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"It's the Pictures That Got Small"

"It's the Pictures That Got Small": Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    "It's the Pictures That Got Small"
    Book Description:

    Golden Age Hollywood screenwriter Charles Brackett was an extremely observant and perceptive chronicler of the entertainment industry during its most exciting years. He is best remembered as the writing partner of director Billy Wilder, who once referred to the pair as "the happiest couple in Hollywood," collaborating on such classics asThe Lost Weekend(1945) andSunset Blvd(1950).

    In this annotated collection of writings taken from dozens of Brackett's unpublished diaries, leading film historian Anthony Slide clarifies Brackett's critical contribution to Wilder's films and Hollywood history while enriching our knowledge of Wilder's achievements in writing, direction, and style. Brackett's diaries re-create the initial meetings of the talent responsible forNinotchka(1939),Hold Back the Dawn(1941),Ball of Fire(1941),The Major and the Minor(1942),Five Graves to Cairo(1943),The Lost Weekend, andSunset Blvd, recounting the breakthrough and breakdowns that ultimately forced these collaborators to part ways. Brackett was also a producer, served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Screen Writers Guild, was a drama critic for theNew Yorker, and became a member of the exclusive literary club, the Algonquin Round Table. Slide gives readers a rare, front row seat to the Golden Age dealings of Paramount, Universal, MGM, and RKO and the innovations of legendary theater and literary figures, such as Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Edna Ferber, and Dorothy Parker. Through Brackett's witty, keen perspective, the political and creative intrigue at the heart of Hollywood's most significant films come alive, and readers will recognize their reach in the Hollywood industry today.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53822-0
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Jim Moore

    There are few editorial tasks as daunting as the one Anthony Slide undertook at my urging in preparing the manuscript for this book. I am both apologetic and grateful for the three-year journey Tony endured in order to arrive at the terminal station of publication. The original journals materials with which Tony did a wonderful job cover not only a wide chronology—1932 to 1949 for this volume alone—but they also encompass a dynamic period of time for the diaries’ author, my grandfather, Charles W. Brackett. The entries making up this book reflect the fourteen years in which Charlie...

    (pp. 1-22)
    Anthony Slide

    “It’s the pictures that got small.” That line, spoken by Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, is one of the most famous in movie history—if not the most famous. It has become a part of American popular culture, American folklore, revered, loved, and often quoted with glee by film enthusiasts. Yet, while it is so iconic, it is often misidentified as being from Billy Wilder’sSunset Blvd.It is not. It is from Charles Brackett’s and Billy Wilder’sSunset Blvd.The authorship of the line was a collaborative effort and, even though Wilder may have directed the film, as Brackett’s...

  6. The Diaries

    • 1932
      (pp. 25-44)

      June 7: The University Club, New York City. Impelled to write a diary by my pleasure in reading the diaries kept by my Great Uncle William Corliss through the Civil War Years. I begin today, though it has not been a particularly significant day.

      The best I can offer in substitution for the war is the Depression, an event that seems less violent since the formation of a great bond pool last week, headed by Mr. Thomas Lamont.¹ In fact, I have not heard anyone say that a revolution was imminent since I got off the train this morning at...

    • 1933
      (pp. 45-54)

      January 3: . . . I went to seeSecrets of the French Police.¹ That, in Hollywood, I should have thought the tedious thing tolerable is a commentary on Hollywood. The scene I “wrote” seemed to me a little more flat than the rest.

      January 10: . . . [Helen] Mackie and I to seeFrisco Jenny,² the picture Ruth Chatterton told me about when I was in Hollywood and the only one of the productions in the making at that time which seems to me worth its celluloid, with the exception ofThe Penguin Pool Mystery

      [On February 3,...

    • 1934
      (pp. 55-62)

      Sometime in January [Saratoga Springs, New York]: John Van Druten comes up for a weekend, amusing me with a report from Hollywood about George Cukor who, in directing the breakfast scene inLittle Women,² is supposed to have said, “Will you four whores try to pretend that there’s some cocaine in that dish and act as though you really wanted it?”

      February 3 [en route by train to Miami]: George [Abbot] and I dined together and I tried the dangerous, because it seems impertinent, experiment of telling him what I thought about his career. He controlled his temper superbly but...

    • 1935
      (pp. 63-65)

      January 31 [the first entry of the year]: A long pause, caused by many things, eventfulness not among them.Win or Losewent on for a few weeks. Louise Long was a dear creature to work with, but uncritical, admiring. Then there was a sudden announcement that we weren’t going in the story direction expected. The project was pulled out from under us with one quick jerk. Louise had a horror of having an uncompleted script on her record. By working literally one whole night, we turned in a complete draft. We might as well not have done so.


    • 1936
      (pp. 66-97)

      January 1 [Providence, Rhode Island]: Gerald Murphy¹ once told Monty Woolley about an Irish custom for beginning the New Year: One jumps into it, holding gold. Undeterred by the fact that the Murphys have had some years of unparalleled misfortune, we follow the custom we got from them.

      As midnight approached, each of us clutched gold and perched ourselves on a piece of furniture in the refurbished library and waited. . . . It was 1936 and time for me to take my train to Hollywood and another bout with The Cinema. . . .

      I’ve been having an 8...

    • 1937
      (pp. 98-108)

      [The diary for 1937 is one of the longest, and, arguably, the most difficult to edit in that so much therein relates to the Screen Writers Guild. And most of what Brackett records is impossible for anyone who was not present to understand. Indeed, on September 29 , Brackett records a luncheon meeting at Lucey’s with Walt Disney: “our task to set Disney straight . . . and it was difficult as he was entirely without background.”]

      January 1 : A clear beautiful day. . . . After dinner I went to seeRembrandtwhich was as dull and enobling...

    • 1938
      (pp. 109-128)

      January 2 : . . . Xan and I went to the exhibition of pictures shown by an Italian named [Emanuele] Castelbarco and sponsored by Grace Moore. They seemed to me inferior works but not appalling as a couple of Modiglianis which were also in the gallery. . . . Perrera,¹ Grace Moore’s husband, going about being charming, while La Moore, like a tired streetwalker in a red dress and hat, sat at a table with the Countess de Castelbarco,² the Count, Kay Francis and Gladys Swarthout. . . .

      January 6 : Working hard but interrupted by Ernst [Lubitsch]...

    • 1939
      (pp. 129-144)

      [Brackett travels by train to New York on January 3. There he meets with old friends, including Otto K. Liveright, John Mosher, Oscar Levant, and Ilka Chase. He leaves New York, by train, for Providence, on January 5. The diary recommences on January 16 , 1939 , when he is in New York, along with Billy Wilder. On January 18 , Brackett, along with Wilder, his wife, and an oil painting they have purchased, boards the train for Los Angeles.]

      January 19 : Delightful day on the train sleeping late, playing three-handed cribbage with Billy, some word games, a light...

    • 1940
      (pp. 145-146)

      January 11: A depressing day at the studio of listening to Jacques Théry go over and over various storylines. The ghost of Keene Thompson¹ seemed to have risen from his grave. Luncheon at the commissary with conversation and no word games. More conference until 5, when Billy and Jacques began to play Casino. . . .

      January 12: At the studio working hard and with some success at opus till a telephone call from Pinky informed Jacques that he was to be off on Monday and we were to go back toPolonaise. Billy and I streamed down to Bill...

    • 1941
      (pp. 147-171)

      [On January 2, Brackett makes the first reference in the diaries to James Larmore, whom Xan has invited to dinner. On January 25, Brackett notes that Larmore is staying with the family; and there are frequent mentions of his trying to obtain acting jobs for Larmore at Paramount.]

      January 3: Went to the studio thinking we would start to work. Billy had attitude all day, and we did nothing but dictating. . . .

      January 6: . . . At the end of the day, Gary Cooper came to the office to be told the storyA to Z.¹


    • 1942
      (pp. 172-202)

      January 2: A funny, nervous day with little accomplished. . . . Bean came, saw her test and almost died of horror at it. Billy learned from Arthur [Hornblow, Jr.] that Arthur is going to Metro, which breaks up our unit, to my regret. . . .

      January 4: . . . Bean, J. and I went toLouisiana Purchase, which Y. Frank Freeman pronounces the best picture Paramount ever made. It is appalling—dull, repetitious, not enough music, Zorina terrible. Vastly cheered, I came home to a supper E. had been preparing for us here.

      January 5: A day...

    • 1943
      (pp. 203-234)

      January 1: Didn’t sleep too well. . . . In the afternoon Dodie [Smith] and I went over her changes in the script [forThe Uninvited]. . . . I am rather disappointed in her revisions, which are always small and niggling. Probably I should take her off the script and put a professional writer on at once but haven’t really time to make the complicated arrangements before I go. . . .

      January 2: Left the house about 9. . . . a rather dim James drove me to the studio. Buddy Coleman had forgotten to pick up Billy...

    • 1944
      (pp. 235-258)

      [The number of projects with which Brackett and Wilder are involved during the year is quite confusing, with many film proposals mentioned only once.]

      January 2: . . . We gave a luncheon party to which we had looked forward, so brilliantly chosen were the guests, such specialists in observation and wit and conversation. It turned out, as was inevitable to be, a little disappointing, considering the cast: Dottie Parker, Kay Brush, Michael Arlen, George Cukor and Jimmy Moore. Dottie arrived too bright of eye and after a few drinks developed that hunger for a quarrel which seems to attack...

    • 1945
      (pp. 259-280)

      January 2: . . . Ginsberg . . . asked me to give theTEHOscript to Mitch Leisen, which I agreed to do though he wouldn’t be half as good for it as Cukor. Thereafter Danny and Sylvia Kaye and Lou [unidentified], their agent, appeared to talkCount of Luxembourgand we went to Ginsberg’s office and an hour and a half disappeared in double talk. All of us want to doThe Countas a play first and I hope we laid the foundations for that project. . . .

      January 3: . . . The first full...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 1946
      (pp. 281-299)

      January 20: . . . we went to Westwood and the preview [ofTo Each His Own] played better than the picture has ever played before and I was happy as a lark till the preview cards came in, which were, God knows, the worst we’ve had, although I think the majority were excellent. . . .

      January 26: . . . Billy and I lunched [Joan] Fontaine at Perino’s. She had come determined to like the story anyway. She was doing it all, very conscientiously, “for the man she loved.” But when it came to the “Now you bite...

    • 1947
      (pp. 300-332)

      January 2: Billy and I discussedSorry, Wrong Numbermost of the morning. About noon we saw new stuff for the main title [The Emperor Waltz], none of it what we had ordered, nor any attempt at it. I had words with Gordon Jennings [responsible for special photographic effects] on the subject and I have seriously concluded that he is color blind. . . .

      January 7: A body blow this morning. Billy and I were summoned to Henry’s office to be informed that we’d lostSorry, Wrong Number. Litvak’s manager had asked $ 200,000 or a percentage, [Jack] Karp,...

    • 1948
      (pp. 333-358)

      January 5: . . . In the afternoon I learned that we couldn’t possibly get Barry Fitzgerald forTatlock¹ and suggested that the studio buy another sixmonths option onPortrait, though somehow I have the feeling it will never be done. . . .

      January 6: . . . went to Billy’s at 8:15 [p.m.] with Hedy Lamarr² being expelled for our evening session. Tonight we at last got the finaletto down on paper. Billy’s at that state of complete knowledge of the people he has to deal with which comes to him mid-shooting, and hot with the ardor of...

    • 1949
      (pp. 359-392)

      January 3: Worked at the studio with Billy all day, advancing our script not one inch. We are stuck with the problem of Gillis changing his position from one of secretary tomcat to one of actual lover. . . .

      January 9: Slept late but got to Billy’s about 11:15 and found that he’d decided that the motif of writing a screenplay for Desmond should be set in the first scene between her and Gillis. Disapproved, and argued against it, but Mr. W. was insistent.

      January 11: . . . I spent the evening readingThe African Queen,¹not very...

    (pp. 393-406)
    (pp. 407-410)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 411-422)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 423-426)