Above is a reel containing all the various iterations of the RKO Studios logo over the years, including not only the opening logo but the different styles of the words ‘The End’ which naturally appeared at the finish of the films. Of all the studios in the heyday of Hollywood, RKO is the one I would most have liked to work for. Something about them was a bit askew, a tad ‘off-Hollywood’, with directors and writers seemingly given a wider berth than at other studios. Adventurous choices abounded at RKO–teaming Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers seems like a natural now but could easily have proven a misfit, given the gulf in their training, style, backgrounds etc. Putting the Marx Brothers in ‘Room Service’, a non-Marxian vehicle, was definitely ‘out of the box’ before the phrase ‘out of the box’ became so common that it’s no longer ‘out of the box’. And handing Orson Welles complete control of a movie was downright insane.

Actually I did work for RKO in the late 1990s. It was a very different version of the long-gone studio–all that remained were the rights to the library of RKO films. The new owners were intent on remaking a large chunk of the old RKO catalogue and began hiring young (and thus cheap) filmmakers to bring fresh new visions to the old material. The head of the company was a loony-tune con-man named Ted Hartley, who inexplicably was married to the lovely actress/heiress Dina Merrill. Dina purchased what was left of RKO–the name and library–and she and Ted set about not making any of the movies they planned too. The remake I pitched to them was ‘The Velvet Touch’, a 1948 semi-noir about a Broadway comedienne (played by Rosalind Russell) who accidentally kills her producer because he won’t let her out of her contract so that she can star in another producer’s production of Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’. The film takes this rather absurd plot completely seriously which, to my eyes, made it a missed opportunity. I saw it as an over-the-top film noir meets ‘All About Eve’. I kept it set in glammy post-war 1948 Manhattan and reveled in writing ornate, witty and acerbic dialogue for the larger-than-life main characters. Honestly, it’s one of the three scripts of my career that I truly regret not having been made. (Many other scripts tend to belong to an earlier time in a writers life and don’t really merit much scrutiny years after they were written). Dina’s mother, Marjorie Merriwether Post, was the heir to the C.W. Post fortune and, along many other accomplishments, built Mar-A-Lago in the 1920s. Once, when I was at Dina and Ted’s apartment in the United Nations Plaza, I went to the guest bathroom and found a photo of the mansion on the wall. Next to it was a portrait of Donald Trump, hanging upside down. He’d just purchased the place and Dina was disgusted by the fact that the house wound up in his hands. This was in the late 90s so Trump had yet to become the revolting international presence that we now know. It’s an interesting reminder that, even when he was just a real estate charlatan and reality show star, he was just as reviled as he’d later become. Or perhaps Dina was just ahead of her time and saw the future on the horizon?


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