AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Jezebel
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
Release Date:   26 Mar 1938
Premiere Information:   World premiere in New York: 10 Mar 1938
Production Date:   25 Oct 1937--17 Jan 1938; added scenes completed 4 Feb 1938
Duration (in mins):   103
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Bette Davis (Julie [Marsden])  
    Henry Fonda (Preston Dillard)  
    George Brent (Buck Cantrell)  
    Margaret Lindsay (Amy [Bradford Dillard])  
    Donald Crisp (Dr. Livingstone)  
    Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle)  
    Richard Cromwell (Ted [Dillard])  
    Henry O'Neill (General Bogardus)  
    Spring Byington (Mrs. Kendrick)  
    John Litel (Jean La Cour)  
    Gordon Oliver (Dick Allen)  
    Janet Shaw (Molly Allen)  
    Theresa Harris (Zette)  
    Margaret Early (Stephanie Kendrick)  
    Irving Pichel (Huger)  
    Eddie Anderson (Gros Bat)  
    Stymie Beard (Ti Bat)  
    Lou Payton (Uncle Cato)  
    George Renavent (De Lautrec)  
    Georgia Caine (Mrs. Petion)  
    Fred Lawrence (Bob)  
    Ann Codee (Madame Poulard)  
    Jacques Vanaire (Durette)  
    Daisy Bufford (Black flower girl)  
    Jesse A. Graves (Black servant)  
    Frederick Burton (First director)  
    Edward McWade (Second director)  
    Frank Darien (Bookkeeper)  
    Suzanne Dulier (Midinette)  
    John Harron (Jenkins)  
    Lucky Hurlic (Erronens)  
    Dolores Hurlic (Errata)  
    Davison Clarke (Deputy sheriff)  
    Trevor Bardette (Sheriff)  
    George Guhl (Fugitive planter)  
    Maurice Brierre (Drunk)  
    Tony Paton (Drunk)  
    Jack Norton (Drunk)  
    Alan Bridge (Man with gun)  
    Franco Corsaro    
    Roger Volmy    
    Louis Mercier    
    George Sorel    
    Vic Demoruelle    
    Louis La Bey    

Summary: In New Orleans, in 1850, Julie Marsden, a strong-willed Southern belle, is engaged to marry Preston Dillard, a prominent New Orleans banker with an equally strong mind. Their struggle for supremacy in the relationship comes to a head the night of a traditional ball to which unmarried women are expected to wear white, but Julie defiantly insists on wearing red. Pres is shocked, but ultimately agrees to escort her. At the ball, Julie begins to regret her decision, but Pres forces her to dance, and afterward ends their engagement. In disbelief, Julie waits for Pres to apologize, but he stands his ground, leaving for the North on business. When he returns, she humbles herself in front of him, begging for forgiveness, but it is too late. Pres has married a Yankee, Amy Bradford, and asks Julie to accept his wife without bitterness. The growing threat of yellow fever in New Orleans has forced Julie and her Aunt Belle to move to their country plantation. There they entertain the Dillards, Pres's younger brother Ted, and one of Julie's persistent suitors, the rebellious Buck Cantrell. At dinner, Pres and Buck argue politics, but Pres is called to town and it is Ted who finishes the argument in a duel with Buck. Buck is killed, and Pres is struck down with fever. Julie sneaks through the fever line with the help of her servant, Gros Bat. In town, Dr. Livingstone tells Julie that Pres must go to the leper colony for quarantine. Amy, accompanied by Ted and Aunt Belle, follows Julie, and as Pres's wife, she insists on attending to him. In a final confrontation, Julie convinces Amy that her ignorance of Southern ways means certain death for them both. Amy acquiesces, and Julie rides into the night at Pres's side. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: A William Wyler Production
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
  Robert Ross (Asst dir)
  Art Lueker (2nd asst dir)
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  Henry Blanke (Assoc prod)
Writer: Clements Ripley (Scr)
  Abem Finkel (Scr)
  John Huston (Scr)
  Lou Edelman (Contr to trmt)
  Robert Buckner (Contr to scr const)
Photography: Ernest Haller (Photog)
  Al Roberts (2d cam)
  Bud Weiler (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Robert Haas (Art dir)
Film Editor: Warren Low (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Fred MacLean (Set dresser)
  George Sweeney (Asst props)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Cost)
  Bert Soter (Men's ward)
  Ida Greenfield (Ward)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Mus dir)
  Max Steiner (Mus)
Sound: Robert B. Lee (Sd)
  B. Berry (Rec)
  Frank Weixel (Rec)
  J. Jensen (Boom man)
Make Up: Margaret Donovan (Hair)
  H. Lierley (Hair)
  Bert Sutch (Makeup)
  K. Herlinger (Makeup)
  Carl Axzelle (Makeup)
Production Misc: Dalton S. Reymond (Tech adv)
  Robert Fellows (Unit mgr)
  Freda Rosenblatt (Scr clerk)
  Stanley Young (Grip)
  Pat Patterson (Props)
  Cecil Craig (Gaffer)
  Bob Galbraith (Best boy)
  Mack Elliot (Still photog)
  Robert S. Taplinger (Pub dir)
Country: United States

Music: "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II.
Songs: "Jezebel," music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Johnny Mercer; "Oh, Shoo My Love" and "Aunt Dina Drunk," composer undetermined.
Composer: Johnny Mercer
  Johann Strauss
  Harry Warren
Source Text: Based on the play Jezebel by Owen Davis, Sr. (New York, 13 Dec 1933).
Authors: Owen Davis Sr.

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 26/1/1938 dd/mm/yyyy LP7936

PCA NO: 3915
Physical Properties: Sd:
  b&w:

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Balls (Parties)
  Southern belles
  Southerners
  United States--History--19th century
  United States--South
 
Subjects (Minor): Bankers
  Battle of the sexes
  African Americans
  Duels
  Engagements
  Epidemics
  New Orleans (LA)
  Physicians
  Plantations
  Pride and vanity
  Quarantine
  Slavery
  Yellow fever

Note: According to a DV pre-production news item, Warner Bros. began negotiations for the screen rights to Owen Davis' play in 1935, at which time Ruth Chatterton was considered for the female lead. Information contained in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicates that the rights to Owens' play were co-owed by Guthrie McClintic and actress Miriam Hopkins, who starred in the Broadway run of the play. Hopkins initially stipulated that she would only permit the sale of the rights to Warner Bros. if they cast her in the leading role. According to modern sources, Hopkins finally consented to the sale only after Walter McEwen of the Warner Bros. story department lied to her, promising her first crack at the part when the script was completed. In Jan 1937, the rights to Davis' play were purchased by the studio for $12,000.
       Following the completion of the first treatment of the film, Edmund Goulding, a well-known writer and director, wrote a memo to executive producer Hal Wallis, dated 17 Jul 1937, in which he gave his opinion of the story: "although it is quite possible to put a vivid picture upon the screen--that picture can only tell the story of the triumph of bitchery...[Bette Davis'] character, Julie, is rather like one of some naughty children writing obscene things on a wall--and, when the other runs away, she will stay there and tell you that she did it--and so what?" On 22 Jul 1937, Warner Bros. producer Lou Edelman sent Wallis a memo in which he stated that Goulding's suggestions to improve the story were a "combination of the elements of many old-fashioned stories and plays, and I am certain that out of it would come the biggest and most complicated bunch of tripe that has ever been put on the screen!...I beg of you to let us do our script. You liked the treatment--and I am sure you will like the script."
       The Warner Bros. Collection also contains a 6 Oct 1937 Warner Bros. inter-office memo detailing the studio's attempt to get Jeffrey Lynn (then known as Jeffrey Lind) to star opposite Davis. An Apr 1982 news item in Hollywood Studio Magazine notes that Lynn turned down the role because he "wasn't ready." A 21 Oct 1937 tentative cast list for Jezebel lists Ellen Clancy in the role of "Molly Allen," but the onscreen credits list Clancy as Janet Shaw, which became her stage name in 1938. The Warner Bros. shooting schedule for the film indicates that Tony Paton played the role of "Huger" on the first day of production, but he was later replaced in that role by Irving Pichel. The Daily Production and Progress Reports on Jezebel indicate that the following tests were made: Tim Holt and Maurice Murphy for the role of "Ted Dillard"; Rosella Towne, Geraldine Spreckels and Mary Maguire for "Amy Bradford Dillard"; Rafael Corio, Jean De Briac, George Sorel and Paul Boyer for "Huger"; Brandon Tynan, Walter Kelly and Clarence Kolb for "General Bogardus"; Gordon Oliver, Dean Jagger, John King and Robert Whitney for "Buck" and "Pres"; Billie Fargo and Myrtle Anderson for "Zette"; and Onslow Stevens, Donald Briggs and John Arledge for unspecified roles. The production reports also note that Theresa Harris replaced Daisy Lee Mothershed in the role of "Zette." The film was budgeted at $1.25 million.
       The Warner Bros. Collection contains a series of inter-office memos sent from Wallis to associate producer Henry Blancke, written between Nov 1937 and Jan 1938, in which Wallis harshly criticized director William Wyler for shooting too many takes and putting the picture behind schedule. On 4 Nov 1937, Wallis wrote to Blancke: "Do you think Wyler is mad at Fonda or something because of their past. It seems that he is not content to okay anything with [Henry] Fonda until it has been done ten or eleven takes. After all, they have been divorced from the same girl [Margaret Sullavan], and by-gones should be by-gones....Possibly Wyler likes to see these big numbers on the slate, and maybe we could arrange to have them start with number "6" on each take, then it wouldn't take so long to get up to nine or ten." In Jan 1938, Wallis, still frustrated by Wyler's excessive takes, wrote Blanke to complain about a scene that was taken sixteen times, and asked, "What the hell is the matter with him anyhow--is he absolutely daffy?" Shooting on Jezebel was completed on 17 Jan 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule. A biography of Fonda suggests that he and Wyler were good friends, and that Fonda had only mild complaints about the many takes Wyler insisted on shooting.
       According to Warner Bros. publicity material, Wyler played the violin for the song "The Blue Danube," to which Bette Davis danced in the film. Studio publicity material also notes that Davis wore sixteeen different costumes, each with a cost of over $500, and that the now-famous red dress that she wore, which cost $850, was, in fact, bronze-colored because red appears as grey in black-and-white film. A total of $30,000 was spent on dresses for the film, and seventy-five seamstresses worked for a month making them. Davis reportedly received an injury during production when, while employing the Southern custom of reddening her cheeks by slapping them with the back of a hairbrush, she hit herself too hard and had to take three days off. Art director Robert Haas, according to studio publicity material, constructed a "complete set of miniature settings" for Wyler, who used them to plan each day's scenes. According to a contemporary NYT article, Dalton S. Reymond "supervised the speech of the players in Jezebel ." The NYT article also notes that art director Robert Haas built a Louisiana plantation house on the Warner Bros. ranch, which was located approximately thirty miles from the California studio. According to modern sources, Fonda had an agreement with Warner Bros. that his work on the film would be finished by early Dec 1937 so that he could attend the birth of his child [Jane Fonda] in the East. As the production was behind schedule, Fonda had to leave before all his scenes with Davis were completed, leaving Davis to do the scenes in close-up without Fonda there to read his lines.
       The following quote appeared in the Apr 1938 issue of Redbook Magazine : "[Producer] David Selznick may yet have the last laugh, but if we are to believe the grapevine reports from Hollywood, Warner Brothers are likely to profit from the procrastination of the purchaser of Gone with the Wind [see above]. Jezebel ...may make 'Scarlett' appear pallid." In an 8 Mar 1938 telegram from Selznick to Jack Warner, reproduced in a modern source, Selznick accused Warner of making a film that "is permeated with characterizations, attitudes, and scenes which unfortunately resemble Gone with the Wind ." Selznick went on to list specific scenes that he felt were too similar to those in Gone with the Wind , including one of a discussion around the dinner table of the "difference between the North and the South, the discussion of an imminent war, and the prediction by the Southerner that the North will win...." That scene was removed from the film prior to its release.
       According to modern sources, Selznick was so impressed with composer Max Steiner's music in Jezebel that he commissioned him to handle the score for Gone with the Wind . Davis won her second Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Julie, and Fay Bainter won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Ernest Haller received a nomination for Best Cinematography. The National Board of Review named it the best English language film of the year. A Lux Video Theatre production of Jezebel , which was televised on the NBC network on 8 Nov 1956, starred Martha Hyer and Charles Drake. Davis and Bainter re-created their Jezebel roles in the late 1940s for the Academy Award Theatre radio program. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   5 Apr 1935.   
Daily Variety   8 Mar 38   p. 3.
Film Daily   11 Mar 38   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Oct 37   p. 1, 7
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jan 38   pp. 38-39.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Mar 38   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   9 Mar 38   p. 1, 4
Motion Picture Herald   11 Dec 37   p. 35.
Motion Picture Herald   12 Mar 38   p. 36.
New York Times   11 Mar 38   p. 15.
New York Times   13 Mar 1938.   
Redbook   Apr 38   p. 5.
Variety   Mar 38   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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