At the bottom of every Warner Bros. memo sheet was a routine injunction that said, "Verbal messages cause misunderstanding and delays (please put them in writing)." And put them in writing they did, the most star-studded list of memo writers in movie history: the Warner brothers themselves; producers, directors and writers; and a roster of stars that included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and George Raft. The best of those tens of thousands of messages have now been collected by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, whose Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) (Viking; $19.95) is, to any fan of film, an open sesame into Aladdin's Cave.
The first memo, which actually dates from 1929, before the avalanche begins, brusquely dismisses Rin-Tin-Tin. The introduction of talking pictures, argues one Warner executive, has turned their canine star into just another unemployed hound, "very obviously, of course, because dogs don't talk." To the regret of Jack Warner, who ran the studios (Brother Harry was president and Albert was treasurer), his other stars could talk and often did. When Davis objects to being cast in something called Hollywood Hotel (1937), her withering look can be seen between her lines to him: "I have worked very hard to become known as a dramatic actress," she wrote. "For you to want me to become a slapstick comedy actress ... I cannot understand." The part was recast.
Sometimes the stars should have remained as silent as Rin-Tin-Tin. Raft, reminding Jack that he had been promised nothing but big pictures, demanded release from a thriller set in San Francisco: "I strongly feel that The Maltese Falcon, which you want me to do, is not an important picture." That role was also recast, and The Maltese Falcon made a big star of Humphrey Bogart.
Nearly 30 pages are devoted to one of Bogart's most famous pictures, Everybody Comes to Rick's--or Casablanca, as it was soon retitled. Although Ronald Reagan, of all people, was suggested for the part in one studio press release, Bogie was the obvious choice. "This guy Rick is two-parts Hemingway, one-part Scott Fitzgerald, and a dash of cafe Christ," said one screenwriter. Various actresses, including Hedy Lamarr, Michele Morgan and Ann Sheridan, were proposed for the role that Ingrid Bergman played so indelibly well. What may surprise readers in these days of superstar supersalaries is the piddling sums paid the cast. Bogie got the most, $36,667, while Sydney Greenstreet took home only $7,500. Dooley Wilson, who has made several generations cry to the words of As Time Goes By, received a measly $3,500. The picture's success led to consideration of a sequel in which Bergman, after the death of her husband, returns and tries to regain Rick's affections from his new mistress. Nothing, of course, came of the idea. There was only one Casablanca.
One of the strongest characters in the book is Jack Warner himself. A brilliant egomaniac, he became angry when top producers received all the credit for Warner pictures, and he had a habit of suspending uncooperative stars. Finally, during World War II, Brother Harry had to step in. "You must bear in mind," he wrote, "that everyone is preaching liberty and freedom and the actors are getting to believe it. When the war is over and all the actors and help have come back, you can at that time suspend anyone you want.'' --By Gerald Clarke