Behind the Scenes with Woody, Joan, Clark and Bob (1935) 🇺🇸

January 11, 2022

Three famous stars and an equally famous director worked together in “Forsaking All Others!” How did they get along, or did they? Read what happened.

by Walter Ramsey

When Joan CrawfordClark Gable and Robert Montgomery were announced as the stars of “Forsaking All Others,” under the ace direction of “Woody” Van Dyke, the local gossip columnists assumed their favorite cat-that-ate-the-canary expression, and sat back and waited for the worst to happen.

Everybody was going around asking everybody else if he’d heard what Van Dyke (of “Thin Man” direction fame) had said about Joan Crawford’s penchant for playing Bing Crosby’s records on the set? Of course, everybody had. Mr. Van Dyke, who fears neither man, beast nor glamorous movie star, had said he’d be a blankblank if any star of his was going to play that so-and-so gramophone on the set while he was trying to concentrate. And it was also whispered that Mr. Van Dyke, had intimated to close friends that he would go through life just as happily if he never directed a Joan Crawford picture.

The Crawford camp wasn’t taking all this lying down either. Someone who had a friend who knew Joan quite well reported that Joan had said Mr. Van Dyke was probably a very nice man, who had never slapped his grandmother or stepped on a flower in his life, but he wasn’t the only director in Hollywood, even if “Thin Man” had broken all box-office records for a program picture.

And then, of course, there was that fascinating angle of Mr. Clark (star) Gable and Mr. Robert (equally-starry) Montgomery doing their stuff in the same picture. For some time now, the Hollywood commentators have been debating the pros and cons as to whether Clark upset Bob’s apple cart when he came along on the M-G-M lot, or whether Bob had taken the edge off Clark’s popularity.

And who was to get the girl? The most important male in the picture always gets the girl and, obviously (see Hays’ morality rulings), Clark and Bob both couldn’t have Joan. That just wouldn’t do.

And what about the billing? It is stipulated in Joan Crawford’s contract that her name shall always precede the title of any picture in which she appears. And Bob and Clark both have star billing clauses, too. Of course, Bob and Clark had always appeared to be very good friends, but then they’d never been together in the same picture with a woman star before. Some of the best friendships in Hollywood have been broken up over less strained conditions than this.

Yes, take it any way you want to, it looked like a gossip’s Roman Holiday on the “Forsaking All Others” set, when and if the exciting experiment ever got under way. Believe it or not, but the scent of excitement was so keen that three local newspapers and plenty of magazine writers put in requests to be present on the initial day of shooting — or the shooting of anything else that happened to come up, like Miss Crawford picking up her gramophone and throwing it at Mr. Van Dyke’s head, or Bob and Clark amusing themselves by slinging Joan’s Bing Crosby records at each other.

The first shock was the arrival of Mr. Van Dyke himself at the studio gate. Now “Woody” usually shows up in an old sweat-shirt with nothing more formal than a cap atop his artistic head. But this day he was all dressed up in a brand new gray sports suit, a jaunty fedora and a handkerchief protruding fashionably from his pocket. It was the handkerchief that got them. Someone observed: “Maybe ‘Woody’ thinks it would make a better press note to say: ‘The corpse was nattily attired when the body was discovered!’ “

The second shock came when the gateman reported that Joan Crawford in her brand new white Ford, Clark Gable in his roadster and Robert Montgomery in his sports model phaeton, had arrived on the lot almost simultaneously — all a good half hour before they were expected. Oh, well, the cynics sighed, that didn’t mean anything. You know, you can always tell the star of any picture by his apologetic but always slightly tardy arrival after everyone else has checked in. So that took care of that.

At exactly five minutes to nine Joan Crawford emerged from her brand new dressing-room and ran into her old pal and co-star, Clark Gable, who was just emerging from his new dressing-room. “Hi,” called Joan. “Going to walk or ride over to the set?” “Let’s walk,” he said, taking Joan’s arm.

They hadn’t gone ten steps when a very hurried and slightly breathless young man overtook them. “What’s the idea of trying to make me late?” demanded Mr. Robert Montgomery, who had never before in the memory of the oldest M-G-M native been observed to hurry.

Thus “Mary Clay,” “Jeff Williams,” and “Dill Todd,” the chief romantic ingredients of “Forsaking All Others,” arrived on the set arm in arm long before Billie Burke, Charlie Butterworth or Frances Drake, their supporting players, showed any signs of appearing.

Before we go any further it might be well to explain something about “Mary” and “Jeff” and “Dill” in a little more detail. “Mary” is Joan Crawford who is loved by both “Jeff” (Clark) and “Dill” (Bob). She is giving a large party to celebrate her engagement to “Dill” when “Jeff” appears unexpectedly on the scene.

“Jeff” has just returned from a long sojourn in Spain to ask “Mary” to marry him and he is broken-hearted when he learns she is going to marry “Dill.” The story opens with the engagement party in full blast.

But the wedding never comes off, for who should appear at “Dill’s” apartment the night of his stag dinner but an old sweetheart, “Connie” (Frances Drake). And “Dill” falls in love with “Connie” all over again.

But let’s go back to our off-stage story of Joan, Clark and Bob — and that first day on the set. Before luncheon was announced, seven scenes had been shot and not a single Bing Crosby record had been played. You could have knocked over the collective press correspondents with a very small feather.

However, press spirits were miraculously revived when immediately after lunch a young man from the music department, who admitted that he had been personally recruited by Joan Crawford, presented himself on the “Forsaking All Others” set with a gramophone in his arms. Ah, the plot was really beginning to thicken. Joan had accepted Van Dyke’s dare. Her machine and records had arrived.

For a minute you could have heard a pin drop. Van Dyke observed the arrival of the gramophone (out of the corner of his eye). So did Joan. Hurriedly, she went over to the young man and held a whispered conversation with him. “Take it over to a corner of the stage where it won’t bother anyone,” she said, “and put on a soft needle.”

The moment had arrived. What was going to happen?

Mr. Van Dyke arose. He walked over to the little group of two, and every eye on that set was on him. “What records have you there?” he interestedly inquired.

“Oh, just some that I like,” laughed Joan. “Some opera selections, and some popular ones — and some of Bing Crosby’s and some of my own.”

“Your own?” echoed the director in surprise. “I didn’t know you sang for records.”

“I don’t,” replied Joan, “but I have some records of my voice from various pictures I’ve made. I play the old ones and compare them with the new ones and check to see if there is any improvement. It’s a big help.”

“Say,” said the tall Mr. Van Dyke enthusiastically, “that’s a swell idea. Let’s listen to some of them.”

And so Joan, Van Dyke, Gable and Montgomery gathered around the gramophone and listened to records for the rest of the luncheon hour. And what’s more, they actually played some of Bing Crosby’s, too! That’s the way two of Hollywood’s best scouts and most regular fellows settled that particular feud, with everybody happy except, perhaps, the press.

Before the picture was in production two weeks, the news was out that there were no stars in the picture and there was no stellar temperament. Three of M-G-M’s biggest stars had put themselves completely in the hands of the director they so greatly admired. They believed in him implicitly and what he said was law. So far as we know, only one concession was made to artistic prerogatives and that was in the matter of lighting for the camera. As a rule, the star of a picture receives all and sundry benefits in the lighting, with the others coming in as best they can. But in this case three separate lighting experts were put to work on the three individual stars and not a single scene was shot until these experts had checked in an okay for his particular charge.

Bob Montgomery was favored at one point, however. A great deal of expense and time was given to installing a shower with hot and cold water for Bob’s bath scene. “Know why?” grinned Bob the day I drifted on the set. “They were scared I’d catch cold and they’re running through this picture so fast they haven’t time to take care of me if I get the sniffles.”

Things were going at such a fast pace that Clark Gable didn’t have time to memorize his lines. Joan and Clark were at work on a very difficult scene before the camera when Joan realizes it is “Jeff” she loves and not “Dill” and she is trying to let him know. They kept shooting and re-shooting it because Clark just couldn’t get his lines down pat. Seven times they started the cameras grinding and seven times Clark “blew up.” Finally they started the eighth try. Everything was going well. Clark was over his worst hurdle. It was Joan’s turn to speak. She went up to him, gazed deeply into his eyes in that Crawford-Gable way that is known only too well to the fans. Her line went something like this: “And now I know that it is someone else... not ‘Dill’... I love.” Instead, she went up to him, gazed deeply, as advertised, and calmly remarked: “And now I’ve forgotten the darn lines.”

Everybody yelled with laughter. “Okay, folks,” laughed Van Dyke, “let’s take off a little time and learn these lines.”

So far, Saturday afternoons are the only vacations Joan, Clark and Bob can actually count on. The reason is Mr. Van Dyke’s hectic enthusiasm for the game of football. Nothing except football as played by the University of Southern California could lure Woody away from his director’s chair for a precious half day. But he makes up the time by working his cast late on Friday nights. Stars as high up in the ladder of fame as Joan and Clark and Bob might kick at the idea of working until midnight every Friday night, if they were working for some other director. But Woody has won them completely. They burn _ the midnight oil without a single overtime complaint. In fact his enthusiasm is so contagious that they join him in his Saturday afternoon games. The day University of Southern California met University of Pittsburgh, the “Forsaking All Others” company had a special radio attachment on the set and turned it on at the completion of each scene. Montgomery and Van Dyke indulged in a little betting. It cost Bob $100 and Woody $250. When the score came in, Clark Gable remarked: “It’s too bad we haven’t some morgue scenes. Everybody’s in a perfect mood.”

It might have turned out to be the “lowest” day of the picture if Bob Montgomery had not at that very moment received an important wire. His secretary explained the wire had been sent to his home and Mrs. Montgomery had forwarded it. Bob read it and a very peculiar expression came over his face. Joan inquired solicitously: “What’s the matter, bad news?”

Bob almost choked. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, only a funny coincidence. It’s a wire from... from....”

“Yes?” encouraged Joan.It’S from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.,” laughed Bob, “and he’s inviting Betty and me to be his guests in London as soon as I complete this picture with you.”

“From Douglas!” gasped Joan. “How swell!” She immediately wanted to know if Bob was going to accept the invitation and when he assured her he was, Joan launched a long list of “Be sure to tell Doug....”

“If you two will forget about Douglas for a moment,” broke in Clark Gable, “we can get along with our little opera here and I can get off on my own vacation four or five days ahead of time. I’m beginning to be discouraged. I understand we’re only four days ahead of schedule anyway. At the rate we’re going there’s no reason why we shouldn’t make it a solid week and set an all-Hollywood record.”

“Okay,” called Woody Van Dyke, the man who makes ‘em fast and makes ‘em love it. “Lights.” “And music,” called Joan. The famous gramophone played softly and seductively, “Over Somebody Else’s Shoulder,” and Joan and Clark stepped before the camera for their close-up.

“Which is what I call darned appropriate music,” grinned Clark Gable.

Source: Modern Screen, January 1935