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The Foxes of Harrow

The Foxes of Harrow(1947)

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Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library states that the studio paid author Frank Yerby $150,000 for the motion picture rights to The Foxes of Harrow, which was his first novel. A December 1947 Ebony article called the figure "the biggest bonanza ever pocketed by a colored writer" and stated that the book was "the first Negro-authored novel ever bought by a Hollywood studio." Yerby was quoted in the article as insisting as a condition of the purchase, "I won't stand to see any of the colored characters debased. I painted them as they were-human beings with human qualities-and if it's filmed, they must remain that way." The magazine pointed out that the film version, however, bore "little resemblance to the original story and all controversial chapters [were] completely omitted from the screen script. The Negro movie-going public will be disappointed in Foxes because the most dramatic, most significant scenes about Negroes in Yerby's book are missing in the film." Mrs. A. C. Bilbrew, who played "Tante Caleen" is the film, noted in the magazine article that the character of "Desiree," a quadroon in the book with whom "Stephen Fox" lives, in the film "is not a colored girl. Little Inch [Achille's son, who, in the book, becomes the New Orleans chief of police during Reconstruction] doesn't grow up at all." In addition, the book contains a scene involving ex-slave and abolotionist Frederick Douglass, and in general makes issues of race and slavery more prominent than they became in the film version.
       In material in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, conference notes of studio production head Darryl F. Zanuck account for some of the changes. After the first treatment of the story was written by Jerome Cady, Zanuck, in notes dated July 26, 1946, stated that the film would have to concentrate on "the personal, emotional story" of the principal characters, and that it would be "practically impossible to take a book of this magnitude and tell everything in it within the confines of a screenplay." Concerning "Desiree," and the miscegenation aspect of the novel, Zanuck stated, "The Production Code will not permit us to use her in the story as now written; the Code would permit us to use her only if it could be made perfectly clear that nothing happened between her and Stephen, and that neither he nor she ever wanted anything to happen. Under these restrictions there doesn't seem to be much point in using the girl at all." Regarding "Tante Caleen," Zanuck noted, "Inasmuch as the Johnson Office [i.e., the PCA] would not permit us to show those scenes in which Caleen now plays a dominant part, she will have to be reduced to a part of less importance in the story." At this stage, Zanuck also was planning to omit the characters of "Achille," "Sauvage" and "Little Inch," but they were ultimately kept. Bilbrew, in the Ebony article, praised as "one of the high points of the picture ... the story of the African princess Sauvage who commits suicide rather than raise a child in slavery." Variety, in their review, speculated that this scene "is likely to run into difficulties in many Southern states."
       According to a document in the legal records, Cady's work was not used by Wanda Tuchock in her final screenplay. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Gregory Peck was originally set to play "Stephen Fox." The legal records note that Dorothy Dandridge was originally cast in the role of "Zerline," and that Jimmy Moss replaced Billy Ward in the role of "Etienne" after Ward broke his arm. Hollywood Reporter news items also note that Martin Wilkins and Alice Leone and her dance troupe were considered for the cast, which was to include Naomi Sakmar, Arline James, Libbey Wilcott and Joseph Hayden, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. The plantation scenes were shot on location in Sherwood Forest, CA, according to Hollywood Reporter. Ebony related that the film cost $2,750,000 to produce, and studio publicity noted that Maureen O'Hara made her singing debut in the film. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Art Direction (black-and-white) category. In October 1947, Fox took out an option to a sequel to be written by Yerby, but after he delivered the outline in February 1948, the studio decided against purchasing it. On December 6, 1948, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of the story starring O'Hara and John Hodiak.