In 1936, producer David O.Selznick, who later went on to produce GONE WITH THE WIND, produced THE GARDEN OF ALLAH, starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer. The two memos below show what a difference two weeks make in the shift from pre-production to shooting. You can see the clash coming (note…the capital letters in the second telegram are Selznick’s!)
April 14, 1936
Dear Boley (Richard Boleslawski, Director of THE GARDEN OF ALLAH)
You do not have to be concerned about Marlene’s lines. We carefully considered each of the points she brought up. Some of them we met and some we did not. She knows that we gave every consideration to each objection and, I think, appreciates it. In any event, she knows we expect to shoot the script as written, and unless I miss my guess, I don’t think you will have trouble.
I asked Marlene to come over and gave her a last-minute peptalk. I pointed out to her that our budget was fantastically high and put it more or less on a personal basis that it was up to her to keep it from going higher. I told her once more, frankly, about the tales around town about what she goes through between takes with her make-up, costumes, etc. – and, as before, and curiously I believe in her sincerity – she told me this was all nonsense and that she never indulged in such carryings on and certainly would not on this picture.
So I honestly and sincerely believe her spirit is most helpful and what we all want it to be, and until we are proven wrong, I don’t think we should look for any trouble in her direction.
David O Selznick
APRIL 28, 1936
I AM GETTING TO THE END OF THE ROPE OF PATIENCE WITH CRITICISM BASED ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT ACTORS KNOW MORE ABOUT SCRIPTS THAN I DO, AND AM DISTURBED, WORRIED AND UPSET BY TELEPHONE CALLS THT ARE NOW POURING IN… WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR HAVING A FRANK HEART-TO-HEART TALK WITH MARLENE AND WITH BOYER…TELLING THEM THE PROBLEMS THAT BOTH YOU AND I ARE UP AGAINST…TELL THEM VERY BRUTUALLY THAT THIS COMES FROM ME. IT IS HIGH TIME FOR A SHOWDWON AND I AM PERFECTLY PREPARED FOR IT BECAUSE I AM NOT GOING TO FACE, OR HAVE YOU FACE, SIX OR SEVEN WEEKS OF THIS NONSENSE. I WISH YOU WOULD LOSE YOUR TEMPER WITH THEM, AND I WILL HAVE A LOT MORE RESPECT FOR YOU IF YOU TURN IN A VON STERNBERG WHO TOLERATES NO INTERFRENCE… I AM GOING TO MAKE PICTURES ACCORDING TO MY JUDGEMENT AND NOT THEIRS…
THIS IS ACTUALLY THE VERY FIRST TIME IN MY CAREER AS A PRODUCER I HAVE HAD TO PUT UP WITH THIS FANTASTIC STUFF THAT I HAVE HEARD ABOUT FOR YEARS BUT NEVER HAD TO PERSONALLY EXPERIENCE…
MAKE CLEAR TO THE ACTORS THAT IF THEY CHOOSE TO SULK THROUGH SCENES AND GIVE BAD PERFORMANCES I AM PERFECTLY PREPARED FOR THIS TOO AND AM NOT GOING TO ADD HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS MORE TO A FABULOUS COST TO SATISFY THEIR TEMPERAMENT, BUT WILL RELEASE THE PICTURE WITH THOSE PERFORMANCES…
IF THEY WILL ONLY DO THEIR JOB AND GIVE A PERFORMANCE ,THAT WILL BE ENOUGH. THAT IS ALL THAT THEY ARE BEING OVERPAID FOR.
MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK, edited by Rudy Behlmer
David O. Selznick was a unique figure in the golden Hollywood studio era. He produced some of the greatest and most memorable American films ever made–notably, Rebecca, A Star Is Born, Anna Karenina, A Farewell to Arms, and, above all, Gone With the Wind.
Selznick’s absolute power and artistic control are evidenced in his impassioned, eloquent, witty, and sometimes rageful memos, brought together for the first time, which shook directors, writers, stars and studio executives, writings that have become almost as famous as his films