The Real and the Almost Reel of Everything
When the smartly adapted film version of Rona Jaffe’s Manhattan-set career women saga The Best of Everything (1959) opened 58 years ago today, it closed the successful three-film collaboration between producer Jerry Wald and director Jean Negulesco. The first two were the rip-roaring melodrama Humoresque (1946) starring a career-reinvigorated Joan Crawford (fresh off her Academy Award®-winning turn in the previous year’s Wald production of Mildred Pierce), and the tender romance Johnny Belinda (1948), which would win Jane Wyman her own Oscar®, with Negulesco’s sensitive direction among the film’s 11 other Academy nominations. As in those earlier hits, the little things mattered, as Negulesco recalled in his entertaining 1984 memoir Things I Did…and Things I Think I Did: “Rona Jaffe, the author, felt deeply and emotionally about this book. It stayed on the best-seller list for five months. ‘The most important thing about The Best of Everything is that it is real, real, real. Or it should be,’ Rona told me again and again. She was a very valid collaborator during the preparation and rewrite of the scenario [by Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin]. And better yet, a true believer in details – sets, clothes for the girls, their way of living. ‘There is never enough closet space in a New York apartment. Particularly if three girls live in an apartment which is designed for two’ was one of her anxious notes to me.” But personal connections and star presence mattered too, as Negulesco continued: “Casting the picture, Jerry Wald wanted Joan Crawford to play the head supervisor, the mother-hen of the girls. ‘But it’s a nothing part, Jerry,” I argued. ‘She’ll never do it.’ ‘Not after I put in the scene that every actress will sell her soul to play.’ The scene: A smoky small bar, almost empty, late in the night. A black man plays the blues softly on the corner piano. Joan, at the bar alone, a date the man forgot, tells the story of her life to a patient and considerate barman. A classic schmaltzy scene. ‘It’s a good scene, Jerry. But it doesn’t belong to the story,’ I told him after I read it. ‘Besides, you had exactly the same scene in Humoresque.’ ‘It didn’t hurt the picture,’ Jerry answered. ‘But it belonged there. It doesn’t belong here,’ I tried again. ‘It’s a good scene, Johnny. And it may get us Crawford.’ It did.”
Of course, the main thrust of the story is that of the professional and romantic challenges of three talented strivers (played by Hope Lange, Diane Baker and Suzy Parker) and the less-than-idyllic men they fall for (portrayed by Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, Robert Evans and Brett Halsey), but even in this crackling ensemble, the riveting allure of Crawford could not be restrained on the sidelines. So Negulesco dutifully fulfilled Wald’s and Crawford’s wishes. He recalled: “When the bar scene was shot – and well covered – I made the mistake of whispering to the script girl, ‘Good scene. Well played, but –’ ‘But what?’ she said. ‘Ten to one it will not be in the picture,’ I said. ‘Why do you say that?’ she asked. ‘Because it doesn’t belong.’ I was right. The scene was not in the picture. The script girl talked. She was a good friend of Joan’s. Joan was not my friend that year.” Today, The Best of Everything is fondly remembered not just for its assemblage of remarkable young acting talents and its period-precise sense of urban décor and design (shot in Cinemascope by two-time Academy Award®-winning cinematographer William C. Mellor) but also for the gutsy and grandiose Crawford. That vanished gin mill sequence remains part of the film’s lore, as Streamline: The Filmstruck Blog essayist recounts in her 2014 consideration here: http://streamline.filmstruck.com/2014/01/09/joan-crawford-in-the-best-of-everything-1959/. However, The Best of Everything that has come down to us across the decades is precisely what its creators intended on its glamorously attired Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.