From Citizen Kane to Paul Masson: Orson Welles the constant perfectionist

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles was a media renaissance man.

As an actor, director, writer and producer, he experimented with several entertainment art forms. His work such as making the United States believe they were under alien attack to making a critical film about one of the most powerful men in America made Welles a controversial figure.

From acting on the radio, stage and films which included Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Third Man and The Lady from Shanghai, Welles gained the reputation for being eccentric and difficult to work with.

In order to continue funding his projects, Welles had to take on lower brow jobs, including the Paul Masson wine commercials he is famously and humorously known for.

While there are hilarious anecdotes and outtakes came from these commercials, it’s not surprising that someone so immersed in all forms of arts and entertainment would be argumentative about comparing cheap wine to the text of “Gone with the Wind.”

Because he was involved in so many high level productions,he had a high standard of other media, down to the script for Paul Masson wine commercials and the text for a frozen peas advertisement.

Welles wasn’t cynical about doing the advertisements; he was reworking the text as he did with advertisements in the 1930s to help improve it, according to “What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?” by Joseph McBride.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Welles promoted Pan American Airlines and Lady Esther cosmetics on the radio.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Starting in 1978, Welles was hired as the Paul Masson spokesman. Masson later dropped him from the ads. “My Lunches with Orson” by Peter Biskind’s sites the reason for Welles telling a talk show host that he lost weight because he cut out snacks and wine.

“I’ve worked for advertising agencies all my life,” Welles is quoted in Biskind’s book. “In the old days in radio, you worked for them, because they were the boss, not the network. And I have never seen more seedier, about-to-be-fired sad sacks than were responsible for those Paul Masson ads. The agency hated me, because I kept trying to improve the copy.”

Paul Masson’s slogan at the time was “Paul Masson, we sell no wine before its time.” Each add compared the wine to a higher art form that also took several years to create, such as a Beethoven symphony.

In one such instance, a commercial was comparing Masson to a Stradivarius violin, which took three years to carve.

“Come on gentleman,” Welles is quoted in “Orson Welles: A Biography,” by Barbara Learning. “You have a nice, pleasant cheap little wine here. You haven’t got the presumption to compare it to a Stradivarius violin.”

In a famous incident, Welles was hired by Findus Frozen Food in 1970 and was recording a voiceover for a frozen peas ad. During the recording, Welles argued about the text, lost his temper and finally walked out (Read the transcript below). However, though Welles sounds like a prima dona in the session, the technicians said he was very kind to them during the recording, according to “VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor” by Harlan Hogan.

Welles didn’t just try to change the text, but he also sent instructions on how he would like to be photographed. He arrived for a Masson commercial shoot with his makeup already applied on his own.

He also sent instructions to the cameramen: he liked the brooding look he had when the camera was positioned slightly above his eyes so he had to look up a bit at it, and he liked the hard light three-quarters on the left side, according to Learning’s book.

While this sounds like star behavior, his requests aren’t surprising since he is familiar with filming and lighting. However, the camera men would have Welles’ requests set up for when he arrived. Once he was satisfied, the director would quietly change it to how he wanted it, according to Learning’s book.

Through the years, these advertisements have made Welles the butt of jokes and were the lighter, more humorous side of his career. As the constant professional and perfectionist, Welles viewed the piddly commercials the same as he would one of his own films: he wanted it to be well made. Welles didn’t want to appear out of character with the persona that he had crafted since the 1930s.

Transcript of the frozen peas ads (Source: VO by Harlan Hogan):

Orson Welles: “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” Do you really mean that?

Director 1: Uh, yes, so in other words, I—I—I’d start half a second later.

Welles: Don’t you think you really want to say “July” over the snow? Isn’t that the fun of it?

D 1: It’s—if—if you can (laughs) if you can make it almost when that shot disappears, it’ll make more—

Welles: I think it’s so nice that—that you see a snow-covered field and say “every July peas grow there”. “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” We aren’t even in the fields, you see? (pause) We’re talking about them growing and she’s picked them. (clears throat) What?

D 1: …in July.

Welles: I don’t understand you, then. When must—what must be over for “July”?

D 1: Uh, when we get out of that snowy field—

Welles: Well, I was out! We were onto a can of peas, a big dish of peas when I said “in July”.

D 1: Oh, I’m sorry, Orson.

Welles: Yes, always. I’m always—past that!

D 1: You are?

Welles: Yes! Wh—that’s about where I say “in July”.

Director 2: Can you emphasize a bit “in”? “In July.”

Welles: Why? That doesn’t make any sense. Sorry. There’s no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with “in” and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say “in July” and I’ll go down on you. That’s just idiotic, if you’ll forgive me by saying so.

D 2: (indistinct chatter)

Welles: That’s just stupid. “In July”? I’d love to know how you emphasize “in” in “in July”. Impossible! Meaningless!

D 1: I think all they were thinking about was that they didn’t want to—

Welles: He isn’t thinking.

D 1: Orson, can we just do one last time—

Welles: Yeah.

D 1: …and it was my fault. I should—I said “in July”. If you could leave “every July”—

Welles: You didn’t say it. He said it.

D 1: …I said “every July”.

Welles: Your friend. “Every July”?

D 1: …so after this shot…

Welles: No, you don’t really mean “every July”?

D 1: …it is, but it’s…

Welles: But that’s—that’s bad copy. It’s in July. Of course it’s every July! There’s too much directing around here.

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“I didn’t care about the movies really. I was tall. I could talk. It was easy to do.” -Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cotten

I have two huge classic Hollywood crushes, both highly underrated: Joseph Cotten and Joel McCrea.

But it is Cotten who we celebrate today at Comet, born on this day in 1905 in Virginia, making Mr. Cotten even more appealing to your southern writer.

But if his smooth voice, wavy hair and good looks aren’t enough for you, Cotten is a darn good actor.

He stars in two of my favorite films “Since You Went Away” (1944) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) as well “Citizen Kane” (1940), which the American Film Institute has named the greatest film of all-time.

He was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles.

Some of his leading ladies include Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Ginger Rogers, Joan Fontaine and Barbara Stanwyck.

Before films, he performed in the stage version of “Philadelphia Story” with Katharine Hepburn.

Here are a few anecdotes from Cotten’s 1987 autobiography “Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.”

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (1940)

The film was originally set to open in Radio City Music Hall in February 1941, until Hearst stepped in, said Joseph Cotten, who played Jedediah Leland in the film.

“Of course I knew we’d been treading on thin ice with the obvious similarities between Kane and William Randolph Hearst. I also knew that Mr. Hearst was a powerful man. I was to discover just how powerful,” said Cotten. “The Radio City Music Hall turned down Citizen Kane because Louella Parsons, Hearst’s right hand, had threatened the theater.”

The executive producer, George Schaefer, was offered money to destroy the picture and the negative.

“The whole motion picture industry was threatened if they showed the movie,” Cotten said. “Hearst’s newspapers would bring skeletons out of the closets, and there were many.”

Schaefer refused to be bullied and was able to get bookings for the film in a couple of independent movie houses, Cotten said.

“Although people who sneaked in to see the picture raved about it, none of our names were mentioned in the Hearst newspapers or mentioned in Louella Parson’s column,” he said. “What I found personally rather baffling, after Kane, I made several movies in which my name was above the title but Hearst’s newspapers always managed to review these pictures without mentioning my name. It was quite a feat to tell the entire story of a film and leave out the leading man.”

 Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Cotten told Hitchcock that he was nervous to play a murderer and wasn’t sure how they behaved, he wrote in his autobiography.

“Uncle Charlie (Cotten’s character) feels no guilt at all. To him, the elimination of his widows is a dedication, an important sociological contribution to civilization,” Hitchcock told him.  (67)

As Uncle Charlie in “Shadow of a Doubt”:

Her’s to Hold (1943)

While Cotten filmed “Her’s to Hold” with Deanna Durbin, a misunderstanding occurred.

Cotten was out late and had an early morning call for a radio show. He left a message with his wife Lenore that he would be staying in his dressing room (69).

Cotten and Durbin in a scene in "Her's to Hold" with Murray Alper in the background.

Cotten and Durbin in a scene in “Her’s to Hold” with Murray Alper in the background.

When he left his dressing room that morning, he found a security guard waiting outside who greeted him good morning. When Cotten met Durbin that morning in the commissary, he found out she had also stayed overnight in her bungalow.

Hedda Hopper got a hold of the story.

“The item that appeared in Hedda’s column was not the personal kind of reference that one would clip for a scrapbook, or care to preserve in any of those elaborate, leather-bound gift journals inscribed ‘Golden Memories,’” Cotten wrote (71).

After the incident, he called Hopper up and said if his name was mentioned again, he would kick her in the behind. She did and he did.

“The Kick was not a boot that would have carried a football over the crossbar, but neither was it a token tap,” he wrote. “…the contact was positive enough to disturb the flower garden on top of the outrageous hats she was renowned for.”

Since You Went Away (1944)

Cotten on the set of Since You Went Away with Jones. The two starred in four films together. He remained friends with Jones and Selznick.

Cotten on the set of Since You Went Away with Jones. The two starred in four films together. He remained friends with Jones and Selznick.

“Claudette (Colbert) was one of the most complete, humorous, hard-working and delightfully, almost shockingly, honest creatures I’ve ever worked with, Cotten said in his autobiography.

During the filming, Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones were going through a divorce and it was rumored Jones would marry David O. Selznick after the divorce was final.

“Claudette and I, each thinking that we were sitting on a powder keg, remained silent. The picture was not in any way affected by their romance.

The only person on our set who behaved in a rather furtive and giggly fashion was young Shirley Temple. Years later she told me that she had a schoolgirl crush on me.” (56)

Cotten said Temple had tried to convince the director to let her kiss him in the film. But in the movie, it was Jones’s character who had the crush on Cotten.

“The poor girl had to gaze at me adoringly non-stop,” he said.

Niagara (1953)

Cotten and Monroe on the set of Niagara

Cotten and Monroe on the set of Niagara

“I enjoyed her company. I enjoyed working with her,” Cotten said about working with Marilyn Monroe in her first starring role (110).

He said she had an appetite for laughter and was aware of her sense of humor describing her as a “pretty clown.”

Cotten recalls hearing about her death and receiving a phone call from the Associated Press for a comment.

“At first I was sure it had to be an accident. Such buoyancy of spirit, such sparkling anticipation, such a happy and comic attitude would deny support to any theory,” he wrote. “But she had such moments of fear and insecurity….As to all the other furtive theories-cover-up, murder, etc. – I have no knowledge or interest in such sordidness. I knew and acted with Marilyn Monroe. I am proud of having that privilege.”

Medina and Cotten in 1962

Medina and Cotten in 1962

Cotten was married to his first wife from 1931 to 1960 when she passed away from leukemia.

He married Patricia Medina from 1960 until his death in 1994. Cotten said she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

“If Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, Patricia’s could launch a million,” he said. “She is possibly the only truly beautiful woman ever to exist who is not disliked by one single person.”

“We are ordinary, extraordinarily lucky people,” Cotten wrote. “For that, all I can say is ‘Amen.’”

Happy birthday, Joseph Cotten, one of the best actors of classic film.

Happy birthday, Jo

Happy birthday, Jo

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Jessica Pickens: Girl Reporter

Comet Over Hollywood is moving!

Well…not the blog, but the blogger!

The backstory

Ever since I’ve been in the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer. I had a big imagination and pictured myself on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine with my best seller.

In high school I got more interested in newspapers and majored in mass communications-journalism at Winthrop University getting involved in the school newspaper The Johnsonian, TV show, Winthrop Close-Up and radio station, WINR.

Starting in March, I started looking for a reporter position in the southeast. By the time I graduated in May, I figured out that getting a job at a newspaper was going to be harder than I thought (as some of you in media related fields might also have found).

For the past two months I’ve been working at a local Greenville newspaper as an advertising representative while still looking for a reporter position.

Two weeks ago, I got a job at The Elkin Tribune in Elkin, N.C. So I will be packing up and moving up to North Carolina-spreading my classic movie love to a whole new state!

Celebration

In honor of this exciting, nerve-wracking event, I’m dedicating this post to journalists in movies. Everyone is invited to the party!

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine most likely up to no good.

Torchy Blaine Series: Torchy Blaine was a series of films made during the 1930s much like Boston Blackie, The Falcon or Andy Hardy. Torchy Blaine snooped and got into trouble in eight films from 1937 to 1939 (yep, they knew how to churn them out in those days). Torchy Blaine is a wise-cracking and troublesome female reporter. She eavesdrops, bugs rooms and follows people in order to get information-all highly illegal in these days, according to my Media Law and Ethics classes at Winthrop. Not only does Torchy usually get caught by the bad guys she is spying on, but she is constantly at odds with her policeman boyfriend, Steve McBride. At the end of each film, Steve and Torchy usually agree to get married but Torchy has to agree to give up her reporter career-as we all know, this doesn’t happen. Review: These films are very silly but equally entertaining. Through the eight part series, Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman all play Torchy.  But Glenda is my favorite Torchy. However, Lola wears some adorable lounging pajamas in “Torchy Blaine in Panama.”

Citizen Kane (1940): I don’t feel that I can discuss journalism movies without mentioning Citizen Kane. The film follows Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane and his rise as the top newspaper publisher. We all know this film is based off the life of William Randolph Hearst-who was still living at the time. In Joseph Cotton’s autobiography “Vanity Gets You Somewhere,” Cotton says “Kane” was set to premiere in Radio City Music Hall. Hearst made sure it did not play there-or in several other movie houses across the United States. That goes to show just how powerful he was. Review: I do really like this film. It was a bit of an ‘Indie’ film in its day so its funny that is revered so much now. I really enjoy it for the historical background of it as well.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell getting the scoop in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940): When you say “female reporters in film” Rosalind Russell with her crazy hats in “His Girl Friday” automatically comes to mind.  Roz plays the ex-wife of Cary Grant, her reporter co-worker, and is engaged to Ralph Bellamy. On the day that Roz and Ralph are supposed to get married, a huge murder story breaks and news hound that she is, Roz can’t stay away. Not surprisingly, Ralph Bellamy doesn’t get the girl in the end (like always), and Roz and Cary fall back in love in the midst of copy and photography. Review: I really enjoy this movie, but you REALLY HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION.  For comedic value, Cary and Rosalind talk very, very fast. Several actresses turned down this role including Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. I think Carole, Jean and Irene would have been perfect for the role, but I like seeing Rosalind in a role that is both sexy, funny and strong. Around this time she was flexing her comedic muscles with “The Women” and “No Time For Comedy,” and this is most definitely one of her best during this period.

Foreign Correspondent (1940): Though the United States had not yet joined the war, this Alfred Hitchcock directed film follows American reporter, John Jones-played by my heartthrob Joel McCrea-is sent on assignment to report on the war. Jones starts to uncover a spy ring in England that is aiding the Axis. Jones also meets and falls in love with Carol Fisher-played by one of my favorites, Laraine Day. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to ruin this Hitchcock thriller, but watch for a disaster ending. Hitchcock does it ingeniously. Review: I actually think this is the film the secured in my mind that I wanted to be a journalist. The excitement and discovery that Joel McCrea experienced was irresistible. To this day my AIM name is even the title of this film.

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in “Arise My Love.” This photo has nothing to do with journalism. Just makes me happy!

Arise, My Love (1940): This film also follows a reporter in Europe during the start of World War II. This time our hero reporter is Claudette Colbert as Augusta Nash, based off real life reporter Martha Gellhorn. Nash saves pilot Ray Milland (as Tom Martin) before he is about to be executed by Fascists for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Nash saves him, exclusively for the purpose of a story. Martin is thankful for his life, but also a little peeved. The two begin to fall in love though they resist because of their conflicting life styles: Nash doesn’t want to give up her career and Martin wants to fight in the upcoming war. Review: Colbert said this was one of her favorite films that she made. It might be one of my favorites too. There is a good mix of romance, adventure and journalism. Ray Milland is probably at his handsomest here.

Meet John Doe (1941): This is another film about unethical journalism. Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell is fired from her reporter job. To get her job back Ann prints a fake suicide letter in the newspaper signed by “John Doe” who says he will kill himself on Christmas Eve because he can’t take the world’s ‘social ills’ any longer. To prove the letter isn’t a fake (which it obviously is) Ann searches for a man who agrees to pose as John Doe. Gary Cooper (Long John Willowby) and his friend The Colonel (played by Walter Brennan) are in need of money and John agrees to play the part. John Doe becomes a national figure, inspiring people all over to change their ways and come together. However, the role of John Doe requires John to commit suicide. If he doesn’t, it will let down his believers, and newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (played by loveable or hateable Edward Arnold) doesn’t want to disappoint his readers. Review: I love love love this movie. It’s a perfect example at just what journalism can do. Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are so perfect together. We also get a treat of seeing Walter and Gary break out in mouth organ music. One of THE perfect examples of Frank Capra’s ‘social change’ films.

For other ‘Gary Cooper duped by the press’ films see Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

The real Ernie Pyle who is portrayed by Burgess Meredith in “The Story of G.I. Joe”

Story of G.I. Joe (1945): This is a semi-autobiographical film about World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played by Burgess Meredith.  Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry, lead by Lit. Walker played by Robert Mitchum, and fights with them in North Africa and Italy, documenting their experiences along the way. Pyle learns more about the men personally and we watch as battle wears on their nerves. The film follows real life and ends with Pyle being killed by a Japanese sniper. Review: This is one of my favorite war films, mostly because Ernie Pyle is one of my role models. When I interviewed at Fort Jackson-an Army base in Columbia, S.C.- there was a display about Ernie Pyle. I was so proud that they were honoring him and really wanted to be part of that newspaper. “G.I. Joe” was the only film Robert Mitchum was ever nominated for an Academy Award and unfortunately lost. I really feel that he deserved it.

There is an unintentional running theme throughout all of those films. All of them were made during war years and several from 1940. Here is a brief list of other films featuring journalists. I’ve listed the actors who portray reporters.

Other films:

My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937) -Maureen O’Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon

Nothing Sacred (1937)- Frederic March

Everything Happens at Night (1939)- Ray Milland and Robert Cummings

Philadelphia Story (1940)- James Stewart and Ruth Hussey

Lifeboat (1944)-Tallulah Bankhead

Objective Burma (1945)- Henry Hull

Close to My Heart (1951)- Ray Milland

The Sell Out (1952)- Walter Pidgeon

Roman Holiday (1953)-Gregory Peck

Never Let Me Go (1953)- Clark Gable

Teacher’s Pet (1958)- Doris Day and Clark Gable

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Let’s talk about a little pet peeve of mine…

Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) surrounded by Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) and Cynthia Potter (Lana Turner).

How I define a classic movie fan and my pet peeve of the old movie ‘posers’ . I know I am a little fanatical and old movies are my life, but if you are going to claim to like old movies you have to know your stuff.

Another thing that drives me crazy is what consumers and manufacturers consider when it comes to classic movie merchandise (not including books, there is an abundance of wonderful film books). Everywhere you go, you see mugs, purses, T-shirts, magnets, etc with four people on them 1.) Marilyn Monroe 2.) Audrey Hepburn 3.) James Dean 4.) John Wayne. Then I go to Los Angeles with high hopes of Doris Day and Esther Williams merchandise, but I was quickly dismayed. In Hollywood, the movie mecca of the world, they still carried the same crap that they sell in Greenville, South Carolina. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Dean, Wayne and Hepburn but I want some variety.)

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