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According to a Daily Variety pre-production news item, Warner Bros. began negotiations for the screen rights to Owen Davis' play in 1935, at which time Ruth Chatterton was considered for the female lead. Information contained in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicates that the rights to Owens' play were co-owed by Guthrie McClintic and actress Miriam Hopkins, who starred in the Broadway run of the play. Hopkins initially stipulated that she would only permit the sale of the rights to Warner Bros. if they cast her in the leading role. According to modern sources, Hopkins finally consented to the sale only after Walter McEwen of the Warner Bros. story department lied to her, promising her first crack at the part when the script was completed. In January 1937, the rights to Davis' play were purchased by the studio for $12,000.
Following the completion of the first treatment of the film, Edmund Goulding, a well-known writer and director, wrote a memo to executive producer Hal Wallis, dated July 17, 1937, in which he gave his opinion of the story: "although it is quite possible to put a vivid picture upon the screen-that picture can only tell the story of the triumph of bitchery...[Bette Davis'] character, Julie, is rather like one of some naughty children writing obscene things on a wall-and, when the other runs away, she will stay there and tell you that she did it-and so what?" On July 22, 1937, Warner Bros. producer Lou Edelman sent Wallis a memo in which he stated that Goulding's suggestions to improve the story were a "combination of the elements of many old-fashioned stories and plays, and I am certain that out of it would come the biggest and most complicated bunch of tripe that has ever been put on the screen!...I beg of you to let us do our script. You liked the treatment-and I am sure you will like the script."
The Warner Bros. Collection also contains a October 6, 1937 Warner Bros. inter-office memo detailing the studio's attempt to get Jeffrey Lynn (then known as Jeffrey Lind) to star opposite Davis. An April 1982 news item in Hollywood Studio Magazine notes that Lynn turned down the role because he "wasn't ready." A October 21, 1937 tentative cast list for Jezebel lists Ellen Clancy in the role of "Molly Allen." The Warner Bros. shooting schedule for the film indicates that Tony Paton played the role of "Huger" on the first day of production, but he was later replaced in that role by Irving Pichel. The Daily Production and Progress Reports on Jezebel indicate that the following tests were made: Tim Holt and Maurice Murphy for the role of "Ted Dillard"; Rosella Towne, Geraldine Spreckels and Mary Maguire for "Amy Bradford Dillard"; Rafael Corio, Jean De Briac, George Sorel and Paul Boyer for "Huger"; Brandon Tynan, Walter Kelly and Clarence Kolb for "General Bogardus"; Gordon Oliver, Dean Jagger, John King and Robert Whitney for "Buck" and "Pres"; Billie Fargo and Myrtle Anderson for "Zette"; and Onslow Stevens, Donald Briggs and John Arledge for unspecified roles. The production reports also note that Theresa Harris replaced Daisy Lee Mothershed in the role of "Zette." The film was budgeted at $1.25 million.
The Warner Bros. Collection contains a series of inter-office memos sent from Wallis to associate producer Henry Blancke, written between November 1937 and January 1938, in which Wallis harshly criticized director William Wyler for shooting too many takes and putting the picture behind schedule. On November 4, 1937, Wallis wrote to Blancke: "Do you think Wyler is mad at Fonda or something because of their past. It seems that he is not content to okay anything with [Henry] Fonda until it has been done ten or eleven takes. After all, they have been divorced from the same girl [Margaret Sullavan], and by-gones should be by-gones....Possibly Wyler likes to see these big numbers on the slate, and maybe we could arrange to have them start with number "6" on each take, then it wouldn't take so long to get up to nine or ten." In January 1938, Wallis, still frustrated by Wyler's excessive takes, wrote Blanke to complain about a scene that was taken sixteen times, and asked, "What the hell is the matter with him anyhow-is he absolutely daffy?" Shooting on Jezebel was completed on January 17, 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule. A biography of Fonda suggests that he and Wyler were good friends, and that Fonda had only mild complaints about the many takes Wyler insisted on shooting.
According to Warner Bros. publicity material, Wyler played the violin for the song "The Blue Danube," to which Bette Davis danced in the film. Studio publicity material also notes that Davis wore sixteeen different costumes, each with a cost of over $500, and that the now-famous red dress that she wore, which cost $850, was, in fact, bronze-colored because red appears as grey in black-and-white film. A total of $30,000 was spent on dresses for the film, and seventy-five seamstresses worked for a month making them. Davis reportedly received an injury during production when, while employing the Southern custom of reddening her cheeks by slapping them with the back of a hairbrush, she hit herself too hard and had to take three days off. Art director Robert Haas, according to studio publicity material, constructed a "complete set of miniature settings" for Wyler, who used them to plan each day's scenes. According to a contemporary New York Times article, Dalton S. Reymond "supervised the speech of the players in Jezebel." The New York Times article also notes that art director Robert Haas built a Louisiana plantation house on the Warner Bros. ranch, which was located approximately thirty miles from the California studio. According to modern sources, Fonda had an agreement with Warner Bros. that his work on the film would be finished by early December 1937 so that he could attend the birth of his child [Jane Fonda] in the East. As the production was behind schedule, Fonda had to leave before all his scenes with Davis were completed, leaving Davis to do the scenes in close-up without Fonda there to read his lines.
The following quote appeared in the April 1938 issue of Redbook Magazine: "[Producer] David Selznick May yet have the last laugh, but if we are to believe the grapevine reports from Hollywood, Warner Brothers are likely to profit from the procrastination of the purchaser of Gone with the Wind . Jezebel...may make 'Scarlett' appear pallid." In an March 8, 1938 telegram from Selznick to Jack Warner, reproduced in a modern source, Selznick accused Warner of making a film that "is permeated with characterizations, attitudes, and scenes which unfortunately resemble Gone with the Wind." Selznick went on to list specific scenes that he felt were too similar to those in Gone with the Wind, including one of a discussion around the dinner table of the "difference between the North and the South, the discussion of an imminent war, and the prediction by the Southerner that the North will win...." That scene was removed from the film prior to its release.
According to modern sources, Selznick was so impressed with composer Max Steiner's music in Jezebel that he commissioned him to handle the score for Gone with the Wind. Davis won her second Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Julie, and Fay Bainter won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Ernest Haller received a nomination for Best Cinematography. The National Board of Review named it the best English language film of the year. A Lux Video Theatre production of Jezebel, which was televised on the NBC network on November 8, 1956, starred Martha Hyer and Charles Drake. Davis and Bainter re-created their Jezebel roles in the late 1940s for the Academy Award Theatre radio program.