1709 San Remo Drive
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Mr. Dudley Nichols
Paramount Pictures Corp.
5451 Marathon Street
Robert Taylor (letterhead)
“Santa Claus” kinda came between me and my typewriter during the past coupla weeks, thus making my reply to your kind letter of December 18th a shade tardy. Santa Claus, as you know, is a rather demanding character and, much as I admire the old bastard, I’m glad he’s paid his visit and will leave us the Hell alone for another year!
Just what happened in my relationship with Paramount I’m not certain. I’ve asked Bill Meikeljohn if I’d done something wrong—something which might have incurred their disfavor—but he insists there was nothing. In any case they’ve never called me about the “preview” nor have they inquired as to my availability for future pictures (one of which you are now working on) so I can only assume that I’m on one of their current “lists.”!
HANGMAN wasn’t, I must admit, one of my more pleasant engagements. Mike just doesn’t work like I like to work and I’m sure he sensed the dissatisfaction. I’ve always felt that making pictures should be fun as well as hard work and I’ve never been able to understand why one element should necessarily rule out the other. Naturally I don’t mean to infer that just because a picture is a happy picture it will automatically be a good picture—nor do I believe that unpleasantness on a set is a prerequisite for a successful production.
As you say, Bert’s death was a real blow and left a terribly big vacancy in my plan-making team. I’ve already missed him more than I can say and, at times, I still find myself saying, “Ah, well, what the Hell—Bert will be back soon and then we’ll get things all straightened out again.” He was quite a guy in many, many ways and we’ll all miss him. If he could have known, when he was alive, how terribly he’d be missed were he gone, he might have taken it a little easier and still be here.
My immediate plans, tentative tho they still are, kinda boil down to a coupla pictures overseas—one in Africa—England, and the other in Holland-England. Neither of them are anything to get hysterical about but the money’s OK and, if all other elements work out satisfactorily, I’ll go!
If any good property comes to your attention please, by all means Dudley, let me have it. I’d love to work with you again, more closely, and I’m certain that next time we can have a really pleasant experience.
My wife bought just enuff Xmas cards to cover the German side of the family; I bought nary a one. So this little note will have to suffice in saying I hope you had a fine Xmas and that ’59 will also be a great year for you.
My best to you
Dudley Nichols (April 6, 1895 – January 4, 1960) was an American screenwriter who refused the Academy Award for screenwriting in 1936 because the Screen Writers Guild was on strike at the time. Nichols wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for 72 movies, including such classics as Stagecoach (1939), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Scarlet Street (1945) and others. Dudley Nichols served as president of the Screen Writers Guild. in 1937 and 1938. (Wikipedia)
William Meiklejohn (March 16, 1903 – April 26, 1981), was a famous Hollywood talent agent and scout in the 1920s through the 1940s. He had his own talent agency called the William Meiklejohn Agency that he sold to MCA in May 1939. At the time of the sale, his agency had over 100 actors and writers. He joined MCA as vice-president in charge of setting up their motion picture division. In 1940, he was loaned to Paramount for two weeks and ended up staying for 20 years as head of talent and casting, and it was at Paramount that he developed his reputation for finding talent. (Wikipedia)
Michael Curtiz (December 24, 1886 – April 10, 1962) was a Hungarian-American film director. He directed more than fifty films in Europe and more than one hundred in the United States. He thrived in the heyday of the Warner Bros.studio in the 1930s/40s. He was less successful after the 1940s, when he attempted to move from studio direction into production and freelance work, but continued working until shortly before his death.
[Curtiz] was dismissive of actors who ate lunch, believing that “lunch bums” had no energy for work in the afternoons. The flip side of his dedication was an often callous demeanor: Fay Wray, who worked under him on Mystery of the Wax Museum, said that, “I felt that he was not flesh and bones, that he was part of the steel of the camera”. Curtiz was not popular with most of his colleagues, many of whom thought him arrogant. Bette Davis refused to work with him again after he called her a “goddamned nothing no good sexless son of a bitch”; he had a low opinion of actors in general, saying that acting “is fifty percent a big bag of tricks. The other fifty percent should be talent and ability, although it seldom is”. (Wikipedia)
In 1958 Robert Taylor was at a major transitional point in his career. Mr. Taylor had left the security of his 25 years at MGM for the risks of independence. His first post-MGM film, The Hangman, was a negative experience and he was worried about his future. This might explain, at least in part, his decision to move to television.
TV exposed Robert Taylor to a whole new audience who didn’t remember the thirties and forties. It also reminded his existing fans that he was still working. In addition, Mr. Taylor had a part-ownership of the series “The Detectives” and stood to do well financially if the series succeeded.
This is my review of The Hangman. It’s interesting that none of the stress Mr. Taylor was feeling shows in his performance. He was truly a fine actor.
The Hangman was Robert Taylor’s first independent film after leaving MGM. In later years, he would describe it as one of his failures. Like many Taylor movies, it’s an unusual twist on a familiar subject. Mackenzie Bovard, a Deputy Marshal, is famous for his ability to catch criminals who are later hanged. Bovard is cynical and world weary with a poor opinion of his fellow humans. Pursuing a robbery suspect, he meets the young and lovely Tina Louise. Through his relationship with her, Bovard gradually regains his faith in humanity and becomes a much warmer and more likeable person. This is far from a typical western–no fight scenes, no gorgeous scenery, no evil villains. As another reviewer noted, it’s a drama set in the old West. It’s about responsibility, right and wrong and personal development and growth. Taylor is excellent, as always, in his understated way. Tina Louise is good as a young woman who changes from a drab loser to a confident woman. Mabel Albertson is wonderful as a middle-aged woman who has the hots for Taylor (who can blame her?). Fess Parker, post Davy Crockett is effective as a town Sheriff and his laid back persona makes a good contrast to the driven, more intense Taylor. Jack Lord does well as the wanted man.Perhaps not a classic but definitely worth watching and owning.
Left: Robert Taylor, Tina Louise and Fess Parker; Right: Japanese(?) poster
Thanks Judith for more behind -the-scenes info. I have made a previous comment about this film and how much I enjoyed it, but it was very interesting to know of the other script being played in the background. Reading of Michael Curtiz’s personality it is not hard to imagine that there were frosty moments during the making of the film. It is a credit to Robert Taylor’s professionalism that the film was enjoyable to viewers, although understandably now, not one of his favourite films.
I hope Boston and DC warm up soon !
I do like the film–Mr. Taylor made the character likable despite everything. I thought he and Tina Louise were good together despite the age difference. I’m bidding on the letter but I think it will go for more than I can afford. Say hello to Boston for me. I worked there for 30 years and Massachusetts is my home despite the fact that we now live in Florida. (How many people can work “despite” into one paragraph 3 times!)
I absolutely love the reference to *his* Santa Claus in the first paragraph–he treats the subject too metaphorically, almost poetically, don’t you think? It’s the first time I have the chance to read *first-hand* about the Taylors Xmas tradition that lasted for so many years. A very interesting letter overall, filled with many insights on this wonderful man in his own writing.
Hi, Su. I love your comment. This is the whole reason I’m doing these letters-so that people will, I hope, get to know the wonderful man Robert Taylor was. The next one I’m doing is one of his funniest. He could have been a writer.