A Letter From Joan Rice
Joan Rice sadly passed away on January 1st 1997. This blog is dedicated to her memory. In Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, Joan graced the silver screen as the best Maid Marian the movie world has ever seen.
So in tribute to ‘our Maid Marian’ I thought I would post this truly revealing article about Joan Rice’s trip to Hollywood, just before she began filming ‘His Majesty O’Keefe.’ It was sent in by Neil who says,” I came across this in Picturegoer Magazine of Sept 13th 1952, when I was looking to see if I could find the film that would have been shown along with the Story of Robin Hood on its original release in 1952.”
We have often discussed on here Joan’s ‘Cinderella like’ transformation from waitress to film star, and in this remarkably candid letter we read of her experiences of home-sickness, stage nerves, height problems, swimming, engagement, plans for marriage and preparations for film production.
Fiji-bound, Joan Rice stopped off at Hollywood..... and found time to write 'Picturegoer' a letter....
“It was 8 a.m. when the big B.O.A.C plane circled over Idlewild Airport. I was awake and well. I am usually very airsick, but I took plenty of ‘anti’ tablets.
It was my first sight of New York. I had no idea there was so much water round it. One doesn’t think of New York that way.
The Press photographer who came to meet the plane was a very tall man. In the corner of his mouth he had the longest cigar I had ever seen. He kept smoking it, even while taking pictures.
But he didn’t ask me to “hoist the hemline a few inches, kid.” As I am told they usually do. I don’t consider myself the pin-up type-even though I have to wear sarongs for my half-caste role with Burt Lancaster in ‘His Majesty O’Keefe,’ the film for which I am making this trip.
America amazes me. On the drive to Manhattan from the airport I was impressed by all the labour saving devices in this country-even to the machines that wash your car in sixty seconds. And the roads! The city is so well planned that I found my way around quite easily.
But I wouldn’t swap an English car for an American. The U.S. jobs are too big and over sprung. You have no sensation of travelling, and might as well stay in your armchair and have removal people move you.
I had nothing but £. s. d. In my bag, because this is a Fiji and Elstree film and I am being paid in pounds. But Warners gave me fifty pounds and I made straight for a drugstore. Haven’t you always wanted to go into a drugstore? They’re just as we see them in American films.
I asked for a cup of white coffee. Without uttering a word the man gave me a cup of black coffee. I said: “No, I want white coffee.” He went away and put it in a waxed container so I could carry it away. I said : “No, white coffee. I want to drink it here.” He just looked at me. We just couldn’t seem to understand each other.
I said: “This is the first time I have done this. In England we ask for black or white.”
He put some cream in my coffee and when I paid, the man at the cash desk sold me nearly everything in the store. I bought colour films and a travelling iron and asked for a British brand of milk chocolate. But they had only American chocs., and I bought a pound; but they were not so good as ours. They just didn’t taste the same. At home I eat my month’s ration the first week, but here I had some of that pound left a week later.
I hadn’t anything to do that evening in New York, so I went to bed and watched television. The hotel people apologized for my room as “only temporary, Miss Rice,” But really it was palatial – lamps and television and everything. More like a big living – room.
There was wrestling on television and it kept me awake. Finally I had to turn off the set, or I’d never got off to sleep.
Landing at Los Angeles at eight o’clock the next night was unforgettable. There was still daylight, but the lights were coming on all over the city. With its coloured houses and the miles of neon lighting in such delicate shades, the town looked like a gleaming model.
There was some difficulty at the Roosevelt as they had no room ready for me; so the photographer who met the plane took me dancing in the hotel’s Hawaiian night club.
At first they wouldn’t let me in. They said I was under age. I’m only five feet four in my stockinged feet- I know because Carl Schafer, head of Warner’s international office in Hollywood, measured me against a studio door. I initialled the mark.
Next day I spent by the hotel swimming pool. I had only six days’ notice to leave London, but my bathing suit was one thing I wouldn’t forget!
I can’t swim, so I didn’t go in the water until the evening, when I could be alone. Then I dunked myself in the shallow end and tried floating. For a few seconds I actually stayed up.
I reported to the studio on Monday, and the week became a whirl, with fittings, hairdressing, still pictures, make-up, interviews and more fittings.
Model Of My Figure
Fabulous is the word for the way Hollywood production is organized. They had a model of my figure already made, and much of the clothes-making was already done. (Their sending to London for my measurements was the first tip I had that they might take me.)
‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ is a period picture, and as well as sarongs I am going to wear two lovely gowns. One is lavender lace and velvet wedding dress with a bustle.
I hadn’t seen the script then, but I knew there’s an amusing scene where I try on the dress and then refuse to wear it, because I have got it on the wrong way round and I don’t like that “hump” (that is the bustle) in front.
The studio hairdressing department is like a Bond Street salon. Even in the waiting rooms the appointments are magnificent. Hollywood really tries to make its stars feel good.
And the clips they used for waving hair are better than ours. They give a softer wave without risk of breaking or making a “line” in the hair.
I Sat On Stars
They had to build me up on the chair because I am rather short in the body. I didn’t quite reach the dryer. They piled cinema magazines under me, so I really sat on the stars. I noticed the picture on top was of Ava Gardner.
Some of the Warners stars very kindly came to say “hallo” to me as I spent those long hours in the make-up and hairdressing chairs. I couldn’t talk to them (ever tried to talk with your head in a dryer, or while a man’s painting your lips?), but it was all very friendly. Steve Cochran was particularly charming.
Friendliness is one of the things about Hollywood. Leroy Prinz, the director, said I was to come back to Hollywood and he’d put me in musicals. I don’t know about that. I only know I’m booked for four months on this film, in Fijii with Burt Lancaster, whom I’ve met only once – at a Royal Film Performance. (I was very nervous-it was my first stage appearance. Afterwards he grinned and said: “Well, it wasn’t so bad, was it?”) I think the really surprising thing about Hollywood is that it’s just what you would expect. If you’ve seen it in the pictures-you’ve seen it. People do just the same things, in the same way, as on the screen. Of course, the sunshine is indescribable-there just aren’t the words. It’s sun, sun, sun. You almost expect it to blaze all night.
And remember I was there for only eight crowded, busy days. I went to a few night clubs-they’re rather like ours, but with more stars about. I tried Mexican food, made especially not-to-hot for me. Those beans of theirs-grand! Little brown beans in brown gravy. I couldn’t eat enough of them.
I tried driving a left-hand drive car- an English model, I’m glad to report!-and nearly rammed a big American thing on a turn. But in a couple of hours I got used to it, even on their eight-lane speed- highways.
I think it takes time to understand Hollywood. I want to go back-even though one can be hopelessly homesick there.
I was like that one evening that first week. It was so bad I just had to talk to somebody at home. I phoned Joan Rees, my friend and first agent who got me into films. It took until 3 am. to get through. The transatlantic circuits were always “out” or something. I told the hotel operator it didn’t matter how late it was, she was to connect me.
Just talking to somebody in England was a relief. I asked about my cat (A tabby) and things like that.
When I hung up, the operator rang back. She said: “Are you feeling better now, dear?” I know how it feels. I came out alone twenty-three years ago, I’m from Guildford.”
She sent me up a pot of tea. The waiter wouldn’t take my money. He said: “It’s on the house.”
Yes, I’d like to see Hollywood again-maybe on my honeymoon. Martin Boyce-he proposed to me over the phone just before I left Britain-and I plan to marry as soon as I get back, perhaps in the little old church at Denham.”
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