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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Trek Through Ad-Man Jungle

 

Director Jack Conway Poses With The Star Cast

The Hucksters (1947) Gives Radio a Close Shave



Whatever its merit for drama or romance, The Hucksters opens a door to workaday 1947 among advertising agents, radio folk, and Hollywood reps. Diluted from harder-hitting Frederic Wakeman novel, anyone then or now knew an industry under Code edict had to hide Easter eggs where it could. To attack ad agencies would be seen by some as an assault upon America itself, a drilling into capitalist foundations, sale of goods widely viewed as a way back from war and highest hope for reclaim of normalcy. New forming families had lots to consume, advertisers a needed guide toward that. Plus people were fascinated by in-outs of salesmanship, an occupation almost as glamorous as being in movies. The Hucksters too had been a “hot” novel. Would they dare adapt it as written? Everyone knew not, but there was fun in imagining.


Conway Reviews the Script with Gable and Deborah Kerr


Clark Gable could not (some say would not) play a heel and adulterer as Wakeman-penned. Again --- unreasonable to expect he would. This was Gable back from service and staying true to his uniform, image never so critical as now. There is first-reel reminder of maleness --- hugs with old ladies who want but can't have him (Connie Gilchrist), and kootchy phone chat with last night's date. All this was required but not in sync with a war-wearied Gable who should be up to more serious pursuit. We’re to understand his descent into ad-manning goes against Gable grain, a best of The Hucksters being his fight for integrity amidst a corrupt trade. Gable had been there and done this, Wife vs. Secretary of 1936 differing because in that instance, it was his ad agency, one that would reflect standards we expect of go-getting, but always fair play “Clark Gable.” Here he is tied to salaries and bonuses, other men as boss, an untenable state for the lone achiever we want Gable to be. Expectation for stars, particularly ones returned from real-life struggle as was his (bombing missions) meant formula had to be righter applied than ever, missteps a risk as many of these personalities, having lost three-four years off career momentum, had fragile paths to walk.




The Hucksters
wasn't appreciated in 1947 for things that make it fascinating now. As document, if sanitized, of what went on in post-war agency corridors, it is peerless. Deals close on the Super Chief in club cars a public then took for granted. Such settings are for us like Disneyland, a romantic mode of travel long gone. Night clubs and penthouse apartments are dwelt in as if we'd always have them. People wear more attractive clothes than what hangs off us now, a given in 40's-set film. Gable is another of eternal optimists who will use his last dollar to buy a tie, and yes, this was believable in 1947 thanks to plentiful jobs for men who merchandised, Madison Avenue’s a solid grip over decades to come. The Hucksters takes off on radio, surprising in view of MGM history of bedding with wireless. Programs and especially ads we hear are inane to a point of nausea, Gable’s reaction when hearing them a mirror for anyone with passable sense. He does everything but a Babe Hardy camera-look to show disgust with what listeners presumably coped with every night at home. Was this Metro bid for us to shut off radio and get back into theatre seats where quality was a given? Could be, but critics were carping that movies had slipped since before the war. Coming dips in boxoffice revenue would seem to bear them out. Intriguing too is no Hucksters mention of television, popularly around the corner by mere months. The industry knew, had known, the looming threat this posed, a threat perhaps better ignored.


Publicity Stills Were Often Done in Gable's Private Dressing Room, As Here and In Several Below


Inside-advertising is ripest fruit of The Hucksters. When Gable adjourns to romance Deborah Kerr or Ava Gardner, pace falters but bad. Who'd have thought his love stuff would become so tiring, yet here it was. Kerr was a Brit import, having done better things over there, The Hucksters a splash intro worth the trip and submission to Metro handling that made her a seeming younger sister to Greer Garson, latter soon to fade (Kerr, Rhymes With Star!, said publicists). Like Garson, Kerr was uneasy fit for Gable, to whom Ava Gardner acquitted better. Kerr was called "prissy" beside the King, and yes, she seems so. There is quarreling, and much eaten footage, over his apparent booking of connected rooms at an inn they visit. She is morally outraged on behalf of Code precepts any Gable character would have laughed at (or ignored) in freewheel days past, the issue a non-issue as audiences were increasingly aware. Alert eyes saw industry decline a Hucksters forecast via such a dated and unwelcome device. It is boardrooms where the film lights up, known un-trustworthies Adolphe Menjou and Edward Arnold lending spice to watered soup. These two had been double-dealing long enough for us to at least hope they will do so here, and if that doesn't altogether jell, their presence is comfort at least. Gable and Menjou were friends, Menjou’s later memoir, It Took Nine Tailors, boasting an intro by Gable. They are relaxed and congenial in scenes played opposite one another.

Back Caption Says Gable is Gifting Gardner With a Tin of Candy. Wonder What Flavor.


Greenstreet and Conway Prep For a Next Scene



Nasties retained from Wakeman's book are embodied in Sydney Greenstreet's despotic sponsor boss. From an intro where he spits on a table top, there is no question of cast seniority. The Hucksters needs Greenstreet for the rest of participants draining its swamp with PCA-forced decency. He's in for three or so segments, all of them key. When Greenstreet enters, it is like Gorgo loose on London, him destructive to the cast, but a gift to viewers. Business of developing a comedy skein for radio looks authentic, Gable's ad man and last minute hired writers punching out a pilot script in a smoke-filled cabana. Was radio so lousy as presented here? MGM said it was "all in fun," but what's depicted is done with stilettos, a seeming chuck of whatever relationship they had with broadcasters for the sake of putting it to them now, but this came of the source novel, they'd argue, so if radio-knocks were blunted, why make The Hucksters at all? A novel that sold this well was going to be adapted for pictures, sure as snow. If Metro did not do it with The Hucksters, someone else would, best-sellers understood to be a closest thing to a sure thing studios had left. If lines were drawn, it was generally over cost or otherwise onerous terms. Gable wanted very much for MGM to acquire The Fountainhead for him. They didn’t, and he stewed (the more so when career-long rival Gary Cooper got the lead at Warners).


The Hucksters Settled Into a Long Chicago Run


For a picture that skewered advertising, The Hucksters held many a cross-promotional hand. There was "no limit," said merchandisers, to tie-in with every product imaginable. The mid-forties was a peak of pic mention in ads for candies, whiskey, fountain pens, any product to profit from push. Stars weren't shy to endorse these, as every back was scratched and product endorsement was nice adjunct to what studios paid (if employers took the fees, at least players could have a fresh set of tires or lifetime cartons of Chesterfield). Concrete proof of strides Madison Avenue made would reflect in marketing for The Hucksters. Wakeman's novel got a reprint --- it had topped Best Seller lists for half a year and was still "whispered about" in book club circles. The movie was a hit, even against inflated cost of postwar producing. So too did Adventure thrive, Gable's first out of uniform. His tumble as claimed by writers was a matter of degree of gain for employers, not absence of it. Of those Gable-done at Metro after WWII, only Command Decision (very expensive to make) and Never Let Me Go lost money.





Monday, February 22, 2021

Show Biz Storytelling

 



"Over The Top" Is What These Pioneers Were


Thinking about show biz memoirs led to my looking up “fabulist,” defined as follows: “A person who composes or relates fables,” or more damning, “A liar, especially a person who invents elaborate, dishonest stories.” That seems a harsh definition for a word that to me has cheerier implication, being derived, I assume, from “fabulous,” which we all know describes every aspect of the entertainment world and those who contributed to it. Is it churlish to be critical of them? A part of me says yes, especially where they tell life stories the object of which is to amuse and gratify us, seldom more. If they exaggerate or fabricate, where’s the hurt? Movies were never truthful, so why must people who worked in them be so? Their object was to please not just us, but each other. Old-timers especially were expected to be “colorful.” A lie is less a lie the more years after it happened, or likely didn’t. Those of the biz understood that truth was not merely flexible, but negligible.

Papa Says No To a Plea For Daughter's Hand in Marriage (A Vitagraph Romance, 1912)



Interviews are notoriously unreliable, but it's only us who would say “notorious.” To biz peers, it’s “Great Stories!” Expecting accuracy from an interviewee is a fool’s errand. These folks were in character especially when speaking as “themselves” (forgive all the words in quotation, but we are talking about show people after all). They permitted their names upon published profiles that were tissued in falsehood, their universe a fan fantasy where one pretended to be things one was not. Just because a career ended (almost never by choice) was no reason to start being honest all-of-a-sudden. What friends you kept in the business never wanted that. Maintaining illusion was a must. Vets who had gone away from a public eye were always welcomed by others of their discarded lot. You read of how they gathered at Friar, Lamb, Guild, events. Or at breakfast together, as they all still woke up early, even if make-up and cameras no longer waited. To perform now was to do so for pals also forgotten by hirers. Shared morning meal took the sting out of forced retirement. I use forced as a blanket term, for who ever wanted to quit entertaining? 

Vitagraph Is Hiring Eloped Young Couples, Experience Not Required


Father Spots Daughter on Posters At The Nickelodeon Entrance. She's In The Flickers Now!


But what of the fans? They did not forget, never went away … did they? A way to find out was to write your life story, or have it written for you, at least get it researched after so many years tall-telling that you don’t even know what truth is anymore, object being to entertain, make ‘em laugh or be sad for tears behind your smile, really just an extension of emote you did all along. It wasn’t just actors doing the dance, but directors too, once they went full-fabulist. Most noted was Frank Capra, who gave made-up accounts a sweet aroma. We wanted so much for his stories to be true that we finally decided they were, and anyone who said otherwise could jump in a lake. There is joy, perhaps nobility, in such faith. I have it for all of entertainers who looked back. Here was their perception of lives and career lived. One of Capra chapters told of his start with Sennett, opener words as follow: “The Mack Sennett Studio in Edendale was as unplanned and chaotic as a Keystone chase …” We want to know how planned, how chaotic, and it better be plenty so, just like funniest slapstick we ever saw. Capra like others chained himself to oars and had to row like the very devil to keep us engaged, that merely what he and those others had signed on for from shared beginnings. He, and they, wanted it no other way.


Arrival at Vitagraph's Brooklyn Studio To Reclaim An Erring Child. The Site Is Now a Condo Complex


Reunion and Reconciliation --- All At Peace With a Career in Vitagraph Films


Shelves before Frank had been filled with reminiscence, reliable or not, mostly not. Even Mack Sennett had done his, back in 1954, before there were fuss-budgets to challenge his idea of truth. Others wove their tapestry: Jesse Lasky (1957), Zukor before that, Raoul Walsh, Wellman to come, some vivid enough to make us feel on-the-spot of history as it really happened, Karl Brown on Griffith days outstanding among these. Other of pioneers stepped up, Fred J. Balshofer and Arthur C. Miller with One Reel a Week, Lillian Gish of course, and before her, Mary Pickford. Recent, and splendid, reading time for me was Two Reels and a Crank, by Albert E. Smith of Vitagraph creation, published in 1952. Errata police then less in evidence gave Smith free reign to recall events as he pleased, sanction of a special Academy Award in 1948 having made him an unimpeachable source on starter days of movies.

It's True Love When These Femme Fans See Maurice Costello Flash Upon The Screen (The Picture Idol, 1912)

Maurice Costello with Daughters Dolores and Helene, and Mrs. Costello

Maurice Mortified As Pals Read Another Of Ardent Fan Missives


Two Reels and a Crank
has not been reprinted to my knowledge. Ought to be, for I don’t know a livelier introduction to films as they formed. Vitagraph grew from partnership between Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, names once at a head of lists, forgotten since except for deepest dig into cinema past, way past as the two were cobbling reels before a turn from a nineteenth to twentieth century. Smith glories in shell game filmmaking, honesty seldom a best policy where ends always justified means. Long enough had passed not to worry of reprisals or arrest for fraud. Smith/Blackton staged the Battle at Santiago Bay in a washtub, cigar smoke for carnage, this passed off as Spanish-American warring. They photographed waterfalls in Passaic, New Jersey, and called it Niagara. Barnum was right, suckers born every minute, all of them herding at nickelodeons.

Beth's (Clara Kimball Young) Father Asks Maurice To Family Dinner So He Can Rid Her of Star Fixation

Maurice Seeks To Disillusion Beth By Displaying Atrocious Table Manners



Smith and Blackton got starts with a ramshackle act called “The International Novelty Company,” wherein among other deceptions, they claimed to head a troupe of nine when there were actually only three, or sometimes just Al and Stuart. Latter did lightning sketches on a big easel you could see from back rows, Blackton a to-be pioneer of animation on film. He would act also for nascent reels, Vitagraph a two-man effort to start. The boys snuck footage of a champ boxing match that rivals had paid lots to photograph, Smith/Blackton figuring anything that was worth filming was also worth stealing. The two got places on youth, nerve, and brass. Smith writes how they horned in on Roosevelt’s climb up San Juan Hill, “bugs” about their heads turning out to be whizzing bullets, but alongside Teddy they stayed (Blackton’s daughter told historian Anthony Slide years later that the whole thing was hooey … they never went near Cuba … though Slide found evidence to suggest they did). Mark Twain said that as he grew older he tended to remember only the things that had never happened. Sounds a touch like Albert by the fifties, and incidentally, he writes how Vita partners knocked on the author’s door, the housekeeper telling them to get lost, Twain hailing them in, result a first-ever authorized screen adapt of one of his stories. Smith and Blackton were masters of the cold call, no entrance or transom they could not breach.

Beth Gets a Shock When Maurice Introduces His "Wife" and Children

All Done With Picture Idols, Beth Tears Up Her Fan Photos To Parental Relief



There is useful history in Two Reels and a Crank, at least as Albert Smith witnessed and understood it. We hear of oncoming locomotive imagery that freaked crowds out at dawn of film. Seems Smith and Blackton were in the booth, or beating pans, pie plates, metal sheeting to lend aural, in addition to, visual thrill. Believe Smith or not where he writes “babies yowled, youngsters trembled like aspen leaves, women screamed, and men sat aghast.” Host Tony Pastor (his vaude house) got riled by two women fainting, an ambulance parked out front for subsequent shows. By the by, that aspen leaves flourish reminded me that Smith had prose-assist from Phil A. Koury (credited on the cover), a trade veteran. Smith/Blackton liked going where big events happened, saw things to turn lesser stomachs, like human toll from the Galveston flood, immortalized by Tootie's reference at the end of Meet Me in St. Louis (“muddy and horrible and filled with dead bodies”). Sure enough was, says Smith. He saw militia “seize a man as he was hacking off a finger from a cadaver. His pockets were full of fingers, each bearing a ring. I saw the soldiers slip a sugar sack over his head, stand him against one of the funeral pyres, shoot him, then throw the body into the fire.” Now I ask you. Could there be a better reason to go out and find this book?



One more highlight (maybe two), then I’ll quit. Smith saw a chance to snatch up Mary Pickford for Vitagraph. Price was agreed upon, $10K a week for two years, with an option for two more. Here is where the biggest blunder of Smith’s career comes in, a catastrophic choice of words that could happen to any of us: Mary had a sister, Lottie, who was friends with Smith’s wife, common bond their ten-month-old babies. Mary and reps had been invited to the Smith home to sign the new contract. Lottie had told her sister about the cute Smith child, and Mary looked forward to seeing him. A deal so near closure was wrecked by the following exchange, Mary: Mr. Smith, when am I going to see that wonderful boy of yours? to which he replied Well, let’s get this matter settled first. Smith related the awful outcome thus: “Miss Pickford flushed, and a silence as of an awful crisis filled the room. Then I shall never see him, she announced, and flounced decisively out of the room.” Gone was the deal Vitagraph had borrowed a million dollars to finesse, all because Albert Smith said a disastrously wrong thing. He seemed by 1952 to have gotten over it. I’m not sure I could have. Ever make a careless remark that cost you so dear? Just shows importance of judicious wording.



Vitagraph made hundreds (upon hundreds) of films. Once an industry leader, they were bought whole by Warner Bros. in 1925. Most of what Vitagraph made is lost. Are ones that are left any good? I looked over You Tube, some silent DVD sets, and found much to enjoy. Early shorts to me are like Aesop tales, humans doing human things, much as we still do, learning lessons to guard against future mishap (Albert Smith could have filmed his blowing of the Pickford deal to powerful effect). Two pearls within copious oyster that is You Tube, both uploaded there by the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, represent Vitagraph at a peak. Made in 1912, The Picture Idol and A Vitagraph Romance last apx. fourteen minutes each, boast print quality we wish all silents had, are entertaining with surprises plenty. A Vitagraph Romance is about a couple eloping (her father disapproves). They starve briefly but are rescued by Vitagraph scouts, who put them before cameras with stardom the result. Dad sees daughter’s poster outside a nickelodeon and is won over. Happy reunion is had on the Vitagraph lot in Brooklyn, where we see filmmaking in progress. The Picture Idol has Clara Kimball Young as a silly miss falling under spell of Vitagraph heartthrob Maurice Costello. She’s a pest, him annoyed, so her Dad’s idea to disillusion daughter seems a solution to which Maurice accedes. Hilarity ensues, Maurice invited to family dinner where he makes an unseemly pig of himself, then invites Clara to his home to meet the “wife” (a male friend in drag) and four children, result she is cured of the fan bug. Surely ahead of its time was Vitagraph kidding star-driven movie culture at virtual beginnings of same. Recommended strongly then: Both these shorts at YT, plus Two Reels and a Crank where a copy can be got.





Thursday, February 18, 2021

They Cried ... But They Loved It!

 



1948 Did Not Deserve Letter From An Unknown Woman!


Still on the topic of women’s pictures, and how that term became a kind of prison from which few escaped to a wider audience. To designate a WP was to warn men off, children as averse to perceived bowls of mush. Why disdain emotional content of films? For many it represents an invasion of privacy. To make us cry in a theatre is to expose weakness, a recipe for public embarrassment. There are defenses to counter manipulation films will try. Audiences learned them all and became cynical. They’d laugh or resort to ridicule so as not to be thought soft. Men might permit themselves a tear when Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig gives his farewell speech, but to weep was otherwise verboten, a province for women predisposed to cry at the drop of hats. Universal-International noted audience rules and abided by them, as evidenced by a double-truck trade ad for Letter From An Unknown Woman announcing “They Cried … But They Loved It!” Yes, women were in closer touch with their emotions, did not shrink from displaying them, and long may they prosper for it. Universal, an entire industry, understood decision of what adults bought tickets for rested with wives, sweethearts, mothers. When did that policy evaporate, or did it? Never were critics so oblivious as when they addressed women’s pictures, applying broad brush dipped in lazy phraseology (and not just male critics ... I've seen woman-wrote reviews from the Classic Era that employ same damning tropes).





How many reviews used “soapy” or “sudsy” to describe a latest romance or melodrama, as if the writer feared expulsion from the bowling team should he like a latest Lana Turner (her post-Stompanatos especially). And spare me please, “tear-jerker.” Soapy/sudsy referred to soap operas, a fixture on radio, then television, sponsors for which were invariably bath and cleansing products. Someone should have given critics a good scrub to make their putdowns at least more creative. Come a day when I use soapy/sudsy will be time to set aside the quill and start weaving baskets at adult day care. Letter From An Unknown Woman was a delicate instrument trying to be heard over din of harsh, violent melodrama the choice of postwar audiences. Romance, let alone fragile, ill-fated romance, had become stuff of derision, a hark back, not steps forward. Fortnight’s critic spoke for most: “Letter From An Unknown Woman is one of those old-fashioned, sentimental, lavender cased pieces which have no particular resemblance to life, but which once had a great vogue in the theatre. It belongs to the East Lynne era, when women were gentle creatures, ruled by sentiment, easily seduced and betrayed, but, through it all, bravely loyal.” How better to tar an offering than to call it hopelessly old-fashioned, evoking East Lynne the ultimate razz, but what a hackneyed comparison this had become. Seems every time I pick up a 30-40’s critic compilation, some four or five of them resort to it.




There was a scripter named Nunnally Johnson, a fixture at Fox, willing supplicant to Zanuck (not a bad thing, actually). Johnson wrote letters as smarty-pant as films bearing his signature. I should think effort at being clever all the time would have exhausted him. A volume of Johnson's correspondence was published in 1981(The Letters of Nunnally Johnson), and if you want to see erudition do a smack-down of Letter From An Unknown Woman, there it is on pages 34-35. Got to admit Johnson’s take is funny, him calling out Letter for base absurdity, but how would his Algonquin-infected pals react if Nunnally said instead how much Letter From An Unknown Woman moved him, in fact left him dabbing a tear? (I'm supposing wise-acre screenwriters had bowling teams too) Such was contagion, fed I suspect by peer pressure, to deep-six drama viewers should instead meet halfway. Easier to brand them “art” or worse, a show world’s kiss of death. For attitudes so changed since 1948, one could say we progressed beyond trogs in charge at the time, but how was such a lovely Letter composed if trogs really were in charge? Many argue critics of the day were no barometer of quality, let alone permanence, but they did have the advantage of immediacy, an on-the-spot sense of how movies were received by their public. More attentive were those charged with putting Letter From An Unknown Woman over to whatever public might accept it, trying this, then that, whatever might soften resistance to product they knew would need special handling. Front line salesmen were hawkers, barkers … sure … but ablest where handed challenging merchandise, abetted by trade shows to help form strategy. Others might fly blind, book titles they knew little or nothing of, understandable if four or five features came through your doors each week, permitting no time to properly exploit them. Problem the industry had in those days was too much to handle, too little time to finesse it, let alone one that needed graceful promoting like Letter From An Unknown Woman.




Trade reviews had to focus on a film’s prospect for selling. They could, and did, recognize quality, but theirs was not a mission to reward aesthetics (a most perceptive Letter notice? I nominate Variety's). Those who kept up with trades were charged with getting maximum return from what would occupy their venues for a day, a week, possibly several weeks if things broke well. Trade reviews, then, were a voice for those who wanted Letter From An Unknown Woman, others like and unlike it, to succeed. Trades wished all and sundry well, even where pointing out weakness that may hobble a new release, like friends who observe you on a wrong path and try to put you right, trade scribes a salvage crew to repair wrecks, or potential ones, tenderest toward runts in a litter. What they did not recognize, could not be expected to recognize, were those films to be ennobled by the passage of time. Letter From An Unknown Woman was among ones we would ennoble, assuming “we” goes beyond latter-day critic consensus. I’d like to hear a 2021 audience respond to Letter From An Unknown Woman, good or ill, but will Fathom Events handle it? Not as this Earth turns.




Letter From An Unknown Woman
was made for everybody, pleased almost nobody, so reviewers insisted. Were they polling at exit doors? Too many critics considered ticket-buyers a lot of rabble. Bosley Crowther again exerted baleful influence over readers of The New York Times: “Wistful and “schmaltzy” … It will choke you with rhetoric and tommy-rot,” this a background to Broadway’s Rivoli (above) trying to sell two thousand tickets per showing of Letter From An Unknown Woman. Could a Crowther derail an otherwise promising show? Yes, and often, said insiders (had I been Rivoli management, seen Crowther out eating, I might have dumped spaghetti in his lap). A first week of Letter From An Unknown Woman did “moderately well” with $31K, dipped to $20K for a second stanza, was over and out with $12K in the third. What made such numbers grind was known necessity that Letter From An Unknown Woman recover a major portion of its cost from Gotham engagements, being an urban sort of attraction, if it was an attraction at all. Should receipts freeze here, then everywhere would be a white wilderness.

Interesting Publicity Still of Louis Jourdan in Modern Dress Reading His Letter From the Unknown Woman



First rule of exhibition was to work with what you had and make the best of it. Being pro enough at selling meant you could take a thing no one else had made work and … make it work. Such showmen were realists, knowing well what they were up against. To make money off Red River or The Paleface in 1948 was a pipe, putting Letter From An Unknown Woman across made you a hero to the home office and a next gathering of region staff. Remember this about exhibitors: They were a positive force on behalf of films, didn’t knock them down as critics were wont to do. Columns beat drums that year for The Red Shoes, arty in a way to make anyone who praised it look arty too, but The Red Shoes had boxoffice, albeit for “sure-seaters” and special engagements, while off in a corner stood Letter From An Unknown Woman, a picture that needed support, but never really got it, at least from reviewing precincts.




Among those who tried to turn a tide was Dick Feldman of Syracuse’s Paramount Theatre. He made a project of Letter From An Unknown Woman, ran it with Universal’s Casbah, Syracuse a fairground to spread the good word. One Feldman gag was solid enough to earn trade reportage and a spot in Unknown Woman’s pressbook (above). Dick’s postcard (or letter) stunt had been used before, would be again by Selznick operative Paul Macnamara for Portrait of Jennie a same year. Mail that looked real was sent to random addresses, handwritten entreaty from possibly a friend, to go and see Letter From An Unknown Woman. Syracuse mail carriers and wives were invited gratis to the show, Feldman hammering a “Letter” theme so far as nails could penetrate public awareness.
 



I now inquire of all --- When was Letter From An Unknown Woman canonized? Olive has released it twice on Blu-Ray, the second time with abundant extras. Well-deserved, and about time, but at what point did this one join immortals of the screen? I venture a guess, a theory maybe cock-eyed, but here it is: Letter From An Unknown Woman was among a group of 30 features that lost money and were seized in the early 50's by loaning entity the Bank of America. BOA had no interest in exhibition, and so sold the lot to General Teleradio, after which latter made the 30 available to syndication. First off the mark was WOR in Gotham, the package ratings gold throughout 1954. Movies this good, all major and star-laden, had not been available to TV before. They were run over week-long periods, repeated each night. Millions saw them, then saw them again. Letter From An Unknown Woman was among the crop. Here is where it would finally find an audience. From such exposure are major rediscoveries made. I say WOR, then nationwide spread of the BOA-30, is what gave birth to Letter From An Unknown Woman as a classic. Film journals and revival showings would do the rest, plus Max Opuls installation as auteur for the ages. Early as 1973 came my own awareness of Letter From An Unknown Woman as something special, at which time I grabbed a packet of stills Moon Mullins had no further use of (they accompany this post). Waited another ten or so years to finally see it. What a boon is digital, for 16mm prints were come by but rarely. Of course, they didn't look nearly so good as 
Letter From An Unknown Woman on Blu-Ray. 

grbrpix@aol.com
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