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Joan Crawford - Star of the Month
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,The Best of Everything

The Best of Everything

"THESE ARE THE GIRLS who want the best of everything...but often settle for a lot less!"
Tagline for The Best of Everything

Three young women braved the world of big business at a time when most females were confined to the secretarial pool and came back with a pair of Oscar® nominations, albeit in lesser categories (Best Song and Costumes). Though leading ladies Hope Lange, Suzy Parker and Diane Baker were never considered for any acting awards for the 1959 melodrama The Best of Everything, the film provides a fascinating look at sexual politics long before the revolution triggered by such feminist pioneers as Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer. The three leads face a variety of sometimes controversial problems facing working women in the era (the book later turned up as a prop on the series Mad Men). Baker plays the young innocent seduced and impregnated by a wealthy playboy. Parker is a neurotic actress whose obsession with a director turns her into what today would be considered a stalker. And Lange is the ambitious former English major caught between career and personal happiness when a former suitor, now married, tempts her with an extramarital affair.

Producer Jerry Wald, who had scored a hit turning Grace Metalious's steamy best-seller Peyton Place into a film in 1957, picked up the rights to Rona Jaffe's debut novel for $100,00 while it was still in galleys. Fortunately for him, it became a best seller and stayed in the top ten for five months. He announced the film version would be a showcase for Hollywood's rising young actors. Among those touted for major roles were Audrey Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Debbie Reynolds, Lee Remick, Diane Varsi and Robert Wagner. Remick and Varsi were actually cast, but eventually withdrew. Former model Suzy Parker initially turned down the role of the neurotic actress, but finally agreed to play the part when she learned Wald was ill. Eventually Lange and Baker were cast in the leading roles. It was Lange's sixth film and Baker's second. The same year he appeared as Messala in Ben-Hur, Fox contract player Stephen Boyd played the editor who eventually wins Lange's heart. They also cast Louis Jourdan as the director stalked by Parker and future movie mogul Robert Evans as the wealthy cad who gets Baker pregnant.

Originally Martin Ritt, who had directed 20th-Century-Fox's Faulkner adaptation The Long, Hot Summer (1958), was slated to direct, but he withdrew, allegedly in protest over Wald's casting of Parker (he would later say he was unhappy with the script). Jean Negulesco -- who had made his own "three girls looking for love" films with How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) -- took over. He had previously worked with Wald on Warner Bros.' Humoresque (1946), starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield.

Ten days before filming began, Crawford, who had been off-screen for two years, signed on to play Amanda Farrow, the female editor who makes Lange's life miserable until she leaves for her own ill-fated stab at domestic bliss. It was the star's first supporting role and marked a major step down from her days as a leading player at MGM, Warner Bros., Columbia and other studios. Though she may have felt she owed Wald the favor, since he produced her Oscar®-winning comeback feature, Mildred Pierce (1945), she also had been left in debt by the death of her fourth husband, Pepsi-Cola executive Alfred Steele. She told gossip columnist Louella Parsons just that in an interview that ran nationally. But when executives at Pepsi suggested the statement made them look bad, she told the press that she wasn't as bad off as Parsons had said. The columnist never forgave her.

According to Baker, Crawford's role was reduced to even more of a supporting role after the final cut reached theatres. A bravura drunken scene for her character ended up on the cutting room floor. Ironically, Wald had added the scene to the film to lure her into taking the part. Crawford was also dismayed to realize that Negulesco was directing the film to favor leading lady Lange. When she quarreled with the younger actress about the staging of her last scene, Negulesco sided with Lange, blunting Crawford's exit from the narrative.

Crawford's only consolation on set was Baker, who went out of her way to be kind to the older star and provide support that seemed to be lacking from her director. Just to make things worse, the studio scrapped plans to have her "host" the film's theatrical trailer when she insisted on having a bottle of Pepsi featured on screen. Crawford would not return to the screen again until 1962, when she and longtime rival Bette Davis launched the "fading stars as gothic monsters" genre with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. When that relaunched her career, Crawford repaid Baker for her kindness by insisting the actress originally cast as her daughter in Strait-Jacket (1964) be fired and Baker hired in her place. Eventually, Crawford got some kind of posthumous revenge when the film was released on video and DVD. The cover for the film's home viewing release features her more prominently than any of the film's real stars.

Although most of The Best of Everything was shot on the 20th Century-Fox back lot, some exteriors were filmed on location in New York City at such sites as the Seagram Building, the Alfred E. Smith Housing Project and Central Park. One location scene features a conversation between Lange and Baker as they walk through Greenwich Village, going along Christopher Street and past the Stonewall Inn, site of the riots that launched the gay liberation movement in 1969. Except for a few establishing shots, the publishing company's picnic was shot in Hollywood, where a palm tree features incongruously on what is supposed to be a Long Island estate.

The film marked the last original score for Fox by the studio's music department head, Alfred Newman, who had written his first music for them 26 years earlier for The Bowery (1933). He would only work on one more Fox film, as musical director for the 1962 re-make of State Fair. He had scored the 1945 version that first introduced Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs to the story. In addition to scoring The Best of Everything, he also wrote the music for the Oscar®-nominated title song, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn and a vocal by rising recording star Johnny Mathis.

The Best of Everything received only mixed reviews, with many critics decrying Crawford's being relegated to a relatively minor role. The movie did well in theatres, however and years later, it inspired a short-lived ABC soap of the same name airing in 1970. The daytime drama starred screen veterans Geraldine Fitzgerald and Gale Sondergaard, former child star Patty McCormack and newcomer Susan Sullivan. The show was particularly noted for tackling such still-controversial topics as rape and drug addiction.

Producer: Jerry Wald
Director: Jean Negulesco
Screenplay: Edith R. Sommer, Mann Rubin
Based on the novel by Rona Jaffe
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Jack Martin Smith, Lyle R. Wheeler
Score: Alfred Newman
Principal Cast: Hope Lange (Caroline Bender), Stephen Boyd (Mike Rice), Suzy Parker (Gregg Adams), Martha Hyer (Barbara Lamont), Diane Baker (April Morrison), Brian Aherne (Fred Shalimar), Robert Evans (Dexter Key), Brett Halsey (Eddie Harris), Louis Jourdan (David Savage), Joan Crawford (Amanda Farrow).

by Frank Miller



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