The Hawks Women He Left Behind --- Part One
Starmaker Howard Hawks introduced (or enhanced prospects for) any number of feminine headliners, but what of those also-rans and never got theirs that passed before his camera’s gaze and barely registered afterward? Lauren Bacall was the first personality Hawks built from the ground up, and To Have and Have Not would contribute to the director’s mystique as much as to her own. From here on, columnists would recognize Hawks’ Midas touch as finder of talent in addition to his facility for delivering commercial hits. You could say it was destiny random and unpredictable that elevated Bacall over supporting women in the casts of To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, or perhaps consider how decks were ultimately stacked in her favor and possible competition diminished in order to assure her dominance. Editing detours and a level playing field might have given Dolores Moran To Have and Have Not and Martha Vickers The Big Sleep, but that would not have suited ambitions and sales plans that called for an overnight sensation in the person of Lauren Bacall. This was a fascinating instance of a star being born (or manufactured) in a hurry, while others with perhaps as much ability were left curbside to manage on crumbs and what was left of contracts that wouldn’t be renewed. There are no two more perfectly realized boxoffice engines than To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep. They entertain as efficiently today as when both filled theatres over sixty years ago. We know a great deal about their evolution thanks to biographies and production histories that stress the romance and intrigues that brought them into being. Old Hollywood’s enduring fascination has a lot to do with layers of on-set drama beneath ones we still enjoy watching. Stories Robert Osborne tells ahead of TCM broadcasts become subtext viewers think about as vintage films unspool. People look at To Have and Have Not and ponder Humphrey Bogart falling in love behind the scenes with Lauren Bacall, not Harry, Steve, Slim, or whether or not they’ll come to the rescue of Free France. It helps to have Bacall still willing and able to come on the program and provide first hand confirmation of legends fans don’t want to let go of. The stories have been told and retold into decrepitude. All the principals who were there, other than Bacall, are gone now. To maintain fascination with To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep means unearthing new information (too late and the lake’s been dredged) or reconsidering what’s been ignored or overlooked. Lately I’ve pondered the fate of Captivating Dolores Moran, a skyrocket that launched with Bacall, sputtered during ascent, then fell to earth. Rescue and recovery were not forthcoming. Moran died in 1982, well after To Have and Have Not was anointed by Bogart/Hawks cultists. No one, to my knowledge, ever sought her out. Besides, it’s the winners you go to for history lessons, which she was anything but, being dismissed by Bacall in her memoirs and defamed by a disgruntled Howard Hawks (ex) wife who referred to her as Dollarass Moron. She came within sniffing distance of the brass ring Bacall grabbed, and which was indeed dangled before her if the finished To Have and Have Not is any indication. But for chance, serendipity, and worse luck, Dolores Moran (and later Martha Vickers) might have been among Hawks women we’d recall most vividly.
Who was the girl, Steve? The one who left you with such a high opinion of women? Dolores Moran was to provide the answer via a substantial role inspired by Rita Hayworth in Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, the director’s most fully realized template so far for action adventure. Moran would be the woman in Bogart’s past, much as Hayworth had been for Cary Grant in 1939. Ingrid Bergman had but a year earlier performed similar duties in Casablanca, a blockbuster blueprint for many Bogart vehicles to come and in the end, a model for much of what went into To Have and Have Not. Triangulated romance was easiest to sell. Early Warner publicity foresaw a Battle Of The Blondes as Lauren Bacall and Dolores Moran received equal emphasis in press releases. Which would Bogie choose? Billing was to have favored Moran. She’d been at Warners since November 1941 and had recently captured notice with a good supporting role in Old Acquaintance with Bette Davis. Moran was voluptuous beyond anyone’s wildest expectation for one so young. Her actual age upon signing with Warners remains a mystery. Sources indicate she was born in 1924, but the likelier date is 1926, based on 1941 press originating from home environs where other girls aged fifteen were quick to organize fan clubs for one of their number who’d clicked in Hollywood. Did Warner publicists adjust the birth year? Whatever the case, both she and Bacall were teenagers enacting very adult roles, the latter recently turned nineteen when To Have and Have Not began production in March 1944 and Moran possibly a year younger. Bacall claims to have been a babe in the woods when she arrived in California. Moran had traveled a gravel road choked with girls possessed of equal talent and looks at least approaching hers. Most days were spent cheese-caking for fan press, then ducking woman starved service personnel at camp shows. The sordid realities of these was described in a recent book by Henry Somers, A Subway Ride To The Pacific, where he tells of Dolores Moran being put through the paces when she tried to do her act on his base. This was a dog’s life for starlets, particularly one barely old enough to have a driver’s license, but for Moran, greater disappointments were still to come.
Howard Hawks tested both actresses for the part of Marie (later "Slim") at the end of 1943. Bacall was under personal contract to him, so naturally he favored her results over Moran’s, so much so as to shoot and reshoot his protégé’s audition. Bacall writes that Dolores Moran was imposed upon Howard Hawks for the second female lead, a quid pro quo in exchange for Bacall getting the preferred part of Marie. The second revised final script going into production still called for both women to spar romantically with Bogart, even though Moran’s Hellene de Bursac had by now taken second chair to Bacall’s Marie. Shooting was chronological due to constant script revisions by William Faulkner. Private intrigues would finish the job on Dolores Moran that writers had started. As Hawks owned Bacall’s contract, he figured that included her personal services as well. The blow-up that occurred when he realized she was falling for Bogart resulted in a threat to sell Bacall to lowly Monogram Pictures and an affair conducted possibly in spite with Dolores Moran. Parallels between Hawks/Bacall and Hitchcock/Tippi Hedren are unmistakable. Producer power plays with neophyte talent could be an ugly business, and autuer pantheon sitters we treasure weren’t above engaging in it. Several decades past death and/or retirement finally got at some truths about these legends a lot of us could have done without, but all too human failings and now-and-then unconscionable behavior are, after all, what make this world go round. Considering temptations daily laid before them, I don’t wonder that Hawks and Hitchcock seized (or attempted) an occasional unfair advantage. What’s remarkable is the tender age of these girls being passed among middle-aged (or better) consorts. Bacall was nineteen to Bogart’s forty-four, while Hawks was forty-seven to Moran’s supposed twenty (but more likely eighteen). Of these assignations, wives generally became aware, and hell was to pay in both instances. Real-life Bacall inspiration (and actual discoverer of same) "Slim" Hawks was the spouse after whom Howard molded all his femme creations after To Have and Have Not, but he tomcatted out on her just the same. Steaming yet when she penned her life story in the late eighties, Slim got even with a deceased Hawks and "Dollarass Moron" by outing their alleged involvement, but what could it have mattered once the book was published in 1990, as all the principals, including the author, had passed on?
Production on To Have and Have Not would last nine weeks, ending in May. Hawks made changes on the set and continued paring down Dolores Moran’s part. Faukner’s shooting script allowed for strong moments yet between Bogart’s character and hers, but few of these survived. Moran is late arriving on screen by fifty-five minutes, so her participation is limited to the picture’s second half. There was to have been a provocative scene where Madame de Bursac comes to Harry Morgan’s hotel room to take a bath, then dons his robe as they discuss leaving the island together. He calls her "Cheesecake" (a joking reference to Moran’s own specialty?) and doubts she’ll stay with a husband they both consider weak. I’ll never leave him, she says, just before Harry kisses her and advises Never say never. As with Casablanca, suspense turns on who the freedom fighter’s wife will end up decamping with … the husband or Bogart. For all her self-described naivete, Bacall wasn’t napping. Advised of continuing Warner efforts on Moran’s behalf, she arranged for a studio photographer to take several rolls with a cooperative Bogart in her embrace (one of those shown here). Their relationship, it seemed, would cement the co-starring position for Bacall and eliminate Moran as meaningful screen competition. Her 1978 By Myself (since updated and republished) further told the story Bacall’s way. Halfway into the film, Howard (Hawks) ran some of our scenes cut, showed them to Bogie, and with Bogie's help had come to the conclusion that no audience would believe anyone or anything could come between Slim and Steve. So scenes were adjusted accordingly and all of mine made stronger and better. Never mind possibilities of Dolores Moran giving her a run for the money in To Have and Have Not, for Bacall’s summation was a terse You can’t beat chemistry. Poster art would confirm the winner. Bacall was all over one-sheets and declared an overnight sensation as planned. Bringing up drag and summoning memories of the campaign now abandoned was a theatrical trailer (included on the DVD) in which Bacall and Dolores Moran share honors as Two Fascinating New Personalities, with footage and hyperbole divided evenly between the two. Now with their hit in theatres, Warners put all its merchandising muscle behind Bacall (note the extravagant lobby display shown here). For all the career advancement she had to look forward to with this company, it might as well have been Dolores Moran making the trip to Monogram. Second fiddles would be the only instruments she'd play henceforth. You’d scarcely know this actress had participated in a success so big as To Have and Have Not, for now her name appeared far down in cast listings. Within two years, The Man I Love carried Ida Lupino and newcomer Andrea King above the title. Dolores Moran wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the pressbook ads, yet she’s there in a minor, though colorful, supporting part. Slippage to "B’s" after Warners let her go was expected (here in one, Count The Hours). She got out altogether in 1954. I wonder if anyone even mentioned Howard Hawks or To Have and Have Not to her during the final decades of Dolores Moran’s life. Hawks lived until 1977, but interview references to Moran were dismissive ones. Was she not good enough, as he might put it, or was she too good for Bacall’s good? Terrific as it was/is, would To Have and Have Not have further benefited had Dolores Moran been permitted to run an even race with Lauren Bacall? Martha Vickers would confront the same question, under similar circumstances, when she worked with Bacall and Hawks in The Big Sleep. More to come on this in next week’s Part Two.