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Studio Affairs

Studio Affairs: My Life as a Film Director

Vincent Sherman
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Studio Affairs
    Book Description:

    As a young Jewish boy growing up in Vienna, Georgia, Abe Orovitz could never have predicted the twists and turns his life would take. Many years later, as retired film director with more than thirty movies to his credit, Vincent Sherman is no less surprised when he looks back on that life.

    InStudio Affairshe retraces his life with candor and enthusiasm. Sherman discusses the details of his three-year relationship with Joan Crawford, his inadvertent connection with the death of Bette Davis's second husband, and his poignant romantic involvement with Rita Hayworth. Providing counterpoint to these liaisons is the love and devotion of Sherman's wife, Hedda, who accepted her husband's occasional infidelities as part and parcel of his career.

    Studio Affairsprovides an inside look at the motion picture industry during the heyday of the studio system by one who worked his way from nearly starving actor and playwright to respected director. In effect, the book serves as a primer on the art of film directing. Sherman quickly developed a reputation of being a consummate rewrite artist, able to take whatever assignment given him and turn it into a first rate motion picture. His skill at reworked scripts led him to bigger and bigger projects, even as the salary set by his long-term contract with Warner Brothers remained below that of most of his colleagues. Though not originally signed to direct, when asked to do so he drew on his experience putting together productions at summer camps across the "borscht circuit" in upstate New York.

    Like so many talented individuals in Hollywood during the 1950s, Sherman was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, owing in part to his active support of the WPA Theatre project in New York two decades previous. Time spent on the lesser known gray list kept him out of work for several years. Eventually, he again enjoyed some critical success, but after the demise of the studio system life was never quite the same. The quintessential "studio director" ended his career directing for television. Vincent Sherman's path from Georgia to southern California is compelling, and his legendary talent for good storytelling makes the book impossible to put down.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5739-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Eric Sherman

    I grew up in Hollywood, the son of a well-known and well-respected movie director. I spent Saturdays “on the lot,” watching my father direct the likes of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Paul Newman, and Richard Burton. I had no concept that this was a special or privileged life. “Dad makes movies for a living.” That was all. Much later, when I was in college in the late 60s, I came to understand that the business and professional environment in which I grew up was indeed special—that it was the subject of much admiration, devotion, and study by others. I...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Raison d’Etre
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Moment of Decision
    (pp. 1-8)

    In July 1927 I made a decision that was to determine the course of the rest of my life. I had written a play with James Larwood, a former classmate at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, from which I had graduated two years before. Confident that we had created the potential of a success, I decided to give up the study of law, go to New York, and seek fame and fortune in the theater. I even talked Jimmie into it, though he needed little persuasion; he had spent a year at the Columbia School of Journalism and was anxious to...

  7. 2 Unknown Territory
    (pp. 9-21)

    If Atlanta was a step up from Vienna, New York was a quantum leap. The moment I arrived, I knew that the tempo of my body and mind were destined to change; it would have to if I wanted to survive in the midst of this incredible mass of aggressive humanity. Its drive and energy were awesome. And the noise was deafening. How could people think, work, and sleep? Despite these negative aspects, I was tingling with excitement. I was also a little apprehensive. Would I be able to compete and make a place for myself in the city? These...

  8. 3 Meeting Hedda
    (pp. 22-36)

    I completed my dramatization ofClass Reunionand took it to Frieda Fishbein, who now had an office on Broadway and had a young lady named Hedda Comoro working for her. Hedda seemed bright and efficient. She was also attractive, had a trim figure, dressed smartly, and was pleasant. She said that Frieda was busy at the moment, but as Frieda’s new secretary and reader, she took the play and promised to read it and let me know her own thoughts. At a desk in the far corner was a man in his thirties, introduced as Lester Sweyd, who had...

  9. 4 Hollywood—First Time
    (pp. 37-46)

    The lazy sunshine of southern California, its palm trees, and the odor of orange and lemon blossoms drifting through the clean, dry air were immediately seductive. The tension of New York seemed to dissolve and melt away. A languid relaxation such as I had not felt since leaving the South came over me. In short, Hollywood was a pleasant surprise. I called my cousin Dora. She lived with her husband and her son, Leon, in a house at the corner of Wilton and Franklin. She invited me for dinner that evening and promised to have my uncle Ben there.


  10. 5 Moving Left
    (pp. 47-66)

    Not only was the closing ofJudgement Daydisappointing, because we thought it was an important play, but furthermore, finding another job was not easy. The theater was at an all-time low, and acting jobs were scarce.

    During the six months Hedda and I were in Hollywood, there seemed to be little concern for what was going on elsewhere: strikes, unemployment, and bread lines in the United States and the growth of fascism abroad. Hollywood was apolitical, but in New York the newspapers were full of the problems. We became increasingly aware of the conflicts and felt that we should...

  11. 6 Hollywood—Second Time
    (pp. 67-84)

    Although I knew we were to be residents for at least the next six months, I felt no greater sense of permanence than the first time we were in Hollywood. Hedda soon found us a nicely furnished house on one of the hills off Beachwood Drive for forty dollars a month. It had a small balcony where we could sit outside at night and see the city lights below. We also bought a new Plymouth car for nine hundred dollars.

    For my first two weeks at Warner’s all I did was to sit in my new office and read scripts,...

  12. 7 Moving Up
    (pp. 85-105)

    AfterDr. Xwas released and I told my friend, Abem Finkle, that I was still being paid only $250 a week, he suggested that I talk to Mike Levee, his agent and Paul Muni’s. Levee also represented Greer Garson, Joan Crawford, Claude Rains, and several other big names. When I explained my situation, Levee was polite but said I was not earning enough money yet for him to handle me. I was disappointed, but remembering what Brynie had said when I signed my contract, “Don’t bother reading it, they’ve got you by the balls,” I turned my attention to...

  13. 8 The Hard Way
    (pp. 106-118)

    During the final week of my directingAll through the Night, Jerry Wald came by the set one morning, obviously keyed up, and hastily told me that the rushes were good. He was about to leave, when I stopped him. I could sense that he was excited about something else. When I prodded him, he admitted it was true. “I’ve just read the best script ever to cross my desk,” he said, “and one of the greatest ever written in Hollywood.”

    “What is it?” I asked, burning with curiosity.

    The Hard Way,” he exclaimed. “Irwin Shaw wrote it, and it’s...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. 9 Bette Davis
    (pp. 119-133)

    If you are successful in a certain type of endeavor, you are, especially in Hollywood, automatically thought of when a related project turns up. Type casting is the guideline for every job. Thus, afterThe Hard Wayand Lupino’s glowing reviews, my image changed. I was no longer just a director of melodrama, mostly with men, but was considered capable of handling women and more delicate subject matter. That is the reason, I suspect, that I was chosen to directOld Acquaintance. In fact, Henry Blanke said to me, “You look like a prize fighter, but you are really a...

  16. 10 In Our Time
    (pp. 134-150)

    In Our Timewas based on an original idea of Jerry Wald’s as developed by Ellis St. Joseph. The title was an ironic comment on Chamberlain’s statement that he was compromising with Hitler and the Nazis only to buy “peace in our time.” It was about an English girl (Ida Lupino) who, while visiting Poland with her American employer (Mary Boland), an antique dealer, meets and falls in love with a Polish aristocrat (Paul Henreid). He is equally captivated by her, and they get married. She remains in Poland with him but finds herself in conflict with the feudal thinking...

  17. 11 Midway
    (pp. 151-162)

    After the heavy going ofMr. Skeffington, I wanted a change—something that would be fun to direct and provide laughter for an audience. It turned out to be Pillow to Post, a screenplay written by Charles Hoffman, to be produced by Alex Gottlieb. The story was about a young lady whose father sells oil well supplies but because of the war is short of salesmen. She volunteers to help him. He is reluctant to send her into the field, but he has no alternative. She arrives by rail in an oil town where, after seeing a customer, she learns...

  18. 12 Errol Flynn
    (pp. 163-175)

    With the completion ofThe Unfaithfuland my new contract, I took a few weeks off to relax at home with Hedda and Hedwin and the recent addition to our family, my son, Eric, who was born June 29, 1947. We had hoped for a boy and felt doubly blessed because he seemed to be a perfect baby: he was in good health, rarely cried, slept well at night, and played in his pen quietly for hours. We had sold the house in Los Feliz and bought a three-acre place in Van Nuys on Chandler Boulevard. It was an old...

  19. 13 London
    (pp. 176-194)

    Big sets, crowds, costumes, sword fights, stunts, and the palace intrigues of Don Juan had preoccupied me for months, and I longed for a simple story that explored only the human condition. I remembered that the studio still ownedThe Hasty Heart, a play they had bought months before that I liked. When I asked Trilling why it was not being made, he said there was a feeling that no one wanted to see a war film. I tried to convince him and Warner thatThe Hasty Heartwas not a war play but a human story with the war...

  20. 14 Joan Crawford
    (pp. 195-218)

    She was the ultimate star—magnetic and glamorous. She had won an Academy Award for her performance inMildred Pierceand had replaced Bette Davis as Warner’s number one female. I had never thought of her as a great actress, but she was certainly talented and had a vivid personality, and I admired her drive and determination to better herself. So I was not unhappy when told that my next assignment would be to direct Joan Crawford inThe Victim, to be produced by Jerry Wald.

    Her career had been well publicized. There were many sides to her personality, none...

  21. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  22. 15 Freelancing
    (pp. 219-242)

    It was the first time in fifteen years that I had been unemployed. I felt a touch of insecurity, but after a few days at home, being able to sleep late, becoming friendly again with Hedda, playing with the children, catching up on back reading, and doing a few neglected chores, I began to enjoy myself. But the break from work did not last long. My agent, Arthur Park, called to ask if I’d be interested in doing a western with Clark Gable. Would I ever! I had had, for a while anyway, a surfeit of women’s pictures. A western...

  23. 16 Red Scare
    (pp. 243-266)

    While waiting for MCA to come up with a job offer, being anxious to work and make a good film after the two profitable but mediocre projects I had recently done, I went through my memory file of stories that I liked but had not yet made. I recalledGhost of a Chance. It had been submitted to Warner’s while I was still under contract there.

    It was about a young New York street hoodlum, full of hostility, who is sent to prison for five years because of a petty crime. His cell mate is an old man who was...

  24. 17 Back to Warner’s
    (pp. 267-288)

    Before discussing a return to Warner’s, I felt that I had a moral obligation to talk with Harry Cohn. He had boughtWalk with the Devilfor me, and I had agreed to prepare the screenplay gratis. If a definite job was offered me at Warner’s, I thought Cohn would not object if I took it as long as I promised to work on the screenplay on my own time. I phoned for an appointment and learned that he was in Arizona resting and would return in a few days. Then came the news that he had died of a...

  25. 18 Twilight Years
    (pp. 289-297)

    The challenge of episodic television, to bring to life in a few minutes a dramatic situation that will grab and hold an audience for an hour, was stimulating. As skillful as I thought I had become in directing films, I still learned from doing television. The small screen dictates a minimum of production or background shots and impels you to get to the faces of your actors and the heart of scenes as quickly as possible and to avoid unnecessary moves, details, and complicated setups. The added value for a director is to shoot an episode one week and see...

  26. Postscript
    (pp. 298-305)

    Telluride is a small town beautifully located in the mountains of Colorado, and the film festival held there annually is organized by Bill and Stella Spence and Tom Luddy. In early July 1995, 1 received an invitation to attend the festival, where they planned to showThe Hard Way, which I had directed in 1942. A chartered plane picked us up along with other guests at the Los Angeles airport on Thursday, August 27, and we landed at Montrose, where buses carried us up to the town.

    I was curious to know why I had been invited. My son, who...

  27. Filmography
    (pp. 306-314)
  28. Index
    (pp. 315-330)