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Mid-Century Melodramas
Remind Me
A Life of Her Own

A Life of Her Own

According to Lana Turner's autobiography, Ray Milland got a part in MGM's A Life of Her Own (1950) - as well as a huge paycheck - thanks to an obnoxious remark by Wendell Corey. Corey had been borrowed from Paramount as a last-minute replacement for James Mason despite Turner's strong opposition. She thought he simply wasn't the right choice to play the suave married man who falls for her character. On the first day of shooting, Turner was late getting to the set because her costume wasn't ready and had to be pinned on. As she later wrote, "We basted it and pinned it, and then I went out for the master shot. As I left the trailer I heard Corey say, as though talking to someone nearby, 'It's interesting, you know. The wonderful Barbara Stanwyck never keeps us waiting. Not even for one minute.' When I whirled around I saw that he was alone. He was talking to me, or rather, he had timed the remark for my benefit."

Corey knew, as did anyone who followed Hollywood gossip, that Turner was widely believed to have had an affair with Barbara Stanwyck's husband, Robert Taylor. Turner always denied it, and in any event she was not amused by Corey's sarcasm. She stormed to her dressing room like a diva, refusing to return until Corey's role was recast. This was a showdown she won - Corey was soon off the set. When the studio suggested Ray Milland to replace him, Turner replied, "He'd be great. You should have hired him in the first place." With MGM committed to A Life of Her Own and having already spent quite a bit of money on it, Milland's agent was able to negotiate an enormous salary - $175,000. By contrast, Corey had received $75,000. Turner would later write, "But if the studio paid through the nose, so did I. They got their revenge through the scripts I got stuck with next."

A Life of Her Own was Turner's comeback film after a two-year suspension from MGM. She'd been suspended for refusing to take a non-starring part in The Three Musketeers (1948), a part she eventually did play. During the suspension, she married her third husband, millionaire Bob Topping, and traveled abroad. For her return to the screen, MGM considered several properties (including Madame Bovary) before picking Rebecca West's novel The Abiding Vision, which they turned into A Life of Her Own. Turner's character is a model named Lily James, who leaves small-town Kansas for New York City filled with anxiety and determination. "I've had men buzzing around me since I was fourteen years old," she tells the head of a Manhattan modeling agency. "I want to be somebody. All I have is myself and how I look. I'll work hard." The agency takes her on and she does indeed work hard, making it to the top but also embarking on an ill-fated romance with a married man (Milland).

A Life of Her Own was beset with problems from the early stages. Censorship issues pertaining to the theme of adultery interfered to such an extent that little of the original novel remained. Director George Cukor found the resulting screenplay's treatment of adultery so doleful and ponderous that he joked, "With this picture, we will probably succeed in ending adultery forever." The ending was also a problem, and writers Donald Ogden Stewart and Samson Raphaelson were brought in to fix it, uncredited. The original script ended with Turner reduced to working as a maid in a New York hotel. That was changed to having Turner commit suicide, as Ann Dvorak's character had done earlier in the story. Test audiences hated this, and the existing, more upbeat ending was finally written and filmed.

Cukor never cared much for A Life of Her Own. As he later recalled, "I resisted [Dore] Schary's effort to get me to take the assignment, but since I owed the studio a picture, in the end I could not in good conscience turn it down. But it was the last picture I ever directed that I did not personally want to make." Cukor's objection was with the storyline, which he found "silly and fatuous." Ever the pro, he fashioned a mature movie out if it all the same.

Ann Dvorak practically steals the show as an aging model who has made some poor choices with her life. The veteran actress was nearing retirement from the screen after a career that began in 1929 and included such gems as Scarface (1932) and 'G' Men (1935). Look for famed choreographer Hermes Pan dancing with Lana Turner during a party sequence.

Producer: Voldemar Vetluguin
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart
Cinematography: George Folsey
Film Editing: George White
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Lana Turner (Lily Brannel James), Ray Milland (Steve Harleigh), Tom Ewell (Tom Caraway), Louis Calhern (Jim Leversoe), Ann Dvorak (Mary Ashlon), Barry Sullivan (Lee Gorrance).
BW-109m. Closed captioning.

by Jeremy Arnold



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