Wednesday, June 30, 2010
ON THE ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD
By Chapin Hall
Hollywood, Cal., April 24, 1932
British and other foreign made pictures will never seriously jeopardize the American product. This news, naturally cheering to Hollywood, was brought this week by Millard Webb, director of “Gentlemen of the Press,” “The Sea Beast” and a dozen or so other films, after a year of direction with British-Gaumont at their Shepherd’s Bush studios.
According to Mr. Webb, British conservatism reaches its peak in the English studios. Cost of production is limited to from $50,000 to $60,000 for their best pictures, almost a Poverty Row figure in Hollywood. From this producers expect a 6 per cent return on their money and are satisfied with such a profit. They realize that their films cannot compete in the world market, and they are content with the British Empire.
"The English producers don’t go after stories by their great authors,” Mr. Webb said. “They take old or inexpensive stories and do what they can with them. They miss timely subjects completely. Even if they make a topical film, under their producers’ agreement, they wait six months before they release it.
“They don’t make any great bid for American stars for two reasons: they can’t afford Hollywood prices, and they are influenced by tradition. When they made ‘Escape’ they cast Sir Gerald du Maurier as the 25-year-old lead. Sir Gerald is in his late fifties.
“But they knew that England would accept him in the part because he had always played such parts and, though he looked his age, tradition justified it.”
According to Mr. Webb, many of the English studios are poorly equipped. Gaumont gave him everything he asked for, however, except a yielding to tradition. The Shepherd’s Bush studios are the best equipped in Europe, he says.
Emil Jannings would return to Hollywood at the crook of a finger, Mr. Webb reports. The Ufa plant where Jannings works with Erich Pommer is a mausoleum of past grandeur. Little activity was noted in France by the American and the studios on the Riviera where Rex Ingram made pictures are empty. The Russian product, while stimulating technically, is so full of propaganda that it can never be of world-wide interest.
“We do many insane things in Hollywood, but after a year abroad I find it a pleasant insanity,” Mr. Webb concluded. “In spite of the restrictions producers place on us here, we have a free reign on new ideas. And the rest of the world seems not only to accept our pictures, but to like them.”
This week saw things happen at the RKO-Radio studios. On the heels of the election of Merlin H. Aylesworth of N. B. C. as president of Radio-Keith-Orpheum, David O. Selznick, local ranking head, announced that the time-honored supervisory system was to be abandoned.
Supervisors have always been the butt of Hollywood jokes and Hollywood complaints. They stand between the head of the studio and the writers and directors. Under the new system, writers and directors work directly under the production head of RKO. Mr. Selznick believes that original ideas will be encouraged and fewer restrictions placed on writers if they can go to the heads of the studio with their scripts.
Ann Harding finished her last picture, “Westward Passage,” this week and prepared for her next, “Just a Woman”; “State’s Attorney,” the John Barrymore play by Gene Fowler, went to the cutting rooms; “Bird of Paradise” with Dolores Del Rio is practically completed; “Hold ‘Em, Jail,” the last Wheeler and Woolsey comedy for RKO is in production; “Is My Face Red?” is shooting, as is the Constance Bennett film, “The Truth About Hollywood,” and progress is being made on Richard Dix’s newest, “The Roar of the Dragon.”
The status of Greta Garbo is still unknown here. This week she completed her last picture under her M-G-M contract, “As You Desire Me.” Her term ends about May 1 and unless Metro meets her demands, she will go to another studio. Reports from M-G-M indicate that they prefer to believe that if she does not re-sign with them she will return to Sweden; but rumor chasers say that she is anxious to work another year before retiring.
“Red-Headed Woman” continues to give M-G-M trouble. After some eight writers finally got a picture out of the story, stars began off the lead in the film. The character is a distasteful one. The studio doesn’t want to risk any of its own stars in it because of the public reaction and free-lancers hesitate on playing the part. However, Jack Conway is the director and it is possible that the lead will be chosen within the week.
In addition to “Red-Headed Woman,” M-G-M has an active Summer schedule planned. It embraces “Promiscuous” for Joan Crawford; an untitled yarn for Wallace Beery; “China Seas,” a story of Oriental pirates; an unnamed story for Marion Davies; “Downstairs,” by and with John Gilbert; Buster Keaton’s next, “Speak Easily,” from the Clarence Budington Kellard yarn, “Footlights.”
Paramount has fallen into the vogue for mature stars such as Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, and is launching a constructive campaign to feature Alison Skipworth. Her first starring picture is “The Sporting Widow,” retitled from “The Countess of Auburn,” by Malcolm Stuart Boylan and Harvey Harris Gates. It is based to some extent on the life of a woman who has been much in the news in the last dozen years in getting out of prison and then getting right back in. George Barbier will play opposite Miss Skipworth.
“Merton of the Talkies” is about ready for shooting with Stuart Erwin as the lead and with William Beaudine directing.
Claudette Colbert has arrived from New York, the last of the Astoria stars to come West, to play with Clive Brook in “Bride of the Enemy.”
Anthony Veiller, former city editor of The Schenectady Gazette, is on the Paramount lot as a writer. A number of other newcomers have been signed by the company, including Charles Laughton, who arrived this week from England via Broadway to play with Tallulah Bankhead and Gary Cooper.
Fox continues to be active with a number of pictures currently in work at the Westwood studios. Will Rogers’s “Down to Earth” is well under way; “Week Ends Only,” with Joan Bennett and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” switched from Janet Gaynor to Marian Nixon, are shooting.
Colleen Moore arrived in town this week after a two-year absence to open on the legitimate stage with “A Church Mouse,” with which she has been touring on the Coast. While she has made no open bid for a return to pictures, the rumor has gotten about that she is willing. While other stars of much lesser importance have attempted come-backs without any high degree of success, Hollywood is watching Miss Moore with interest. She left the screen at almost the height of her career, and has kept aloof since.