WEIRDLAND: "Nothing Sacred" (Fredric March), F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Women"

Sunday, November 02, 2014

"Nothing Sacred" (Fredric March), F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Women"

Carole Lombard and Fredric March in "Nothing Sacred" (1937) directed by William A. Wellman


Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) of Warsaw, Vermont, receives the news that her terminal case of radium poisoning from a workplace incident was a complete misdiagnosis with mixed emotions. She is happy not to be dying, but she, who has never traveled the world, was going to use the money paid to her by her factory to go to New York in style. She believes her dreams can still be realized when Wally Cook (Fredric March) arrives in town. He is a New York reporter with the Morning Star newspaper. He believes that Hazel's valiant struggle concerning her impending death is just the type of story he needs to resurrect his name within reporting circles after a recent story he wrote led to scandal and a major demotion at the newspaper. He proposes to take Hazel to New York both to report on her story but also to provide her with a grand farewell to life. She accepts. Wally's story results in Hazel becoming the toast of New York. In spending time together, Wally and Hazel fall in love.

The physical altercations between March and Lombard where they push, kick, and slug one another brought out the ire of the ever vigilante Breen Office, which thought that it was excessively violent. Breen was especially aghast by a man socking and kicking a woman — even if it was for comedic effect. Breen also had the usual complaints about excessive drinking and sexual innuendo. In the midst of shooting Nothing Sacred, the Marches held a dinner party and special screening of the documentary The Spanish Earth written and produced by Ernest Hemingway.

The documentary was in support of the loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War — strongly anti-fascist and Anti-General Francisco Franco. Hemingway came to Hollywood to give the documentary exposure and to raise money for the loyalist cause. The special screening at the Marches home was just one of several events, and the dinner/ screening guests included John Ford, Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Myrna Loy, Samuel Goldwyn, and the writers Lillian Hellman and F. Scott Fitzgerald. -"Fredric March: A Consummate Actor" (2013) by Charles Tranberg

Ernest Hemingway, who, Fitzgerald had written, “talked with the authority of success,” had come to Scott, who “talked with the authority of failure,” for a place to stay and some spending money. Fitzgerald had written that he and Ernest could “never sit across the same table again”; he said that they had “walked over one another with cleats.” In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Hemingway had written that the very rich had ruined Scott Fitzgerald, and since then he had more than once hinted that movie money had taken up the job where the Eastern rich had left off. But now Ernest, who said that he was waiting for a check from one of the national magazines, needed some of that Hollywood wealth. Scott gave him twenty-five dollars a week allowance.

Fredric March and Joan Crawford in "Susan and God" (1940) directed by George Cukor

Being assigned to The Women was a double disappointment for Fitzgerald. Not only had Infidelity been stopped, but he had been transferred onto, then off of, a story which promised to become a classic film memorial to Irving Thalberg. In a sense the picture Marie Antoinette was Thalberg’s own The Last Tycoon— it was to have been his masterpiece, but his death left it unfinished. Fitzgerald wrote another note to Stromberg: 'Let us change Mary from a passive, simple, easily influenced character, to the exact opposite—an active, intelligent, and courageous character, and see what effect this would have upon the plot of The Women.' To echo the author, a new kind of heroine, in some ways more like Sheilah Graham, who took care of Scott, than the Zelda who required so much care herself. But this new Mary did not intrigue Stromberg or the front office. Fitzgerald was back to the old, familiar heroine he began with. Fitzgerald’s adaptation of The Women is more a step backwards in the direction of the talkative Three Comrades than a step forward into the quiet world of Infidelity. But most of all, Fitzgerald’s screenplay was a step into the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer mold.

To be sure that Fitzgerald understood what type of script was expected of him, Stromberg sent him off to one of the studio projection rooms to see Metro’s Grand Hotel. Ever since the early thirties when Thalberg produced the movie, an all-star extravaganza which paraded many of the company’s most dazzling beauties, including Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, Metro had been known as “the Grand Hotel of the studios.” Besides the mystical Garbo and the voracious Crawford, this distinctly feminine studio also boarded Jean Harlow, the goddess-whore; Myrna Loy, the unlikely wife; Joan Fontaine, the governess who married well; coy Paulette Goddard; musical Jeanette MacDonald; tragic Luise Rainer; and Rosalind Russell, the heavyweight bust.

Once again one of Fitzgerald’s pictures had gotten good notices, but he failed to share in the glory. By the time the movie was released, he was looking for another job. While The Women was making money all across the country, Fitzgerald wrote his agent Leland Hayward that it would be futile to ask Stromberg for employment. “I reached a dead end on The Women,” he said. -"Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood" (1972) by Aaron Latham

Fredric March in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931) directed by Rouben Mamoulian

If ever there was a Jekyll and Hyde character, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald, a man of two completely different personalities. One Scott was kind; the other cruel. One was completely mature; the other never grew up. One wanted to be loved and admired; the other wanted to be despised. One tried to make people better than they were; the other tore them down. One was careful to the point of hypochondria; the other reckless of his health and safety. There was Scott the considerate husband and Scott his wife's oppressor; the proud father and the father who embarrassed his daughter. The Scott Fitzgerald I knew best was the mature man, although Jekyll sometimes turned into Hyde. It was, of course, his drinking which brought on the transformation, when even his usually wan and self-contained expression changed into flushed anger. “Which is the real you?” I once asked him. And he replied, “The sober man.”  -"The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thirty-Five Years Later" (1976) by Sheilah Graham

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