Tonight: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan and Gloria Grahame in the five-star classic The Bad and the Beautiful—one of the best movies ever made about making movies in Hollywood.
Ironically enough, though, the film was made by an outsider—John Houseman, a man who earned his initial reputation as a writer and producer for Broadway.
In 1937, Houseman founded Mercury Theater with Orson Welles and subsequently produced and directed a number of radio broadcasts and stage productions, while simultaneously teaching at Vassar. He was associated with the famous Mercury broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds that convinced many Americans that Martians had landed in New Jersey. (A most unlikely destination for a Martian invasion, to be sure!)
Shortly thereafter, Houseman came to Hollywood with Welles to make what would become what many people consider the greatest American film of all time—Citizen Kane.
It’s Houseman who developed the original story for tonight’s film (with Herman Mankiewicz) and supervised its development. But a falling out with Welles during the making of the movie cost him any credit on the picture.
He’s best remembered now for his Oscar-winning performance in the film version of Paper Chase—and subsequent portrayal of the same character in the highly regarded television series.
And the TV commercial in which he announced: “We make money the hard way; we earn it!” Houseman also co-authored the screenplay for Jane Eyre, in which Welles starred.
The Bad and the Beautiful is constructed in a manner similar to Citizen Kane, telling its story in flashbacks.
Similar in theme to Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? the film is actually based on a story titled Of Good and Evil.
Initially developed with the title Tribute to A Badman, Houseman chose Vincent Minnelli to direct. Minnelli had just completed his Oscar-winning An American in Paris with Gene Kelly.
This is Minnelli’s best non-musical.
Houseman wanted Clark Gable for the role of the ruthless producer, and when Gable declined, Kirk Douglas got the part. It would prove to be one of his best performances.
The same can be said for Lana Turner, and much of the rest of the cast, including Gloria Grahame, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Kirk Douglas confessed that when they started The Bad and the Beautiful, several of his friends suggested that he would probably have an affair with Turner before the filming ended. They were both free at the time, and he was looking forward to seeing what might happen.
But Turner started going hot and heavy with Fernando Lamas after making The Merry Widow together. And Lamas showed up every day after work to pick her up, so there was no chance for Douglas to hook up with Lana.
Made by an outsider, this is the insider’s view of Hollywood. And film buffs had a fine time trying to guess the actual identities of the real-life characters portrayed here.
Some suggested that the Douglas role was based on Val Lewton, the extravagant, hard-driving producer of low-budget horror films in the 1940s that became cult classics, because he made Cat People, and Douglas produced a similar film in this picture titled Cat Men.
But the obvious inspiration for the Douglas role was movie mogul David O. Selznick, whose father, Lewis J. Selznick, battled Hollywood giants Adolph Zukor (Paramount) and Louis B. Mayer (MGM) and was driven into bankruptcy.
The parallel between the Douglas role and Selznick are unmistakable, including his start as a B-film producer, the grooming of star Jennifer Jones (who became his wife) and his making of a colossal Civil War picture (Gone with the Wind).
The Walter Pidgeon part is based on the cost-conscious B-production chief at MGM, Harry Rapf, for whom Selznick first worked. Pidgeon’s line, “Give me pictures that end with a kiss and black ink on the books” is straight out of Rapf’s penny-pinching philosophy.
The Dick Powell role is most closely identified with F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose romance with Hollywood was an unhappy one, and whose Southern wife, Zelda, died in an asylum fire, rather than in a plane crash.
Turner’s part was based on Diana Barrymore, the ill-fated daughter of John Barrymore, the Great Profile.
Part of the “insider’s” ploy on this picture included using Turner’s own makeup man, hairdresser and stand-in in their real-life roles.
Critics loved the film and so did the Academy. It received six nominations and won five. The nominations included Douglas for Best Actor, Gloria Grahame for Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Costume Design. Douglas was the only one who lost—to Gary Cooper in High Noon.
And now, what The Movie Guide calls “The quintessential movie on the movies”—The Bad and the Beautiful.