Pinky (1949)

101-02 mins | Drama | November 1949

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Quality and Crossover . The novel was originally published in an abridged form in the Dec 1945 issue of Ladies' Home Journal . At the time of the Ladies' Home Journal publication, the NAACP, in an internal memo dated 27 Dec 1945, written by Annette Peyser, included in the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, noted that the publication marked "the first time in any popular national magazine a short novel in which the protagonist was a Negro ... dealt with apparent sympathy and realism with Negro problems in white society." The NAACP, criticized the story, however, stating that it was "propaganda of the most insidious sort" because "each social or political problem presented is resolved most frequently through an advocacy of the status quo" rather than through "positive legal or social action." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, author Cid Ricketts Sumner also wrote a play based on the book.
       Motion picture rights to the novel were originally optioned in Feb 1948 by Nathan Dyches, a Twentieth Century-Fox publicist, according to news items and information in the legal records. Dyches acquired the rights to the story in Apr 1948 and formed Pomeroy Enterprises, Inc., with Harry Brand (the head of Fox publicity) and Nicholas Nayfack to make the film, then hired Richard G. Hubler to write a screenplay. Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck became interested in producing the film, and Jason S. Joy, Fox's liaison with the PCA, sent the office a synopsis for their approval. According ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Quality and Crossover . The novel was originally published in an abridged form in the Dec 1945 issue of Ladies' Home Journal . At the time of the Ladies' Home Journal publication, the NAACP, in an internal memo dated 27 Dec 1945, written by Annette Peyser, included in the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, noted that the publication marked "the first time in any popular national magazine a short novel in which the protagonist was a Negro ... dealt with apparent sympathy and realism with Negro problems in white society." The NAACP, criticized the story, however, stating that it was "propaganda of the most insidious sort" because "each social or political problem presented is resolved most frequently through an advocacy of the status quo" rather than through "positive legal or social action." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, author Cid Ricketts Sumner also wrote a play based on the book.
       Motion picture rights to the novel were originally optioned in Feb 1948 by Nathan Dyches, a Twentieth Century-Fox publicist, according to news items and information in the legal records. Dyches acquired the rights to the story in Apr 1948 and formed Pomeroy Enterprises, Inc., with Harry Brand (the head of Fox publicity) and Nicholas Nayfack to make the film, then hired Richard G. Hubler to write a screenplay. Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck became interested in producing the film, and Jason S. Joy, Fox's liaison with the PCA, sent the office a synopsis for their approval. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA was concerned that a film based on the story might lead to distribution and exhibition problems in the South. A PCA official worried that should the film be made the industry might be accused of siding with President Truman's civil rights program; that new local or state censor boards might be established, which could cause difficulties for the industry; and that its release might lead to a rise in Ku Klux Klan activity. The PCA chose not to issue a policy decision regarding the proposed film, however, or films dealing with similar subject matter, though they did point out their concerns to studio officials.
       A year later, in Feb 1949, as Fox was about to put the film into production, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen urged the studio to "avoid physical contact between Negroes and whites, throughout this picture" in order to avoid offending audiences "in a number of sections of this country." In his response to Breen, Joy pointed out that the role of "Pinky" would be played by a white actress, and stated, "It is our intention ... to have many instances of physical contact between Dr. Chester [who became Dr. Thomas Adams in the final film] and Pinky. We believe these contacts to be absolutely necessary to the power of the story as it relates to these two unhappy people." PCA official Francis S. Harmon, a white Southerner, suggested to the studio "that Pinky should be shown to be the daughter of one of 'Miss Em's' male relatives. I know case after case where just such situations arose. There is a constant conflict in Southern life and thought around this point: that Southern white people condone or tolerate 'social equality' on the level of vice while shouting to high heaven their opposition to 'social equality' on the level of virtue. Those responsible for producing and directing this picture will miss a great opportunity if the picture fails to drive home the point that the very people who attack social equality on the level of virtue continue to accept illicit sex relations, of which Pinky and her kind are innocent and tragic victims." Zanuck, in replying to Harmon, noted, "we have consulted the Negro representatives of many different Negro point of views, and without exception they have objected to the suggestion of miscegenation."
       Fox purchased the rights from Dyches after he and Brand realized that they could not produce the film independently. A letter dated 3 May 1948 in the Fox legal records notes that "because of the peculiar nature of the story [Zanuck] does not want any publicity given to it at this time as he would like to be the first in the field with this type of story." In Aug 1948, Var reported, "Highly publicized production of 'message' pictures has been virtually abandoned by studios, with no attendant fanfare. Twentieth-Fox's Quality planned as a followup to Gentleman's Agreement (see above) has been placed on the shelf." A 30 Jan 1949 NYT news item stated that Zanuck's personal project for 1949 was to be Pinky , based on a "free adaptation" of Quality by Dudley Nichols. They stated that the studio "is officially describing it as an original story by Nichols" and was not admitting its connection with Quality . At that time, John Ford was scheduled to direct the picture.
       Zanuck sent a copy of the 7 Jul 1948 script by Dudley Nichols to the NAACP for their comments, and NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White gave copies to Arthur B. Spingarn, president of the NAACP; Poppy Cannon, a writer with whom White had collaborated; Roy Wilkins, editor of The Crisis , a journal published by the NAACP; and his daughter, Jane White, for their reactions. White and his associates reacted negatively to the script, which Cannon called "a bid for complete submission on the part of colored people." Cannon further stated, "Pinky, the heroine, is a silly sentimental little fool....[Granny] is a female Uncle Tom but she hasn't half the brains or courage of the original Uncle Tom. Among the other Negro characters there is not one decent or believable person." Jane White noted, "The point of view which this script holds is that any kind of action taken by Negroes to secure their rights is rebellion and inspired by 'Northern agitators.'" (The original novel and early scripts included the character of "Arch Naughton," a black newspaperman from New York and an activist, who tries to get Pinky to join him and give up being a nurse; in subsequent versions of the screenplay, that character was dropped, and some of his ideas were incorporated into Pinky's dialogue.) Walter White stated, "Had the story been written around the turn of the century, it would have been novel and even revolutionary. Today it is dated, inaccurate both as to the thinking of Negroes and intelligent Southern whites, and even dangerous in its advocacy of acceptance of the status quo." White suggested that Zanuck scrap the story and get another source for a new film dealing with African Americans.
       In Zanuck's response to White, he expressed his "utter disagreement with the judgments rendered in your letter and those of your associates." He warned that in the current social and political climate, "A motion picture which deals with the Negro minority in the United States must be above all things non-propagandist. All it can hope to do, at its boldest, is to make the white majority experience emotionally the injustice and daily hurts suffered by colored people." Zanuck noted that the picture would have to be less confrontational so that it would appeal to and affect people with prejudices, and that "if the picture is not shown and seen in those regions where injustice and racial prejudice are strongest, no good can be accomplished."
       Although Zanuck criticized the comments of White and the others, he praised Jane White for her "constructive criticism" (although he disagreed with many of her points) and suggested that she help in revising the script. She subsequently was hired by the studio and suggested changes and additions to the 12 Jan 1949 script by Philip Dunne. (Dunne was hired to replace Nichols in Nov 1948. In a May 1949 NYT article, Dunne stated that Nichols "had to drop the job half finished because of a prior commitment elsewhere.") According to an Ebony article of Sep 1949, Jane White recommended "drastic changes" but they were not made. Her suggestions, according to a list in the Produced Scripts Collection, included adding a "dark-skinned Southern Negro character to manifest the forthright militance that Arch [who had been eliminated from the 12 Jan 1949 script] possessed." She wrote, "I would like to be made aware that here is a man who has lived all his life in the South, under its proscription, who has not been defeated or blunted, or made to shrink from his responsibilities as a Negro and a citizen." The character was not added, although a number of her other suggestions were accepted.
       John Ford began directing Pinky in Mar 1949, but worked on it only about a week before he left because of illness, according to news items. In a LADN article before he was replaced, Ford stated, "We are not attacking any section of the country or any group of people ... but we are attacking a bigotry that should have been uprooted from the American scene a long time ago." Elia Kazan replaced Ford, and according to a 29 May 1949 NYT article, "Kazan said that, despite his admiration for Ford, he had redone the material shot by his colleague because he could not attempt to match the Ford style." The NYT article stated that "scouting rumors to the contrary, Kazan confirmed the official studio explanation that the substitution was made because Ford was seriously ill." In his autobiography, Kazan states that Ford had a case of shingles, but also relates that Ford left the picture because of conflicts with actress Ethel Waters.
       The finished film was accepted for showing in Atlanta, where it made its Southern debut. The Atlanta censor stated, "I know this picture is going to be painful to a great many Southerners. It will make them squirm, but at the same time it will make them realize how unlovely their attitudes are." The Roxy Theatre, where the Atlanta debut took place, opened its entire balcony to African Americans. (Previous policy was to limit blacks to just a few gallery seats.) After the first-day showing broke a box-office record, the film was booked for additional southern showings. In the East Texas town of Marshall, prior to a scheduled showing in Feb 1950, a censorship board was formed when theater owner W. L. Gelling refused to cancel the booking even though individuals and the Kiwanis Club complained. The board rejected the film for exhibition in the town, but Gelling presented it anyway, and he was arrested and fined. He appealed, backed by the PCA, who wanted to make the incident a test case of censorship, hoping that the Supreme Court would revoke their 1915 decision that motion pictures could not claim the same rights as the press. After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the lower court ruling, the Supreme Court, in Jun 1952, struck down the censor's decision, citing their decision from the previous week regarding the Italian film The Miracle . The issue of applying freedom of the press rights to motion pictures, however, was not decided at that time.
       The film received three Academy Award nominations: Jeanne Crain for Best Actress and both Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters for Best Supporting Actress. It was highly praised by reviewers. HR called the film a "brilliantly compelling presentation" and stated, "Its power is drawn from purely creative forces rather than the realism of documentation or the crutch of psychiatric exploration. Pinky is the kind of story the screen does best, a pictorial novel with a factual basis and with which there is that all-important element of self-identification. Neither white man nor Negro can appraise Pinky without thinking earnestly: 'What would I do under the same circumstances?'" NYT , while appreciating that the film did not "skirt around the edges, intellectual or geographical, of racial discrimination," criticized it for coming "perilously close to denying the very equality it seems to espouse by accepting paternalism as the easiest and the happiest way out." On 18 Sep 1950, the Lux Radio Theatre presented a radio broadcast of Pinky starring Jeanne Crain, William Lundigan and Ethel Barrymore. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Oct 1949.
---
Daily Variety
2 May 1949.
---
Daily Variety
30 Sep 49
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Nov 1949.
---
Daily Variety
21 Nov 1949.
---
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1949.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1952.
---
Daily Variety
11 Mar 1952.
---
Ebony
Sep 1949.
---
Film Daily
30 Sep 49
p. 3.
Harrison's Reports
1 Oct 49
p. 159.
Hollywood Citizen-News
12 Dec 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 49
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 49
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1952.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
23 Mar 1949.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
22 Oct 1949.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Oct 1949.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Jun 1952.
---
Motion Picture Daily
30 Sep 1949.
---
Motion Picture Herald
2 Feb 1952.
---
Motion Picture Herald
22 Mar 1952.
---
Motion Picture Herald
7 Jun 1952.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Oct 49
p. 33.
New York Times
23 May 1948.
---
New York Times
30 Jan 1949.
---
New York Times
6 Mar 1949.
---
New York Times
1 May 1949.
---
New York Times
29 May 1949.
---
New York Times
30 Sep 49
p. 28.
New York Times
9 Oct 1949.
---
New York Times
29 Oct 1949.
---
New York Times
6 Nov 1949.
---
New York Times
12 Feb 1950.
---
New York Times
31 Jan 1952.
---
The Dallas Morning News
3 Nov 50
p. 1, 8
The Exhibitor
12 Oct 49
p. 2725.
Variety
18 Aug 1948.
---
Variety
5 Oct 49
p. 8.
Variety
16 Apr 1952.
---
Variety
4 Jun 1952.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Contr to scr
Contr to scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Gaffer
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Quality by Cid Ricketts Sumner (Indianapolis, 1946).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Crossover
Quality
Release Date:
November 1949
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 29 September 1949
Production Date:
early March--23 May 1949
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
29 September 1949
Copyright Number:
LP2671
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
101-02
Length(in feet):
9,148
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
13731
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Patricia "Pinky" Johnson, a light-skinned African-American woman, returns by train to her childhood home in a small Southern town. Her grandmother Dicey, a hard-working, religious washerwoman, is happy that Pinky has come back from the northern school to which Dicey sent her when she was very young. Pinkie is now a fully qualified nurse, and Dicey hopes that she will use her knowledge to help their community. Dicey suspects that Pinky has passed for white up North, and when Pinky confesses that she has, her grandmother, ashamed that Pinky has denied her own racial identity, makes her pray for forgiveness. Pinky is haunted, however, by thoughts of her fiancé, Thomas Adams, a white Boston doctor to whom she wants to return. When Pinky learns that neighbor Jake Waters has kept money that the illiterate Dicey gave him to mail to her, she confronts Jake at his shack. Jake, a conniving lay-about, gives her fifteen dollars belonging to his wife Rozelia and promises to return the rest soon, but Rozelia sees Pinky leave with the money and threatens her. Two police officers see the confrontation and, believing Pinky to be white, begin to slap Rozelia. When Rozelia reveals that Pinky also is black, the police arrest them and shove them all into their car. At the courthouse, Judge Walker, who is fond of Dicey, releases Pinky with a warning to keep out of trouble. Later, after the distressed Pinky goes out walking, Jake visits Dicey and finds a letter addressed to Pinky that Dicey had been keeping from her. Dicey snatches it back and burns it, but Jake warns that the white doctor whose return address ... +


Patricia "Pinky" Johnson, a light-skinned African-American woman, returns by train to her childhood home in a small Southern town. Her grandmother Dicey, a hard-working, religious washerwoman, is happy that Pinky has come back from the northern school to which Dicey sent her when she was very young. Pinkie is now a fully qualified nurse, and Dicey hopes that she will use her knowledge to help their community. Dicey suspects that Pinky has passed for white up North, and when Pinky confesses that she has, her grandmother, ashamed that Pinky has denied her own racial identity, makes her pray for forgiveness. Pinky is haunted, however, by thoughts of her fiancé, Thomas Adams, a white Boston doctor to whom she wants to return. When Pinky learns that neighbor Jake Waters has kept money that the illiterate Dicey gave him to mail to her, she confronts Jake at his shack. Jake, a conniving lay-about, gives her fifteen dollars belonging to his wife Rozelia and promises to return the rest soon, but Rozelia sees Pinky leave with the money and threatens her. Two police officers see the confrontation and, believing Pinky to be white, begin to slap Rozelia. When Rozelia reveals that Pinky also is black, the police arrest them and shove them all into their car. At the courthouse, Judge Walker, who is fond of Dicey, releases Pinky with a warning to keep out of trouble. Later, after the distressed Pinky goes out walking, Jake visits Dicey and finds a letter addressed to Pinky that Dicey had been keeping from her. Dicey snatches it back and burns it, but Jake warns that the white doctor whose return address is on the envelope will surely come looking for Pinky and offers to send a telegram to stop him. While walking alone, Pinky is accosted by two intoxicated white men, and after she escapes their lecherous grasp, she returns home and begins to pack. Dicey stops her, however, and tells her that she has volunteered her as a nurse for Miss Em, a sickly white woman living in a nearby, decaying mansion. When Pinky refuses, saying that Miss Em treated her as an inferior in the past, Dicey berates Pinky for her hardened heart and relates that when she had pneumonia, Miss Em slept in her shack, fed and washed her, and even emptied her "slops" until Dicey recovered. Pinky then agrees to nurse Miss Em for Dicey's sake. Although she is humiliated by the domineering old woman, Pinky realizes that Miss Em will die soon, after which she will be able to leave. When Miss Em castigates Pinky for pretending to be what she is not, Pinky disparages the racial rules set by white society. One day, Pinky is met by Tom, who has located her after receiving the telegram sent by Jake. Pinky reveals that she is black, and Tom tenders his belief that no race is superior to another and his hope that he has no hidden racist feelings. He asks her to return North with him and live as a white, but she insists she must continue with her case and not join him after she is finished. When Melba Wooley, the wife of Miss Em's cousin, visits, Miss Em, not wanting a long visit from the busybody, has Pinky remain in the room. Mrs. Wooley, obvlivious to Miss Em's sarcastic attempts to get rid of her, reveals that her maid, Rozelia, has been spreading gossip that Pinky is a thief. Although Mrs. Wooley does not want Miss Em to make a will, after she leaves, Miss Em sends Pinky away and writes one. She collapses as Pinky is returning, and when Miss Em revives, she has Doc Joe, her physician, witness the will without Pinky's knowledge. Pinky has grown fond of the old woman, who has never been afraid to speak her mind, and is saddened when Miss Em dies. When Mrs. Wooley sees Pinky at the dry goods store soon after, she castigates the owner for allowing his saleslady, who is unaware that Pinky is black, to sell to "nigras" before whites. She then implies that Pinky, who is there to purchase a mourning veil, is using money stolen from Miss Em. After the funeral, Pinky and Dicey learn from Doc Joe that Miss Em left Pinky her home and land as an expression of regard and confidence that she would put the property to good use. Outraged, Mrs. Wooley decides to contest the will, and rumors spread among the whites in town that Pinky drugged Miss Em and forced her to make the will. Jake warns Pinky that she and the other blacks in town will face severe repercussions if she accepts the bequest, but Pinky, touched by Miss Em's faith in her, decides not to return North until the matter is settled. Although Judge Walker believes that Miss Em acted unadvisedly, Pinky prevails upon his lifelong friendship with Miss Em and he agrees to represent her. Unable to obtain nursing work and needing money for the court expenses, Pinky does washing for Dicey, who is ill now herself. When Tom visits, he tries to convince Pinky to drop the case, but she is adamant that she does not want to let down Miss Em, herself or her people. She states that if the whites are going to get the house and land by cheating, she wants it out in the open for all to see, and Tom pledges his support. During the trial, Mrs. Wooley's lawyer tries to prove that Pinky exerted undue influence over Miss Em, but the presiding judge rules that the will is a binding legal document. Afterwards, Judge Walker expressed to Pinky his doubts that winning the case has served any interests of the community other than justice. When Tom tells Pinky that he plans to join a clinic in Denver because too many people in Boston have read about the trial, Pinky realizes that Miss Em gave her the house so that she would stay in the South and be herself. She tells Tom that she cannot deny she is a Negro and that she does not want to be anything else, then asks him to go. Using the house and land, Pinky establishes "Miss Em's Clinic and Nursery School" for the black community and operates it with Dr. Canady, a black physician, Doc Joe and Dicey. +

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

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