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A Letter to Three Wives

original film poster
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Written by John Klempner (novel)
Vera Caspary
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Jeanne Crain
Linda Darnell
Ann Sothern
Kirk Douglas
Paul Douglas
Jeffrey Lynn
Thelma Ritter
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Editing by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date(s) January 20, 1949
Running time 103 min.
Language English

A Letter to Three Wives is a 1949 film which tells the story of a woman who mails a letter to three women, telling them she has left town with the husband of one of them. It stars Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas (in his first film role), Jeffrey Lynn, and Thelma Ritter. An uncredited Celeste Holm provides the voice of Addie Ross, the unseen woman who authored the title letter.

The movie was adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz from the novel Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner. It was directed by Mankiewicz, who went on to direct All About Eve the following year.

It won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.

Contents

Plot summary

The story involves three married couples in a small Westchester County, New York town. The wives receive a message, just as they are about to take a group of school children on a riverboat ride and picnic, that a fourth woman has run off with one of their husbands. A series of flashbacks intimates the reasons why each wife might be the one deserted.

One is Deborah (Jeanne Crain), who grew up on a farm. Her only worldliness comes from service in the Navy during World War II. She feels out of place at the social occasions that her husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) enjoys (and grew up in). Another is Rita (Ann Sothern), a career woman who writes sappy stories for radio soap operas. Her teacher husband George (Kirk Douglas) feels somewhat emasculated since she earns a substantial portion of the household income and is turned off by his wife giving in to demands of radio managers. The third, Lora Mae (Linda Darnell), grew up poor but succeeded in bulldozing Porter (Paul Douglas), the wealthy owner of a statewide chain of department stores, into a marriage he didn't want (she works in one of the stores). He is a bit older and "knows all the answers," as she sarcastically tells him. The couple has never gotten along but obviously share a bond.

The film ends with the women returning home from the picnic. Rita is overjoyed when she discovers her husband there. She promises to no longer be pushed around by the radio people and to pay George more attention. Deborah's houseman gives her a phone message from a woman, saying that Brad wasn't coming home that night. Lora Mae tells her mother that Porter may not be back. Her mother insists that Porter loves her. Lora Mae refuses to believe this, even after Porter does return. Lora Mae, though obviously relieved, pretends not to care.

The three couples (excluding Brad) have dinner together. A cold Deborah clashes with Porter, claiming he has no idea how much Lora Mae really loves him. Porter says she is only waiting for the opportune moment to take his money and leave. Deborah announces to everybody that Brad has run off with Addie Ross, making Porter understand her temper. A sudden twist occurs when Porter stops Deborah, confessing it was he who ran off with Addie, and not Brad. He says, "A man can change his mind, can he?"

Deborah leaves, but this time happily. In the beginning of the film, Brad had stated that he may be absent for dinner because of his work. Rita claims that Deborah would've known by morning anyway, but Porter wanted her not to have a tough night. Porter then tells his wife that now he has admittedly run off with another woman, she can divorce him and take his fortune. Knowing how much her husband loves her, Lora Mae forgives him and they dance together, joined by Rita and George.

The voice of Addie Ross bids all a good night. She never appears on camera.

Differences between novel and film

The film was based on John Klempner's novel, A Letter to Five Wives. Two wives were lost in the transition to the screen. At one point, the film was called A Letter to Four Wives. When submitting the adapted screenplay to 20th Century-Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph L. Mankiewicz mentioned that he found it too long and asked how he felt the movie could be shortened. "Take out one of the wives," Zanuck replied. Originally, the movie would have featured Anne Baxter as Martha, the fourth wife. Zanuck didn't feel Baxter's segment was as strong as the other three, so that one was cut. The fifth wife, Geraldine, was omitted from the outset.

All major characters differ substantially between the novel and film, and the nature of the problems with their marriages also. In the novel, Lora May (not Lora Mae) is less a gold digger than a woman who has always been dominated by her wealthy husband; Rita is trying to succeed in a second marriage with a man she has never felt passionate about; and Deborah is a plain and quiet ex-spinster whose "catch" of a husband has been disappointed in her lack of success in society. As for the other two wives, Martha and her husband locked horns over child-rearing issues, while Geraldine was devoting excessive time and money to her singing career with few results.

The novel also gives no indication that any of the couples will work through their problems (the film, ambiguities notwithstanding, has a decidedly happy ending), and the identity of the errant husband is different (though not his rationale).

Main cast and characters

Jeanne Crain in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Jeanne Crain
as Deborah Bishop
Jeffrey Lynn in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Jeffrey Lynn
as Bradford "Brad" Bishop
Linda Darnell in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Linda Darnell
as Lora Mae Hollingsway
Paul Douglas in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Paul Douglas
as Porter Hollingsway
Ann Sothern in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Ann Sothern
as Rita Phipps
Kirk Douglas in A Letter to Three Wives trailer.jpg Kirk Douglas
as George Phipps

Trivia

  • Thelma Ritter was cast as the down-to-earth cook and maid at the home of the radio writer and teacher (her third film and first substantial part). Her performance certainly led to her being cast in Mankiewicz's next film All About Eve.
  • To get the proper look of derision from Linda Darnell in the scene where she stares at an unseen (to the audience) photo of Addie, Mankiewicz used a picture of Otto Preminger, the director who had given Darnell such a hard time on the set of Forever Amber (1947).
  • General Douglas MacArthur was so confused by the ending that he had his aide write Joseph L. Mankiewicz a letter asking with whom Addie had, in fact, run off.
  • The identity of the actress Celeste Holm who did the voice-over for Addie Ross was kept secret when the film was released. The studio held a number of "Who is Addie?" contests around the country where moviegoers could guess the name of the actress.
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz had a real battle with the American censors at the time who would not permit him to use words like "laxative" and "toilet" in his script. He got his revenge with a famous double-entendre laden exchange which used words like "penetration" and "saturation".
  • Kirk Douglas's character misquotes Byron. The line should read: And all that's best of dark and bright, NOT good of dark ...

External links

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A Letter to Three Wives
File:A letter to three wives movie
original film poster
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Written by John Klempner (novel)
Vera Caspary
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Jeanne Crain
Linda Darnell
Ann Sothern
Kirk Douglas
Paul Douglas
Jeffrey Lynn
Thelma Ritter
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Editing by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date(s) January 20, 1949
Running time 103 min.
Language English

A Letter to Three Wives is a 1949 film which tells the story of a woman who mails a letter to three women, telling them she has left town with the husband of one of them. It stars Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas (in his first film role), Jeffrey Lynn, and Thelma Ritter. An uncredited Celeste Holm provides the voice of Addie Ross, the unseen woman who authored the title letter.

The movie was adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz from the novel Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner. It was directed by Mankiewicz, who went on to direct All About Eve the following year.

It won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.

Contents

Plot summary

The story involves three married couples in a small Westchester County, New York town. The wives receive a message, just as they are about to take a group of school children on a riverboat ride and picnic, that a fourth woman has run off with one of their husbands. A series of flashbacks intimates the reasons why each wife might be the one deserted.

One is Deborah (Jeanne Crain), who grew up on a farm. Her only worldliness comes from service in the Navy during World War II. She feels out of place at the social occasions that her husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) enjoys (and grew up in).

Another is Rita (Ann Sothern), a career woman who writes sappy stories for radio soap operas. Her teacher husband George (Kirk Douglas) feels somewhat emasculated since she earns a substantial portion of the household income and is turned off by his wife giving in to demands of radio managers.

The third, Lora Mae (Linda Darnell), grew up poor but succeeded in bulldozing Porter (Paul Douglas), the wealthy owner of a statewide chain of department stores, into a marriage he didn't want (she works in one of the stores). He is a bit older and "knows all the answers," as she sarcastically tells him. The couple has never gotten along but obviously share a bond.

The film ends with the women returning home from the picnic. Rita is overjoyed when she discovers her husband there. She promises to no longer be pushed around by the radio people and to pay George more attention. Deborah's houseman gives her a phone message from a woman, saying that Brad wasn't coming home that night. Lora Mae tells her mother that Porter may not be back. Her mother insists that Porter loves her. Lora Mae refuses to believe this, even after Porter does return. Lora Mae, though obviously relieved, pretends not to care.

The three couples (excluding Brad) have dinner together. A cold Deborah clashes with Porter, claiming he has no idea how much Lora Mae really loves him. Porter says she is only waiting for the opportune moment to take his money and leave. Deborah announces to everybody that Brad has run off with Addie Ross, making Porter understand her temper. A sudden twist occurs when Porter stops Deborah, confessing it was he who ran off with Addie, and not Brad. He says, "A man can change his mind, can't he?"

Deborah leaves, but this time happily. In the beginning of the film, Brad had stated that he may be absent for dinner because of his work. Rita claims that Deborah would've known by morning anyway, but Porter wanted her not to have a tough night. Porter then tells his wife that now he has admittedly run off with another woman, she can divorce him and take his fortune. Knowing how much her husband loves her, Lora Mae forgives him and they dance together, joined by Rita and George.

The voice of Addie Ross bids all a good night. She never appears on camera.

Differences between novel and film

The film was based on John Klempner's novel, A Letter to Five Wives. Two wives were lost in the transition to the screen. At one point, the film was called A Letter to Four Wives. When submitting the adapted screenplay to 20th Century-Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph L. Mankiewicz mentioned that he found it too long and asked how he felt the movie could be shortened. "Take out one of the wives," Zanuck replied. Originally, the movie would have featured Anne Baxter as Martha, the fourth wife. Zanuck didn't feel Baxter's segment was as strong as the other three, so that one was cut. The fifth wife, Geraldine, was omitted from the outset.

All major characters differ substantially between the novel and film, and the nature of the problems with their marriages also. In the novel, Lora May (not Lora Mae) is less a gold digger than a woman who has always been dominated by her wealthy husband; Rita is trying to succeed in a second marriage with a man she has never felt passionate about; and Deborah is a plain and quiet ex-spinster whose "catch" of a husband has been disappointed in her lack of success in society. As for the other two wives, Martha and her husband locked horns over child-rearing issues, while Geraldine was devoting excessive time and money to her singing career with few results.

The novel also gives no indication that any of the couples will work through their problems (the film, ambiguities notwithstanding, has a decidedly happy ending), and the identity of the errant husband is different (though not his rationale).

Main cast and characters

Jeanne Crain
as Deborah Bishop
Jeffrey Lynn
as Bradford "Brad" Bishop
Linda Darnell
as Lora Mae Hollingsway
Paul Douglas
as Porter Hollingsway
Ann Sothern
as Rita Phipps
Kirk Douglas
as George Phipps

Production

The rights of John Klempner's Letter to Five Wives was acquired by 20th Century Fox in February 1946[1], seven months after it was first published in a magazine.[2] Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett wrote the first treatments of the script. Even though he was not credited for the final film, Baker was responsible for coming up with the idea that the character Addie was only to be heard, and not seen.[2] In October 1946, F. Hugh Herbert was assigned to write the screen adaptation.[3] His final participation was not confirmed.[2] In the same month, it was announced that Samuel G. Engel took over production from Joseph L. Mankiewicz.[2] Even before a script was finished, Gene Tierney, Linda Darnell, Maureen O'Hara, Dorothy McGuire and Alice Faye were cast in A Letter to Five Wives in November 1946.[4]

For a while, the project was shelved, until Mankiewicz started working on the first drafts of the script between March and late April 1948.[2] Around this time, Sol C. Siegel was assigned to replace Engel as the film's producer.[2] Vera Caspary adapted the story to A Letter to Four Wives, and Mankiewicz eventually decided in mid-1948 to focus on only three marriages, thus retitling it to A Letter to Three Wives.[5]:84 In June 1948, it was on the top of 20th Century Fox' list of films to be produced over the following ten months.[6] In addition to the actresses already named as cast members, Anne Baxter, Tyrone Power were also at one point cast.[2] Furthermore, Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for the (eventually offscreen) role of Addie.[2]

When Baxter was cast, in April 1948, the film was still known under its working title A Letter to Four Wives. She was cast a day after Jeanne Crain, who signed on for the role after months of rumors of her participation.[7] By May 1948, Baxter, Crain, Darnell en Ann Sothern were the four actresses to portray the title roles, and Macdonald Carey campaigned for a secondary role.[8]

Remake

Trivia

  • Thelma Ritter was cast as the down-to-earth cook and maid at the home of the radio writer and teacher (her third film and first substantial part). Her performance led to her being cast in Mankiewicz's next film All About Eve.
  • To get the proper look of derision from Linda Darnell in the scene where she stares at an unseen (to the audience) photo of Addie, Mankiewicz used a picture of Otto Preminger, the director who had given Darnell such a hard time on the set of Forever Amber (1947).
  • General Douglas MacArthur was so confused by the ending that he had his aide write Joseph L. Mankiewicz a letter asking with whom Addie had, in fact, run off.
  • The identity of the actress Celeste Holm who did the voice-over for Addie Ross was kept secret when the film was released. The studio held a number of "Who is Addie?" contests around the country where moviegoers could guess the name of the actress.
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz had a real battle with the American censors at the time who would not permit him to use words like "laxative" and "toilet" in his script. He got his revenge with a famous double entendre-laden exchange which used words like "penetration" and "saturation".
  • Kirk Douglas's character misquotes Byron. The line should read: And all that's best of dark and bright, NOT good of dark ...
  • The film was parodied by The Simpsons in 2010. The episode "Moe Letter Blues" borrowed plot elements but reversed the genders, with Moe the bartender writing the letter to Homer, Apu and Rev. Lovejoy.

References

  1. ^ Hutchens, John K. (February 24, 1946). "People Who Read and Write; New House". The New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0910F7385D107A93C6AB1789D85F428485F9. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Notes for A Letter to Three Wives (1949)". Turner Classic Movies. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=81295&category=Notes. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  3. ^ "PARAMOUNT NAMES LAKE, LADD TO FILM; Studio Will Co-Star Team in 'Saigon,' Adventure Story-- Fenton to Be Director". The New York Times. October 29, 1946. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F40D15F93B5C107A93CBAB178BD95F428485F9. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  4. ^ "A Star For Every Wife" by Frank Morriss, Winnipeg Free Press, November 20, 1946, p. 5
  5. ^ Lower, Cheryl Bray; Palmer, R. Barton (2001). Joseph L. Mankiewicz: critical essays with an annotated bibliography and a filmography. McFarland & Company. 
  6. ^ "Hollywood Highlights", Oakland Tribune, June 14, 1948, p. 21
  7. ^ "'Four Wives' Assembled; Douglas Stars With Day" by Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1948. p. 16
  8. ^ "'Babe Ruth' Release Scheduled in August" by Bob Thomas, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, May 4, 1948, p. 8

External links


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