A Practical Vision — As Expounded by George Cukor (1937) 🇺🇸

A Practical Vision — As Expounded by George Cukor (1937) 🇺🇸

December 30, 2021

Editor’s note: When a man of the caliber of George Cukor outlines a practical vision pertaining to the motion picture industry, it is indeed the time to stop, look and listen. To fully realize this, one needs only to survey briefly his brilliant career, which first found him one of New York’s outstanding stage directors, a field which he abandoned in 1929 in favor of motion pictures. Under the David O. Selznick banner, Cukor has become one of filmland’s directorial aces, with such pictures to his credit as Dinner at Eight, “Little Women” and David Copperfield. Selznick, his firm friend, was first to applaud when the “bravos” began to sound for Cukor’s direction of “Romeo and Juliet” at M-G-M, for which the director was loaned by Selznick International. Present assignment for the capable Cukor is Camille, with Greta Garbo. In Cukor is found a combination of the artist, visionary and practical worker.

Through its editorials, the INSIDER advocates the establishment of some organization through which talented youngsters and screen players could display and improve their abilities. When recently we read of Mr. Cukor’s ideas, released through Selznick International, we were gratified to find that he also is interested in the development of some similar medium. In a very stimulating interview he gave us some of his views.

From observation and bitter experience he has reached the conclusion that a training school for prospective actors should be organized within the motion picture industry. Such a school would early show whether the aspiring student really had talent and the persistence necessary for satisfactory development and it would also be a reliable source from which the studios could select trained players.

Mr. Cukor’s delightful, unaccented English is a joy. Enthusiastic and vital he sat cross-legged on a divan while he spoke with vigor and earnestness of a project to which he has evidently given much careful consideration.

“At present, nearly all motion picture aspirants lack two essential qualities — correct speech and ‘audience training.’

“For instance, there was a girl on the set this morning whose appearance in face and figure was admirable but when she spoke, her voice was hopelessly flat and raucus,” four ineffective words fail to take the place of his inimitable mimicry) “so of course, we couldn’t use her.”’

Too bad! In her case youth and beauty were not enough.

With graphic gestures Mr. Cukor went on. “It often happens that in seeking new talent or change in cast, we carefully pick out a certain type of player only to find that his or her speech is commonplace and toneless, so we have to fall back on our good old character actors who have had stage training. What shall we do when this source gives out, as in time inevitably it must? Where are we going to get proficient players to take their places?”

Where, indeed?

To date there has been no coordinated effort to meet this contingency.

A real artist who has experienced the thrill of swaying crowds, reaches greater emotional heights when stimulated by the demands they subconsciously make. Untrained, inexperienced individuals, on the other hand, even though they may not forget their lines, nor fall over their own feet, are inhibited rather than not. by the knowledge that there are people watching and listening to them.

The best remedy for both defects is good stock training and plenty of it. Students should learn to act by acting, not by theory. They should early realize that neither influence nor good looks will get them further than an interview with the director, that is if a motion picture career is what they are after.

“In no field of endeavor is there harder work entailed than in learning and playing dozens of different parts hut the poise and confidence that being able to do this always gives, is of inestimable value to anyone who would get very far either in the theatre or the movies.”

Mr. Cukor’s observations have their roots in a career as one of New York’s ace stage directors, prior to the time he entered the motion picture field, and rose quickly to the top under the David O. Selznick banner. His notable New York productions include “The Great Gatsby” and “The Dark,” with Elsie Ferguson and Basil Rathbone; “Her Cardboard Lover,” with Jeanne Eagels; “The Constant Wife,” with Ethel Barrymore, and a number of others equally important. Cukor has been affiliated with Edgar Selwyn, the Shuberts, Gilbert Miller and the Charles Frohman Company.

He outlined only too briefly the basis upon which he considered a Motion Picture Industry School of Acting could most effectively be developed.

First, there would have to be active cooperation between the studios. For them the proposed school would be a sort of clearing house and all would benefit by the trained talent constantly available. A director from each major studio would be asked to serve on the Board in a more or less advisory capacity, the actual work of training the students to be done by people who have demonstrated their ability to teach elocution, dramatic art and so forth. And, what is extremely important in any enterprise, the business direction should be in the hands of a thoroughly competent manager. The real experience, after voice, stage presence and so forth were acquired, would be gained in a series of stock companies where players are continually called upon to portray types the most diverse possible. Thus, by practice, not only would flexible yet perfectly controlled tones of voice be attained but that other requisite, audience training, would painlessly be absorbed at the same time.

With this opportunity ambitious youngsters would have a chance. Anyone especially gifted might receive more attention, this is perhaps inevitable, but all, having the advantage of good training, would have a chance to show what they could do and logically, it would be to the teachers’ best interests to promote hardworking and promising pupils and to launch them as soon as possible.

The element of hazard prevailing in our present system, (or lack of system) would be removed, too, and stars would not necessarily be gleaned from some other field of entertainment nor raised to stardom by some mere accident. Who can tell what talent may not be lost in this shuffle.

The actual cost of housing, film, cameras and other equipment would be met jointly by the various studios in the Motion Picture School envisioned by Mr. Cukor, and the enterprise would be of great financial value to all producers. In the first place they could arrange to have acclaimed stars play in many of the stock or film productions, which would popularize the project with the public. Then, if clever plays well put on, were offered, the public would respond and box office receipts would defray the cost of operation. Stated or regulated weekly salaries could be paid, commensurate either with the player’s ability or the part he happened to be taking but not necessarily running into such large sums as can successfully be obtained by the comparatively few who now stay at the top.

Then think of a director’s satisfaction if when he needed a certain type of actor, one were forthcoming who exactly filled the bill — a finished product instead of merely someone anxious to try, for the best will in the world fails to take the place of dramatic training and background.

Mr. Cukor regretted the fact that the overwhelming demands upon his time and energy make it impossible for him to give more than a very active interest to the Motion Picture Industry School of Acting plan at the present moment but he is convinced that if several studio directors can be prevailed upon to cooperate in promoting the school, the enterprise will quickly gather momentum. By its evident benefits to both the dramatic and financial interests of the industry it would grow and prove just as necessary and constructive an adjunct as are laboratories for any other kind of technical research — in the mysterious laboratory of human relations it would be invaluable.

The Insider is fully in accord with Mr. Cukor’s thought as to the desirability of a training school and will be glad to extend publicity both to the aims and activities of such an organization and to the talented and deserving youngsters for whom it would function.

Source: Motion Picture Studio Insider, January 1937