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carole lombard 03

A Depressing situation

Posted by vp19 on 2011.01.26 at 01:47
Current mood: depresseddepressed

When looking back at classic Hollywood, it's so easy to get caught up in the glamour that we often forget show business is as much "business" as "show," if not more so. Mesmerized by Carole Lombard's beauty and wardrobe, we overlook the work that went into her craft.

At roughly the same time Carole posed for the top portrait, she was working on her latest film, "Sinners In The Sun." It's the spring of 1932, not the best of times for the industry, and it's likely that Lombard and everyone else on the production knew it.

The crash of October 1929 initially affected only those holding stocks; much of the country went on as it always had, and the movies, buoyed by the novelty of sound, did record business in 1930. However, converting theaters to talking pictures was expensive, and when the bottom fell out of the economy in 1931, unemployment soared and movie attendance declined. Despite a number of artistic triumphs in 1932 -- a pretty good year where film quality was concerned -- things didn't get better.

In early May, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences convened some 400 of its members to discuss conditions, and what the industry should do about it. The fine blog "Hollywood Heyday," which has been examining 1932 for some time now through newspaper and magazine articles, described what the meeting was like (http://hollywoodheyday.blogspot.com/2011/01/may-4-1932.html).

Said Sidney R. Kent, new president of Fox Film Corporation:

“The industry is in a very serious condition. The next few months in my opinion will be the most critical months the industry has ever faced. Grosses are going down and we haven’t yet been able to cut expenses enough. We have got to strike a balance, on the work of executives as well as of stars and directors. The industry must get down to brass tacks.”

Some outsiders probably expressed skepticism -- after all, one of the reasons the Academy was initially founded was to give management unity in case its hired hands, whether technicians, actors, directors or writers, tried to form those dreaded unions -- but even the doubters could see where Kent was coming from. He continued:

“In my opinion, a three- to five-year struggle lies ahead of the industry. I too would like to see a complete recovery by August 1, but I am not sure that would be best, for it is important that the industry come back right rather than it come back in three months with a half-cure.”

Kent blamed over-expansion in prosperous years for the business’ present difficulties, as well as problems arising from the introduction of sound into films such as limitation of the market.

M.A. Lightman of Memphis, head of the Motion Picture Theater Owners of America, said the industry had too many theaters, too many seats, and that some houses needed to close.

Warners mogul Jack Warner, shown with Al Jolson during headier times a few years before, "told of his own company’s being overburdened with theaters, and declares the acceptance of salary cuts essential to the survival of the industry," according to an Associated Press account of the meeting.

But were studios listening? Maybe, maybe not. At about the same time the convocation took place, Paramount announced its forthcoming schedule of releases for 1932-33.

Some 45 features were on the docket, including several originally promoted with Carole in the cast: "Pick-Up"...

...and "The Glass Key"...

Other announced features she would be associated with or rumored to be doing, but never made, included "The Girl Without A Room," "Hot Saturday" and "The Big Broadcast." And that doesn't include a partially-shot segment, which was never completed, of the multi-director movie "If I Had A Million." (One film listed she did was "No Bed Of Her Own," later retitled "No Man Of Her Own" -- and she got the part only because Miriam Hopkins dropped out over not being top-billed.)

Universal, which unlike Paramount owned no theaters, announced its schedule at about the same time, and had only 26 films planned. To some extent, Paramount's size and large roster of players worked against it, but so did its status as a director-oriented studio where top-down management was relatively weak. It's no wonder the studio was soon forced to reorganize.

Yes, times were bad, in Hollywood and elsewhere. In fact, one actress who had quit Paramount -- and the industry -- not long before went to New York to seek secretarial work, but found no takers although she had office experience. So she decided to return west, a fortuitous move on her part. The actress? Jean Arthur.

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