When Chicago Had One Too Many Firemen
King vs. Humberstone --- and Zanuck's The Referee
So Henry King declared it was either him or H. Bruce Humberstone. One had to leave the lot, as in 20th Fox. Which would caught-in-middle Darryl Zanuck support? King was his "A" pic stalwart, but none were better than Humberstone at keeping B's on track, from Jane Withers to Charlie Chan and whatever stayed within six reels. Here was ego's torch lit by
|Where Battle Lines Were Drawn: The Main Title Credits for In Old Chicago|
And why not take bows? Title credits indicated Humberstone as director of "Special Effects Scenes," which dimmest members of the audience knew was the fire. And the fire was what everyone took away from seeing In Old Chicago. After all, it comprised nearly a final third of the picture. Everything up to then was warm-up. King realized this and hit a ceiling. Insult upon injury was Humberstone running a Hollywood Reporter trade ad where he'd proudly claim the fire as his --- well, hadn't Fox said so in publicity and one after another news plants re his supervision of the spectacle? No, said Henry King, both in 1938 and decades later when he recalled the incident for interviewing Jon Tuska. Humberstone had spent time and resource doing stuff they couldn't even use in the finished picture. Zanuck would apologize to King "for putting his (Humberstone's) name on the picture in the first place," adding that Lucky's footage didn't amount to more than a minute of finished product. Reply from King was to effect that Humberstone's ad and main titles credit "has practically shut me out of the Academy nominations," and he (King) should place his own response to The Hollywood Reporter to straighten matters out. "My advise is to print nothing," said Zanuck, and so King did not, but neither was he Academy-nominated for directing In Old Chicago.
|From the 2/38 Issue of International Photographer|
Fox's lavish pressbook, issued months into 1938 and well after the King/Humberstone imbroglio, had numerous mentions of Lucky as director of the fire. Irony of all this was fact that it was Fox FX wizard Fred Sersen and his team who were most deserving of hand clap for Chicago roast. They'd work wonders again and again at 20th, notably in following year's The Rains Came. Jon Tuska found Henry King "benign and relaxed" about the Chicago controversy when they discussed it in 1976 --- guess thirty-eight years is time enough to take wind out of any feud. Tuska's interviews with both King and Humberstone are included in a marvelous book, Encounters With Filmmakers, published in 1991. The Zanuck notes to King are part of Rudy Behlmer's outstanding collection, Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck (1993). In Old Chicago can be had on DVD in both the roadshow and general release versions, and Amazon streams the roadshow in HD.