Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Memo John Lasseter Would NEVER Send...

...or any other modern Hollywood executive. But back in 1935, things were, ah, different. Warner Bros., then as now headquartered in Burbank, had a policy of putting communications on paper. In fact, at the bottom of each WB interoffice memo was the following:

Verbal messages cause misunderstanding and delays (please put them in writing.)

So executives did. And the following memorandum, written by WB's production head Hal Wallis, probably focussed the attention of director Michael Curtiz when he read it (the memo deals with the feature Captain Blood, the Pirates of the Caribbean of its day)...

To: Curtiz

From: Wallis

Subject: Captain Blood

I have talked to you about four thousand times, until I am blue in the face, about the wardrobe in this picture. I also sat up here with you one night, and with everybody else connected with the company, and we discussed each costume in detail, and also discussed the fact that when the men get to be pirates that we would not have "Blood" dressed up.

Yet tonight, in the dailies, in the division of the spoils sequence, here is Captain Blood with a nice velvet coat, with lace cuffs out of the bottom, with a nice lace stock collar, and just dressed exactly opposite to what I asked you to do.

I distinctly remember telling you, I don't know how many times, that I did not want you to use lace collars or cuffs on Errol Flynn. What in the hell is the matter with you, and why do you insist on crossing me on everything that I asked you not to do? What do I have to do to get you to do things my way? I want the man to look like a pirate, not a molly-coddle. You have him standing up here dealing with a lot of hard-boiled characters, and you've got him dressed up like a God damned faggot...

I suppose that when he goes into the battle with the pirates (the French) at the finish, you'll probably be having him wear a high silk hat and spats.

When the man divided the spoils you should have had him in a shirt with the collar open at the throat, and no coat on at all. Let him look a little swashbuckling, for Christ sakes! Don't always have him dressed up like a pansy! I don't know how many times we've talked this over...

I hope that by the time we get into the last week of shooting the picture, that everybody will be organized and get things right. It certainly is about time.

Today, of course, the wording of a production memo like this would no doubt be a little different. Nobody would use the word "molly-coddle." Nobody would even know what it means.

Errol Flynn without the velvet coat, by Al Hirschfeld


Anonymous said...

One of the funniest memos in one of the greatest books of Hollywood film lore ever compiled...Rudy Behlmer did a fantastic job of choosing the entries.

Of course, Wallis was well and truly furious and at the end of his rope--most of is mmemos were nothing like this, and Curtiz was no lightweight but a very stubborn, tough customer himself. Today everyone takes Curtiz's genius for granted, but back then he was another WB employee like all the other A directors(albeit a highly valued one).

Flynn's letter to Wallis on the subject of his hair in "Robin Hood" is another priceless one, as is Bogart's letter to Jack Warner literally begging not to have to do a certain picture--Bogart, pleading and threatening the head of the studio! he winds up having to do the film anyway--and it was a flop. Things never really change, is the lesson I take from this stuff.
Merry Xmas!

Anonymous said...

Rudy Behlmer, besides being omnipresent on commentary tracks on Warner Bros.'s classic films, edited Memo From David O. Selznick and Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951).

My old prof Niven Busch had a memo in the WB collection; he wasn't aware of it until I pointed the thing out to him. He reread the memo fifty years later and said: "Too bad they didn't follow my advice when I wrote it..."

Anonymous said...

Seriously--there's a lot of wisdom in all those "memo" books...the Selznick one(probably the most famous of them)reflects but one man's nuttiness as well as talent, but the Zanuck & WB I always push those titles on friends who have any interest in film history and film production.

I was able to meet and greet Rudy Behlmer often when I worked at Larry Edmunds in my pre-Calarts days; he's not only a great film scholar but a lovely gentleman.

btw--Merry Christmas, Steve and Kevin(and everyone else at the office)!

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