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Teresa Wright vs. Samuel Goldwyn: Nasty Falling Out

Teresa Wright The MenTeresa Wright 'The Men' publicity shot.

Teresa Wright-Samuel Goldwyn association comes to a nasty end

(See preceding post: “Teresa Wright in 'The Best Years of Our Lives': Mammoth Blockbuster Was Career Highlight.”) Whether or not because she was aware that Enchantment wasn't going to be the hit she needed – or some other disagreement with Samuel Goldwyn or personal issues with husband Niven Busch – Teresa Wright, claiming illness, refused to go to New York City to promote the film.

Goldwyn had previously announced that Wright, whose contract still had another four and a half years to run, was to star in a film version of J.D. Salinger's 1948 short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” Instead, he unceremoniously – and quite publicly – fired her.

The Goldwyn organization issued a statement, explaining that besides refusing the assignment to travel to New York to help generate pre-opening publicity for Enchantment, Wright had “twice declined to be examined by physicians designated by the studio to determine the state of her health.”

Samuel Goldwyn accusations: Teresa Wright 'uncooperative' and ungrateful

Goldwyn, who, at least according to the New York Times, had once referred to Wright as “one of the most highly sensitive acting instruments it has ever been his responsibility to engage,” released his own personal statement[1]:

I think the time has arrived when the studios must assert their rights more than they have in the past. No one has a greater appreciation of artists and no one wants to treat them more fairly than I have in my career. But I am sick and tired of what is going on in this town – where people have no respect for the money they receive and refuse to perform and cooperate.

Making a picture is no longer sufficient. The picture has to be sold to the public, and particularly at this time, when it seems that everything is being done to unsell the public on Hollywood. [Probably a reference to right-wing paranoia about communist infiltration in the American film industry.]

My reason for canceling the contract with Miss Wright is that she has been uncooperative and has refused to follow reasonable instructions. As far as I am concerned, that is that – and irrespective of what anyone else does, I am through tolerating that sort of conduct. Instead of showing gratitude, Miss Wright has done just the opposite. Hollywood had better get wise to itself. The day is over when stars can get away with this sort of behavior.

Teresa Wright defense: Producers 'treat us like cattle'

Teresa Wright's equally public response read:

A discussion of my difference with Mr. Goldwyn would be of benefit to no one and of interest to few. However, for the record, I would like to say that I never refused to perform the services required of me; I was unable to perform them because of ill health.

I accept Mr. Goldwyn's termination of my contract [reportedly at $5,000 a week] without protest – in fact, with relief. The types of contracts standardized in the motion picture industry between players and producers are archaic in form and absurd in concept. I am determined never to set my name to another one.

We in the acting branch of the profession are to blame for accepting in our eagerness to work agreements under which we waive the natural equities prevailing in every other industry. We say in effect, “We have no privacy which you as producers cannot invade. Treat us like cattle. Speak to us like children. Make us work eleven hours a day. Loan us out for ten or twenty times the sums paid to us at your discretion. Only give us a big pay check at the end of the week.”

If the time has come for anything new in the motion picture business, it has come for actors and actresses to stop being tax collectors, to say “pay me less, only treat me with respect.”

I have worked for Mr. Goldwyn seven years because I consider him a great producer, and he has paid me well, but in the future I shall gladly work for less if by doing so I can retain my hold upon the common decencies without which the most glorified job becomes intolerable, and with which the most humble can be carried off with dignity. I think the time has come for professional people to reject contracts like the one of which Mr. Goldwyn has so kindly relieved me.

Directed by Mark Robson, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” was released as My Foolish Heart in 1949. Susan Hayward replaced Teresa Wright, and earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.[2]

Samuel GoldwynSamuel Goldwyn.

Samuel Goldwyn: 'Great producer,' poor star maker

Teresa Wright's assessment of Samuel Goldwyn (pictured) as a “great producer” could be seen as accurate as long as one reads “great” as a combination of “savvy” and “ambitious,” while focusing on Goldwyn's 20 or so most renowned accomplishments during his four-decade, nearly 140-film career.[3]

But unlike Louis B. Mayer, Darryl F. Zanuck, and David O. Selznick (or filmmaker Marc Allégret in France), by no means could Goldwyn be referred to as a great – or savvy – star maker.

His only real major “discoveries” had been Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky back in the mid-'20s, and stage imports Eddie Cantor in the early '30s and Danny Kaye in the mid-'40s. In fact, after Gary Cooper dropped out early in the decade, Kaye remained Goldwyn's only major star.

As for Teresa Wright, The Best Years of Our Lives and (the would-be) The Bishop's Wife notwithstanding, the independent mogul failed to find her the appropriate vehicles to keep the momentum going after her string of hits in the early '40s. Goldwyn should have taken a few talent management lessons from fellow independent David O. Selznick, whose prestigious stable of stars in the early-to-mid-'40s included Jennifer Jones, Joan Fontaine, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, and Gregory Peck.[4]

David O. Selznick and Dorothy McGuire

In all probability, Teresa Wright would have reached further – perhaps much further – had she signed up with a major studio at the beginning of her Hollywood career. Else, Selznick would have done just fine.

Dorothy McGuire, the Our Town actress whom Wright had understudied (on Broadway) and later replaced (on the road) in the late '30s, and with whose career she would intermittently cross paths in the ensuing decades, was brought to Hollywood by Selznick in the early '40s. Frequently working at Darryl F. Zanuck's 20th Century Fox (which would buy 50 percent of her contract), McGuire was cast in a series of important productions, ranging from Edmund Goulding's light comedy-drama Claudia (1943) to Elia Kazan's socially conscious Best Picture Academy Award winner Gentleman's Agreement (1947), which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.[5]

Teresa Wright The Capture Lew AyresTeresa Wright and Lew Ayres in 'The Capture.'

Uncertain post-Goldwyn career

After her public falling out with Samuel Goldwyn, Teresa Wright had to deal with several unpleasant professional realities.

Besides producers' and studio executives' potential ill will against an “uncooperative” performer, making things truly difficult for Wright was the fact that her box office allure had never been very strong to begin with – the only movie she had (more or less) carried had been Shadow of a Doubt, best known as an Alfred Hitchcock production. Worse yet, her appeal had been weakened following The Trouble with Women, The Imperfect Lady, the modestly budgeted Pursued, and now, Enchantment.

That wasn't all. At the end of the '40s, the American film business was undergoing a major overhaul. An anti-monopoly lawsuit demanded that studios sell off their theaters, and, more alarmingly, millions of avid filmgoers were rapidly being transformed into millions of avid television watchers.

Whether or not by choice, for the second time in her film career, Teresa Wright – an “ingénue” now at the perilous age of 30 – would remain away from the big screen for more than a year. Her comeback was to take place in a couple of mid-1950 releases.

'The Capture' with Lew Ayres

Produced by Niven Busch for his own indie Showtime Properties and co-starring veteran Lew Ayres (All Quiet on the Western Front, Young Dr. Kildare), the RKO-distributed The Capture was a low-budget psychological crime drama directed by former RKO editor John Sturges – five years before hitting the big time with Bad Day at Black Rock and a full decade before The Magnificent Seven.

Written by Busch himself, adapting his own novel, the Mexico-set The Capture is told in flashbacks: an American oil field manager reminisces about his life, including his marriage to the widow (a somewhat uncomfortable-looking Teresa Wright) of the man he had killed, believing him to be a thief.

In The RKO Story, Richard B. Jewell and Vernon Harbin refer to The Capture as a “dull and verbose melo.”

Teresa Wright Marlon Brando The MenTeresa Wright and Marlon Brando in 'The Men.'

'The Men' with Marlon Brando

Albeit another low-budget indie, unlike The Capture, Fred Zinnemann's United Artists-distributed The Men was a prestigious production by relative newcomer Stanley Kramer (later of Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner fame).

Written by future blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman (High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai), this study of the plight of a paraplegic war veteran starred Broadway import Marlon Brando in his first film role. Wright was cast as the devoted fiancée who wants to marry Brando's character despite his condition.

The Men would earn Foreman an Academy Award nomination for Best Story and Screenplay (equivalent to the current Best Original Screenplay category). It would also be the last Teresa Wright movie to be shortlisted in any of the top Oscar categories.[6]

From $200,000 to $25,000

In the mid-to-late '30s, the likes of Myrna Loy and Bette Davis managed to bounce back – and reach further professional heights – after (temporarily) walking out on their contracts. In the mid-'40s, Olivia de Havilland made U.S. labor-law history when she stood her ground against Warner Bros., returning in 1946 to win a Best Actress Oscar (for Mitchell Leisen's Paramount release To Each His Own).

Quite possibly because her movie stardom was on shakier ground, Teresa Wright wouldn't be so lucky. Years later, in an interview with the Toronto Star she would admit: “So I turned down a big-paying role [it's unclear which one] to do The Men for far less money, and all I proved was that I was an actress who would work for $25,000 instead of $200,000.”[7]

“Teresa Wright and Samuel Goldwyn: Nasty Falling Out” follow-up post: “Teresa Wright: From Marlon Brando to Mother Roles and 'The Miracle Worker'.”

Teresa Wright Marlon BrandoTeresa Wright and Marlon Brando in The Men publicity shot.

'Teresa Wright and Samuel Goldwyn' notes

[1] Indirect Samuel Goldwyn quote (Teresa Wright as a “highly sensitive acting instrument”) via the July 1942 New York Times article “The Lady is Wright,” which reads just like a press release.

The full text of both Goldwyn's and Wright's statements can be found in the December 19, 1948, New York Times article “Goldwyn-Wright Affray.” (The unabridged statements had been previously posted at Reel Classics.)

Oscar nominee Susan Hayward

[2] Susan Hayward lost the 1949 Best Actress Oscar to Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress, directed by former Samuel Goldwyn contract talent William Wyler – with whom the producer had a falling out as well.

Dana Andrews was Hayward's co-star.

Teresa Wright The Little Foxes Bette DavisTeresa Wright in 'The Little Foxes' as Bette Davis receives direction from William Wyler.

Samuel Goldwyn movies

[3] Among Samuel Goldwyn's top productions were:

  • The Eternal City (1923).
    Dir.: George Fitzmaurice.
    Cast: Barbara La Marr. Bert Lytell. Lionel Barrymore. Richard Bennett. (Plus, according to online sources, Joan Bennett and Betty Bronson as extras.)
  • Stella Dallas (1925).
    Dir.: Henry King.
    Cast: Belle Bennett. Ronald Colman. Lois Moran. Jean Hersholt. Alice Joyce. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
  • The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926).
    Dir.: Henry King.
    Cast: Ronald Colman. Vilma Banky. Gary Cooper. Charles Lane.
  • Arrowsmith (1931).
    Dir.: John Ford.
    Cast: Ronald Colman. Helen Hayes. Richard Bennett. Alec B. Francis. Myrna Loy.
  • These Three (1936).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Miriam Hopkins. Merle Oberon. Joel McCrea. Catherine Doucet. Bonita Granville. Alma Kruger. Marcia Mae Jones.
  • Dodsworth (1936).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Walter Huston. Ruth Chatterton. Paul Lukas. Mary Astor. Maria Ouspenskaya. John Payne. David Niven.
  • The Hurricane (1937).
    Dir.: John Ford.
    Cast: Dorothy Lamour. Jon Hall. Mary Astor. Raymond Massey. Thomas Mitchell. C. Aubrey Smith. John Carradine.
  • Stella Dallas (1937).
    Dir.: King Vidor.
    Cast: Barbara Stanwyck. John Boles. Anne Shirley. Alan Hale. Barbara O'Neil. Marjorie Main.
  • Dead End (1937).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Sylvia Sidney. Joel McCrea. Claire Trevor. Wendy Barrie. Humphrey Bogart. Allen Jenkins. Marjorie Main.
  • Wuthering Heights (1939).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Merle Oberon. Laurence Olivier. David Niven. Geraldine Fitzgerald. Donald Crisp. Flora Robson.
  • The Westerner (1940).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Gary Cooper. Walter Brennan. Doris Davenport. Forrest Tucker. Paul Hurst. Chill Wills. Fred Stone. Lilian Bond. Dana Andrews.
  • The Little Foxes (1941).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Bette Davis. Herbert Marshall. Teresa Wright. Richard Carlson. Charles Dingle. Carl Benton Reid. Dan Duryea. Patricia Collinge.
  • Ball of Fire (1941).
    Dir.: Howard Hawks.
    Cast: Gary Cooper. Barbara Stanwyck. Dana Andrews. Oskar Homolka. Henry Travers. S.Z. Sakall. Tully Marshall.
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942).
    Dir.: Sam Wood.
    Cast: Gary Cooper. Teresa Wright. Babe Ruth. Walter Brennan. Dan Duryea.
  • Wonder Man (1945).
    Dir.: H. Bruce Humberstone.
    Cast: Danny Kaye. Virginia Mayo. Vera-Ellen. Donald Woods. S.Z. Sakall. Allen Jenkins.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
    Dir.: William Wyler.
    Cast: Myrna Loy. Fredric March. Teresa Wright. Dana Andrews. Virginia Mayo. Hoagy Carmichael. Cathy O'Donnell. Harold Russell. Gladys George. Ray Collins. Roman Bohnen. Minna Gombell.
  • The Bishop's Wife (1947).
    Dir.: Henry Koster.
    Cast: Cary Grant. Loretta Young. David Niven. Gladys Cooper. Monty Woolley. Elsa Lanchester. James Gleason. Sara Haden.
  • Hans Christian Andersen (1951).
    Dir.: Charles Vidor.
    Cast: Danny Kaye. Farley Granger. Zizi Jeanmaire.
  • Guys and Dolls (1955).
    Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
    Cast: Marlon Brando. Jean Simmons. Frank Sinatra. Vivian Blaine.
  • Porgy and Bess (1959).
    Dir.: Otto Preminger.
    Cast: Sidney Poitier. Dorothy Dandridge. Sammy Davis Jr. Pearl Bailey. Brock Peters.

Seven of the above titles were directed by William Wyler and three of them featured Teresa Wright.

Ronald Colman Vilma BankyRonald Colman and Vilma Banky.

Fewer stars than there are in heaven

[4] Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky, Eddie Cantor, and Danny Kaye were the biggest stars Samuel Goldwyn helped to launch in Hollywood.

Colman had been a leading man since the early '20s, but he would reach superstardom only after toplining a series of Goldwyn features – at times paired with Vilma Banky – beginning in mid-decade.

Gary Cooper (whose first break took place in the Goldwyn-produced The Winning of Barbara Worth), Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea were Goldwyn players at one point, but by the time they began their professional association with him in the mid-to-late '30s they were already established stars – the first two via Paramount; McCrea via RKO.

And so were Mabel Normand and Pauline Frederick back in the late 1910s, whereas opera star Geraldine Farrar, though officially a Goldwyn film discovery, never quite became a major movie icon.[8]

Merle Oberon's Hollywood career was greatly helped by her brief association with Goldwyn in the second half of the '30s – e.g., The Dark Angel, Wuthering Heights – but Alexander Korda was the person actually responsible for her stardom.

Among Goldwyn's discoveries of the '40s, only the aforementioned Danny Kaye (The Kid from Brooklyn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) became a major box office draw.

Dana Andrews, Farley Granger, Teresa Wright, and Virginia Mayo (later a Warner Bros. contract actress) never quite reached top stardom. Cathy O'Donnell's and Joan Evan's movie careers fizzled rather rapidly,[9] much like those of Goldwyn finds Anna Sten and Sigrid Curie back in the mid-to-late '30s. (The widely publicized Anna Sten was to have become the next Greta Garbo, the next Marlene Dietrich, etc.)

Although David Niven was launched by Goldwyn, he would – however briefly – become a star only long after the end of his association with the independent mogul.

Dorothy McGuire

[5] After Dorothy McGuire and 20th Century Fox parted ways, she succeeded in getting cast in lead roles – all of which could just as easily have gone to Teresa Wright – in important productions at various studios. Among them were:

  • Back at Fox, Jean Negulesco's ensemble crowd-pleaser and Best Picture Academy Award nominee Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). McGuire's co-stars were Clifton Webb, Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara, Rossano Brazzi, and Louis Jourdan.
  • Mark Robson's Trial (1955) at MGM, opposite top box office draw Glenn Ford.
  • William Wyler's Allied Artists-distributed Best Picture Academy Award nominee Friendly Persuasion (1956), with Gary Cooper and Anthony Perkins. (Teresa Wright had been considered for McGuire's role after initial choices Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, and Jean Arthur proved either unavailable or unworkable.)
  • At Disney, Robert Stevenson's commercial hit Old Yeller (1957), with Fess Parker.

Homecoming

[6] The Men belonged to a group of disparate post-World War II Hollywood movies dealing with the physical and mental problems experienced by returning combatants. Examples include:

  • William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which earned Harold Russell a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (and which, of course, also featured Teresa Wright).
  • Edward Dmytryk's Till the End of Time (1946), based on Niven Busch's novel They Dream of Home.
  • Mark Robson's Bright Victory (1951), which earned Arthur Kennedy a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
  • And even George Marshall's Raymond Chandler-written crime drama The Blue Dahlia (1946), featuring a returning soldier (William Bendix) gone more than a bit mad.

Modest salary for 'Pursued'

[7] In 1969, Teresa Wright told the New York Post, “I was going to be Joan of Arc, and all I proved was that I was an actress who would work for less money.” Quote via The Independent.

Actually, prior to The Men Teresa Wright had already worked for quite a bit less than $200,000 per film. She and co-star Robert Mitchum were each paid approximately $65,000 for Pursued in 1947, according to a The Mail (Adelaide, South Australia) article, which also states that Raoul Walsh's psychological Western cost the equivalent of (a relatively modest) $1.95 million.

Source for the approximate Australian pound-to-U.S. dollar conversion: measuringworth.com and the Wikipedia article on the evolution of the Australian pound, which uses various sources.

Australia would change the name of its currency to dollars only in 1966.

Geraldine Farrar

[8] Initially, this article stated that Geraldine Farrar was already an established movie actress when Samuel Goldwyn, for a brief period, began producing her films in the late 1910s. However, as found in A. Scott Berg's Goldwyn bio, the producer had brought Farrar to Hollywood a few years earlier, when she starred in films for Cecil B. DeMille under the aegis of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company – of which Goldwyn was one of the founders.

Before starring in movies directly produced by Goldwyn in the late 1910s, Farrar had already toplined A productions such as Joan the Woman and The Woman God Forgot for the amalgamated Famous Players-Lasky, by then under the command of Adolph Zukor and which eventually was turned into Paramount Pictures.

Samuel Goldwyn vs. Cathy O'Donnell and the rise and fall of Joan Evans

[9] At about the time Samuel Goldwyn severed ties with Teresa Wright, he also got rid of Cathy O'Donnell, who had been featured along with Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives. O'Donnell, reportedly following the advice of husband Robert Wyler – William Wyler's brother and collaborator – turned down the title role in Goldwyn's Roseanna McCoy.

Modern Screen reported:

With aspirin bottles working overtime, Hollywood studios are hunting no extra headaches from hard-to-please heroes and pouty prima donnas. Sam Goldwyn cut Teresa Wright off his payroll, snip, like that, when she wouldn't help him sell Enchantment with a personal appearance in New York. It's very doubtful if Teresa will get that huge salary again.

And when young Cathy O'Donnell listened to her husband, Bob Wyler, and flounced away from Roseanna McCoy because she'd been told it wasn't important enough – Sam came right back with a cancelled contract and the advice, “Go find yourself something important.”

What Sam found for himself was the terrific 15-year-old Joan Evans…

Despite the presence of leading man Farley Granger and a “name” supporting cast that included Charles Bickford, Raymond Massey, Richard Basehart, Aline MacMahon, Marshall Thompson, and Lloyd Gough (plus child actress Gigi Perreau), the Irving Reis-directed Roseanna McCoy (1949) was not a success.

The daughter of writers Dale Eunson (All Mine to Give) and Katherine Albert (How to Marry a Millionaire), and Joan Crawford's goddaughter, Joan Evans (born on July 18, 1934, in New York City) didn't stay long with Goldwyn.

Throughout the '50s, she would be featured in only a dozen films at various studios, mostly B fare – e.g., the generation-gap drama On the Loose (1951), written by her parents and co-starring Melvyn Douglas; and the Audie Murphy Western Column South (1953).

Joan Evans' film career would be over in 1960 – while she was still in her mid-20s – following the release of Edward L. Cahn's crime drama The Walking Target. Her final television appearance was in a 1961 episode of the television series Laramie.

 

Teresa Wright and Marlon Brando The Men images: United Artists.

Teresa Wright and Lew Ayres The Capture image: RKO.

Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky image: Goldwyn / United Artists.

Image of Teresa Wright, Bette Davis, and William Wyler on the set of The Little Foxes: Goldwyn / RKO.


         
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