Books postsThursday December 25, 2014
It's a Wonderful Quote - II
“[Director Frank] Capra stayed true to his desire to make a movie about 'the individual’s belief in himself,' but he connected it to the issue that was then troubling him the most—his intense need to be appreciated by others. In an earlier draft by Connolly, the 'alternate' life that George and the angel Clarence visit is one that includes a second George who is alive and well but lacks the real George’s good character. In the version that Capra chose to pursue, George instead watches what would happen in his world if he had never existed at all, and sees it quickly fall to ruin. For Capra, who was returning to an industry that he felt had recently erased him from its history, a what-if story about a man’s feelings of inconsequentiality and his dark fears of nonexistence felt autobiographical. It’s a Wonderful Life was a project driven by fears, desires, and wounds that he could no longer keep private.”
-- from Mark Harris' “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.”
It's a Wonderful Quote - I
“When [director Frank Capra] pitched It’s a Wonderful Life to Jimmy Stewart, he told the story so poorly that the actor’s agent, Lew Wasserman, sat in the office 'dying' until Capra finally spluttered, 'This story doesn’t tell very well, does it?' 'Frank,' Stewart replied, 'if you want to do a movie about me committing suicide, with an angel with no wings named Clarence, I’m your boy.'
-- from Mark Harris' “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.” ”It's a Wonderful Life“ was the first movie Capra directed after spending years directing the ”Why We Fight" series for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.
Capra and Stewart.
The Things They Couldn't Carry
I'm nearly done with Mark Harris' excellent book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” about what Hollywood directors Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston did during the war, daddy. The most moving stuff is probably Stevens filming the liberation of Paris, and then, a year later, the liberation of Dachau. He returned from the war silent, and played golf day after day. When he did talk of returning to work he wanted to make a war picture. But no studio, in the days after the war, wanted to make a war picture. Harris writes:
Those who knew him begged him to forget the idea of making a statement and to simply try doing what he did best. Katharine Hepburn, a good friend and one of his greatest champions, told him he needed to return to comedy, a genre in which she believed his talents were unrivaled by any other director in Hollywood. But Stevens would never, for the rest of his career, direct anything but drama. “After the war,” he said, “I don't think I was ever too hilarious again.”
“I hated to see him leave comedy for the other stuff that came later on, the more serious stuff,” said Capra. “None of us were the same after the war, but for him . . . The films that he took of Dachau, the ovens, and the big, big piles of bones that nobody could believe existed . . . He had seen too much.”
John Wayne, Saddled
A corrective the next time someone holds up John Wayne as an exemplar of American manhood and courage. From Mark Harris' “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War”:
Since the war had started, [director John Ford] had watched with increasing contempt as John Wayne had made and broken one vague commitment after another to join up. Wayne’s star had risen since his breakthrough in Stagecoach and he was now in constant demand in Hollywood; he talked earnestly of going into the army or the navy, but always right after the next movie. In the spring, when Ford point-blank offered Wayne a spot in Field Photo, he had declined, and he declined again when the offer was reiterated in August. ... Wayne never would enter the war; he would fulfill his commitment to the armed services by doing a USO tour, getting no closer to combat than the starring role in Republic’s The Fighting Seabees. Ford found his behavior reprehensible.
Cf. this recollection from Gore Vidal, who also went to war. According to Scott Eyman in his biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend," Wayne's lack of service haunted the man until the end.
One of the many John Wayne inspirationals floating around the Web.
Who Humiliated Kate Hepburn for Her Careerism? It was You and Me
The fault with the movies, dear reader, is not with the stars, or even with the studios, but with ourselves. From Mark Harris' “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War”:
The weekend of Pearl Harbor, [director George] Stevens was coming off a disappointing test screening of Woman of the Year. His producer at MGM, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, had told him that audiences had rejected the movie’s last scene, in which Hepburn and Tracy reconciled while covering a prizefight. They wanted to see Hepburn brought low, humiliated for her careerism. Reluctantly, he was preparing to shoot a new ending, in which Tess was to be shamed by her inability to find her way around a kitchen and cook a simple breakfast.
Hepburn supposedly hated the new ending, and from today's perspective it certainly seems odd.
What else have test screenings and market research got wrong? A lot. (See “market research” tag below.) They forced a new ending on the otherwise beautiful “Magnificent Ambersons.” They were against Clint Eastwood teaming with an orangutan, as well as most everything about “Pulp Fiction.” They gave low ratings to, among other TV shows, “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Seinfeld” and both the UK and US versions of “The Office” Basically, if it was new they were agin it. Which is why, if you want to make a mark, you never listen to market research. You listen to your gut. And by “you” I mean “me.”
Brought low. Shamed.