Friday, 1 July 2016

Film Friday: "To Each His Own" (1946)

In honor of Olivia de Havilland's 100th birthday, this week on "Film Friday" I bring you the picture for which she won her first Academy Award for Best Actress.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mitchell Leisen, To Each His Own (1946) opens in London during World War II, where a middle-aged American woman named Jody Norris (Olivia de Havilland) is spending New Year's Eve fire watching with lonely Englishman Lord Desham (Roland Culver). After Jody saves Desham's life, he invites her to supper, but she turns him down to meet a train. Onboard is Lieutenant Gregory Pierson (John Lund), the son of Jody's friends from her small hometown of Pierson Falls. While she waits, Jody recalls the story of her life, beginning in the summer just before the end of World War I, when she rejected a marriage proposal from Lieutenant Alex Pierson (Phillip Terry), who then weds Corinne Sturgess (Mary Anderson).

During a bond drive, Jody falls in love with handsome young flier Captain Bart Cosgrove (John Lund) and spends the night with him. Soon, Jody discovers that she is expecting a baby, which she decides to keep upon learning that Bart has been killed in battle. She secretly gives birth to a son, arranging it so that she can "adopt" the boy without scandal by having him left on the doorstep of a family with too many children already. The scheme backfires, however, when the baby ends up with Corinne, whose own newborn dies that same day. Corinne calls the boy Gregory and Jody, who visits him frequently, nicknames him "Griggsy." Following the death of her father (Griff Barnett), Jody sells the family drugstore and moves to New York, where she builds a successful cosmetics business with her friend Mac Tilton (Bill Goodwin). After several failed attempts to get Griggsy back, Jody leaves the United States, setting up a branch of her cosmetics company in London. Back in the present, Jody introduces herself to Griggsy, who knows her only as a family friend. Desham, who is attracted to Jody, uses his influence to arrange for Griggsy to marry his girlfriend, Liz Lorimer (Virginia Welles), without the customary delay. After some broad hints from Desham, Griggsy finally realizes who Jody is and, calling her "mother," asks her to dance.

Jody Norris: When you've been widly and deeply in love, Mac, you don't stop loving just because somebody dies. Certainly not if there's a child. It's the same love. 

By the early 1940s, Olivia de Havilland was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Warner Bros. and studio head Jack L. Warner for insisting on casting her in lightweight roles. After an Academy Award-nominated performance in Gone with the Wind (1939), made on loan-out to David O. Selznick, she was suspended twice for refusing a series of inferior scripts offered to her by Warners. Among the projects she rejected was Saturday's Children (1940), a domestic drama, and Flight Angels (1940), a comedy about stewardesses. During the making of Princess O'Rourke (1943) in the summer of 1942, she was suspended once again for reporting late to work and leaving the set without permission. When she completed Devotion (1946), the last film on her Warners contract, in early February 1943, she believed that she was finally free from "Jack the warden," as she referred to her boss. The studio, however, informed her that she still had six months left on her contract to make up for the time she had spent on suspension. 

Through her lawyer, Martin Gang, de Havilland discovered a California law that stated that "no employer shall hold an employee to a contract longer than seven year," which she interpreted as calendar years and not accumulated work time. At the risk of committing career suicide, she decided to file suit against Warner Bros. in August 1943, asking the Supreme Court for "declaratory relief, an interpretation of the law as it applied to an actor's contract." In a landmark judgment in December 1944, the court ruled in favor of de Havilland, as seven calendar years had elapsed since she had started performance under her Warners contract in May 1935. The result, still known today as the "De Havilland Decision," was a law that limited movie studios to a seven-year contract with an actor. Jack Warner reacted to her lawsuit by circulating a letter to every other studio in Hollywood requesting that they join forces with him in his work stoppage against de Havilland. Consequently, she was blacklisted from every studio and remained off-screen for nearly two years. Warners even shelved the release of Devotion, which ended up being a critical and commercial failure.

Olivia de Havilland and Billy Ward
During her hiatus, de Havilland kept busy by starring in episodes of Lux Radio Theatre and contributing to the war effort. Besides attending events at the Hollywood Canteen, she appeared at a bond rally in Madison Square Garden and visited wounded servicemen in army and navy hospitals in the United States, Alaska and the South Pacific. During this period, she suffered a bout of viral pneumonia, which required her to spend several days in a barrack hospital in a Pacific island.

Anxious to return to work, de Havilland signed a three-movie deal with Paramount Pictures in early 1945. She had finally reached the point where she was fully in charge of her career, selecting only those roles that she felt would challenge her and enable her to grow as an actress. When she came across the multi-faceted role of unwed mother Jody Norris in To Each His Own, she knew that she was right actress to play it. "The script by Charles Brackett was one of the most perfect I'd ever read," she later said. "The dialogue was tight and forceful, and the character of Jody Norris romantic and sentimental. I'm that way myself, and I felt I could play the part as I had played no other."

A graduate of Harvard University and veteran of World War I, Brackett had become the first drama critic for The New Yorker while publishing short stories in such popular magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Vanity Fair. He moved to Hollywood in the mid-1930s, forming a writing partnership with Austrian-born filmmaker Billy Wilder at Paramount. By 1946, they had penned ten pictures together, including Bluebeard's Eight Wife (1938) their first collaboration Ninotchka (1939), Ball of Fire (1941) and The Lost Weekend (1945), which earned them an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The role of retiring schoolteacher Emmy Brown in Hold Back the Dawn (1941) had been written by them specifically for de Havilland, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance.

Olivia de Havilland and John Lund
De Havilland had enjoyed working with director Mitchell Leisen so much on Hold Back the Dawn that she asked him to direct To Each His Own, believing that he could prevent the film from becoming a conventional soap opera. Although Leisen had no interest in the project, he unenthusiastically agreed to helm the picture after working with Brackett to improve the script. "The first couple of weeks on the set Mitch was charming, helpful, a real professional about the whole thing, but his heart wasn't in it," de Havilland recalled. "Then suddenly he began to realize he had here one of the best pictures of his whole career, and his whole being lit up, which was a wonderful relief for me, since I had insisted on him, and it would all have been my fault had it not worked out."

Making his film debut in To Each His Own was John Lund, who played the dual roles of Captain Bart Cosgrove and Lieutenant Gregory Pierson. The son of a Norwegian immigrant in New York, Lund was working for an advertising agency when he was hired to play a series a small roles in the theatrical production "Railroad on Parade" at the 1939 World's Fair. That led to an acting career on Broadway, which began in William Shakespeare's As You Like It in 1941. While performing in The Hasty Heart in 1945, he was spotted by a Paramount scout, who signed him to a long-term contract with the studio. Although he never became a major star, Lund appeared in several successful films until his retirement from the screen in 1963. Most notable of these were A Foreigh Affair (1948), directed by Wilder from a screenplay by himself and Brackett; and High Society (1956), Grace Kelly's last film before her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Lund was directed by Leisen in two other pictures: The Mating Season (1951), also written by Brackett; and Darling, How Could You! (1951), which co-starred de Havilland's sister, Joan Fontaine.

Roland Culver and Olivia de Havilland
Filming on To Each His Own took place between late June and mid-September 1945. Leisen insisted that the picture be shot in sequence, a tricky endeavor for de Havilland since she was required to age more than twenty years throughout the course of the story. When she became ill with pneumonia during her tour of the South Pacific, she had lost seventeen pounds, which made it difficult for her to adopt the matronly appearance needed in the opening portion of the film. "We started when she was thin, and with as attractive a make-up as we could get on her, flattering her as much as we could," Leisen later remembered. "As the picture progressed, I fed her up every day and she gained back the seventeen pounds, and she wound up wearing a Frankly Forty foundation garment. They wanted her to have gray hair. I said, 'She's only forty, she doesn't have gray hair!' And we used a more unflaterring lighting."

De Havilland credited Leisen's painstaking attention to detail for her performance in To Each His Own, whether it was making sure that the period costumes, props and furniture were correct, giving her insight on a line reading or gesture, or even setting the tension of a scene. She said that Leisen always kept the entire picture in mind, accordingly modulating her portrayal of Jody Norris to fit the rhythm of the whole. To help her get in character, de Havilland used different colognes for each era of Jody's life, from young girl to middle-aged executive. When she put on the cologne, she was able to evoke the emotions that Jody was experiencing at that particular time in her life. Leisen was so pleased with de Havilland's performance that on the final day of production he and Brackett apparently presented her with a live special Oscar a bald man in a gold body stocking.

Olivia de Havilland and John Lund
The Production Code Administration (PCA), Hollywood self-imposed censorship board, strongly objected to the film's "happy ending" of Griggsy meeting his mother, stating that it was unacceptable under their formula for dealing with stories of illicit sex and illegitimacy. At a meeting with representatives of the PCA to negotiate the conclusion of To Each His Own, Brackett insisted that the recognition scene at the end was absolutely essential to the story. However, he did agree to devise an alternate scene in which the recognition between mother and son would be merely a fleeting one and not a complete reunion, but this idea was never used. Brackett also consented to rewrite some of the sequences just before and after the birth of Griggsy in order to strengthen the "compensating moral values" required by the Code, as wel as avoid "minimizing the importance of Jody's sin." The expression "bastard" and any suggestion or reference to abortion were strictly forbidden under the Code. 

To Each His Own premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York on May 23, 1946. Critical reviews were universally positive, with de Havilland being singled out for praise for her work in the film. The New York Times stated that "Olivia de Havilland [...] may now take her exalted place alongside Helen Hayes, Ruth Chatterton and Bette Davis as a tragic heroine who loved unwisely and suffered terrible consequences with heroic fortitude." For their part, Variety wrote, "Artistry of Olivia de Havilland as the mother is superb. From the eager, young girl whose first romance ends when her hero is killed before marriage, through to the cold, brusque business woman, her performance doesn't miss a bet." To Each His Own was also a solid box-office success, becoming the 23rd highest grossing picture of the year, with $3,600,000 in domestic rentals.

Olivia de Havilland and Ray Milland at the 19th
Academy Awards in March 1947
At the 19th Academy Awards, Charles Brackett received a nomination for Best Story, while Olivia de Havilland was nominated for Best Actress, as Mitchell Leisen and the writer had predicted. Two weeks before the ceremony, Joan Fontaine's press agent Henry Rogers contacted de Havilland and asked her if she would have photos taken with her sister if she won the award. She agreed, but only if Fontaine apologized for her earlier remark about de Havilland's husband Marcus Goodrich. The after the wedding in August 1946, de Havilland's agent had telephoned Fontaine to ask her if she knew anything about her new brother-in-law. She quipped, "All I know about him is that he has had four wives and written one book. Too bad it's not the other way around." Her comment was printed in several publications the following day and de Havilland was understandably offended. She warned Rogers that if her condition was not met, she would turn away from her sister after accepting the award.

On the night of March 13, 1947 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Brackett lost Best Story to Clemence Dane for Vacation from Marriage (1945), but de Havilland did win the Best Actress statuette According to TIME magazine, she looked "as gauzy and misty-eyed as a Walt Disney angel." After accepting her award, she walked to the wings en route to the press room. As she turned toward the corridor leading to the press area, she saw Fontaine who had just presented the Best Actor Oscar to Fredric March for his performance in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) surrounded by over a dozen photographers. "I could not comprehend this insensitivity and I did indeed turn away, saying, 'I do not understand how she can do this when she knows how I feel.' I then walked round the stage curtain and down the steps, into the theatre to take my seat again," de Havilland recalled. The incident was caught by the photographers, who splashed the photo of de Havilland snubbing Fontaine across newspapers everywhere. This was another catalyst for the sisters' reputed feud that ended only with Fontaine's death in 2013.

The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies by Daniel Bubbeo (2002) | "John Lund: He's 'New Look'" by Hedda Hopper (1948) | TCMDb (Articles) | TCMDb (Notes) | The New York Times review | Variety review

1 comment:

  1. Love your write-up!!! I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie :) That live Oscar sounds a little creepy ;)