Jerry's Moviemaking Run

Jerry's Moviemaking Run

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Sep 15th 2017

Marking today’s 106th birthday of studio executive/screenwriter/producer Jerry Wald (1911-1962), one asks: “What made Jerry Wald run?” Across 30 years of remarkable stints at four Hollywood studios wherein his scripts, management moxie and preternatural skills at matching material and talent made an indelible impact, there may have been deeper complexities to explore, but historian David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film assessment of the Brooklyn-born Wald cuts to the chase: “Certainly he was a vulgarian in the Selznick mold, combining a brutal instinct for the lowest common denominator with earnest literary pretensions. It made him the sort of producer that outsiders laughed at. But plenty of professionals – from Joan Crawford to Fritz Lang – attested to his enthusiasm for movies, and to the foolish good nature that swept him along. The irony of a producer’s role was that he had immense power but childish insights. In human terms, many producers may have been victims, highly paid and heavily armed, but out of their depth, unable to grasp the nature of a film, the logistics of a schedule, or the aspirations of a director. The producers who survive with any credit are those who maintained at least a love of movies. If only on that score, Wald is worth remembering.” On the Twilight Time scoreboard he is easily designated a Most Valuable Player. After making his mark at Warner Bros. from 1932 to 1951 (think scripts for Brother Rat, The Roaring Twenties and They Drive by Night, producing The Hard Way, Mildred Pierce, Objective, Burma!, Key Largo, Johnny Belinda, The Breaking Point and dozens more) and RKO (Clash by Night, The Lusty Men), he would transition over to first Columbia (as vice-president of production under studio baron Harry Cohn) and then Twentieth Century Fox as an independent production entity, where over a 10-year-span more cinematic gold was minted either under his executive stewardship or as the officially credited producer. That prodigious output in all its star-boasting, multi-genre glory includes TT’s Gun Fury (debuting next week), The Big Heat (available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/30898/THE-BIG-HEAT-1953-ENCORE-EDITION/) and Miss Sadie Thompson (available here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/31901/MISS-SADIE-THOMPSON-1953-2D-and-3D/) (all 1953), The Eddy Duchin Story (1956, available here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26668/THE-EDDY-DUCHIN-STORY-1956/), Peyton Place (1957, garnering him a Best Picture Academy Award® nomination), The Long, Hot Summer (1958), the sold-out The Sound and the Fury, The Best of Everything and Beloved Infidel (available here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/22924/BELOVED-INFIDEL-1959/) (all 1959) and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962, the last Wald production that he lived to see released, available here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26864/MR-HOBBS-TAKES-A-VACATION-1962/). Wald was anecdotally cited through the years as an inspiration for the title character of Budd Schulberg’s trenchant 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?, about a successful but rather ruthless Hollywood mogul. The writer/director Jeffrey Hayden, the late husband of beloved actress Eva Marie Saint, tackled that thought in an amusing 1990 Los Angeles Times article blending memories of his mid-1950s encounter with Wald with a conversation he had with Schulberg about how the book came to be written. Read it here: http://articles.latimes.com/1990-04-29/books/bk-185_1_sammy-glick. Meanwhile, no fewer than three titles bearing the Wald stamp are in the TT pipeline for the first half of 2018. So the movie-loving spirit of birthday boy Wald, who at the ceremonies for the 1948 Oscars®  joined the rarefied company of iconic producers honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, will continue to thrive on hi-def Blu-ray for the foreseeable future.