Monday, August 16, 2004

A non-technical BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL post

One more post about The Bad and the Beautiful, but this time not blathering on about the length of shots. Having seen the movie again -- and if you haven't seen it, please buy or rent the DVD -- I thought I'd make a note of which character is based on which real-life Hollywood figure. Writer Charles Schnee, director Vincente Minnelli and producer John Houseman (aka Professor Kingsfield) drew on various Hollywood stories and legends to create the film, and part of the fun of the movie is guessing who these people are intended to represent. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes less so:

- Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), the brilliant and ruthless producer. As I said before, Shields is almost completely based on David O. Selznick, so much so that Selznick reportedly threatened to sue. (Houseman had dealt with this kind of thing before, since he was an associate producer on Citizen Kane, which did to Hearst what this movie does to Selznick.) Like Shields, Selznick was the son of an early movie-industry figure (Lewis Selznick who died broke and washed-up). Like Shields, Selznick started out producing B-movies for a major studio, hit the big time by greenlighting a successful monster movie (King Kong), gained a reputation as a boy genius, and eventually decided to start his own movie studio. Shields' pictures are parodies of the kind of big Southern epics Selznick made at his studio (Gone With the Wind), and eventually he meets his downfall by producing one too many expensive flops, including a big epic that he takes over from the credited director (Selznick reportedly directed much of Duel in the Sun himself). The only non-Selznick element of Shields' career is that he makes his name as a producer by deciding not to show the monsters in a monster movie, which is something that was actually done by RKO horror producer Val Lewton.

- Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) is the daughter of a great actor who was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Her father is now dead and she can't escape from his shadow. She is described as "a drunk and a tramp," and spends her time partying, sleeping around, and doing occasional extra work. This is all based on John Barrymore's daughter, Diana Barrymore. Georgia's story has a happy ending; she gets out of her father's shadow and becomes a star. Diana's less happy story was made into a not-too-good movie, Too Much, Too Soon, with Dorothy Malone as Diana and, appropriately enough, an aging, alcoholic Errol Flynn as John Barrymore.

- As I said before, the Southern novelist James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) is very loosely based on Faulkner -- actually, come to think of it, he combines a few Faulkner-esque qualities with the more generic qualities of a college-professor-turned-novelist, of whom there were quite a few in this era -- and his wife (Gloria Grahame) who distracts him from his work, is more or less Zelda Fitzgerald.

- Henry Whitfield (Leo G. Carroll), the British director hired by Shields, is a caricature of Hitchcock (for whom Carroll worked frequently, before and after this movie). His wife (the great Kathleen Freeman), who sits by his side and doesn't say much except to back him up, is presumably based on Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville.

- Von Ellstein (Ivan Triesault) is the director of Shields' first Academy Award winner, "The Proud Land," described by several characters as the best director in Hollywood. Trieseault plays him more or less as an Erich Von Stroheim type -- bald, heavily German-accented, and so on. But as written, he's probably William Wyler: like Von Ellstein, Wyler was a European, a tough-minded guy who won't be ordered about by producers, and a guy with a (to me, inexplicable) reputation as the best director in Hollywood.

- Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) is the director who starts with Shields and is finally thrown over when Shields assigns Fred's big project to a bigger-name director. There's no clear model for this guy, but some have suggested John Cromwell, who directed many films for Selznick in the '30s (including The Prisoner of Zenda for Selznick's own studio), but didn't get to direct most of Selznick's big epic projects. However, Cromwell did direct a big movie for Selznick in the '40s (Since You Went Away), so the parallel isn't perfect.

Finally, I have no idea who Walter Pidgeon's gruff-but-loveable producer, Harry Pebbel, is supposed to be. I think I read somewhere else that he was based on a guy who was at RKO when Selznick was there, but I've forgotten the name.

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