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Arts and Culture

Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents

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Posted on Jan 28, 2010
Hidden Talent
www.ucpress.edu

By Tom Kemper

(Page 3)

Feldman played a strong role in shaping these films as a producer and his role as agent to these stars here merged indistinguishably from his role as a producer. For example, on “Pittsburgh,” Feldman scrutinized the film editor’s various versions with keen attention to the treatment of his star-clients. In demanding new cuts and re-shoots, Feldman added numerous close-ups of his stars. “See that the cameraman is instructed to really make a gorgeous shot of” Dietrich’s entrance, Feldman dictated in notes for a re-shoot:

We have rewritten and are rewriting further the scene (which is a retake) in the early part of the picture, where Wayne comes in to Dietrich and she is in a sort of negligee. ... We hope to change this scene so that it will be a very, very important emotional scene for her, so that at the finish of the scene there will be a complete capitulation on her part, and the audience will unqualifiedly know that she is desperately in love with Wayne.

Of course, Feldman’s shaping of the film completely paralleled his reshaping of Dietrich’s persona, calculating audience sympathy for the character. This kind of vulnerability, the exposure of weakness, worked against, if not erased, the calculating, hypnotic and powerful roles Dietrich played in her early films. Collapsing in emotional vulnerability solicited audience sympathy for the actress, especially in the consistent way Feldman had shaped these roles for Dietrich.

 

book cover

 

Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents

 

By Tom Kemper

 

University of California Press, 312 pages

 

Buy the book

The resurrection of Dietrich’s star persona in these films rubbed off on Feldman’s other client, John Wayne, doubling the service value (to the agency and its clients: Randolph Scott, their co-star, was also an agency client) of these productions. In the publicity material for these films—Feldman hired the publicist with Universal footing the bill—Feldman consistently emphasized Wayne’s association with John Ford and kept the focus on his recent films, especially the critical and commercial success of “Stagecoach,” even if Randolph Scott, the other Feldman client sharing the bill with Dietrich and Wayne in these offerings, garnered slightly more attention. Still, in a memo to Universal’s marketing director, Feldman advised the studio to play up Dietrich and Wayne in the advertising (did Feldman act here as the film’s producer or as his client’s agent?). Dietrich’s “new wave of popularity” received equal emphasis. Amongst the mainly favorable reviews, all of which treated the films as modest but successful entertainment vehicles, the Hollywood Reporter noted of “The Spoilers” that its “apt casting is a tribute to the Charles K. Feldman group plan.” To capitalize on such industry attention, Feldman took out ads emphasizing the agency’s clients in these productions.

Wayne consulted with Feldman as soon as he met the agent on “Seven Sinners.” Given Feldman’s close relationship with Walter Wagner, the producer of Wayne’s 1939 film “Stagecoach,” Feldman and Wayne may have crossed paths even earlier. However, Morrison still retained an agency contract on Wayne at that time. “Stagecoach” seemed to catch Morrison by surprise; the agent’s surviving scrapbook, while spilling over with articles and pictures of lesser clients, only showed evidence of his relationship with Wayne during the year of “Stagecoach,” when suddenly page after page featured clippings, reviews, and advertising featuring his client, including “Seven Sinners;” then Wayne disappeared from Morrison’s book.

In 1932, Wayne had signed a five-year contract with Morrison and renewed his contract in 1936 for another five years, commencing June 4th, 1937. Under Morrison’s stewardship, Wayne signed a contract with B-movie studio Republic, a standard document giving Wayne $3000 per picture through 1943. But 1939’s “Stagecoach” changed the picture. The success of this film and Wayne’s starring role in the production fueled Wayne’s dissatisfaction with his career and his agent. When Wayne moved on to Wanger’s friend Feldman’s productions he became increasingly unhappy that Morrison failed to exploint the actor’s new success. Wayne stopped paying commissions to Morrison on July 31, 1941. Feldman’s internal office memos reveal that Feldman was already looking for new roles for Wayne and for ways to restructure his Republic contract. As Wayne explained to SAG in October 1941, for years he had been dissatisfied with Morrison. This relationship, Wayne complained, was “so unsatisfactory to me that I was compelled to negotiate on my own behalf. ... and such negotiations, on at least two occasions [very likely the Universal films with Feldman] resulted in my obtaining in excess of the offers obtained by Leo Morrison.” Wayne’s actions, his dealings with Feldman and his dispute with Morrison, spawned further conflicts. SAG chastised Morrison for taking the matter to court, preferring, like many institutions in the industry, to handle such disputes on their own turf and on their own conditions. Dietrich also filed letters with SAG that reputed Morrison’s allegations regarding her role in the switch and denied any knowledge of Wayne’s agent. She encouraged SAG to put pressure on Morrison to drop the suit because of the unfavorable publicity and mentioned the SAG-AMG franchise and that one of its purposes was to handle such conflicts. SAG helped resolve the situation by the end of 1941. In this agreement, Wayne continued to pay Morrison commissions solely on the Republic contract and nothing else. But this did not stop Feldman from setting out to renegotiate Wayne’s deal with Republic.

Indeed, within a few years, Feldman completely restructured Wayne’s Republic deal: one picture a year for five years on a basis of a $100,000 advance against ten percent of the gross. The deal also guaranteed picture budgets of at least eight hundred thousand dollars, an impressive figure for the studio (although the B-movie company was enjoying, like the rest of Hollywood, the bountiful WWII years). More importantly, the deal granted Wayne a producer status on selected productions—an increasingly typical move in Feldman’s negotiations in the 1940s.

 


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By ofersince72, February 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm Link to this comment

I can’t believe your not interested in who
John Wayne’s agent was….thats just unamerican!!!

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By diman, January 29, 2010 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

Please Truthdig, why this yet another excursion into the realm of stinking Hollywood and its greedy agents. Keep it off this site!!!

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