A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

101 or 103 mins | Comedy-drama | February 1949

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were A Letter to Five Wives , A Letter to Four Wives and Three Wives . Joseph L. Mankiewicz' onscreen credit reads: "Screen Play and Direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz." A voice-over narration, spoken by Celeste Holm as the character "Addie Ross," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Addie is never seen during the film. In Mar 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased John Klempner's story, which is listed in the onscreen credits as a "magazine novel," as it was published in the Aug 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan , according to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library. The story, which prior to its publication in Cosmopolitan was titled One of Our Hearts Is Missing , then appeared in book form in 1946.
       According to records from the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett wrote treatments of Klempner's novel. Although most of their work was not used in the final film, Bennett was the writer who suggested that Addie be heard and not seen. Bennett's treatment also reduced the number of wives to four. The first three drafts of Mankiewicz' screenplay, dated between early Mar and late Apr 1948, included four couples. Studio records indicate that the number of wives was not pared down to three until late spring 1948. Although a Mar 1947 LAT item announced that F. Hugh Herbert had been hired to work on the script, his participation in the production has not been confirmed
       In ... More Less

The working titles of this film were A Letter to Five Wives , A Letter to Four Wives and Three Wives . Joseph L. Mankiewicz' onscreen credit reads: "Screen Play and Direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz." A voice-over narration, spoken by Celeste Holm as the character "Addie Ross," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Addie is never seen during the film. In Mar 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased John Klempner's story, which is listed in the onscreen credits as a "magazine novel," as it was published in the Aug 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan , according to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library. The story, which prior to its publication in Cosmopolitan was titled One of Our Hearts Is Missing , then appeared in book form in 1946.
       According to records from the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett wrote treatments of Klempner's novel. Although most of their work was not used in the final film, Bennett was the writer who suggested that Addie be heard and not seen. Bennett's treatment also reduced the number of wives to four. The first three drafts of Mankiewicz' screenplay, dated between early Mar and late Apr 1948, included four couples. Studio records indicate that the number of wives was not pared down to three until late spring 1948. Although a Mar 1947 LAT item announced that F. Hugh Herbert had been hired to work on the script, his participation in the production has not been confirmed
       In Oct 1946, HR announced that because of scheduling conflicts, the picture would be produced by Samuel G. Engel instead of Mankiewicz, as originally planned. Sol Spiegel then took over from Engel in Apr 1948. Alice Faye, Dorothy McGuire, Maureen O'Hara, Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power, as well as Linda Darnell, were listed as possible stars during pre-production. Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for the offscreen role of Addie, according to studio publicity. As a publicity gag, Holm's portrayal of Addie was kept secret during the picture's initial run. Location shooting took place in Mahopac, Hook Mountain and Cold Spring, NY, but was curtailed by a long bout of inclement weather, according to HR . Studio publicity indicates that Stamford, CT, was also set as a location for one scene, but because of bad weather, the scene was actually filmed on Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, CA.
       Paul Douglas (1907--1959), who had appeared as the tough-talking scrap tycoon in the long-running Broadway production of Born Yesterday , made his screen acting debut in the picture. The song "Crazy Eddie," which is heard in the film as a commercial radio jingle, was a spoof of Earl "Madman" Muntz, a postwar New York car czar, according to a Jun 1993 NYT item. According to a Mar 1949 NYT item, many of the film's viewers were confused about which husband ran away with Addie Ross, and started a public debate about it. When asked to clarify the ending, Mankiewicz stated in the item, "She actually didn't run away with anyone. The character played by Paul Douglas started to run off with her, but then decided against it....The people who've been doing the wondering don't believe what they hear in the picture." Mankiewicz won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Direction for his work on the film. The picture also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Mankiewicz also won the Screen Directors' Guild award for "Best Directorial Achievement" of the 1948-49 season and shared the Screen Writers' Guild award with adaptor Vera Caspary and author Klempner for writing the best American comedy screenplay of 1949.
       On 20 Feb 1950, Darnell and Douglas reprised their screen roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, and Darnell played "Lora May" again in a 11 May 1952 Screen Players Guild broadcast. On 16 Dec 1985, the NBC network broadcast an updated television version of Mankiewicz' story, also titled A Letter to Three Wives , directed by Larry Elikann and starring Loni Anderson, Michele Lee, Stephanie Zimbalist, Ben Gazzara and Ann Sothern as Lora May's mother. In Jul 1949, HR announced that Caspary had "penned A Letter to Three Husbands as a sequel to her recent 20th hit." The sequel was produced independently and released by United Artists in 1950 as Three Husbands (See Entry). More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Dec 1948.
---
Daily Variety
3 Dec 48
p. 3.
Film Daily
6 Dec 48
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 46
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 46
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
26 May 48
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 48
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 48
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 48
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 48
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 48
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 48
p. 3, 17
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 49
p. 6, 10
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 49
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 49
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
25 Mar 1947.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Jun 1947.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Dec 48
p. 4405, 4407
New York Times
21 Jan 49
p. 24.
New York Times
6 Mar 1949.
---
New York Times
1 Jun 1993.
---
Variety
8 Dec 48
p. 10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Orch arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Aug 1945).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
Excerpts from Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83, by Johannes Brahms.
SONGS
"Crazy Eddie," music by Charles Henderson, lyrics by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Three Wives
Release Date:
February 1949
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 20 January 1949
Production Date:
1 June--early August 1948
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
20 January 1949
Copyright Number:
LP2208
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording, Talking Sound by Sonovox
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
101 or 103
Length(in feet):
9,268
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
SYNOPSIS

Just as they are about to board a boat for an all-day charity picnic, three married women of suburban New York--Deborah Bishop, Lora May Hollingsway and Rita Phipps-- receive a single letter from Addie Ross, the sophisticated town flirt, informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands. Although the women outwardly make light of Addie's cruel letter, which fails to name the errant husband, they are all deeply disturbed by its content. Deborah's businessman husband Brad has gone to the city and has told Deborah that he cannot attend their country club's first dinner dance of the season that night. George, Rita's husband, an erudite high school English teacher, has forsaken his usual Saturday morning fishing trip and donned a suit without telling his wife why, and Lora May's spouse Porter, the owner of a chain of department stores, has been spotted at the train station. During a free moment, Deborah thinks back on her young marriage: On the night of a previous opening dinner dance, newlywed Deborah, who along with Brad has just been discharged from the military, worries that she will not be accepted into Brad's circle of worldly hometown friends. Although Brad reassures her, the farm-reared Deborah frets about her unruly hair and unfashionable, pre-war mail-order party dress. By the time Rita and George arrive, Deborah is drunk and in a panic. Kindly Rita gives Deborah a pep talk and suggests that she cut the garish artificial flowers off her dress. While snipping, however, Deborah accidentally cuts a hole into the midriff of the dress and is forced to pin the flower back on. ... +


Just as they are about to board a boat for an all-day charity picnic, three married women of suburban New York--Deborah Bishop, Lora May Hollingsway and Rita Phipps-- receive a single letter from Addie Ross, the sophisticated town flirt, informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands. Although the women outwardly make light of Addie's cruel letter, which fails to name the errant husband, they are all deeply disturbed by its content. Deborah's businessman husband Brad has gone to the city and has told Deborah that he cannot attend their country club's first dinner dance of the season that night. George, Rita's husband, an erudite high school English teacher, has forsaken his usual Saturday morning fishing trip and donned a suit without telling his wife why, and Lora May's spouse Porter, the owner of a chain of department stores, has been spotted at the train station. During a free moment, Deborah thinks back on her young marriage: On the night of a previous opening dinner dance, newlywed Deborah, who along with Brad has just been discharged from the military, worries that she will not be accepted into Brad's circle of worldly hometown friends. Although Brad reassures her, the farm-reared Deborah frets about her unruly hair and unfashionable, pre-war mail-order party dress. By the time Rita and George arrive, Deborah is drunk and in a panic. Kindly Rita gives Deborah a pep talk and suggests that she cut the garish artificial flowers off her dress. While snipping, however, Deborah accidentally cuts a hole into the midriff of the dress and is forced to pin the flower back on. During the dinner dance, Deborah sits forlornly with Porter, who, though rough-hewn himself, complains about Lora May's lack of class. When champagne arrives courtesy of Addie, both Porter and Brad, who had been romantically linked to Addie prior to the war, express their admiration for her. Brad then insists that Deborah waltz with him, and Deborah is humiliated when the flower flies off her dress, exposing the tear and her bare midriff. Deborah runs to the bathroom, where Rita consoles her. Bolstered by Rita, Deborah returns to the dance, only to spot Brad outside, talking with Addie. Back at the picnic, Deborah comes out of her reverie and seeks out Rita. While trying to remain calm, Rita remembers her recent past: An overworked radio soap opera writer, Rita has invited her employers, advertising tycoons Mr. and Mrs. Manleigh, to dinner, hoping to sell them on an idea involving George. Unaware of his wife's plan, George criticizes Rita's desire to impress the Manleighs and refuses to don his tuxedo. Addie's birthday present for George, a phonograph recording of a Brahms piano concerto, then arrives, along with a quote from Twelfth Night , an amateur production of which they had co-starred in years before, and Rita is embarrassed to admit she had forgotten her husband's birthday. Moments after they sit down to eat, the Manleighs insist on interrupting the meal to listen to two radio dramas on which their company advertises. Afterward, Mrs. Manleigh cajoles George into critiquing the programs, and George happily expresses his total disdain for commercial radio. Insulted, Mrs. Manleigh informs Rita that her "little project" is off, and leaves. When George finds out that Rita had been hoping to secure him a high-paying story editing job with the Manleighs, he denounces her ambitions and reiterates his love of teaching. Rita concludes her recollections and then questions Lora May about her feelings. Although Lora May maintains that she is not concerned about Porter running off with Addie, she, too, becomes lost in thought, contemplating her past: As a young salesclerk, Lora May Finney lives with her mother and sister in a rundown house situated next to the railroad tracks. Although Porter is many years her senior and her boss, Lora May begins dating him, determined to secure a marriage proposal. When the divorced Porter resists her manipulations and tries to romance her with no strings attached, she turns him away. On New Year's Eve, Porter, who is infatuated with Lora May but is also attracted to Addie, comes to Lora May's house and begs to see her. Lora May stands firm, however, insisting that she will not resume their relationship without a commitment. Desperate, Porter proposes, but his lack of enthusiasm nevertheless depresses Lora May. In the present, the picnic concludes, and the three women head for home, each one wondering if she will find her husband. Rita's fears are immediately alleviated when she discovers George listening to his concerto. George explains to Rita that he had been asked to direct the school's production of Twelfth Night , but because of their fight over the Manleighs, never had a chance to tell her about it or his rehearsal that morning. Overjoyed, Rita announces that she is not working on weekends anymore, and will spend more time with her family. Deborah, meanwhile, arrives home to learn that Brad will not be coming home that night and assumes the worst. Lora May also finds Porter absent, but he returns home later that evening. During the country club dance, a depressed Deborah confides to Porter that Brad has run off with Addie. As his wife listens, Porter informs Deborah that he was the one who ran off with Addie, but that he changed his mind. After Deborah leaves, Porter reveals to the others that he confessed in order to relieve Deborah's anxiety. Expecting rejection, Porter then tells Lora May that she can use his admission to instigate lucrative divorce proceedings. Instead, Lora May lovingly calls her husband a "big gorilla," and they join George and Rita on the dance floor. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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