WEIRDLAND: Pre-Code for Holidays, The Women, Irving Thalberg & F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pre-Code for Holidays, The Women, Irving Thalberg & F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pre-Code Movies on TCM in December 2014 and Other Site News: As for the TCM Schedule, it’s unsurprisingly top heavy, with several Joan Crawford pictures, several Mae West and Cary Grant flicks, and even a couple of Warren William movies popping up all before the 3rd! There’s also a day filled with Edward G. Robinson pre-Codes (most of which I haven’t seen) on the 12th. Things peter out quickly, though, as TCM adjusts to be a bit more family friendly as the holiday approaches. The two quintessential pre-Code Christmas movies, Little Women and The Thin Man both get their bows around that time. So, hey, if you pick up the book, tune into TCM on the 20th and follow along! Source:

Robert Sklar argued that: "In the first half decade of the Great Depression, Hollywood's movie-makers perpetrated one of the most remarkable challenges to traditional values in the history of mass commercial entertainment." Sklar was writing in the early 1970s, when conventional wisdom suggested that few written records had escaped the studio shredder. Within a decade, however, film scholars gained access to several major archives containing a surfeit of documents detailing the bureaucratic operations of the Dream Factory. The Production Code Administration (PCA) Archive is one of the richest of these sources, describing the negotiations between PCA officials and the studios, movie by movie, script draft by script draft. In complete contradiction to the mythology of the Code not functioning during the early 1930s, its records reveal that this period actually saw by far the most interesting negotiations between the studios and the Code administrators over the nature of movie content, as the Code was implemented with increasing efficiency and strictness after 1930. Throughout the period, movie content was changed to conform to the Code's evolving case law.

A number of authoritative books - Lea Jacobs' The Wages of Sin, Tino Balio's Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, Ruth Vasey's The World According to Hollywood – have established quite unequivocally that the old account must be discarded, since it is demonstrably incorrect to suggest that movies made between 1930 and 1934 were “uncensored”. Individual recommendations might be disputed, often in hyperbolic language, but the Code's role in the production process was not a matter of contention, and studio personnel did not resist its implementation. Sklar's account of the Golden Age of Turbulence relied on an analysis of about 25 movies, or approximately one percent of Hollywood's total output of feature pictures between 1930 and 1934. The critical canon of “pre-Code cinema” to be found in the schedules of American Movie Classics, is now perhaps ten times that size.

The early 1930s is, indeed, one of Hollywood's Golden Ages of Turbulence, like the early 1970s and the early 1990s, when a combination of economic conditions and technological developments destabilised the established patterns of audience preference. As the Code's first administrator, Jason Joy, explained, studios had to develop a system of representational conventions “from which conclusions might be drawn by the sophisticated mind, but which would mean nothing to the unsophisticated and inexperienced”. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one. The rules of both conduct and representation under these conditions were perhaps most cogently articulated by F. Scott Fitzgerald's Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon, explaining to his scriptwriters how the audience is to understand their heroine's motivation: "At all times, at all moments when she is on the screen in our sight, she wants to sleep with Ken Willard… Whatever she does, it is in place of sleeping with Ken Willard. If she walks down the street she is walking to sleep with Ken Willard, if she eats her food it is to give her enough strength to sleep with Ken Willard. But at no time do you give the impression that she would even consider sleeping with Ken Willard unless they were properly sanctified." Source:

December 21, 2014, at 6:00 AM: THE WOMEN (1939) - TCM

A happily married woman lets her catty friends talk her into divorce when her husband strays.
Director: George Cukor Cast: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, etc.
Writing credits (based on Clare Boothe Luce's play): Anita Loos, Jane Murfin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Donald Ogden Stewart

Norma Shearer's beauty, hard work, down-to-earth charm and her marriage to Irving Thalberg, the film executive, made her a leading light of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and a pillar of California film society. Miss Shearer kept some of her down-to-earth style in later years, even after Mr. Thalberg's death of pneumonia in 1937 had made her rich; he left her and their two children $4.5 million. Miss Shearer's popularity proved strong during her 20-year career, with many of the studio's plum roles hers for the taking, and approved by her husband. One example was the Lynn Fontanne role in the 1939 ''Idiot's Delight,'' opposite Clark Gable in the Alfred Lunt part. The movie was adapted from Robert E. Sherwood's antiwar play. She drew good reviews for another Broadway transition, ''The Women,'' and for ''Escape,'' a strong anti-Nazi drama co-starring Robert Taylor. Miss Shearer retired from the screen after making ''Her Cardboard Lover,'' which received poor notices in 1942. Source:

Irving Thalberg handed F. Scott Fitzgerald his new assignment: make Jean Harlow a star. Since "Red-Headed Woman" (1932) was an important picture, Eddie Mannix was present. Mannix, a former bouncer at Palisades Amusement Park and now a special aid to L. B. Mayer, was one executive who gave Fitzgerald trouble from the moment he entered MGM in 1931 to the moment he left for good in 1938. Ruling over the assembly, his thin knees drawn up beside him in his chair, was Thalberg himself. Everyone was there, except Jack Conway, the film’s director. “The directors did not appear at these showings,” Fitzgerald would later explain in The Last Tycoon, “officially because their work was considered done, actually because few punches were pulled here as money ran out in silver spools. There had evolved a delicate staying away.”

“Scott Fitzgerald is almost the only writer who never has cause to complain of his Hollywood welcome,” Dorothy Speare observed at the time. “He is famous even in Hollywood, where his meteoric arrivals and departures are discussed in film circles as avidly as they discuss themselves.” He was hired to help write a screen adaptation of Redheaded Woman (1931), a novel by his imitator Katharine Brush. Fitzgerald was faced with the problem of trying to write like a copy of himself, and it showed. As Fitzgerald later explained to his daughter: "Far from approaching it too confidently I was far too humble. I ran afoul of a bastard named [Marcel] de Sano, since a suicide, and let myself be gypped out of command. I wrote the picture and he changed as I wrote. I tried to get at Thalberg but was erroneously warned against it as 'bad taste.' Result—a bad script." Fitzgerald did eventually see Thalberg, but it was at Thalberg’s request; he had just read what Fitzgerald and his collaborator were preparing for Harlow, and he evidently smelled smoke once again. All that remains of the work which Fitzgerald did for Thalberg is an unfinished seventy-six page script, the one de Sano reworked. -"Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood" (1972) by Aaron Latham

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