Associated Artists: Leslie Howard, Hugh Walpole and Dudley Murphy (1936)
News and Gossip of the Week:
by the Editor [Herbert Thompson]
HOWARD AND WALPOLE GET TOGETHER
Leslie Howard, Hugh Walpole and Dudley Murphy Found a New Film Company of Their Own
Actor Leslie Howard, author Hugh Walpole and director Dudley Murphy gave a little party last week.
It was a kind of christening celebration in honor of a new film company they have founded.
If everything woks out properly — and there is no reason to believe that it won’t — this company will in time be one of the most important factors in film production in either Britain or America.
That is probably a rash thing for me to say. The infant mortality among film companies is incredibly high.
one month, a new company is formed, its million-pound production schedule is announced, famous stars are signed. The next month, the company is disbanded and forgotten.
But there is something about the Howard – Walpole – Murphy undertaking — Associated Artists is the name — which inspires me with hope and anticipation.
The company is to be run on the original lines as a co-operative effort. Howard, Walpole and Murphy are looking for seven other members who will thus bring the total strength up to ten.
Of these ten, four will be actors and actresses, three directors, and three writers.
They will work together in groups on the various pictures, each one of the ten having a financial interest in each film irrespective of whether he is actively participating or not.
Murphy and Howard have been working on the plan for three years now. Within the next two years their new company will make fifteen pictures, at a cost of £ 675,000.
Two of these will be “supers,” costing around £ 85,000. The others will cost £ 35,000 each.
Howard is due to play in both of the big pictures. One is Riviera, by Franz Molnar and Robert Sherwood. The other is the long-promised Bonnie Prince Charlie, with script by Hugh Walpole.
The most vital asset the Associated Artists has is enthusiasm. Take the case of Hugh Walpole, who has returned to England with a great love of films and a great distaste for Hollywood.
“I’m never going back,” he told me. “I can’t bear the loss of freedom that one is subjected to over there.
“Hollywood producers have no respect for writers’ ideas. They have one-track minds. If a scenario doesn’t fit in with one of the box-office patterns they have created, they pass it over to a staff man who hacks it to pieces and destroys any originality it may have possessed.
“My first job in Hollywood, preparing the scenario of David Copperfield, was a straightforward piece of work that was filmed practically without alteration.
“Other scenarios that I have worked on (notably Kim) have been torn to shreds.
“That sort of treatment gets a writer’s back up. It makes him feel that films are, after all, what many intelligent people consider them– a bastard art.
“There is no reason why that sort of thing should have to happen. The combination of Frank Capra and his scenarist, Robert Riskin, has proved to Hollywood what intelligent co-operation can achieve.
“I have joined Associated Artists because the company has that kind of co-operation as its principal aim.
“I shall write the scenario of Bonnie Prince Charlie— Howard and Murphy will do the rest.
“And I shall be very surprised if our team-work does not produce a much better picture than any I have been connected with in Hollywood.”
Leslie Howard does not like Hollywood and its methods any more than Walpole does. He has to return there to make more pictures for Warners.
“But I shall definitely be making one picture a year for Associated Artists,” he told me. “And when my Hollywood contract expires I shall stay in England for good.
“I’m tired of playing in films in which I am not interested. If I do go to Hollywood again, it will be under exchange terms which will benefit my own company.”
That question of star exchanges is important. When Associated Artists have elected their full complement of ten members, they will be in a position to haggle with Hollywood’s biggest studios for Hollywood’s biggest names.
“At the moment,” said Dudley Murphy, “it is just impossible to hire a real star.
“Every one of them is under contract to one or other of the studios. It is not worth the studio’s while to hire the star out, however big the salary offered.”
“But there are occasions when one studio wants a big star attached to another– and is able to get him on an exchange basis.
“M.G.M., for instance, wanted Leslie Howard from Warner for Romeo and Juliet. Warners wouldn’t sell his services for money– but they would let him out on hire on condition that they got Clark Gable in return.
“We shall be able to do the same thing. If Hollywood wants Hugh Walpole for a picture Hugh will go– but only on condition that we get a top-rank star or director in return.
“Since we are limiting our membership to first-class directors, stars and writers, we shall be almost the only British company in a position to import really worth-while Hollywood talent.”
(Film Weekly, September 12, 1936)
Ancora uno dei mille progetti irrealizzati nella vicenda artistica di Leslie Howard: non ho trovato traccia di questa casa di produzione cinematografica, che a quanto pare non solo non produsse neanche un film, ma non riuscì neanche a decollare, nonostante le più che lodevoli intenzioni, la statura dei promotori e il plauso della stampa specializzata inglese.
Per quanto riguarda la partecipazione di Leslie Howard alla nascente casa di produzione, nonostante il desiderio di dedicarsi alla regia e alla produzione che egli manifestava costantemente nelle interviste, e nonostante la sua ben nota avversione per Hollywood e il suo sistema, occorre tener conto del fatto che questo progetto si situa nel 1936, anno cruciale nella biografia artistica di Leslie. Il 1936 si chiuse con il rovinoso destino di Hamlet, l’ambizioso progetto che aveva assorbito tutte le sue energie, fisicamente e finanziariamente, fino allo stremo. Da quella esperienza uscì moralmente abbattuto – fu la sua ultima apparizione in teatro – ed economicamente quasi rovinato. Il ritorno ad Hollywood si impose come una vera e propria questione di sopravvivenza, e a questa forzata rentrée – e alla inestimabile capacità di auto-ironia che Leslie Howard dimostrò ancora una volta – dobbiamo quei due gioielli che sono It’s Love I’m After e Stand-in.
Dei due “super” film citati, Riviera di Ferenc Molnar non fu mai realizzato. Per quanto riguarda Bonnie Prince Charlie, ennesimo progetto che tenne Leslie occupato per anni senza arrivare a nulla, fu finalmente realizzato solo nel 1948 dalla London Film Productions, diretto da Anthony Kimmins e Alexander Korda, sceneggiato da Clemence Dane e interpretato da David Niven.