A. H. (Al) Woods (1870–1951) was the producer of Night of January 16th on Broadway. Of his 142 Broadway plays, January 16th was his 136th. The first production of Ayn Rand’s play was in 1934 in Hollywood, under the title Woman on Trial, and was produced by E. E. Clive and starred Barbara Bedford (#13 on AR’s Soviet-era list of favorite actresses). The play was then purchased by Woods and had a 29-week run on Broadway beginning September 16, 1935, one month before the letter below was written. Although the play provided significant income and induced Rand and her husband to move to New York City for the first time, it was not a pleasurable experience for her, as she related in her 1960–61 biographical interviews: It was beset by actors who didn’t understand their lines, constant disputes with Woods over script and casting changes, pointless experiments and, finally, legal arbitration (won by Rand) over unpaid royalties. One such casting dispute is the subject of this letter to Woods. Rand was partly responding to an October 15 letter from Woods, in which he argued that Bakewell was good for the part, adding that “my judgment might be just a little bit better than yours.”
This letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
129 East 61 Street
New York, N. Y.
October 17, 1935
A. H. Woods, Ltd.
1270 Sixth Avenue
New York, N. Y.
Dear Mr. Woods,
In reply to your letter of October 15th, I must state that I find it impossible to agree to the choice of Mr. William Bakewell for the part of “Guts Regan”. Since you went to some length in explaining your reasons for this choice, I must explain in detail my reasons for refusing to approve Mr. Bakewell in that part.
As I have stated in my letter of October 14th, I find Mr. Bakewell much too young for the part. Mr. Bakewell’s personality is that of a meek, harmless, wholesome highschool child and this is the type of part which he has played on the screen. His personality would not allow him to play even the part of a small-time gangster, merely a member of a gang. But when it comes to playing a man who, as “Guts Regan”, is the head of a gang and, more than that, the head of the underworld in New York City, the Public Enemy #1 with a price of $25,000 on his head—well, you must grant me that it becomes dangerously near to being ludicrous. Not only is Mr. Bakewell’s personality unsuited to the part, but he actually looks about eighteen years old. It may not be his real age, but that is the impression he gives on the stage. How a man under twenty could be accepted as an underworld dictator is more than I can understand.
You quote the instance of Miss Nolan and remind me that she, too, was too young for her part. Aside from the fact that this is quite irrelevant and that I shall discuss it later in fuller detail, I would like to remind you at this point that Miss Nolan does not look her age. I have heard people who saw the play voice the opinion that Miss Nolan was thirty. She is a good enough actress to conceal her youth. Unfortunately, Mr. Bakewell looks younger than his probable age and the juvenile quality of his personality is carried into his voice, his stage manner and his whole performance, which I found thoroughly unsatisfactory. Furthermore, while we could “fake” on Miss Nolan’s age by ommitting from the play the fact that she had been employed as a secretary for ten years, there is no possible way to cover up, soften or explain how a boy of eighteen became the leader of the underworld and was entrusted with the responsibility of assisting the foremost world financer in his most dangerous plot.
You said in your letter that you want “a man with some refinement and romance”. I can see absolutely no romantic quality in Mr. Bakewell and he has never, to my knowledge, played romantic characters on the screen. He has played juveniles of the “young brother” or “son” type, not lovers. You claim that Mr. Bakewell’s picture
work may be an asset to him on the stage. I find that it will be a detriment, since he has always been associated in the public mind with the type of part I have described above, if we are to suppose that his name is sufficiently known to the public. However, I am inclined to think that any following he may have is hardly prominent enough to be considered as a box office attraction.
I may remind you that the Minimum Basic Agreement calls for “a first class production with a first class cast”. Mr. Bakewell has, evidently, never appeared on the professional stage, since he has just joined the Actors’ Equity Association, as I was informed. Being a beginner, as far as the stage is concerned, he can hardly be considered as a first class stage actor.
You complain in your letter that I did not notify you of my disapproval of Mr. Bakewell before his seven days try-out period had elapsed. I have had no notice of any kind when Mr. Bakewell started rehearsing. I do not know now the date on which he was engaged. I do hope that this notice was not omitted intentionally to provide for an emergency such as this. The rehearsal which I attended with you and to which you refer in your letter of October 15th, took place not “about a week ago”, as you state, but on Friday, October 11th. I had not been notified even about that rehearsal, but happened to see, by chance, an announcement of it on the wall back stage, at the Ambassador Theater. You left that rehearsal before it was finished and I had no chance to speak you, nor did you ask me for my opinion. However, on the following day, Saturday, October 12th, I telephoned to you at your office and tried to make an appointment to see you. You refused the appointment and asked me what I wanted to see you about. When I stated that I wanted to discuss the cast, you answered that the cast pleased you, which was all that was necessary. I attempted to explain that I wanted to discuss Mr. Bakewell and give you my opinion of his performance. You hung up the receiver in the middle of my sentence without letting me finish my statement. You have yourself mentioned this episode to a person who has since repeated it before witnesses. However, I am sure that you will not attempt to deny this. On Monday, October 14th, I sent you a letter by messenger in order to avoid delay, stating my formal complaint. As you see, I have tried my best to settle the matter as quickly as possible.
May I also remind you that you have repeated persistently and on numerous occasions your claim that I had no say whatever about the casting of my play, that you would cast anyone you wished whether such persons met with my approval or not. On the few occasions when you agreed to discuss the cast with me, it was done after many most unpleasant arguments. May I remind you that, foreseeing a situation such as this, I came to your office at the time when you were first casting my play, before rehearsals started, and brought to your attention the fact that Mr. Pidgeon had been signed for another play and would not be able to remain with our company longer than the first few weeks. I suggested then that we agree on an actor to replace Mr. Pidgeon, in order not to hold up the play later, when Mr. Pidgeon would be forced to leave. Do I have to remind you that your answer was much less than polite and that you gave me to understand I was
transgressing my rights as an author? This is in spite of the fact that our contract states clearly my right to approve of any and all members of the cast.
You have held to the letter of that contract and I have had to comply, no matter how difficult it has been at times. May I ask how you intend me to be bound by a contract while you do not intend to be bound by it? You must realize that if you allow an actor to appear on the stage in my play, disregarding my formal objection to that actor, you will break the Minimum Basic Agreement which we have both signed.
Quoting from your letter, I find that you make the following statement: “It is strange that you should pick out two people, Mr. Shayne and Mr. Conway, and suggest them for the part. I suppose those are the only two actors you know, owing to the fact that you have seen them both”. I do not see just what can be strange about it nor what does the fact of how many actors I had seen have to do with the case. I suggested Mr. Conway and Mr. Shayne because they are the only two actors I know who are familiar with the part and who could step into the play after one rehearsal. I believe I made this clear in my letter when I suggested them.
You state that you are sure Mr. Bakewell “will give a better performance than either of the two gentlemen you named”. How can you know it when, to my knowledge, you have never given either Mr. Conway or Mr. Shayne a chance to read the part for you? On the other hand, I have seen Mr. Bakewell rehearse the part and I have seen Mr. Conway play it in Hollywood, so I have the grounds necessary to make a comparison. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that Mr. Conway’s performance was so superior to Mr. Bakewell’s that there can be no comparison.
As to Mr. Shayne, I have never said that he was the only weak link in our cast, as you claim I have. It is true that I have never been pleased with his performance in the part of the Defense Attorney, for the main reason that I found him too young for that part. If you remember, it was my first objection to him when I first met him as a prospective “Defense Attorney”. During the rehearsals that followed, I expressed my opinion to you and to Mr. Hayden, on several occasions, stating that I feared Mr. Shayne would not be satisfactory in the part. You assured me most emphatically that Mr. Shayne would improve with rehearsing and that he would be excellent in actual performance. You told me that you had seen him in another play and that he had been magnificent. Owing only to the fact that I trusted your judgment, I made no formal, definite objection and allowed Mr. Shayne to remain in the part. You know the consequences. You found it necessary to dismiss Mr. Shayne and replace him with Mr. Tucker, without any suggestion from me.
If you find that Mr. Shayne does not have weight enough for the part of “Guts Regan”, how can you possibly consider that Mr. Bakewell has it? Of the two, doesn’t Mr. Shayne have the infinitely stronger, more forceful, more mature personality? I am still convinced that Mr. Shayne is a good actor in a part to which he is
suited, and your own opinion of his performance in another play supports my conviction. I believe that he could be satisfactory in the part of “Guts Regan” and I do think that it would be worth while at least to allow him a reading of that part, if you are sincerely anxious to find an actor to replace Mr. Pidgeon on short notice, an actor who would be acceptable to both of us. The same consideration applies to Mr. Conway.
Coming back now to the subject of Miss Nolan, I must state that I was surprised by your presentation of the facts in your letter. You claim that I wanted her out of the cast. I had never wanted that and the best proof of it is that Miss Nolan is in the cast and that I never made any formal complaint against her, as I am doing now against Mr. Bakewell. During the first week of rehearsals, I did feel dubious about Miss Nolan’s ability to handle the part of “Karen Andre”, but I told you, as well as Mr. Hayden, that I was willing to let her go on with the rehearsals, since I felt that she showed great promise and I saw a definite chance of her coming up to our expectations, with proper coaching. This she did accomplish and I was one of the first to express my enthusiasm for her excellent work. As you know, I was not the only one to doubt her ability to handle the part, at first. You yourself have told me that she was not adequate during her first rehearsals; and Mr. Shubert was ready to have her replaced, since he brought several prominent actresses to witness the rehearsals, for the purpose of offering them the part of “Karen Andre”. Had I had a definite objection against Miss Nolan, I could have taken advantage of the situation then and insisted on her dismissal. I did not do it, because I felt that she would improve, as I had stated repeatedly. While Miss Nolan may be too young for her part in real life, she does not show it on the stage and I have not objected to her stage appearance. I cannot say this of Mr. Bakewell, since he does appear hopelessly boyish.
As to your statement that I can thank Miss Nolan for whatever success my play has had up to the present time, I do not think that you believe this yourself. I have seen no reviews to that effect nor have I heard anyone voice that opinion. Without casting any reflection on Miss Nolan’s excellent work, I must say that all the reviews attributed the possible success of my play to the idea of a jury drawn from the audience. The publicity stories which came from your own office have all stressed that jury angle and publicized it as the main novelty and attraction of the play. So why make unfair statements which lead us nowhere?
Referring to your letter further, I find that you mention and seem to resent my attitude toward Mr. Harland Tucker. I do not see what that can possibly have to do with the case. Furthermore, although I would not have selected Mr. Tucker as my idea of the type needed for the part of the Defense Attorney, I have not objected to his playing the part, since his acting is adequate. I do not recall discussing Mr. Tucker with any actors back stage and I am perfectly certain that I have never suggested him for the part of the “Doctor”.
And, finally, I do not doubt your ability to pick unknown talent nor the fact that you have discovered many great stars in the past. But, as you say in your letter, we can all make mistakes. If the casting of Mr. Shayne as the Defense Attorney was a mistake on your part, I am afraid that you are about to commit a much graver mistake by allowing Mr. Bakewell to play “Guts Regan”. Mr. Shayne at his worst has never been as unsuited to the part of the “Defense Attorney” as Mr. Bakewell is to that of “Guts Regan.”
As you see, I have gone to great lengths in order to point out to you all the details of my complaint and to prove to you that this complaint is not unreasonable. I am very anxious to settle this matter in an amicable manner, if you will allow me to do so. However, your attitude on the question of casting has left me no choice but to demand an arbitration. I am sending today an application for arbitration on this question to the Dramatists’ Guild, along with a copy of this letter. You realize that if you allow Mr. Bakewell, over my objection, actually to perform in my play beginning Monday, October 21st, it may entitle me to claim a breach of our contract. I do hope that we can still avoid it.
If you can find another actor for the part of Regan, acceptable to both of us, please let me know so that the arbitration proceedings may be stopped. I hope that we will be able to agree on another actor, for we still have the time.
On the same day as the letter above, Rand wrote to the Dramatists’ Guild requesting arbitration. But the next day, Rand withdrew her application for arbitration, stating that “Mr. Woods and I have reached an agreement.” The terms of that agreement are not known, but Bakewell continued to appear as “Guts” Regan until the play closed in April of 1936. Rand later commented: “I almost had an arbitration with him over a replacement for Walter Pidgeon during the last months or so of the play, when [Pidgeon] went to Hollywood. But it wasn’t worth it.” Because Pidgeon had the role of Regan in out-of-town tryouts and for the first month on Broadway, reviews of the play do not mention Bakewell. Bakewell’s reminiscences (Hollywood Be Thy Name) makes no mention of the issue of his casting.