There has always been a bit of confusion between the motion pictures made by these two directors. Mostly caused, by their obviously similar sounding names and everyone knowing the nickname for "William" is either "Bill", or "Billy".
I am not going into every film these two filmmakers directed. Yet, I will still speak to a large number of major motion pictures by each to help clear-up some of the confusion.
To start with, reverse the first paragraphs films!
William Wyler was born on July 1, 1902, in Mulhausen, Alsace-Lorraine, German Empire, today, part of France.
William Wyler's mother, Melanie Auerbach Wyler was a cousin to the owner and founder of "Universal Pictures" Carl Laemmle. In 1921, left Paris and went to work in New York City for Laemmle and spent a year in the "New York Army National Guard". Around 1923, he arrived in Los Angles and went to work for the studio, located in North Hollywood, as a member of the "Swing Gang", that made last minute changes to a set motion picture set.
Although, "Universal Pictures" was located in NORTH Hollywood, it wasn't really IN Hollywood. My article about the "Myth of Hollywood", "Hollywood: Segregated Housing, Motion Picture Studios, and Movie Palaces", available to read at:
Samuel Wilder started as a stringer for a Berlin newspaper, but became a screenplay writer for German Cinema. On February 4, 1930, was the release of the still silent, "Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday)". The story was by Kurt (Curt) Siodmak, 1941's, "The Wolfman", the screenplay was by Samuel Wilder, the picture was directed by Robert Siodmak, 1946's, "The Killers", and an assistant cinematographer on the picture was Fred Zinnemann, 1952's, "High Noon".
In, 1933, along with actor Peter Lorre, the four left Germany for either France, or the United States, as Hitler rose to power.
My article, "Curt and Robert Siodmak: Horror and Film Noir", can be read at:
My article, "Peter Lorre: Overlooked, or Forgotten Performances", will be found at:
Samuel Wilder traveled out of Germany to Paris, France. There he began work in the French cinema as a screenplay writer, using the name, "Billie Wilder". He arrived in Hollywood either in late 1934, or early 1935, and immediately Americanized his first name to "Billy". As would Willi Wyler to "William", to avoid the stigma against immigrant Jews.
Willi Wyler started directing motion pictures with the 1925, 20-minute Western short, "The Crook Buster", featuring an unknown Janet Gaynor.
With the advent of sound, William Wyler was about to prove he wasn't a "Horse Opera" director. Although, in 1958, he would direct a classic of the genre.
After "Mauvaise Graine", Billy Wilder returned to only writing screenplays until 1942. Between 1929 and, directing the 1942 motion picture, "The Major and the Minor". Billy Wilder either completely wrote, or worked upon forty-two screenplays, including, the Academy Award nominated, 1939, "Ninotchka", starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas, 1941's, "Hold Back the Dawn", starring Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, and Paulette Goddard, and 1941's, "Ball of Fire", starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.
In all, Billy Wilder, wrote, or co-wrote seventy-eight screenplays by the end of his career in 1981.
That same year, Wyler directed "These Three", with a screenplay by playwright Lillian Hellman based upon her 1934 stage play, "The Children's Hour". The picture starred Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea.
McCrea had major problems with William Wyler, after learning from producer Samuel Goldwyn, that the director wanted Louis Hayward for the role.
Above, left to right, Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins.
On December 19, 1961, William Wyler's remake of "The Children's Hour", starring Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, and James Garner was released. This time, without "Hayes Office" interference, the original lie, that the two teachers were in a lesbian relationship was restored.
Above, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.
In 1937, William Wyler was back working with Joel McCrea and Lillian Hellman, on the classic gangster movie, "Dead End". Hellman wrote the screenplay based upon the 1935 Broadway stage hit by Sidney Kingsley. The picture takes place on a New York City street that ends at the docks of the East River. On one side of the street are the apartments of the wealthy and the the other side, the slums of the city.
Sylvia Sidney portrayed "Drina", Joel McCrea portrayed "Dave", and Humphrey Bogart, in a role George Raft turned down, because the gangster was unsympathetic, portrayed "Baby Face Martin".
Movie critic, Robert Osborne, on "Turner Classic Movies", had the following to say about a problem Wyler was having with McCrea:
on the rooftop, guns ready, and standing very close to each other. During the filming of that scene, McCrea kept flinching, and the director William Wyler had to keep doing more takes. Finally, Wyler pulled McCrea aside, and he asked him what was wrong. McCrea, embarrassed to tell him, explained that Bogart kept spitting in his face when he was speaking, not exactly what Wyler was expecting to hear or to be the problem. Happens with actors more than you can imagine.
"Dead End" was a typical role associated with Humphrey Bogart, but is my reader aware of:
"Humphrey Bogart: Horror Movie Actor", at:
A review of the third Davis feature, by "New York Times" film critic Bosley Crowther, goes to William Wyler's abilities as a director:
Lillian Hellman's grim and malignant melodrama... has now been translated to the screen with all its original viciousness intact ... [It] leaps to the front as the most bitingly sinister picture of the year and as one of the most cruelly realistic character studies yet shown on the screen ... Mr. Wyler, with the aid of Gregg Toland, has used the camera to sweep in the myriad small details of a mauve decadent household and the more indicative facets of the many characters... Miss Davis's performance in the role which Talluluh Bankhead played so brassily on the stage is abundant with color and mood... she does occasionally drop an unmistakable imitation of her predecessor... Better than that, however, are the other members of the cast. Charles Dingle as Brother Ben Hubbard, the oldest and sharpest of the rattlesnake clan, is the perfect villain in respectable garb. Carl Benton Reid as Brother Oscar is magnificently dark, sullen and undependable. Patricia Collinge repeats her excellent stage performance... The Little Foxes will not increase your admiration for mankind. It is cold and cynical. But it is a very exciting picture to watch in a comfortably objective way, especially if you enjoy expert stabbing-in-the-backWilliam Wyler, Bette Davis and Lillian Hellman were all nominated for Academy Awards.
Before December 7, 1941, the "Hayes Office" banned any movie that was anti-Nazi, because Germany was a friendly nation to the United States. From the Pearl Harbor attack forward, everything changed.
June 4, 1942, saw the release of Academy Award winning Best Director William Wyler's, World War Two romance ,"Mrs. Miniver". This classic story starred Greer Garson, the Academy Award winner for Best Actress, and, Walter Pidgeon, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film co-starred the Academy Award Best Supporting Actress winner, Teresa Wright.
The motion picture tells the story of a typical British family attempting to survive the first months of the Second World War.
[Mrs. Miniver] shows the destiny of a family during the current war, and its refined powerful propagandistic tendency has up to now only been dreamed of. There is not a single angry word spoken against Germany; nevertheless the anti-German tendency is perfectly accomplished.
Released three months after William Wyler's "Mrs. Miniver", on September 16, 1942, was the second motion picture directed by Billy Wilder. Also set at the start of World War Two, the screenplay had a more screwball comedy tone to it, rather then the dramatic tone of Wyler's story.
Billy Wilder was tired of writing screenplays and wanted to become a full-time director. He was working for Paramount Pictures at the time and knew they had the rights to the Edward Charles Carpenter play, "Connie Goes Home". Which itself, was based upon the story, "Sunny Goes Home", by Fanny Kilbourne. Billy thought it was a perfect to become a Ginger Rodgers feature film.
Wilder went to his sometimes co-screenplay writer, Charles Brackett, and the two moved the story to the Second World War. He had Cary Grant in mind for the role of "Major Philip Kirby", but fate entered. While driving home, Billy Wilder pulled his car next to Ray Milland's on the street, and impulsively, according to Charlotte Chandler's, 2002, "Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder a Personal Biography", yelled to the actor:
I'm doing a picture. Would you like to be in it?and Milland replied:
The screenplay has Ginger Rodgers pretending to be a 12-years-old to get a cheaper train ticket home. The trouble and fun starts, when "Sue-Sue", picks the train compartment with a handsome Army Major in it.
Bosley Crowther wrote that the Wilder-Brackett screenplay was:
effervesces with neat situations and bright lines" and added, "The gentlemen have written – and Mr. Wilder has directed – a bountiful comedy-romance. And Miss Rogers and Mr. Milland have played it with spirit and taste. Never once does either permit the suggestion of a leer to creep in ... Miss Rogers gives a beautiful imitation of a Quiz Kid imitating Baby Snooks. And in those moments when romance brightly kindles, she is a soft and altogether winning miss. Put this down as one of the best characterizations of her career. Credit Mr. Milland, too, with making a warm and nimble fellow of the major, and all the rest of the cast for doing very well with lively roles.
For my uninformed readers, the "Quiz Kids", was a popular radio show with five kids answering listeners questions on any subject. "Baby Snooks" was a character created by Ziegfeld Follies comedian, Fanny Brice.
The screenplay contained what became an often-quoted line:
Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?
Billy Wilder was now a director and his next feature is the often-overlooked World War 2. "Five Graves to Cario". This was another Brackett-Wilder screenplay based upon a 1917 play, "Hotel Imperial", by Hungarian playwright, Lajos Biro. The picture starred Franchot Tone, Wilder again wanted Cary Grant, and Anne Baxter. Producer David O. Selznick agreed to lend Billy Wilder, Ingrid Bergman, but Paramount Pictures wanted Baxter from 20th Century Fox.
Additionally, Akim Tamiroff, was in an early role, as was German actor, Peter van Eyck, and actor-director, Eric von Stroheim.
Above, Akim Tamiroff as "Farid", and Anne Baxter as "Mouche". Below, Franchot Tone as "Corporal John Bramble" aka: "Davos", Peter van Eyck as "Lieutenant Schwegler", and Eric von Stroheim as "Field Marshal Erwin Rommel".
A British Army straggler, deserter (?), finds himself at a North African hotel that becomes "Rommel's" headquarters. He now poses as a waiter name "Davos" and plans to assassinate the German tank commander, but is there more going on than it seems? A must-see cat and mouse motion picture, but who's the cat and who's the mouse?
Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson found themselves in Billy Wilder's. 1944, "Double Indemnity", as a seductive woman tempts an insurance salesman into murder.
While Billy Wilder was making Hollywood motion pictures, between 1942 and 1945, Major William Wyler, United States Army Air Forces, was making military training films,
One classic documentary film shot by Wyler during this period was, "Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress", released on April 4, 1944, in Memphis, Tennessee.
A thorough and vivid comprehension of what a daylight bombing is actually like for the young men who wing our heavy bombers from English bases into the heart of Germany...
The Second World War finally ended with the signing of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.
William Wyler returned to Hollywood and made a hard-hitting motion picture about what actually faced some of America's returning Service Men.
The following poster illustrates the duplicity of the publicity department for the film's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, to initially draw in the first audiences.
Yes, there are love stories in William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives", released on November 21, 1946, but they're not the poster's "Hollywood Love Story". Instead, they reflect the reality of Robert E. Sherwood's screenplay and Samuel Goldwyn production about the adjustments of returning Veterans to their previous lives.
The audience learns that before the war, "Fred" was a "Soda Jerk", who married "Marie", played by Virginia Mayo, shortly before shipping out. "Al" was a banker living with his wife "Millie", played by Myrna Loy, his adult daughter, "Peggy", played by Teresa Wright, and teen-age son, "Rob", played by Michael Hall. "Homer" was a star high school athlete living with his parents and sister and living next door, was his girlfriend, "Wilma", played by Cathy O'Donnell.
Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Fredrick March, Best Supporting Actor, Harold Russell, Best Screenplay, Robert E. Sherwood, and three technical Academy Awards.
On Thursday, the story has alcoholic writer "Don Birnam", at his flat, packing to visit with his brother, Wick" for the weekend. When "Helen", his girlfriend, shows up with two concert tickets for her and "Don". However, "Don" suggests that "Wick" take "Helen" to the concert so he can finish packing before the two brothers leave. "Wick" and "Helen" know that they've gotten rid of all the alcohol "Don" has stashed around his apartment and believing he has no money, one of the reasons for the weekend trip with his brother, they leave for the concert.
"Don" now searches the apartment and discovers what his girlfriend and brother have done.
He next takes the overlooked money for the cleaning lady and heads for "Nat's" bar and the start of what will become the titled, "Lost Weekend". "Don Birnam" now sneaks back into his flat after watching "Wick" leave for the train that was to have taken the brothers on a weekend together. He also heard "Helen" say she would await his return. with "Don" are two bottles of liquor, one he hides, and the other drinks.
Friday, "Don" returns to "Nat's" and trades his typewriter for a couple of drinks. However, he returns to his flat still graving more. "Helen" sees him as either "Don the Drunk", or "Don the writer", whose fear of failure pushes him to drink even more.
Saturday, "Don" goes to the pawn shop, but it is closed for the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur". Desperate for money to buy more liquor, he visits "Gloria", a girl from "Nats", who has a crush on him, to borrow money. She gives him some, and while leaving her flat on the second floor, falls down the stairs, and wakes-up on Sunday, at a local hospital's "Alcoholic Ward". Where nurse, "Bim Nolan", played by Frank Faylen, mocks "Don" and the others as staying at "Hangover Plaza".
Monday, back at his flat, "Don" goes out and steals a bottle of whiskey from a store. He spends the day drinking and has a vision of a bat flying into his apartment, killing a rat, and drinking its blood. "Helen" comes to the flat, finds the delirious "Don", collapsed on the floor, and stays with him.
The story ends on Tuesday, with "Don" pawning "Helen's" coat and speaking to the pawn shop owner. She learns he traded the valuable coat for a gun and runs back to his flat. She interrupts "Don" as he's about to commit suicide. "Nat" enters to return the typewriter and this brings "Don" back to his senses. "Helen" convinces him that "Don the drunk" and "Don the writer" are one and the same.
The story ends as "Don Birnam" drops a lite cigarette in a drink as a sign of his commitment to change his life. Next "Don" uses the typewriter to start writing his story "The Bottle".
Above, Milland, Da Silva, and fifth billed Doris Dowling as "Gloria".
The original plan was for Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett to make a motion picture about the problems faced by American military personal in Europe after the Second World War.
SUNSET BOULEVARD released on August 10, 1950
Nancy Olson, portraying "Betty Schaefer", was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The screenplay ends with the memorable shot of Gloria Swanson on the sound stage, speaking into the camera:
All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.
"Sunset Boulevard", features cameos, as themselves, by Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, and DeMille actors, H.B. Warner, 1927's, "King of Kings" as "Jesus", and Henry Wilcoxon, seen on the recreated set for 1949's, "Samson and Delilah", as "Ahtur", the role he actually played in the 1949, DeMille epic.
There is a still ongoing debate as to who "Norma Desmond" was supposed to be? One of the obvious views is that her name was a composite of the names of actress Mabel Norman and director William Desmond Taylor. Whose 1922 murder was never solved and remains a Hollywood mystery to date. My article, about the murder that considered Mable as his possible killer, "William Desmond Taylor: Murder in 1920's Hollywood", is ready for sleuths to read at:
When Billy Wilder was asked if this screenplay was a "Black Comedy"? It's reported Wilder, who didn't like to comment on his film, replied:
No, just a picture!
Kirk Douglas portrayed "Chuck Tatum". One month earlier, Douglas had been seen in director Raul Walsh's, Western, "Along the Great Divide", co-starring with Virginia Mayo and John Ager. Agar was close to finalizing his messy divorce from Shirley Temple by that picture's release. My article, "John Agar His Fall That Led to Science Fiction Cult Status", is available to read at:
Jan Sterling portrayed "Lorriane Minosa". Sterling had just been seen, with fifth billing, in 1951's, "The Mating Season", a "B" comedy drama starring 1940's actors, Gene Tierney, John Lund, and Miriam Hopkins. In 1954, she was one of the passengers in director William "Wild Bill" Wellman's, "The High and the Mighty", and in 1956, was in a stark version of George Orwell's, "1984", co-starring with Edmond O'Brien and Michael Redgrave.
The first incident was in 1925, when W. Floyd Collins was trapped after a landside, inside Sand Cave, part of Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest cave system in world, located in Kentucky. The Louisville newspaper, the "Courier-Journal", sent reporter William Burke Miller to cover it and his coverage, became a national event and won Miller a "Pulitzer Prize".
The second incident was in April 1949, when three-year-old Kathy Fiscus of San Marino, California, fell into an abandoned well, and during the rescue operation, which last for several days, attracted thousands of lookie-loos.
Sadly, in both events, Collins and the little Fiscus girl died, before rescuers could reach them.
Mr. Boot, I'm a $250-a-week newspaperman. I can be had for $50.He's hired for $60 a week, but "Boot" is leery of his new reporter. A year passes and "Tatum" has remained sober, but writing boring local articles.
One day, "Chuck Tatum", and photographer, "Herbie Cook", played by Robert Arthur, are sent to cover a small-town rattle snake hunt. They stop for gasoline and learn of a local man, "Leo Minosa", played by Richard Benedict, that got trapped while gathering Indian artifacts in the collapse of a Indian cliff dwelling.
The two go out to the scene, are able to get close enough to talk with "Minosa", and pass him food.
"Tatum" goes to "Sheriff Kretzer", played by Ray Teal, to give "Chuck" the exclusive access to "Leo Minosa", in exchange for newspaper coverage that will guarantee "Kretzer's" re-election.
Enter Joseph Breen of the "Hayes Censorship Office" who objected to Wilder's depiction on-screen of a corrupt law enforcement officer and insisted, to get the screenplay passed, dialogue be added to tell the audience that "Sheriff Kretzer" would be held responsible for his actions.
Next, "Tatum" and "Kretzer", go to the construction contractor, "Sam Smollett", played by Frank Jaquet, to inquire about the rescue operation. They're told it will take 12 to 16 hours to get "Leo" freed. The two convince "Smollett" to drill from above, which will take a week, and keep the rescue attempt of "Leo Minosa" on the nations front page.
"Lorraine Minosa", "Leo's" wife, wanted out of their struggling business, a combination trading post and restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, because of "Chuck Tatum's" stories, tourists are coming and her business is making money for the first time.
Above, Jan Sterling, Kirk Douglas, and Robert Arthur.
Young, "Herbie Cook", is thinking he could become a major photographer selling photos to magazines like "Life" and "Look" over the rescue story. "Chuck Tatum" has gotten the young man's values changing to his own. The two quit the local newspaper and "Tatum" talks his old boss into exclusive stories for $1,000 per day and his old job.
Remorseful, "Chuck Tatum" sends a newsflash that "Leo" will be rescued within the next 12 hours. He goes to "Smollett' and tells him to stop drilling and shore up the walls, but learns that the vibrations from the drilling have made that option impossible. "Tatum" goes to "Lorraine Minosa", has both a verbal and physical fight with her, she grabs a pair of scissors and stabs him.
The picture ends as "Tatum" walks back into the offices of the "Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin", goes up to "Boot" and asks:
How'd you like to make yourself $1,000 a day, Mr. Boot? I'm a $1,000-a-day newspaperman. You can have me for nothin'
Then, falls down, dead!
Director William Wyler's "Detective Story", immediately followed Billy Wilder's, "Ace in the Hole", for actor Kirk Douglas.
As the above poster states, the screenplay was based upon Sidney Kingsley's bestselling novel.
Kirk Douglas portrayed "Detective James McLeod".
Eleanor Parker portrayed his wife, "Mary McLeod". Parker had just been in 1951's, "A Millionaire for Christy", co-starring with Fred MacMurray and Richard Carlson. She would follow this feature with "Scaramouche", co-starring with Stewart Granger and Janet Leigh.
William Bendix portrayed "Detective Lou Brody". Bendix had appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's, 1944, "Life Boat", as "Babe Ruth" in 1948's, "The Babe Ruth Story", and, in 1949, "The Life of Riley", that he would turn into a 1953 through 1958 television series.
The complex story is about "Detective James McLeod" and his obsession to bring to justice "Dr. Karl Schneider", played by George Macready, an illegal abortionist. A subject the "Hayes Office" had problems with even mentioning.
"Dr. Schneider's" assistant "Miss Hatch", played by Gladys George, is ready to turn the doctor in, but she is bribed not to pick him out in a line up. Another victim of the doctor dies in the hospital, before "McLeod" can get there. Schneider now boasts he has sensitive information about "Jim McLeod", and the detective's anger breaks free and he beats up "Schneider". As a result, "Lieutenant Monaghan", played by Horace McMahon, has to escort "Dr. Schneider" to a hospital for treatment. The half-conscious doctor mentions the name "Tami Giacoppetti", played by Gerald Mohr, in connection with a woman supposedly linked to "Detective Jim McLeod".
"Schneider's" lawyer, "Endicott Sims", played by Warner Anderson, arrives at the station. He accidently let's slip the woman in question, is "McLeod's" wife, "Mary". This leads to "Mary" being brought into the station and "Tami" brought in for a confrontation with her.
The twist comes, with "Mary McLeod" admitting to have gotten pregnant from "Tami Giacoppetti" and getting an abortion by "Dr. Schneider". "Jim" had always wondered about his wife's infertility and now is shocked to know the truth. Which is compounded by "Sims" hinting "Mary" may have had other lovers.
This becomes a distraction to other events, as a repeat offender, played by Joseph Wiseman, the future title character of 1962's "James Bond" thriller, "Dr. No", has been brought into the station for questioning. He grabs a gun from a distracted police officer, and fatally shoots "Detective Jim McLeod".
With his dying words, "Jim McLeod" asks his wife, "Mary", to forgive him. The following morning the local newspapers praise him for:
dying in the line of duty.
Premiering in London, on May 23, 1953, Billy Wilder turned the Broadway play, "Stalag17", about World War 2 POWs with a German mole in their hut, into a successful motion picture. Wilder was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and star, William Holden, as "J.J. Steton", won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Above, William Holden, Gil Stratton as "Sergeant Clarence Harvey 'Cookie' Cook", and Peter Graves as the mole, "Sergeant Frank Price". Below, acclaimed film director Otto Preminger, in one of his rare film roles, as the camp's commandant, "Oberst von Schervach".
John Dighton was the other credited screenplay writer on "Roman Holiday".
The story has "Princess Ann", Hepburn, of an unnamed country, on a visit to Rome. The frustrated Princess gets away from her security detail, meets American Reporter "Joe Bradley", Peck, who has his photographer "Irving Radovich", Albert, secretly take pictures of the Princess for an article "Bradley" will write. As expected, "Ann" and "Joe" fall in love.
William Wyler didn't make a film in 1954, but Billy Wilder released, on September 3, 1954, at the Toronto, Canada, Film Festival, his classic, "Sabrina" aka: "Sabrina Fair", starring Audrey Hepburn in the title role of the chauffer's daughter, and Humphrey Bogart and William Holden as the dueling wealthy brothers in love with her.
Wilder was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and Screenplay. and Hepburn for Best Actress. Below is a poster for the re-release of the feature after Audrey Hepburn co-starred, ten years later, in 1964's, "My Fair Lady".
In 1955, Billy Wilder released the
classic Marilyn Monroe comedy with Tom Ewell, "The Seven Year
While, William Wyler released the taut film noir crime drama, "The Desperate Hours", starring Humphrey Bogart and Frederick March.
Above front row, Humphrey Bogart, Frederick March, Richard Eyer, Martha Scott and Mary Murphy.
Above, background, Robert Middleton and Dewey Martin.
FRIENDLY PERSUASSION released on November 25, 1956
The story of "Friendly Persuasion" started
eight years prior to the film's release. In 1948 Frank Capra, formed "Liberty
Pictures", with a group of other directors, including William
Wyler, to have influence over the films they worked on.
For his prosed motion picture, Capra hired Michael Wilson to adapt the 1945 novel by Indiana Quaker, Miss Jessamyn West.
Michael Wilson's other works would include, 1951's "A Place in the Sun", starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, the still excellent true spy story, 1952's, "Five Fingers", starring James Mason and Michael Rennie. Wilson would co-write, with "Black Listed" writer Carl Foreman, British director David Lean's, 1957, "The Bridge on the River Kwai", and, later, with Robert Bolt, Lean's, 1962, "Lawrence of Arabia".
Speaking to "Black Listing", Michael Wilson, in 1951, appeared before the "House Committee on Un-American Activities" and testified as a "unfriendly witness". He was questioned about the screenplay for "Friendly Persuasion" he had submitted to Frank Capra.
Earlier, Capra, seeing the writing on the wall, wanted to somehow disassociate himself with Michael Wilson, and told the committee that he and the producers felt 1948:
would be a bad time to produce a picture that might be construed as being antiwar. But we let Wilson work on it until he had finished with it.
The questions comes to mind, if Capra hired Wilson to write a novel written by a Quaker woman. It would naturally be antiwar in nature, based solely upon her belief system. So, why was Frank Capra surprised by the tone of the screenplay and why did he let Michael Wilson even finish it?
My reader must understand that by 1951, the United States was in the first stages of "The Cold War" with the Soviet Union. Both the "House Committee" and Senator Joseph McCarthy's committee were on "Witch Hunt's" for American members of the Communist Party and perceived Communist sympathizers. It must be noted, that during the Second World War, many non-political Americans joined the party as a show of solidarity our ally, Joseph Stalin, resulting in many innocent Americans being swept up by Congress as part of the "Second Red Scare".
From Michael Wilson's testimony with find the following reasoning over his screenplay's tone:
I feel that this committee might take the credit, or part of it at least, for the fact that The Friendly Persuasion was not produced, in view of the fact that it dealt warmly, in my opinion, with a peace-loving people.
Michael Wilson was "Black
Listed" for being a member of the Communist Party and like Carl
Foreman, and others, moved to the United Kingdom.
Not related to either Wyler, or Wilder, but illustrating the affects of the "Hollywood Black Listing's", are the following two stories, should my reader be interested:
Before 'Ol' Man River' To After Joseph McCarthy 'The Artist Must Elect To
"Guy Endore: Black Listing and Communism In The Motion Picture Industry" at:
In 1955, co-producer William Wyler, the other was his brother Robert, brought to "Allied Artists Pictures Corporation", the idea of turning West's novel, "The Friendly Persuasion", into a feature film, and they agreed to a budget of $1.5 million. The only change made by Wyler was to force the Quaker youth into being a killer. Otherwise the movie seen by 1956 audiences was the same screenplay Frank Capra was afraid to make in 1948. A sign of how things began to change in the United States motion picture industry after Senator Joseph McCarthy's fall from grace in 1954.
Gary Cooper portrayed "Jess Birdwell". In 1952, he had portrayed "Marshall Will Kane" in "High Noon", a movie many still believe was an attack on Joseph McCarthy. "Coop" had just been seen in director Otto Preminger's 1955, "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell", and would follow this picture with, director Billy Wilder's comedy crime drama, 1957's, "Love in the Afternoon", co-starring with Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier.
Dorothy McGuire portrayed "Eliza Birdwell". McQuire had co-starred with Glenn Ford and Arthur Kennedy in 1955's, "Trial", and followed this picture with, Walt Disney's tear jerker, 1957's, "Old Yeller".
Anthony Perkins portrayed "Josh Birdwell". Since 1953, Perkins was appearing on television and this was ONLY his second motion picture. Anthony Perkins followed this picture with the Hollywood biography of baseball player, "Jim Piersall", 1957's, "Fear Strikes Out".
When the motion picture was re-released after Perkins portrayed "Norman Bates", this was the poster used:
Richard Eyer portrayed "Little Jess Birdwell". Eyer had been acting on-screen since 1952, and had a non-credited role in Gerald Mohr's, 1952, Cold War take over of the United States by the Soviet Union, "Invasion U.S.A.". As referenced above, Eyer portrayed "Ralphy Hilliard" in William Wyler's, 1955, "The Desperate Hours", with his character getting under Humphrey Bogart's skin. In 1957, Eyer met "Robbie the Robot", in the science fiction story, "The Invisible Boy", but it was Stop Motion Animator Ray Harryhausen's, 1958 fantasy, "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad", as "The Genie", is the role Richard Eyer is most known for.
There was another popular long actor at the time, Charles Herbert, 1958's
original "The Fly", and William Castle's original,
1960, "13 Ghosts". My article about how Hollywood
and Parents changed the lives of young actors, "Richard Eyer and
Charles Herbert: Youthful Actors", may be read at:
Marjorie Main portrayed "The Widow
Hudspeth". To illustrate the value of a name for publicity,
Marjorie Main's name isn't hard to miss on the above poster, but she is listed seventeenth
billing on the "Official Cast List". Main starred in the
popular, "Ma and Pa Kettle" film series, her career
began in 1929 and ended in a two-part story on televisions "Wagon
Train" in 1958. In 1940, she portrayed Walter Pidgeon's mother in
director Raul Walsh's "Dark Command", that starred
John Wayne and featured a still unknown Roy Rodgers. Marjorie Main was
featured in the Clark Gable and Lana Turner, 1941, "Honky
Tonk", and was featured in both Judy Garland's, 1944, "Meet
Me in St. Louis", and, 1946's, "The Harvey Girls.
After all the history behind the screenplay, the story, even with William Wyler's change, still remains a simple story about the love within an 1862 family of Quakers in Jennings, Indiana.
"Eliza Birdwell", is a Quaker minister, deeply religious, refuses to engage in any form of violence, but has a great love for her family.
"Jess" is a farmer, and the patriarch of the "Birdwell" family! He has a love for horse racing and violates his wife's teachings by betting with the locals on race outcomes.
Their daughter, "Mattie", played by Phyllis Love, wants to remain a Quaker, but, against her mother's teachings, has fallen in love with the dashing Union cavalry officer, "Gard Johnson", played by Peter Mark Richmond.
"Little Jess" seems to always get into trouble and has a feud with his mother's pet goose.
While, "Josh" is torn between his hatred of violence, given to him by his mother, and protecting the family from the Confederate Invaders.
The American Civil War enter the "Birdwell's" set daily lives and questions their Quaker values. Seemingly taking "Josh" from them and forcing "Jess" to make decisions he never thought he'd have to face.
During the 1980's, President Ronald Reagan made a gift on the motion picture to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, think the Soviet Leader needed a little "Friendly Persuasion" over the Cold War.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS released on February 21, 1957.
The Warner Brother picture was based upon Charles A. Lindbergh's novel about his transatlantic flight, 1953's, "The Spirit of St. Louis". Production on the motion picture began in August 1955, and Jack L. Warner offered the role of Charles A. Lindberg to 23-years-old actor John Kerr, who turned it down. Kerr went on to reprise his Broadway role in the film, "Tea and Sympathy", co-starring Deborah Kerr, seen below, instead.
The film opens on the day the transatlantic flight began and through a series of flashbacks, returning to the flight, and then back to flashbacks, the screenplay by Charles Lederer, Wendall Mayes and Billy Wilder, tells the story of Lindberg from right after the war through his historic flight.
Initially, the motion picture was a box office failure. The budget was estimated at $7 million dollars, the models used were very expensive for the time, and the box office receipts were only $2.6 million dollars. However, the years have been good to the Wilder's motion picture, "The Smithsonian Institution", still screens the film as part of their aviation history on film series, and I admit to enjoying it.
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION released on December 17, 1957.
Senior barrister, "Sir Wilfrid Robarts" is recovering from a heart attack and over the objections of his nurse, "Miss Plimsoll", takes on the defense of "Leonard Vole". "Vole" is accused of murdering "Miss Emily French", an elderly and very rich woman who made "Vole" the sole beneficiary of her will. Circumstantial evidence points to "Vole" and "Sir Wilfrid" will meet Prosecutor, "Mr. Myers" in court.
"Sir Wilfred" is surprised when "Myers" calls "Vole's" German wife, "Christine" as a "Witness for the Prosecution" and the story moves to a typical Agatha Christie double ending.
The management of this theater suggests that, for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge to anyone the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.
Director Billy Wilder kept the last ten pages of the screenplay from the entire cast and crew until he was set to shoot it.
Wilder was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, and, Laughton for Best Actor. However, Marlene Dietrich wasn't nominated, according to the story, because the Academy didn't want to reveal the unrecognizable role and accent, she used in the crucial sequence leading to that surprise ending.
Now Billy Wilder took some time away from directing and William Wyler returned to the "B" Western roots, but with an all-star "A" list Westerns.
THE BIG COUNTRY released on August 13, 1958.
Donald Bengtsson Hamilton was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on March 24, 1916, at the age of eight he came with his mother and three sisters to New York City. In 1958, for "The Saturday Evening Post", he published a serialized story, "Ambush at Blanco Canyon". That same year, producers William Wyler and Gregory Peck turned Hamilton's Western into "The Big Country". While, two years later in 1960, Donald Hamilton wrote the first of his twenty-seven, "Matt Helm", detective series.
The screenplay was written by Robert Wyler, James R. Webb, and Sy Bartlett. The William Wyler directed Western would run two-hours-and-forty-six minutes, plus a road show overture. As compared to the 20-minute short Westerns he started out directing.
Gregory Peck portrayed "James McKay". Another Peck Western, 1958's, "The Bravados", about a man seeking revenge against the four men he believed raped and murdered his wife, beat "The Big Country", to the box office by two months. After this picture, Gregory Peck would star in director Lewis Milestone's, very gritty and realistic, 1959, Korean War drama, "Pork Chop Hill".
Jean Simmons portrayed "Julie Maragon". Simmons was just in director Robert Wise's, forgotten box office failure, 1957, "Until They Sail", based upon a James A. Michener short story. The picture had co-starred Joan Fontaine, Paul Newman, and Piper Laurie, and was the actual Sandra Dee first motion picture. Simmons would follow this picture with the more successful, director Mervyn LeRoy's 1958, "Home Before Dark".
Carroll Baker portrayed "Patricia Terrill". Baker had made a name for herself in two motion pictures from 1956 that proceeded "The Big Country". The first was George Stevens' "Giant", starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. While, the second was a nightmare for the censors, director Eli Kazan's, "Baby Doll". In 1964, Baker portrayed "Rina Marlow", can you say Jean Harlow, in the motion picture version of the Harold Robbins novel, "The Carpetbaggers". While, seven years after this motion picture, Carroll Baker and Carol Lynley became involved in a publicity war over two biographies of actress Jean Harlow. That story is in my article, "Jean Harlow: The 1965 Biographical Motion Picture Race", found at:
Charlton Heston portrayed "Steve Leech". Heston had just portrayed a high-ranking Mexican narcotic's police official in Orson Welles', 1958 classic, "Touch of Evil", with Janet Leigh as his wife. He would follow this feature with actor turned director Anthony Quinn's, 1958, remake of Cecil B. DeMille's, 1938, "The Buccaneer", portraying "General Andrew Jackson".
Four years earlier, Heston had a role that admittedly inspired both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. My article about that inspiration, "Charlton Heston: The Original 'Indiana Jones", may be read at:
Burl Ives portrayed "Rufus Hannassey". Ives was just in 1958's, "Desire Under the Elms", based upon the Eugene O'Neil play, co-starring with Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins. He would follow this motion picture with, 1958's, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", based upon the Tennessee Williams play, and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Pau Newman.
Charles Bickford portrayed "Major Henry Terrill". Bickford was primarily appearing on television and was just in an episode of "Wagon Train", and followed this feature with a made-for-television, 1959, movie entitled, "The Joan Crawford Show: Woman on the Run". I could not locate any information other than the film's title and it appears to be constantly confused with the 1950, Ann Sheridan motion picture "Woman on the Run".
The basic story is about wealthy large cattle rancher, "Major Henry Terrill", of "Ladder Ranch", and his feud with dirt poor rancher and cattle rustler, "Rufus Hannassey". Who lives in Blanco Canyon with his wife, his sons, and his ranch hands and their families!
Into their feud arrives ex-sea captain, "James McKay", initially to marry "The Major's" daughter, "Patricia", who grew up with "Julie".
"McKay" has just arrived in the local town on the last train, and "Pat" has picked him up in a wagon. On their way to "Ladder", "Buck Hannassey", and his brothers confront the two and "Buck" zeroes in on "The Dude's" hat and starts to make fun of him.
"Pat", is used to a man immediately standing up and fighting back with either fists, or guns. "Jim", realizing what "Buck" and his brothers are doing isn't a threat to him, lets them mock him, but this leads "Pat" into believing "Jim" is a coward.
"The Major" throws a big party for all "the respectable people", by his standards, and it is there that "Jim" meets "Julie Maragon". "Rufus" crashes the party and "Jim McKay" gets to hear the other side of the feud.
Being gone, without telling anyone at Ladder, "The Major" has sent "Steve Leech", with some ranch hands, out to search for "Jim McKay". They locate him that night, but "Jim" says he'll stay the night at the spot the "rescue party" found him until morning and return to "Ladder".
The following morning, "McKay" rides in and is accused of being lost by "Leech", but states he wasn't. He had a compass and, being a sea captain, the stars to guide him. "Pat" and "The Major" expect "Jim" to fight "Steve" over the perceived offense to his manhood, but "McKay" turns away and walks back into the house. "Pat" is even more convinced that he's a coward now.
After "Pat" learns, from "Julie", about the purchase of the "Big Muddy". "Captain Jim McKay" finally sees "Patricia Terrill" for what she really is. When "Pat" tells him how proud "The Major" will be, knowing they now control "The Big Muddy", and "Rufus Hannassey" will never be able to use the water again. "McKay" corrects her and the final split between the two takes place.
Wanting to lure "The Major" into "Blanco Canyon", "Rufus" has "Buck" bring his "Love" there. Confronted by "Julie", "Rufus" learns the truth about his son's lies.
"Jim McKay" is spotted by the guards, "Rufus" has posted to warn him of "The Major" and his men, as he rides through Blanco Canyon. "Buck" is still claiming "Julie" is his, but "Jim" thinks otherwise and it's obvious to "Rufus" that "Julie" loves "Jim". To settle the dispute, "Rufus" brings out a set of dueling pistols and forces "Buck" to duel "Jim".
"Buck" fires before getting the signal from his father and misses, but does graze "Jim's" forehead. "Jim" reacting to "Buck's" cowardice doesn't fire back and gives "Rufus" the dueling pistol. While, "Buck" gets a pistol from another man, aims at "Jim", and "Rufus" fires his own pistol, killing his son, and apologizing to "Jim McKay". "McKay" is permitted to leave with "Julie".
Meanwhile, "The Major", "Leech" and every ranch hand on "Ladder" are riding to "Rufus's" place, supposedly to rescue "Julie". The climax is the original title of Donald Hamilton's story, as both sides converge on Blanco Canyon, and a gun battle begins. "Jim" gets to "Steve" and convinces him this is really two old men, who have probably forgotten the original reason for their feud, and use others to fight and die for them. The men from "Ladder" stop shooting, the men from Blanco Canyon stop shooting, and "The Major" and "Rufus" are now forced to settle their hatred by themselves.
SOME LIKE IT HOT released on March 29, 1959.
There are two stories about how the rights to the picture were acquired. The first version, has Walter Mirisch hearing about the German motion picture, purchasing the rights and offering the film to Billy Wilder. The second version, has Robert Thoeren screening the 1951 motion picture for Billy Wilder and the director securing the rights himself. Either works, as the Mirisch Company produced "Some Like It Hot", and Billy Wilder directed.
Billy Wilder hired female impersonator, Vander Clyde Broadway, below, known by the "Stage Name" of "Barbette", to teach Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon on "Gender Illusion".
Marilyn Monroe portrayed "Sugar Kane Kowalczyk". She had just been in director and actor Sir Lawrence Olivier's, 1957, "The Prince and the Showgirl" and would follow this picture with 1960's, "Let's Make Love", co-starring with French actor Yves Montand. That feature film would be followed by 1961's, "The Misfits", the last completed motion picture of Monroe, and her co-star, Clark Gable, who died five days after it was completed. Montgomery Clift, the other co-star passed away five years later. My look at five of Monroe's films, with five different Monroe characters, such as a murderess in 1952's, "Don't Bother to Knock", are part of my article, "Marilyn Monroe: Mentally Unstable Babysitter and Misfit", at:
Jack Lemmon portrayed "Jerry" aka: "Daphne". Lemmon had been in the 1958, comedy about witchcraft, "Bell Book and Candle", starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. He would follow this feature, co-starring with Doris Day and Ernie Kovacks, in 1959's, "It Happened to Jane".
Above, "Joe" and "Jerry" before their trouble, and below, "Josephine" and "Daphne".
George Raft portrayed "Spats Colombo". The actor famous for flipping a coin as "Rinaldo", in director Howard Hawks' original 1932, "Scarface", and playing gangsters and tough guys. Had a pre-motion picture career, like another actor associated with 1930's gangster films, James Cagney, as a dancer. I recommend seeing 1934's, "Bolero", with Raft opposite Carole Lombard. He
George Raft had just been in Michael Todd's, 1956, version of Jules Verne's, "Around the World in 80 Days", in what, after that movies release, would be known as a cameo role. Todd used Victorian Cameo Picture Frames to list each actor in the movie program and the term was created. George Raft would follow this film co-starring with Guy Madison, and, Virginia Mayo, in still another clone of director William "Wild Bill" Wellman's, 1954, "The High and the Mighty", entitled, "Jet Over the Atlantic".
"Joe" and "Jerry" accidently witness "Spat's" and his gang gun down a rival, in a take-off of the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre", seen above. Now, the two are on the run, and end up dressing like woman and joining "Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators".
While maintaining their disguises, "Joe" wants to get close to "Sugar Kane". He has a big problem, when he learns she's sworn off male saxophone players, whom she cannot resist, because they keep taking advantage of her. He becomes, "Junior", the heir to the Shell Oil Corporation, but he's feigns indifference towards the beautiful "Sugar Kane", as a means to get her to want him more.
"Jerry", on the other-hand, has to put up with a real millionaire, "Osgood Fielding III", who has fallen in love with "Daphne".
The climax comes with "Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators" playing in a hotel for the "Friends of the Italian Opera". Which turns out to be a front for a meeting of all the American crime syndicates and "Spats Colombo" the participants.
In the end, "Sugar Kane" figures out that "Josephine" is "Junior" and is "Joe". While, "Jerry" is frustrated over "Osgood" being in love with "Daphne", pulls off his wig to prove he's male, but it doesn't bother the other. Again, pushing the censors and the "Catholic League" to their limits.
While, "Some Like It Hot", did win Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy, Best Actor--Jack Lemmon, and Best Actress--Marilyn Monroe.
Jack Lemmon won the Best Foreign Actor at the The British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA).
Film Critic Roger Ebert wrote in the, January 9, 2000, of the "Chicago Sun-Times":
Wilder's 1959 comedy is one of the enduring treasures of the movies, a film of inspiration and meticulous craft.
In 1960, Billy Wilder directed Jack Lemmon in the second of his four comedy features. Released on June 15, 1960, the screenplay found Lemmon, as "Calvin Clifford 'C.C.' 'Bud' Baxter", having "The Apartment". That is used by his boss, "Jeff D. Sheldrake", played by Fred MacMurray, to have his affair with, "Fran Kubelik", played by Shirley MacLaine.
Most critics and viewers were split and still are over the story, because, once again, America's morality got in the way of true love. This was because the story revolved around infidelity and adultery. Fred MacMurray, who had played the father in Walt Disney's original 1959, "The Shaggy Dog", stated he was accosted by woman on the street for being in a:
dirty, filthy movie.
Three months later, Fred MacMurray's first episode of televisions, "My Three Sons", premiered.
On, December 15, 1961, James Cagney played "Coca Cola Executive", "C. R. 'Mac' MacNamara", stationed in West Berlin. Who finds himself having to babysit his bosses socialite daughter, "Scarlett Hazeltine", played by Pamela Tiffin. Wilder goes after the political situations of the times, by having "Scarlett" fall in love with "Otto Ludwig Piffi", played by 1960's, "The Magnificent Seven's", Horst Buchholz, an East German Communist.
When the motion picture opened, Billy Wilder had written a special introduction spoken by James Cagney:
On Sunday, August 13th, 1961, the eyes of America were on the nation's capital, where Roger Maris was hitting home runs #44 and 45 against the Senators. On that same day, without any warning, the East German Communists sealed off the border between East and West Berlin. I only mention this to show the kind of people we're dealing with—real shiftyOn, December 22, 1961, "New York Times" film critic Bosley Crowther wrote:
With all due respect for all the others, all of whom are very good—Pamela Tiffin, a new young beauty, as Scarlett; Horst Buchholz as the East Berlin boy, Lilo Pulver as a German secretary, Leon Askin as a Communist stooge and several more—the burden is carried by Mr. Cagney, who is a good 50 per cent of the show. He has seldom worked so hard in any picture or had such a browbeating ball. His fellow is a free-wheeling rascal. His wife (Arlene Francis) hates his guts. He knows all the ways of beating the rackets and has no compunctions about their use. He is brutishly bold and brassy, wildly ingenious and glib. Mr. Cagney makes you mistrust him—but he sure makes you laugh with him. And that's about the nature of the picture. It is one with which you can laugh—with its own impudence toward foreign crises—while laughing at its rowdy spinning jokes.
Both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were back for Billy Wilder's fourth comedy.
Back in 1956, there was a French stage musical entitled "La Douce (The Sweet)" aka: "Irma La Douce (Irma the Sweet)". The book and lyrics were written by Alexandre Breffort with music by Marguerite Monnot. Both lead character sang in this original musical.
On June 5, 1963, director Billy Wilder released his non-singing motion picture version, "Irma La Douce". Jack Lemmon portrayed "Nestor Patou" aka: "Lord X", and Shirley MacLaine portrayed "Irma la Douce".
The basic story has French Police Officer "Nestor Patou", an honest cop, making the mistake of arresting the wrong person and is kicked off the force. He next saves "Irma" from her abusive pimp, "Hippolyte", played by Bruce Yarnell, replaces him at her request, but, now in love with "Irma", becomes jealous of her clientele.
So "Nestor", creates an alternative personality, "Lord X", to keep "Irma" off the streets and his alone. Eventually, he decides to end his charade and tell her the truth. "Nestor" tosses his "Lord X" clothing into the Seine River, but unknown to him. "Hippolyte" sees the floating clothing and believes "Nestor" murdered "Lord X". "Nestor Patou" is put on trial for murder and is sent to Devil's Island.
The picture has a fun double ending for the audience and true love wins in the end, or did it?
The main problem critics and audiences have with Wilder's farce is its length. How can you keep one running gag going for two-hours-and-twenty-seven-minutes without losing interest? The problem with length was found in several of Billy Wilder's motion pictures.
The first filmed version of the novel was a 1907, an illegal copyright violation that only ran 15-minutes.
On, December 30, 1925, irectors Fred Niblo and B. Reeves Easton, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, brought Lew Wallace's novel to life in another silent film release. The picture starred Ramon Novarro as "Ben-Hur", and, Francis X. Bushman as "Messala".
Brando, in 1953, would portray "Mark Anthony", opposite James Mason's "Brutus", in MGM's still very good version of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", and, Stewart Granger, also in 1953, would go on to portray "Roman Commander Claudius", in Columbia Pictures, "Salome", co-starring Rita Hayworth and Charles Laughton!
The postponement of the remake of "Ben-Hur", was the result of a 1952 trade announcement by 20th Century Fox. Which became the 1953 release of author Lloyd C. Douglas', "The Robe", starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Michael Rennie. The announcement alone should not have stopped another Biblical motion picture from being made at the time, but "The Robe" was in a new process called CinemaScope and that changed the direction of motion pictures.
Actually, Cinemascope wasn't really a new process! Back in 1930, prior to the 1935 merger of Fox Film Corporation with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox. William Fox made two feature films in a 70 mm process he called Grandeur, but it was too expensive to keep making films and, by 1952, it would morph into the newer film process.
As I just mentioned, Biblical features were very popular in Hollywood during the 1950's, but they went back to silent films. When, Cecil B. DeMille discovered, with his original, 1923, "The Ten Commandments", that "Biblical Sex" sold and kept the censors away. For those who might be interested, my article, "The Bible According to Hollywood", can be read at:
Karl Turnberg received the only on-screen credit for the screenplay, originally written in 1952 for the postponed feature, and now used. In truth, without credit, Gore Vidal, Maxwell Anderson, S, N, Behrman, and Christopher Fry, all contributed to the final screenplay at some point.
Charlton Heston portrayed "Judah Ben-Hur". Earlier in 1959, Heston co-starred with Gary Cooper in "The Wreck of the Mary Deare". He would follow this picture with "El Cid", co-starring Sophia Loren.
Heston wasn't the first actor offered the role by Wyler and company.
In a September 6, 1963 interview for "Life Magazine", Burt Lancaster stated he turned down the role, because he found it boring and belittling to Christianity. In 1974, Lancaster portrayed "Moses", in a British and Italian, six-part mini-series.
Paul Newman turned it down, because he believed he didn't have the legs to wear a tunic. However, in 1954, he wore one in the biblical feature, "The Silver Chalice".
Next, the role of "Ben-Hur", was offered, again, to the previously mentioned Marlon Brando and was turned down. The role wasn't offered to the previously considered Stewart Granger, but it was to Rock Hudson, Geoffrey Home, and even Leslie Nielson, before Charlton Heston accepted it.
Jack Hawkins portrayed "Quintus Arrius". English actor Hawkins had just been in director Andre de Toth's, 1958, true story of one of the most effective spies' during World War Two, "The Two-Headed Spy". The actor followed this film with the 1960, British comedy crime film, "The League of Gentlemen".
Haya Harareet portrayed "Esther". Harareet, sometimes spelled Hararit, was an Israeli actress born in the British Mandate of Palestine, before Israel was declared a separate country. This was her third of nine on-screen acting roles.
Then switches to A.D. 26, "Judah Ben-Hur", is a wealthy Jewish Prince and merchant who lives in Jerusalem.
"Judah" lives in a house with his mother, "Miriam", played by Martha Scott, and his sister, "Tizah", played by Cathy O'Donnell.
Above left to right, Cathy O'Donnell, Haya Harareet, Martha Scott, Sam Jaffe as "Simonides", the family slave and merchant, and Charlton Heston.
Childhood companionship ends, when a loose tile falls off the roof of "Ben-Hur's" house during a parade for the new governor of Judea, "Valerius Gratus", played by Mino Doro. The fallen title frightens the governor's horse causing "Gratus" to be thrown and nearly killed. "Messala" immediately has "Judah" arrested, even though he knows this was an accident, condemns his childhood friend to the galleys, and imprisons "Miriam" and "Tirzah". "Simonides" confronts "Messala" and is also imprisoned.
As the new galley slaves march to the location of the Roman galley's, they stop in Nazareth, "Judah" begs for water from the commander of the Roman detachment, but is denied. A man walks up to him and "Jesus" gives the Hebrew Prince water.
For the next three years, "Judah Ben-Hur" is a forgotten galley slave and then he is reassigned to the flagship of the Roman Consul "Quintus Arrius".
A battle with Macedonian pirates leads to the sinking of the Roman consul's ship and his attempted suicide over the defeat, but "Judah" stops him from using his sword on himself. The two men are adrift, but alive and are rescued by another Roman ship to be told the pirates were defeated.
"Judah" becomes a champion charioteer, he meets Arab Sheik "Ilderim", who wants him to drive his chariot in a race before the new governor of Judea, "Pontius Pilate", played by Frank Thring, but "Judah" declines, even though "Messala" will be in the race.
As "Jesus" dies on the cross, a miracle occurs, curing both "Miriam" and "Tirzah"
William Wyler followed "Ben-Hur", with the already mentioned, 1961, remake of his, 1936, "These Three", as "The Children's Hour".
While on December 22, 1964, Billy Wilder, released "Kiss Me Stupid", starring Dean Martin, Kim Novak and Ray Walston.
Billy Wider thought this American version of Gina Lollobrigida's, 1952, "Moglie per una notte (Wife for a Night", would be a good comic sex farce. It wasn't, and the film critics put a knife to the "vulgar" motion picture.
On May 20, 1965, at the Cannes Film Festival, director William Wyler previewed his United Kingdom-United States production of "The Collector". The feature starred Terence Stamp as a lonely butterfly collector, who turns to collecting women starting with Samantha Eggar. After she develops phenomena and dies, the film ends with Stamp burying Eggar in the garden and going for another woman for his new collection.
Walter Matthau would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the financial result was the opposite of the William Wyler feature, more than doubling the budget.
William Wyler came back with a financial mega hit on September 18, 1968.
Barbara Streisand portrayed "Fanny Brice". This was her first feature film and she would follow it with the 1969 musical box office failure, "Hello Dolly".
William Wyler was in the studio commissary and noticed Egyptian Omar Sharif eating, spoke to him, and cast the actor, who had been seen in 1962's, "Lawrence of Arabia", 1964's, "Fall of the Roman Empire", 1965's, "Genghis Khan", and starred in 1965, "Doctor Zhivago".
The six-day war between Israel and Egypt broke out and the executives at Columbia Pictures wanted to terminate Sharif's contract, but both Jewish Barbara Streisand and director William Wyler said no way!
Anne Francis portrayed, the created for the motion picture, lead chorus girl, "Georgia James". Francis was "Altaria Morbus", in the classic 1956 science fiction, "Forbidden Planet", and starred in the television series "Honey West". She had just been seen in director John Sturges 1965 thriller, "The Satan Bug".
Walter Pidgeon portrayed "Florenz Ziegfeld". Pidgeon had co-starred with John Wayne in director Raul Walsh's, 1940, "Dark Command", co-starred with Greer Garson in 1942's. "Mrs. Miniver", co-starred with Clark Gable and Van Johnson in 1948's, "Command Decision", and played Ann Francis' father in "Forbidden Planet" and "Admiral Nelson" in the 1961 science fiction film, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea".
Above the song, "His Love Makes Me Beautiful", which according to the screenplay, is a gag Fanny pulls on Ziegfeld, because she isn't beautiful and this leads to her career with the Follies.
Below, is "Rollerskate Rag", which turns into a comic scene, because Fanny Brice can't skate.
Below the real Fanny Brice:
In 1965, White writer Jesse Hill Ford published his novel "The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones". It was based upon an actual race incident that took place in his hometown of Humboldt, Tennessee, and upset the locals. In 1970, producer A. Ronald Lubin, the 1962 version of author Herman Melville's, "Billy Budd", the starred Robert Ryan and Peter Ustinov and introduced Terence Stamp, turned the novel into a more controversial motion picture for Ford's hometown.
Initially, Jesse Hill Ford wrote the screenplay, but director William Wyler brought in television writer Stirling Silliphant, the 1967 motion picture, "In the Heat of the Night", and later, 1972's, "The Poseidon Adventure", and, 1974's, "The Towering Inferno", to rewrite Ford's screenplay.
Above, Lee Majors portrayed "Steve Mundine", and, Lee J. Cobb portrayed "Oman Hedgepath".
The film was supposedly an honest look at Southern Race relations at the time. The plot has Wealthy African-American funeral director, "L.B. Jones" seeking a divorce from his unfaithful wife, "Emma". Whom he is claiming had an affair with white police officer "Willie Joe Worth".
What William Wyler ended up with, is described by film critic, Vincent Canby, in his review in the "New York Times" upon the motion pictures release:
I'm sure that Wyler and his screenwriters . . . were out to make a suspense movie that would also work as contemporary social commentary. In the interests of melodrama, they have simplified the characters from Hill's novel to such a degree that they seem more stereotyped than may have been absolutely necessary . . . Wyler's direction is notable only for the coldness and for an impatience to get on with the story at the expense of any feeling of real involvement . . . I must say I wasn't bored by it, just depressed.
Billy Wilder had always been a "Sherlockian", or "Homesian", with a love for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "World's First Consulting Detective".
In 1955, Wilder made his first attempt to write a musical "Sherlock Holmes" adventure. but it failed. As did his second attempt in 1963, but then he sat down with I. A. L. Diamond and the result was the non-musical:
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES released on October 29, 1970.
Read the original stories and a reader discovers a flawed man in "Holmes" with many vices. Among the most known is that "Seven Percent Solution" of cocaine "Sherlock Holmes" takes to expand his thought process.
There were others, Wilder is quoted in Gerd Gemunden's, 2008. "A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder's American Films". as saying:
I should have been more daring. I have this theory. I wanted to have Holmes homosexual and not admitting it to anyone, including maybe even himself. The burden of keeping it secret was the reason he took dope.It's implied at times by Doyle and still vaguely hinted in Wilder's and Diamond's final screenplay.
The basic plot has a Belgian woman, "Gabrielle Valladon", the "Irene Adler" character, played by Genevieve Page, turn out to be German spy, "Ilse von Hoffmanstal". She is working to get the plans for the "Loch Ness Monster"! Which is really a submarine that "Mycroft Holmes", played by Christopher Lee, is overseeing development for the British government. This all gets "Sherlock Holmes", played by Robert Stephens, and "Dr. John H. Watson", played by Colin Blakeley, involved.
The critics panned the motion picture at the time, but today the view is different, as time mellows things. In fact, "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes", was the inspiration for the British television series "Sherlock".
Below, Blakeley and Stephens.
Below, Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely and Genevieve Page.
Jack Lemmon was back in Billy Wilder's "Avanti!" with Juliet Mills and Clive Revill, released on December 17, 1972.
Jack Lemmon portrayed "Wendell Ambrusher, Jr.". Lemmon had just been in the comedy drama, 1972's, "The War Between Men and Women", and would follow, "Avanti", with the 1973 drama, "Save the Tiger".
Clive Revill portrayed "Carlo Carlucci". Revill had 10th billing in the Lawrence Harvey and Josephine Chaplin, 1972 drama, "Escape to the Sun". He followed "Avanti", with third billing behind Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall, in author Richard Mathson's, "The Incredible Shrinking Man", horror classic, 1973's, "The Legend of Hell House".
What happens next, is the discovery that dad wasn't alone in the Fiat, but with his British mistress. Enter, "Pamela", the daughter of the mistress, a hotel manager named "Carlucci", and the "Trotta Family", whose vineyard was destroyed by the car accident with "Junior" in the middle of everything.
Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, now made 1974's "The Front Page" for Universal International Pictures. This was the third motion picture version of the Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht 1928 play about a newspaper. There had been a 1948 radio series starring Dick Powell and William Conrad and a 1949, early CBS television series, starring John Daly, the future CBS News Anchor, and Mark Roberts.
Vincent Canby wrote:
Even though the mechanics and demands of movie-making slow what should be the furious tempo, this Front Page displays a giddy bitterness that is rare in any films except those of Mr. Wilder. It is also, much of the time, extremely funny.
The motion picture was a critical failure and although it earned a box office of $15 million dollars on a $4 million dollar budget. The film made studios leery of funding any further Billy Wilder projects.
Shades of Sunset Bouvard?
FEDORA released on June 29, 1978.
The failure of "The Front Page" hung over Billy Wilder. Added to that film, for the executives who ran Universal International Pictures, were the failure of both of their 1976 Hollywood biographical motion pictures, "Gable and Lombard", and "W.C. Fields and Me". In short, they became penny pinchers and Wilder wanting to make "Fedora", sent up red flags.
The executives agreed to pay Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond for their screenplay, based upon actor-author Tom Tryon's novella, but could take up to 45-days to evaluate it for production, or not. The motion picture was placed on turnaround, a process that permitted a studio to declare the costs a loss on their income taxes and the rights sold to another company. Which is what Universal did!
Wilder wanted Marlene Dietrich to portray "Fedora", but the actress hated the novella and refused. Wilder wanted Faye Dunaway as her daughter, "Antonia", but that also fell through.
Producer Sydney Pollack invited Billy Wilder to a private screening of his new movie, "Bobby Deerfield", and Wilder saw Swiss model turned actress, Marthe Keller. He hired Keller to play both mother and daughter, but the actress had been in an automobile accident and suffered from facial nerve injury and that had an effect on playing the mother. So, German actress Hildegard Knef became "Fedora", and Keller, her daughter. "Antonia".
Then shock came into play, as Billy Wilder realized that neither actress could be understood clearly saying their English language lines and German actress, Inga Bunsch, was hired to dub both actresses. Which worked better than thought, because now their voices sounded like the two were related.
Among the other actors in Wilder's motion picture are, William Holden portraying Hollywood producer "Barry 'Dutch' Detweiler", Jose Ferrer portraying the cosmetic surgeon "Dr. Vano", Henry Fonda portraying the "President of the Academy", and British actor Michael York as himself.
"Fedora" was one of the great film stars of old Hollywood and retired to a private island near the Greek isle of Corfu. Then one day, she committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train.
One of the other mourners is "The Countess Sobryanski" and her appearance at the funeral seems out of place to "Dutch". He remembers on a visit to "Fedora", the old actress seemed confused, she claiming she was a prisoner of the "Countess".
My reader needs to find this film and watch it, because I will not tell what's coming. Except intrigue you by the idea of what a prisoner might mean to "Fedora". You will not see the ending coming!
Janet Maslin of the "New York Times" wrote:
old-fashioned with a vengeance, a proud, passionate remembrance of the way movies used to be, and a bitter smile at what they have become. It is rich, majestic, very close to ridiculous, and also a little bit mad. It seems exactly what Mr. Wilder wants it to be, perfectly self-contained and filled with the echoes of a lifetime; no one could mistake this for the work of a young man. Indeed, it has the resonance of an epitaph. That, too, seems a part of Mr. Wilder's design...The compactness and symmetry evident in Fedora aren't easily achieved these days without a good deal of self-consciousness. Mr. Wilder achieves them naturally.
Roger Ebert of the "Chicago Sun-Times" wrote:
Should you see it? I dunno. If you do, go with a clear mind and a slight grin on your face and a memory for the movies of the 1940s. Accept the dumb parts, and the unsurprising revelations, as part of the film's style instead of as weaknesses. Trust Wilder to know what he's doing, even during the deliberate clichés. See it like that, and I bet you'll like it. See it with a straight face, and you'll think it's boring and obvious. Fedora's odd that way: It leaves itself up to the audience.
On December 11, 1981, Billy Wilder released his last motion picture, a comedy about the Mafia, "Buddy Buddy". starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Paula Prentiss.
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