Friday, February 13, 2009


Hollywood, March 15
Picture after picture is coming from the studios in the present cycle of films showing stars or leading ladies getting their ears boxed – and right well boxed, too. Or they are booted through a door on the set. Or they are turned across a table and spanked with a hairbrush or slipper. It seems that the point has been reached where no actress is acclaimed a success until she has been thoroughly smacked or paddled or placed in some humiliating and embarrassing predicament. All in the name of art!

Loretta Young was slapped by James Cagney in “Taxi!” and so soundly and realistically slapped that the episode was cut from some versions of the finished film. It wasn’t the slap which hurt but a whole series necessitated in retakes which almost broke up the friendship between Miss Young and Cagney. Her cheek was crimson when she wavered off the set and started toward her dressing room.

Evalyn Knapp was given the open palm by the same doctor of modern etiquette in “Smart Money,” and smacked repeatedly in the retakes. The sound of each blow was picked up readily by the microphone. Miss Knapp is a courageous person and did not whimper.

Nor did Joan Blondell wince when she took her position to be kicked through a door by Edward G. Robinson in the same production. Yet it did seem that she walked a little sideways when the retakes started.

Scenario writers appear to delight in making Jimmie Cagney treat ‘em rough. It will be remembered that he was called upon to push half a grapefruit in Miss Mae Clark’s face in a breakfast table scene.

“These scenario writers put their suppressed desires into script,” Cagney said. “They think of something that happened at home, write their ideas into the play, and leave the dirty work up to me.”

The most mortifying situation faced by a pair of players in recent pictures fell to the lot of Billie Dove and Chester Morris when they were making “Cock of the Air.” The script called for Morris to pop a champagne cork in Billie’s face, shower her with “giggle water,” box her ears with his open palm, and wrestle with her all over a room. Which was performed in the manner prescribed.

But when it came to turning her across a table and spanking her with a silver ladle – well, he just was not used to such measures. Neither was Miss Dove. But the scene had to be made, and made it was, completely and effectively, if somewhat painfully for Miss Dove.

Robert Montgomery was called upon to discipline Norma Shearer, it will be recalled, in “Private Lives.” And if you think that Norma cannot pull hair, slap and claw, when properly provoked, just remember that scene.

Joan Crawford got hers from Clark Gable in “Possessed.” It landed beneath one eye, and there was a retake or two.

This slapping business really has become an epidemic. Once started, it spreads to all circles.

You saw Miriam Hopkins slap Claudette Colbert in “The Smiling Lieutenant,” and presently saw Claudette smack Miriam.

You saw Wallace Beery slap little Jackie Cooper in “The Champ” and the tears come into the boys eyes as he slowly turned and walked away.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting piece - I've read elsewhere about how fed up Cagney got with repeatedly having to hit women in films, but hadn't previously seen his comment here. Also a lovely picture from 'Taxi' which I hadn't seen before. Judy

Keith said...

This was a very fascinating post. I just discovered your blog. I really like what I see here. I'll definitely have to stop by again soon. Cheers!

GAH1965 said...

I don't know a lot about Cagney's real life, but it is interesting to learn how different he was from the parts he played - especially in these early years.

Glad you're enjoying the posts.