10,000 Tampa Avenue
August 21, 1945
I am getting to be a little more “competent” and human—I’m actually writing a letter. You have always been both—so thank you for your patience.
Frank and I will be in New York very shortly—on September 8th or as close to it as transportation arrangements permit. We have already made hotel reservations—at the Essex House. So this time it’s set—and I’m looking forward with real eagerness to seeing you again. I would like a chance for many long and philosophical conversations with you. Since your visit here, I found myself missing you.
We did not come to New York earlier because I did not want to arrive in the midst of July and the worst heat. I think September will be nice—we intend to stay for a month, maybe longer. Incidentally, while there, I want to buy land somewhere near New York, for a future Frank Lloyd Wright house of my own.
I have met your friend Jack Kapp—have seen him twice. I liked him a lot and was quite impressed. In fact, I think he’s rather wonderful. Thank you for introducing me to him.
You want me to explain “Love Letters” to you. Well, first, I agree with your reaction to it—and you were completely correct. NO, don’t go about reading reviews in order to see whether you’re wrong. That’s not the way to discover the truth. When will I cure you of that particular superstition? I sure would like to. The truth about “Love Letters”, as I see it, is this: it is essentially a very silly and meaningless story—by the mere fact that it revolves around so unnatural a thing as somebody’s amnesia. No, it has no moral lesson to teach, nor any kind of lesson whatever. So, if you look at it from the standpoint of content—it has none. But it has one valuable point as a story—a dramatic situation involving a conflict. This permits the creation of suspense. If the basic premise—amnesia—doesn’t interest you, then of course the rest of the story won’t interest you. A basic premise in a story is always like an axiom—you take it or you don’t. If you accept the premise, the rest will hold your interest. As for me, I accept the premise out of
sheer curiosity—nothing more deep or important than that. That is, granting such a set-up—let’s see what can be made of it. My only interest in that picture was purely technical—how to create a good construction that would be dramatic and suspenseful, out of practically nothing. The novel on which the picture was based was a holy mess. Whatever story interest and unity it has, I had to invent. But we picked this particular novel because it had the elements of a possible situation. That is very rare in picture stories.
I think the picture will be successful—for that reason only: dramatic construction. As a technician, I like it. As a person or a writer, I don’t like it at all. That is not my type of story. But you are extremely wrong if you expect pictures with a serious problem and an important content. I don’t mean that such pictures are impossible to make. I think they could and should be made—and would be extremely successful. But at the moment I do not see anyone in Hollywood who wants to make them. They are making good pictures here, good entertainment, even some good taste. But serious moral lessons or problems? No. Not yet. Maybe “The Fountainhead” will be one—if they don’t ruin it in production. The trouble here is that very few writers know how to make a picture with a serious lesson also an entertaining one. The few literary phonies who have tried it, have turned out such dull trash, that I do not blame the producers for turning away from all serious themes and concentrating on simple entertainment without morals. This last is really more honest and sensible. I think I have written to you once that the art of integrating propaganda, that is, an abstract theme, with a concrete story, is the hardest of all arts. I honestly don’t know anyone who can do it at the moment—except myself. So don’t expect serious content from the movies. Not for a while yet.
As for me personally, you know of course that I have no freedom over the material which I write for pictures. I can select stories within a certain limit—but I have to select out of the things they want to make—not the things I’d like to make or write. When I signed a movie contract, I set myself two goals: a minimum and a maximum. The minimum would be just the money, the freedom from any financial worries in regard to my own serious writing, and the attempt I always wanted to make—to find out for myself whether good
pictures can be made. The maximum will be to reach a position where I will make the kind of pictures I want—my way. If I can’t reach this maximum I will finish my contract and quit the movies. But I think that I have a good chance to reach it. Only I must be patient—the things I’d like to do are too new and different—it will take time to convince anyone here to let me do it. However, I seem to get along with Hal Wallis very well—he’s a very able, intelligent man with a great deal of courage—and if I can have any influence on him, to take him away from the usual Hollywood influence which is a terrific pressure on every prominent man here—I might be able to see the day when he and I will make the kind of pictures you expect and would like.
As to “You Came Along” it was originally a very cute story—not profound—but clever and appealing. The picture represents a compromise between Hal Wallis, the director John Farrow, the original author Robert Smith, and me. Like all compromises, it could only turn out as a second-best.
Well, does that answer your questions?
You asked whether your plot about a man “with death first, life later” would be a good story or whether it is a “standard.” No, it is not a standard; I have never seen it used in just those terms before. Yes, I think it would make a very interesting story—and a serious one. But you’d have to write it first as a novel—if you hope to have the screen version preserve your theme and intention. If you try to sell it as a screen original—all the chances are that it will be “standardized” and your original intent will be lost.
I was glad to hear that you are feeling well and happy—and I’ll be there in person to check up on that soon. Your new stationery with the drawing of the FLW house is very smart and attractive. Makes me want something like that, too. Frank and I are feeling wonderful—I am just beginning to get rested from my movie work, I was most terribly exhausted. Now I am working on a philosophical, non-fiction book—it’s hard, slow going.
With best regards from both of us,