An RKO Story

Granger, Love at Work 

There’s a surprisingly terrific documentary series THE RKO STORY. One episode deals with Howard Hughes’ period as studio head/owner (HH appears to have been the only individual ever to have sole ownership of a major studio, and he ran it as a personal fiefdom/seraglio), and it features a startling story from Brit movie star Stewart Granger (real name James Stewart, Jimmy to his friends). The following stuff is paraphrased from memory as I don’t have a copy of the thing, alas.

Jimmy was married to Jean Simmons, contracted to RKO. Mike Todd and Liz Taylor and Howard Hughes were all around at their place in the hills. Now read on:

“They’re both quite big girls, and Howard was standing around trying to see down their tops. We joked at him, ‘Which one do you want, Howard?’ and he said ‘Well, I haven’t quite made up my mind.’

“We thought we were, you know, gently teasing a rather gawky, unworldly sort of chap. We were provoking a RATTLESNAKE!”

The Amazing Howard Hughes (not really)

(That’s not the startling bit, here it comes now:)

Hughes started in on his stalkerish behaviour, trailing the couple and moving in on Simmons whenever she was alone. Detectives trailed Granger, reporting on his every move.

“Finally it got so bad that I said to Jean, ‘We’ve got that steep drop at the back of our house. I’ll go out, and I know for a fact that as soon as I’m gone he’ll be round like a shot. Take him out the back, I’ll come home unexpectedly and shove the bastard over the edge. I’ll say he was attacking you, no court will ever convict me!”

She's Gotta Have It

The exciting Perfect Crime never happened, alas. (Well…it would’ve been kind of fun.)

A while back my friend Benjamin Halligan met Jean. He asked for suggestions for conversation, and I mentioned Hughes — “If things get dull,” I offered, “this might liven her up.”

Things DID get kind of dull, somehow, so he dropped HH’s name, and Simmons fondly reminisced about the nice long talks she’d have with HH in his car, etc. Her memory of the relationship seemed… quite different from her ex-husband’s.

She Killed in Ecstasy

She Played With Fire

Anyhow, I watched Otto Preminger and Howard Hughes’ ANGEL FACE and it made me think of this, on account of Jean’s sinister clifftop shenanigans.

2 Responses to “An RKO Story”

  1. I saw that RKO Story episode too, and immediately thought of Angel Face — which is a big fave of both Godard and Rivette (the latter learned the most from it, I believe.) On the RKO Story there’s a teriffic anecdote from Robert Mitchum about the shooting of the film. There was a scene where He was required to slap Jean Simmons. Otto kept asking for take after take, and Mitchum quickly surmised that Otto liked to watch Jean getting slapped. So he turned the tables and slapped Otto.

    There were no further retakes.

  2. That’d do it! Mitchum could be a great guy…or otherwise:

    Coming up, a look at the Hughes-Preminger joint authorship of Angel Face — tomorrow, if I find time to write it.

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