by KEVIN HULSEY May 30, 2019
This project was born of a passing curiosity to find out more about a grandfather that I knew little about—Don Hartman passed away when I was only three years old. What was intended to be a couple of short paragraphs on someone who had a fairly significant impact on Hollywood became a fascinating tale of political intrigue. Of course, there was a requisite who’s who of celebrities and movie moguls from Hollywood's so-called "Golden Age," plus a mixture of slapstick comedy, Greek tragedy, and a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures. What I didn’t expect was the intersection with the incongruous world of CIA operatives, FBI dossiers, Congressional show trials, communist front groups, and Salem-style witch hunts - cloak-and-dagger stuff out of some Hollywood B-movie. The more I dug into his past, the more interesting Don's story became.
Over his 27 year career in Hollywood, Don Hartman would write, produce and/or direct over 124 motion pictures. And at the heart of Don's story is a classic Horatio Alger tale about a group of impoverished Jewish friends who, without social advantage or privilege, were able to live the quintessential "rags-to-riches" American dream.
Cast of Characters: By necessity, Don's story must be told through the words and writings of his many colleagues and friends. Don did not live long enough to have written his own memoir or to have others write a contemporaneous biography—many details of his life are lost to time. Throughout Don's adult life there were dozens of prominent individuals who would play a key role in his "life story" as their career paths intersected with his and lasting friendships were formed. At the top of any such list is one of Don's closest friends until the last days of his life—Dore Schary—who, in 1950, would rise to become the president of MGM Studios in Hollywood. Schary's career path was eerily similar to Don's who would become one of the heads of Paramount Pictures during the same period.
Secondarily, there is a core group of people who's biographies and autobiographies were used as reference material for Don's life story. Those names include: Barney Balaban (studio head), Irving Berlin (composer), Humphrey Bogart (actor), Frank Butler (screenwriter), Bing Crosby (actor), Cecil B. DeMille (director), Y. Frank Freeman (studio head), Cary Grant (actor), Moss Hart (playwright), Audrey Hepburn (actress), Bob Hope (actor), Danny Kaye (actor), Grace Kelly (actress), Groucho Marx (actor), Cole Porter (composer), Gloria Stuart (actress), Billy Wilder (director), William Wyler (director), and Adolph Zukor (Paramount's founder).
Most of these remarkable individuals rose from very humble backgrounds to achieve significant fame and fortune during their lives; throughout their various ups and downs, most remained close friends with Don until his death in 1958. Their story is also Don's story.
Once my research had concluded and the final scorecard had been tallied, I can unequivocally state that Don Hartman was not "the best" at what he did. He had never won a pulitzer or an Oscar, although he did receive two Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay. His films do not appear on any top 100 movies list. When it came to songwriting, he was no Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. When it came to screenwriting, he was no Moss Hart or Eugene O'Neill. When it came to directing, he was not an auteur like Billy Wilder or Cecil B. DeMille. When it came to running a studio, he was no Irving Thalberg or Adolph Zukor. No, Don was decidedly not "the best" at what he did, but he genuinely loved what he did, and his enthusiasm was infectious to all in his orbit.
The Brooklyn Years and Beyond (1900-1925)
Samuel Donald (Don) Hartman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 18, 1900. Don was the youngest of ten children whose parents—Marx Hartman and Ida Strauss—were humble Jewish immigrants from Hungary that came through Ellis Island in the late 1800s. Don was raised in the working-class borough of Windsor Terrace, in central Brooklyn. Don's first "stage role" was as a young boy soprano at his father's "Summer Garden Theater" (aka Park Circle Theater) which was located adjacent to the Park Circle Hotel, where his father was proprietor. The Hartman family lived above the hotel at 203 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. The hotel advertised free concerts each evening where Don would occasionally entertain the hotel's guests during meals.1, 2, 3
Park Circle Hotel and Summer Garden theater, 203 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY
His early years in the job market were marked by a progression of odd jobs that included bell-hopping in a Chicago country club and working as a night clerk at a New York bank. Deciding to expand his horizons and satisfy his restless nature, Don headed south, taking a job as a truck driver in the oil fields of West Texas. In the mid-1920s, he decided to try his luck at speculating (wildcatting) during the Texas oil boom and for a brief period he worked as a branch manager for the Ohio Oil Company in Fort Worth Texas. Timing is everything, and Don's was poor, as the oil boom's "easy money" had already been made in the previous year when Ohio Oil struck it rich at their Yates oil field in the Permian Basin.4 After a brief period of reflection he made the wise decision to try something that he was more suited for—namely, theater.
Dallas Little Theatre, c.1927 (left), Playbills from the Dallas Little Theatre, 1927 and 1924 (right)
Don was a dreamer at heart, so dreaming up stories to entertaining people would prove to be a more natural fit than the world of fossil-fuels and finance. In late 1926, Don joined an amateur community theater group called the Dallas Little Theatre, working as an actor, playwright and stage manager.5 During the mid-1920s the Dallas-Fort Worth region had a history of anti-Semitic hostility emanating from the Ku Klux Klan; culminating in the kidnaping and beating of a young Jewish businessman named Morris Strauss. The incident drew National attention when it was discovered that one of the men implicated in the beating was a former Fort Worth police detective.6, 7 While living in Fort Worth Don Hartman had his own unfortunate run-in with a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, resulting in a cross being burned on his front porch. After a couple of years of living and working in Texas he decided it was high time to head back to his old stomping grounds in New York City and try his luck in professional theater on Broadway.
Trial for beating of Jewish businessman, Oct. 1927 (left), Oil fields near Dallas Fort Worth, 1927 (right)
As a young man, Don was a serious fan of musical theater and comedic Broadway performers. In particular, he had a keen interest in the Marx Brothers who were performing in the George S. Kaufman musicals, I'll Say She Is (1924) and The Cocoanuts (1925-1927) at the Lyric Theater. Cocoanuts featured the music and lyrics of a young composer named Irving Berlin who had become famous after his 1911 hit song "Alexander's Ragtime Band." By the time Don was in his late twenties he had made the decision to embark on a full-time career as a Broadway performer.
One of Broadway's rooftop theaters, c. 1920s (left), Skidding at the Bijou theater in New York City, c. 1928 (right)
Starting out at the bottom, Don worked as a journeyman actor, performing in Shakespeare, musical plays, and comedy skits with amateur theater groups in New York City. By the late-1920s, Don was writing lyrics and librettos (dialogue and stage directions) for Broadway shows and special material for radio and nightclubs. In 1928, Don Hartman landed his first acting job on Broadway, playing the part of Judge Andy Hardy in the comedy play Skidding at the Nora Bayes theater (44th Street Roof garden theater) and Bijou theater in New York City.8 Rooftop theaters were built on top of existing theaters, in a time before air-conditioning and building codes.9
In the late 1920s, Don met his wife of 28 years, Helen Veronica Weinberg. Helen, who went by the nickname "Chick," was born in New York City in 1907; Chick's father was a Jewish doctor named Joseph Weinberg and her mother was an Irish-Catholic nurse named Nellie Kelly.
The "Valhalla of Vaudeville," Broadway's Palace Theater, c. 1928 (left), Theater ticket to the 1928 play, Skidding with Don Hartman as Judge Andy Hardy (center), Helen Kane at the Palace Theater, 1929 (right)
After the success of Skidding, Don was able to sign with a well known New York talent agent named Harry Bestry. In the fall of 1929, Don was hired to write lyrics for several songs in the films Heads Up (1930), and Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930). Both films starred a character actress named Helen Kane (aka "The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl" or "The Personality Girl") who's child-like voice and uniquely-odd appearance became the inspiration for the cartoon character Betty Boop. Hartman's songs ("Readin' ritin' rhythm," "If I knew you better," and "I owe you") were sung by Helen Kane in her signature squeaky voice.10, 11 Kane was famously know for singing her 1928 song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" which was reintroduced to the public by Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder's 1959 film, Some Like It Hot.
Once the Helen Kane films wrapped up, another dry spell swept over Don. The Great Depression was now in full swing, busily crushing the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans. Anyone who found themselves unemployed, and possessing a modicum of talent, was now seeking a job in one of the few industries that continued to flourish—theater. Given the tight labor market in New York City, seeking gainful employment would require looking beyond the hallowed halls of Broadway's theater district, to an obscure area which was on the verge of becoming ground-zero for up-and-coming Jewish performers, New York's Catskill Mountains.
Summer in the Catskills (1929-1932)
By the end of the 1920s, Don Hartman was spending his summers working as an entertainer in the Catskill Mountains region of central New York State's Sullivan County. The Catskills (also known as the "Jewish Alps") was a popular vacation spot for Jews living in New York City between the mid-1920s and the late 1970s. The Catskills was home to hundreds of (now defunct) summer resorts, bungalow colonies, and kokh-aleyns (Yiddish word for self-catered boarding houses). Each year, over a million Jews took their summer vacation in the Catskills to escape the heat, humidity, and smells of New York City. In the 1920s, the area became known colloquially as the "Borscht Belt," named after the beet soup from eastern Europe which was a metonym for "Jewish."
Grossinger's Catskill Resort: Most of the higher-end Borscht Belt resorts hosted up-and-coming Jewish comedians, dancers and musicians; these resorts became incubators for some of the most celebrated comedians and entertainers of the 20th century. The Borscht Belt was born in an era when American's nicer hotels and resorts would openly discriminate against the admission of Jews and—in a "gentlemen’s agreement" with one another—even shared information about prospective guests with Jewish-sounding names. In 1947, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Moss Hart would co-write the film gentlemen’s agreement which dealt with this very topic.
Grossinger’s had a humble beginning. In 1919, the Grossinger family (Selig, Malka and their daughter Jennie) bought a small hotel for $27,000. The hotel was know as the Grossinger's Terrace Hill House and it became the nucleus of the ever-expanding resort. The Grossinger family quickly became known for their warm hospitality and home-cooked Kosher food. When the Catskills was in its infancy, vacationers would commuted from New York City onboard the Hudson River Day Line Steamer, which was the premier steamboat line on the Hudson River from the 1860s through the 1920s.
By the late 1920s, the name was changed to
Grossinger's resort in the Catskills, c. 1929 (left) The Flagler Hotel, c. 1920s (right)
The Old Playhouse: For Don Hartman, the Catskills provided one of the few opportunities for a young, struggling, Jewish entertainer with limited prospects on Broadway. When Jennie Grossinger added a playhouse to her property in 1929, she hired Hartman as an
By early summer, the prestige of Grossinger's Playhouse had grown and Hartman put the word out that he was looking for assistance. Hartman knew a fellow social director (also known as a "tummler") named Moss Hart who was working at the Flagler Hotel down the road in Fallsburg. He asked Hart if he was available for the remainder of the summer but Hart declined. Soon thereafter, Hart called Hartman on behalf of his friend, Isadore "Dore" Schary, who was looking for work. Dore (pronounced "Dory") was struggling like so many other young men due to the Great Depression which had begun a year earlier. Schary had worked for Moss Hart during the previous summer of 1929. In Schary's autobiography, Heyday, he describes the first encounter with Hartman:
Schary felt that Hartman was unapproachable and somewhat hard on the performers so after summer they parted ways, thinking that was the end of the relationship. In the summer of 1931, Schary planned on returning to the Catskills—once again, under Moss Hart at the Flagler—as he felt they had a better working relationship.3
Tummlers: As a tummler (Yiddish for "merrymaker" derived from tumlen, "to make a racket") you were expected to keep guests in a perpetual state of happiness and/or distraction. Catskill resorts would boast that there was
While at the resort, Schary wrote for The Grossinger Tattler which was the in-house newspaper. The Tattler was a daily sheet which, among other things, identified new guests by their business affiliations and professions. It was also a way for guests to learn about the relative wealth of other guests and whether their wealth was of their own making. Once, a guest commented that he knew he had
The Grossinger Tattler (left), Don (hamming it up) in Shakespeare's Hamlet at Grossinger's resort in the Catskills, 1930 (right)
Although tummlers from competing resorts were often friends they were also good-natured rivals. Jokes were frequently made at the expense of competing resorts like the Concord, which were referred to as "dorten" ("over there"). Social directors would aggressively compete for talent. In Flagler's nightly playbill, Moss Hart would advertise:
During Hartman's time in the Catskills he met another fellow tummler who would become a life-long friend—a young comedian and Brooklyn native named David Daniel Kaminsky (Danny Kaye). During the summer of 1929, Kaminsky began working as a tummler at the White Roe Resort in Livingston, about 15 miles from Grossinger’s. Kaminsky became an overnight sensation on the "Borscht circuit" with his over-the-top impressions and physical style of comedy. Eventually, Kaminsky would perform at Grossinger’s Playhouse along with his vaudeville song-and-dance act, "The Three Terpsichoreans" (Terpsichore was a Greek goddess of dance). Kaminsky (Kaye) would work in the Catskills for the next six years, perfecting his comedy routine before reconnecting with Hartman and taking Hollywood by storm.3
Jennie Grossinger with Danny Kaye at Jennie's retirement party, 1951 (left) Grossinger's indoor swimming pool, 1950 (right)
Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s many (most) famous comedians got their start in the Catskills. Each Borscht Belt comedian (monologist) had their own unique "shtick" (comedy routine, gimmick, monologue) that they perfected over several summers at one of the many Catskill resorts. Performers such as Woody Allen, Tony Bennett, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Red Buttons, Cid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Fisher, Judy Garland, Buddy Hackett, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Groucho Marx, Peter Sellers, Barbra Streisand, Gene Wilder, Carl Reiner, The Three Stooges, Jonathan Winters and Henny Youngman, all got their start in the Catskills. Not coincidentally, most all of these comedians were of Eastern European (Ashkenazi Jewish) decent.
The Evolution of Comedy: So-called "Jewish humor" from this era was of the corny slapstick variety, which Hartman took to like a duck to water. The Catskills style of Jewish humor is rooted in the back-and-forth banter of Talmudic studies, which incorporates a mixture of Yiddish satire, irony, self deprecation, mockery, subversion, and absurdity.5 Jewish humor also includes a smattering of Yiddish wordplay known colloquially as "Yinglish" or "Hebronics" (i.e. oy vey) and "shm-reduplication" (i.e. fancy-shmancy). A typical Catskill joke should be met with an equal proportion of laughter and groans—AmazonPrime's fictional series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, does a good job in capturing the essence of Jewish humor from this era. The following is an example of a classic Borscht Belt joke from that period, attributed to Groucho Marx:
For some comedians, performing on the Borscht Belt circuit was a baptism (or bar mitzvah) by fire. Mel Brooks once said,
Certainly not everyone agreed that the life of a tummler in the Catskills was some kind of picnic. Writing about his years as a social director in the Catskills, Moss Hart, in his memoir Act One, said the following:
Desperate to escape the tyranny of the Catskills, Moss Hart received his big break on Broadway when, in 1930, the 24 year old tummler approached playwright George S. Kaufman (who was writing for the Marx Brothers) with the first draft of a satirical comedy called Once in a Lifetime. Hart's play lampooned the concept of "Tinseltown" and the emergence of "talkies" which had just replaced silent motion pictures. The play's plot revolved around a trio of vaudeville performers who leave New York City for Hollywood after their careers falter. On the train journey to California they decide to pass themselves off as "diction experts," hoping they will be hired to coach silent film actors who are incapable of speaking on screen. Once in Hollywood they encounter a series of incompetent fools and soon realize just how easy it will be to succeed the movie business.13, 14 Kaufman and Hart's play was a smash hit on Broadway, rocketing Hart to stardom.
Never Say Never: In March 1931, Hartman contacted Schary who he had not seen since last summer at Grossinger’s. Hartman and Schary began paling around together and a deeper friendship began to form when they discovered that they had a similar sense of humor. One afternoon, Hartman told Schary that he would never go back to Grossinger’s or any other Catskills resort:
With a finished script in hand, the three collaborators arranged a meeting with Hartman's agent, Harry Bestry, at his apartment where they would do a complete run-through. Bestry liked it and said he thought George S. Kaufman (Groucho Marx's friend and lead writer) would like it as well. With that assurance, the three collaborators went their respective ways, dreaming of the fame and fortune that was about to rain down them.
The Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts, 1929 (left) The Paramount building in New York City, 1931 (right)
A few days later, Bestry informed the writing trio that Kaufman had read the script and
Early Years in Hollywood (1932-1947)
Prior to the late 1920s, all motion pictures were of the silent variety, but with Darryl Zanuck’s release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the era of "talkies" had marked a major sea-change within the industry. By the mid-1930s, Hollywood completely abandoned silent movies and the "Golden Age" of Hollywood had officially begun.1
Talkies opened up completely new career opportunities for writers, composers, lyricists, and comedians who were struggling in New York City. Silent film producers were caught off guard when the phenomenon swept over their fledgling industry; the only dialogue in a silent picture was the occasional flash of a "title card" with one or two sentences of dialogue or a short descriptive narrative. Almost overnight, studios were in a mad dash to fill each new picture with a hundred pages worth of witty banter. The search for competent writers inevitably lead to Broadway and live theater. While established playwrights scoffed at the idea of pedaling their wares to Hollywood, there was a vast pool of aspiring young playwrights who were waiting in the wings.
Talkies, and the employment opportunities they provided, could not have occurred at a better time as the global economy was entering a decade-long "Great Depression" which had begun with the stock market crash in October, 1929. The Depression ushered in a protracted period of unprecedented hardship and despair. Overnight, Hollywood became a "land of opportunity" in a Country with little opportunity to be had. Hundreds of young creative types made the pilgrimage west to an exotic world of sunshine, palm trees, and the promise of fame and fortune. Hollywood is oftentimes referred to as
In the early 1930s, 5 cents would buy you several hours of blissful diversion which typically included a cartoon, a newsreel, a B-feature and the main feature film. The Depression-era was, for lack of a better word, depressing. Even in the depths of economic deprivation, millions of Americans indulged in the simple luxury of attending the cinema at least once a week. Hollywood remained relatively unscathed throughout the early 1930, but it wouldn’t be long before movie attendance began to falter. Americans spent $720 million on movie tickets in 1929, but only four years later that number would drop to $482 million. Adding to the problems of the major studios was the massive amount of debt they incurred in a race to build hundreds of movie theaters throughout the country.2
In mid-1931, Dore Schary wrote a screenplay called One Every Minute which he submitted to film producer Walter Wanger who was working for Harry Cohn at Columbia in Hollywood. Wanger liked the play and wired Columbia's New York office, advising that:
Road to Hollywood: Meanwhile, back in New York City, Hartman was writing lyrics for Vitaphone "shorts" (a precursor to Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies) when he got word of Schary's recent successes in Hollywood, so he decided it was time to move out to California and try his own luck as a screenwriter. Upon arrival in Hollywood, Hartman, needing a place to live, contacted Dore and Miriam who were living in a one-bedroom apartment in East Hollywood. In the same apartment building was a young actor named Archibald Leach—now going by his newly assigned screen name, "Cary Grant"—who would become one of Hartman's life-long friends.
By this point, Moss Hart had already achieved a significant amount of success as a Broadway playwright and—despite having mocked Hollywood in his recent play, Once in a Lifetime—had recently moved out to California where he was renting a large house in the Hollywood Hills.
Hartman and the Scharys decided to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the same building to provide a little more breathing space. During this period, Schary and Hartman grew much closer. As Schary said in his memoir, Heyday:
Within a few weeks of landing in Hollywood, Hartman began work on his first original story titled Romance in the Manhattan. Within a few weeks he had completed a final draft which he then submitted to the story editor at RKO Pictures, Al Persoff. The studio loved his script; within a few days Hartman received a check for ten-thousand dollars—roughly the equivalent of one-hundred-ninety thousand dollars in 2019! For Hartman, this was the equivalent of hitting pay-dirt during the California gold rush. With the money, he sent for his wife Chick and their young daughters Mima and Donna who traveled to California by ship via the Panama Canal. He also bought a used car and rented a house for his soon-to-be-arriving family. From Schary's memoir:
After that incredible stroke of beginners luck, things began to normalize. Hartman and Schary were both hired to write dialogue and jingles for the Jimmy Durante radio show, with each writer earning two-hundred-seventy-five per week. In late 1933, RKO offered Hartman an assignment co-writing lyrics for two songs ("Love At Last" and "F'r Instance, Take Me.") for an upcoming RKO film, Romance in the Rain (1934).
By early 1934, RKO had finally gotten around to turning Hartman's original story into a film by the same name, Romance in Manhattan (1934) starring Ginger Rogers. This, in turn, led to a contract with RKO studios to write dialogue and lyrics for two RKO musicals: Old Man Rhythm (1934) starring Betty Grable, and The Princess Comes Across (1935) starring Carole Lombard.
Early Years at Paramount: In early 1935, Hartman landed his first full-time employment contract with a major studio, working as a lyricist and junior screenwriter at Paramount Pictures. His first assignment was as co-screenwriter with Stephen Morehouse Avery on The Gay Deception (1935). The screenplay was romantic comedy about a sweepstakes winner (Frances Dee) who checks into a luxurious New York hotel so that see can see how the other half lives. At the hotel, she encounters a handsome prince who is posing as a bellboy—I'm sure you can guess what happens next. Hartman was off to a good start and the studio's front office took notice; within a few months of its release the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Story. Gay Deception was Hartman's first in a long series of collaborations with the soon-to-be famous director, William Wyler (Ben Hur, Wuthering Heights, and Roman Holiday).5
Barney Balaban: By the mid-1930s the Great Depression was beginning to take its toll of Paramount's financial health. The studio's theater revenue went from a profit of $113 million in 1930 to a $21 million loss In 1932. By 1935, Paramount's board of directors determined that company founder Adolph Zukor was no longer the right person to turn things around at the ailing studio. In mid-1936 they voted to replace Zukor with a young whiz kid named Barney Balaban, who's family had built the Chicago movie theater chain of Balaban & Katz. In deference to Zukor, the board decided to not kick the company founder to the curb, allowing him to stay on as chairman. Although Balaban preferred the less glamorous New York end of Paramount's business which controlled distribution and exhibition, he decided to move out to Hollywood to better oversee operations on the production end.
For his next assignment, Hartman was paired with another soon-to-be-famous director, Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard), to co-author Champagne Waltz (1937) starring Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie. Waltz portrayed the rivalry between a Vienna Waltz studio and an American jazz band which moves in next door. Although the film received tepid reviews, being characterized as
Cole Porter: Around this time, Hartman met a fellow lyricist (and composer) named Cole Porter who was songwriting for Bing Crosby's musical, Anything Goes (1935). Porter's background could not have been more different from Hartman's; he was the grandson of James Omar Cole, a wealthy businessman from Indiana. Porter's father wanted him to become a lawyer but he majored in English with a minor in music at Yale University.3 Although Porter was raised as a Mid-Western Episcopalian he had an instinctive sensibility for Jewish musical stylization. When Porter was just beginning his musical career he told composer Richard Rodgers (of Rogers and Hart) that he had discovered
Cole Porter, Audrey Hepburn, Irving Berlin and Don Hartman at a premiere in Westwood, California, 1952
Even with their vast differences in upbringing and lifestyle, Hartman and Porter were able to forge a lasting friendship was their predominant mutual interest, their passionate love of music. Porter's lyrics were stylish, romantic, and sophisticated while Hartman's lyrics were romantic yet decidedly corny with a heavy reliance on rhyming and Catskills-style word play. Of coarse, Cole Porter would go on to achieve international fame as one of the great American songwriters of the 20th century. Hartman's songwriting, not so much.
After the success of Gay Deception and Champagne Waltz, Hartman would be given the opportunity to co-write several pictures for the studio's A-list talent: Paulette Goddard, Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, and an up-and-coming Broadway and radio comedian named Bob Hope. His next assignment was to co-write a series of farcical musical-comedies starring Bing Crosby: Waikiki Wedding (1937), The Star Maker (1938) and Paris Honeymoon (1939). In 1939, Hartman also co-wrote a William Holden comedy called Those Were the Days! (1940). Once again, Hartman's films did not receive critical praise but the public enjoyed the distraction they provided, and Paramount enjoyed the box office receipts they produced.
Don & Chick Hartman, with Dore Schary (center, rear), Groucho Marx (rear, 2nd from right), 1939
Meanwhile, Dore Schary was riding a wave of success over at MGM, winning an Oscar for Best Original Story and a second Oscar for Best Screenplay for his movie Boys Town (1938), starring Spencer Tracy and Micky Rooney.
You Can't Go Home Again: At this point in time, Hartman began feeling nostalgic about his family and childhood home in Brooklyn so he decided to assemble a family reunion in neighboring New York City. In the fall of 1939, Don and Chick flew to Manhattan, renting a penthouse suite at the Plaza Hotel for the reunion's venue, complete with champagne and a catered feast from a local deli. On the night of the party, several of Hartman's siblings did not show up and the ones who did were very cold towards them. Near the end of the party, Don asked his parents if he had done something to offend them was told that they (his family) did not appreciate the gesture and that they though that Hollywood had ruined him. They also informed him that they had no interest in seeing him again. Upon returning to Hollywood, Hartman reflected on the unfortunate events which he described as one of the worst nights of his life. Thinking he was doing something as a grand gesture of love turned out to only hurt and offend his family, confirming the premise of Thomas Wolfe's 1940 novel: You Can't Go Home Again. To Hartman's great disappointment, this would be the last time he saw his parents and siblings.
Lead Screenwriter for Bob Hope: By the late 1930s, Hartman had firmly established his credentials as a comedy writer and his career at Paramount was about to take a big leap forward. in late 1938 he was given the role of lead screenwriter on the next Bob Hope comedy vehicle, Never Say Die (1939) starring Hope and Martha Raye. In 1936, Hope had made a name for himself on Broadway when he starred in Cole Porter’s Red, Hot and Blue with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante—in a duet he sang with Merman, Hope introduced Porter's famous line:
With Hartman's promotion came many new responsibilities. As lead writer, he was tasked with taking a concept—anything from a synopsis or short outline (treatment) to a novella or novel—and translating that into a shooting script with hundreds of individual scenes. Each scene would specify dialogue, positioning (blocking), set locations, and even camera angles. Collectively, all of these scenes have to take into account the pacing and finished length of the film which has a typical run time of eighty to ninety minutes. He would also need to be mindful of the cost involved in making the film by doing a pre-shooting estimate of the film footage required, typically around 7,000 to 8,000 feet. A typical shooting script contains roughly 100 "sides" with each side containing everything that would be shot in a single day.8 Since movies are not shot in a sequential (linear) fashion, each side will give the director, cinematographer, art department, and actors a blueprint for the following day's work.
Shooting script for Road to Morocco, 1942 (left), scenes with Turkey (Bob Hope) and Jeff (Bing Crosby)
The Road Pictures: After the success of Never Say Die, Hartman was given the career-changing assignment of creating a series of "concept" comedies that would pair two of Paramount's hottest contract stars, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Paramount had an unfinished script called Follow the Sun which had been written for the comedy team of Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie (co-stars in Champagne Waltz).9 At the suggestion of Paramount production head William LeBaron, Hartman, along with co-writer Frank Butler, retooled the script for Crosby and Hope. Hartman added Dorothy Lamour as a romantic interest that Crosby and Hope would fight over and the Road Pictures were thus born. Road to Singapore (1940) was the first in the series—the original title, "Road to Mandalay," was changed to the more exotic-sounding Road to Singapore during the first draft. The film was a huge hit with the movie-going public.10
Title frame from the film Road to Zanzibar, 1941 (left), On the set with Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and Frank Butler, Road to Zanzibar 1941
After the initial success of Road to Singapore, Hartman went on to produce and co-write (with Frank Butler) Road to Zanzibar in 1941, and Road to Morocco in 1942. Morocco went on to earn $243 million in adjusted (2016) gross box-office revenue—the highest of all the Road Pictures and fourth highest for any film in 1942. And for Hartman, Morocco was not just financial success; it earned the writing team of Hartman and Butler an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Morocco was also a hit with the critics:
Variety, Dec. 1941:
New York Times, Nov. 1942:
The Road Pictures were among the first of the "buddy film" genre. Hope played a hopeless neurotic, and Bing played a suave grifter. Each Road Picture had a similar formula that would take the hapless duo to some exotic destination, usually "Shanghaied" against their will. The boys would find themselves lost, broke, and hungry, but would stumble across an indigenous beauty (played by Lamour) and compete for her affections. Then, the threesome would attempt a daring escape. Crosby did all of the crooning while Hope delivered most of the laughs. Crosby would always get the girl and Hope would be the odd-man-out. Rinse and repeat.
Hartman frequently had Crosby and Hope break the so-called "fourth wall," speaking directly to the audience, a technique frequently used by Groucho Marx. While filming Road to Singapore, Bob and Bing kept ad-libbing new dialogue, requiring a lot of flexibility in the script structure and pacing. To date, the Road Pictures are some of the most freely improvised films ever made—frequently infuriating the scriptwriting team of Hartman and Frank Butler. Of coarse, anger from the writers only encouraged their antics; Hope once taunted,
Bing, Don and Bob goofing around on the back lot at Paramount, 1942
The greatest charm of the Road Pictures was that they never took themselves too seriously. Hope and Crosby would frequently play a game of patty-cake to distract the villains just long enough to sucker-punch them and escape. In one scene, Hope and Crosby are crossing the Moroccan desert when their camels break the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the audience. Dorothy Lamour’s character was alternately named after Hartman’s two daughters: Mima or Donna—a standard conceit of Hollywood screenwriters.
When there was a gap in the Road Pictures' shooting schedule, Paramount kept Hope busy to maximize his box office revenues. In 1941, Hartman co-wrote Nothing But the Truth starring Hope and Paulette Goddard. Hope plays an unscrupulous stock broker who, without Goddard's knowledge, bets $10,000 of her money that he can go twenty-four hours without telling a single falsehood. From the October 1941 review in the The New York Times:
Wartime Hollywood: For the Hartman family, 1942 started out with mixture of joy and trepidation. In March, Chick gave birth to their third child, a son named Timothy. However, this was now a time of great uncertainty as the Nation found itself at war with Japan after their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
It may seem somewhat irreverent to be making comedic films during such troubling times, but humor would prove to be a necessary diversion from the stresses of war. Paramount's Road to Morocco was released shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack; perfectly timed to cheer up a nation in the throws of war. President Roosevelt opposed
Los Angeles was something of a boomtown after the start of the war due to the close proximity of several aircraft manufacturers. In addition, the ports of Long Beach and San Diego were major embarkation points for the Pacific theater. Los Angeles was such a major transit point that the USO operated the famous "Hollywood Canteen" to entertain service personnel who were passing through on their way to, or from, the combat zones. The Canteen was located a few blocks north of Paramount Studios, on Cahuenga Boulevard, and operated from 1942 to Thanksgiving Day, 1945.
During WWII (1939-1945), Hollywood, like many other industries, was subjected to rationing. In 1942, the War Production Board instituted a maximum $5,000 budget for the construction of new film sets to conserve lumber and nails. In addition, the amount of available raw film stock was cut by 25 percent to help meet government's need to produce training films. This forced movie studios to cut corners, recycle props, and find creative ways to produce movies on a thin budget.15 In addition, Movie studios had to prepare for civil defense and erect bomb shelters to protect actors, film crews and studio personnel. Nighttime blackout rules prohibited filming after dark and Hartman, like many studio executives, was trained as an air raid captain.
There was also a significant shortage of labor at the studios which included everyone from actors and directors to stage crew and executives. By late 1944, the number of studio employees who had joined the service hit an all-time high of 6,000 with MGM losing 1,090 employees, Paramount 525, and Warner Brothers losing 720.
After the start of WWII, Hollywood screenwriters began weaving wartime themes into their scripts to lighten the mood of the Country. in 1942, Hartman co-wrote My Favorite Blonde (1942) starring Hope and Madeline Carroll. The film revolved around a Vaudevillian performer (Hope) who hops a train to California in search of fame and fortune. While onboard, he meets an alluring British spy (Carroll) who is carrying top-secret codes. Assuming Hope and Carroll are colleagues, Nazi agents frame Hope for murder. In a December 1941 review of Blond, Variety says:
Paramount would go on to make four more Road Pictures (Utopia, Bali, Rio and Hong Kong), but at this point Hartman was no longer affiliated with the project he had started. However, Hartman did continue to work with Hope and Crosby on their solo projects, the first film being The Princess and the Pirate (1944) for Goldwyn Studios. In an article by John M. Miller for TMC, the picture was described as having “an A-film budget, Technicolor photography, a platoon of scriptwriters and gagmen, and plenty of Goldwyn Girls... The result was Hope's glossiest film of the 1940s, and one of his funniest comedies."17 When Hope was in between movies he would take his humor on the road, entertaining troops that were stationed around the world, something he continued until the year he died.
The Stigma of B-Pictures: Although so-called "B-pictures" have developed a bad reputation with critics and some of the movie-going public, studios loved them. A typical B-picture could be made with significant less capital outlay and usually returned the studio's initial investment. In 1942, Dore Schary was called into Louis B. Mayer's office at MGM to discuss possible upcoming projects. Schary was pitching a low-budget picture and Mayer asked
The next day, Mayer called Schary into his office and said:
Accepting a management position meant a big change in lifestyle. Writers can work all hours, sleep late into the day and enjoy an active nightlife. As a studio executive, you are expected to arrive by eight AM each morning. That evening, Miriam suggested a
B-movies were a profitable enterprise for Paramount through the 1940s, headed up by co-producers William Pine and William Thomas (known collectively as the "Dollar Bills") and their B-picture unit, Pine-Thomas Productions. The duo would go on to produce eighty-one films for Paramount between 1940 and 1957 without losing money on a single film.
Danny Kaye: In 1943, Hartman's friend from the Catskill days—David Kaminsky—changed his name to "Danny Kaye" and, at Hartman's urging, moved out to Hollywood to start a movie career. Hartman helped forge Kaye's screen image by writing and producing his first Hollywood film Up In Arms (1944) for Goldwyn Studios and RKO. The film was a WWII parody with Kaye portraying a wacky hypochondriac who is drafted into the army only to experience a series of zany misadventures. Hartman's screenplay was based on Owen Davis’ play The Nervous Wreck; the film co-starred Dinah Shore and Dana Andrews. In a December 1943 review, Variety had this to say:
Soon thereafter, Up In Arms was followed by Wonder Man (1945) for MGM. and The Kid From Brooklyn (1946) which was written by Hartman and produced by Samuel Goldwyn. All three Danny Kaye films were very successful at the box-office, helping to further cement Hartman's reputation as a bankable entity.
As Hartman's distaste for the Catskills began to subside, he and fellow tummler Danny Kaye would periodically swim back upstream to their old stomping grounds to scout for up-and-coming talent. This excerpt is from singer Eddie Fisher (who was married to Elizabeth Taylor) recalling his "discovery" while singing at Grossinger’s Terrace Room in 1946:
Directorial Debut: After his successful run as a screenwriter and producer, Hartman was ready to try his hand at directing. In 1947, he went to work for Colombia Pictures, writing, directing, and producing two light-hearted comedies. The first film was a fantasy comedy called Down to Earth (1947), starring Rita Hayworth as the Greek muse Terpsichore, the Goddess of Dance. When Terpsichore discovers that a Broadway producer intends to put on a musical satire which mocks Greek mythology, she descends to Earth in human form, landing a lead role in the play. Down to Earth opened to generally favorable reviews and was able to pull in respectable box-office numbers. The New York Times stated that it contained
Rita Hayworth rehearsing lines with Hartman and cast, Down to Earth (left) Don on the set for It Had To Be You with Ginger Rogers and Cornel Wilde (right)
Hartman's second film as director was It Had To Be You (1947), a romantic comedy starring Ginger Rogers as a society girl who garners a reputation for leaving men at the altar while having hallucinations that she is being pursued by a (Native American) indian suitor. If you find that plot-line to be confusing, you are not alone. Although the film performed moderately well at the box-office it was pilloried by The New York Times:
Ouch! In order to survive in Hollywood (and maintain even a modest level of self-confidence) one needed to develop a thick skin in order to bounce back from a scathing reviews such as that. As a film director, Hartman was definitely off to a rocky start but at least he did not have a hand in the screenplay.
Don Hartman on the set of It Had To Be You with Ginger Rogers and cinematographer Rudolph Maté
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: With the phenomenal success of the Road pictures, Hartman had achieved a level of financial comfort that was beyond the wildest imagination of a poor kid from Brooklyn. Don and Chick purchased a Spanish-colonial house on palmtree-lined Rexford Drive, a short walking distance from the famed Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. The Hartmans had settled into a comfortable routine with their circle of close friends; Dore and Miriam Schary, screenwriter Lenny Spigelgass, Ruth and Allen Rivkin (a screenwriter who founder of the Screenwriters Guild), and composer Ralph Rainger and his wife Betty. The group of friends enjoyed spending evenings together at each-others houses, telling stories, playing parlor games, discussing current events, exchanging shop talk, or ideas for their next screenplay. They also enjoyed going to nightclubs, dancing, and traveling together on holidays.
The Hartman family at their house on 710 N. Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills, 1943
Frequent guests at the Hartmans' dinner parties might included composers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and actors Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye. Occasionally, Hartman, Porter, and/or Berlin would sit at the living room piano after dinner, entertaining guests with music, ad-libbing lyrics, and composing impromptu songs. Hartman's daughter, Donna, would tell the story of going downstairs in her pajamas to eat breakfast before school where she would run into her father sitting at the piano with Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, having never gone to bed from the night before.
The Hartman and Schary houses were filled with the laughter of children. Dore and Miriam Schary now had three children—two girls (Jill and Joy) and a boy (Jeb); Don and Chick had three children—two girls (Mima and Donna) and a boy (Timothy). On weekends, the children would all get together, putting on plays and Vaudeville-style skits for any adults that were nearby.
Chick, Donna and Mima Hartman, 1943 (left), Timothy and Don Hartman, 1951 (right), Beverly Hills, California
Life was good, or so it seemed, until misfortune visited the Hartman household in the summer of 1948, when their eldest daughter Mima—now 17 years old—became a casualty of a polio epidemic that was sweeping through Los Angeles.22 Mima survived but was quarantined at their house for several months; confined to a wheelchair and requiring 24-hour medical attention. During the quarantine, there were ominous signs posted on the front door warning people to stay away. Only adults could enter the house during the quarantine. The Hartmans' other daughter, Donna, was sent to Flintridge Sacred Heart, a Catholic boarding school in Pasadena, while their son, Timothy, was sent to Black Foxe Academy in Los Angeles. As a result of these unforeseen events, Hartman would spend much of his time over the coming years trying to help the medical community in their fight against the devastating effects of this disease.
Cary Grant: After the poor reviews he received for Down to Earth and It Had To Be You, Hartman really needed a winner—and with Cary Grant he found one. Hartman teamed up with Dore Schary—now in charge at RKO—to write, produce and direct Every Girl Should Be Married (1948), starring Cary Grant and Betsy Drake. Grant—who knew Hartman from their early days in Hollywood—took an active roll in writing the script with, along with co-writer Stephen Avery. Grant would only agree to do the film if Betsy Drake—whom he was actively courting at the time—was cast as his co-star.23 The film was released in November, 1948 and On Christmas Day of that year, Grant and Drake were married in a private ceremony with Howard Hughes as Grant's best man. Although the critics were not enamored with the film, the public adored it. The film was RKO's biggest box-office hit of the year, grossing $2.8 million ($30 mil today).
Don Hartman with Cary Grant and Betsy Drake, Every Girl Should Be Married, 1948 (left), Los Angeles Times article, dedication of polio hospital at Los Angeles General USC, 1955 (right)
Once the filming of Every Girl concluded, Hartman drastically curtailed his work schedule, dedicating a significant portion of his time to children's health issues. Upon seeing first hand the overcrowding and poor conditions in the polio ward of Los Angeles General Hospital (where his daughter Mima was confined and placed in an iron lung), Hartman, set about raising funding for construction of a hospital that was specifically dedicated to the disease. With the help of Cary Grant and Dore Schary, Hartman wrote a plea for funding with Grant starring and MGM distributing the short film to theaters throughout California. This collaborative helped raise awareness and eventually led to the completion of the world’s most advanced polio hospital, an eight-story Polio and Communicable Diseases Unit at LA County General.
In late 1949, Hartman directed one more film for RKO, although Dore Schary was no longer with the studio, having moved to MGM in mid-1948. This bubbly Christmas romp was called Holiday Affair (1949), starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. The New York Times described Holiday Affair as
L.B. Out, Schary In: By the late 1940s, MGM was struggling to adapt to the post-war filmmaking environment, suffering their first financial loss in 1947. The film industry was now facing serious competition from of television as well as political turmoil in Washington and rising labor costs due to collective bargaining. MGM was also under threat from the "Paramount Decree," also known as the "Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948." This decree threatened to break up the major studios, separating their film production from distribution and theater ownership. MGM's parent company, Loews Incorporated in New York decided that Dore Schary might be the person to turn the tide.
Schary became vice president in charge of production in July 1948. As soon as he arrived, problems began to emerge between Schary and MGM founder Louis B. Mayer ("L.B.") over the stylistic direction of the studio. Loews wanted Schary to reign in production costs and slash expenses. While Mayer favored lavish big-production musicals and uncontroversial entertainment, Schary preferred to steer production towards thought-provoking movies which Mayer dismissed as "message pictures." Schary would ultimately win that battle. In 1949, Mayer was removed as head of the studio he had created and Schary was its new president.24
By 1950, Hartman was ready to get back to work and Dore Schary was there to help. At first, he took on a small project directing the final segment of a sprawling eight-part MGM film It's a Big Country: An American Anthology (1951). The film, co-written by Schary and Allen Rivkin, fell squarely into Louis B. Mayer's "message picture" category. Each parable dealt with a different issue such as racial and religious intolerance, pride, and the dangers of self-centeredness. Big Country had an all-star cast which included Gary Cooper, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Janet Leigh and Nancy Reagan. The film seemed to generate controversy from both sides of the political isle, being criticized as "Liberal propaganda" and "pro-American propaganda." Big Country lost of nearly $700,000.25
Lana Turner and Don Hartman on location at the Lone Cypress Tree in Pebble Beach, 1951
You Win Some, You Lose Some: In late 1951, Hartman's fortunes really took a turn for the worse. Hartman wrote, directed and produced his first box office disaster: MGM's Mr. Imperium (1951), starring Lana Turner and opera singer Ezio Pinza (fresh off his success in South Pacific). The film, shot on location in Carmel and on Pebble Beach, was universally panned by critics. This is an excerpt from a New York Times review on October 15, 1951:26
Another reviewer wrote:
Dore Schary was much less critical of Hartman, placing some of the blame on Pinza:
Lana Turner and Don Hartman on set (left), family slide photo from location shoot, March 1951 (right)
On a positive note: at least the location filming crew encountered unusually clear weather for Pebble Beach in early March! Mr. Imperium would be the last motion picture where Don Hartman's name would be listed as either a screenwriter or director.
Comedy, 1930s to 1950s: Light-hearted musical comedies from 1930 through the late 1940s, and their silly (innocent) style of humor, were intentionally designed to lift people's spirits during the Great Depression and while WWII raged on between 1939 and 1945. Hollywood's so-called "Dream Factories" transported people from their own lives and troubles, into another world—anything from a Park Avenue penthouse to a Western frontier, or perhaps a behind-the-scenes Hollywood adventure, an exotic foreign land, or a completely different era.
Don Hartman on set with Ginger Rogers and silent film star Anna Nilsson, 1947
Comedians like Groucho Marx took a sardonic approach to alleviating Depression-era angst, mocking the conventions of patriotism and capitalism in movies like the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (the bankrupt nation of Freedonia was a metaphor for post-depression America).27 By contrast, Hartman’s script writing and lyrics focused entirely on hopeful themes of glamor and schmaltzy romance. This snippet of lyrics is from one of Hartman's 1935 musicals:
Looked at through the prism of the 21st century, musical lyrics and comedies from this period did not age well as contemporary tastes became more "edgy." Moreover, comedy heavily relies on context because humor is typically topical and contains colloquialisms (such as Hartman's movie: "The Gay Deception") which are not applicable in another time. Hartman's comedic writing style is definitely of a bygone era.
Communism in Hollywood (1947-1955)
In late 1947, Don Hartman became an unwitting participant in McCarty-era Communist witch-hunts due to his prominence in Hollywood, his Jewish heritage, his support for liberal causes, and his being named as a "communist sympathizer" along with several individuals with whom he associated: Dore Schary, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth. In the late 1930s, Cold War paranoia and fear of Soviet infiltration into American institutions captivated the imaginations of Washington politicians.
Un-American Activities: To combat the "growing menace" of Communist influence in American culture, the HUAC (House on Un-American Activities Committee) was created in 1938 to investigate alleged "disloyalty and subversive activities" on the part of public employees, labor unions and public policy organizations. Eventually, their investigations extended into the activities of private citizens. HUAC was created by Rep. John Parnell Thomas (R), Rep. Richard M. Nixon (R), and three other elected U.S. representatives.
Members of the House on Un-American Activities Committee, 1947 (left), Protests in support of the Hollywood Ten, 1947 (right)
By the late 1940s, the HUAC turned its attention towards Hollywood's "propaganda machine" and its influence over the hearts and minds of America's movie-going public. The HUAC—with help from the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and the CIA under Allen Dulles—began to investigate and compile extensive dossiers on Hollywood actors, screenwriters, directors, music composers, and studio executives. The HUAC targeted anyone who was perceived as "a threat to national interests," but they also maintained surveillance on those who were perceived as "loyal to American interests." Nobody escaped scrutiny.
The Hollywood Ten: The first congressional hearing into suspected communist agitators and sympathizers within the Hollywood community occurred in October of 1947. A group of ten screenwriters, known thereafter as the "Hollywood Ten," were subpoenaed to testify under oath before the HUAC regarding their attendance at meetings of several organizations which were now deemed to be subversive. These organizations included Actors Laboratory, Hollywood Writers' Mobilization, and Progressive Citizens of America. The HUAC considered these organizations to be "front groups" for the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, along with nine of his colleagues, refused to answer questions and name fellow (alleged) communists so the "Ten" were held in contempt of Congress and immediately jailed.
Curiously, actress Katharine Hepburn had given a fiery speech at a Progressive Citizens of America meeting several months before the hearing, but was not called to testify. No doubt, the process of defiling the reputations of beloved celebrities needed to be handled very craftily. The committee's likely objective was to exert maximum pressure on the "little fish" first, thereby ensnaring more attention-getting targets like Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. Unfortunately for the HUAC, the Hollywood Ten's lack of cooperation gave the committee no opportunity to work their way up the food-chain.1, 2
HUAC hearings: Danny Kaye, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1949 (left), Actor Gary Cooper was a cooperating (friendly) witness for the committee in 1947 (right)
The Bad Lists: Of coarse, the HUAC had no constitutional authority to imprison U.S. citizens for their political beliefs and being a Communist was not per se an unlawful act. Therefore, damaging people's reputations and livelihoods was the preferred weapon of choice. For instance, the committee attempted to damage the career of Groucho Marx (listed on his FBI file as Julius H. Marx), in 1953. According to Jon Wiener, a history professor at UC Irvine, documents recently made public through the FOIA show that the FBI kept detailed files on Groucho, and because confidential informants said that Groucho was a member of the Communist Party, a full investigation was conducted. According to the FBI files, Marx's alleged offenses were tied to a 1934 article in the Communist Party newspaper: The Daily Worker.3 The article claimed that Marx called communist support for the "Scottsboro Boys" (nine African American teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931) an inspiration for "Soviet America."4 Considering the comment came from Groucho Marx, a well known comedian and satirist, it would be logical to assume that his comment was some kind of sarcastic joke. Apparently, Groucho's humor went over the heads of committee members.
Once again, the committee used a backdoor approach to damage Marx. The HUAC called in Jerry Fielding, the musical director on Groucho’s TV show, You Bet Your Life. Before the hearing, Fielding told reporters:
Senator Jack B. Tenney's report to HUAC in 1947 (left), Don Hartman and Rita Hayworth listed on Page 251 of the Tenney Report (right)
Any association, no matter how tangential, could land you on an FBI or Government watchdog list. Don Hartman's name found its way into a subversive list, on page 251 of the "Tenney Report," named for Senator Jack B. Tenney's report to the HUAC in 1947.6 Tenney's list also included actors Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Olivia De Haviland, Groucho Marx, Edward G. Robinson, and Orson Wells as well as Hartman's executive assistant, D. A. Doran, and "Hollywood Ten" screenwriters Edward Dmytryk and Dalton Trumbo. Hartman's "crime" was being a member of the Hollywood Democratic Committee, which was labeled as a
Dore Schary's friend Moss Hart joined the growing ranks of the HUAC's enemies list due to multiple entanglements with several other alleged subversives and/or supporters of the Hollywood Ten. Hart's long-time writing partner, George S. Kaufman, had co-written two films for the Marx Brothers (Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers) and partnered with Hollywood Ten writer Ring Lardner Jr. on June Moon. In response, Hart joined with Oscar Hammerstein II, Walter Huston and artist Norman Rockwell to form a committee sponsoring a drive to oppose censorship of the arts and offer financial support to the Hollywood Ten.
Groucho Marx's FBI File from 1953, Lucille Ball's voter registration card from 1936, showing "Communist" as her party affiliation (right)
Even Lucille Ball ran afoul of the HUAC after it was discovered that she had listed her party affiliation as "Communist" on her 1936 voter registration card. Again, it was probably a sarcastic joke—after all, comedians are natural-born provocateurs. In Ball's case, it is rumored that the matter was dropped because J. Edgar Hoover was a fan of the I Love Lucy show.5
The Good Lists: Naturally, there were also "good list" which contained the names of entertainers who were considered loyal to the country. These lists included Abbot & Costello, Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, David Niven, Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, and, of coarse, John Wayne. Incidentally, Gary Cooper was one of the few "friendly witnesses" to willingly (enthusiastically) testify at the HUAC hearings, earning him top honors among committee members and the anti-pinko public.
The public spectacle of the HUAC hearings spread like wildfire; within a few days, influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper endorsed an industrywide loyalty oath, saying,
The Waldorf Declaration: The business of entertainment was now under assault and Hollywood's favorable image with the movie-going public was in jeopardy. According to a 1947 Gallup Poll, 85% of the American public was familiar with the HUAC hearings, with 37% approving, and 36% disapproving of how the hearings were being conducted.1 By December of 1947, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had a closed door meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City to do damage control. The association released a statement, known as the "Waldorf Declaration" (aka "Waldorf Statement" or "Peace Pact") which read:
With this one statement, the "Hollywood blacklist" was officially enshrined into the business practices of every motion picture studio. The heads of each studio were in attendance, including Barney Balaban (Paramount), Harry Cohn (Columbia), Louis B. Mayer (MGM), Albert Warner (Warner Bros.) and Samuel Goldwyn. Even Hartman's closest friend, Dore Schary (RKO), added his name to Waldorf Statement, although it tormented him until the end of his days; he was the only participant who wrote about it publicly.3, 4 Some attendees probably felt caught between two loyalties: one to Country and the other to friendship and decency. Some just wanted to get back to the business of making motion pictures and leave this political kerfuffle behind them. Little did these executives know that communism was not the only boogyman to be rooted out of Hollywood; anti-Semitism would soon become an integral part of "red menace" propaganda, and several individuals in this mostly-Jewish group, including Schary, would be painted with the same broad brush as the infamous "Hollywood Ten."
Trumbo subpoena to HUAC (left), Schary letter to Eleanor Roosevelt regarding Crossfire (center), DGA president George Stevens (behind the desk) presiding over January 1949 meeting, Credit: DGA Archives (right)
Being named (in a committee meeting or in a printed publication) by the HUAC as a "communist," a "subversive," a "communist sympathizer," or a "fellow traveler" was now a potentially career-ending event. The HUAC likely began by focussing on screenwriters because they did not have the financial resources to fight back in the courts as wealthy movie stars certainly would have done. When the Hollywood Ten hearings did not provide the intended theatrical effect of naming prominent movie stars and directors, the tactics shifted to putting financial pressure on the studios by turning the public against Hollywood as a whole. With the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, studio bosses would be forced to police themselves.
Red Channels' list of 150 subversives (left), anti-semitic propaganda leaflet (right)
Enter the Pamphleteers: In early 1950, Counterattack (an organization established by a group of former FBI agents) published Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television. The pamphlet accused 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcasters and journalists of fostering communist manipulation of the entertainment industry. Included on the list were luminary figures like playwright Arthur Miller, composers Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, singers Lena Horne and Gypsy Rose Lee, and actors Gene Kelly and Edward G. Robinson.
Blacklisting as a Tool for Revenge: Orson Welles found his name on Counterattack's list primarily due to an act of revenge by Louella Parsons, who was a Hollywood gossip columnist for, and friend of, William Randolph Hearst. Parsons (aka the "Queen of Hollywood") used her bully pulpit to insert Welles into the list of subversives as punishment for his movie Citizen Kane 5 and its thinly veiled portrayal of Hearst as the psychologically unbalanced protagonist, Charles Foster Kane.6
Cover of a fundraising pamphlet for the Hollywood Ten, 1948 (left), Letter to the "American Legion" regarding Billy Wilder's hiring of one of the Hollywood Ten writers, 1952 (right)
As a studio executive, and named subversive in the Senate's Tenney Report, Hartman was called to testify at the HUAC congressional hearings in Washington DC in 1951; however, he was able to sidestep questioning due to the fact that he had not actually joined (was not a "card carrying" member of) the Communist Party USA. However, he was friends with several people on a variety of "bad lists," so avoiding a career-ruining episode on Capitol Hill was paramount (pun intended).
Guilt (or Innocence) by Association: Hartman's friend, actress Gloria Stuart, was mistakenly labeled as a Communist due to her second husband, Arthur Sheekman's, close working friendship with Groucho Marx. Although Stuart did have a brief flirtation with communism when she lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea with her first husband Blair Gordon Newell in 1930; Stuart was, for the most part, a lifelong Republican.7 On the other hand, Hartman may have benefited from his close relationships with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, who were on every "good list" of true-blue Hollywood actors. It didn't hurt that Hartman was mostly associated with apolitical comedies, and not with, as L. B. Mayer would say, "message pictures." However, that fact did not prevent Hartman from being the victim of a smear campaign in the not-too-distant future.
Studio Heads: Don Hartman (center) with Elmer C Rhoden (Pres. National Theater Group), Jerry Wall (Pres. Columbia Pictures), Walter Lang (20th Century Fox); Jack L Warner (Pres. Warner Bros.), Robert E Dolan (Paramount), 1953 (left), Don, Cecil B. DeMille (award for The Greatest Show On Earth), Jimmy Stewart, 1952 (right)
The Circular Firing Squad: On October 22, 1950, more than 300 members of the Screen Directors Guild (SGD) gathered inside the Crystal Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a seven hour meeting to fend off a political crisis that threatened to destroy their union. At issue was the adoption, or rejection, of a requirement that each guild member sign a mandatory "Affidavit of Noncommunist Guild Member" document. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 already mandated that all union officers sign an anti-communist affidavit but rank and file members were exempted. No matter which way the vote went, the resolution would inevitably turn member against member, thereby damaging the cohesiveness of the Guild.
On one side of the debate was a faction aligned with politically-conservative director Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Show on Earth). DeMille was, by far, the Guild's most powerful member. The 69-year-old self-appointed watchdog had been recruited by Allen Dulles (head of the CIA) to serve on the board of the anti-communist National Committee for a Free Europe.89 DeMille probably felt it was his patriotic duty to expose subversives within the Guild. He had gained control of the SDG by maneuvering to install like-minded elders onto its board. DeMille also headed the DeMille Foundation for Political Freedom, which was dedicated to compiling files on the leftist affiliations of all SGD members—these files would ultimately be passed along to the HUAC.10 Paramount's vice-president, Y. Frank Freeman, had warned DeMille that such an action would have a steamroller effect with all of the Hollywood labor unions following their lead. Apparently, DeMille did not share Freeman's concern.
Hollywood Reporter article about Screen Directors Guild (SDG) meeting to vote on loyalty oath, 1950 (left) DeMille's draft of the proposed "Affidavit of Noncommunist Guild Member" oath, 1950 (right)
On the opposing side of this debate was the guild's new president, Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The 41-year-old director was a rising star in Hollywood, having just won two Oscars (screenwriter and director) for A Letter to Three Wives (1949), and on the verge of winning two more for All About Eve (1950). However, he was somewhat of a political novice compared to the SDG's elder-statesmen.
Fearing that Mankiewicz might oppose any type of mandatory oath, DeMille decided to put the measure to a test while the guild president was in Europe. He was successful in inserting a bylaw which made signing the mandatory oath a
Attendees of the contentious October 22 meeting included every significant director in Hollywood, and the implementation of an actual "blacklist" was no longer a theory. Frank Capra, who was one of DeMille's key supporters, disputed the use of the word "blacklist," pointing out that producers could still hire anyone they wished. To this, Mankiewicz replied,
Cecil B. DeMille's list of twenty-five SDG members who were (alleged) communist sympathizers
Don Hartman stood up and confronted DeMille for publishing a list of twenty-five "subversive directors" who DeMille claimed were associated with the Communist Party. Hartman exclaimed,
The Greatest Show on Earth: Undeterred, DeMille proceeded to read off the names of Guild members he judged to be susceptible to communism. His list of subversives included directors Elia Kazan, Fritz Lang, Joseph Mankiewicz, Willian Wyler and Billy Wilder. For dramatic effect, DeMille, who was forever the showman, had prearranged for a pink spotlight to shine down on him as he ominously read the names. To add insult to injury, DeMille pronounced the names of émigré directors with a Jewish-sounding accent: William Wyler's name was read as
Don Hartman with Billy Wilder (second from right), 1952 (left), Don with Cecil B. DeMille and Audrey Hepburn, 1953 (right)
As the debate was heating up, director John Huston wrote on sheet of paper:
It should also be noted that DeMille's mother, Matilda Beatrice DeMille, was of German-Jewish ancestry which juxtaposes his curious behavior on that October night.11 Despite their political/philosophical differences, and their definitions of what constitutes "patriotism," Hartman and DeMille were able to put the uncomfortable incident behind them, continuing to work together amicably as two of Paramount's most senior figures.
Senator Joseph McCarthy at the HUAC hearings, 1949 (left), McCarthy-Army hearings, 1954 (right)
Not McCarthyism: Although Senator Joseph McCarthy (R, Wisconsin) became the poster child of the Cold War's infamous Red Scare, he was not directly involved in the Hollywood blacklisting controversy. However, his name, and the "ism" that follows it, has become synonymous with this dark chapter in American history. In 1954, McCarthy—who was known for dramatically overreaching—finally bit off more than he could chew when he decided to take on the United States Army over alleged communist infiltration of defense contractors. In a now famous exchange, U.S. Army attorney Joseph N. Welch delivered a rebuke that defined McCarthy, and of coarse, McCarthyism:
Loyalty Oaths and the CIA
The New Normal: When he returned to Paramount in 1951, Don Hartman was required to write a "loyalty oath letter" stating that he had never been a member of, or sympathetic with, the Communist Party and swearing his allegiance to the United States. Paramount, along with all of the motion picture studios in Hollywood, had set up an ad hoc internal security bureaucracy made up of lawyers, studio executives, and officious intermeddlers which required a signed loyalty oath from each of its high-profile employees in order to avert further scrutiny and harassment from Washington. This requirement included answering a series of written questions about past affiliations and future intentions.
FBI dossier on Dore Schary and actor Gene Kelly, 1951 (left), Dore Schary's apology letter for requiring a loyalty oath from Adrian Scott, a screenwriter who was one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10 (right)
Some loyalty letters to Paramount were determined to be "insufficient" by the front office. One such letter was from actress Paulette Goddard who had been married to Charlie Chaplin, an alleged Communist sympathizer who was living in England under a self-imposed exile. In Goddard's case, the studio relented because she was a huge box-office draw and, through her lawyer, threatened to
Bending with the Wind: Any actor, producer, director, or screenwriter who had signed a petition in support of the Hollywood Ten, participated in a meeting of an alleged communist front group, or was identified as a subversive on a FBI/HUAC list, was now required to explain why they had done so and swear fealty to the United States. Each letter writer used their own unique strategy: there were letters of contrition, intentionally ambiguous letters, quasi-defiant letters, and so-called "Voltaire letters," in which the writer explained that they did not support the Ten because of what they said, but that they had the right to say it.2 Hartman's May 20, 1952 five-page letter to Paramount's Y. Frank Freeman contained a mixture of sadness, dismay and incredulity at having to fulfill the distasteful requirement:
During a subsequent meeting of the Motion Picture Industry Council, there was a discussion about the policy of requiring a mandatory loyalty oath. In attendance were Y. Frank Freeman, Cecil B. DeMille, Dore Schary and Harry Warner. Freeman said he would sign a loyalty oath
Don Hartman's loyalty oath letter to Paramount, 1952 (left), FBI notes on Dore Schary prior to his testifying before the HUAC in 1947 (right)
Smears, Shmears: In 1951, Dore Schary (now in charge at MGM, the biggest studio at the time) became a prime target of the Red Scare. So did Paramount’s new chief of production, Don Hartman, and Colombia Pictures producer/director Stanley Kramer. A local nuisance group called the "Wage Earners Committee" picketed theaters throughout the Los Angeles area holding signs on which the studio bosses' names were dripping blood. Schary and Kramer filed multi-million dollar libel suites against the Wage Earners and the picketing was stopped in short order. Schary also took out full page ads in the movie trade papers and the Los Angeles dailies, defining his suit as
The Fog of War: Hartman, Schary, and other prominent (liberal) studio heads were struggling to reconcile their personal integrity with shifting political realities. In 1947, Schary had stood out among studio executives for his principled stand in his testimony before HUAC.4 With so much information, and disinformation, being circulated around Hollywood it was becoming increasingly difficult for studio executives to sort out spurious accusations from legitimate charges of Communist ties. For instance, books that had the patina of legitimacy like Myron C. Fagan's Red Treason in Hollywood indiscriminately smeared the reputations of prominent film figures such as Danny Kaye, who had absolutely no connections to Communism.
Now that Schary was on the receiving end of a smear campaign by the Wage Earners Committee and Myron Fagan, he asked Assistant Director of the FBI, Louis Nichols:
Anti-Communist book Red Treason in Hollywood by Myron C. Fagan 1950 (left), Notes from Schary's meeting with Assistant Director of the FBI, Louis Nichols, October 1951 (right)
Enter the CIA: Now here is where things really get weird. At some point in the late 1940s, the CIA had recruited a mysterious
Further Down the Rabbit Hole: In June 1948 George Kennan, director of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff, drafted National Security Directive NSC-10/2. This directive set up an "Office of Policy Coordination" that would direct covert government operations, and created a "Psychological Warfare Workshop" who's mission statement was
A CIA intelligence officer named E. Howard Hunt (who, along with G. Gordon Liddy, would become part of Nixon’s infamous Watergate "plumbers" in 1971) directed operations at the Psychological Warfare Workshop. Among Hunt’s field assets was a CIA agent named Carlton W. Alsop (alternative spelling in FBI notes: Carleton William Alsop), who was
FBI Memorandum: 'Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry' listing Katherine Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson and others, 1947 (left), FBI Memo listing instances of "communist propaganda" in the movie It's A Wonderful Life, 1948 (right)
Reshaping the Narrative: In her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances S. Saunders claims that Carleton W. Alsop had influence over production schedules, casting decisions, and script revisions. Saunders also claims that Alsop was respected enough within the studio to be able to persuade luminaries such as Charlton Heston and Billy Wilder to make changes to their films and even to argue with the studio’s production executives (that would be Don Hartman and his executive assistant, D.A. Doran), over their casting choices or choice of directors.9 Therefore, according to Saunders, Alsop was
Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (left), The only thing remaining of Carleton W Alsop is a single memo which may, or may not be his (center), Luigi Luraschi, head of Foreign and Domestic Censorship at Paramount, 1953 (right)
Author David N. Eldridge disagrees with Saunders, identifying the true identity of the man behind the internal memos with
Luraschi also warned the CIA against taking seriously Dore Schary’s
Coincidentally, Don Hartman—in his capacity as Paramount's head of production in 1952—gave the go-ahead for director William Wyler to shoot the screenplay Roman Holiday which was authored by none other than blacklisted Hollywood-Ten writer Dalton Trumbo. At this point in time, Trumbo was living in Mexico, marketing his screenplays under the pseudonym Ian McClellan Hunter. Trumbo's Roman Holiday screenplay was first sold to director Frank Capra by Hunter but Capra decided to pass on the project, possibly because he discovered who had actually written it. That is when William Wyler purchased the script from Capra.11
Roman Holiday's Trumbo went on to win the Academy Award for Best Story in 1954, under the false name, "Ian McClellan Hunter." However, when it was discovered that Ian McClellan Hunter (the actual person) was allowing his name to be used by another blacklisted writer, Ring Lardner Jr., Hunter was blacklisted as well. In 2015, a movie was made about the Hollywood Ten's most infamous member; Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren.
Dalton Trumbo at the HUAC hearings (left), Poster for Trumbo (1996), starring Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren (right)
Paranoia Subsides: By 1957, the Red Scare was waining and the HUAC was officially disbanded. In 1960, the New York Times announced that Universal Pictures would give Dalton Trumbo screen credit for his role as screenwriter on the 1960 movie Spartacus (more irony). However, Trumbo would not get full credit for his work on Roman Holiday until almost sixty years after the fact. No doubt, Paramount did not want to place one of its highest grossing (and most wholesome) films in the crosshairs of a politically polarizing controversy.
In 1959, American playwright Arthur Miller, who was accused of subversion by the HUAC in 1947, wrote The Crucible which dramatized, and partially fictionalized, the story of the Salem witch trials which took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. Thus was born the term "which hunts" in association with having this type of Kafkaesque accusation leveled against someone. There is now somewhat of a reverse-blacklist movement in Hollywood that would bar previously blacklisted actors, screenwriters, and directors from receiving retroactive Oscars if they cooperated with the HUAC by naming their colleagues as fellow subversives. The prime target of this campaign is the legendary director, Elia Kazan, who created A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), East of Eden (1955), A Face in the Crowd (1957); all magnificent films.12
Return to Paramount (1951-1956)
Don Hartman returned to Paramount as the studio's Production Chief in June 1951. In hindsight, this was a bit like being given the captaincy of the RMS Titanic just after it had struck the iceberg but before the watchmen had sounded the alarm. You see, Paramount was a wounded animal, having been mortally struck down by the "Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948" (United States vs Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131). This resulted in a federal court order to break up the company, separating production and distribution (Paramount Pictures Corp.) from theatre exhibitors and exhibition (United Paramount Theaters).1
Prior to the 1948 antitrust case, Hollywood's major studios enjoyed a near-monopolistic "vertical integration" business model where companies like MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bothers controlled the entire supply-chain from production and distribution to theater exhibition. As a result of U.S. v Paramount, the studio was ordered to divest itself of 1,450 theaters it owned around the country. Of those, Paramount (the film studio) was allowed to negotiate exclusive distribution deals with 650 theaters that remained under a newly-created spinoff, United Paramount Theaters (merged with American Broadcasting Company in mid-1950s). Now Paramount was forced to negotiate costly distribution deals these newly-created theater chains, dramatically cutting into its profit margin. Gross box-office revenue (box-office tracking) was no longer the relevant benchmark of a motion picture's success. From the studio's perspective, success was now measured by "rental" revenue which was typically about half of a film's gross receipts.2, 3, 4
Don Hartman accompanying Grace Kelly to the 27th annual Academy Awards (1955) where Kelly wins the Oscar for Best Actress in The Country Girl, photo: Life Magazine, Gloria Grahame
By 1950, Paramount’s revenues had dropped to the lowest lever in its 36 year history and by July the studio's previous head of production, Henry Ginsberg, resigned and the search for his replacement began. In May 1951, the studio was dealt another huge blow when one of their biggest stars, Alan Ladd, left Paramount, signing a 10 year contract with Warner Brothers which gave Ladd a 10 percent share of his films' gross profits.7 Word of Ladd's deal spread like wildfire, signaling that the old way of doing things in Hollywood was coming to an end.
To add insult to injury, Hollywood was under assault by something much more destructive than shortsighted Washington D.C. bureaucrats; The Golden Age was tarnishing due to the rise of competition from television. Yes, the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948 was rendered moot in much the same way that Washington's breakup of "Ma Bell" in 1982 was rendered moot due to the rise of cellular communications. The monopoly that the major studios enjoyed for nearly three decades would probably have gone the way of the buggy-whip if left to their own devices.
Like most existential threats, this one was realized a little too late and a frenetic game of catch-up ensued. There was a failed attempt to partner with the DuMont television network which ceased broadcast in 1955. Then there was a failed attempt to create a pay-per-view television service called "Telemeter" which used a coin-operated set-top box. As the public's appetite for entertainment changed, television steadily gained in viewership the studio's revenue dwindled by a corresponding amount.
Bing Crosby, Zizi Jeanmarie and Don Hartman on the soundstage for Anything Goes, 1955 (left) Don with Zizi Jeanmarie and Cary Grant, 1952 (right)
Paramount’s Chairman (Adolph Zukor) President (Barney Balaban), and Executive Vice President (Y. Frank Freeman) felt that Don Hartman, who had been a stage actor, screenwriter, director, and producer of feature films, had the right resumé to help turn things around. MGM had experienced similar financial difficulties, when in 1948, its parent-company Loews hired Dore Schary as head of production to turn things around.
Balancing Competing Interests: Whether of not Hartman could be successful at turning around Paramount's fortunes remained to be seen. Under the promise of his employment contract, Hartman would have near total control over the studio's in-house creative (production) side of operations while Y. Frank Freeman (who's background was in banking and cotton mills) ran the financial end of the business. Up to this point, many studio executives were businessmen and creative decisions were not their strong-suite. In his autobiography, actor Cary Grant uses Don Hartman's first day at Paramount as an example of the personality differences—and inevitable tension—between creative individuals and business executives:8
Although movie studios were (and still are) considered to be a type of "factory" there is little similarity to a traditional assembly-line business. Each film is a one-off product which will succeed or fail on its own merit. Executives who have transitioned from other types of industries may mistakenly attempt to apply rules of efficiency to a business which is far more dynamic and unpredictable than other manufacturing endeavors. By far, the most unpredictable aspect is the wide range of personalities that make up the factory's key asset, its pool of creative talent.
Don Hartman with Alfred Hitchcock on location in London for The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1955 (left), Don with Bob Hope on the set for Son of The Paleface, 1952 (right)
Setting a New Course: One of Hartman's first significant changes was to loosen the studio's arcane structure (known euphemistically as the "studio system") by allowing sub-contracting with outside ("independent") production companies that were, in Hartman's words:
This necessitated the bifurcation of Paramount into two distinct studios: one that continued to make in-house movies using "salaried house producers" and one that catered to independent film producers and "semi-autonomous production units." In order to attract new talent to the studio, Paramount had to start offering a more attractive deal than was currently being offered by competing studios like United Artists. UA had much lower operating costs—Paramount had over 1,300 employees on staff—and was already structured in a way that was more in sync with the shifting sands of the industry. In order to offer below market incentives the studio was forced to shift those overhead costs to their in-house productions which were barely able to service those additional expenses. Ultimately, this strategy would prove unsustainable.
Don Hartman on back lot with Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart, 1953 (left), Don with Danny Kaye and his wife, Sylvia Fine, 1954 (right)
Notwithstanding the financial constraints placed on it by the antitrust case, there was positive cashflow coming into Paramount's coffers due to the proceeds from the divestiture of its theater assets. The only thing left for the studio to do with the cash was to invest that capital by dramatically increasing the number of pictures in Paramount's pipeline. According to a May 24, 1952 article in Billboard Magazine, titled
Cost-cutting measures introduced by Hartman called for streamlining film production with more emphasis on careful story selection to reduce extensive rewrites, shorter scripts to generate more ninety–minute movies, fewer sets to save money, and fewer camera setups to save time.11 Unfortunately, emergency cost-cutting pressures severely constrained Paramount’s ability to develop a pool of new actors.
During Hartman's tenure as production chief, Paramount churned out a stream of commercially successful movies through the mid-1950s. More importantly, the studio was also able to maintain its reputation for turning out quality product, being nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award each year between 1950 and 1955 and winning 35 awards during that period.
Paramount portfolio of successful A-pictures from the early 1950s included: Son of Paleface (1952) starring Bob Hope, Jane Russell, and Roy Rogers; Shane (1953) starring Alan Ladd; Stalag 17 (1953) starring William Holden and Frank Sinatra; Roman Holiday (1953) starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck; H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1954) starring Gene Berry; The Country Girl (1954) for which Grace Kelly won the Oscar for best actress; Sabrina (1954 film) starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden; White Christmas (1954) starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney; Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) starring Grace Kelly and James Stewart; The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) starring Grace Kelly and William Holden; The Rose Tattoo (1955) starring Burt Lancaster; To Catch a Thief (1955) starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; The Ten Commandments (1956) starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day; The Rainmaker (1956) starring Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn.
Who Gets the Credit: Each movie that Paramount produced during Hartman's tenure had a unique set of circumstances yet to varying degrees, he had an influence on each and every one of them. As was typical for the time, Hartman never took an "executive producer" screen credit (or "one-sheet" poster credit) for his work as production chief. This was a tradition started by MGM’s head of production in the 1930s, Irving Thalberg, who was fictionalized in F. Scot Fitzgerald’s book, The Last Tycoon. On the subject of his choice to not take a screen credit, Thalberg famously said:
Sadly, taking credit for the work of others is an all-too-common practice in Hollywood. One particularly odious example is an incident at the 16th Academy Awards involving producer Hal Wallis who had just won the Oscar for Best Picture on his 1944 film Casablanca. When the award was announced, studio head Jack Warner rushed to the stage to accept the award with, as Wallis put it,
3-D and Technicolor: Hartman oversaw a long-forgotten movie called Sangaree (1953) which was Paramount's first three-dimensional stereoscopic film, colloquially known as"3D" (dubbed "Paravision" by Paramount). Ten days into Sangaree's filming the front office ordered a halt to production, instructing the director to reshoot using the new technique. Sangaree is noteworthy as being the first 3D film in Technicolor; the first 3D film based on a best-selling novel; and the first 3D film billed with an A-list cast. Despite the studio's enthusiasm, the 3D craze did not last long. In the June 1953 issue of Box-office, Paramount was the first studio to publicly express concern over the quality of 3D projection in theaters across the country. Sloppy presentations were contributing to an increased apathy from the public toward stereoscopic films.29
Don Hartman directs a 3-D trailer for Sangaree, 1953 (right)
Another change that Hartman instituted was a move away from black-and-white films and towards the widespread use of Technicolor for all future releases. Technicolor was an expensive process which was typically reserved for splashy musicals, cartoons and mega-budget productions like Gone with the Wind. According to a May, 1952 article in Billboard, Hartman stated:
It's Lonely at the Top: When several years earlier Hartman had warned friend Dore Schary about the downside to accepting the role of production head he probably never envisioned that he would find himself in the same role. Dashing people's hopes and dreams, constantly dispensing with the dreaded word "no" will not win you any popularity contests. However, that is an unavoidable consequence of the job. Upon pouring over dozens of biographies and autobiographies on Paramount's directors, one frequently repeated admonishment from Hartman kept reappearing:
National pre-release press screening of William Wyler's The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart, 1955
Pulling the plug on a finished piece of work that someone had poured their heart and soul into was an especially unsavory affair. In 1955, composer Gail Kubik had just finished scoring William Wyler's film, The Desperate Hours. Kubik believed he was set to earn an Academy Award for his unconventional arrangement which was later described as savage in its use of dissonance and of percussive effects, intriguing in its experimentation with novel sonorities. A friend of Kubik's proclaimed,
At trial screenings of the picture, audiences gave the music high praise, however Paramount's head, Don Hartman, was not impressed. He told Wyler,
Don Hartman's office at Paramount, signing actor/comedian George Gobel, 1956
Signing Talent & Negotiating Deals: Casting decisions were typically done by the director with guidance and input from the studio front office but on certain occasions Hartman would take an active role in screen-testing, negotiating salaries and signing talent. Once the initial framework of a deal was hammered out, the fine print was typically left to the lawyers, and with that out of the way, some type of signing ceremony was usually performed to seal the deal. Then a press release was issued to the trade papers. This is Paramount's 1956 press release which accompanied the photo above, left:
Every Picture Tells a Story: Each year, hundreds of story ideas, manuscripts, novels and plays were submitted to Paramount's "story department." Finding the next hit movie amongst that tsunami of submissions was the task of the studio's Story Editor and their team of readers. When there was a submission worthy of passing along a synopsis was sent to the production team for further development. With so much material pouring in, one could incorrectly assume that there would be dozens great stories to choose from. However, studio executives tend to be a risk adverse bunch. Turning an original manuscript into a profitable (award-winning) motion picture may be goal worth striving for, but the failure rate is simply too high an the risks far outweigh the rewards. This makes it a high priority to search for a proven entity, be it a popular novel or Broadway play, a reboot, or even a sequel.
Since talkies first appeared, Broadway (New York theater) has always been the well of choice from which Hollywood producers prefer to drink. As part of Hartman's pursuit to find new stories, he would travel to New York periodically to meet with authors and playwrights. This type of travel would typically be publicized in the trade papers to draw out writers such as this Jan. 11 1955 press release titled ""Hartman, Wyler in N.Y":
The challenge was to find material that was not only interesting but financially feasible and suited for the studio's stable of contract directors and actors. As soon as a property was purchased by the studio it became a liability until it was made into a motion picture. Occasionally, an old screenplay would be languishing in Paramount's Story Department, waiting to be dusted off and repurposed. The following is an excerpt from screenwriter Sidney Sheldon's autobiography, The Other Side of Me, regarding a proposed rewrite for a Dean Martin comedy:15
White Christmas: Big-budget musicals were starting to make a comeback in the 1950s and Paramount was looking for a musical extravaganza to re-pair Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire who had co-starred in Holiday Inn in 1942 and Blue Skies in 1946. Planning for the White Christmas began in early 1952 with Rita Hayworth being proposed to co-star opposite Crosby and Astaire with Michael Curtiz (known for Casablanca) directing. Problems began to arise when Astaire backed out after reading the first draft. A second delay occurred in November when Crosby's wife, Dixie Lee, passed away from ovarian cancer. Actor Donald O'Conner was signed to replace Astaire but became ill with Q-fever which he contracted from a tick while working on the film Francis.16
Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin, Don Hartman and Danny Kaye, White Christmas, 1953
With no male co-star and no female lead the film, casting had hit a brick wall. Crosby had remarked casually to Hartman,
The response was immediate. Berlin agreed to give up five percent of his potential earnings and Crosby, by telephone, agreed to the same arrangement. Kaye’s $250,000 salary combined with his percentage was significantly more than O’Connor's deal but the studio had no choice. And they say that artists aren't business-minded.
Article on Danny Kaye deal with Paramount (left), Hartman with Rosemary Clooney, White Christmas, 1953
Although the critics were only mildly impressed with the results, the studio was thrilled. In describing Rosemary Clooney's performance, Hartman was quoted in a September 1953 article in Redbook Magazine titled "What Makes Rosie Glow?":
Don Hartman with Rosemary Clooney and Irving Berlin, on the set of White Christmas 1954
Superlatives abound when discussing the commercial success of White Christmas. Other than Ten Commandments, it was one of Paramount's highest grossing films of the decade; it was the highest-grossing film of 1954 ($12 million in theatrical rentals) taking in an adjusted gross revenue of $529.3 million. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were ranked as the #1 and #3 box office stars in the country in the 1950s, and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" was one of the most successful songs in American history. It was the first production in Paramount's new "VistaVision" widescreen high-resolution format which allowed exhibitors to project a "wide-screen feature without the need for special projection equipment. it was the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz's career since Casablanca.
An Immovable Object Meets an Unstoppable Force
Maintaining tight financial constraints over a volatile director while they are in the midst of filming their own vanity project is a recipe for conflict. Many of Hollywood's most famous directors bad developed reputations for "overshooting" their pictures, burning through thousands of feet of film while being totally unconcerned when it comes to the amount of time or money consumed on a project. Some directors may envision themselves as the captain of the ship but they are actually subordinates to the studio's front office which is paying the freight in order for them to realize their vision.
The hierarchical relationship between a studio's head of production and a film's director was etched in stone after director Erich von Stroheim plunged Goldwyn Pictures into financial ruin during the 1924 filming of his epic saga, Greed. Stroheim's "masterpiece" clocked in at an astonishing nine hours in length and his zeal for endless retakes almost caused a rebellion amongst cast and crew members while shooting on location in Death Valley's 120 degree heat. Just as the film was nearing completion, the near-insolvent Goldwyn was merged into a new entity—Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The studio's new head of production, 25 year-old Irving Thalberg, removed von Stroheim from his own picture and whittled nine hours of rough-cut film into two hours and twenty minutes—the remaining seven hours of film was recycled for its silver nitrate. Passions ran so hot that MGM's Louis B. Mayer got into a fist fight with von Stroheim who then disavowed his own film.1
Roman Colosseum and chariot race from the silent film Ben Hur, 1929
Despite Thalberg's success at curtailing the grandiose ambitions of insubordinate directors like von Stroheim, he himself was lulled into complacency during the filming of the 1929 silent version of Ben Hur. Once again, extravagant sets and expensive locations nearly upended the studio; while filming Ben Hur's famous chariot race, director Fred Niblo used forty-two cameras to shoot over two-hundred-thousand feet of film (74 hours worth!), yet only seven-hundred-fifty feet made it into the final cut. Keep in mind, the average length of a motion picture is around five-thousand to six-thousand feet, known colloquially as a "five-reeler" or "six-reeler."2
Only a few months into Hartman's new position at Paramount, the streamlining and cost cutting measures that he was attempting to put in place were being rendered moot by the studio's most powerful director, Cecile B. DeMille. In March, 1952, DeMille pitched a proposal to remake his 1923 silent film, The Ten Commandments. Just as von Stroheim nearly plunged Goldwyn Pictures into financial ruin, DeMille's profligate spending on his 1923 production nearly bankrupted Paramount (then known as "Famous Players-Lasky Corporation"); causing a split between DeMille and co-founder Adolph Zukor. According to Sumiko Higashi, author of Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: the Silent Era, during location filming in Guadalupe-Dunes near San Louis Obispo, Zukor telegraphed DeMille saying
Set construction for the City of the Pharaoh in the silent film The Ten Commandments, 1923
After ten years in exile, DeMille returned to Paramount in 1932 and was now the studio's primary asset with significant influence over Zukor who was now chairman of the board. When DeMille proposed his remake of The Ten Commandments to studio executives he was riding high from the recent success of The Greatest Show on Earth. In the Paramount board room DeMille made his pitch for the redux. Barney Balaban said,
DeMille calmly replied,
That day it became abundantly clear to all within earshot that there were now two Paramounts, DeMille's Paramount and everyone else's Paramount. By late 1953, DeMille's production of The Ten Commandments became Paramount's highest priority. Although a significant portion of the film was shot on the backlot in Hollywood, DeMille spent weeks filming in Egypt and Mount Sinai. In early 1954, advance teams spent months securing locations, building sets, hiring 100s of extras and local crew. In a December 1953 article in the Los Angeles Times, DeMille had announced that his picture would probably have a budget of at least six million dollars. However, by November 1954, Paramount chairman Adolph Zukor announced that DeMille was basically
Don Hartman at the premiere of The Ten Commandments, with John Derek, Y. Frank Freeman, Burmese Prime Minister U Nu, Cecil B. DeMille, MPAA President Eric Johnston, and Charlton Heston, 1955
Luckily for the studio, this time the gamble paid off. Although DeMille's 1952 production of Ten Commandments did consume a sizable portion ($13 mil) of the $50 million investment in new product, the Biblical epic went on to become Paramount's highest-grossing movie of the 1950s with an adjusted domestic gross of $615 million. For years it ranked second only to Gone with the Wind (1939) as the most successful film in Hollywood history and the $34 million it generated in rentals covered the losses of many of Paramount's costly failures in 1956 and 1957.
When Worlds Collide: Even when one of the studio's A-list producers, directors or actors would bring in one of their own pet projects, they still had to accept the final judgement of the front office. As previously stated, filmmaking is a collaborative effort. However, art "by committee" can be a messy, uncomfortable, process. In the studio system of the 1950s, writers and directors were not free to make anything their hearts desired. They were answerable to the studio that was paying their way. This was an unavoidable consequence of the movie business in that era.
Creative people tend to be emotional people so when emotions are combined with vastly differing opinions it can be a volatile mix. One such example of how tempers can flare over creative differences was the debate over Paramount's production of the H. G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds (1953). The film's producer, George Pal, was a visionary and futurist who had pioneered a type of stop-motion animation known as "puppetoons" (aka "claymation"). Paramount hired Pal in 1940 to create animated shorts (cartoons) which preceded their feature films in theaters. In the late 40s and early 50s he began working on feature length science fiction films, creating Destination Moon in 1950 and When Worlds Collide in 1951.
Searching for his next project, Pal came across the H. G. Wells outline for War of the Worlds while searching through Paramount's story files. The silent film rights to Worlds was originally purchased by Cecil B. DeMille in 1925 but his falling out with Adolph Zukor seems to have killed the project. Pal asked DeMille for permission to proceed and with DeMille's blessing, he hired screenwriter Barré Lyndon to write the script treatment. In June of 1951, the first draft was given to Don Hartman for review. Hartman, with his background in romantic comedy, was primarily interested in character development, story arc, and the motivational back story of the principle characters; Pal thought that the concept of a romantic backstory was a necessary evil—their two approaches to entertainment could not have been more different. According to Pal, he
It should be noted that this is a one-sided account of events and the only published incident showing Hartman with the slightest hint of a surly disposition. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to assume that we are missing the full context of Hartman's "trash can" gesture. DeMille, who had a long-standing interest in the project, told Hartman that he would be crazy not to make the film.
A tale of two worlds: Martian attack meets sappy melodrama
In Barré Lyndon's earlier treatment, the lead character, Dr. Clayton Forrester (played by actor Gene Berry), was to be a married father who was separated from his family during the initial Martian attack, searching for them throughout the remainder of the film. Hartman did not feel that the audience would be as engaged with the hero being married. As a compromise, Hartman instructed Pal to give Dr. Forrester a "love interest." Reluctantly, Pal had Lyndon write in the character of Sylvia Van Buren, played by actress Ann Robinson. Van Buren was to be a former college student of Dr. Forrester; the two would have a chance encounter after the first Martian attack.9 It was also suggested that Lyndon reduced some of the
In an October 1953 interview with Astounding Science Fiction magazine, Pal described Hartman as
Apparently, Don Hartman wasn't Pal's only problem. Pal also complained about the quality of his lead actors, saying that Ann Robinson
The special effects wizardry of Gordon Jennings, A.S.C., combined with realistic miniature sets from Art Directors Hal Pereira and Albert Nozaki and the sound effects of George Dutton
During the planning phase for War of the Worlds, producer George Pal wanted to shoot the final third of the picture in 3-D but Hartman felt that by this point 3-D was a passing fad and that it was too much to ask a theater audience to put on 3D glasses midway through the picture. In this case, Hartman was backed up by Y. Frank Freeman and the idea was killed.12
By emphasizing character development and conflict, studios like Paramount were attempting to expand the audience for their science fiction films to differentiate them from low-budget sci-fi films where characters were little more than props moving through a paper-thin plot.12 Whether or not this type story treatment adds to, or detracts from, sci-fi's "true purpose" remains the subject of fierce debate. Diehard sci-fi fans contend that romantic subplots are little more than a gratuitous diversion, yet they remain a cornerstone of almost every sci-fi film from that point forward—2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien being the notable exceptions. Despite its perceived shortcomings, War of the Worlds remains one of the most popular sci-fi films of the 1950s.
Bad mix: , Naked Jungle's "turgid pot-boiler" subplot spoils the picnic in George Pal's "Killer Ant" flick
Hartman and Pal did work together without incident on Pal's next film, Houdini (1953) starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh; this may have been due to Hartman's close relationship with Janet Leigh. Unfortunately, Hartman and Pal would clash again over Pal's next sci-fi/horror film, The Naked Jungle (1954). This film was described by sci-fi fans as "a turgid pot-boiler" which will only be remembered for its attacking horde of killer ants. According to Pal:
George Pal left Paramount in 1955, moving over to MGM. After all of his complaining about it, Pal continued to utilize the "boy-meets-girl" sub-plot. In his 1960 adaptation of the H.G. Wells novella The Time Machine, Pal pares a love-struck scientist (George Wells, played by Rod Taylor) with a young, fragile, girl from the future (Weena, played by Yvette Mimieux). Just as with The War of the Worlds, the "love interest" theme does not appear to have detracted from this beloved sci-fi classic.
Don Hartman accepting the Oscar for 'Best Special Effects' on behalf of his friend, Gordon Jennings - Awarded posthumously for his work on War of the Worlds
In an odd twist of fate, Don Hartman gave the Oscar acceptance speech on behalf of George Pal, Gordon Jennings (posthumously), and Paramount's special effects department when War of the Worlds won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1954. Jennings, who died of a heart attack just after completing the film in 1953, had been with Paramount since 1941 and had worked closely with Hartman on dozens of pictures including Road to Morocco in 1942.
A Star Is Born
In his book, Case History of a Movie, Dore Schary points out that
A night at the Oscars: Danny Kaye, Sylvia Fine and Hartman, 1953 (left) 26th Academy Awards: Don Hartman, Don, Merle Oberon, Buddy Adler (best picture, From Here to Eternity) and Cecil B. DeMille (presenter) at Pantages Theatre Hollywood, 1954 (right)
Audrey Hepburn and Roman Holiday: In mid-1951, casting began on a new William Wyler picture called Roman Holiday; a light-hearted film about a bored and sheltered princess who escapes her guardians and wanders the streets of Rome where she meets and falls in love with an American reporter. Cary Grant was to play the male lead but turned it down feeling he was too old for the part which ultimately went to Gregory Peck. Now came time to cast the part of the impulsive princess.
In hindsight, the selection of an actress to play the leading role of Princess Ann seems so obvious given the indelible impression made by Audrey Hepburn's breakout performance. However, at the time the picture was being cast Hepburn was a complete unknown in the United States, and barely known in England. Wyler's first choice was Elizabeth Taylor, but MGM wouldn't loan her out to Paramount. He then wanted actress Jean Simmons, but Howard Hughes (now head of RKO) had Simmons under an exclusive contract. When word began to circulate that there was an active search to fill the part, Paramount’s London production chief, Richard Mealand, sent a telegram to the Hollywood front office stating:
Don at the premiere of Roman Holiday with Cole Porter, Audrey Hepburn and Irving Berlin at the Fox Theater in Westwood Village, California 1953. Photo Credit: Phil Stern
In September, 1951, Hartman traveled to London to sit in on a screen test for Hepburn at Pinewood Studios—Hepburn was not told she would be testing for Roman Holiday. Paramount wanted to see what she was like when the cameras weren’t rolling so an "off-camera" interview about her personal life was planned along with two practice scenes for
Suddenly realizing the pressure she was under, Hepburn added:
The studio's offer to Hepburn was $12,500 (equivalent to $126,000 in 2019) for Roman Holiday with an option for a second picture at $25,000. Paramount wanted a seven-year contract, but Hepburn balked at such a lengthy contract and, with a little help from her fiancé, was able to negotiate a better deal. Unknown to Hepburn was the fact that it cost Paramount a staggering £5,000,000 (equivalent to $64 mil in 2019) to buy out her contract from the London studio she was signed with.
Don Hartman with K. Hargreaves of Pinewood Studios (J.A. Rank Films) at the Dorchester Hotel in London, 1952 (left), Don at an awards show with Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, 1955 (right)
Roman Holiday was a monumental success for the studio—and by extension, for Hepburn—garnering 10 Academy Award nominations. In February 1954 Don Hartman personally called Hepburn to notify her that she had received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.3 Roman Holiday went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn) and Best Writing (Ian McClellan Hunter, fronting for Dalton Trumbo). Roman Holiday, White Christmas and Ten Commandments where three of Paramount's highest grossing films in the 1950s-1960s.
Even before Audrey Hepburn had been selected for Roman Holiday, Wyler had insisted that he be allowed to shoot the entire picture on location in the streets of Rome and at Cinecittà Studios in the outskirts of the city. To this end, Hartman lent his support in convincing Paramount's risk-adverse executives to go along with Wyler's vision. Once filming began, the studio required Wyler to make daily shipments of duped film so that Hartman could review story points and assess progress on the production's schedule. Film historian Daniel Steinhart published a series of telegrams between Wyler and the front office which took place over the month of July, 1952, including this excerpt from Steinhart:
Both Hartman and Paramount president Barney Balaban visited Wyler in Rome durning the shoot and in postproduction. At the end of filming, Wyler gave Hartman the Vespa used in the movie as appreciation for all of his assistance on the project.
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, 1953 (left), Donna Hartman with her fiancé on the yellow Vespa from the movie Roman Holiday, Palm Springs, 1953 (right)
Hepburn also tested for Ten Commandments in the role of Moses’s love interest, Nefertiri, but in his diary, Cecil B. DeMille wrote that Hepburn was
Now that Hepburn was officially one of Paramount's biggest stars, the lissome actress and her "signature look" became an increasing concern—both on screen, and off screen. During the production of Sabrina, Wilder suggested that Hepburn buy herself some fashionable clothes in Paris—described in a memo as
Hartman, Audrey Hepburn at a premiere celebration luncheon for Roman Holiday, 1953 (right)
The studio's interest in Hepburn's appearance was not limited to clothing. According to Ed Sikov's biography, The Life and Times of Billy Wilder:
While on the subject of her neck, Hepburn purchased her own Givenchy dress for Sabrina which became the iconic "little black cocktail dress" with "the Sabrina neckline" which defined her and started a fashion trend which lives on today. Bucking the trend set by busty starlets of the 1950s like Marylin Monroe and Jane Mansfield, Wilder went out of his way to accentuate her pencil-thin physique to great effect.
Herding Cats: No doubt, one of Hartman’s least favorite jobs was navigating the treacherous waters of actors’ super-sized (or highly fragile) egos and temperaments. Being judged, rewarded, or rejected, based on your talent and physical appearance can make the studio lot a fertile breeding ground for paranoia, jealousy, resentment, and petty rivalries. In turn, these negative emotions can lead to back-stabbing, undermining, temper tantrums, and substance abuse. Then there was the never-ending drama of "office romances" between actors and actresses while filming a picture. Not only did Hartman need to keep the peace between celebrities who were in the throws of a breakup, but he also needed to do damage control with the Hollywood press corps to keep scandal from ruining a film's release. Some stars—Audrey Hepburn comes to mind—gave the studio little to worry about, while others kept the front office very busy with frequent demands and high drama. One such instance was when actress Grace Kelly threatened to
Feud: Betty and Ginger - Actress Betty Hutton (left), Don Hartman with Ginger Rogers and Cornel Wilde (right)
Tabloids and Gossip: When the stars were not acting up of their own accord, Hollywood gossip columnists would pull at the threads of old grudges until some serious drama began to unravel. Two of Hollywood's biggest trouble makers were Hedda Hopper who worked for the Los Angeles Times, and arch-rival Louella Parsons who worked for William Randolph Hearst.7 They seemed to relish in using their "poison pens" to cause friction where little existed. The incident below was chronicled by producer/director Richard Bare in his book Confessions of a Hollywood Director;8 it involves a manufactured dispute between two actresses who disliked each other—Betty Hutton and Ginger Rogers—over a proposed film, Topsy and Eva. If you happened to catch the FX miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, you know exactly where this is going. In 1952, Louella Parsons ran the following article in the Los Angeles Examiner, with the bold headline
Continuing from Richard Bare's book, Confessions of a Hollywood Director:
Within a few days, Freeman and Hartman each received a
Nitpicking: Hartman also had the unpleasant task of admonishing actors and actresses to keep their weight in check in order to maintain continuity over a several-month-long movie shoot—something they certainly did not appreciate. In a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times,9 actress Shirley MacLaine recalled her big breakfasts (followed by big lunches) with director Alfred Hitchcock while filming The Trouble with Harry (1955). MacLaine said:
Publicity and Scandal: There is an old saying in Hollywood that goes something like this:
Of coarse, the studio was willing to take their "buzz" wherever they could get it and this included capitalizing on seemingly negative publicity that would inadvertently boost the public's interest in an upcoming release. According to a July 1949 Hollywood Reporter article, RKO rushed the release of Hartman's Christmas film, Holliday Affair, in order to capitalize on Robert Mitchum's notoriety (and subsequent rise in popularity) due to a "criminal conspiracy" conviction for possession of marijuana in January, 1949.10
Grace Kelly: When Grace Kelly first appeared on the scene in 1950 she was just twenty years old, beginning her career with a part in the ABC television series, Actor's Studio. This led to other TV rolls, and soon thereafter, a small (2 minutes, 14 seconds) part in the film Fourteen Hours (1951). Kelly continued appearing in TV rolls until her big break as the female co-lead in two films: High Noon (1953) opposite Gary Cooper, and Mogambo (1953) with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. From this point on, here career was nothing short of meteoric. Next came the Alfred Hitchcock film, Dial M for Murder, in 1954. Hitch was in a desperate search for his next screen siren after losing Ingrid Bergman and Kelly (being an attractive blonde) fit the bill:
When Hitchcock made the switch from Warner Bros. to Paramount, so did Kelly. However, Kelly was still under a seven-year contract that she signed with MGM before Mogambo in 1953. It is a mystery why MGM did not use her as leverage to lure Hitchcock to their studio. Regardless, Paramount was able to snag them both for several pictures. Kelly was Hollywood's new "it girl" and with the clock ticking on her contract with MGM it was time to do some serious wooing.
A Night Fit for a Princess: When The Country Girl (1954) was nominated for several Oscars in 1955 the studio was anxious to show Kelly how they treat one of their top stars. In March, 1955, Don Hartman was asked to be Grace Kelly's chaperone at the 27th Academy Awards. According to press reports, the studio wanted to make her evening
Body-blocked. Grace Kelly's chaperone and surrogate father-figure for the night, March 30, 1955. Photo credit: George Silk, Time Life
According to numerous press reports, Grace Kelly’s father ("Jack" John B. Kelly Sr.) was not happy with the rumors that were swirling around his daughter. Jack Kelly was a wealthy business man from Philadelphia who had his own reputation to protect. Grace Kelly (now 25 years old) had earned a bad reputation for having a series of romances with older men, starting with theater director Don Richardson in 1951. Then came an alleged affair with Gary Cooper while filming High Noon (1952),13 and Clark Gable while filming Mogambo (1953).14 There was a highly publicized affair with Ray Milland (also in 1953), while filming Rear Window; Milland's wife tipped off gossip columnist Louella Parsons that Grace was a
After the Ray Milland fiasco, Kelly had an on-again, off-again, affair with fashion designer Oleg Cassini, followed by an affair with recently-widowed Bing Crosby, while filming The Country Girl in 1954. Then there was an affair with French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont in early 1955; she was planning to marry Aumont in the spring of 1955, only months before meeting Prince Rainier at the Cannes Film Festival.14 To make matters worse, there were rumors of an abortion in early 1955.15 There is another old saying in Hollywood that
Don Hartman at Grace Kelly's house with Edith Head and Zizi Jeanmarie (upper left), Don and Grace at the Romanoff’s after-Oscars party (lower left), Don and Grace backstage as she is about to receive her Oscar for The Country Girl (right). Photo credits: Gloria Grahame, George Silk, Time Life
Sources claim that Jack Kelly had asked publicist Scoop Conlan, a family friend, to
With a Paramount executive by her side through most of the Oscars, the gossip columnists had little to gossip about that evening. So instead, they focused on the one thing which the Hollywood chattering class values above all else—her appearance. This is an excerpt from a 2011 article in Vanity Fair:
At the Pantages Theater, actor William Holden read off the names for Best Actress and Kelly whispered to Hartman,
Life Magazine cover, April 1955 (left), Don and Grace arriving at Academy Awards, 1955 (upper right), Don, Grace Kelly, Wade Nichols, (editor of Redbook) 16th Annual Redbook Awards for The Country Girl (lower right). Photo credits: Time Life and Redbook
After the Oscars, Kelly became known as "the girl in white gloves," being universally heralded as one of the best dressed women in film. With all of the glowing press coverage about her poise, her elegance, her Oscar upset, her aquamarine dress, her far-away gaze, and her conspicuous lack of negative gossip, Grace Kelly's princess image in the pantheon of "Hollywood royalty" was once-again renewed. However, neither Paramount nor MGM would be the ultimate beneficiary of this fawning publicity; within two months Kelly would announce that she was ending her acting career to become Monaco’s Princess Grace. Before retiring to Monaco, Kelly returned to Dore Schary and MGM for two last films, The Swan (1956), starring Alec Guinness and High Society (1956), starring Bing Crosby (lent out by Paramount) and Frank Sinatra with music by Cole Porter.
To Every Thing There Is A Season (1956-1958)
Despite Don Hartman's best efforts, Paramount continued to fade into the sunset due to the antitrust breakup and increasing competition from television. As box office rentals plummeted, contract directors like William Wyler and B-picture producers Pine-Thomas began to leave the studio, further accelerating the decline. The profitability and prestige of the studio now rested almost entirely on Cecil B. DeMille and the Hal Wallis films of Elvis Presley and comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Although his contract with Paramount had been extended for five years in 1953, Hartman decided to terminate the relationship in August 1956.1 During his five years at the studio he supervised the production of ninety-nine films. Perhaps he felt that he could not succeed in his mission to turn things around due to the financial strains from the antitrust ruling. Alternatively, he may have yearned for more creative control over his own pet projects. Then there were the multitude of lucrative deals he helped negotiate for his close friends—like the White Christmas deal he landed for Danny Kaye—which may have acted as a tantalizing inducement. Or perhaps the studio felt that he had failed in his mission to right their sinking ship and were kind enough to not publicly humiliate him on the way out.
Whatever his reasons, Hartman made the difficult decision to leave the comfort and familiarity of Paramount—a company that had given him his big break when he was just a starry-eyed kid, fresh off the train from Brooklyn. More than a mere employer, Paramount had become like a family with all of the blessings and dysfunctions that the word implies.
Sophia Loren: One of Hartman's last acts as he was on his way out the door at Paramount was to negotiate the signing of a relatively unknown (in the U.S.) Italian actress named Sophia Loren to a multi-picture deal. In 1955, Life magazine had made the prediction—long before she had done a single film in America—that it would not be long before Loren was snapped up by a major film studio.
By late 1956, the Italian bombshell had just completed her first three "American" pictures with 20th Century Fox (Boy on a Dolphin starring Alan Ladd), United Artists (Pride and the Passion starring Cary Grant) and Stanley Kramer (Legend of the Lost starring John Wayne). However, Loren's scenes in all three films were shot by second units outside of the U.S. (mostly in Italy, Spain and Libya). All three films had cast Loren as and exotic "peasant girl" due to her limited English skills. By this point, Loren was now considered a hot property in the U.S. with offers beginning to flow in from several studios. Paramount was the first studio to make her a serious offer. Loren's soon-to-be husband—a much older Italian film producer named Carlo Ponti—was now involved in her contract negotiations and was angling for some leading rolls that would quickly elevate her stature in America.
Oscar Fever: Paramount had been on an Oscar winning streak with the studio's contract players having won the Academy Award for Best Actress four years in a row: Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba), Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday), Grace Kelly (The Country Girl), and Anna Magnani (The Rose Tattoo). Despite her limited English skills, Paramount was hoping that Loren would deliver Oscar number five and was highly motivated to sign her as soon as possible. The final deal that was reached between Hartman, Paramount, Sophia Loren and her agent/negotiator/boyfriend Carlo Ponti, was for a five-picture non-exclusive contract.
As soon as the ink was dry on Loren's five-picture deal, Paramount's front-office was anxious to provide their newest contract player with a "star making vehicle." It would be her first picture made on U.S. soil. Cary Grant was smitten with Loren after working together on Pride and the Passion and was now pushing for Loren to co-star in a glamorous comedy called Houseboat. However, Hartman was given the final say and he chose a film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's book Desire Under The Elms as Loren's first "breakout" picture.2 The film would be produced under Hartman's own independent production company, Don Hartman Productions. Once completed, the film was to be released and distributed by Paramount as part of Hartman's exit arrangement. After decades of writing and directing comedies, Hartman was finally going to try his hand at serious drama, and would be assuming most of the financial risk in the process.
Star power: Oscar winning director Delbert Mann, Sophia Loren, Don Hartman, Anthony Perkins, Burl Ives on the Paramount lot, 1957
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: All of Hartman's decisions certainly seemed like good ones the time—they always do until the clarity of hindsight kicks in. For his very first independent production, Hartman chose a who's-who of marquee talent. Eugene O'Neill was a celebrated American playwright who had won four Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize. O'Neill play, Desire Under The Elms, had been a smash hit on Broadway. The choice of Delbert Mann as director certainly seemed wise. Mann's 1955 film, Marty, had just swept the Oscars in 1956, winning Best Picture, Best Director (Mann), Best Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky), and Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine). Likewise, Anthony Perkins (Psycho) had just been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion (1957). Burl Ives had just completed a breakout performance in East of Eden, directed by Elia Kazan. Composer Elmer Bernstein had just completed the music score for The Ten Commandments which was receiving high praise. To round out the talent, Hartman had selected Sophia Loren who had all of Hollywood buzzing with excitement. So far, so good.
Better times: Sophia Loren, Delbert Mann, Don Hartman and Loren's publicist at the Hotel Bel Air, 1957
Eugene O'Neill's story revolved around a sordid love triangle between a greedy old man named Ephraim (Burl Ives), his young son Eben (Anthony Perkins) and Ephraim's young, opportunistic, immigrant wife Anna (Sophia Loren), with the latter two competing to inherit the family farm from the old man. One possible explanation for Hartman's decision to produce the film outside of Paramount's studio structure would be the improbability that such risqué subject matter would have passed the scrutiny of Luigi Luraschi in the studio's Censorship Department. Luraschi was now strictly enforcing the moral standards set forth by the Legion of Decency and the MPAA. Desire would have certainly pushed all the wrong buttons—in 1960, Luraschi dramatically curtailed Janet Leigh's nude shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, due to a mere hint of a Leigh's breast.
I Am a Sexy Pot: With many of Hollywood's legendary leading ladies there was a constant tension between being taken seriously as an actress and being type-cast as a "sex symbol." Grace Kelly's decision to go without makeup in The Country Girl was a way for Kelly to establish herself as a legitimate actress; it was a bold move which paid off when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1956. Thus far, Sophia Loren was known primarily for her physical appearance so to advance herself as a "serious actress," the fist thing she would needed to work on was her English skills. When a reporter referred to her as a "sexpot" during an interview, she replied:
Quick study: A modest Sophia Loren throws shade on Jane Mansfield for her low-cut dress, April 1957 (left) Don Hartman with Sophia Loren at premier screening, December 1957 (right)
In April 1957, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and United Artists got together to throw a "coming out" party for Sophia Loren at Romanoff's restaurant in Beverly Hills. Late in the evening, actress Jane Mansfield (on contract with Fox) sat, uninvited, at the table with Loren while the paparazzi clicked away. The now famous photo of Loren's disdainful look at Mansfield's very low-cut dress (above, left) may have been a genuine moment of incredulity or it could have been an attempt at false modesty. In later interview, Loren insists that the look is an accurate portrayal of her feelings:
In short order, Loren was able to get over "her fear" and start dressing in a manner befitting a Hollywood sex symbol. To ensure that Loren's sex symbol status was cemented into the minds of the viewing public, Paramount would have Loren co-star opposite Cary Grant in Houseboat (1958), immediately after Desire had finished shooting. Houseboat, and Cary Grant, would give Loren the "Hollywood glamor treatment" that her less-flattering, but more serious, roll in Desire would not.
Cracks Begin to Appear: Problems immediately began to surface due to Loren's thick Italian accent. Eugene O'Neill had originally written the part of Anna as a New Englander so it had to be rewritten to portray Loren's Anna as an Italian immigrant. Then friction began to develop between the lead actors. Before shooting began, Loren had expressed concern about her co-stars in Desire. From the book, Sophia Loren, A Biography by Warren Harris:
When filming began in early 1957, casting problems started to reveal themselves. As a romantic partner to Sophia Loren, Perkins was too boyish to be believable. Loren felt that Perkins, a "method actor," was difficult to work with because he was constantly stopping the scene to ask Delbert Mann for guidance into the mind of his character.2, 3 Making matters worse, the intense and neurotic Perkins was overwhelmed by Loren's strong presence.
Don Hartman, Sophia Loren at L.A. Airport, 1957 (left), Hartman and Loren in makeup/wardrobe (right)
Despite the mounting difficulties, Paramount was so convinced that they had a winner on their hands that they promised Hartman first crack at the 1958 Oscars, pushing back the release of Loren's next films, Black Orchid and Houseboat, into 1959.2, 3, 4 Needless to say, a lot was riding on this picture's success. Before Loren left town, Hartman gifted her with the gold necklace and earrings she wore in the film as a good luck charm.5
To test the waters with their new Oscar contender, Paramount decided to provide an advanced screening to select media. The studio was already thinking about the the 1958 Oscars as well as the Cannes Film Festival in May and wanted to start generating early buzz. Things did not go according to plan. In their December 1957 review, Variety's critic said:
As the weeks went by, rumors were starting to circulate that Paramount's first Sophia Loren film was a flop so the studio decided to release Desire and take their chances with the critics. Meanwhile, Hartman was already beginning production of his second independent film, The Matchmaker (1958), starring Shirley MacLaine, Shirley Booth and Anthony Perkins. Unlike his misplaced attempt at serious melodrama with Desire, this time Hartman returned to what he knew best—farcical musical comedy. Filming of The Matchmaker was just wrapping up when Paramount finally decided to release Desire in March 1958.
Title frame, Desire (left),
Opening Night: There is no way to sugarcoat what happened next, the film's opening night was a disaster. When it was finally released to the public on March 13, 1958, the New York Times critic did not pull any punches. Of Burl Ives' performance, The Times said:
Burl Ives, the film's
Undoubtedly, Hartman was being haunted by the ghost of stinkers past, namely Mr. Imperium. There was probably an element of second-guessing as well—there were reports that he wanted Spencer Tracy and Marlon Brando to play the father and son opposite Loren but he ultimately chose Perkins and Ives. If only... The film also ran into trouble with the censors in Chicago, where it was restricted to
Newspaper death notice in Palm Springs Sun, March 1958
Exit, Stage Left: Don Hartman died of a heart attack on Sunday, March 23, 1958, while sequestering at their vacation home in Palm Springs. His death was only nine days after his first solo film project was released, and subsequently bombed. One can only speculate that the financial and emotional strain of the first, failing, solo venture took its toll on his health. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for someone who had spent his entire career writing and directing lighthearted comedies to jump into such dark source material. This miscalculation placed Hartman's fledgling production company, his reputation, his relationship with Paramount, and his personal financial stake at great risk.
Swan Song (1958 - Present)
As a friend of mine from childhood, noted entertainment lawyer Schuyler Moore, said in his book on the film industry (The Biz), there are two types of people that gravitate to the motion picture business:
So Long, Farewell: Hartman’s memorial service was held at Dore Schary’s home in Beverly Hills, with Dore delivering the eulogy—this is an excerpt from Dore's reading of the eulogy:
Don Hartman always stayed true to his friends, in good times and bad. Danny Kaye, Dore Schary, Groucho Marx, Gloria Stuart, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin were all very close family friends until Hartman’s death and most were able to attended his memorial service at Dore's home. In a strange twist of fate, Schary's friend Moss Hart died of a heart attack at his home in Palm Springs in 1961, at the age of 57. Hart's 1959 memoir, Act One, was made into a motion picture by Dore Schary in 1963.
Groucho Marx, Donna Hartman, Tim Hartman, Gloria Stuart (actress in Titanic, 1997), at Palm Springs house, 1952 (left), Donna Hartman with her fiancé, screening room at Beverly Hills house, 1953 (right)
Although he was certainly a passionate person when it came to politics, civil rights, and social justice, Hartman didn't wear his politics on his sleeve. His movies were not thought-provoking morality plays with a strong political message—like Dore Schary’s Crossfire (1947) which explored Anti-Semitism or Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) which explored the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII.2, 3 Don's films were light and breezy affairs that were all about giving people a brief period of escape and happiness in an otherwise chaotic and stressful world. Don had a hand in the making of over 120 motion pictures during his 27 year career, most of which were comedies or musicals.
After Hartman's departure from Paramount, more unexpected (and unwelcome) changes were in store for the ailing company. Cecil B. DeMille passed away in January 1959, further hobbling the studio's prospects for recovery. Seeing the writing on the wall, Vice-President Y. Frank Freeman retired that same year. As a tribute to his years of service, Freeman received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in early 1960.4 Barney Balaban stayed on as president with Adolph Zukor by his side as chairman. Of the deference and kindness that Balaban paid to Zukor throughout the years, Jerry Pickman (Paramount's VP of marketing) said:
Balaban replaced Zukor as Chairman of Paramount in 1964, retiring when Gulf Western subsumed the company in 1966. By this point, the old "studio system" that had reigned supreme since Hollywood's founding in the early 1900s was long dead and the corporatization of Hollywood was in full swing. Adolph Zukor passed away in 1976, at the age of 103.
One More Thing Before I Go: Before his death, there was one other picture in the pipeline for Hartman's fledgling production company. The Matchmaker (1958), was released on July 28, 1958, only four months after Hartman's death. Unlike Desire Under The Elms, this time Hartman returned to musical comedy and it payed off. Sadly, he did not live to see his redemption and financial salvation. Matchmaker was based on a 1954 Thorton Wilder play which Hartman had purchased the rights to in late 1955. Interestingly, Thorton Wilder had a ninety-six page FBI dossier which accused him of espionage and of being a
The Matchmaker: Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Perkins (left), Shirley Booth as Dolly Levi (right)
The film revolves around a professional matchmaker (Dolly Gallagher Levi) who is hired by a wealthy but miserly merchant (Horace Vandergelder) to find him a wife. Horace travels to New York City to meet his prospective wife (Irene Molloy, played by Shirley MacLaine), but Dolly has secretly started to fall for the wealthy merchant. Dolly attempts to distract Horace with a fictitious woman. Meanwhile, Horace's employee, Cornelius (Anthony Perkins) also travels to New York, where he meets Irene (Shirley MacLaine). By chance, everyone winds up at the same restaurant and their true feelings start to emerge.
Wilder’s play first opened in the Edinburgh Festival in 1954, and after a successful run in London, moved to Broadway on in 1955. The Matchmaker was based on Wilder’s 1938 production The Merchant of Yonkers, which had been a commercial failure when it was first released. In turn, The Merchant of Yonkers was based on two earlier plays: Einen Jux will er sich Machen, written by Johann Nestroy in 1842; and A Day Well Spent, which was written by John Oxenford in 1835.8
According to a March 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item,
This was the last film produced by Don Hartman Productions. In 1964, The Matchmaker was adapted for the Tony Award-winning musical Hello, Dolly!, produced by David Merrick and starring Carol Channing. After bombing on a trial run at the National Theater in Detroit the play was totally revamped before its re-release in New York. The new and improved Dolly! went on to have a record-setting 2,844 Broadway performances until its closing in 1970, racking up 10 Tony Awards.11
Don Hartman on the set of The Matchmaker with Shirley Booth and director Joseph Anthony, 1957 (left), Hello, Dolly! poster featuring Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi (right)
The hit play was made into a movie in 1968 (released in 1969), starring Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford with actor/dancer Gene Kelly directing. Hello, Dolly! was the most expensive musical ever filmed and turned out to be a colossal financial failure for producer Richard Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox. Despite being the fifth top grossing film of 1969, it lost an estimated $10 million; Dolly!, along with musicals Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Star! (1968), erased all the profits Fox had earned from The Sound of Music in 1965.12
A Hello, Dolly! revival tour was launched on Broadway in 2017, starring Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce. The tour continued with Betty Buckley in the lead role of Dolly; it has been drawing sellout crowds for over a year and will continue through May 2020.
In addition to his film career, Don was a philanthropist and social activist. He was a director of the Southern California Society for Mental Health and a member of the public relations committee at the National Association for Mental Health. In 1955, Don spearheaded the funding and construction of the world’s most modern polio hospital, the eight-story "Polio and Communicable Diseases Unit" of the Los Angeles General Hospital. Don wrote a plea for funding with Cary Grant starring, Dore Schary and MGM producing, and Fox West Coast Theaters distributing the short film. He then organized other stars into speaking teams to plug for the issuance of the bonds, but mostly pounded doors himself.
Los Angeles General USC Hospital, 1956 (left), Los Angeles Times article, 1955 (right)
Don was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic party and many civil rights organizations including NAACP and the ACLU. When he was a young man living in Dallas Texas he ran afoul of the Ku Klux Klan due to his involvement in civil rights marches for Blacks (and, no doubt, his Jewish heritage) and had a cross burned on his front porch. In 1952 and 1956, Don actively campaigned for Democrat presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson along with friends Humphrey Bogart, Dore Schary and Frank Sinatra. Although Don was very proud of his Jewish heritage he was not dogmatic about religion and married into an Irish Catholic family. Most importantly, he did not let his show business persona interfere with his family life; he remained a faithful husband and a loving father to his three children until the very end.
Don loved to tell stories and he loved to laugh and make others laugh along with him. Above all, Don did not take himself too seriously. Despite his enormous success, he could laugh at himself. When he was at the peak of his fame, he gave his wife Chick a gold bracelet that bore the following inscription, overflowing with hyperbole:
Those Left Behind: Don left behind his widow, Helen Veronica (Chick) Hartman and their three children: Mima Hartman, Donna Hartman and Timothy Hartman. Don's untimely passing was a shock to the family. Chick never fully recovered from it and withdrew into a long period of depression and struggle with alcoholism until she passed away in October, 1985. Similarly, Donna battled with bouts of depression until her death on March 10, 2015. Tim Hartman committed suicide in 2001 at the age of 58—the same age his father died. If only they could have lived according to Don's final wishes and maintained their
Don Hartman with grandson Kevin in West Los Angeles, 1957 (left), Don makes a goofy announcement about the birth of his grandson at an event, Hollywood Reporter, November 1955 (right)
On the other side of the coin, eldest daughter Mima was a profile in courage. She was struck by polio as a at age 17, in 1948, and struggled with that devastating disability her entire life, yet she always maintained a positive attitude and a love of life. She was an accomplished poet with many published poems, receiving an honorable mention in Stanford University's "Creative Women" program. Mima's husband (Arthur Pereira) worked for his uncle William Pereira's architectural firm (Pereira + Luckman) and was an apprentice architect on many famous buildings throughout California, including the pyramid-shaped Transamerica Building in San Francisco, the LA County Museum of Modern Art, the Geisel Library building at UC San Diego, and the iconic 'spaceship' terminal at LAX airport.
There is no doubt that Hartman's crazy work schedule took a toll on their family life. On the extremely rare occasion that Don would take a break from his busy life in Hollywood, he tried to enjoy outdoor activities with his wife and three children at their vacation houses in Lake Tahoe or in Palm Springs. As was typical for people in powerful positions, this was an aspirational goal that was rarely attained.
Vacation house at Lake Tahoe, California, 1949 (left), Winter house in Palm Springs, California, 1955 (right)
Mima's father in-law, Hal Pereira, was an Oscar-winning set designer and the head of the Art Department at Paramount. Mima Pereira had two sons: Don Pablo Pereira and Don Pietro Pereira. Pablo is an Emmy-winning Meteorologist with KTTV Fox in Los Angeles. Mima Pereira passed away in 2011. Donna's husband, James Hulsey, was an Emmy-winning art director and set designer at MGM, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. Donna had one son, me.
Unfortunately, I don't have many recollections of my short time with Don—all that remained was some faded family photographs and the stories my Mother would tell. As a child, my perception of Don was as a larger-than-life character out of some Hollywood movie. As I spent some time researching this biography I came to know a lot more about the man, as a father, a friend, as a noted Hollywood figure, and as an all-around good soul. I wish I could have gotten to know him better, heard some of his corny jokes and tall tails; it would have been great to have heard his laughter. That will have to be left to my imagination.
To paraphrase Bob Hope: Thanks for the memories, Don!
Filmography, Screenwriter & Producer
Filmography, Executive Producer