Abstract and Keywords
In these diary entries written between January and December 1949, Hollywood screenwriter Charles Brackett lists his activities: working at the studio with Billy Wilder but failing to advance the script they were writing; reading The African Queen, not very impressed with it as story possibility; discussing The Heiress with Wilder and D. M. Marshman; talking with agent Leland Hayward; going to The Blue Danube restaurant with Wilder and future wife Audrey; having a talk with D. A. Doran, who wanted Brackett to take on a great project about Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand; having a talk with Y. Frank Freeman about pictures Brackett made the previous year; hearing the score for “A Strange Garden”; attending Clifton Webb's birthday party; working with Wilder for Sunset Blvd. commentary; and having a conference with Walter Reisch at the studio.
Worked at the studio with Billy all day, advancing our script not one inch. We are stuck with the problem of Gillis changing his position from one of secretary tomcat to one of actual lover. …
Slept late but got to Billy’s about 11:15 and found that he’d decided that the motif of writing a screenplay for Desmond should be set in the first scene between her and Gillis. Disapproved, and argued against it, but Mr. W. was insistent.
… I spent the evening reading The African Queen,1 not very impressed with it as story possibility.
Not a pleasant day. I had to stop at MCA to see Herman Citron about my contract, which it seems will have all the unpleasant aspects we tried to fight against and in addition pay me $25,000 less than the million originally stipulated. …
Stopped at Billy’s to get his proxy for the SWG meeting and he gave me one of his lethal cocktails. Mac and I dined here and went to the most extraordinarily dull Guild meeting I ever attended. Toward 12:00 the Leftists began their usual delaying tactics—a kind of dreary filibuster and I knew something (p.360) was up. It turned out they wanted John Howard Lawson on the bargaining committee which is to meet with the producers. Motion defeated. We killed off The Screenwriter [organization newsletter] to save $2,500 a year. …
Billy and I, instead of fiddling with the last scene, discussed the next scene all morning. … [Herman] Citron arrived with Montgomery Clift, with whom we discussed the story, selling him the idea at last, or so we think. As he left Billy said, “He might be any pimply messenger boy on the lot” and so he might in appearance.
Went to Billy’s to work but Billy felt he was coming down with the flu and must have a penicillin inhalation, and work, save for the briefest exchange of ideas, was unthinkable. It is a fantastic proof of the strength of Billy’s personality that after fifteen years of such nonsense he can awaken a kind of amused solicitude in me. …
Discussed The Heiress2 with Billy and Mac [Marshman], then worked with Billy the remainder of the morning. The English distributor insists of having the Hilo Hattie scene cut from Tatlock [Miss Tatlock’s Millions]. … Billy and I worked until a call came from Willy Wyler to come and discuss his picture. “Now tell me,” he said, “all the things you’ve been saying about the picture all day.” He took our comments with wonderful good temper and grace but still seems to feel that he is right about not revealing the purpose of the young man early in the picture. …
Came home and changed and went to the Dwight Taylors3 to a family dinner—Jessie Royce Landis4 and I the only guests. It’s a house where there seems to be happiness and fun. Dwight told wonderful theatrical stories like the (p.361) one about Ethel Barrymore who had at some provincial theatre the dressing room next [to] her brother Jack. A tiresome late Victorian lady came to call on her, full of admiration for her uncle, John Drew,5 what a wonderful actor he was, what a great gentleman, etc. She’s seen him last in the last play where he portrayed a man of the world. What was the name of it? Ethel couldn’t think, so she called through the partition, “Jack, what was the name of that last thing Uncle John was in?” “Mary Boland,”6 Jack’s voice boomed out.
He told a story he’d told me before, of his mother [Laurette Taylor] at a British dinner party, seeing a woman whose back and arms were covered with freckles. She said to the man next to her, “Do you think a woman with all those freckles should wear such a low-cut dress?” “Madame,” her neighbor replied, “That is my wife.” Laurette didn’t let herself be thrown off her stride. “Then you can tell me,” she said, “if she’s like that all over.”
… As I worked with Billy this morning he said something which shows his fantastic lack of ability to appraise himself. “I could make a million dollars in a few years,” he stated. “I would only have to hire five or six radio writers, get hold of some properties cheap, turn them into practical screenplays and sell them for tremendous capital gains.” That the sterile perfectionist should have such a dream amused Mac Marshman as much as it did me when I recounted it to him. …
The day’s work was broken up by the news that Miss Swanson had arrived in town. We made some changes in the portion mimeographed so far. I suggested that she drop in at 12 o’clock. She allowed as how she’d arrived at 6, hadn’t got a proper room at the hotel. I suggested tomorrow at 12. …
Actually did a paragraph or so with Billy before la Swanson arrived. We had a satisfactory talk with her. I took her to Romanoff’s to luncheon and drove her back to the studio to see A Foreign Affair. Billy was (p.362) out looking at pictures. When he got back we conferred with Miss Swanson, Buddy Coleman, Edith Head, etc., about costumes for Miss S’s test. … She has been ill from an appendix operation which had to be done twice and was scared almost out of her wits by having her bed in the train start to close with her in it (a frightful experience for a claustrophobe). I thought she’d had enough for today and sent her home. I am greatly impressed by the extraordinary, rather violent, slightly wicked beauty of her face, of her hair.
… A frenzied call came from Swanson—she didn’t get the line of the part, would I discuss it with her? Reluctantly I went down and listened for a couple of hours while she picked flaws in Norma Desmond’s living in such curious squalor if she had a million dollars. I foresee that Billy simply won’t be able to take this kind of star-interference with the script. …
… Billy and I worked on the home-movies scene until Gloria appeared from Edith Head’s, whereupon Billy was really superb, quieting her fears, telling her to stop worrying about script and let us take the responsibility—kidding but bolstering her at the same time. I think she’ll be all right. …
Forgot to set down a story la Swanson told us yesterday. It was about the days when she and Herbert Marshall were a thing that was setting Hollywood on its ear. Finally people began cutting them and one night for a joke Gloria called Marshall and said “Wear your black tie tonight. It’s a dinner party.” When he arrived he said, “Are there really people coming? Who?” “Surprise,” she said—and led him to a dining table with ten guests. Only the guests were dummies brought from the studio and seated around the table, each with a place card with some bitter parody of an erstwhile friend’s name on it. They went through dinner, strangely put out by the dummy presence, then took the elevator down to the projection room and saw a picture. When they left the projection room the elevator brought them to the dining room. The butler had set all the dummy guests against the wall. Gloria had not dreamed any such thing could happen. It was all right save for the fact that the male dummies had no legs but sat with little stumps sticking out before them … [ellipses in original] To submit the one-legged Marshall to the spectacle of (p.363) that row of figures was so horrible to her that she burst into tears and ran into the library, Marshall hobbling after her to take her in his arms.
… When I got to the studio at 5, Gloria had gone and Billy felt very pleased with her. She has no inhibitions, it’s just a question of holding her back properly. … To RKO at 8:00 to see the running of nominated short subjects, which were highly mediocre. Margaret Herrick talked part of one ear off afterwards. In her way she’s as great a master of doubletalk as Henry Ginsberg.
The Awards nominations were in the morning paper. … At the studio Billy paid the first acknowledgment to the fact that we as a team had worked together that I can remember. He had read the Academy Awards and while Foreign Affair is on the list for Best Written Picture, it is our only mention. … He sighed and said, “For some time I have been worried about our product.” So have I. … At 3:00 saw the tests. I thought the first one appallingly directed, the second pretty good. The front office was very impressed. It was agreed that Swanson would do. …
… a conference with Bill Meiklejohn who said flatly that New York refused to pay a cent more than $35,000 for von Stroheim; with D. A. Doran, who said Henry was apoplectic with horror at some of the lines in the test, which he regarded as befouling the nest of Paramount. Billy and I had a talk with Doran explaining in von Stroheim we had plus values, of audience knowledge that we couldn’t possibly get with any other man. …
Fortunately, Billy called me in the midst of leisurely dressing to remind me that we were going to Pasadena at 9:30 to inspect the house Buddy [Coleman] had found there [to stand in as the Norma Desmond mansion]. I had to race through my breakfast with Tig, to get to the studio in time, and we set out. … The house wasn’t nearly as good as it had looked in the photographs. … We were just finishing our luncheon when Buddy Coleman pointed up to the ceiling, “We’ve found it, we’ve found the house! (p.364) It’s the one Frenchy has been passing everyday for ten years.” “Where is it?” “On Wilshire.” As soon as we could, we piled into studio cars and went to the corner of Wilshire and Irving, where stands the ghost of a very great, preposterous pachyderm of a mansion in a ruined garden, with a garage in just the right relation to the house, with every detail of old box hedges, smothered in high grass, completely perfect. We came back elated and did a little work on the young New Year’s Eve. …
A rather alarming day of trying to block out the remainder of the script and finding nothing but banal scenes and emptiness ahead. …
… Billy came in with a good suggestion for using Artie Breen, a boy already introduced into the script, for the boy with whom the girl’s happiness lies. We discussed until noon, when there was a great general meeting of everybody in the studio with the big brass from the East—addresses by Balaban and Zukor. …
… We had sandwiches and bridge with Dick Breen at luncheon and Bill Meiklejohn brought Nancy Olson,7 who’s to play our lead, into the office—she’s not very pretty but has a right quality.
… 5:30 when Foreign Affair was on the air with Roz Russell playing Phoebe, Marlene playing Von Schutow and John playing Captain Pringle. Billy did an introduction and played the waiter in the Lorelei. The radio script was horrible, with every situation and every joke commonized and Roz’s performance, had it come early, would have got the Academy Award—for Jean Arthur. She played it like a comic valentine old maid, as Ruth Hussey did. …
… I’d had the idea it might be wise to build a fake swimming pool outside our house on Wilshire, so after luncheon we took [Hans] Dreier and (p.365) Bud [Coleman] and Sid over there and planned it. I then started a nap while Billy worked on his speech for the Cinematographers’ Society [American Society of Cinematographers].
I was rudely awakened from it by Billy, Herman Citron, and the news that Montgomery Clift has turned down Sunset Blvd.—a staggering blow which ended work for the day, save for feeble attempts to recast it, I thinking Alan Ladd would be endurable, Billy thinking John Garfield would be endurable, Mac [Marshman] thinking Burt Lancaster would be endurable—which means Garfield, if I read my stars aright.8
… Our project has been torpedoed by the news. Billy tends steadfastly towards John Garfield. I have moved my support to Burt Lancaster. Bill Meiklejohn wants me to talk to Clift. … Inspected some plans for the pool in our picture, finally got hold of Monty Clift on the phone, who was adamant in his feeling that he shouldn’t play in Sunset Boulevard—butadamant in a rather gentle way, if I may say so, which gave me some hope. I flattered him outrageously. He said he liked me and longed to work with us, but not in this. …
… Talked from the studio with [agent] Leland Hayward, who said he’d made a pitch with Clift. Billy announced that if the studio made him put Lund or Ladd in the part he’d walk out of the picture. I replied that if Garfield was put in the part I’d walk out of the picture. We then started work on the Schwab’s9 scene.
The morning was spent trying to find someone to replace Clift, who has repeated to Herman Citron that he won’t do the picture—a weary round of Garfield, Lancaster or Marlon Brando (if by odd chance we could get him). … I dined at home and went to 20th to see [producer] Sy Bartlett’s (p.366) picture, Down to the Sea in Ships. My reason for going was that we had some wild idea that Richard Widmark (who plays his first sympathetic screen role in the picture) might do for our boy. He wouldn’t, as he looks a very balding thirty-five and has a kind of old abalone toughness which I find very displeasing. The picture is one that Sy consulted me about a year or so ago. I suggested some elimination and a couple of scenes (one based on a scene about the old grandfather in my play Legacy) and I was pleased to see that they were in the picture. Naturally no reference to the fact from Sy. I wonder if a Jew has ever been known to acknowledge that he got an idea from anyone.
Billy came into the studio, resigned to the substitution of Bill [William] Holden for Montgomery Clift. …
Billy collided with the von Stroheim character today, realized he wasn’t an integral part of the story but must be, must at least have some important scenes. Therefore a stalled and agonized day. …
Worked with Billy all day, trying to find scenes for Stroheim and putting back patches Billy had unraveled. Why such indecisiveness should have descended on him I can’t understand. Rosy Rosenstein brought in Dick Breen’s radio actor, Jack Webb, whom I’d suggested to play Artie Breen in our picture. Billy was enchanted with him. …
Quite a row developed in the office this morning when Mac (who was making revisions in the first part) asked about changing the name of Artie Breen. I’d suggested calling Jack Webb something Italian. Billy insisted he be called Artie Hirsch. Suddenly he was accusing us of disapproval of Jewish-Gentile marriages. We informed him that we thought to make the one pleasant and likeable and good person in our current undertaking too obviously Jewish would have the same irritating effect on a public which has been overdosed with Gentleman’s Agreement, Crossfire, Young Lions, etc. We’re all for a touch of Jewish propaganda—that’s why I didn’t hesitate to take delightful Jack Webb for the role—but don’t overdo it by having it bad and irritating propaganda. He will probably be called Artie Hirsch. … (p.367) At 3:00 Montgomery Clift came into the office—pleasant, polite, even affectionate, but with a kind of bending-backward-but-not-breaking firmness. We avoided any hint of high pressure. I tried to tell him more of the story and interest him. He left unyielding. I could swear someone he loves has said to him, “You mustn’t play that dreadful part. Promise me you won’t. I’ll never speak to you again if you play that part.”10 Anyway, we seemed to be wasting our arguments on some offstage person and profound depression settled on me as we saw Henry and made the definite decision to put Bill Holden into the role. We solaced ourselves with bridge until 7:00.
I dined home alone and went to see Bill Holden in The Dark Past, a quite interesting picture in which he wears a crew cut, still looks thirty, but gives a wonderful performance.
Had a serious conference all morning, Billy, Mac and I, as to the degree of Norma Desmond’s insanity, it being my point that we’re making her too insane—that our boy is kept not by a rich egocentric woman but by a madwoman. That he becomes not only kept but the keeper. Billy defended her sanity stoutly. …
… I had to go to the last-minute-before-the-awards meeting of the Academy. First Jean [Hersholt], Margaret Herrick and I had to count the Foreign Picture Award ballots—which chose Monsieur Vincent by a very small margin. Then came the big meeting of the Board. The spectacle of making special awards was made a little uglier this year by Walter Wanger, who was in slugging for an award for Joan of Arc (which had been turned down by the Academy membership as not one of the best pictures). He had [publicist] Perry Lieber beside him with notes and also argued passionately for the picture himself. Finally it was decided to give Walter himself an award “for increasing the moral stature of the industry in the world community by his production of Joan of Arc.” (p.368)
Then came special awards, one to the boy in The Search, one (and here I retched and argued, as did Willie Wyler) for Sid Grauman as a showman, one for Adolph Zukor. Then came the battle about the Thalberg Award, Walter Wanger fighting to get it for himself; Dore Schary pretty [indecipherable] that it wasn’t being given to him (his publicity has convinced him that all such trifles should automatically be laid at his feet). Some men from 20th loud and stubborn for [Darryl F.] Zanuck. Willie Wyler and I thought no award should be given but finally voted for Jerry Wald. Then, after the meeting was over, came the problem of phrasing the presentation speeches. It’s now 3:15.
… I’d asked Frank and Mariska [Partos], Allen Vincent and Gloria Swanson, Dick and Dorothy Breen to dinner before the celebration. Frank arrived as nervous as a witch, convinced he was going to win the Award, that Snake Pit would make a clean sweep. … We all had to break from the table and run to the parking lot to be transferred to other cars and whisked to the Academy Awards Theatre. We got there before the Star Spangled Banner had begun.
The show ran infinitely more smoothly and better than any previous show. Dick and I had known our chances of the writing award were small but had thought it would surely go to Alan or Frank. It went to John Huston. So did the award for Direction. Snake Pit was never mentioned and my pictures were never mentioned in the finals. … As a crowning surprise came the award for Best Picture. Ethel read the names of the nominated pictures, opened the envelope, seemed to gag, then uttered the syllables Hamlet and almost ran from the stage. She of course hates Hamlet (Olivier’s version) as does no other human being, regards it as a sheer impertinence done against her brother Jack’s memory. …
… at 4:00 this morning Billy shot the scene at the entrance to the morgue. What was my surprise to find him at the office when I arrived, though asleep or trying to sleep. We visited when he gave up the attempt, walked on the set, discussed various aspects of the picture, but did no work. I lunched John Van Druten at Romanoff’s. … He hadn’t known that Sunset (p.369) Boulevard was to be my last with Billy and he was quite unflatteringly affected by the news. …
… I had two hours very pleasant work with Billy. He tells me he’s going to direct The Last Frontier11 for Sydney Buchman—strangely enough a book I once wanted to buy for pictures. I told him Van Druten’s line about thinking our severance like the breaking up of Gilbert and Sullivan. “Breaking up?” he said. “What does he mean ‘breaking up?’” “Merely that we’ll never work together again.” “Want to bet?” Billy asked, with the sublime assumption that it would be he who decided whether we’d work together. I didn’t take the bet, couldn’t in honor. …
Billy and I dined at his house with Audrey [the future Mrs. Billy Wilder], who is “his girl” and he and I worked until 10:30. Audrey is pretty, young, a little deaf, and limited in education and intelligence. … Am I merely deceiving myself when I view his life, upon which the bores and parasites are moving so fast, with a lot of pity for him, and regret for that mind of his which can be so first-rate at best, and so ox-stupid at worst. … It was not an evening of inspired work but very useful.
Billy came to breakfast, liked the bacon, liked the muffins, and there is something about the odd, capriciously critical creature that makes it pleasant to have him like them. …
… Billy and I set to work on the rewrite but there was an interruption of some length when we had to go to Edith Head’s and inspect some costumes for Gloria. … We started to work briskly—when Erich von Stroheim and his Denise [Vernac] arrived and we had to devote over an hour to hearing his criticism of and suggestions for the script. They boiled down to the fact that his part wasn’t important enough and his suggestions of flashes showing him doing various menial duties, with worship of Swanson in his (p.370) eyes, were endless—polishing shoes being the chief one (c.f. the foot fetishism in his Merry Wido w). Anyway the afternoon was gone. … I dined at Billy’s with Audrey. … After dinner, until 11:15, Billy and I wrote hard … [ellipses in original] It seems to me we’re being heavy-handed, but perhaps it won’t show in this picture, as it did in The Emperor Waltz.
… Saw the set, which is miraculously good in its recapturing of old Hollywood. Worked until about 6 on the script (including calling on DeMille to confirm the fact that he’ll do our scene). …
… Billy took Audrey and me to The Blue Danube, the restaurant he’s helped to finance for Joe May12 (the director who brought him to Hollywood in the first place). It is badly located—on Robertson [Boulevard]—and was not very full tonight. The food is superb, but Viennese and a little esoteric for the average American palate. I’m afraid it isn’t going to be a go …[ellipses in original] After dinner Billy and I worked at his house until 11, making real progress.
… I got to the studio and we did some more work and played bridge, then Billy came here to dinner and we worked until 10, when he was off, on some amorous adventure, after the most tender and devoted call to Audrey. It is the pattern of his life to reduce girls, by amorous methods to a kind of subhuman form of life—to revel in their subjection—and yet to have to get away from it … [ellipses in original] The methods, I gather, are great sex vitality, with a great deal of jollity about it, terrific ham histrionics of melancholy and need, and unremitting protestations of devotion (utterly without substance). The result is a kind of drooling dog worship, embarrassing to witness.
Billy, Mac [Marshman] and I discussed our story problem all morning and got word that [Cecil B.] DeMille, whom we’d hoped to have (p.371) free, would cost $10,000. He’s well worth it. … Hedy Lamarr had agreed to appear for a flash for $1,500. She upped it to $20,000 and is out. …
A long conference this morning, geared by Doran’s criticism. We decided that the emotional Norma-DeMille scene may throw the emphasis of the picture out and that it should be replaced by a scene of arrogance on her part—another ice-cold scene in a chilly picture. …
Woke at 7:45, breakfasted with Tig and got to the studio well before the first shot. Gave Billy the mezuzah with which we begin our ventures, saw the first scene shot, grieving that nice Bill Holden looks so hopelessly connubial. Had a long session with Gloria and Edie [Edith Head], looking at the costume tests—an agonizing session, as they had been lighted from above and Gloria looked not a smart woman of fifty but a horrifying lady of sixty-odd. Went to the luncheon table but Billy was just finishing so I had to go back to the costume rushes with him. Fortunately they showed costume tests of Nancy Olson first, whose youth showed up the withered photography of Gloria, to her infinite relief … [ellipses in original] [D.A.] Doran worried about some of the clothes, which means that Henry [Ginsberg] was worried about them—an involvement we’ve met before.
Gave Gloria her mezuzah but felt it would make her nervous to watch her first scene so did some writing in the office. Lunched and word-gamed at the table, napped. At 4:00 Mac [Marshman] and I saw yesterday’s rushes, which were excellent, though Bill Holden looks too old in the first scene. In the scene with Stroheim he’s just the right age and Stroheim’s personality gives just the right note to the house. Then went to the set and heard Gloria do her scene about the movies—just as heavily and badly as she did it in the test. Billy assures me it will be so arresting in the sinister atmosphere of the house that it won’t matter. He may be right but I feel she could be coached to something more human.
It was the company’s first day on location on Wilshire but I had no time to go there. … Dinner at home and an Academy Board meeting, (p.372) the last for the current board. It was remarkable only for a long diatribe by Walter Wanger, the only Academy member who has done something this year to embarrass the Academy. First by unblushing efforts to get an Award for Joan of Arc and when they were unsuccessful and he only wangled an award for himself—he’s advertising the picture as one which had been given an Academy Award. Tonight he had the unmitigated gall to try and becloud our memories by talking interminably on the great part the Academy could play in the industry by cleaning up the impressions made by “those damned columnists.” … At the close of the meeting I couldn’t believe that Jean [Hersholt] wouldn’t be sitting at the head of the table at the next meeting. Indeed I felt as I did when the old New York World folded. …
… In the afternoon Margaret Herrick brought me the Academy cheques to sign and apprised me of the fact that Jean Hersholt wants to be nominated by acclaim for the Presidency of the Academy next year, though it will require a setting-aside of the Academy rules. My feeling is that this is a dandy solution—but the fact that it is being maneuvered by Walter Wanger makes me pretty mad. …
Another figure on the set is Sugie, the stand-in for Bill Holden, who uses him when Brian Donlevy13 doesn’t. Sugie is a veteran of World War One and would appear to be the most flaring fairy imaginable, If anyone uses an obscene word before him he says, “oh, you wildflower.” He is addicted to hot chocolate and sometimes comes in with a real chocolate hangover. He will say, “Oh, I feel just like a butterfly that’s come to beautiful rest on a marshmallow!” It seems that in the war he was in some burst of shellfire which castrated him, cost him an eye, so that one of his eyes is glass, and crushed in his skull so that it’s been trepanned with a silver plate. The attitude of Paramount to him, the protectiveness gentleness and affection everyone shows him, is one of the endearing things about the studio.
… Saw the rushes which were badly lighted. Johnny Seitz not being a top-notch cameraman. As a result we have to say that every day’s work (p.373) should be printed “up” or “down” … [ellipses in original] It seems Erich von Stroheim, in a brief scene yesterday, had merely to arrange the screen for the showing of a silent picture. He sweats a good bit as he is apt to do and Billy told the makeup man to take care of his face. When the makeup man approached him Erich said, “What do you think you are going to do?” “Makeup, Mr. von Stroheim.” “Are you going to make up my ass?” Erich responded, “because that’s all that’s being photographed.” …
There were tensions between Billy and von Stroheim on the set and I had to do my best to ease them, get the scene we did yesterday typed, telephone Theda Bara14 to try and get her to sit at the bridge table, a job she refused with hauteur. Had to get Jetta Goudal15 on the phone for the same purpose. She refused with hauteur, but as bad luck would have it, knew Bill [Holden] and Betty Allen and yukked about them for a good half hour. Finally Billy and I decided on good, kind Anna Q. Nilsson,16 who arrived about 5. I had to see to what she shall wear. The rushes were brief and showed the monotony of attitude in Swanson and Holden which is beginning to worry Mac Marshman and me considerably. Mac said quite simply, “It just occurred to me this can be a picture that nobody will like.” I’d thought of that before.
Had to get to the studio in time to give Anna Q.’s get-up my approval. She looked well, by the way, the ghost of a beauty. H. B. Warner and Buster Keaton were somber relics of the past. And Gloria, looking absolutely sparkling, full of the sense that she’d beaten the years far better than they, made a great fourth. … Spent most of the morning on the set, a deep depression upon me. … Went to the Academy to sign some cheques and talk with Margaret, who had nothing to say but a lot of words to say it in. Back in time for the rushes, which were good. There was a picture taken of the whole cast and crew on the staircase, DeMille amongst us. (I said to him as he entered (p.374) the set where H. B. Warner sat, “Prepare to meet your God”) … [ellipses in original] Erich von Stroheim had been told that the picture would be taken at 5:30. He arrived at 5:15 and it was already taken and he came into the rushes (as run for the company): “Not that I give a damn, I’m not in the picture anyway.” …
Mac [Marshman] came to dinner with me and from 9 till 10 I worked with Billy at Billy’s. He tells me a colloquy with von Stroheim who has always thought Swanson too young and desirable for the role of Norma. “Look at her,” he said. “I would like to fuck her now!” “I,” said Billy, “would rather fuck you.” “You have,” von Stroheim retorted.
[On May 5, Brackett records the birth of his grandson, C. J. Moore III, and the next day Hedda Hopper runs an item in her column.]
Got to the studio at 9 and heard the run-through of the Producer scene, which is Nancy’s first entrance. Wasn’t particularly impressed with her, but the scene played well. …
… Saw the rushes at 4. … Fred Clark, who played the producer (a Paramount producer at that) had translated the lines of what was not meant to be heavy-handed … into a scene of such nasty cruelty that I hate it violently. Billy upset by my criticisms but even his stooges agreed that the producer was a stinker. It isn’t bad for our story but it makes our attitude towards Hollywood snide and unworthy of the treatment Hollywood has given us. …
… The company was shooting the start of the chase sequence at the Bel Air Gate. I watched them until about 10:30 then went to the studio. Herman Citron and Lew Wasserman came in. We went through the proposed contract, as revised. I signed it. Lew tried to get me to sign a new 7-year contract with MCA. I refused and shall continue to do so. … Billy and the company came back. We conferred on various matters. The front office has passed the Sheldrake scene without a question. Strangely I think it has convinced (p.375) Billy that I am right about the scene being too disagreeable and the front office is wrong. We had in Luraschi and questioned him about the Breen office attitude towards Bill Holden’s kissing Gloria as she lies on the bed. “All right,” Luigi said crisply, “so long as he has both feet on the floor.” …
In the afternoon I spent a little time on the set. Gloria was about to do her Chaplin imitation and everybody on the set wore a black derby.
… had a talk with D. A. Doran, who wants me to take on a great project about Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, which doesn’t stimulate me in the least. …
… [An Academy board meeting] Walter Wanger primed for mischief; the Board not too full of friendly faces except John Green’s and George Murphy’s (which was covered with a growth of gray beard for the picture he’s doing); George Stevens. The rest impersonal, friendly enough. I opened the meeting. I recognized Wanger and he made a long, unspeakably dull speech re Academy aims, all vague, and yet somehow hypnotic to this particular board. He began urging Hersholt’s election, which necessitated a change of by-laws which could only be done by the vote of 2/3 present. It was voted … [ellipses in original] (Herschel Green was presiding by now) to take a vote on having another meeting to change the by-laws. We adjourned the meeting and reassembled. The vote as to whether the by-laws should be changed was secret. Looking at Wanger’s exuberant face, I voted no. Two no votes were necessary to defeat the change of rules. There were four. Johnny Green nominated me. I was then elected by acclaim, except for Dore Schary’s proxy who conscientiously registered Dore’s third-choice vote, Hersholt—Brackett—Murphy. Murph refused nomination flatly. It was all a little shabby and tricky but I was in and Wanger’s angry face made it eminently worthwhile. …
Slept rather late, found a good many telegrams of congratulation at the studio but none from Jean Hersholt. There was a lot of pleasant joking about my new title around the lot. Billy was shooting the kid New Year’s party. … In the afternoon Gloria and I looked at Queen Kelly. … Much of it (p.376) has the fantastic physical beauty silent pictures achieved and which talking pictures have never quite reached. … The only comment Gloria made on the extravagance of the picture was to say quietly, “I paid for that food.” …
… Billy, Doane, Mac, Artie, Frank, Buddy Coleman, Hugh Brown and Oswald and I dined at Lucey’s and then looked at the rough cut. It’s an uneven picture, interminably slow in parts, excellent when Swanson is involved, dull otherwise and lacking in emotion. If we can speed up the beginning it may be viable. …
All day they shot a 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.
… At the studio I had a call from D. A. Doran. It seems Russell Holman in New York had drawn up a plan for making Streetcar Named Desire into a picture. He gave it to me to read. I told him I thought Paramount was making enough morbid pictures but would read it. Did so and was intensely amused to find that what Holman had emphasized was the so-called Communist angle. Holman the most conservative of reactionaries. Also it was clear that his idea of making an arresting picture is to make a shocking story mildly, an interesting document. …
… Henry lunched me at Perino’s … asked me to do more work as an executive, not produce any more pictures this year. I said I’d try the script-overseeing he suggested for a time, but doubted if it would work out. Went back to the office and napped and wrote on the Norma-Gillis final scene. Saw the rushes, which will have to be retaken due to faulty lighting. Gloria, who saw them with me, was delighted at the chance to work some more. (p.377)
Billy and I lunched with the Head of the Homicide Squad in Los Angeles and pumped him about what would happen in the case of a murder like the one in the story. At least Billy got him to say that everything he, Billy, wanted was perfectly probable. Buddy Coleman and I would have settled for a quieter murder.
… the Bulova [watch] deal, at a lowered rate, has gone through, so some hopes of Academy solvency. …
… At 1:00 I had to go to Louella’s and read her a scene between her and Hedda and urge her to consent to do it. It seemed possible she would. …
A day of racing activity that got nowhere. Two memorable telephone calls: one from Garbo asking if I would work away from Paramount. The second (and how different) from Louella. There was a notice in the Rambling Reporter [gossip column in The Hollywood Reporter] that Billy and I were angling to get both Louella and Hedda into the picture, with snide implication of trickery. I had a call from Louella when I was out, called back. She was busy. Finally I got her, tried to reopen her interest in the project and was greeted by scurrility and real washerwoman abuse. “It was an insult to ask me to do such a thing. I’ve stuck my neck out for you and Billy Wilder, but never again. You’re not a friend of mine and never have been. A woman of my position doesn’t have to put up with that kind of thing. …” One has to be 57 I guess to be able to get that kind of a storm of abuse and while it is in progress be amused, realize that one doesn’t give a damn and maintain a few points on one’s own side for future vindication.
I also had a long talk with Henry, sold him the idea that he, Billy and I should map out an exciting over-all studio policy, and that the immediate need of the studio was story constructionists—Walter Reisch suggested. …
A day spent largely on the final speech of Norma’s. On the set Billy changed to my suggestion that the words “cameras” wake Norma from (p.378) her doze instead of having Max use the cameras as a stratagem to make her talk. …
Dined at home and went at 9 to Billy’s. Billy had the excellent idea that the last speech be a kind of happy madness, touching the sort of emotion we once had in the DeMille scene. We wrote it. … I took the stuff to the studio, just for the pleasure of that familiar ride, made easy by the night emptiness of the roads.
This is the day we were to do the von Stroheim–Gillis scene in the interstices of Billy’s day on the set. It proved to be a day practically without interstices, the day of Gloria’s descent of the staircase and final speech. …
… back to Lucey’s for dinner with the crew, Billy, Doane, etc. Back to the set to see the final scene. I felt Billy should have gotten more takes. Afterwards he was too tired to work, so came home. His fatigue fails to impress me as much as the fantastic stamina of Swanson, a woman of fifty who spent the day going down a staircase without looking at the steps, having her hand in a strange Salome-esque dance fashion, who at 8:00 o’clock had to do her most highly emotional scene, and who seemed to get through with no bad effects whatever.
Went to Billy’s at about 9 and we did the Max-Gillis scene, getting through it by 11:30. It was probably the last scene we’ll write together, but neither of us referred to that fact. …
… I went to the Blue Danube where Billy and I gave a party for the cast, crew and staff—a highly successful one. …
… Billy tells me he’s going away for a week with Audrey. Whether he will marry her or not he doesn’t know. If he does it only means he won’t have to drive her home late at night. He is in his child-of-destiny, tossed bythe-winds-of-change mood. He knows with complete, carefully-thought-out clarity. (p.379)
Gloria gave gifts today. It’s the only thing about which she’s been uncomfortably old-fashioned—the giving of lavish gifts. She presented me with a small Chinese philosopher (very fine and very rare) on a crystal stand. This caused me discomfort and embarrassment and was the kind of extravagance Gloria couldn’t afford. …
I was completely factual in my criticisms of the picture and Billy agreed with almost every one and also agreed to a close-up retake on “I am big—it’s the pictures that have grown small.”
[On June 28, Brackett leaves by plane for Chicago, and then by car to South Bend, where he represents the Academy at the presentation of the Laerte Medal to Irene Dunne. From there he flies to Washington, D.C. to visit his youngest daughter and family, and returns to Los Angeles on July 4.]
… James [Larmore] drove me to the airport. I’d been thinking what a good thing it would be for my family if the plane cracked up and my family could collect all my double indemnity insurance. James however was a little tight as he is all too frequently, and I thought maybe it might be better for Tig to have me around for a little. …
The one retake I’ve requested on Sunset was made today. A close-up of Gloria saying “I am big—it’s the pictures that have gotten smaller.” And a necessary corresponding close-up of Bill Holden. I was on the set. …
I lunched at the table, went to the dubbing stage and worked with Doane and Frank, getting some lines from Gloria in the scene as taken on the first day of shooting. Consulted with Chuck about starting [composer Franz] Waxman on the picture. …
… dined at Frances [Goodrich] and Albert’s [Hackett]—a party for New York stage people. … I dined at the table with Phil [Dunne] and later played bridge with him. … I find Phil the most unendurable young man I know, a supercilious stinker, with a very devious record as a fellow traveler which he tries to make one forget. (p.380)
A call from Marcus Aurelius Goodrich, to protest that a man named Leanout, who is doing shorts for the industry under the aegis of the Academy, had written Olivia [De Havilland] a letter which may have killed her and their unborn child—at least may have produced a miscarriage. “What kind of a business is this that will do such a thing to a woman? Everyone knows she is sick—and that every letter that reaches her is screened—but this Leanout wrote her a letter with a blackmailing threat in it, and marked it personal. It reached her and she is in such a state as I have never seen her in!”
I calmed him as best I could, finally got hold of Leanout. He is making a short on the Sound Department. The Snake Pit got the Academy Award for sound and he asked permission that a portion of the film in which Olivia appeared be in his short. Olivia had made a rule that no film should be shown which she had not personally inspected. She couldn’t inspect, so Marcus and her agent refused permission, not telling her. Feeling that this wronged the sound men who had worked with her—and that the refusal had probably been made without her permission, Leanout wrote, putting the case up to her. The blackmail part consisted of a sentence saying if she wouldn’t give her consent they’d have to use some film of Ingrid Bergman from The Bells of St. Mary’s.17
Rushed to the studio to get in an hour’s work with Billy before I had to rush back to the Academy to a meeting with the Bulova people to discuss their contract. It was a long, unpleasant meeting. Evidently the Bulova people have heard that we are hard-pressed and so have heightened their demands. Their plan seems to be to make a shoddy, cheap watch with the name. …
Got to the studio about 10 and worked with Billy on the commentary [the Holden character’s voice-over] all morning. … In the afternoon Billy finished the commentary and our fifteen years of collaboration, with mutual relief. (p.381)
Up at 8:30 and to the sound stage where I spent the day with Billy, Doane, Artie and Frank, supervising the commentary for Sunset. Bill has a flat and uninteresting voice but I think the commentary is pretty good. …
… Had a talk with Y. Frank Freeman about pictures I made last year, which was not exhilarating. Tatlock is the only one that will make its costs. Emperor Waltz lost hideously, and even Foreign Affair lost a million. I was interested to hear that TEHO was one of the company’s really big grossers.
Had to be at the studio at 9:30 to appear with Billy in an Academy short showing a producer and director at work. My hair was parted at the side and I waited for Billy, the most observant of people, to notice it. He didn’t as he entered the office, and after a minute or two I noticed that he was doing a revelatory thing—not looking at me. It always means something when he avoids one’s eyes, and I wondered what.
… After luncheon Dick Breen got me aside and told me about the Sid Skolsky18 column which revealed the reason for Billy’s evasiveness. It seems Skolsky announced that we wouldn’t work together anymore, but that Billy was taking as his producer Mr. William Shore.19 This I sensed, very clearly. I told Doane, to whom Billy had offered an associate producership, and he too failed to be very surprised, though Billy had given no hint of this incredibly silly plan. I say silly because Shore seems to me not conceivably on the scale of person Billy should be taking in.
… I dined with Henry [Ginsberg] at Ciro’s, a party for Billy and Audrey, Bill Holden and his wife, Jack Warner and Anne, Steve Wiman and Gloria. I’m afraid our host was a little fried, but we all loved Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the two bawdy, satirical entertainers, all except Billy, who thought them egregiously unfunny. … (p.382)
… Walter [Reisch] and I began work together. He came with a fully laid-out draft of the beginning of the story, which seemed to me like an old Fox picture. He grew very discouraged. … After luncheon we began to see eye to eye on certain points approached the problem from the mother’s angle and seemed to agree on a beginning. Walter is a much harder worker than Billy but not nearly so difficult to satisfy. …
… I haven’t mentioned the curious harassed appearance of Billy as he comes in and finds us at work. I would say that the spectacle may have something to do with the troubled look in his eyes, but I’m probably flattering myself. It’s some difficult adjustment about Audrey. At least so Henry Ginsberg thinks. …
Worked all day with that wonderful hard-driving Walter Reisch. There’s none of the wild gaiety of accomplishment with him that one gets with Billy, but a steady drive that I think I can control wisely.
Only talked with Walter [Reisch] for an hour this morning. Preston Sturges came in at 11:00 to say he’d like to do a picture with me and tell me the sketchy, brilliant ideas for several pictures. I told him I’d be very much interested in doing a non-comedy with him. Something in the vein of The Power and the Glory, or his Remember the Night. Whether he could shuck off the over-funny comedy style which has been his undoing, I don’t know. Whether the studio would be interested in my doing a picture with him, I don’t know. He has always been completely non-controllable. …
Went to the set and heard the score for “A Strange Garden” as Waxman calls Gillis’ glimpse of the swimming pool and the burial. Then Walter and I worked pretty intensively for an hour or so, then back to catch some more of the music. …
Came home and changed and went to a party at the Maibaums, given for Alan Ladd and Sue. … Alan got me in a corner and said “Why don’t you like me? I don’t mean professionally.” And instead of saying “Because you (p.383) demand complete dominance of the picture, which destroys any excitement or suspense,” said I liked him very much and that I wanted to do American Tragedy with him, which was true, but not helpful to the boy or our future professional relationship. …
… Back at the studio I went to the Dubbing Room and heard reel three and was very disappointed with Franz’s music, which instead of emphasizing points like the dead chimp stops entirely when it gets to a place of the sort. Billy assures me that is the latest wrinkle for scoring, but I—who have always eyed background music askance—eye it more askance. …
… After luncheon … drove to the Bel Air Hotel and had some iced tea with Jed Harris and a long talk about various things. I think he’d like to do a picture with me and he’d probably be extremely good, but too difficult. …
… Amused at young Elizabeth Montgomery and her brother. I spoke of my passion for I Capture the Castle, and it seems it’s the book she loves best. She longs to play Cassandra (as what right-thinking girl with red blood wouldn’t) and thinks Bob would be fine as the father. …
[On September 20, Brackett flies to Chicago, where he meets his colleagues for previews of Sunset Blvd.]
… drove out to the Variety Theatre in Evanston for our first preview … a good audience with a sprinkling of college kids. We got some bad laughter, nevertheless the picture played extremely well. One could sense the impact of its shock on the audience. Odd laughs—the taking of the socks from the dead boy’s feet and the tying of a tag to his toe and the wheeling of his body into the morgue. No laughs whatever on the dialogue in the morgue. A bad laugh on the dissolve from Gloria’s embrace of Bill to Bill lolling in the pool. A bad laugh on Bill’s line “How old are you?” (to Nancy). “Twenty-two. (p.384) That’s it. You smell of being twenty-two.” One bad giggle as Gloria starts into her final scene. Cards excellent for the most and plentiful. …
… Our preview [in Joliet] was preceded, not by a card, but by an announcement by the manager of the house. The show started with the same bad laugh on the tag attached to Holden’s toe, but then tightened to an infinitely better audience reaction that that of last night. …
… After the excellent audience reaction, what was our surprise to find the cards infinitely tougher than last night, with more “poors” and “stinks” than I ever got on a picture. …
[On September 23, Brackett flies to New York, and then on to Washington, D.C., the following day to visit with his youngest daughter and her family. On September 25, he takes the train to New York for a preview in Peekskill, “singularly like the other previews, with cards like the other cards.” On September 27, he flies from La Guardia to Los Angeles, arriving early the following morning.]
Worked with Billy a few hours this morning, getting something singularly undistinguished in the way of opening commentary. …
A call from DeMille asked me if he might come over to see me about Sunset. I went instantly to his office and heard his opinion of it (bad) and his very kind and helpful ideas for saving it. I was greatly touched by his sincerity and thought for us and impressed by his feeling that we should preserve the morgue scene. Also I felt that his urgent feeling that Norma should be humanized and made normal at the beginning was right.
When I told Billy what he had said Billy said, “Well, I’ll tell him what I thought of The Unconquered,”20 whereupon I had a fit.
Had an almost sleepless night, possibly because of worry due to the DeMille talk. In any case I found myself jotting down a lot of notes. Spent (p.385) the morning with Billy, trying to get some warmth of reference into the script (which he constantly shies away from).
… Billy and I looked at some footage of Sunset which we’re going to retake, then he left. I was so unwise as to say I’d see poor Preston Sturges, who came in desperate, trying to sell any one of his picture ideas—eager to get work to get money before the Government takes all his real estate holdings from him. I wish the hell some idea of his would excite me, but they all sounded like rather tired celluloid and after an hour of anguish he saw it was no use and withdrew with great style. …
A morning of some activity with Billy but we disagree on the necessity for a strong DeMille speech about Norma. Billy thinks a weak one sufficient for what is to come; I don’t. …
… A long wrangle with Billy to try and get some warmth into the DeMille scene. Finally a compromise which Mr. DeMille okayed with an additional compromise, the whole thing not much good. …
Billy shot the police cars racing down Sunset at dawn, so wasn’t around this morning. I got in some little work on the commentary, lunched at the table, napped, and was back at work when Billy appeared, rather weary, though he’d gone back to sleep. We discussed commentary, saw the rushes of the stuff he’d shot—all too dark (Johnny Seitz’s weakness). …
… Billy made his first shot with Gloria—the relaxed retake of the scene at the time she hires Bill. I spent most of the day on the set and was impressed more and more by what a bad actress Gloria is—how lacking in control of her instruments of expression.
… We had written a speech for Gloria to DeMille which should have been brave and touching. It got more and more lugubrious. I could stand hearing it murdered no more and went to the office. … (p.386)
At the office, working on the commentary, until Billy came in about 11:30, whereupon we fell into conversation about aesthetics. …
Lunched and word-gamed. When I came back to the office Helen was perturbed for fear Billy was planning to take over the office and eject us. But it turned out he had no such idea in mind, says he can work with Horace Mc-Coy on the second floor. We saw, with DeMille, the rushes of yesterday’s work and I believe they will make a difference in the picture. …
Arrived at the office at 10:15 to find Billy there and we had a day of wrangling over various cuts I want to make and over every line of commentary, though he is in general following my line. His latter passion for rephrasing so that the words will be his was repugnant. …
… Billy was there [at the studio], surprisingly making arrangements for the housing of his unit and acting very martyred. I felt like the heartless mortgage-holder in a Victorian melodrama. Helen was worried and affronted by his attitude towards her. …
Worked with Billy on the commentary all day, and very amicably. Horace McCoy, his next collaborator, appeared, looking unspeakably wretched. He’d had some kind of a heart attack Saturday. Billy rushed him off to get a cardiogram. …
Worked on the commentary with Billy all morning; with the last speech he disappeared, not wasting a moment of his time on going over and perfecting what is the most important factor in a picture highly important to his career. …
… Van Druten was in the office with 20 or 30 pages of rewrite he’d done over Sunday, but today we ran the revised Sunset Boulevard for the Music Dept. and he sat in on it. His enthusiasm was wonderful. I myself was disappointed that the picture wasn’t more improved. Van Druten really raved. (p.387)
… I had a long call from Goldwyn about making it possible for independents to show their pictures to Academy members via the Academy Theatre, and stopped at the Academy for a long talk with Margaret Herrick, largely about the Short Subject branch which threatens to resign en masse in protest at the cutting-down of their awards. …
Got to the studio about 10. Walter, John and I had begun discussions when Billy asked me to look at a new arrangement of the ending. I did so and disapproved. Had to argue the point with Billy, He had tacked the explanatory speech about Norma’s madness at the very last. It was put in to avoid a bad laugh as she started down the stairs and not only couldn’t perform that function at the very end, but destroyed the drama of the last shot by calling on the audience to use its brains. …
… we couldn’t get started because Doran was on his way over … [ellipses in original] Doran came with discouraging talk about the casting of pictures that would be necessary now the exhibitors were to control product (under Divorcement).21 It ended with his asking Reisch to see The Lie22 at 4:45. John [Van Druten] had to leave and announced huffily that we had until Wednesday to talk over emendations with him. This was a slight extension of the terms of his contract. I would sympathize with the limitation perfectly, had he not put in my hands as his first draft a thin little script infinitely more amateurish than I’d dreamed he’d hand in.
I sat through The Lie with Walter. It’s a respectable melodrama three-quarters of the way through, then burns into utterly incredible nonsense. …
Lunched and word-gamed at the table, then John [Van Druten] and I heard Bill Holden record his final line of commentary.
Went to Clifton Webb’s birthday party. It was large: Hedda, Myrna Loy, George Cukor, the Lamar Trottis, Otto Preminger, Tyrone Power and the monstrous evil-looking girl he’s married [Linda Christian], Gladys (p.388) Cooper (who appeared in a mask of her own face when younger and did a little dance), the Jack Warners, Humphrey [Bogart] and Betty [Lauren Bacall], etc., etc. There were a great many drinks, wonderfully good food by Romanoff. I sat with Hedda and Myrna, and Hedda told us about an article she was going to write about what paraplegics in the hospital here remembered—fiend[ish] meanness in making GIs pay for all water used, English insults. Myrna, as a staunch UNESCO girl, begged her not to foment quarrelsomeness.
… we men [Brackett, D. A. Doran, Chuck West, and Mac Marshman] drove to the airport in a Paramount car and took plane for San Francisco. … We came to the Clift Hotel where we found Bill Holden, Brenda, Billy, Audrey and the eternal [dancer/comedian] Willie Shore. I napped, joined the others at a cocktail party in Bill Holden’s suite—not drinking, as is my rule before previews … went to the Academy Theatre in Oakland, where we showed an enormously improved picture to an audience which responded beautifully, giving lots of spontaneous applause at the end. I sat next to Bill Holden, who wore glasses and kept his head down, and still was recognized.
Afterwards we went to Trader Vic’s, read excellent preview cards, and telephoned Henry Ginsberg and Gloria of the greatly improved picture. Chuck said it was a nice birthday present for me and I thought with amusement what a surprise it would have been to Mr. and Mrs. Brackett of 605 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, New York, could they have been told that 57 years after the arrival of their matutinal son he would be celebrating on the other side of the continent a pleasant event in a medium of which they’d never heard.
… drove some 30 miles to Redwood City where we previewed to a nerve-wracking juvenile audience which returned preview cards not as literate as the first ones we got last night, but in the same proportion of Excellents and Goods. … (p.389)
At 2:00 we ran Sunset, Gloria seeing it for the first time. We stopped between reels for discussion. I urged the removal of more of Gloria’s more florid speeches. Billy claimed we would have nothing left. My cut of the “stars are ageless” scene was in. Whether it works or not, I don’t know. It seemed abrupt to me. I felt the removal of “The Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me Blues” song23 was very bad. Billy liked it. Gloria regretted some of the sobs which had been whittled from the bedroom scene.
… Billy and I, augmented by Franz Waxman, worked for a couple of hours on Sunset commentary; Dick, Walter and I worked half an hour on Sunset; then Billy and Willie Shore appeared for bridge with Dick Breen and me. …
A morning with Walter and Dick, pushing forward slowly. … An afternoon in the dubbing room with Bill Holden (Billy deserting us early), getting a final commentary, or bunch of commentaries. …
… the house was prepared for the thirty people who were supping with me. All the tables were set up in the living room. …
My guests started to arrive, everyone intimately connected with Sunset, from Cecil B. and Mrs. DeMille to Artie Schmidt, the cutter, and Helen Hernandez and a beau (actors excluded). We had cocktails, ate hurriedly and went to the Bay Theatre, way down Sunset. There were Dodie and Alec and Christopher Isherwood.
It was a laugh-crazy audience and the picture played magnificently, some laughs still over commentary (“Something I think I should tell you about” still dangerous, but we killed the “That’s it—there’s nothing like being twenty-one” laugh by replacing, “That’s it—a smart girl.”) The cards were phenomenal (thank God we didn’t preview the picture here first—we’d have had much too easy a time. … (p.390)
A day devoted entirely to Sunset—discussion of the picture with Walter, with Dick, with Dodie. Luncheon with Billy, Doane, Chuck, Frank, Artie, and discussion, Billy fighting any change; Doane even suggesting the replacement of stuff which died in the East because the photographic quality of stuff shot since doesn’t match. The result of all the discussion is a rooted conviction on my part that the questioning of Norma by the police must be re-shot, with some semblance of realism, with the definite implication that she’s to be carted off to the county psychiatric ward as soon as her big scene is over.
This Henry and Doran agree to. …
Christopher Isherwood24 wrote me a superb letter about Sunset, with which I plan to combat Billy’s childlike resistance to retaking the questioning scene. Christopher points out, in highly literate English, why it’s wrong—that the detectives seem to have read the end of the script.
… I lunched at the table, Billy very reasonable and friendly was still adamant about doing the extra scene we need.
… dropped in on D. A. Doran to talk over the Billy problem. He took me to Henry, who instead of considering it gave me a godawful speech he is making to all the exhibitors on the continent by radio, to rewrite. I wasted most of the afternoon on it. … Stopped at Gloria’s on my way home, was greeted by Master Tig Larmore who was having a great time with some pet rodents of Gloria’s (not real rats but tailless ones, rather like guinea pigs). Minna Wallis was there, Gloria’s adopted son and his wife, some man who owns stores on Larchmont, the Larmores, and finally Michele. Gloria gave me a Guest Book and we discussed the [Clark] Gable-Sylvia marriage at length. …
… Billy put off our discussion of Sunset, so after my nap I conferred with Walter again. Suddenly a call from D.A. summoned me to (p.391) conference with him, Billy, Chuck. After viewing the film and arguing for hours, Billy consented to do some retakes though he announces that he thinks they’ll be a waste of money. …
… Went to a party at the Artur Rubinsteins’ which was a lot of fun—delicious food, good music (plus a little of the great playing of Artur). … I sat between Mrs. Louis B. Mayer and Joan Fontaine at dinner.
After dinner there was a dance orchestra. … We all danced, and then when the musicians were tired, Artur sat at the piano and played and suddenly Nella25 began to dance around the dance floor. I hadn’t known she was once in the ballet, and the exquisite grace with which she moved around the paneled room, sometimes getting one of the other women to dance a brief figure with her, was enchanting. I remember particularly Joan Fontaine, in her deep green, wide-skirted dress. Nella’s dress was black, and out of Renove. She outdanced Joan, but Joan was in one of her moments of extraordinary beauty. Heather Angel,26 looking like something exquisite from Godey’s Ladies Book,27 sat watching. …
A quiet morning of conference with Walter Reisch at the studio. …
Alan Campbell, Xan and James dined with me. … We played bridge until 11:30, tried setting the grandfather clock to the point of absolute accuracy. Got Tig down and all of us jumped into 1950—champagne and some strange doughnut things afterwards. (p.392)
(1.) The 1935 novel by C. S. Forester, which became a very successful 1951 film, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
(2.) Some additional scenes were shot in January 1949 for this William Wyler–directed film, starring Montgomery Clift.
(3.) Dwight Taylor (1902–1986), American playwright and screenwriter, married to Natalie Visart, and son of theatrical star Laurette Taylor (1884–1946), best remembered for Peg o’ My Heart on Broadway from 1912 to 1914 and on screen in 1922.
(4.) Jessie Royce Landis (1904–1972), character actress often playing mother roles.
(5.) John Drew (1827–1862), Irish-born stage actor, whose daughter was the mother of the Barrymores.
(6.) Mary Boland (1882–1965), buxom leading lady and character actress.
(7.) Nancy Olson (born 1928), subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Sunset Blvd., the most important film in her career.
(8.) Alan Ladd (1913–1964), Burt Lancaster (1913–1994), John Garfield (1913–1952), all prominent Hollywood leading men of the decade, and all of the same age.
(9.) Famous West Hollywood drugstore, located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard, where many Hollywood stars might be found and where Lana Turner was incorrectly identified as being discovered.
(10.) While Montgomery Clift is primarily identified as gay, he did have a sexual interest in older women. At this time, he was in a relationship with the notorious torch singer and actress Libby Holman (1904–1971), and she may very well have warned him against taking a screen role that paralleled his personal life.
(11.) Presumably the 1941 novel by Howard Fast.
(12.) Joe May (1880–1954) began making films in Germany in 1912; emigrated to U.S.A. in 1933; The Blue Danube was open far longer than the two weeks that some writers claim as Brackett records visiting there in late June.
(13.) Brian Donlevy (1901–1972), screen actor, at ease in both leading and supporting role.
(14.) Theda Bara (1885–1965), legendary “vamp” of the silent screen, whose career ended in the early 1920s.
(15.) Jetta Goudal (1891–1985), Dutch-born exotic star of the 1920s; later a Los Angeles socialite.
(16.) Anna Q. Nilsson (1888–1974), silent screen star who worked in later years as an extra.
(17.) A viewing of the short The Soundman in the “Let’s Go to the Movies” series indicates very clearly that a clip from Snake Pit was to have been included but has been removed.
(18.) Sidney Skolsky (1905–1983), gossip columnist from 1929 onwards who claimed to write his Hollywood column at Schwab’s drugstore; he makes a cameo appearance in Sunset Blvd.
(19.) William Shore has no screen credits.
(20.) Released February 1948 and directed by DeMille.
(21.) The Consent Decreee, which ended the studios owning of their own theaters.
(22.) Released in May 1950 as No Man of Her Own.
(23.) Music and Lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.
(24.) Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986), British-born novelist and occasional screen-writer, wrote to Brackett on December 21, “It is the best thing ever done about Hollywood, and one of the most terrifying sermons on human vanity ever put on the screen.”
(25.) Rubinstein’s wife and a former Polish ballerina.
(26.) Heather Angel (1909–1986), British-born actress in Hollywood from 1931.
(27.) The most popular ladies magazine of its day, published from 1830 through 1898.