Dudley Nicholss History of the Old Southwest

When Dudley Nichols (a former New York World reporter) and John Ford began to edit the script of Stagecoach in October 1938, they were perhaps the most respected filmmaking partnership in Hollywood. Since Men without Women and The Seas Beneath (1931), they had developed a reputation for taut adventures and popular success. In 1935 the industry honored them with separate Academy Awards for their work on the critical success The Informer. In subsequent years they continued to work together, but...

Hollywood Cavalcade

Here is something that is going to revolutionize the industry. In 1939 Hollywood produced an unprecedented twenty-seven major American historical films. It was a year saturated with critical and boxoffice successes, ranging from adaptations of the classics of English literature (Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din) to sophisticated comedies (Midnight, The Women), modern romances (Ninotchka, Love Affair), and musicals (The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms), but American historical films far outnumbered any...

Cahiers Lincoln and the Fight against Film History

Cahiers du cinema's influential essay on the 1939 film Young Mr. Lincoln, although rarely acknowledged by historians writing about film, argued that this landmark Hollywood production exemplified classical Hollywood cinema's reflection of overarching national myths and ideology.56 Perhaps more than any other Hollywood film of its era, Young Mr. Lincoln has been forced to carry the burden of late-twentieth-century criticism of classical Hollywood cinema. Among these film critics and historians,...

Cimarrons Counterhistory

The film's next text insert occurs after the land rush as Yancey, Sabra (RKO's recent acquisition, Irene Dunne), and son Cimarron arrive in Osage, Oklahoma. The title reads, The boomer town of Osage a population of 10,000 in six weeks. Again, a series of images follows that questions the progress and optimism inherent in the town's population growth. A half-breed shoots a man in front of a saloon, a lawyer rooks his clients, and a pioneering husband and wife work through the night to get their...

Competing Frontiers

The moving picture has entered into a new phase of development. It has outgrown the small clothes of theater and fiction. Producers are beginning to realize at long last that they must not go to proved sources so much as to original sources of material. Frances Taylor Patterson, North American Review, 1937 While censorship dismantled the production of historical gangster films, from 1932 to 1935, the studios were equally unable to produce another Cimarron. For Hollywood, 1931 and 1932 were the...

Converting the Critics of Expansion

DeMille's Union Pacific was released as the antidote to Zanuck's critique of industrialization. DeMille had begun working on another historical western after the success of The Plainsman in 1937 and Lloyd's ambitious Wells Fargo, but he had no particular historical event, person, or neglected historical topic in mind. Instead, he began with an idea of national expansion and completion. Over lunch one day in February, he and Jeannie Macpherson worked it out Union...

Dissolve To

He even took a full page in Variety to air the truth. Mayer may have had a reputation for ruining careers, but few outside Hollywood listened Variety's obituary headlined Gilbert as one of the first victims of talking pictures.47 But the author disputed that his voice alone had destroyed his career and instead blamed MGM's poor screenwriting, which failed to realize that the impassioned love scenes of the silent pictures became silly when done into speech. It was MGM's inability to...

From Cimarron to Citizen Kane

Publication of this volume was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Copyright 2006 by The University Press of Kentucky Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University,...

Info

York, have you ever read this History of the United States. Sure is a lot of writing . . . That book's full of great men. Major Buxton and Alvin York, 1941 In spite of the critics' negative response to The Roaring Twenties, Warner Brothers continued to invest in the Great War, releasing The Fighting 69th in early 1940. As with its westerns and Civil War histories, it solicited the help of Herman Lissauer and the studio's expanding research library. A vast team of researchers read the military...

Jean Arthur

An unconscious discourse on corporate capitalism or any self-conscious historical subtlety. Nugent was cutting For Mr. DeMille spares nothing, horses or actors, when he turns his hand to western history. The narrative was an encyclopedia of frontier adventure. Hollywood trade papers called it a significant addition to the roster of historical melodramas but neglected to specify what it added, save epic size and over 1.4 million of productions costs.51 Historical filmmaking in the late 1930s had...

Jezebels and Rebels

With the publication of Gone with the Wind in the summer of 1936, Hollywood was faced with the possibility of confronting not only traditional histories of the war but also the racial and sexual discourses silently structuring those narratives. The American film industry's true problematiza-tion of race and history occurred in Warner Brothers' antebellum epic Jezebel and in Gone with the Wind. For years, critics of Mitchell's novel and Hollywood's Depression-era plantation epics have claimed...

Modern Historys Doorway to Hell

Films about contemporary crime and fictional gangsters had been popular since D. W. Griffith's Musketeers of Pig Alley (1913), but it was only in the late 1920s, and with the conversion to sound, that high-profile gangster films began to script the historical trajectory of crime and advertise the lives of real gangsters and bootleggers. This desire to capture and document the real aspects of Chicago and other postwar elements of American life grew as the public recognized their impending...

Multiple Views of the Past

Lincoln alluded to Lincoln's future Civil War presidency without presenting Lincoln as a prescient, mythic hero. Trotti and Ford's Lincoln is learning, changing, growing. His mature political principles are yet unknown. Compared with William Seward and Stephen Douglas, much less was known about Lincoln's political commitments prior to 1861. Although his famed debates with Douglas in 1858 made him known as an antislavery but moderate Whig, according to historian William E. Baringer (a...

Pioneer Ancestors

Despite the Great War's appearance in 1920s prestige films such as Wings and The Big Parade, America's unusual and even remote relationship to the war restricted the purely American forays to elliptical examinations of wartime America and the postwar veteran's anonymous struggle for survival. With the exception of Chaplain Duffy and Alvin York (and the more obscure Robert Elliot Burns), real historical figures or heroes were almost nonexistent. As historian Dixon Wecter wrote in 1941, York was...

Postwar Fugitives and Forgotten

Robert Elliot Burns began his autobiography with the war Discharged from the army, after the World War, a broken man, I committed petty crime in Georgia, was caught, convicted, sentenced to ten years on the Georgia chain gang.1 Like many returning veterans in 1919, Burns had expected life in America to be as he had left it in 1917, but it was not. His former job had paid 50 per week, but a noncombatant had taken it. Try as he might, Burns could not find another that paid him even 20 per week....

Revisioning the Historical Film in

Edna Ferber was one of America's most financially successful novelists.24 She had a decided proclivity for writing generational narratives set in America's past, such as So Big (1924) and Show Boat, and for constructing semibiographical stage hits with George S. Kaufman such as The Royal Family of Broadway, a barely concealed portrait of America's greatest theatrical family, the Barrymores. All these works became successful films, and by 1930, Ferber was one of the most bankable names in...

Screen Biography or Historical Composite

A Star Is Born is a historical narrative, but it is not arranged like a chapter from Ramsaye's A Million and One Nights or an exclusive, effusive interview from a popular fan magazine such as Photoplay or Modern Screen. It is a self-conscious composite biography, even though most 1937 viewers associated the character Norman Maine, a fading alcoholic leading man, with actor John Gilbert, who had died of a heart attack in January 1936.46 Gilbert had been one of the silent screen's most popular...

Selznicks Return to the Past

By 1936, Selznick had left MGM to form Selznick International Pictures (SIP). In his last years at MGM, he had indulged in the prestige of British period films with David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities (1935), and he continued in this lucrative vein as an independent producer (Little Lord Fauntleroy, 1936 The Prisoner of Zenda, 1937). Now the head of his own studio, Lewis J. Selznick's son wanted to return to the historical period he knew best. The Hollywood history cycle had lost its...

The Lives and Deaths of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln should be treated as a symbol. The two men who personify forgiveness in the history of the world are Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln. . . . It will have the most powerful effect when the picture fades out on the tableau of Abraham Lincoln, the Negro, and the little girl, and a military band playing Dixie. Although, between 1933 and 1939, fictional southern women enabled Hollywood filmmakers to reinscribe and valorize a persistent historical rebellion within national narratives, Civil...

The New American History Cimarron

There's been nothing like it since Creation In April 1929, film critic and playwright Robert E. Sherwood predicted that Hollywood's adaptation to sound cinema would improve the overall quality of motion pictures and, more particularly, increase the power of screenwriters. Convinced that the writer will now be boosted into a position of importance that is equivalent, at least, to that of the director, Sherwood could look back on the American cinema's silent past without regret.1 His colleagues,...

The Return of Our Epic America

History is not just a matter of names and dates dry facts strung together. It is an endless, dramatic story, as alive as the news in the morning's paper. That's why I feel for the sake of lively dramatic construction, I am justified in making some contractions or compressions of historical detail, as long as I stick to the main facts. For two weeks in February 1939, New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent focused on Stagecoach. He began, In one expansive gesture . . . John Ford has swept...

The True History of Ramona

It was left to Lamar Trotti and Twentieth Century-Fox to attempt the next critique of institutional American history and the notion of frontier conquest. Again, the foundation for the historical critique was not the work of a professional historian but that of a novelist interested in publicizing the darker side of the American past. And, as with Cooper, Helen Hunt Jackson focused on the experiences of a mixed-race woman to destabilize traditional triumphant narratives of the West. The history...

Id Rathep Be Right

. Vi rnMtLK1 HiLJlLJi ---, iBc < Ii i Opening shot someone else presents George M. Cohan. the studio complaining that Buckner gave him too much adversity to deal with. Associate producer William Cagney and Buckner replied swiftly, attempting to gloss over his objections. The dramatization of your life, Mr. Cohan, has a great and timely importance. It is the story of a typical American boy, who grew up with a strong love of his country, its ways and institutions. His life was spent in...

Young Mr Lincoln and the Burden of American Film History

Zanuck committed himself to the Lincoln story in November 1938. Although Lincoln had appeared in many Hollywood films, including some Twentieth Century-Fox releases, there had been no biography since Griffith's ill-fated Abraham Lincoln. His most recent appearance was in MGM's adaptation of Bradbury Foote's Of Human Hearts (1938), another rural family melodrama with Lincoln in the cast. It tells the story of a young boy, brought up in poverty in the antebellum Midwest, who is ashamed of his...

James Fenimore Coopers American History

In March 1935, screenwriter John Balderston was convinced that James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826) would make a great historical 'epic' picture. He wrote to independent producer Edward Small, What I mean by 'epic' is a picture that deals with a vaster and more important theme of general and permanent historical significance than is involved in the fortunes of the human being whose stories are involved. Balderston's distinction between history, which elucidates complex...

Selling History at Paramount

By 1935, Howard Estabrook's policy of consulting multiple historical sources in constructing a historical screenplay was an established practice, and by the end of the decade, a small group of screenwriters headed by Lamar Trotti and Nunnally Johnson were known almost exclusively for their historical work. Like the novelists whose writings served as the basis for so many historical films in the early sound era, these screenwriters often rebelled against the traditional views of historical...

Imitating Historiography

Lincoln proved that a biographical film did not need to be a success story or a deification of a national hero. Ramsaye in particular clearly hoped that the film's visual and historical discourse would generate a new development in American historical filmmaking. Yet Young Mr. Lincoln lasted only two shaky weeks at New York City's Roxy Theatre, in spite of being highly regarded by critics and exhibitors. Competition with the World's Fair that month may have killed its New York...

Toward a Filmic Writing of History in Classical Hollywood

We believe that we have as much right to present the facts of history as we see them . . . as a Guizot, a Bancroft, a Ferrari, or a Woodrow Wilson has to write these facts in his history. D. W. Griffith, The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America, 1916 When D. W. Griffith published his defense of historical filmmaking in 1916, there was little doubt why he believed that filmmaker-historians needed a spokesman. Public controversy had yet to subside over his Civil War and Reconstruction epic The...

Who Was Andy Oakley

Despite the failure of The Conquerors in 1932, RKO continued to adapt and produce films set in the national past. But the period melodramas Little Women (1933) and The Age of Innocence (1934) were relatively low-maintenance narratives, requiring no grandiose on-location shots or epic battle scenes or the lengthy preliminary research needed for an original historical screenplay. Although lacking forewords and superimposed dates, the narratives relied on a period setting and the passage of years,...

Foundations of Film Historiography

Although this study revises traditional approaches to the discourse of classical Hollywood cinema and films about American history, its methodology and conception of film historiography owe debts to the work of Warren Susman, Robert A. Rosenstone, Philip Rosen, Donald Crafton, and Pamela Falkenberg. Susman was perhaps the first historian to acknowledge cinema's complex relationship with history. Cinema, he wrote, not only was capable of reflecting and documenting historical eras but also was...

The Burden of Historical and Film Scholarship

Professional historians have rarely admitted the possibility that Hollywood films could serve as a new and comparable form of historiography. When historian Michael Isenberg read Griffith's defense of filmmaker-historians, he ignored both Griffith's call for equality among traditional historians and filmmaker-historians and his underlying challenge of historical ob jectivity, instead dismissing Griffith as merely feeling the burden of the truths of history. For Isenberg and countless other...

RKO and the Perils of Critical Success

RKO's gamble with a sophisticated historical film paid off. Estabrook and Ruggles produced an American historical film that dominated every major poll of the year's best films.63 Cimarron would even win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. If the Academy's recognition could be considered a marker for a film's seriousness as art, then surely Cimarron succeeded. For the next sixty years, it would be the only western to garner such accolades, despite the genre's accelerating...

The New American Film Historiography

In the following pages, I argue that a filmic writing of American history flourished in Hollywood from 1931 to 1942.76 Rather than force-fitting classical Hollywood films into an industrial-artistic formula or deconstructing their mythic discourses, this book aims to reconstruct a critical understanding of classical Hollywood's American historical cycle and its engagement with professional and popular history, traditional and revisionist historical discourse, and modern history. Although my...

The Black Irish of Gone with the Wind

Like Julie, Scarlett O'Hara was closer to her black servants than to her white family. Although Scarlett's mother never perceived her rebellious character, Mammy saw and understood it. During the impoverished, agonizing months after her return to Tara, Mitchell has Scarlett doing tasks that slaves consider beneath house niggers. She captures and ties up a cow to provide milk for Melanie's baby, she goes to Twelve Oaks to gather food, she hunts for the animals in the swamp, she hoes and plows...

Southern Women in Hollywood

Mitchell's detailed confrontation of the darker history of the Civil War was something that few professional historians wished to address, but in the early stages of film production, Selznick glossed over any impending controversy and stated that he wanted changes to the novel kept to a minimum I find myself a producer charged with recreating the best loved book of our time and I don't think any of us have ever tackled anything that is even comparable to the love that people have for it.41...

Early Hollywood Histories

Selznick had worked at the two biggest and most lavish studios, MGM and Paramount, before accepting RKO's offer to head production. RKO was certainly smaller scale, but its compact operations suited Selznick and his growing obsession with complete production control at both the studio and the individual unit level. There were no rivals such as B. P. Schulberg or Irving Thalberg to take precedence at RKO, Selznick could oversee every element of studio production choose, develop, criticize, and...

Contemporary History in the Age of Scarface

Sounds like a typewriter, eh I'm goin' to write my name all over Chicago with this, in capital letters. Tony Camonte Al Capone in Scarface, 1932 Darryl F. Zanuck began working for Warner Brothers in 1924, and by 1929 he had moved from writing Rin Tin Tin scripts to overseeing George Arl-iss reprise his stage success as Benjamin Disraeli. According to Arliss and Warner Brothers' publicity department, Disraeli's historical content was intended to increase the prestige of talking pictures.1...

Territories Becoming Rich States

IN 1889, PRESIDENT HARRISON OPENED THE VAST INDIAN OKLAHOMA LANDS FOR WHITE SETTLEMENT . . . 2,000,000 ACRES FREE FOR THE TAKING, POOR AND RICH POURING IN, SWARMING THE BORDER, WAITING FOR THE STARTING GUN, AT NOON, APRIL 22ND . . . This text prologue expresses the dominant academic and popular view of western expansion derived from Theodore Roosevelt's Winning of the West 1885-1894 and particularly Turner's The Significance of the Frontier in American History. Cimarron's given history stresses...

Coming to Terms with Hollywoods History

In early 1933 Selznick briefly pursued his fascination with star biographies, planning to adapt Zoe Akins's play Morning Glory in order to reteam Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. Bennett would reprise her role as a determined rising star, but Sherman would no longer play a cynical director he would direct Morning Glory. However compelling it may have seemed to Selznick to continue the cycle of Hollywood entertainment histories with Bennett, he eventually assigned Katharine Hepburn to star...

The Life of Al Capone

While Zanuck was in the process of organizing The Public Enemy, Howard Hughes was developing his own idea for a modern biopic. A multimillionaire and son of a Texas industrialist, Hughes began investing in motion pictures in the mid-1920s. In 1928 he produced his first gangster picture. The Racket began in 1927 as a Broadway hit by former Chicago crime reporter Bartlett Cormack and featured Edward G. Robinson in his only stage gangster role.62 The character of Nick Scarsi was loosely based on...

Ignoring Reconstruction

Hollywood's previous attempt to film American history in the antebellum South through Reconstruction had resulted in one of the most controversial box-office attractions. D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation could still give Selznick heartburn in 1937. Howard immediately sensed the peril of re-creating the historical period synonymous in Hollywood with that 1915 film. In his preliminary notes on a screen treatment, dated 14 December 1936, he began, Our chief difficulty will come from the lack...

The Myth of Classical Cinema

Although the films discussed here all fall within the critical boundaries of the period known to academe as classical Hollywood roughly 1920 to 1960 , the term classical Hollywood cinema and its critical heritage have seriously constricted previous historical scholarship on pre-World War II Hollywood filmmaking. The term originally signified French film critic Andr Bazin's praise for a beautifully balanced stage of American film narratives, a moment in the late 1930s when the visual structures...

Rebels against the Railroad

One of the most prominent writers in Hollywood, and one directly connected to the rise of the American historical film, was former Georgia and New York reporter Nunnally Johnson. When Johnson moved from Paramount to Fox, he and Darryl Zanuck embarked on a massive American historical cycle. In fact, Johnson was so closely associated with Zanuck's vision that in their first major American historical film, the Reconstruction-era account of Dr. Samuel Mudd's trial and imprisonment, The Prisoner of...