“Oklahoma!” directed by Rouben Mamoulian, plays for 2,212 performances on Broadway.
Let’s take a brief detour and look at what else was happening in the early 1940s that would affect the production of “Laura.”
In March 1943, Ring Lardner Jr., the first screenwriter to rework Jay Dratler’s script for “Laura,” won the Academy Award for best original screenplay with “Woman of the Year.”
Written with Michael Kanin, “Woman of the Year” was the first of the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films. Lardner would later become one of the Hollywood 10, but that was several years after “Laura” and we won’t be dealing with that here.
The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35 | Part 36 | Part 37 | Part 38 | Part 39 | Part 40 | Part 41 | Part 42
Rouben Mamoulian, center, directs a scene in “Becky Sharp,” the first feature film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. Note the gigantic camera.
More important, Rouben Mamoulian returned to Hollywood in the summer of 1943, having directed the Broadway sensation “Oklahoma!” which ran for 2,212 performances between March 31, 1943, and May 29, 1948. Mamoulian had previously directed the original Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess” for 124 performances between Oct. 10, 1935, and Jan. 25, 1936.
It’s important to examine Mamoulian’s career in this period in some detail, because he refused to ever discuss “Laura” and the only real source about his involvement with the film was producer Otto Preminger, who as Mamoulian’s replacement may not be the ideal informant.
Preminger says in On Film:
Every director turned it down. Nobody liked the script. I remember one was Lewis Milestone. He wrote a very nice note. It said, “Well, Preminger probably knows what to do with the script. He should direct it; I won’t.”
The man who finally accepted the script was Rouben Mamoulian. He also didn’t like it, as it turned out, but he wanted the money.
Before going to Broadway to do “Oklahoma!” Mamoulian had directed three pictures for Twentieth Century-Fox, the studio making “Laura.”
The first was “Mark of Zorro” (1940), with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Upon completing “Mark of Zorro,” Mamoulian was given a contract that resulted in “Blood and Sand” (1941) with Power, Darnell and Rita Hayworth, and the little-remembered “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942) with “Laura” star Gene Tierney and Laird Cregar, who was originally cast as Waldo Lydecker.
After Mamoulian completed his contract at Twentieth in February 1942, he began several projects for film and stage.
In April 1942, he acquired the rights to “Funny Man, Dapper,” a serial by Crane Morrissey in the London Daily Mail. (Film Daily). He was also at work on a play titled “The Chant of Lourdes” in which he was half-owner (Nov. 19, 1942, Film Daily) and held the screen rights (Film Daily, Nov. 25, 1942). “Lourdes,” by an unidentified writer, was tried out in Buffalo, but apparently never made it to Broadway.
While he was at work on plays, Mamoulian was also discussing movie deals, including “Heart of the City” at Columbia and an untitled production for United Artists (Film Daily, July 24, 1942).
On Sept. 8, 1942, Film Daily reported that United Artists was creating a new producing unit headed by Eugene O’Neil, Casey Robinson, Jerome Kern and Mamoulian. And on Sept. 30, 1942, Film Daily reported that Mamoulian’s first picture at United Artists might be “Ghetto Boy” by Danny Ahearn.
Laird Cregar towers over Gene Tierney in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942), directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Cregar was originally cast as Waldo Lydecker in “Laura,” but he was replaced by Monty Woolley and then by Clifton Webb.
Then on Feb. 6, 1943, the Motion Picture Herald reported that Mamoulian had been signed by the Theatre Guild to direct a musical version of a 1931 production, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” which was retitled “Oklahoma!”
Mamoulian’s first project upon his return to Hollywood after “Oklahoma!” was for Producing Artists, which was to release films through United Artists. (Film Daily, July 19, 1943). The first effort was to be an untitled musical with music by George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter to be produced and directed by Mamoulian.
In August 1943, Mamoulian was selected to direct “Rhapsody in Blue” at Warner Bros. (Film Daily, Aug. 13, 1943), a film that wasn’t released until 1945 and directed by Irving Rapper. Another possible project was a movie musical based on the life of Walt Whitman (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 1943).
Also in late 1943, prior to beginning “Laura,” Mamoulian was in discussions to do a movie version of “Porgy and Bess,” which was finally filmed in 1958. As you may recall, Sam Goldwyn fired Mamoulian from “Porgy,” which was ultimately directed by Otto Preminger, who had replaced Mamoulian as director of “Laura” 14 years earlier.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
To be continued.