The Story (continued)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Third Flashback: Screenwriter James Lee Bartlow
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Southern novelist and professor, turned screenwriter Bartlow reveals how Jonathan gained control over his work by engineering a secret affair between Bartlow's flirtatious Southern belle wife Rosemary and the studio's Latin lover - a fatal affair.
During the telling of the other two stories, a pipe-smoking James Lee Bartlow has been making a paper cut-out from a piece of Shields Productions stationary. He opens his handiwork to reveal two groomed poodles facing each other inside a border. Pebbel begins to recount the tale of the third flashback narrator, from the dedication on the back jacket of Bartlow's second book A Woman of Taste:
To James Lee Bartlow, whose first book placed him in the forefront of the younger American generation of writers, life has been full of surprises. Grandson of a Virginia planter and a Boston Belle, graduate of Harvard and the Sorbonne, ethnologist and historian...study of customs and habits of the...1949, founding Professor of Medieval History at one of our southern leading universities.
Bartlow lives in a Virginia college town, where he admires his just-published, best-selling first novel The Proud Land ("liberally peppered with sex") in a window display:
(voice-over) Summer is the quietest time of the year in a college town, and the loveliest. I was outlining what I hoped would be my second novel. My first, on which I'd labored seven years, was just out. Surprisingly for a scholarly work about early Virginia, my book was enjoying a brisk, nationwide sale, possibly because it was liberally peppered with sex, because, after all, early Virginia was liberally peppered with sex. Had that have been why Hollywood had bought it? Why did I stay away from home that afternoon? Because Rosemary, my wife, was entertaining this Symposium, a group of faculty wives who met bi-monthly to enjoy a little culture and a lot of gossip. Rosemary had the floor. She was reading an anthropological paper on the island of Saint Daniels which we visited the summer before...Her paper seemed to be getting a good reception, possibly because it was liberally peppered with sex, because, after all, the island of Saint Daniels was liberally peppered with sex.
Bartlow's sexy, Southern belle wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame), criticizes her professorial husband's successful but old-fashioned ways - his "dreary old rocker" and his "dilapidated old portable" typewriter. One of the symposium guests, an elderly Mrs. Rosser (Madge Blake), asks for her copy of his book to be autographed, knowing that Hollywood has just bought the screen rights:
Mrs. Rosser: I suppose we'll be losing you to Hollywood now, Professor Bartlow.
Rosemary: James Lee Bartlow's in Hollywood - isn't that a ridiculous idea? Besides which, what could Hollywood possibly offer us?
Bartlow: Besides which, Hollywood hasn't asked us.
Afterwards, Rosemary compliments her husband on his dirty mind:
You have a very naughty mind, I'm happy to say.
While starting to work on his second book during the summer, Bartlow receives a phone call from Hollywood, from producer Shields (who has "bought the book"), and the writer is offered an "all-expenses-paid" trip to the West Coast. But Bartlow is "rubbed the wrong way" and refuses the offer. His wily, gushing wife acquieses - even though she restlessly longs to be a star in real-life Hollywood adventures of her own:
Rosemary: But if we do spend the whole hot summer here, it doesn't matter because someday I just know we'll get to travel and see all those wonderful places. So don't you ever feel one bit sorry you didn't say yes, James Lee.
Bartlow: Does a trip to Hollywood mean that much to you, Rosemary?
As she exclaims, "Me!?", the scene dissolves to California palm trees above The Beverly Hills Hotel - where they have accepted lodgings in a bungalow for an "all-expenses-paid" two-week trip from the "Great Man" Shields. Bartlow rationalizes that he was powerless to refuse: "It wasn't as though Mr. Shields wanted me to write a screenplay for him. All he wanted was to talk, to get my ideas on his ideas." Their accommodations are within view of where actress Georgia Lorrison is sun-bathing, and the curious, overwhelmed Rosemary is entranced by the glossy aura of Hollywood:
(voice-over) That night, Rosemary wrote thirty-two postcards. The next morning, I mailed them and we went to the studio.
Bartlow is urged by Shields to develop a screenplay from his best-selling novel, but he again is cooly resolute about returning home after two weeks and not becoming a Hollywood screenwriter:
Shields: You know, you write in motion-picture terms. You like movies?
Bartlow: The good ones.
Shields: How would you like to stay on and write the script?
Rosemary assures Shields that she won't be an impediment to her husband's work: "And don't you worry, Mr. Shields, I won't be a nuisance. When James Lee is busy with you, well, I'll be busy with my own work...Well, it's nothing really, but I did promise the Symposium I'd do a paper for them on Hollywood. Of course, I realize that in two weeks, I can't do more than just barely scratch the surface." Shields calmly urges Bartlow to "take time to get the feel of things. Then, we'll get together, huh?" Rosemary is appreciative of their day's studio tour: "It was wonderful fun. I like being a successful author's wife. It took me a long time to learn the secret. His work comes first." Self-assured Shields realizes that Bartlow's work may be frustrated by interference from his flighty wife, but he can be convinced to adapt his book for them and turn it into a film script:
Shields: No wonder it took him seven years to write a book.
Syd: Do you have to have him to write your script?
Shields: Hmm, hmm.
Syd: Do you think you can keep him in Hollywood?
Shields: Hmm, hmm.
The detached Bartlow is maneuvered by the machinations of Shields to remain in Hollywood, in voice-over: "He kept me, all right. Two weeks later, I'd found I'd signed with Shields Productions to write a treatment to The Proud Land." As Bartlow and Shields stroll down the studio hallway, Bartlow notices many photographs (reflecting the paternal influence of Shields' father) lining the corridor, and speculates that Shields must have a father-figure complex:
Bartlow: Who is that? You have his picture all over the studio.
Shields: That's my father.
Bartlow: Angry little man, wasn't he?
Because Bartlow is "used to an old portable and a soft rocker," his prized office milieu is transported from the South to a Hollywood office, under Shields' confident orders: "I had them flown out. I thought it'd make you happy." Sardonic, Bartlow knows he is being manipulated by the tycoon:
Bartlow: I know the legend, Jonathan Shields, the man will do anything to get what he wants...Shields Pictures Incorporated. Well, I'm flattered you want me, and bitter you got me. Where do I start?
Shields: Just read these scripts, see how it's done, rough out a story line, and then we'll get to work. And don't worry, some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other's guts.
Bartlow: Then we should make a great movie.
Shields: I usually do.
Bartlow: What about your last two?
Shields: I like 'em.
Bartlow repeats numerous times: "I started to work," but he is often interrupted by distractions from his charming yet frivolous wife (i.e., showing off shopping trip purchases, frequent phone calls). As time passes and he fails to find peace and time to write at his typewriter, Bartlow becomes jealous of Rosemary's flirtatious interest in Latin lover Victor "Gaucho" Ribera during a night out on the town. Playing the innocent, Rosemary also accuses her husband of being "boorish" and contemptuous of the producer who is supporting them, but they make up:
Rosemary: You take a good look at yourself in that mirror. You've changed since you come to Hollywood, and I don't mind telling ya, it's no change for the better. Have I changed too? I guess I am getting a little too big for my britches.
Bartlow: They're pretty britches.
Rosemary: James Lee, you have a very naughty mind, I'm happy to say.
Shields schemes to take James Lee away from Hollywood to remote Lake Arrowhead in order to get the treatment written, without any further delay. He also arranges for "Gaucho" to lure Rosemary away and keep her "occupied" - he asks the actor to "squire a genuine Virginia dame...Mrs. James Lee Bartlow. Yeah, Mr. is going up to the lake with me. Keep her - Keep her occupied, will you, Gaucho, so she doesn't get in our hair."
When Bartlow is faithfully working ("all day from seven till noon, from two to five") with Shields shielding him from his wife, there are "no interruptions." Shields, nicknamed "the Professor," mentors Bartlow and advises him to cut down his wordy, dialogue-laden script, leaving only a few lines for the actress and letting the audience imagine the rest in a close-up:
...she's too emotional to be able to speak, and what she's feeling, we'll leave for the audience to imagine. Believe me, Jim, they'll imagine it better than any words you or I could ever write.
Eventually, there's "not a weak scene in the whole treatment" mostly due to the fact that Rosemary didn't interrupt once during their entire sojourn, but Bartlow admits he did miss her:
I missed her interruptions. Even when she's a bother, she does it in a gay, naive, Southern belle kind of a way that tickles me.
Bartlow had once tried to incorporate his wife's character into his writing, but it "just wouldn't write." Shields assesses the real truth that he may not have had a proper understanding of her character: "Maybe you just don't know her well enough."
While refueling their car at a gasoline station on their return to Los Angeles, Bartlow spots the front page headlines of the Los Angeles Daily Record:
GAUCHO IN PLANE CRASH
Film Star and Writer's Wife Feared Dead;
Wreck Sighted on Mountain Peak
Victor (Gaucho) Ribero, one of the most famous Latin stars in motion pictures is believed to have been killed when his private plane crashed into the side of a mountain while flying through a dense fog. With him was Mrs. James Lee Bartlow, wife of the noted author, also believed killed...
He is shocked to learn of their off-screen tragic mountain plane crash en route to Mexico, killing them both. At the scene of the accident, within earshot of Bartlow, Syd tries to divert tabloid reporters' questions that hint at infidelity: "Was she gonna marry Gaucho?" "Were they going to Mexico to get a divorce?" "How long was she in love with him?"
For the next few months, Bartlow's brooding about his wife's death is softened by Jonathan's support and his own obsessive work schedule: "He put me to work and kept me working. And when the shooting script of The Proud Land was finished, he asked me to stay with him for production meetings and castings." Although Georgia Lorrison is considered an "unmentionable" choice for the part of the sexy actress in Shields' production of The Proud Land (because she has completed three box-office smashes with director Fred Amiel in a competing studio), Bartlow is free to show her the script.
When he meets with Georgia and shares his writing, she refuses the part and then remarks:
You're the first person I ever knew who began by hating him and ended up liking him. Do you always do everything backwards?
Because Shields was her 'first love,' however, she can never cast Jonathan entirely out of her thoughts: "You may grow out of it, but you don't get over it." Fred has his own memories about Jonathan's drivenness and longevity:
Jonathan is more than a man. He's an experience, and he's habit-forming. If they could ever bottle him, he'd out-sell Ginger Ale.
On the fourth day of the shooting of the costly Civil War epic The Proud Land (a variation of Gone With the Wind), Shields has an argument with director Von Ellstein about the scene-in-progress. During the disagreement, he brashly insults the great director by calling his technique "a shallow and inept interpretation of a great scene":
Shields: You call that directing?
Von Ellstein: That is what I've been calling it for thirty-two years.
Shields: Why, there are values and dimensions in that scene you haven't begun to hit.
Von Ellstein: Dare say not the values and dimensions I wish to hit. I could make this scene a climax. I could make every scene in this picture a climax. If I did, I would be a bad director. And I like to think of myself as one of the best. A picture will all climaxes is like a necklace without a string. It falls apart. You must build to the big moment and sometimes, you must build slowly.
Von Ellstein refuses to bend to Jonathan's hubris, and his autocratic, iron will: "You see this picture one way, and I another. It will be done your way, but not by me, and not by any other director who respects himself. You know what you must do, Mr. Shields, so that you'll have it exactly as you want it? You must direct this picture yourself. To direct a picture, a man needs humility. Do you have humility, Mr. Shields?" [Von Ellstein's wisdom proves true when the picture isn't even released.] Jonathan fires Von Ellstein and takes over the directorship of Bartlow's script. According to Bartlow, in voice-over:
Jonathan, the director, was a new Jonathan. He was patience personified. He was tolerant, even-tempered, considerate, and indulgent to his crew, his cast, and his writer. Six months and four days after he started shooting, we saw the picture put together for the first time.
In the projection room, Jonathan praises everyone else for their efforts on his debut directorial film after it is screened, but is harshly critical of his own work:
A beautiful production, beautifully written, Jim, beautifully produced. Harry, tell Chapman his photography is perfect...You can congratulate Walter on his sets, Lucien on her costumes, and Boris on his score...And tell the director he should have his head examined. He shouldn't have shot the picture. He should have shot himself...I butchered it. Von Ellstein should have been here today. He would have enjoyed this. I have no tension, no timing, no pace, nothing. I took a beautiful, sensitive story and turned it into a turgid, boring movie. For anyone else's direction, I'd never release the picture. I'd shelve it...I haven't made pictures that lost money, but they had something. This is nothing...Harry, shelve the picture!
Harry Pebbel forecasts "the end of Shields Productions. Goodbye to seventeen years' work. Goodbye to every dime you've got." The studio, with this third box-office disaster, is on the verge of bankruptcy, but still Jonathan refuses to release the expensively-made picture. Press agent Syd is told to write the following headline for the press:
Jonathan Shields lays an egg.
Afterwards to lift his spirits, Bartlow invites Jonathan to join him at a cabin at Lake Tahoe where he plans to finish his new book: "I work better when you're around." Offhandedly and accidentally while he's packing, Shields glibly divulges that he begged Gaucho not to take his plane trip, tipping Bartlow off to the diversionary scheme (that he orchestrated) that made his wife Gaucho's last conquest. In a final insult, cold-blooded Shields tells the grieving Bartlow that he is better off without his dilettante wife:
Jim, I didn't kill Rosemary. Gaucho didn't kill her. She killed herself. (Bartlow punches Shields in the jaw.) Whether you like it or not, you're better off. She was a fool. She got in your way. She interfered with your work. She wasted your time. She wasted you. You're better off without her.
In a third return to the present time, Pebbel explains again how Bartlow's second novel A Woman of Taste, a novel based upon the character of his deceased Southern Belle wife, brought him the accolades of a Pulitzer Prize:
(reading from the novel's jacket front: "A sensitive, unforgettable portrait of a present-day Southern Belle. Gay and foolish, naive, shrewd and heart-breaking all at once.") Yes, Jim, Jonathan sure destroyed you. You came out of it with nothing - nothing but a Pulitzer Prize novel, and the highest salary of any writer in Hollywood.
After viewing all three stories, Pebbel has shown how all of them have reasons to both hate and thank Shields. Despite the harm done previously, they are all at the peak of their lucrative careers - so he encourages the trio to support and work for Shields once more:
Look, folks, you've got to give the Devil his due. We all owe him something and you know it. And you've had plenty of years to think it over.
Pebbel owes his steadfast gratitude to gifted producer Shields for "all the times he told me to shut my penny-pinching mouth...without him, I probably would still be putting costumes on Cat Men. You know, when they list the ten best pictures ever made, there are always two or three of his on the list. And I was with him when he made them."
In this final memorable scene, Pebbel has finally connected on the telephone with Shields in Paris. [Shields is never seen in the scenes at Pebbel's office, only remembered in their memorable flashbacks and never heard as a voice on the telephone.]
During the trans-atlantic call, they turn down his new offer to "help him get started again." Georgia shakes her head and they all follow her as she leaves the room, refusing to "do this picture with him." Pebbel, however, falls victim to Shields' persuasive and magical powers to resurrect his career during their telephone conversation:
They're gone. Yeah, I'm sure it's a great idea, but, Jonathan - Jonathan, this is costing $4.80 a minute. Don't tell me your idea. Write me. Jonathan, please. Yeah, yeah. Uh huh. Yes. Yeah....Ah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, go on. Sure, I'm listening. She does what?
As they leave and listen to the one-sided conversation (Pebbel's responses), Georgia picks up the extension phone in the darkened vestibule of the outer office, and all three are magnetically drawn to the receiver like an audience. Fred crowds next to her on her right side, James Lee Bartlow on her left side. All victims of a love/hate relationship, they gather around and secretly eavesdrop on the conversation, still drawn in, lured, tempted and fascinated by their charismatic, irresistible ex-boss.
The film ends on an ambiguous note with the camera moving in close on the highlighted Georgia - imagining what she's feeling - curiosity, longing, excitement. Does Shields score a triumph - off-screen, after the final fadeout?
'Curtain-call' excerpts from each of the major players are followed by additional grateful thanks given "to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for permission to use the Academy Award statuette."
Also Worth Your Attention...
AMC Filmcritic's Review of The Bad and the Beautiful