Thursday, June 22, 2006

MEN OF VISION - THE BROTHERS WARNER Part I

THE BIRTH OF A GREAT STUDIO

“You were very good at playing a bitch-heroine, but you shouldn’t win an award for being yourself!”
Jack Warner to Bette Davis on her Oscar win for Jezebel.

Depending on which star or technician you tap, there are as many differing and varied opinions on the legacy of Jack L. Warner as there are films in the Warner vaults.

Although he managed to retain control of his studio longer than his contemporaries – and, produce some of the finest films – in hindsight the tyrannical and wily mogul was a force of nature, whose gale force often blew negativity back in his own direction.

Not that bad P.R. ever ruffled Warner’s proverbial coat of Teflon feathers. He was a man of great determination, considerable stealth in the boardroom and a brilliant strategist. His deft handling of stars and subject matter made Warner Brothers the envy of the best in the business – up to and including MGM.

He was born John Eichelbaum (of Polish-Jewish extraction) in London, Ontario Canada on August 1892 – the youngest of the Warner brothers: Harry, Albert and Sam. For a while, the brothers went their separate ways. Demonstrating a certain degree of talent as a nightclub singer, Jack seemed to prefer the flashy lifestyle that public fame afforded. Although his presence as a movie mogul would eventually dominate the studio and the industry at large (Warner was one of the founding 36 members of AMPAS – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences), credit for developing that fledgling enterprise cannot be ascribed to Jack L. Warner.

SAM, I AM

Beginning in the early 1900s, Sam Warner had made his reputation as a carnival barker and something of a gregarious showman. Convinced by a friend that Thomas Edison’s primitive Kinetoscope would revolutionize the realm of entertainment, it was Sam who persuaded his brothers to abandon their respective trades and amalgamate their efforts around the new-fangled mystique of ‘the movies.’ Buying a modest store front and padding out the experience with live entertainment, Sam’s ambition and drive were complimented by a blind faith and optimism. His timing could not have been more perfect. The movies had caught on and so had the Warner brothers.

Dabbling in the acquisition of independent productions between 1905 and 1912, the brothers Warner had a string of modest successes and failures in their nickelodeon venture. In 1918, My Four Years in Germany, netted the brothers $130,000 in pure profits; enough of an enticement to consolidate their ventures under one company banner in 1923: appropriately named ‘Warner Brothers.’

For the next several years, it remained a small studio – heavily reliant on the exploits of their four-legged star Rin-Tin-Tin, their ‘prestige’ thespian, John Barrymore and the increasingly defiant Darryl F. Zanuck – then head of production.

Once again, it was Sam, not Jack Warner who had seen the future of the industry in a little-plied gimmick: Vitaphone. This crudely rendered sound recording device emanating from wax records synchronized to picture elements would be the studio’s first claim to fame. Ambitiously mounted and expensive to make (it cost $500,000) the overwhelmingly success of their first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927) was marred by a personal tragedy. Sam Warner succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage the night before the premiere.

THE AGE OF GRIT

“I have a theory of relativity too. I never hire them!”Jack Warner quipping to Albert Einstein.

Returning from Sam’s funeral, the brothers Warner regrouped their efforts – more determined than ever to transform their studio into one of Hollywood’s major players. Albert assumed responsibilities as the company’s treasurer; Harry – the company’s president. But it was Jack Warner who became the defacto mogul in charge of production, a credit he largely ascribed to himself (and one that appeared across the famous Warner shield for many years) despite the fact that company’s initial successes were largely due to the foresight of Darryl F. Zanuck.

Under Zanuck’s ambitious campaign, the studio emerged triumphant with a string of hard-hitting crime dramas and detective thrillers. James Cagney became their number one box office draw. Zanuck also revived the trend for musicals with 42nd Street (1932) – combining Warner’s gritty style for tabloid ‘ripped from the headlines’ storylines with frothy ethereal concoctions from the man who would leave his imprint as ‘the master builder of the American musical’ – Busby Berkeley.

However, a personal rift with Zanuck in 1933 resulted in a change of regime. “If it's anything I can't stand it's yes-men” Warner later mused, “When I say no, I want you to say no, too.”

Zanuck departed to co-found 20th Century-Fox and Jack Warner appointed the man who would ultimately become the hidden talent behind the magical output of the studio’s golden era – Hal B. Wallis. If short-lived, the association nevertheless proved extremely profitable. It also produced some of the most memorable movies in the Warner canon including Confessions of A Nazi Spy, Dark Victory, The Roaring Twenties, The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex, The Sea Hawk and Casablanca. It was the overwhelming critical and financial success of this latter film that unfortunately proved the undoing of that lucrative partnership between Wallis and Warner.

When it was announced that Casablanca had won the Best Picture Oscar at the 16th annual Academy Awards, Wallis was on his way to the podium when he was cut off by Jack Warner who accepted in his stead and on behalf, not of Wallis, but his studio. The slight was sufficient to sour and severe their tempestuous partnership. Wallis resigned. In fairness to Jack Warner, the producer credit on any film of the period rarely meant widespread public acknowledgement for the producer. As precedence, previous Best Picture Oscars had gone, not to the producer of the film, but to the studio that had funded the project; a practice judged as unfair but not overturned until MGM’s An American In Paris’s took home the statuette in 1951.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s, Warner studios achieved great success with modestly budgeted fare. While MGM was confounding the public’s senses with glamorous and gaudy entertainment far above the normalcy of every day living, Warner Brothers was producing movies whose plot lines and characters echoed the lowest common denominator of the streets. Dark, sinister, brooding and shot on a budget, the Warner style of the 30s was a text book example of seamless blending between economy and artistry.

If powerful and timely social dramas like I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) convinced Jack Warner of the public’s voracious appetite for this sort of exploitive melodramas, then the failure of expensive fantasies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) confirmed his sound judgment to keep a tight reign on the purse strings. As such, Jack Warner built his star roster, not from glamour queens (like Joan Crawford) or dapper Dans (like Clark Gable), but with a flair and an eye for solid acting and the un-glamorous. Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Paul Muni, James Cagney: these were the tough-as-nails early draws at the studio. Those critics who described Errol Flynn as a ‘thin pale ghost of Gable’ were missing the point that female audiences had embraced with the Tasmanian actor’s debut in Captain Blood (1932). That Flynn, unlike Gable, was cast as a rapscallion, not a stud, despite his pretty boy looks. While other studios may have developed stars more readily, one aspect about Warner Brothers was undoubtedly the envy of the rest of Hollywood – its bountiful assortment of competent contract players.

From the inimitable Claude Rains to the irascible S.Z. Sakall; the diminutive Peter Lorre, to the formidable girth of Sidney Greenstreet, the studio’s stock company of contract players was as much a selling feature to the paying public as the name above the title. Even the studio’s B-level actors – such as Ronald Reagan, were among the best of their kind, and often superior to actors billed as leading men at other studios.

Also integral to the Warner Brothers success throughout the 1930s and 40s was Jack Warner’s ability to procure some top flight talents behind the camera. These included; director John Huston, whose fast paced darkly edged humor complimented the Warner studio style; composer Max Steiner, who scored roughly half of the output of the period, and, choreographer Busby Berkeley and his mesmerizing kaleidoscopic dance routines.

Yet, perhaps no one was more versatile in shaping the Warner film output of the period than director, Michael Curtiz. Curtiz’s adept and masterful handling of every genre known to film made him the busiest director on the backlot – responsible for such diverse projects as the action/adventure yarn, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) the wartime musical, This Is The Army (1943) and the Oscar-winning film noir, Mildred Pierce (1945).

So intensely engrossed in the business of making movies, that he once was thrown from a moving car because he attempted to simultaneously drive it and write down his ideas for a new project, Curtiz’s volatile Hungarian personality and inferior mastering of the English language was often in conflict with the stars and studio technicians he commanded, though in the upper echelons of the executive boardroom his star continued to rise. For example: Curtiz once admonished an assistant for not fulfilling his wishes by shouting, “The next time I want an idiot to do this, I'll do it myself!”

MEN OF VISION - THE BROTHERS WARNER Part II

THE AGE OF JACK L. & 'THE LAST ACT'

As Warner Brothers entered the fallow period of the 1950s, fraught with industry confusion and buffeted on all sides by dwindling box office returns and government intervention, Jack Warner continued to maneuver his studio through the rough waters with considerable business savvy.

While many studios (most noticeably MGM) were sinking deeper into the mire of changing times, Jack Warner’s humility – that is often discarded or unacknowledged (because it was so well hidden beneath his exterior mantel of maniacal control) continued to seek out and put under contract the top producers and directors in the industry.

In short, he permitted his studio to evolve with the times rather than fight them. Spurned by the fact that Darryl F. Zanuck’s launching of Cinemascope had invalidated his own claim to the invention, Warner countered the widescreen revolution with one of his own before acquiescing to ‘rent’ Zanuck’s superior process for several major film productions of that period, including Judy Garland’s comeback, A Star is Born (1954).

Declared a masterwork by the critics and the general public, Warner somewhat blackened his reputation in the industry by hacking into George Cukor’s film to cut down its running time. Some have even speculated that his cuts cost Garland the Best Actress Oscar. At the end of the decade, Harry Warner died of a cerebral occlusion, offsetting one of the most profitable periods in the studio’s history with a genuine note of sadness.

Even in situations where Warner felt his own opinion justified, he was still willing to gamble on another’s preference in an educated guess for greater returns to the studio. More often than not that lucky streak paid off handsomely.


Such as on the occasion he was approached by director Robert Aldrich for the project Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Referring to Aldrich’s choices in casting Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as his two female leads, Warner bluntly replied, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for those two old washed up broads:” this despite the fact that Davis had been the studio’s greatest attraction for nearly two decades and Crawford had won her one and only Oscar for Mildred Pierce.

Refusing to allow Aldrich the use of his studio backlot (as he desired to sufficiently divorce himself from what he considered a possible debacle), Jack Warner agreed to a distribution deal that ultimately became one of the biggest and most sound financial investments for his studio when Baby Jane became a runaway smash hit.


Throughout the 1960s, Jack Warner continued to diversify his studio’s interests. Although he had outlasted many of his contemporaries in the business through wit and often cutthroat business tactics, he showed little signs of slowing down.

He outbid every other studio for a record $1.6 million investment and personally supervised and produced My Fair Lady (1960) – one of the last grand musicals to emerge from the studio system, and, he continued to have his fingers in all the proverbial artistic pies.

When it was revealed to the public that the studio had dubbed Audrey Hepburn’s vocals for My Fair Lady with Marnie Nixon’s voice, Warner’s adept acknowledgement of that common practice in Hollywood met the backlash with a glib reply: “I don't know what all the fuss is about. We've been doing it for years. We even dubbed Rin-Tin Tin.”

By 1967, the ways of the old Hollywood had passed. The once close-knit artistic community had been replaced by a freelance sea of independent producers vying for their own supremacy and desperately trying to remain above the water line of red ink.

In November of that year, Albert Warner quietly passed away in Miami Beach and Jack Warner – the youngest titan in his family dynasty, was left as the sole heir to a business he had helped transform into one of the most beloved, profitable and respected touchstones within the industry.

Functioning in his later years as an independent producer, (most notably in bringing the hit musical, 1776 to the screen) Jack Warner never seemed to tire of the dizzying excitement associated with making movies. Ever looking toward to yet another project on the horizon, Jack L. Warner expired from a pulmonary edema and heart inflammation on Sept. 9, 1978.

In the intervening decades his legacy as a mogul has been unjustly distilled to that of an unfunny prankster; a man who barely tolerated his directors, despised all of his writers, abhorred most of his actors and all but boycotted the onslaught of Hollywood agents.


Few who have made short shrift of his tenure in such an unflattering light have bothered to invest equal time to list, or even more importantly, reexamine the depth of his formidable accomplishments in the art of making movies.

At times, misguided, Jack Warner’s zeal for creating great entertainment has often been overshadowed by that drive and ambition he possessed to attain a place amongst the greats in his profession. But achieve greatness he did, and not merely for himself – as has also often been said and written of the man and his mission. For, in the final analysis, Jack L. Warner has proven to be his own worst enemy, because he was a man of conviction in this contemporary age that misconstrues purpose as mere audacity and unmitigated cheek.

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Monday, June 12, 2006

IN RETROSPECT – the 1940s in film


DEPARTING THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

by Nick Zegarac

In 1939, the studio system had reached its artistic zenith: Samuel Goldwyn released his adaptation of Wuthering Heights; MGM premiered its immortal fantasy, The Wizard of Oz and David O. Selznick brought his celebrated treatment of Margaret Mitchell’s saga of the old south – Gone with the Wind to glorious and immortal Technicolor life. Make-believe did not get any better than this.

However, by the end of ‘39 a new, more subdued style in film-making began to emerge as the status quo. This trend was only partly influenced by the outbreak of World War II and the cutting off of European markets. Indeed, Hollywood’s own disenchantment with escapist fantasies mirrored the cynicism of a nation that had grown weary in its own ability to hang on to the promise of a better tomorrow.

On celluloid, the shift was immediate and palpable - gone were the lavishly absurd white on white art deco sets where even the most humble of shop girls cavorted about in their champagne-bubble gowns that no genuine working gal could afford.

Instead, set and costume designers began to borrow their inspiration from downscaled stylistic trends, effectively launching the era of ‘pastiche’ – a term used to coin that nostalgic annexation and blending of styles from all periods in history.

The slick and polished dapper men in their top coats and bow ties were abandoned for guys with grit under their finger nails and the pang of hunger still lurking about their grim façades. Slowly, life on the screen began to more closely resemble life as it was generally known.

If the studios still clung to their affinity for ‘period’ picture making, then the status of these films was quietly downgraded from swashbuckling epic to mere melodrama played out in tights and corsets. These cosmetic gestalts were complimented by a transferal in storylines.

In general, Hollywood eschewed its affinity for ‘bigger than life’ places and people in the 1940s. The ‘30s American daydream for wealthy people living pampered lives in tiffany settings was replaced by a more dower focus on the middle class and – in some cases – the poor. At Warner Brothers, the lucrative cycle in colossal musical fantasies a la Busby Berkeley’s genius had run their course. Although Berkeley would make a transition to MGM, and later Fox, his output there in no way rivaled the carte blanche grand opulence he had been afforded at Warner.

At 20th Century-Fox, the dissipation of public interest in a grown up Shirley Temple (who, as a child star had been Fox’s number one draw in the country for four years) meant that production chief, Darryl F. Zanuck had to find new ways to turn a profit. Zanuck chose to indulge his creative zeal for ‘message’ pictures (stories with a social commentary), made on a smaller scale and budget. Although ambitious and groundbreaking, ironically, it was Zanuck’s more frivolous musical indulgences with Alice Faye and Betty Grable that made the money for Fox.

Only MGM, with their motto of ‘ars gratia artis’ and bravado in proclaiming ‘more stars than there are in heaven’ managed to maintain something of that high gloss and slickly packaged entertainment that had been the hallmark of ‘30s film output. In the ‘40s, this hallmark was being billed as ‘prestige’ and not every film that emerged from the system had it. But David Selznick had ‘prestige’ in spades with his first release of the decade: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. By the end of the decade, Selznick’s relentless pursuit of ‘prestige’ would all but bankrupt his studio.

Mid-decade, MGM’s Meet Me In St. Louis spawned a sudden affectionate reflection in turn-of-the-century nostalgia for ‘simpler times.’ So too did America’s political interests in Latin America give rise on the screen to a series of ‘south of the border’ light-hearted musical fantasies with their gaudy gauchos (Ricardo Montelbaum), swarthy lotharios (Caesar Romero) and playful caricatures (Xavier Cugat) decorating theater marquees across the country. Of particular interest and incredible popularity in this latter trend was Brazilian bombshell, Carmen Miranda who proved the most popular with her increasingly absurd headdresses and fracturing of the English language. Miranda’s presence augmented and elevated many a sub-standard musical plot to A-list good humored fun.

A question mark still remains whether or not Hollywood did its best work in the 1940s. To be certain, it did its most diverse. While the western and musical genres both continued to ‘practically’ guarantee a profit at the box office, the increasingly popular style in film was ‘noir’ – a term coined by the French to identify and quantify that darker, more perverse underbelly of Hollywood’s fantasy landscape, increasingly depicting more bleak horizons than happy endings.

The world of noir – with its femme fatales, embittered heroes and ruthless anti-heroes - mirrored the increasing isolation of a country with its own growing concerns firmly embedded in those terrible years of war, and, even more disturbed by anxieties following the return of veterans into civilian life. By the end of the decade, that darkness had seeped from the peripheries of make-believe into Hollywood at large.

The studios were flush with record-breaking swells of cash and unprecedented weekly numbers in theater attendance. Yet, the business of making movies was being systematically deconstructed by the United States government; determined to shatter the studio’s autonomy (erroneously misperceived as monopolistic) and by HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) blacklisting a goodly sample of Hollywood’s writers, directors and stars as communists or communist sympathizers. The political hearings that followed were a scathing indictment on the fear and panic that fractioned Hollywood’s artistic community – destroying careers, shattering lives and dismantling that close-knit atmosphere, once the extended families with the studio backlots doubling as artists’ home away from home.

@ 2006 (all rights reserved).

TIMELINE: THE 1940s - THE FIRST FIVE YEARS


1940 As an industry, Hollywood had reason to worry in 1940. Their once lighter than air dream that had seemed so sure-footed and eternal throughout the 1930s had been impacted and severely hampered at the end of 1939 by the outbreak of WWII in Europe. Overnight, the foreign market was gone. So too, were there cracks in that self-assured domestic box office return that had been practically guaranteed by some of Hollywood’s most galvanic commodities. For example: Shirley Temple had a most expensive flop with the glossy-fied Technicolor remake of The Blue Bird.

There were happier times to report, however: Gone With The Wind continued to exceed all box office expectations; Bette Davis scored another Oscar-nominated tour de force with William Wyler’s tale of deception and marital infidelity in The Letter. Davis lost her statuette to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle. Ernest Lubitsch delighted audiences with his story of unrequited love set in a Budapest gift store in The Shop Around the Corner, and, Darryl F. Zanuck translated John Steinbeck’s epic literary achievement, The Grapes of Wrath into a box office winner for 20th Century Fox.

Although Steinbeck, and purists of his novel, were fairly unimpressed with Zanuck’s rewrite for the movies (the book had focused on politics, the film on people – and with the added cliché of a ‘Hollywood’ ending tacked on for good measure), the finished work was nevertheless a very powerful and profitable film for the studio.

Hollywood continued to churn out its array of ‘bless our happy home’ screwball comedies. But their bite was more cynical in tone than it had been in the ‘30s. The big surprise over at Paramount was Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty. Sturges, who had been a staff scriptwriter for several years, sold the story to the studio for a dollar on the confirmation that he would direct. It was the first time any writer had been afforded the opportunity, and, the film’s success ensured that Sturges would hold a special place amongst the Hollywood elite for several years to come.

Katharine Hepburn (whose fledgling film career had derailed after being branded box office poison in Variety magazine) strong-armed MGM into producing Philip Barry’s Broadway smash The Philadelphia Story for the big screen with her in the lead. The film’s success restored Hepburn’s reputation as a bankable star.

Howard Hawks directed the best version of Ben Hecht’s The Front Page, rewritten and recast to include a romance, as His Girl Friday. Walt Disney’s initial success in the field of animation suffered two hard-hitting financial blows that threatened to bankrupt the studio; following the abysmal performance of Pinocchio and Fantasia at the box office. Arguably, these two films were Disney’s most adult-orientated features – the first, superior in its art to Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs; the latter a miraculous blend of interpretive imagery flawlessly married to classical music. Sadly, the paying public was neither ready nor willing to embrace either achievement.

The dream officially turned darker with David O. Selznick’s follow up to Gone With The Wind: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. It took home the Oscar as Best Picture of the year. A gothic reworking of Jane Eyre, Rebecca was a brooding prelude to the film noir movement that would dominate theatre screens by decade’s end. So too did the gathering storm of Allied intervention in the war abroad, kick off a string of anti-Nazi melodramas beginning with MGM’s The Mortal Storm; Charlie Chaplin’s brilliantly re-conceived parody of Hitler, The Great Dictator, and, Hitchcock’s masterful espionage thriller, Foreign Correspondent. Death took silent greats Tom Mix, Marguerite Clark and Mack Sennett’s comedy genius, Ben Turpin.

1941 Despite the fact that half of Europe was rapidly being consumed in Adolph Hitler’s hemisphere of flames, the biggest news at home (at least as far as Hollywood was concerned) was RKO’s signing of wunderkind Orson Welles. Welles, the prodigal protégée who had terrorized radio listeners with his broadcast of ‘War of the Worlds’ had been given free reign to produce whatever project he desired. He desired Citizen Kane. A bleak investigation of one man’s moral decline into embittered isolation, certain aspects of the Citizen Kane bore more than a passing comparison to media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Outraged, Hearst plotted to buy up and destroy the film negatives even before its general release. Although Hearst failed in his overzealousness, his negative publicity did succeed in dismantling Welles’ reputation as a genius at RKO.

As for the rest of Hollywood’s yearly output – it was an interesting blend of high drama and powerful crime thrillers. The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra – both with Humphrey Bogart, catapulted Bogie’s reputation from salvageable second string gangster to mega-watt stardom. ‘Every man’ Gary Cooper had a pair of successes with Sergeant York and Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe. In December, Capra announced to the press that he would be leaving main stream film for the Cinema Services to produce military shorts. Although no one knew it at the time, Greta Garbo made her final appearance in the disastrous Two-Faced Woman – a poorly scripted comedy follow-up to the previous year’s Ninotchka. Vivien Leigh had a minor hit in That Hamilton Woman, costarring opposite real life husband, Laurence Olivier.

Warner Brothers produced a scathing account of small town deceptions with King’s Row. William Wyler – whose affair with Bette Davis had begun to cool – nevertheless gave his paramour another fine screen vehicle in which to exude her venomous intrigues; Lillian Helman’s The Little Foxes. Davis also excelled in The Man Who Came To Dinner. In August, the luminous profile of Ava Gardner was spotted in a photograph by MGM talent scouts who signed her to a seven year contract.

Spencer Tracy justly received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flannigan in MGM’s tender melodrama, Boy’s Town – costarring Mickey Rooney. Nelson Eddy’s teaming with operatic soprano Rise Stevens in The Chocolate Solider failed to catch the public’s fascination as his previous and frequent costarring with Jeanette MacDonald had. Remakes of silent classics The Sea Wolf, Smilin’ Through and Blood and Sand did respectable box office. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made their most profitable film together: Babes on Broadway – a celebrated achievement whose one drawback from today’s vantage is the minstrel finale performed in ‘black face.’ New stars were Gene Tierney, Sterling Hayden and a pair of radio comedians making their mark over at Universal: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Darryl F. Zanuck, whose desire it had long been to produce 20th Century-Fox’s first Oscar-winning Best Picture, at last emerged victorious with one of the best movies Hollywood has ever made; How Green Was My Valley – the bittersweet and heartfelt tragic familial saga set in a Welsh mining town. Originally, Zanuck had conceived the film as an expansive Technicolor extravaganza, akin in scope and length to Selznick’s Gone With The Wind (which was still going strong at the box office). Studio cut backs and war time rations prevented Zanuck’s vision, though not his dream, from reaching fruition. In black and white and with A-list production values, Zanuck’s version of Richard Llewellyn’s novel easily became both the personal and professional triumph, winning the Best Picture Oscar.

1942 The year began with a tragedy on January 16th; the death of gifted comedienne Carol Lombard in a plane crash while returning home from a war bond rally. Emotionally shattered by the loss of his wife, Clark Gable enlisted in the military and consequently ended his supremacy as ‘king’ of the movies. Warner Brothers breathed a quiet sigh of relief when one of their most profitable pretty boys, Errol Flynn was acquitted of the statutory rape of two minors. The trial did little to tarnish Flynn’s reputation as a stud, though it did leave the actor with the rather unflattering moniker, “in like Flynn.”

To help ease the sting of war on the home front, Hollywood temporarily returned to more light-hearted and profitable venues; the moralist melodrama screwball comedy The Talk of the Town, The Major and the Minor, and the gregariously patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy. Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn became a smash hit with a string of hotels named after it. Berlin had conceived the scenario of an inn open holidays only and had provided all the music for the score, including the throw away tune that rapidly became a million seller; White Christmas, inimitably sung by Bing Crosby.

Fred Astaire proved he could dance minus Ginger Rogers, tripping the light fantastic with Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier – a classy South American musical romp, and with Eleanor Powell, in Broadway Melody of 1940. In August, Darryl F. Zanuck shocked his board of directors by resigning as head of production at 20th Century Fox and becoming a colonel in the Signal Corps.

The studios plunged headstrong into propaganda films designed to bolster America’s support for involvement in the war. The best remembered of these was Mrs. Miniver, a film illustrating the quiet home front hardships of a proper English housewife (Greer Garson) and sited by Winston Churchill as being more effective at gaining support for the Allies than a fleet of destroyers. Garson, who had made her American debut in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) had another major hit on her hands this year with the bittersweet tear jerker, Random Harvest.

Orson Welles tried to bring Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons to the screen with all its incestuous debauchery in tact, but was hampered in his efforts by RKO’s declining faith in his abilities and by his premature removal from the project. It was reshot and reedited after Welles departure from the studio to include a happy ending. Reeling from the sting of Welles’ extravagance, RKO appointed producer Val Lewton as head of production and gave him the worst title for a film – Cat People. Undaunted, Lewton reworked the screenplay and transformed this modestly budgeted horror flick into a sublime and terrifying thriller that rang cash registers around the country.

Bette Davis made everyone cry in Now Voyager, the tale of a repressed society matron transformed by love and understanding into a lady of culture. After a dry spell at the box office, the Disney Studios emerged back on top with their tender and poignant Bambi. Luminaries Edna May Oliver, May Robson, composer and Broadway showman George M. Cohan and ‘the great profile’ John Barrymore also passed away before year’s end.

1943 More than any other year from the decade, war time propaganda films dominated Hollywood’s output; Bataan, Destination Tokyo, A Guy Named Joe, The Human Comedy, So Proudly We Hail and The Cross of Lorraine being among the best. MGM made Thousand’s Cheer – a loosely plotted vignette musical that served to showcase its supremacy in star power. But it was Irving Berlin’s contribution to this glossy musical off shoot; This Is The Army, that was the real/reel achievement of the year; featuring an all star cast, hundreds of personnel from the Armed Forces and fifteen show stopping numbers, including Kate Smith’s rousing God Bless America. Although the New York Film Critics chose the brooding and intense Watch on the Rhine as their Best Picture, the much publicized political conference between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in Casablanca made Warner Brothers' Casablanca the chosen one at the Academy Awards.

Hollywood gambled on two all black musicals; MGM’s Cabin in the Sky and Fox’s Stormy Weather – neither seemed to expand the boundaries for non-Caucasians, though each film yielded some very fine performances. Both were boycotted from exhibition and general release in the southern states. Under contract to David O. Selznick, fledgling actress Jennifer Jones emerged triumphant on loan out to Fox for Franz Werfel’s The Song of Bernadette. Val Lewton produced an even more disturbing horror flick with I Walked With A Zombie. The other impressive entry of the season, Lassie Come Home (the first in the series) costarred two British war refugees cum Hollywood child stars; Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made their final on screen appearance together in Girl Crazy. Midway through production Garland suffered a breakdown brought on by her studio sanctioned addiction to prescription sedatives.

Technicolor continued to gain prominence within the industry. Universal thought the gimmick of color enough to sustain its lavish remake of The Phantom of the Opera – it wasn’t. The year was rounded out by another war time tragedy – the loss of British matinee idol and sometimes Hollywood star, Leslie Howard in a plane crash while on a mission for the British secret service.

1944 Determined to extol contributions made to the war effort on the home front, David O. Selznick created an epic weepy, Since You Went Away. A lengthy (3 hr plus) examination of trials and tribulations far from the battlefield, the film starred a reluctant Claudette Colbert (who thought she might be typecast in more matronly roles afterward). Alfred Hitchcock delivered another brilliant propaganda/suspense thriller with Lifeboat; the daring sea saga entirely shot on one set about eight survivors of a German U-boat attack. Oddly enough, critics of the day misconstrued the intent of the film as un-American. It was quickly pulled from circulation.

By now, many of Hollywood’s most prominent leading men had traded their plush tweeds for military gray. James Stewart became a major; Clark Gable – a captain. Marlene Dietrich was a one woman USO – committing the bulk of her waking hours and career to a relentless schedule of entertaining the troops. Their absences from the screen were compensated for in the public’s estimation by scorching debuts of Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not and every man of integrity, Gregory Peck in Days of Glory. Elizabeth Taylor made her mark in National Velvet. Preston Sturges had another hit on his hands with the screwball comedy, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – the rather risqué story of a woman who can’t remember how she became pregnant.

Other outstanding releases of the year included Vincente Minnelli’s brilliant reconstruction of turn of the century Americana – Meet Me In St. Louis; mysteries, Laura and Gaslight; the exceptional film noir, Double Indemnity; the effervescent musical, Cover Girl, starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth, and Leo McCarey’s tear jerker, Going My Way for which film and star Bing Crosby won the Academy Award.

Darryl F. Zanuck made a brilliant attempt to immortalize the legacy of President Woodrow Wilson in ‘Wilson’ – a film that unfortunately tanked at the box office and strained Zanuck’s reputation for excess at the studio. Disappointing also was the tepid Technicolor film version of Broadway’s smash – Lady in the Dark, starring Ginger Rogers. MGM unleashed an unlikely star in champion swimmer Esther Williams. Williams’ screen debut in Bathing Beauty marked the beginning of a 26 aquacade film association with the studio.

TIMELINE: THE FORTIES: THE LAST FIVE YEARS

THE SLOW DECLINE OF THE SYSTEM

1945 By the end of May, armistice had been achieved in Europe. Hollywood’s film community naively assumed that at wars’ end its supremacy as the sole purveyors of mass entertainment would be restored. Their output for the year reflected this optimism. State Fair, a glossy remake of the old Will Rogers film with new songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and co-starring the winsome Jean Crain as a fresh faced farm girl who finds love on the midway in the arms of news hound Dana Andrews, was a big winner for Fox. Popular too was Cornel Wilde’s turn as Chopin in A Song to Remember. Unfortunately, no amount of musical prowess could stop Warner Brothers’ costly Rhapsody in Blue from becoming a box office flop.

MGM threw all its resources behind Anchors Aweigh – an effervescent musical that marked the film debut of Frank Sinatra. It was nominated as Best Picture but lost to The Lost Weekend – a grim depiction of alcoholism; perhaps foreshadowing the fact that audiences were starting to demand more realism from their motion pictures.

Treacle was still in: Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s was a magnificent tear jerker that rang registers around the country. Hitchcock dazzled once again with Spellbound. Ingrid Bergman’s involvement in that film won her the Best Actress New York Film Critic honors. Joan Crawford – who had been labeled a has-been by L.B. Mayer at MGM, migrated to Warner Brothers and won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Mildred Pierce, a greatly sanitized version of the scathing James Cain novel.

Actress Olivia deHavilland won her landmark case against alma mater Warner Brothers. Charging that she had been strong armed into a contract extension of six months (to compensate for her suspension), the Supreme Court ruled that the maximum term any studio could ‘hold’ a star under contract was seven years – including periods of suspension.

Total unknown, Hurd Hatfield burst onto the screen with a resounding success in The Picture of Dorian Gray – a salacious melodrama about a young man whose wicked debaucheries in life ravage his portrait though not his corps. Even fresh-faced Deanna Durbin eschewed her usual cheery conventions for Lady on a Train – a murder mystery in which Ms. Durbin nevertheless found several choice moments to sing.

Zanuck managed a minor coup with The House on 92nd Street, a film shot on location in and around Washington D.C. and afforded audiences unprecedented access to the inner workings of the F.B.I. One of the most impressive yet underrated achievements of the year was Vincente Minnelli’s The Clock – a poignant war time romance that did solid box office. Rory Calhoun became the latest beefcake heartthrob – mostly for his shirtless fight scene in Nob Hill. Danny Kaye did it better - strictly for laughs in the comedy of errors; Wonder Man. Memorable character actors, Alla Nazimova and Gabby Hayes died.

1946 Apart from William Wyler’s poignant account of returning war veterans, The Best Years of Our Lives (which took home the Best Picture Oscar) the year was marked by a decidedly indifferent batch of film product that generally failed to catch the public’s fascination in anything but moderate box office returns. MGM’s grandiose anniversary flick, Ziegfeld Follies became a super production mired in bad taste; a hodgepodge of stars cavorting in garish costumes on gaudy sets. On the whole, the studio’s other musical offering; Till The Clouds Roll By faired much better – both artistically and financially. Roberto Rossellini’s Open City served a two fold purpose: it introduced Italian actress Anna Magnani to American audiences and ushered in the influential post-war neo-classic style in film making.

Laurence Olivier produced, starred and directed Henry V – more an artistic than financial triumph. In Hollywood, The Yearling, costarring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman was a particularly bit of homespun fluff (about a boy and his deer) that caught on. Fox and director John Ford produced the seminal western My Darling Clementine. Warner Brothers and Joan Crawford continued their lucrative association with Humoresque, the May/December embittered tale of tempestuous love between a haughty diva and her headstrong violinist. The noir cycle was in full swing with Rita Hayworth’s scintillating Gilda and Hitchcock’s sublime espionage thriller, Notorious. The on screen chemistry between Lana Turner and John Garfield scorched the screen in James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, even though their behind the scenes animosity proved that mutual romantic admiration a myth.

On the whole, one of Hollywood’s best loved genres – the musical was not performing up to expectation. Disney’s attempt at a live action/animated feature – Song of the South played upon black stereotypes and good natured fables for its fodder, but was only a minor success. MGM’s lavish Du Barry Was A Lady flopped: ditto for Warner’s Night and Day – a thoroughly fictionalized account of composer Cole Porter’s life.

Frank Capra produced and directed It’s a Wonderful Life for his own co-founded Liberty Films. The film’s tepid box office response effectively closed the fledgling studio. Though sumptuously mounted, both RKO’s Caesar and Cleopatra and 20th Century Fox’s The Razor’s Edge were only moderately received. Fox’s other lavish epic of the year, Anna and the King of Siam made Britain’s Rex Harrison an international heartthrob – nicknamed ‘sexy Rexy’. The artistic community mourned the losses of character actor George Arliss and cynical comedian W.C. Fields.

1947 can effectively be considered a year of considerable change in the status quo of making movies. In hindsight, director Ernest Lubitsch’s death seems to have marked the bitter end of Hollywood’s carefree romantic champagne. The production code was revised to explicitly ban any movie from illustrating a crime unless the reprobates in question were depicted as paying a price for their indiscretion. Charlie Chaplin was branded un-American by HUAC. The committee also blacklisted director Edward Dmytrk for his involvement on Crossfire.

Though the industry desperately tried to hang on to its supremacy – its failure to adapt with changing times resulted in many films that – although made with the best of intentions, were quite out of step with public tastes. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s usually solid teaming floundered in The Sea of Grass. The costume melodrama, Song of Love (also with Hepburn) failed to catch on. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. tried to relive his father’s glory in Sinbad the Sailor – and was decried as inferior in all respects.

The Hollywood studios continued to be dominated by their tyrannical moguls and top heavy producer model. But the biggest news in the industry was the invasion of Brit’ J. Arthur Rank. A prolific tycoon, Rank had effectively telescoped Universal International’s merger with United World Pictures. At home, Rank was also busy constructing his own filmic empire – responsible for a litany of crafted product well received on both continents. Odd Man Out, Black Narcissus, This Happy Breed and adaptations of Nicholas Nickleby and Great Expectations were intercontinental successes.

At Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck’s dream factory had an uneven slate of projects. Zanuck scored a financial and critical success with his critique of anti-Semitism in Gentlemen’s Agreement, though in retrospect, RKO’s more modestly budgeted (and like themed) Crossfire seems a more effective film. Fox also had an unlikely hit with A Miracle on 34th Street – unlikely because the Christmas film was unceremoniously dumped on the market in mid-July, but managed to become the summer season’s runaway hit – all about a department store Santa who thinks he’s the real deal. Three best selling novels were transformed into three extremely disappointing movies: The Late George Apley, The Egg and I and Forever Amber. The latter was a costly flop about a maniacal courtesan played by Fox lovely, Linda Darnell. However, most of Amber’s naughtiness had been usurped by the censors.

Marlene Dietrich had a thoroughly abysmal failure on her hands with Golden Earrings in which she played a gypsy princess. Cary Grant faired reasonably well with The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer – a quaint family comedy about a young girl’s infatuation with a middle age lady’s man. Joan Crawford continued her upswing at Warner Brothers in Possessed, the tale of a mentally deranged woman on the verge of a breakdown. Charlie Chaplin’s perverse little comedy, Monsieur Verdoux outraged most critics – not for its content, but because Chaplin was by this point branded a communist by HUAC.

1948 Laurence Olivier briefly made Bill Shakespeare’s prose (and acting in tights) fashionable again with his Oscar-winning Hamlet. From Britain also came Moira Shearer’s international debut in Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes – a ballet orientated film about the tragic dichotomy between love and art. From France, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast was an effective rendering of the fairytale with sumptuous sets and lavish costumes. However, this verve for the classics did not rub off on Columbia’s The Loves of Carmen – an expensive but abysmal Hollywood update of Bizet’s tale, this time starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. Ill-received too was Ingrid Bergman’s performance as the title character in Joan of Arc.

The New York Film Critics gave their accolades to Warner Brother’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – one of two landmark Bogart pictures of the year (the other being, Key Largo). The novel Treasure of the Sierra Madre was written by B. Traven – a man more myth than flesh and blood and equally elusive after cameras had stopped rolling. Orson Welles infuriated Columbia President, Harry Cohn by bleaching Rita Hayworth’s trademark red tresses blonde for The Lady from Shanghai; another attempt by Welles at greatness that was sadly butchered by cuts after Welles had departed the studio. The film was unceremoniously dumped on the market to lackluster reviews and public response though, like many of Welles’ films, it is today considered a classic.

Darryl F. Zanuck continued his relentless pursuit of stories with substance with The Snake Pit – a critical examination of mental illness and asylums. Barbara Stanwyck convincingly portrayed an invalid who overhears, but is unable to intervene in, a murder plot in Sorry Wrong Number. Ray Milland played a man wrongfully accused of murder in the noir thriller, The Big Clock. Larger than life John Wayne and newcomer to films Montgomery Clift spared against the viral backdrop of Indian country in Red River.

On the lighter side, and from MGM, came Easter ParadeFred Astaire’s most delightful post RKO teaming with the studio’s own musical titan, Judy Garland. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were back on top with Frank Capra’s State of the Union – a scathing political comedy/drama. But the outstanding acting performance by an actress this year was Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda. Playing a deaf mute, Wyman managed to convey a sensitivity and sensibility in her performance. One of the most influential of all Hollywood pioneers, David W. Griffith died alone and forgotten. Death also claimed the lives of Dame May Whitty, King Baggot and one of Hollywood’s most promising young stars, Carole Landis who committed suicide with an overdose of seconal at the age of 29. She had 49 films to her credit.

1949 The decade concluded on a rather dower note of distinction. While several of the year’s offerings were noteworthy for their examination of racial issues (Pinky, Intruder in the Dust, Home of the Brave), the bulk of the yearly output played it safe with mediocre themes, and, as a result, came up with mediocre returns.

The Best Picture of the year was decidedly All The King’s Men – a scarring indictment of politics corrupting a proud man. Long denied the Oscar for her body of work, Olivia deHavilland took home the award for her brutally cold performance in The Heiress – all about a wallflower whose father’s meddling ruins her only chance at happiness. James Cagney reemerged in the gangster genre that had made him famous a decade earlier, in a perverse tale of betrayal and deception – White Heat.

Suffering from the ravages of a life filled with carousing, no amount of makeup could mask the wear and tear on Errol Flynn as he meandered through his final success, The Adventures of Don Juan. The Disney stable marked a return to excellence with Cinderella – a magical retelling of the fairytale through the use of pop songs and the stunning art of animation. MGM – known for their impeccable roster of musical comedy stars launched Mario Lanza in a remarkable film debut, That Midnight Kiss; an unremarkable film costarring Kathryn Grayson. MGM also reunited Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers for The Barkleys of Broadway – a film that unequivocally proved that the good old days for this team were decidedly a thing of the past. Judy Garland and Van Johnson costarred in a remake of The Shop Around the Corner (renamed In The Good Ol’ Summertime). Esther Williams and Red Skelton tried to recapture the magic of Bathing Beauty with Neptune’s Daughter – a dismal waterlogged flick whose only distinction is that it features the Oscar-winning song ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside.’ MGM had more financial success with its remake of Little Women – this time costarring June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor and Peter Lawford. The film proved to be C. Aubrey Smith’s last. The much beloved character actor died of pneumonia later that year.

Death also robbed the artistic community of directors Victor Fleming and Sam Wood, as well as acting greats Richard Dix and Wallace Beery. Writer/director Joseph L. Mankewicz would emerge triumphant the following year with two Oscars for writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives – already playing in theaters. Fox’s other notable entry of 1949, Come to the Stable proved an enchanting and lighthearted fable costarring Celeste Holm and Loretta Young.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that any of the studio moguls could foresee how much of an impact television was to have on their entertainment empire in the next decade. Although first experimented with at the New York World’s Fair just prior to the outbreak of WWII, television remained a quiet footnote throughout the 1940s. T.V. was, however, to shortly be transformed through cash investment and the rise of baby boomer/suburbian migration away from the major cities, into the movies greatest arch nemesis. For all intensive purposes then, the 1940s were the last decade in which the movies dominated American culture as the supreme form of mass entertainment.

@2006 (all rights reserved).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

ANASTASIA (1956)

The Vanishing History of a Fairytale Princess

by Nick Zegarac

The rumor, the legend and the mystery of Anastasia has very little to do with her perishable truth, perhaps because historians remain divided as to what actually became of the grand duchess after one bloody night in 1917. Since then, Anastasia has been immortalized as a Broadway smash, an Oscar-winning film, and, a musical cartoon; all cardboard cut out variations on the fairytale princess model: an irony that has all but eclipsed the sad unromantic, and as yet, unsolved imperial puzzle. If any fabled correlation can be drawn from the story of Anastasia, it is as the antithesis of a fairytale - the epitome of a tragic and brutal nightmare, so heinous and haunting that the immensity of its atrocity continues to stagger the heart and confound the mind to this day.

In re-conceptualizing Anastasia’s life as high art, director Anatole Litvak’s 1956 melodrama eschewed fact in favor of total fabrication, modeled on the Cinderella-like transformation from cast off waif to classy aristocrat. It is this rich tapestry cinematically woven by Litvak and spun from the romanticized yarns penned by Arthur Laurents that continue to generate much of the grand duchess’s timeless mythology. In the film, Anastasia the princess, who may or may not have died in vane along with the rest of her family during the slaughter in 1917, is no longer her own person. She has become the star turn, a slate of artistic ambiguity upon which artisans and a Hollywood icon, Ingrid Bergman have inscribed the tale we, as an audience, would rather believe.

It was this fervent desire to daydream beyond what little is actually known about those final moments in a young life that was well in tune with Litvak’s own Russian Jewish heritage. A man of impeccable manners, graciousness and meticulous attention to detail, Litvak had been a premiere director at Germany’s UFA Studios prior to the rise of Adolph Hitler. His 1936 film, Mayerling (shot in France) brought him to the attention of Hollywood.

While in France, Litvak had been privy to that longing for a return of the royal family by some of the exiled Russian aristocrats living out their glorious golden days in the squalor of remnant enclaves within Berlin and Paris. So desperate were these refugees for a return to their homeland – and reinstatement of their titles and lands – that they eagerly embraced a litany of would-be princesses; pretenders to the throne masquerading for their own share of a rumored inheritance hidden in the Bank of England during those formative years immediately following the revolution.

The real Anastasia Nikolayevna (above) was born to a life of wealth and privilege on June 18th, 1901. She was the youngest daughter of the first (and last) 20th century king of Russia; Czar Nicholas Romanov II (below) and his wife Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna. A bit of a tomboy and something of a prankster, Anastasia’s sublime world of culture and wealth was spent being educated in languages and the arts, and, indulging in lavish vacations both at home and abroad; but it was a fragile existence that was not to last.

Despite being a formidable intellectual with an extensive military background, the Czar was both something of a recluse and an autocrat. This distance from his people – who regarded their Czar as a ruler ordained by God - helped to perpetuate the mystique of the monarchy which, at the start of Nicholas’s reign, had enjoyed an unprecedented popularity.

Indeed, the Romanovs were celebrating 300 years of their family bloodline on the throne. However, at a time when other countries (most notable, Britain) were adopting constitutional monarchies, the Czar continued to rule Russia with an iron fist and, some would argue, obliviousness to the suffrage and poverty of more than eighty percent of the populace over which he held dominion.

In 1914, Nicholas declared war on Germany – a move that proved his undoing. For although the Czar placed his country’s pride and welfare at the forefront of foreign affairs, he was ill equipped as either a visionary military man or diplomatist to see his plans through. Assuming command of the armed forces, Nicholas and his army endured one defeat after the next against the Germans.

At home, the Czarina’s growing dependency on a monk of spurious reputation, Grigory Rasputin had begun to erode the royal family’s popularity with the masses. Indeed, Rasputin proved to be a self-indulgent womanizer and a drunk. However, he also seemed to be in possession of some strange mystical power that quelled the hemophilia plaguing the future heir to the throne, Alexei Nikolaievich.

Little is known about the grand duchess Anastasia during this time, except that at the age of twelve she had already become something of a gifted photographer, indulging her craft in family snapshots before becoming a war nurse and tending to the wounded along with the rest of her sisters.

The Bolshevik party headed by Vladimir Lenin seized power and forced the abdication of the Czar. Exiled to the remote Siberian town of Ekaterinburg and “the house of special purpose” (a euphemism for the place of execution), the Czar and ten others were exterminated in a hale of gunfire on the 16th of July 1918. To discourage any royalists from recovering their remains (as religious artifacts) the bodies were bayoneted, stripped naked, doused in gasoline and sulfuric acid and lit afire before being buried in unmarked graves somewhere in the forest beyond the “house of special purpose.”

But were they really dead?

Newspaper reports of the day ran the gamut of wild speculation; from everyone surviving and being exiled in the Far East, to total annihilation. In retrospect, it seems that neither journalistic claim was true.

Although an extensive excavation recovered bones from the earth in 1991, the dig only served to highlight a mystery which had been ongoing almost from the moment of assassination: that Anastasia had maybe survived.

Indeed, while forensic experts were able to piece together nine bodies buried beyond the “house,” neither Anastasia nor Alexei were among the remains. It seems highly unlikely that in the moments of haste immediately following the execution that any special attention would have been placed on relocating the two youngest victims to an alternative burial site. Hence, the speculation and the hope of all royalists from that time onward has long since been that both children escaped their preordained fates.

As early as 1920, pretenders to the throne had begun popping up all over Europe. One struck an indelible impression: Anna Anderson(right). Tuberculosis stricken, Anderson’s checkered past included several suicide attempts and frequent institutionalizations for various mental disorders.

It was during her stay at one of these asylums in France that Anna confided to a fellow patient that she was the daughter of Czar Nicholas II. So compelling was Anderson’s ability to recall specifics (arguably, that no one else other than the real Anastasia could have possibly known) that many in the Russian émigré communities peppered throughout the rest of Europe believed Anna’s story and began launching law suits on her behalf to reclaim her title as grand duchess.

Indeed, it was Anderson’s life thus far that became the fodder for skilled Parisian playwright, Marcelle Maurette’s intercontinental smash play, transcribed for the Broadway stage by scenarist Guy Bolton. Since no one knew the whereabouts of the real grand duchess it became quite feasible to assume that Anderson was the real McCoy. However, in translating the play into a film, screen writer Arthur Laurents made several key changes to the narrative that – although entirely void of historical fact – generated great melodrama for the big screen. These changes included a pivotal confrontation and reconciliation between Anna and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie. In reality, although the real Anastasia’s aunt Olga did travel to France to visit Anna Anderson while she recovered from tuberculosis, no such public approval or acceptance of Anna – either by Olga or the Dowager Empress ever transpired. In fact, the Empress and Anna never met in real life.