(Iowa Alumni Review, February 1967)
Film makers have never been allowed to take their art very seriously and they are not in the habit of saving things, according to Raymond Fielding, associate professor in the U of I’s Division of Television-Radio Film. However, due largely to Fielding’s efforts, the U of I library has recently acquired screenplays, sound recordings, production records, photographs and an abundance of other memorabilia from yesterday’s film classics and today’s film hits.
“Unlike novelists who assume posterity will be interested in their efforts,” Fielding says, “film people do not attach importance to their material. So it is quite a race to get to them before they throw things away.”
Preserved in the four private collections received here are materials from Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, It Happened One Night, more recent productions such as The Great Race, Under the Yum Yum Tree, the yet to be released Luv and other films, both old and new.
The materials came to the University from David Swift, a producer for the Mirisch Corporation; Robert Blees, a writer for Paramount Studios; producer Albert Cohen now retired; and script writer Arthur A. Ross. They will be added to the University’s already extensive library of books, periodicals, trade papers and other film-related documents.
Negotiations for the collections were handled by Fielding. The former Californian (eight years at the University of California at Los Angeles) was invited to the U of I as a visiting professor in 1965. He liked Iowa, and remained to become a permanent staff member in charge of the film program within the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art. Fielding is familiar with the ways of the film industry. “It is a funny kind of industry,” he says, “with a tradition of secrecy. Universities will say to a studio, ‘Give us your old records – production records, scripts, sets, still photographs, anything.”
The studio will answer, ‘No. You can’t have them. We destroy them.’”
The four collections contain similar materials: screenplays, from the original treatment to the shooting script; hundreds of still photos called “production photographs,” taken during every stage of a film’s creation; sound track recordings, including “out-takes,” i.e., sections which were omitted from the completed film. There are packing case after packing case of production records showing cost accounting, scheduling, receipts, logistics and planning. These take forever to go through,” Fielding says, “but are enormously important.” Financial records, also included in the collections, are the most secret of papers and the most difficult to obtain. Studios jealously guard actual cost, gross profit and net profit figures.
There are extensive censorship records, particularly in the Cohen collection. Correspondence from the Production Code Administration, Hollywood’s self-censoring body (sometimes called the Breen Office), to the studios delineated acceptable dress, language, behavior, themes, and sometimes just the way in which the story is to end.
A letter from Joseph I. Breen to Warner Brothers Studios advised the studio regarding the script for The Constant Nymph that “the suggestion that the basic story is one of the successful break-up of a marriage” was unacceptable. The six page letter dated May 21, 1940, pointed out some 40 changes that were to be made in the script. Among them were:
“Exercise the greatest care with the attire of the various women.”
“page 46: Please delete the action in scene 66 of the child whispering in Linda’s ears, and the action of Linda’s eyes popping.”
“We suggest that the word ‘drunk’ be eliminated from the speeches of both Paula and Tessa, referring to Lewis. Possibly you might use the word “angry’.”
“Scene 196: There should be no close up of the nude painting.”
Censorship of this strict a nature did of course cease. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Supreme Court began reversing earlier decisions, liberalizing censorship laws. The Cohen collection covers the period of these changes.
The years spanned by the Cohen material, 1940 to 1955, were pivotal years for the film industry in other ways. “In these years,” Fielding says, “the Supreme Court and Justice Department broke up the great film monopolies and with them the great film companies. Prior to this period the so called “major” studios controlled production, distribution and exhibition of a particular film. After the monopolies were broken up only two out of three areas (production, distribution, exhibition) could be owned by a single company.
These were also the years when television, and its far reaching aftermath, hit the film industry. And it was during this period that the independent film makers began to emerge. These factors combine to make the Cohen collection an especially valuable acquisition.
The Ross collection is the smallest of the four. It includes artists sketches and Ross’s own script for The Great Race as well as his script for The Jean Harlow Story. Ross was script writer for several television series, including Peter Gunn and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and there are scripts from these. Also included are personal and private correspondence which Fielding says provides an insight into the manner in which a film comes into being. “Film making is not an individual art,” he says. “It is a corporate art.”
Other material of the Ross collection is sealed for periods ranging from three to 30 years and the nature of its content cannot be revealed. Three set models five-by-six feet in size, as well as drawings and other art materials for the film How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying are included in the Swift collection. There are also blueprints for final set construction and artists’ sketches for the films Under the Yum Yum Tree, Luv, Good Neighbor Sam, Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, and others. The same type of material is contained in the Blees collection. Hundreds of still production photos from Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Lost Weekend make up a large part of this collection. There are television scripts as well – Bus Stop, Combat, Margie, Dobie Gillis, to name a few.
“This is a good time to be building these library collections,” Fielding says. “The first generation and even the second generation of film people are retiring or dying off. Their material is invaluable for scholarly study. Film making and film-history research have now become respectable on university and college campuses – over a hundred schools teach some courses. “However,” Fielding says, “only about a dozen give degrees. Of these, four in particular have achieved special distinction.”
The four, according to Fielding, are the University of Southern California, New York University, the University of California at Los Angeles and The University of Iowa. “These universities” he says, “have the faculty, the facilities, the budget and the program to conduct a really extensive film-making and film research program.”