Jan. 9, 1945: The New York Times reports that Paramount signed Raymond Chandler to write a script. Contrast this with John Houseman’s account of making the film in “Lost Fortnight,” originally published in Harper’s magazine, August 1965, and reprinted with the published screenplay in 1976.
(Raymond Chandler wrote “The Big Fleet?” Oh dear, oh dear.)
It was early in 1945, not long after Buddy da Silva’s (B.G De Sylva) stormy resignation, that the front office of the Paramount studio came to the horrifying realization that Alan Ladd, Paramount’s top star and principal asset (at that time the highest-rated male performer in the U.S.) would be re-entering the Army in three months’ time, leaving behind him not one single foot for the company to release in his absence.
There are many problems with this paragraph. Let’s address a few of them:
Recall that Paramount finished the Alan Ladd film “Two Years Before the Mast” in 1944 but held the movie for about two years, until 1946.
There was also no “stormy resignation.” In June 1944, B.G. “Buddy” De Sylva made a deal with Paramount, taking effect in September 1944, to become an independent producer days after it made a similar agreement with Hal B. Wallis. Wallis, the longtime executive producer at Warner Bros., had left an increasingly strained, bitter relationship with that studio in which the final insult was Jack Warner racing to the stage of Grauman’s Chinese Theater ahead of Wallis to accept the Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca, an affront that had Wallis fuming decades later. Rather than a “stormy resignation, De Sylva suffered a devastating stroke and heart attack in June 1945 and never returned to the studio.
Finally, contrary to the entire premise of the story — that Ladd was “Paramount’s top star and principal asset (at that time the highest-rated male performer in the U.S.)” — he was far from being a major box office draw.
According to the Motion Picture Herald’s list of top money-makers for 1944, Bing Crosby, the star of Paramount’s “Going My Way,” was first. Next was Gary Cooper, who made “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on loan to Paramount as part of a complicated deal involving third-ranked Bob Hope, who was loaned to Sam Goldwyn to make “They Got Me Covered” and “The Princess and the Pirate.” They were followed by Betty Grable (20th Century-Fox), Spencer Tracy (MGM), Greer Garson (MGM), Humphrey Bogart (Warner Bros.), Abbott and Costello (Universal), Cary Grant (independent) and Bette Davis (Warner Bros.).
The Herald’s December 1945 poll was again led by Bing Crosby; Ladd ranked 15th.
To be continued.