A Letter to Three Wives


1h 43m 1949
A Letter to Three Wives

Brief Synopsis

A small-town seductress notifies her three best friends that she has run off with one of their husbands.

Film Details

Also Known As
Three Wives
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
Feb 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 20 Jan 1949
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; Cold Spring, New York, United States; Hook Mountain, New York, United States; Mahopac, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Aug 1945).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,268ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

Just as they are about to board a boat for an all-day charity picnic, three married women of suburban New York--Deborah Bishop, Lora May Hollingsway and Rita Phipps-- receive a single letter from Addie Ross, the sophisticated town flirt, informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands. Although the women outwardly make light of Addie's cruel letter, which fails to name the errant husband, they are all deeply disturbed by its content. Deborah's businessman husband Brad has gone to the city and has told Deborah that he cannot attend their country club's first dinner dance of the season that night. George, Rita's husband, an erudite high school English teacher, has forsaken his usual Saturday morning fishing trip and donned a suit without telling his wife why, and Lora May's spouse Porter, the owner of a chain of department stores, has been spotted at the train station. During a free moment, Deborah thinks back on her young marriage: On the night of a previous opening dinner dance, newlywed Deborah, who along with Brad has just been discharged from the military, worries that she will not be accepted into Brad's circle of worldly hometown friends. Although Brad reassures her, the farm-reared Deborah frets about her unruly hair and unfashionable, pre-war mail-order party dress. By the time Rita and George arrive, Deborah is drunk and in a panic. Kindly Rita gives Deborah a pep talk and suggests that she cut the garish artificial flowers off her dress. While snipping, however, Deborah accidentally cuts a hole into the midriff of the dress and is forced to pin the flower back on. During the dinner dance, Deborah sits forlornly with Porter, who, though rough-hewn himself, complains about Lora May's lack of class. When champagne arrives courtesy of Addie, both Porter and Brad, who had been romantically linked to Addie prior to the war, express their admiration for her. Brad then insists that Deborah waltz with him, and Deborah is humiliated when the flower flies off her dress, exposing the tear and her bare midriff. Deborah runs to the bathroom, where Rita consoles her. Bolstered by Rita, Deborah returns to the dance, only to spot Brad outside, talking with Addie. Back at the picnic, Deborah comes out of her reverie and seeks out Rita. While trying to remain calm, Rita remembers her recent past: An overworked radio soap opera writer, Rita has invited her employers, advertising tycoons Mr. and Mrs. Manleigh, to dinner, hoping to sell them on an idea involving George. Unaware of his wife's plan, George criticizes Rita's desire to impress the Manleighs and refuses to don his tuxedo. Addie's birthday present for George, a phonograph recording of a Brahms piano concerto, then arrives, along with a quote from Twelfth Night , an amateur production of which they had co-starred in years before, and Rita is embarrassed to admit she had forgotten her husband's birthday. Moments after they sit down to eat, the Manleighs insist on interrupting the meal to listen to two radio dramas on which their company advertises. Afterward, Mrs. Manleigh cajoles George into critiquing the programs, and George happily expresses his total disdain for commercial radio. Insulted, Mrs. Manleigh informs Rita that her "little project" is off, and leaves. When George finds out that Rita had been hoping to secure him a high-paying story editing job with the Manleighs, he denounces her ambitions and reiterates his love of teaching. Rita concludes her recollections and then questions Lora May about her feelings. Although Lora May maintains that she is not concerned about Porter running off with Addie, she, too, becomes lost in thought, contemplating her past: As a young salesclerk, Lora May Finney lives with her mother and sister in a rundown house situated next to the railroad tracks. Although Porter is many years her senior and her boss, Lora May begins dating him, determined to secure a marriage proposal. When the divorced Porter resists her manipulations and tries to romance her with no strings attached, she turns him away. On New Year's Eve, Porter, who is infatuated with Lora May but is also attracted to Addie, comes to Lora May's house and begs to see her. Lora May stands firm, however, insisting that she will not resume their relationship without a commitment. Desperate, Porter proposes, but his lack of enthusiasm nevertheless depresses Lora May. In the present, the picnic concludes, and the three women head for home, each one wondering if she will find her husband. Rita's fears are immediately alleviated when she discovers George listening to his concerto. George explains to Rita that he had been asked to direct the school's production of Twelfth Night , but because of their fight over the Manleighs, never had a chance to tell her about it or his rehearsal that morning. Overjoyed, Rita announces that she is not working on weekends anymore, and will spend more time with her family. Deborah, meanwhile, arrives home to learn that Brad will not be coming home that night and assumes the worst. Lora May also finds Porter absent, but he returns home later that evening. During the country club dance, a depressed Deborah confides to Porter that Brad has run off with Addie. As his wife listens, Porter informs Deborah that he was the one who ran off with Addie, but that he changed his mind. After Deborah leaves, Porter reveals to the others that he confessed in order to relieve Deborah's anxiety. Expecting rejection, Porter then tells Lora May that she can use his admission to instigate lucrative divorce proceedings. Instead, Lora May lovingly calls her husband a "big gorilla," and they join George and Rita on the dance floor.

Photo Collections

A Letter to Three Wives - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Fox's A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Also Known As
Three Wives
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
Feb 1949
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 20 Jan 1949
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; Cold Spring, New York, United States; Hook Mountain, New York, United States; Mahopac, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Aug 1945).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,268ft (11 reels)

Award Wins

Best Director

1948
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Best Writing, Screenplay

1950
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Award Nominations

Best Picture

1950

Articles

The Essentials - A Letter to Three Wives


SYNOPSIS

Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women's husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary
Based on the story "One of our Hearts" and the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (Voice of Addie Ross)
BW-103 m.

Why A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is Essential

A Letter to Three Wives is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are the typical postwar marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps (Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas) are a working couple, plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsways (Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas) are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business.

Each couple's story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Crain's marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as she tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Sothern and teacher Kirk Douglas move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Darnell and her rough-hewn husband, Paul Douglas, represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character.

A Letter to Three Wives represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American movie history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action.

When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (the second set was for 1950's All About Eve), a feat still unmatched.

Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsways. The film also marked Douglas' big screen debut after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday.

After a notable scene telling off Santa Claus in her screen debut, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and a small role as a receptionist in Call Northside 777 (1948), Thelma Ritter played her first major role as Sadie, Sothern's maid and Darnell's mother's best friend.

by Frank Miller
The Essentials - A Letter To Three Wives

The Essentials - A Letter to Three Wives

SYNOPSIS Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women's husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Producer: Sol C. Siegel Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary Based on the story "One of our Hearts" and the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner Cinematography: Arthur Miller Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr. Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer Music: Alfred Newman Cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (Voice of Addie Ross) BW-103 m. Why A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is Essential A Letter to Three Wives is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are the typical postwar marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps (Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas) are a working couple, plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsways (Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas) are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business. Each couple's story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Crain's marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as she tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Sothern and teacher Kirk Douglas move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Darnell and her rough-hewn husband, Paul Douglas, represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character. A Letter to Three Wives represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American movie history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action. When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (the second set was for 1950's All About Eve), a feat still unmatched. Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsways. The film also marked Douglas' big screen debut after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday. After a notable scene telling off Santa Claus in her screen debut, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and a small role as a receptionist in Call Northside 777 (1948), Thelma Ritter played her first major role as Sadie, Sothern's maid and Darnell's mother's best friend. by Frank Miller

Pop Culture 101 - A Letter to Three Wives


Early preview audiences were so confused by the ending of A Letter to Three Wives that there were public debates over which of the three husbands ran off with Addie Ross, and General Douglas MacArthur had an aide write director Joseph L. Mankiewicz for clarification. Mankiewicz explained the plot to the New York Times, then quipped, "The people who've been doing the wondering don't believe what they hear in the picture." People still speculate that Jeanne Crain's absent husband really did run off with Addie, but Paul Douglas' character lied to soften the blow and bring problems with his wife (Linda Darnell) to a head.

20th Century-Fox attempted to capitalize on the film's popularity by re-teaming Darnell and Douglas later that year in Everybody Does It. The comedy about a society woman attempting to break into opera only to discover her husband has the real voice was not as successful. At one point, Douglas sees a nursing cat and quips, "A litter from three wives."

The 1951 comedy Three Husbands was intended as a sequel to A Letter to Three Wives. Writer Vera Caspary, who had collaborated on the earlier film's screenplay, initially called it A Letter to Three Husbands. When it moved from 20th Century-Fox to an independent production company, the connection was lost. The film told of three husbands who receive a letter from a recently deceased friend in which he claims to have had affairs with each man's wife. It starred Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick and Billie Burke.

Darnell and Douglas reprised their roles in A Letter to Three Wives on Lux Radio Theatre in 1950 and on Screen Players Guild in 1949 and 1952.

When A Letter to Three Wives first appeared on television, Kirk Douglas' diatribe against radio and advertising was cut by many stations for fear of offending their sponsors.

NBC presented a movie-of-the-week remake of the film in 1985, with Loni Anderson in Darnell's role, Michele Lee taking over for Ann Sothern and Stephanie Zimbalist as Crain's young innocent. Sothern also appeared, but as Anderson's mother. She had been offered Thelma Ritter's role as the maid, but said she couldn't carry a dinner tray. The small part paid off when British director Lindsay Anderson saw the film and cast her opposite Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price in The Whales of August (1987), the film that brought her only Oscar® nomination.

A 2010 episode of The Simpsons titled "Moe Letter Blues" borrows the plot of A Letter to Three Wives.

by Frank Miller

Pop Culture 101 - A Letter to Three Wives

Early preview audiences were so confused by the ending of A Letter to Three Wives that there were public debates over which of the three husbands ran off with Addie Ross, and General Douglas MacArthur had an aide write director Joseph L. Mankiewicz for clarification. Mankiewicz explained the plot to the New York Times, then quipped, "The people who've been doing the wondering don't believe what they hear in the picture." People still speculate that Jeanne Crain's absent husband really did run off with Addie, but Paul Douglas' character lied to soften the blow and bring problems with his wife (Linda Darnell) to a head. 20th Century-Fox attempted to capitalize on the film's popularity by re-teaming Darnell and Douglas later that year in Everybody Does It. The comedy about a society woman attempting to break into opera only to discover her husband has the real voice was not as successful. At one point, Douglas sees a nursing cat and quips, "A litter from three wives." The 1951 comedy Three Husbands was intended as a sequel to A Letter to Three Wives. Writer Vera Caspary, who had collaborated on the earlier film's screenplay, initially called it A Letter to Three Husbands. When it moved from 20th Century-Fox to an independent production company, the connection was lost. The film told of three husbands who receive a letter from a recently deceased friend in which he claims to have had affairs with each man's wife. It starred Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick and Billie Burke. Darnell and Douglas reprised their roles in A Letter to Three Wives on Lux Radio Theatre in 1950 and on Screen Players Guild in 1949 and 1952. When A Letter to Three Wives first appeared on television, Kirk Douglas' diatribe against radio and advertising was cut by many stations for fear of offending their sponsors. NBC presented a movie-of-the-week remake of the film in 1985, with Loni Anderson in Darnell's role, Michele Lee taking over for Ann Sothern and Stephanie Zimbalist as Crain's young innocent. Sothern also appeared, but as Anderson's mother. She had been offered Thelma Ritter's role as the maid, but said she couldn't carry a dinner tray. The small part paid off when British director Lindsay Anderson saw the film and cast her opposite Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price in The Whales of August (1987), the film that brought her only Oscar® nomination. A 2010 episode of The Simpsons titled "Moe Letter Blues" borrows the plot of A Letter to Three Wives. by Frank Miller

Trivia - A Letter to Three Wives - Trivia & Fun Facts About A LETTER TO THREE WIVES


A Letter to Three Wives brought in $2.8 million in rentals, not enough to crack the year's box-office top 20. Still, it was a respectable take for the period.

During filming, Mankiewicz had an affair with leading lady Linda Darnell that would last for years. Mankiewicz was notorious for his flings with actresses, particularly those who, like Darnell, were searching for a father figure and had serious emotional problems. They got together while she was still married to cameraman Peverell Marley, with whom she had recently adopted a child. Darnell and Marley would divorce in 1951, the same year Fox dropped her contract and the affair ended. Mankiewicz was married to actress Rose Stradner the entire time.

In his memoirs, Kirk Douglas hinted at an affair with his leading lady: "I played an English professor. Ann Sothern played my wife. We rehearsed the relationship offstage."

In the original story, Rita's husband was named Josh and was a factory worker. Mankiewicz may have made him a teacher because of his own family's love of education. He also gave the character two of his own habits, pipe smoking and correcting others' English.

In choosing a Shakespeare play for Kirk Douglas' character to direct, Mankiewicz went with Twelfth Night, which provided a parallel to the plot of A Letter to Three Wives. In both works a letter (Addie Ross' letter in the film and the letter stating Olivia loves Malvolio in the play) misleads a major character.

The radio commercial for "Crazy Eddie" heard when the Manleighs have dinner with George and Rita Phipps was a spoof of an actual New York car dealer, Earl, "Madman" Muntz, known for his high-energy ads.

Judy Garland would claim that she had inspired the comic bit in which Paul Douglas, distracted after kissing Darnell, lights his cigarette with his car's cigarette lighter and throws the lighter out the window as if it were a match. According to Garland she once did this during her affair with Mankiewicz in the early '40s.

Memorable Quotes from A LETTER TO THREE WIVES

"To begin with, all the incidents and characters in this film are fictitious, and any resemblance to you -- or me -- might be purely coincidental." -- Celeste Holm, as the voice of Addie Ross.

"Why is it that sooner or later no matter what we talk aboutÉwe wind up talking about Addie Ross."
"Maybe it's because if you girl's didn't talk about me you wouldn't talk at all." -- Jeanne Crain, as Deborah Bishop, and Holm, as the voice of Addie Ross.

"Do you remember your first night in town? That was a first Saturday in May, too. Is it Brad? Is it Brad?" -- Holm, as the voice of Addie, triggering the first flashback, involving Crain as Deborah Bishop.

"People in the show business, you know what I mean, those kind of people always drink scotch."
"Well, I know what you mean, but I wish you wouldn't say it in radio English. 'That kind,' not 'those kind.'"
"There are men who say 'those kind' and earn $100,000 a year."
"There are men who say, 'Stick 'em up,' who earn even more. I don't expect to do either." -- Kirk Douglas, as George Phipps, criticizing wife Ann Sothern, as Rita Phipps.

"The cap's out. It makes me look like a lamb chop with pants on." -- Thelma Ritter, as Sadie, refusing to dress up too much for dinner with the Manleighs.

"Tempo fugit. Right, Professor?"
"Almost." -- Hobart Cavanaugh, as Mr. Manleigh, attempting to impress Kirk Douglas, as George.

"Sadie may not realize it, but whether or not she thinks she's listening, she's being penetrated."
"Good thing she didn't hear you say that." -- Cavanaugh, as Mr. Manleigh, and Kirk Douglas.

"(Radio) Gracias."
"That means 'thank you.'"
"Gracias." -- Florence Bates, as Mrs. Manleigh, translating for Linda Darnell, as Lora Mae Hollingsway.

"The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success, and a laxative attract romanceÉ. 'Don't think,' says the radio, and we'll pay you for it! Can't spell 'cat?' Too bad -- buy a yacht and a million dollars to the gentleman for being in our audience tonight! 'Worry,' says the radio! Will your friends not tell you? Will you lose your teeth? Will your body function after you're thirty-five? Use our product or you'll lose your husband, and your job, and die! Use our product, and we'll make you rich, we'll make you famous!" -- Kirk Douglas.

"Don't feel badly."
"'Bad,' not 'badly.' You feel badly this way. (Wiggling his fingers above his ears)" -- Bates, as Mrs. Manleigh, attempting to comfort Sothern, as Rita Phipps, only to be corrected by Kirk Douglas.

"I want my wife back." -- Kirk Douglas, ending an argument with wife Sothern, as Rita, over her writing job.

"I've got everything I want." -- Darnell, as Lora Mae Hollingsway, claiming Addie's letter hasn't bothered her.

"If I was you, I'd show more o' what I got. Maybe wear somethin' with beads."
"What I got, don't need beads." -- Ritter, as Sadie, and Darnell, as Lora Mae.

"Can't we have peace in this house even on New Year's Eve?"
"You got it mixed up with Christmas. New Year's Eve is when people go back to killing each other." - Connie Gilchrist as Ma Finney and Ritter.

"You win. I'll marry you."
"Thanks for nothing."
"Now what kind of answer is that?"
"I don't know. I just felt like it. That's all."
"We'll do all right. We're starting out where it takes most marriages years to get, out in the open. No jokers. You'll see. You've made a good deal, Lora Mae."-- Paul Douglas, as Porter Hollingsway, proposing to Darnell.

"I'll be at the Callahans playing --"
"Happy New Year, Ma. We're gonna be married."
"Bingo!" -- Darnell, catching Connie Gilchrist, as Ma Finney, by surprise.

"What do you want me to do about it -- build you a personal broadcasting system?"
"You don't need a station. Just yell a little louder." -- Paul Douglas, as Porter, and Darnell.

"I've been a good wife. The best wife your money could buy."
"Strictly cash and carry."
"Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that what you told me? 'Out in the open. You made a good deal, kid.' Did you ever stop to think, Porter, that in three years there's one word we've never said to each other, even in fun?"
"To you, I'm a cash register. You can't love a cash register."
"And I'm part of your inventory. You can't love that, either."
"I asked you to marry me because I was crazy about you."
"You didn't even ask me!"
"I've been a good husband. You got everything you want."
"If you'd only asked me, if you'd only made me feel like a woman instead of a piece of merchandise!"
"Did you give me a chance to? All you ever showed me was your price tag." -- Darnell and Paul Douglas.

"Heigh-ho. Goodnight, everybody." -- Holm, as the voice of Addie, ending the film.

Compiled by Frank Miller

SOURCES:
The Ragman's Son by Kirk Douglas

Trivia - A Letter to Three Wives - Trivia & Fun Facts About A LETTER TO THREE WIVES

A Letter to Three Wives brought in $2.8 million in rentals, not enough to crack the year's box-office top 20. Still, it was a respectable take for the period. During filming, Mankiewicz had an affair with leading lady Linda Darnell that would last for years. Mankiewicz was notorious for his flings with actresses, particularly those who, like Darnell, were searching for a father figure and had serious emotional problems. They got together while she was still married to cameraman Peverell Marley, with whom she had recently adopted a child. Darnell and Marley would divorce in 1951, the same year Fox dropped her contract and the affair ended. Mankiewicz was married to actress Rose Stradner the entire time. In his memoirs, Kirk Douglas hinted at an affair with his leading lady: "I played an English professor. Ann Sothern played my wife. We rehearsed the relationship offstage." In the original story, Rita's husband was named Josh and was a factory worker. Mankiewicz may have made him a teacher because of his own family's love of education. He also gave the character two of his own habits, pipe smoking and correcting others' English. In choosing a Shakespeare play for Kirk Douglas' character to direct, Mankiewicz went with Twelfth Night, which provided a parallel to the plot of A Letter to Three Wives. In both works a letter (Addie Ross' letter in the film and the letter stating Olivia loves Malvolio in the play) misleads a major character. The radio commercial for "Crazy Eddie" heard when the Manleighs have dinner with George and Rita Phipps was a spoof of an actual New York car dealer, Earl, "Madman" Muntz, known for his high-energy ads. Judy Garland would claim that she had inspired the comic bit in which Paul Douglas, distracted after kissing Darnell, lights his cigarette with his car's cigarette lighter and throws the lighter out the window as if it were a match. According to Garland she once did this during her affair with Mankiewicz in the early '40s. Memorable Quotes from A LETTER TO THREE WIVES "To begin with, all the incidents and characters in this film are fictitious, and any resemblance to you -- or me -- might be purely coincidental." -- Celeste Holm, as the voice of Addie Ross. "Why is it that sooner or later no matter what we talk aboutÉwe wind up talking about Addie Ross." "Maybe it's because if you girl's didn't talk about me you wouldn't talk at all." -- Jeanne Crain, as Deborah Bishop, and Holm, as the voice of Addie Ross. "Do you remember your first night in town? That was a first Saturday in May, too. Is it Brad? Is it Brad?" -- Holm, as the voice of Addie, triggering the first flashback, involving Crain as Deborah Bishop. "People in the show business, you know what I mean, those kind of people always drink scotch." "Well, I know what you mean, but I wish you wouldn't say it in radio English. 'That kind,' not 'those kind.'" "There are men who say 'those kind' and earn $100,000 a year." "There are men who say, 'Stick 'em up,' who earn even more. I don't expect to do either." -- Kirk Douglas, as George Phipps, criticizing wife Ann Sothern, as Rita Phipps. "The cap's out. It makes me look like a lamb chop with pants on." -- Thelma Ritter, as Sadie, refusing to dress up too much for dinner with the Manleighs. "Tempo fugit. Right, Professor?" "Almost." -- Hobart Cavanaugh, as Mr. Manleigh, attempting to impress Kirk Douglas, as George. "Sadie may not realize it, but whether or not she thinks she's listening, she's being penetrated." "Good thing she didn't hear you say that." -- Cavanaugh, as Mr. Manleigh, and Kirk Douglas. "(Radio) Gracias." "That means 'thank you.'" "Gracias." -- Florence Bates, as Mrs. Manleigh, translating for Linda Darnell, as Lora Mae Hollingsway. "The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success, and a laxative attract romanceÉ. 'Don't think,' says the radio, and we'll pay you for it! Can't spell 'cat?' Too bad -- buy a yacht and a million dollars to the gentleman for being in our audience tonight! 'Worry,' says the radio! Will your friends not tell you? Will you lose your teeth? Will your body function after you're thirty-five? Use our product or you'll lose your husband, and your job, and die! Use our product, and we'll make you rich, we'll make you famous!" -- Kirk Douglas. "Don't feel badly." "'Bad,' not 'badly.' You feel badly this way. (Wiggling his fingers above his ears)" -- Bates, as Mrs. Manleigh, attempting to comfort Sothern, as Rita Phipps, only to be corrected by Kirk Douglas. "I want my wife back." -- Kirk Douglas, ending an argument with wife Sothern, as Rita, over her writing job. "I've got everything I want." -- Darnell, as Lora Mae Hollingsway, claiming Addie's letter hasn't bothered her. "If I was you, I'd show more o' what I got. Maybe wear somethin' with beads." "What I got, don't need beads." -- Ritter, as Sadie, and Darnell, as Lora Mae. "Can't we have peace in this house even on New Year's Eve?" "You got it mixed up with Christmas. New Year's Eve is when people go back to killing each other." - Connie Gilchrist as Ma Finney and Ritter. "You win. I'll marry you." "Thanks for nothing." "Now what kind of answer is that?" "I don't know. I just felt like it. That's all." "We'll do all right. We're starting out where it takes most marriages years to get, out in the open. No jokers. You'll see. You've made a good deal, Lora Mae."-- Paul Douglas, as Porter Hollingsway, proposing to Darnell. "I'll be at the Callahans playing --" "Happy New Year, Ma. We're gonna be married." "Bingo!" -- Darnell, catching Connie Gilchrist, as Ma Finney, by surprise. "What do you want me to do about it -- build you a personal broadcasting system?" "You don't need a station. Just yell a little louder." -- Paul Douglas, as Porter, and Darnell. "I've been a good wife. The best wife your money could buy." "Strictly cash and carry." "Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that what you told me? 'Out in the open. You made a good deal, kid.' Did you ever stop to think, Porter, that in three years there's one word we've never said to each other, even in fun?" "To you, I'm a cash register. You can't love a cash register." "And I'm part of your inventory. You can't love that, either." "I asked you to marry me because I was crazy about you." "You didn't even ask me!" "I've been a good husband. You got everything you want." "If you'd only asked me, if you'd only made me feel like a woman instead of a piece of merchandise!" "Did you give me a chance to? All you ever showed me was your price tag." -- Darnell and Paul Douglas. "Heigh-ho. Goodnight, everybody." -- Holm, as the voice of Addie, ending the film. Compiled by Frank Miller SOURCES: The Ragman's Son by Kirk Douglas

The Big Idea - A Letter to Three Wives


John Klempner's story "One of Our Hearts," about a group of suburban wives who learns that one of their husbands has run off with another woman, first appeared in the August 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. He expanded it into novel form as A Letter to Five Wives. 20th Century-Fox picked up the film rights in March 1946.

The first screen treatment was written by Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett. Although most of their work was not used, it was Bennett who first suggested the film be narrated by Addie Ross, the woman who has run off with one of the husbands, and that she never be seen. They also reduced the number of couples from five to four.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz then took over the screenplay. He wrote three drafts, then gave up, at which point it went to producer Sol Siegel, who assigned Vera Caspary to do her own treatment. In the novel, the five wives had received Addie's letter at a club meeting, but Siegel thought that wasn't logical, as there was no reason any of them couldn't have simply phoned her husband on the spot. With Caspary, he developed the idea that the wives would get Addie's letter just before leaving to take a group of orphans on a boat trip up the Hudson River, effectively cutting them off from outside communications.

Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck wanted Ernst Lubitsch, then at the end of his career, to direct. Siegel, however, insisted that the film be directed by Mankiewicz, even though that meant holding up production while the director finished the other films on his schedule. Zanuck's main concern was the writer-director's ego. "I can't get along with him now after four flops," he protested. "If he gets a hit with this, he'll be unlivable!" When Mankiewicz came up with a hit, Zanuck held a grudge against him for years.

After Mankiewicz returned to the script of A Letter to Four Wives, Zanuck made one major change to the story. He insisted on cutting another couple to tighten the film (and give it the standard three act structure). The original couple dealt with money problems, servant problems and a past in which his family had been better off.

Actors up for leading roles included Dorothy McGuire, Alice Faye, Maureen O'Hara, Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power. Baxter was tentatively cast as the fourth wife, only to have her role eliminated from the script. Both Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for Addie's off-screen voice before Celeste Holm was cast. When Mankiewicz offered Holm a role that would never be seen in the film, she quipped, "Oh my, that's wonderful. My wooden leg won't have to show." (Holm, quoted in Geist). She consented when he told her Crawford was after the role. As a publicity stunt, however, her involvement was kept out of the press until after A Letter to Three Wives was released and the studio had held "Who is Addie?" contests around the nation.

by Frank Miller

SOURCES:
Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Movies of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist

The Big Idea - A Letter to Three Wives

John Klempner's story "One of Our Hearts," about a group of suburban wives who learns that one of their husbands has run off with another woman, first appeared in the August 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. He expanded it into novel form as A Letter to Five Wives. 20th Century-Fox picked up the film rights in March 1946. The first screen treatment was written by Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett. Although most of their work was not used, it was Bennett who first suggested the film be narrated by Addie Ross, the woman who has run off with one of the husbands, and that she never be seen. They also reduced the number of couples from five to four. Joseph L. Mankiewicz then took over the screenplay. He wrote three drafts, then gave up, at which point it went to producer Sol Siegel, who assigned Vera Caspary to do her own treatment. In the novel, the five wives had received Addie's letter at a club meeting, but Siegel thought that wasn't logical, as there was no reason any of them couldn't have simply phoned her husband on the spot. With Caspary, he developed the idea that the wives would get Addie's letter just before leaving to take a group of orphans on a boat trip up the Hudson River, effectively cutting them off from outside communications. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck wanted Ernst Lubitsch, then at the end of his career, to direct. Siegel, however, insisted that the film be directed by Mankiewicz, even though that meant holding up production while the director finished the other films on his schedule. Zanuck's main concern was the writer-director's ego. "I can't get along with him now after four flops," he protested. "If he gets a hit with this, he'll be unlivable!" When Mankiewicz came up with a hit, Zanuck held a grudge against him for years. After Mankiewicz returned to the script of A Letter to Four Wives, Zanuck made one major change to the story. He insisted on cutting another couple to tighten the film (and give it the standard three act structure). The original couple dealt with money problems, servant problems and a past in which his family had been better off. Actors up for leading roles included Dorothy McGuire, Alice Faye, Maureen O'Hara, Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power. Baxter was tentatively cast as the fourth wife, only to have her role eliminated from the script. Both Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for Addie's off-screen voice before Celeste Holm was cast. When Mankiewicz offered Holm a role that would never be seen in the film, she quipped, "Oh my, that's wonderful. My wooden leg won't have to show." (Holm, quoted in Geist). She consented when he told her Crawford was after the role. As a publicity stunt, however, her involvement was kept out of the press until after A Letter to Three Wives was released and the studio had held "Who is Addie?" contests around the nation. by Frank Miller SOURCES: Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Movies of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist

Behind the Camera - A Letter to Three Wives


For the location shoot in the Northeast for A Letter to Three Wives, weather problems affected the production schedule, reducing the amount of footage filmed there. Although scenes were shot in Manhopac, Hook Mount and Cold Spring, NY, a scene scheduled for Stamford, CT, had to be shot in Beverly Hills, CA, instead.

To get the proper look of disgust from Linda Darnell when she sees Addie's picture on her beau's piano, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz substituted a picture of colleague Otto Preminger dressed as a Nazi. Preminger had directed her in Fallen Angel (1945) and Forever Amber (1947) and was notorious for his abuse of actors.

When Ann Sothern's look of joyful surprise on finding her husband hadn't run off with Addie wasn't strong enough, Mankiewicz had Kirk Douglas jump up from behind the set's sofa (out of camera range) in only his underwear.

Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was so impressed with A Letter to Three Wives, he arranged to open it at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City instead of 20th Century-Fox's flagship theatre there, the Roxy. That was one reason the picture, which had been finished in August 1948, was not released until January 1949.

Before filming a scene in which Kirk Douglas had to wake up, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz asked him to make the scene as realistic as possible by actually trying to fall asleep. Douglas managed to do so, but as soon as he drifted off, Mankiewicz dismissed the company for lunch, and they all slipped out. The actor woke up to an empty set.

20th Century-Fox promoted A Letter to Three Wives with the tagline, "All of them wondered which one of them wandered."

by Frank Miller

Behind the Camera - A Letter to Three Wives

For the location shoot in the Northeast for A Letter to Three Wives, weather problems affected the production schedule, reducing the amount of footage filmed there. Although scenes were shot in Manhopac, Hook Mount and Cold Spring, NY, a scene scheduled for Stamford, CT, had to be shot in Beverly Hills, CA, instead. To get the proper look of disgust from Linda Darnell when she sees Addie's picture on her beau's piano, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz substituted a picture of colleague Otto Preminger dressed as a Nazi. Preminger had directed her in Fallen Angel (1945) and Forever Amber (1947) and was notorious for his abuse of actors. When Ann Sothern's look of joyful surprise on finding her husband hadn't run off with Addie wasn't strong enough, Mankiewicz had Kirk Douglas jump up from behind the set's sofa (out of camera range) in only his underwear. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was so impressed with A Letter to Three Wives, he arranged to open it at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City instead of 20th Century-Fox's flagship theatre there, the Roxy. That was one reason the picture, which had been finished in August 1948, was not released until January 1949. Before filming a scene in which Kirk Douglas had to wake up, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz asked him to make the scene as realistic as possible by actually trying to fall asleep. Douglas managed to do so, but as soon as he drifted off, Mankiewicz dismissed the company for lunch, and they all slipped out. The actor woke up to an empty set. 20th Century-Fox promoted A Letter to Three Wives with the tagline, "All of them wondered which one of them wandered." by Frank Miller

A Letter to Three Wives


SYNOPSIS: Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women's husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present.

A Letter to Three Wives (1948) is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are the typical postwar marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps (Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas) are a working couple, plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsways (Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas) are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business.

Each couple's story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Crain's marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as she tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Sothern and teacher Kirk Douglas move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Darnell and her rough-hewn husband, Paul Douglas, represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character.

A Letter to Three Wives represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American movie history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action.

When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (the second set was for 1950's All About Eve), a feat still unmatched.

Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsways. The film also marked Douglas' big screen debut after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday.

After a notable scene telling off Santa Claus in her screen debut, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and a small role as a receptionist in Call Northside 777 (1948), Thelma Ritter played her first major role as Sadie, Sothern's maid and Darnell's mother's best friend.

A Letter to Three Wives was well received by most critics when it opened with the Variety reviewer voicing the positive endorsement shared by many,"While the picture is standout in every aspect, there are two factors mainly responsible for its overall quality. One is the unique story, adapted from a John Klempner novel [by] Vera Caspary and given a nifty screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Other standout aspect is the fine film debut of legit actor Paul Douglas. His role in Wives is that of a big, blustering but slightly dumb tycoon and he really gives it a ride with some neat character shading. He's equally good in the more serious romantic moments with Linda Darnell."

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary
Based on the story "One of our Hearts" and the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (Voice of Addie Ross)
BW-103m.

by Frank Miller

A Letter to Three Wives

SYNOPSIS: Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women's husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present. A Letter to Three Wives (1948) is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are the typical postwar marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps (Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas) are a working couple, plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsways (Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas) are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business. Each couple's story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Crain's marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as she tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Sothern and teacher Kirk Douglas move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Darnell and her rough-hewn husband, Paul Douglas, represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character. A Letter to Three Wives represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American movie history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action. When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (the second set was for 1950's All About Eve), a feat still unmatched. Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsways. The film also marked Douglas' big screen debut after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday. After a notable scene telling off Santa Claus in her screen debut, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and a small role as a receptionist in Call Northside 777 (1948), Thelma Ritter played her first major role as Sadie, Sothern's maid and Darnell's mother's best friend. A Letter to Three Wives was well received by most critics when it opened with the Variety reviewer voicing the positive endorsement shared by many,"While the picture is standout in every aspect, there are two factors mainly responsible for its overall quality. One is the unique story, adapted from a John Klempner novel [by] Vera Caspary and given a nifty screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Other standout aspect is the fine film debut of legit actor Paul Douglas. His role in Wives is that of a big, blustering but slightly dumb tycoon and he really gives it a ride with some neat character shading. He's equally good in the more serious romantic moments with Linda Darnell." Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Producer: Sol C. Siegel Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary Based on the story "One of our Hearts" and the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner Cinematography: Arthur Miller Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr. Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer Music: Alfred Newman Cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (Voice of Addie Ross) BW-103m. by Frank Miller

Critics' Corner - A Letter to Three Wives


Awards & Honors

Joseph L. Mankiewicz won Oscars® for both directing and writing A Letter to Three Wives, but the movie lost its Best Picture bid to Columbia's All the King's Men (1949). Ironically, John Huston had done exactly the same the year before, winning for his direction and screenplay for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), but losing Best Picture. Mankiewicz also won the Director's and Writer's Guild Awards.

Critics Reviews: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES

"While the picture is standout in every aspect, there are two factors mainly responsible for its overall quality. One is the unique story, adapted from a John Klempner novel [by] Vera Caspary and given a nifty screenplay by Joseph L. MankiewiczÉ. Other standout aspect is the fine film debut of legit actor Paul Douglas. His role in Wives is that of a big, blustering but slightly dumb tycoon and he really gives it a ride with some neat character shading. He's equally good in the more serious romantic moments with Linda Darnell."
- Variety

"Éthe final romantic remembrance -- that of the hard-boiled wife -- is a taut and explosive piece of satire, as funny and as poignant as it is shrewd, and it is played with coruscating vigor by Linda Darnell in the gold-digger role and by Paul Douglas as the rough-cut big-shot whom she tangles with frank and ancient wiles. Indeed, this one rough-and-tumble between Mr. Douglas and Miss Darnell is deliciously rugged entertainment, the real salvation of the film."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"Traditional wisdom has Mankiewicz as more writer than director, but consider the marvelously cinematic opening of A Letter to Three Wives: shots of a prosperous town and its stately avenues of rich men's houses, all placidly awaiting the start of the country club season, as the venomously honeyed voice of an unseen female narrator (beautifully done by Celeste Holm) begins spinning a web of speculation and suspicion round three married women, shortly to be completed by their receipt of a poisonous letter indicating that the narrator has run away with one of the husbandsÉGlitteringly funny at one end of the scale (Kirk Douglas and Ann Sothern), dumbly touching at the other (Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell), it's absolutely irresistible."
- Time Out Film Guide

"Éas each threatened wife reviews her marriage, we get, at best, a sharp, frequently hilarious look at suburbia, and, at worst, a slick series of bright remarks. Mankiewicz coaxed good performances out of Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell, and the others certainly didn't need coaxing -- Paul Douglas is pretty close to magnificent, and Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Florence Bates, Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist are first-rate."
- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies

"Amusing short-story compendium which seemed more revelatory at the time than it does now, and paved the way for its writer-director's heyday."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"A well-made psychological comedy of morals with witty dialogue. One of Mankiewicz's best films."
- Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films

"...sharp-edged yet ultimately sentimental...These people always talk to each other (Mankiewicz loves dialogue), but, like the characters on the radio soaps they listen to, their words don't communicate real thoughts. Picture is stagy, almost like three one-act plays put together, but the literate, Oscar®-winning script....is perceptive, and, oddly, we care about the characters."
- Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic

Compiled by Frank Miller

Critics' Corner - A Letter to Three Wives

Awards & Honors Joseph L. Mankiewicz won Oscars® for both directing and writing A Letter to Three Wives, but the movie lost its Best Picture bid to Columbia's All the King's Men (1949). Ironically, John Huston had done exactly the same the year before, winning for his direction and screenplay for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), but losing Best Picture. Mankiewicz also won the Director's and Writer's Guild Awards. Critics Reviews: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES "While the picture is standout in every aspect, there are two factors mainly responsible for its overall quality. One is the unique story, adapted from a John Klempner novel [by] Vera Caspary and given a nifty screenplay by Joseph L. MankiewiczÉ. Other standout aspect is the fine film debut of legit actor Paul Douglas. His role in Wives is that of a big, blustering but slightly dumb tycoon and he really gives it a ride with some neat character shading. He's equally good in the more serious romantic moments with Linda Darnell." - Variety "Éthe final romantic remembrance -- that of the hard-boiled wife -- is a taut and explosive piece of satire, as funny and as poignant as it is shrewd, and it is played with coruscating vigor by Linda Darnell in the gold-digger role and by Paul Douglas as the rough-cut big-shot whom she tangles with frank and ancient wiles. Indeed, this one rough-and-tumble between Mr. Douglas and Miss Darnell is deliciously rugged entertainment, the real salvation of the film." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times "Traditional wisdom has Mankiewicz as more writer than director, but consider the marvelously cinematic opening of A Letter to Three Wives: shots of a prosperous town and its stately avenues of rich men's houses, all placidly awaiting the start of the country club season, as the venomously honeyed voice of an unseen female narrator (beautifully done by Celeste Holm) begins spinning a web of speculation and suspicion round three married women, shortly to be completed by their receipt of a poisonous letter indicating that the narrator has run away with one of the husbandsÉGlitteringly funny at one end of the scale (Kirk Douglas and Ann Sothern), dumbly touching at the other (Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell), it's absolutely irresistible." - Time Out Film Guide "Éas each threatened wife reviews her marriage, we get, at best, a sharp, frequently hilarious look at suburbia, and, at worst, a slick series of bright remarks. Mankiewicz coaxed good performances out of Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell, and the others certainly didn't need coaxing -- Paul Douglas is pretty close to magnificent, and Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Florence Bates, Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist are first-rate." - Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies "Amusing short-story compendium which seemed more revelatory at the time than it does now, and paved the way for its writer-director's heyday." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide "A well-made psychological comedy of morals with witty dialogue. One of Mankiewicz's best films." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films "...sharp-edged yet ultimately sentimental...These people always talk to each other (Mankiewicz loves dialogue), but, like the characters on the radio soaps they listen to, their words don't communicate real thoughts. Picture is stagy, almost like three one-act plays put together, but the literate, Oscar®-winning script....is perceptive, and, oddly, we care about the characters." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic Compiled by Frank Miller

A Letter to Three Wives on DVD


The Studio Classics series took its time getting to this winner, one of Fox's most entertaining films of the post-war period. Joseph L. Mankiewicz' smart and snappy dialogue is enlivened by an excellent cast - it's funny, sexy and often right on the mark with its look at the ambitious middle class after the war.

Synopsis: Upper middle class housewives Deborah Bishop, Lora Mae Hollingsway and Rita Phipps (Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell & Ann Sothern) get along with their husbands reasonably well, even though all three feel inadequate next to local beauty Addie Ross (unseen but heard in voiceover courtesy of Celeste Holm). Addie was the old girlfriend of Deborah's husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn), and George Phipps and Porter Hollingsway (Kirk Douglas and Paul Douglas) were crazy about her too. Then, just as the trio of wives are leaving to help out at a picnic for the local settlement house kids, a note comes from Addie saying she's run off with one of their spouses. Cut off from telephones, the three wives remember episodes from the past, each of them convinced that their hubby might be the one to have flown the coop.

Although a television version was done in 1985, forget about doing a remake of A Letter to Three Wives now - cell phones would make the plot unworkable. The three wives stare at a telephone booth as they sail away with their slum kids, while we realize that in ten years stationary telephones may be entirely passé.

Joseph Mankewicz was an intellectual who wrote and directed a string of classy dramas around the mid-century mark: This movie, All About Eve and People Will Talk. The backstage Broadway film is an acknowledged classic and People Will Talk an interesting oddity, but A Letter to Three Wives is as entertaining as either of them, an intelligent riff on the catty women's picture.

The simple setup posits three wives (there originally might have been four or five) with reasons to worry that their particular husband is the one to have run off with the town siren, often described as a perfect cultured lady. Paul Douglas calls her "what a Queen should be." Those kinds of endorsements have given the wives a kind of perpetual marital insecurity.

Working in his familiar flashback mode, Mankiewicz tells a separate episode from the past of each relationship. Jeanne Crain gets an insecure post-war start with her classy and wealthy husband. A farm girl who went directly into the Navy, she feels entirely inadequate to join the social swirl of fancy friends and country club dances. This episode must have won over 90% of the females in the audience, the ones intimidated by the standards set for them after the war: To be perfect social companions for upwardly mobile husbands. Interestingly, although two of the three couples are described as middle class, all have large homes and employ at least one servant. Today they would be "lower rich class."

Ann Southern's segment is the least successful. She and Kirk Douglas perform well but Mankiewicz' idea of keen satire is to contrast Douglas' refinement in music and art against the crass commercialism of the kitschy radio dramas his wife writes. It doesn't take much courage to target radio soaps as trash and the episode becomes a little preachy. Mankiewicz does manage a timely dig against the HUAC witch-hunts, when Douglas pointedly asks if his higher cultural standards make him un-American. That's a pretty courageous line for 1949.

The final chapter introduced Paul Douglas The Solid Gold Cadillac) to the screen and is both the most entertaining. It deals with Linda Darnell's Lora Mae, a beauty from the wrong side of the tracks, and her use of feminine wiles maintain her dignity and snare a husband. Lora Mae won't get intimate with her rich boss and drives him nuts until he capitulates and agrees to marry her. There are some good gags with Lora Mae's amusing mother (Connie Gilchrist), a supportive friend (Thelma Ritter in an early role) and Lora Mae's bickering sister (Barbara Lawrence, of the same year's Thieves' Highway). The episode frankly acknowledges the problem of a woman from a lower class position who wants love but must resist becoming a bought item for a wealthy man. The economic inequity forever complicates what could be a perfect romance.

Mankiewicz's slick and clever dialogue is sometimes a bit show-off-y, with too many people correcting each other's word usage. Oddly enough, the banter is at its most convincing among the beer-drinking gals at Lora Mae's house. He does manage some sly jokes, such as when an old biddy talking about radio refers to 'penetrating' Ann Southern with a commercial message. There are some good visual jokes as well. Porter has finally broken down and proposed to Lora Mae in her home, one of those shacks adjacent to a railroad that shakes the house, earthquake style. When the two finally embrace, a passing train turns them into a quivering pair of statues. It's a naughty substitute for the sex Porter so desperately craves.

Fox's Studio Classics presentation of A Letter to Three Wives comes in a stunning transfer with a great-sounding audio track. Beyond the expected trailer and newsreel, the main attraction is a Biography episode about the dramatic and tragic life of Linda Darnell. Three experts trade off on a feature commentary, including one of Mankiewicz's sons. They provide too much description of the plot we're all watching unfold on screen, but a lot of interesting information as well.

For more information about A Letter to Three Wives, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order A Letter to Three Wives, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

A Letter to Three Wives on DVD

The Studio Classics series took its time getting to this winner, one of Fox's most entertaining films of the post-war period. Joseph L. Mankiewicz' smart and snappy dialogue is enlivened by an excellent cast - it's funny, sexy and often right on the mark with its look at the ambitious middle class after the war. Synopsis: Upper middle class housewives Deborah Bishop, Lora Mae Hollingsway and Rita Phipps (Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell & Ann Sothern) get along with their husbands reasonably well, even though all three feel inadequate next to local beauty Addie Ross (unseen but heard in voiceover courtesy of Celeste Holm). Addie was the old girlfriend of Deborah's husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn), and George Phipps and Porter Hollingsway (Kirk Douglas and Paul Douglas) were crazy about her too. Then, just as the trio of wives are leaving to help out at a picnic for the local settlement house kids, a note comes from Addie saying she's run off with one of their spouses. Cut off from telephones, the three wives remember episodes from the past, each of them convinced that their hubby might be the one to have flown the coop. Although a television version was done in 1985, forget about doing a remake of A Letter to Three Wives now - cell phones would make the plot unworkable. The three wives stare at a telephone booth as they sail away with their slum kids, while we realize that in ten years stationary telephones may be entirely passé. Joseph Mankewicz was an intellectual who wrote and directed a string of classy dramas around the mid-century mark: This movie, All About Eve and People Will Talk. The backstage Broadway film is an acknowledged classic and People Will Talk an interesting oddity, but A Letter to Three Wives is as entertaining as either of them, an intelligent riff on the catty women's picture. The simple setup posits three wives (there originally might have been four or five) with reasons to worry that their particular husband is the one to have run off with the town siren, often described as a perfect cultured lady. Paul Douglas calls her "what a Queen should be." Those kinds of endorsements have given the wives a kind of perpetual marital insecurity. Working in his familiar flashback mode, Mankiewicz tells a separate episode from the past of each relationship. Jeanne Crain gets an insecure post-war start with her classy and wealthy husband. A farm girl who went directly into the Navy, she feels entirely inadequate to join the social swirl of fancy friends and country club dances. This episode must have won over 90% of the females in the audience, the ones intimidated by the standards set for them after the war: To be perfect social companions for upwardly mobile husbands. Interestingly, although two of the three couples are described as middle class, all have large homes and employ at least one servant. Today they would be "lower rich class." Ann Southern's segment is the least successful. She and Kirk Douglas perform well but Mankiewicz' idea of keen satire is to contrast Douglas' refinement in music and art against the crass commercialism of the kitschy radio dramas his wife writes. It doesn't take much courage to target radio soaps as trash and the episode becomes a little preachy. Mankiewicz does manage a timely dig against the HUAC witch-hunts, when Douglas pointedly asks if his higher cultural standards make him un-American. That's a pretty courageous line for 1949. The final chapter introduced Paul Douglas The Solid Gold Cadillac) to the screen and is both the most entertaining. It deals with Linda Darnell's Lora Mae, a beauty from the wrong side of the tracks, and her use of feminine wiles maintain her dignity and snare a husband. Lora Mae won't get intimate with her rich boss and drives him nuts until he capitulates and agrees to marry her. There are some good gags with Lora Mae's amusing mother (Connie Gilchrist), a supportive friend (Thelma Ritter in an early role) and Lora Mae's bickering sister (Barbara Lawrence, of the same year's Thieves' Highway). The episode frankly acknowledges the problem of a woman from a lower class position who wants love but must resist becoming a bought item for a wealthy man. The economic inequity forever complicates what could be a perfect romance. Mankiewicz's slick and clever dialogue is sometimes a bit show-off-y, with too many people correcting each other's word usage. Oddly enough, the banter is at its most convincing among the beer-drinking gals at Lora Mae's house. He does manage some sly jokes, such as when an old biddy talking about radio refers to 'penetrating' Ann Southern with a commercial message. There are some good visual jokes as well. Porter has finally broken down and proposed to Lora Mae in her home, one of those shacks adjacent to a railroad that shakes the house, earthquake style. When the two finally embrace, a passing train turns them into a quivering pair of statues. It's a naughty substitute for the sex Porter so desperately craves. Fox's Studio Classics presentation of A Letter to Three Wives comes in a stunning transfer with a great-sounding audio track. Beyond the expected trailer and newsreel, the main attraction is a Biography episode about the dramatic and tragic life of Linda Darnell. Three experts trade off on a feature commentary, including one of Mankiewicz's sons. They provide too much description of the plot we're all watching unfold on screen, but a lot of interesting information as well. For more information about A Letter to Three Wives, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order A Letter to Three Wives, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Can't we have peace in this house even on New Year's Eve?
- Mrs. Finney
You got it mixed up with Christmas. New Year's Eve is when people go back to killing each other.
- Sadie
"Good night, Mother dear, and don't wait up." If a daughter of mine ever really talked like that I'd cut her tongue out!
- Mrs. Finney
She won't stay mad at him for long. She's too much in love. Pretty soon she'll be full of self-reproach. Ha ha! Women are so silly.
- Addie Ross
It's a man's world. Yeah! See something you want, go after it and get it! That's nature. It's why we're made strong and women weak. Strong conquer and provide for the weak. That's what a man's for! Teach our kids that, there'd be more men!
- Porter Hollingsway
The cap's out. Makes me look like a lamb chop with pants on.
- Sadie
Look, I don't teach you about teachin'. Don't teach me about ducks.
- Sadie

Trivia

To get the proper look of derision from Linda Darnell in the scene where she stares at a photo of Addie, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz used a picture of Otto Preminger, the director who had given Darnell such a hard time on the set of Forever Amber (1947).

"A Letter to Three Wives" was based on John Kempner's novel, "A Letter to Five Wives." Two wives were lost in the transition to the screen!

Ann Sothern also appears in the 1985 remake.

At one point, the film was called "A Letter to FOUR Wives" and would have featured Anne Baxter as the fourth wife. Darryl F. Zanuck didn't feel Baxter's segment was as strong as the other three, so it was cut.

Notes

The working titles of this film were A Letter to Five Wives, A Letter to Four Wives and Three Wives. Joseph L. Mankiewicz' onscreen credit reads: "Screen Play and Direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz." A voice-over narration, spoken by Celeste Holm as the character "Addie Ross," is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Addie is never seen during the film. In March 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased John Klempner's story, which is listed in the onscreen credits as a "magazine novel," as it was published in the August 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan, according to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library. The story, which prior to its publication in Cosmopolitan was titled One of Our Hearts Is Missing, then appeared in book form in 1946.
       According to records from the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett wrote treatments of Klempner's novel. Although most of their work was not used in the final film, Bennett was the writer who suggested that Addie be heard and not seen. Bennett's treatment also reduced the number of wives to four. The first three drafts of Mankiewicz' screenplay, dated between early March and late April 1948, included four couples. Studio records indicate that the number of wives was not pared down to three until late spring 1948. Although a March 1947 Los Angeles Times item announced that F. Hugh Herbert had been hired to work on the script, his participation in the production has not been confirmed
       In October 1946, Hollywood Reporter announced that because of scheduling conflicts, the picture would be produced by Samuel G. Engel instead of Mankiewicz, as originally planned. Sol Spiegel then took over from Engel in April 1948. Alice Faye, Dorothy McGuire, Maureen O'Hara, Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power, as well as Linda Darnell, were listed as possible stars during pre-production. Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for the offscreen role of Addie, according to studio publicity. As a publicity gag, Holm's portrayal of Addie was kept secret during the picture's initial run. Location shooting took place in Mahopac, Hook Mountain and Cold Spring, NY, but was curtailed by a long bout of inclement weather, according to Hollywood Reporter. Studio publicity indicates that Stamford, CT, was also set as a location for one scene, but because of bad weather, the scene was actually filmed on Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, CA.
       Paul Douglas (1907-1959), who had appeared as the tough-talking scrap tycoon in the long-running Broadway production of Born Yesterday, made his screen acting debut in the picture. The song "Crazy Eddie," which is heard in the film as a commercial radio jingle, was a spoof of Earl "Madman" Muntz, a postwar New York car czar, according to a June 1993 New York Times item. According to a March 1949 New York Times item, many of the film's viewers were confused about which husband ran away with Addie Ross, and started a public debate about it. When asked to clarify the ending, Mankiewicz stated in the item, "She actually didn't run away with anyone. The character played by Paul Douglas started to run off with her, but then decided against it....The people who've been doing the wondering don't believe what they hear in the picture." Mankiewicz won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Direction for his work on the film. The picture also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Mankiewicz also won the Screen Directors' Guild award for "Best Directorial Achievement" of the 1948-49 season and shared the Screen Writers' Guild award with adaptor Vera Caspary and author Klempner for writing the best American comedy screenplay of 1949.
       On February 20, 1950, Darnell and Douglas reprised their screen roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, and Darnell played "Lora May" again in a May 11, 1952 Screen Players Guild broadcast. On December 16, 1985, the NBC network broadcast an updated television version of Mankiewicz' story, also titled A Letter to Three Wives, directed by Larry Elikann and starring Loni Anderson, Michele Lee, Stephanie Zimbalist, Ben Gazzara and Ann Sothern as Lora May's mother. In July 1949, Hollywood Reporter announced that Caspary had "penned A Letter to Three Husbands as a sequel to her recent 20th hit." The sequel was produced independently and released by United Artists in 1950 as Three Husbands .

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1948

Released in United States March 11, 1989

Released in United States 1948

Re-released in United States on Video March 5, 1996

Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 11, 1989.

Re-released in United States on Video March 5, 1996

Released in United States March 11, 1989 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 11, 1989.)