole thing—I wish I had never started it.” I listened a certain length of time, about five minutes I should say, then asked him who was finishing the script, as we were quitting as of this morning, and rang off. Three minutes later Niven [Busch] was in our office, asking us to go to Goldwyn’s so he could apologize. … We relented to the extent of continuing on the picture but were too agitated for more work during the day. …

June 5

Got to the studio at 9 to see Dance Girl Dance with Hawks. He arrived about 10. We viewed it to see Lucille Ball, who seemed to me ideal for Sugarpuss, but Hawks thought her essentially a second lead. Hawks, Billy and I then had a thoroughly unsatisfactory conference. “The trouble is the script is too funny.” … Judith, Billy and Eric Charrell dined with us and we motored to Long Beach to see Hold Back the Dawn. Never approached a preview with more agony, agony aggravated by the fact that Jimmy Britt, whose conducting me to previews is a rite, was late, so we had to be driven by J. Larmore. The picture began with bad title cards, some music borrowed from Arise. The story began, and the audience was absorbed from the start to the finish—an almost tangible absorption, which was catnip to the worried hearts. The cards were excellent and I drove home in high good humor. …

June 6

A day of consultations with Hawks and no accomplishments, by which I guess I mean nothing was written. We lunched at Lucey’s with Arthur, Mitch [Leisen] and Doane Harrison—an exuberant group, all comparing the terror we felt last night when Olivia put on her eyeglasses to look at Boyer at the second act curtain and discussing cuts. Was in the first sweet moments of my nap when Goldwyn wakened me to read a letter from Carole Lombard saying that she found neither our story nor the role of Sugarpuss interesting. …

June 10

Another day of looking towards the horizon with Howard Hawks’ pale blue eyes and finding nothing. …

(p.159) June 11

Waited for Hawks till about 11, when he came in and talked about Citizen Kane (which he didn’t like) for an hour and for half an hour about the matter not in hand. Sam asked Billy and me to lunch with him and Somerset Maugham at the commissary. Maugham was very old seeming, very intelligent, very hesitant of speech. He too talked of Citizen Kane: “I thought it so curiously undramatic” and of I Wanted Wings: “It was so profoundly immoral.” …

June 12

… Lunched at the commissary and before I could nap was summoned to read the Sugarpuss scenes to Ginger Rogers, who loved them, I believe. Then Howard Hawks talked to me about the follow-up and Billy and I were summoned back to try and tell her the ending and fell back on our one-line outlines, and it was terrible. Later, Billy, Howard and I were grilled by Sam as to what state the script was in, what we were doing, and finally he groaned and let the problem go till Monday.

June 13

… I spent the morning with Billy and Howard, lunched with them, then joined by Lubitsch, tackled the problem of the final sequence and came to some conclusions—at least seemed to convince Hawks of the soundness of our story. …

June 19

At the studio, Billy has done a Penelope11 during the night and we had to start our planning afresh. Lunched with Arthur at Lucey’s and afterwards Arthur spoke to me about plans for when Billy takes on directing, which made me very sad, as I hate change. …

June 25

Another busy day which resulted in the completion of the longest telephone scene known to celluloid, but one of our best. Lunched with Niven and Greg Toland at the commissary. … E and I and Alan Campbell dined with Somerset Maugham and … his rather grisly secretary whose once good looks are now hidden by deep lines, whose deep, loud voice rings out hollowly—a creep in fact. Maugham amused me by saying of the Russian (p.160) situation:12 Of course they’ve shot all their generals. It wasn’t a good idea to shoot their generals.

June 27

Another neurotic obstacle presents us going ahead. Suddenly “How does she fall in love?” has become an unsolvable agony to Billy. Lucille Ball was tested for Sugarpuss today. I thought her very right, a saucy, clowning face and a great chrysanthemum of blondined hair. …

June 30

Held up because Howard Hawks was busy with Goldwyn. (At this particular point an earthquake occurred, a really solid trembler.) … Went to Lucey’s for a farewell luncheon with Arthur, who is going on a vacation and who talked about resurrecting Polonaise with Billy directing it.13 Hawks appeared after luncheon, could give us no time but asked to see tests of Betty Field14 and Lucille Ball. Both tests were played too petulantly, but we were pleased with the scenes themselves which wasn’t the point of seeing them. …

July 1

At 10 o’clock went to Howard Hawks’ house for the most miserable of conferences I have yet experienced in the town—a day of fighting fog. Howard liked our scene so well he apparently wanted to abandon the entire picture and it. It was as though nothing had been written so far, only vague plans for scenes that might be. …

July 3

Today it was Billy’s neurosis which kept us from rewriting our sequence. He wanted it virtually new, with a new emphasis which he couldn’t find. As a result nothing was written and our nerves were in fringes. …

July 9

At the studio. Suggested an introspection scene for Sugarpuss which isn’t particularly good but is useful. Writing it took all day because most (p.161) of our time was occupied by a stream of visitors and telephone calls. … I lunched with two Bob Hope writers who told me a lot about working for him, which seems a fate worse than … [ellipses in original]

July 14

(No longer Bastille Day). Another hellish day. It began with Howard Hawks in the office when we arrived, reciting Goldwyn’s agitation and his inability to sign anyone for the picture until his script was finished. He had put the fear of God in Billy, put his finger on him—and the day was a sterile effort to find our very last episode. Jacques [Théry] sat in on our struggle in the afternoon. …

July 21

Arrived at the studio at 9 and we completed the Sugarpuss-Bill break scene, rather successfully we thought, with Sugarpuss, who had been trying in vain to write a letter, showing a blank piece of paper to Potts and saying, “That’s all the excuse I have.” We then started the next sequence when we were summoned to Howard’s office and found him singularly glum. He was troubled by the Sugarpuss-Potts relationship in the former stuff, troubled about the New Jersey trip. … We went in Sam’s office and for three hours the script, as far as it was written, was mauled and worried over by Goldwyn and Howard. I read the new stuff to Goldwyn. During the argument immediately following he said, “Why should she show him a letter when she can tell him what’s in it?” … The “motel” sequence, which is charming, was loathed by Goldwyn, as I knew it would be loathed, because of his horror at the … word motel. I had warned Billy, which gave me some satisfaction. For some reason the whole interlude, instead of depressing me, gave me a sense of the absurdity of life and my business, which made me very gay. …

July 21

A day at Howard Hawks’ is always a day of hell. He applied his fabulous anti-architectural methods to the script all morning. …

July 30

… went to a mysterious producers’ luncheon at the commissary, which proved to be for the Fight for Freedom Committee, to raise funds. We all heard the pleas enthusiastically, then Sam Goldwyn turned to the poorest salaried person there, one of the Bob Hope writers, and said, “What are you going to give?” He stammered in agony and finally said, “one week’s salary.” (p.162) Most of us protested and he lowered it to half a week’s salary, $250. I finally had to say that I thought it disgraceful to blackjack money from people in such a way as by asking that question of the lowest paid man present. Sam very angry. …

August 1

Dull day. Spent a good deal of the morning in Howard’s office, interviewing Barbara Stanwyck,15 a pleasant, heavy-faced girl, very wrong for Sugarpuss. …

August 5

Uneventful day. Devoted to arguing Howard into a scene where Sugarpuss gets a big diamond ring from Joe Lilac [gangster boyfriend played by Dana Andrews] and accepts it like a jubilant golddigger. Gary Cooper in Howard’s office, a little wistful when we suggested a starched collar and cuffs, but acquiescent. …

August 9

This morning at the studio a difficulty caused by the insertion of the new morning-after-Sugarpuss’s-arrival scare came to light and I have never seen a human being as miserable with impatience at supervisorial stupidity as Billy. His face a thundercloud, he sat and emanated hatred. Finally we managed to get the scene done with some improving touches and he went away happier. …

August 18

A day of rip-snorting work, from 9:00 with a brief lunch, to half-past 7. Then dinner at home, then the reading of two sequences to Goldwyn, who looked a million years old and very sleepy. With the reading he woke up, however, and was enthusiastic and flattering. Said he was delighted we had improved and put emotion into one scene which we had not changed, and hinted that Howard Hawks was laying claim to a lot of the writing. …

September 3

A day of cutting and polishing, climaxed by a long session with Goldwyn, demanding more cuts, accepting our suggestion for an important (p.163) one, then trying (for some sentimental reason) to argue us into believing in the cut … [ellipses in original]

September 12

A day of hard work all on the “coffee house” sequence.16 We lunched with Arthur at Lucey’s and with us was Ginger Rogers, very cute, very plain of face, very gay of spirit. …

September 15

Put the final touches on our tag and read it to Goldwyn. …

[That evening, Brackett flies to New York. At midnight on September 29, he takes the train for Providence, returning to New York on October 1. The following day, he takes the train to Saratoga Springs, returning to New York, by train, on October 4. On October 9, he returns to Saratoga Springs, via Albany, flying back to New York on October 14. He begins his return flight to Los Angeles on October 16, via United Airlines, on “the crummiest air vehicle I have seen for years.” His diary entries are full of references to old friends, but none are worthy of referencing.]

October 19

Breakfasted early and got to the studio at 9:00. Billy concurred in some scenes I’d sketched out, had a complete suggestion of his own and we had our task finished and approved by Hawks & Goldwyn before luncheon. … At 6:00 E. and I went to see Sergeant York, a good picture, even a noble picture, but something of a bore. …

[On October 20, Charles Brackett and family move temporarily to the Chateau Marmont.]

October 21

Slept until 9 … went to Eddie Schmidt and picked out the suit Sam Goldwyn is giving me (one also for Billy) for the script. …

(p.164) October 22

… met with Arthur and Billy at 3 and discussed our next picture—what it should be, Arthur leaning toward the resumption of Polonaise, Billy bringing forth his old passion for Eighty Days around the World. …

October 23

… Arthur, Billy and I saw a few reels of Louisiana Purchase to see if Zorina, God help us, would do for the role of the girl to be inserted in Polonaise. The answer was no, and the reels were awful, the halting play having been photographed intact. …

October 27

Back at Paramount after an absence of 9 months. Spent the morning in desultory conference with Billy and Arthur and lunched with them at Lucey’s, then napped and talked with Billy and worked with him till after 5. …

October 28

At the studio all day but too nervous about our Ball of Fire preview to do any effective work. Luncheon at the commissary. In the afternoon, to relieve his nervousness, Billy ran through Ball of Fire verbally, commenting on every scene. At 6:15 the Wilders and Walter Reisch came to dinner and all of us, Bean and Jacques compris, motored to the Academy Theatre in Inglewood for the preview. It went well, slow at first, then getting into its full stride for a grand old-fashioned movie, with yells of laughter from the audience. Drove home with Billy and Walter, dropped the latter and went to Sam for a session of cut-planning which lasted until 1:30 and was for me a great deal of fun. Find myself feeling the pleasure of a complete amateur let in on momentous doing when involved in such conferences.

October 29

A curiously unpleasant day. Wrote a foreword for Ball of Fire which everybody who saw it rewrote a little, as always happens in these last-minute things. Went to Sam’s and worked on the slang titles, seeing Hawks, whom I detest as cordially as ever. Luncheon with Sam, Hawks, Billy and Lubitsch, who refused to give Larmore any job in his [unidentified] picture Too Soft. Back to Paramount to try and get something for the end of Polonaise and Billy’s dislike of this story crystallized. Discussed The Traveling Saleswoman17 (p.165) idea with him and later with Jacques Théry, who had some brilliant suggestions at the tip of his tongue. …

October 30

Billy and I discussed Polonaise for an hour or two and at last marched on Arthur with our objections to it. He proved magnificently reasonable on the subject. …

November 1

… Bean and I went to our second preview of Ball of Fire at Long Beach. It went better than the first even, though Goldwyn seemed more nervous. …

November 2

Had to go to Sam Goldwyn’s for a rehash of the picture on which he threatens drastic cuts (second preview nerves). …

November 3

Worked on a foreword for Ball of Fire all morning, went to Goldwyn’s where Sam approved it, gave us lunch and showed us the parts of the picture which have been cut, and beautifully cut. …

November 4

… went alone, save for Jimmy, to a preview at Glendale, the kids going to see Lily Pons. Arrived at the big, crowded Alexandria Theatre early, saw a “March of Time” and a war short, which I had seen before, then came the drawing for a Packard which stood in the forecourt. From a machine like a great popcorn-popper slips were drawn, the numbers transmitted to other theatres by telephone, told to us by the master of ceremonies in person. No one in any of the theatres included claimed the first or second slip. Then the third was drawn and claimed by somebody in Pomona and the crowd tossed away their tickets in a great cardboard blizzard and the manager announced a preview—and then, receiving a communication, told the audience that the supposedly winning ticket had been a false alarm and another drawing must take place. Thereupon there was a wild scramble for the old tickets. The new drawing began, the manager hinting in his patter that he had his troubles. Some person not in our theatre won the Packard, thereupon the manager took the audience into his confidence: they were to be denied the preview because of one man in the audience—a man from Variety. Said (p.166) man from Variety had been asked to leave but had a ticket and refused to go. Mr. Goldwyn refused to show the picture where a representative of one trade paper was and not of the other. Thereupon the audience went mad, dangerously, roaringly mad, so that detectives had to come and stand beside the intruder. We of the preview party all retired to the lobby to learn that this was an employee of [Variety editor] Art Unger’s who had telephoned Art that his presence was known and received instructions to stay or lose his job. A man with a small salary and a dependent family, he stayed. Billy Wilkerson, editor of the rival paper [The Hollywood Reporter], was in the lobby grinning with delight at the mess. Frances Goldwyn very charmingly told the offending reporter from Variety that she did not blame him personally. About 10 o’clock we proceeded to Pasadena, went to the U.A. Theatre, saw a Pete Smith short, another short, then a Schlessinger cartoon, then Ball of Fire—and it laid a dreadful egg. It was like a version of the picture we’d seen before, seen in a nightmare. Playing it was like rowing upstream in a river of molasses—every speech became interminable, the sure-fire situations proved not to be sure-fire. There was some laughter but comparatively little and while the preview cards were all “Good” or “Fine” or “Excellent,” Billy, Sam and I were at the bottoms of despair. The old legend that pictures play alike to all audiences was definitely dispelled. Nothing had been cut, the different lay only in the preference of the audience.

November 5

Billy, pale and shaken, but didn’t want to discuss our disastrous showing last night. Preferred to go on to new things, but we have no new things to go on to. … Jacques [Thery] and I went to yet another preview of Ball of Fire at Huntington Park. It went far better than last night, in fact turned back into the picture we had thought it to be.

November 6

At the studio all day, thinking of nothing but the story about the girl who, to go home half-fare, dressed as though she were eleven, finally sold the idea to Arthur, if we can find some idea for a last act before Monday. …

November 21

… a luncheon with Sam Spiegel and Boris Morros, wherein they tried to get us to smuggle our services to them for an episode in Tales of (p.167) Manhattan. A conference with Buddy De Sylva in which Billy told our outline and Buddy approved it. …

November 24

Billy came to the studio with a charming idea for the last act and we found what I think a charming title, The Major and the Minor.18 Our luncheon with Ginger Rogers was on.

November 26

My 49th birthday. … Billy and I worked on the story all morning, went with Arthur and Leland to Ginger’s dressing room and told it, to her apparent and expressed amusement. …

December 1

A nervous day, due to a press preview of Ball of Fire slated for the evening at Glendale, and an interview between Arthur and Ginger which was to settle her being in the picture once and for all. … Joe Sistrom appointed an A producer, which pleases me. In the afternoon Billy had a nervous stomach-ache and neither of us had any thoughts of moment on the script. At 5 we told Arthur what little we had. He parted from us rather dolefully, we all agreeing to meet at Mocambo. I went to a Guild meeting devoted to the consideration of bargaining, and a wire from New York asking us to take a stand in fighting censorship by pressure groups such as the League of Decency—and as an example the censorship of the Garbo picture. I think it a vital issue for picture-makers but the rest insisted that it depended on the picture. They had heard the Garbo picture was bad. Meeting lasted until 12, when I repaired to Mocambo, to find Billy there, elated—a beautiful preview, and word from Arthur that Ginger had accepted. …

December 2

Great reviews in the trade press, though The Reporter laughed about Potts’ use of “Neither of us have,” a mistake made on the set which I was told was covered with another take. It was not, and I had to telephone Gary and ask him to dub in a line, which he consented to do. Regret its having been released as it was. My old fault of thinking it only necessary to say something is wrong, not yowl until it is corrected. Luncheon at the [writers’] table. Billy (p.168) had been distraught all day. In the afternoon the reason came out: domestic situation about to reach a crisis. At 5 he went home for an interview. About 7 he appeared here—Judith is getting out, leaving the baby with him, wants no money. He dazed and unhappy. …

December 3

Quite a day. At 10 Billy and I went to his house to talk to Judith and Maybelle or, rather with [Judith’s mother] Maybelle [Iribe], for Judith sat, a silent figure of something—hate, perhaps—while Maybelle talked wisely, charmingly, civilizedly, suggesting that Billy remain in the house with the baby, that she live in the little studio. Judith wanted to go away—where, she didn’t know—someplace where no one should know. Except for one bitter remark from Billy about Judith’s artistic yearnings and the ridiculousness of thinking him jealous of them—it went off with great style. We went to the studio, told Arthur the state of affairs, discussed the matter most of the rest of the day. I lunched and Word Gamed at the commissary. Came home at 5 and about 7 had a call from Billy that Judith had found him at Lucey’s, broken down completely, confessed her jealousy of his career, of all the interests that take him from her, been suicidal, said that her family loved his success, that it was what she hated. The happiest time of her marriage had been his breakdown when she really possessed him. Billy in a state. I knew no advice to give him, counseled sleeping on the question. …

December 4

Billy at the house while I was dressing, to report further on his conversation with Judith, which was followed after the concert by stopping at his house for some things and staying the night there. Today he was still trying to decide whether to resume the relationship permanently or not. … “You know my claustrophobia.” But, having reduced Judith to a state of complete abjectness and told her to go away for a time and think it over, was pretty happy. We worked all day, actually starting to write. …

December 7

Billy and I had planned on working today but as I was at breakfast he telephoned to say he had been out until 6 in the morning, could not work. Rather pleased, I settled down to [his unpublished novel] Alms for Oblivion, doing a few pages. At about 12 Billy was on the telephone again: Japan had air raided Pearl Harbor, a hundred dead, some three hundred (p.169) wounded—Manila bombed. The startling belligerence of the country became monotonous, the shocked references to the treachery and surprise. …

[After America’s entry into World War II, many of the diary entries, particularly in 1942, contain references to Brackett’s volunteer wartime activities as an air-raid warden and fire watcher, and to the occasional blackout affecting Los Angeles. To Lubitsch’s daughter, Steffi, in an October 1950 letter, he recounts, “Walter Reisch … reminded me of the famous air raid when Mr. Reisch had forgotten to close his blackout curtains and Ernst Lubitsch, the air raid warden, called, in that accent of his, ‘Walter—your lights! You have forgotten!’ and Walter replied, ‘Ach, yes, was gibt?’ Mervyn LeRoy, hearing this, yelled from his window, ‘German paratroopers have taken over!’”]

December 8

A day of general excitement at the studio. No work for us at all, save some brief consultations with Arthur. An hysterical SWG meeting at noon (Ralph had decided we must have a temporary contract to freeze the points under discussion during the national emergency—nice stunt, it he can work it). …

December 9

Billy made up a little story about thirty Japanese fliers on their way to bomb San Francisco, who used the President’s speech as a beam to guide them, were so moved by the speech that they turned back and bombed Tokyo. This went pretty well, so he telephoned it to Herb Stein, the columnist of The Hollywood Reporter. … Came home in time to hear the President’s magnificent speech: “All I can tell you is that none of the news is good.” Though he gave no details, the rumor is that the disaster in Pearl Harbor was far worse than any of us suspected. …

December 10

A loathsome day. Billy and I were beginning to discuss our script when Sy Bartlett, now Captain Bartlett, strode into the office, full of the confidence of a uniform, and began to try to get Billy to go to Washington on a Signal Corps job. He bragged of his own contributions to national defense, naming an instance which alarmed me with its foolishness, and seemed about to stay, when I said to Billy, “Don’t you think we ought to do a little work?” Whereupon there was a scene. I was standing in the way of national (p.170) defense—he hadn’t expected that of me! Billy was upset. I regretted having offended the ass. The morning was lost. Lunched with Billy gloomily at Lucey’s. We did a microscopic bit of work in the afternoon. The war news was terrible—two great British ships lost, possibly a third—the Japanese streaking all over the map. At the end of the afternoon Joe Sistrom and I had a talk in which he predicted Russia’s making peace with Germany, failing to declare war against Japan (as it has up to now) and seeking to profit by the general war, to set up a new economic system and grow rich. …

December 11

Woke to the news that Germany had declared war on the United States and Italy.19 We declared war back on them, and sank three Japanese battleships. Billy and I were very gay but unproductive. …

December 13

Worked at Billy’s all morning, getting a few lines on paper. The Wilder marriage is patched up, incidentally, and working better than ever. …

December 15

According to the new daylight schedule adopted for wartime, I arrived at the studio at 9 o’clock but Billy didn’t get in till 10, a fault I condoned with particular grace, as he loaned me $900 on my income tax. We dictated some of the stuff we had done and worked ahead. I lunched R.W. [Ruth Waterbury] at Perino’s and dined at home with the family, then went to a gigantic Screenwriters-Publicists-Newspaper Guild meeting to mobilize writers for defense work—a triumph of empty talk and futility, I thought.

December 21

Was working at some Christmas letters when a call from Billy got me to the studio to go over the Ginger Rogers episode in Tales of Manhattan, which we promised to inspect for [Sam] Spiegel. It was pretty bad. …

December 23

Another unprofitable day at the studio, a day devoted largely to being Fourth Floor Air Warden and explaining to everyone on the Fourth (p.171) Floor what to do in case of an air raid, and finally getting additional rather agitated instructions from Abe Hilton with the rest of the Air Raid Wardens and finding it incredible that I could be sitting in California taking part in such goings-on seriously. …

December 26

Billy very funny on the subject of his Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which ended in his taking Eva Gabor home from a party at the West Side Tennis Club, to which Arthur had invited him. He was a little tight and about to make a beautiful moving-in speech, in fact had started it as he swung his car around a curve, when he turned to find the seat next to him empty. Miss Gabor (also tight) had neglected to close the door and fallen out on the road, sustaining no injury but a bump on the behind. We accomplished very little all day. …

December 27

Worked steadily all morning. Lunched with Alan Campbell at Lucey’s, discussing the Ginger Rogers sequence with him for Tales, then went to 20th-Fox and saw the reels already shot and found them way above average, distinguished in fact. …

December 30

A good day as to script. Bad news from Leland about the deal he proposed for us with Paramount, and one stroke of great fun. Billy and I were working away hard for a reading to Buddy De Sylva at 4 o’clock when a telephone call came from Arthur that the long-awaited chance to have a test made of Bean had arrived. I was so excited and agitated I couldn’t ask the right questions of Arthur and he was excited and agitated too. After a few calls back and forth it was arranged for Bean to be at his office at 3:30. We had the reading for Buddy at 4:30 and he seemed pleased. …

December 31

The studio came through with no salary adjustments, which leaves me in a hell of a position with regard to March 15th [tax day]. Arthur called about 11 to say I could see Bean’s test. He, Billy and I saw it and it seemed to me extraordinarily lovely and to them excellent. Her eyes photograph magnificently. … We went to Sam Spiegel’s for a New Year’s Eve party—more champagne than I care to count. … At midnight as always we jumped into the New Year with gold in our hands. …

Notes:

(1.) First reference to Ball of Fire under this title.

(2.) Brackett finished reading it the next day.

(3.) Brackett has a luncheon the following day with various individuals to discuss the matter further.

(4.) Barney Elliott, who photographed the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge using 16mm Kodachrome.

(5.) Orsatti Talent Agency, run by Al, Ernest, Frank, James, and Victor Orsatti.

(6.) Brackett and Wilder claimed not to have used Ketti Frings’s story as the basis for their film.

(7.) The scene involved the Boyer character talking to a cockroach in a hotel room; it was not filmed.

(8.) Filmed by Otto Preminger in 1943.

(9.) Unidentified film project.

(10.) Exclusive Beverly Hills clothing store, specializing in handmade items, often imported from Europe, and catering to both men and women.

(11.) A self-critical mood.

(12.) On June 21, Russia and Germany had declared war.

(13.) La Polonaise was the story of an American athlete who goes to Warsaw to visit his grandmother and gets caught up in the war. It was suggested that William Holden might have played the lead.

(14.) Only reference to this actress being considered for role of Sugarpuss in Ball of Fire.

(15.) First, and abrupt, reference to Barbara Stanwyck’s playing Sugarpuss.

(16.) An expression given by Billy Wilder to the nightclub sequence, on which the pair had been working since the previous day.

(17.) A film of this title was made by Columbia in 1950.

(18.) First reference to The Major and the Minor.

(19.) On December 10, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.