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Hal Wallis

Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars

Bernard F. Dick
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 336
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    Hal Wallis
    Book Description:

    Hal Wallis might not be as well known as David O. Selznick or Samuel Goldwyn, but the films he produced --Casablanca, Jezebel, Now Voyager, The Life of Emile Zola, Becket, True Grit,and many other classics (as well as scores of Elvis movies) -- have certainly endured. As producer of numerous films, Wallis made an indelible mark on the course of America's film industry, but his contributions are often overlooked and no full-length study has yet assessed his incredible career.

    A former office boy and salesman, Wallis first engaged with the business of film as the manager of a Los Angeles movie theater in 1922. He attracted the notice of the Warner brothers, who hired him as a publicity assistant. Within three months he was director of the department, and appointments to studio manager and production executive quickly followed. Wallis went on to oversee dozens of productions and formed his own production company in 1944.

    Bernard F. Dick draws on numerous sources such as Wallis's personal production files and exclusive interviews with many of his contemporaries to finally tell the full story of his illustrious career. Dick combines his knowledge of behind-the-scenes Hollywood with fascinating anecdotes to create a portrait of one of Hollywood's early power players.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5951-5
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Child of the Tenements
    (pp. 1-12)

    Hal Wallis was fond of saying that his birth coincided with the start of the twentieth century. Actually, he was off by two years. According to Wallis’s death certificate, he was born on 8 October 1898. The place was Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World,” as Carl Sandburg christened it in his famous 1916 poem “Chicago.” Sandburg was ambivalent about Chicago: he saw it as “wicked” and “crooked,” yet vibrant with the “stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth.” Wallis would probably have agreed, although he never bore the “marks of wanton hunger” that Sandburg observed on the faces of the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Becoming Hal B. Wallis
    (pp. 13-30)

    When wallis became publicity director at Warners, the studio was considered the creation of upstarts who could not compete with the Big Three: MGM, Associated First National (which Warner Brothers later absorbed), and Famous Players–Lasky (soon to be known as Paramount). In time, the Big Three became the Big Five: MGM, Paramount, Fox, RKO, and Warner Brothers. Hollywood was an invention, according to Neal Gabler: the invention of immigrant Jews and their children, who discovered a business in its infancy, at a time when as many outsiders as native sons were looking to make their fortune; a business in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE At the Court of the Clown Prince
    (pp. 31-63)

    As soon as wallis replaced Graham Baker in 1928 as production head of First National, he began looking to the theater for talent, assuming that stage actors would have no difficulty adapting to talking pictures. But that was not always the case; many stage stars—Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Katharine Cornell, Maurice Evans, and others—fared poorly in Hollywood, either because their elusive magic could not be captured on film or because their acting style was incompatible with a medium where less is more. Others—such as Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Humphrey Bogart, John...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The End of a Dubious Friendship
    (pp. 64-84)

    On 12 january 1942, Hal Wallis, now forty-five, signed a contract with Warners, stipulating that “a ‘Hal Wallis Production’ or ‘Produced by Hal Wallis’ appear as a separate credit at the end of the main title” and that his name be “equal at least to fifty percent of the largest type used in presenting the name of any member of the cast on the screen.”¹ As far as Wallis was concerned, the contract made him an independent producer—free to select four films a year, receiving 10 percent of the gross profits after they had reached 125 percent of the...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FIVE Starting Over
    (pp. 85-94)

    Wallis-hazen, inc., was an alliance of talent (Wallis’s), ego (shared), legal expertise (Hazen’s), hubris (largely Hazen’s), and periodic disillusionment (mutual), which brought the company to the brink of dissolution several times, starting in 1952; but as zero hour approached, Wallis and Hazen opted for reinvention, burying the corporate name and leaving only Hal Wallis Productions. In 1944, however, Wallis-Hazen was “a perfect blendship,” as Cole Porter would have said—a blend for which Warners provided the ingredients. To ease the transition from Warners to Paramount, Wallis surrounded himself with as many of his cronies as possible. Although he did not...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Morning Star
    (pp. 95-110)

    LIZABETH SCOTT HAD A PERSONA that, in 1945, would have been unique—a baritonal purr with a creamy huskiness. The problem was that Lauren Bacall, who had made her screen debut a year earlier, had a similar voice, although hers was characterized by a smoky throatiness. At the time both actresses were smokers, but Bacall sounded like one; each syllable seemed to have been coated with tar. When Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart, who spoke in measured syllables that resounded with the wisdom of booze, tobacco, and life, their voices were as suited to each other as they were. In...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Interstellar Spaces
    (pp. 111-128)

    Kristine miller’s background was exotic enough to intrigue Wallis. Before she was Kristine Miller, she was Jacqueline Olivia Eskesen—born in Buenos Aires, the daughter of a Danish father and an American mother. The Eskesens emigrated to Denmark when Jacqueline was eight. In fall 1938, just before World War II broke out in Europe, the family set out for America, settling first in Long Island and later in California.

    The young Jacqueline was anything but a budding actress. She had no interest in performing until she was cast in a high school production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Wallis Galaxy
    (pp. 129-147)

    On the suggestion of irene lee, who had seen an unknown actor by the name of Burt Lancaster in Harry Brown’sA Sound of Huntingwhen it was trying out in Philadelphia, Wallis arranged to see the play when it opened in New York on 20 November 1945. It closed five weeks later after twenty-three performances. The play, a World War II drama, was forgettable; Lancaster, however, was not. Wallis sensed that he was in the presence of a star. Accordingly, Lancaster was issued a star’s contract, even though he had yet to make a picture: $1,250 a week for...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Two Jokers and a King
    (pp. 148-173)

    When the industry learned that a team consisting of a crooner and a zany was Wallis’s latest discovery, there was speculation that either the starmaker had lost his magic touch or it had been tarnished by his association with Paramount. Paramount had a reputation for farce and slapstick comedy; the Paramount brand, however, tended to include music, so that the result was not musical comedy so much as comedy interspersed with music. Thus, the Paramount comics—Gil Lamb, Cass Daley, Betty Hutton, and Eddie Bracken—often appeared in this anomalous kind of movie, in which there was singing, clowning, and...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Phoenix Rising
    (pp. 174-201)

    As the 1950s came to an end, Wallis may have felt that his producing career was concluding also. After Shirley Booth and Anna Magnani won their Oscars forCome Back, Little ShebaandThe Rose Tattoo, there was little else but Martin and Lewis; then there was Martin minus Lewis, and vice versa; and Elvis. Few doubted that Katharine Hepburn would be nominated forThe Rainmaker, but only diehard fans expected her to edge out Ingrid Bergman in her return to the screen inAnastasia(1956). After Joanne Woodward’s bravura performance inThe Three Faces of Eve(1957), Anna Magnani...

  16. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Brief Encounters
    (pp. 202-213)

    Like so many golden age producers, such as Louis Mayer, Harry Cohn, and Darryl Zanuck, Wallis was not monogamous. However, he was not a womanizer like Harry Cohn, whose office at Columbia had shelves of expensive perfumes and nylon stockings—payment for services rendered. The services were often renderedinhis office, which was a study in white: white chairs, a white piano, and a white couch that may well have been the original “casting couch.” With Cohn, sex was both a release of tension and an instrument of power. Like Mayer and Zanuck, Cohn fancied himself a starmaker; but...

  18. CHAPTER TWELVE His Last Girl
    (pp. 214-240)

    On 6 august 1959, the world premiere of Buena Vista’s production ofThe Big Fisherman, a three-hour biblical epic based on Lloyd C. Douglas’s novel about Saint Peter, took place at New York’s Rivoli Theatre on Forty-ninth Street and Broadway. The ads promised a gala affair, “with guest stars of stage and screen.” Two months before the premiere, Buena Vista dispatched one of the stars, Martha Hyer (who played Herodias to Herbert Lom’s Herod), to New York to publicize the film—Frank Borzage’s last and hardly the one by which the Oscar-winning director would want to be remembered.

    Ordinarily, it...

  19. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Requiem for a Gentleman
    (pp. 241-260)

    The 1980s spelled the beginning of the end for Wallis. Martha knew there would be no more movies, even though Wallis acted otherwise. He may have bristled at the wordretirement, but the truth was that he and Martha had if not “retired” to, then “moved” to, Casablanca, their Palm Springs home in Rancho Mirage. No sooner had the Wallises closed up their Holmby Hills and Malibu residences than Minna descended upon Palm Springs, aware that her Hollywood days were over—but also that her brother had taken up residence there. If Wallis felt the same about his Hollywood days,...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 261-272)
  21. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 273-278)
  22. Index
    (pp. 279-288)