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In the fall of 1947, the movie creating most of the pop-culture buzz around America was Forever Amber (1947), an adaptation of a bestselling novel directed by Otto Preminger. Two months later, on Christmas Day, Preminger's next film opened: Daisy Kenyon (1947), another bestseller brought to the big screen.
A melodrama with film noir elements, Daisy Kenyon stars Joan Crawford as a Manhattan magazine illustrator who is, for unexplained reasons, stuck with choosing between two unappealing suitors -- a married-with-kids lawyer and an unsophisticated, neurotic soldier. True, these men are played by Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda, respectively, but that is the only reason anyone might think that either man could possibly be worthy of Crawford's affections. While Daisy's age is never specified in the film, in the novel she is 32. Regardless, she is getting too old to remain alone and presumably needs someone -- even a very flawed choice like each of the two she is presented with. Off screen, 43-year-old Crawford was no ingenue herself (especially in Hollywood terms), and she was desperate to prove to her home studio of Warner Brothers that she could still handle romantic roles. When she heard that Preminger was to direct this picture, she implored him for the role and successfully got a loan-out to Fox.
Ironically, she was the only one of the three leads who wanted to make the film. Neither Andrews nor Fonda thought much of the script. Andrews did it because he believed he might otherwise be sued by the studio, and Fonda did it simply to fulfill his Fox contract. Fonda was happy to be leaving Fox because he felt he had lately not been getting the plum roles he wanted, and Daisy Kenyon proved his point. The role of Daisy provided some casting trouble before Crawford came along. Fox actually bought the property for Gene Tierney, and after that didn't work out, Preminger had tried for Jennifer Jones.
Preminger and Crawford got along very well. As supporting player Ruth Warrick later observed, "With Otto and Joan, we had two tyrants on the set, and that may have kept both of them in line. I think each of them sensed the potential ferocity of the other. Quite unlike Otto, Joan was very secretive. You could never quite tell what she was thinking, although you felt she had an underlying anger at the world. Quite like Otto, however, she was used to being in command. She demanded deference, and she insisted on protocol because she came from such desperately low circumstances. She was polite to the men in the company, as you would be to a maid, but she didn't acknowledge I was alive; we were like boxers across the room, and I was just as glad because I didn't want to tangle with her."
The Daisy Kenyon shoot was problem-free, wrapping two days ahead of schedule and less than $100 over the $1.852 million budget. According to Warrick, Preminger did not yell on set. He was courteous and professional; he "carried himself like an army officer, and behaved like a general moving the troops. There were no fishing expeditions with Otto. No one, including Joan, ever argued with him; we all trusted his intelligence. But I think we all sensed he could cut you down to size."
The only wrinkle on the set was the temperature. Crawford had a clause in her contract that kept the set at fifty degrees because of her hot flashes. As a result, said Warrick, "she was always in tennis shorts and a thin blouse because she was so hot, while I had to wear a fur coat to keep warm. Otto said not one word about the temperature." Fonda and Andrews weren't happy about the cold either, and one day Crawford presented them with sets of long underwear.
Crawford also gave Preminger a present when production wrapped: a set of gold cufflinks. Preminger was pleased, but later learned that "she always gave her director cufflinks at the conclusion of shooting. Once at a party there were four of us wearing identical sets."
Critics liked Daisy Kenyon, with the New York Herald Tribune declaring, "Preminger accomplishes no mean feat in guiding these people in and out among the interweavings of their own complexes, and he does wonders in varying the action of similar scenes." The New York Times said, "Joan Crawford is having man trouble again... Miss Crawford is, of course, an old hand at being an emotionally confused and frustrated woman, and she plays the role with easy competence."
Within months of Daisy Kenyon's release, Crawford was nominated for an Academy Award -- not for Daisy Kenyon but for her other 1947 movie, Possessed, which she made at Warner Brothers. She'd be nominated one further time, for Sudden Fear (1952).
The bulk of Daisy Kenyon was shot on studio sets, with only a few establishing location shots of the real Greenwich Village shot by a second unit. Famed newspaper columnists Walter Winchell and Leonard Lyons appear as themselves at the Stork Club. And truly eagle-eyed viewers will catch a quick profile of John Garfield in a Stork Club crowd scene.
Producer: Otto Preminger
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: David Hertz (screenplay); Elizabeth Janeway (novel)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: George Davis, Lyle Wheeler
Music: David Raksin
Film Editing: Louis Loeffler
Cast: Joan Crawford (Daisy Kenyon), Dana Andrews (Dan O'Mara), Henry Fonda (Peter Lapham), Ruth Warrick (Lucille O'Mara), Martha Stewart (Mary Angelus), Peggy Ann Garner (Rosamund O'Mara), Connie Marshall (Marie O'Mara), Nicholas Joy (Coverly), Art Baker (Lucille's Attorney).
by Jeremy Arnold
Foster Hirsch, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King
Lawrence Quirk, The Complete Films of Joan Crawford
Bob Thomas, Joan Crawford