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.”
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).
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)
“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.
“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.”
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.