One important aspect about the script for “Laura,” beyond the filming of the movie, is the complicated agreement that Twentieth Century-Fox had with David O. Selznick in sharing the contract of Jennifer Jones, who was originally cast in the lead of “Laura.”
Recall that Jones had just made “The Song of Bernadette” at Fox, which opened in Los Angeles on Christmas Day 1943, and for which she would win an Academy Award in March 1944.
Also recall that her marriage to Robert Walker was in trouble and that she would eventually marry Selznick – who was Louis B. Mayer’s son-in-law, having married his daughter Irene in 1930. (In case you’re wondering, Jones separated from Walker on Nov. 7, 1943, during preparations for “Laura,” and they divorced in June 1945. In August 1945, the Selznicks separated and Irene Selznick divorced David Selznick in 1948. David Selznick and Jones married in 1949.)
Finally, recall that Fox head of production Darryl F. Zanuck said in lambasting Jay Dratler’s draft of “Laura”: “Laura is a mess. She is neither interesting nor attractive and I doubt if any first-rate actress would ever play her.”
In other words, the script for “Laura” not only had to pass muster from Zanuck, it had to be approved by Selznick, otherwise Fox wouldn’t get Jones, the future Mrs. Selznick.
Further complicating matters in the five months that Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth “Betty” Reinhardt were working on the script is that director Rouben Mamoulian was also revising it – a least according to Otto Preminger, the producer on “Laura,” who replaced Mamoulian as director.
Preminger says in On Film (Page 50):
When [Mamoulian] found out that I was not particularly in Zanuck’s good graces, he started to ignore me. He began to design the sets with the art department without asking me. He started to rewrite the script, which I stopped. I said: “You accepted the script; you’ve got to do it.” I had no hopes of directing it, however. I was just resigned to the fact that I would sit out my contract and at least produce this film, which I liked.
To be continued.