A Furry Tale

30 May

Dear Flynnstones,

when Errol renounced the role of Oberon, in Hollywood`s 1935 screen adaptation of “A Midsummer Night`s Dream”, not wanting to be known as “the king of the fairies”, he impacted many careers. Including his own. Instead of being Hamlet-bound, he, as we know, became the perennial pirate. Only a year later the movie world would see an aging Leslie Howard as a very mature Romeo alongside Norma Shearer`s Juliet. Not to be it was for our Hollywood hero.

Austrian theatre impressario Max Reinhardt came to California with high hopes to find a new audience for his craft. He had been successfully staging plays from Vienna to Berlin at various venues. Up to this day his “Jedermann” (Everyman), the parable of a rich man reflecting his antics on the eve of his existence, is a fixture in Sound-of-Music Salzburg`s summer calender of its so called Festspiele festival.

Despite and because his jewish ancestry Reinhardt, propaganda minister Goebbels, the goat of Babelsberg (where the Third Reich`s movie industry was located)  pestered him to become an honoray aryan. Such was his value to Nazi Germany. But he decided to take his act elsewhere. Therefore later on his works were banned and his castle, Schloss Landskron, was dispossessed. With a three film contract by Warner Bros., he boarded an ocean liner and came to the USA with actress Helen Thimig, soon to become his second wife. Courtesy of Theatermuseum Vienna: Jack Warner`s wishing well card for a safe passage. Pre-war the Reinhardts travelled back and forth.

To his credit he brought Erich Wolfgang Korngold with him. First for a few weeks to arrange the “Midsummer”-musical score by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Weeks turned into months, years even and eventually earned Korngold two Academy Awards. Welcome to Sherhollywood, my lord!

Max Reinhardt had staged the Shakespearean fever dream farce already in 1905, 1921, 1925, 1927 and 1930. In 1934 the Hollywood Bowl was chosen as site for the theatrical staging as a prelude to the film, filling its seats with 100.000 spectators watching some 400 artists performing on eight nights. 30.000 electric lights mimicking fireflies needed an seperate generator to produce the amount of the additional energy needed. The LA symphony orchester swelled up to the size of a big band. Call it raising to the occasion.

Two known flynnmates of the theatre ensemble of this event would go on to appear in the movie version. 18 year old Olivia DeHavilland who had been discovered by Professor Reinhardt while actually playing Hermia at Mills College. Mickey Rooney was engaged for the mischievous role of Robin Goodfellow for stage AND film at age 14. Puckish in life as on camera he broke a leg in a skiing accident, when filming already was on the way. Jack Warner was furious, he said he couldn`t decide whether to mend the injured leg or break the other one.

Initially M. Reinhardt fantasized an all star cast of the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Cary Cooper, John Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, W.C. Fields and Wallace Beery. He had to settle for James Cagney, Joe E. Brown (unforgettable for his famous last words “Nobody is perfect!” in Billy Wilder`s “Some like it hot”, arguably the best finishing line ever, not counting Stanley Kubrick`s “Eyes Wide Shut”), Ian Hunter, Dick Powell, Ross Alexander and Jane Muir.

Lady Livvie`s stellar performance eventually cost Muir the female lead in “Captain Blood”. DeHavilland in turn profited from Gloria Stuart`s “falling ill” (she was pregnant at the time). Stuart originally cast as Hermia made good many decades later in the role of Rose in James Cameron`s “Titanic”. She also starred in “My Favorite Year”, where Peter O`Toole followed in Flynn`s tights. Speaking of ousting Errol- Victor Joy was praised highly for his poise and posture as the King of Fairies. EF`s Green Light co-star Anita Louise is very beautiful to look at as Oberon`s wife Titania.

The play itself is one of the most liked and most used in theatre history. Shakespeare went far out, over the top and all in. Five plots are intertwined in five acts. The quadruple couple quagmire comes to a happy end, until then it is all fun and games in a twilight setting between dreaming and waking. Never mind there are undertones of a Tijuana donkey show, when Titania falls in love with Bottom, who was magically transformed overnight into a jackass.

Here you see a cast-against-his-character-Cagney, who at that time was in the front runner for the lead in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Not the first man who made a complete ass of himself to achieve the affection of a fair female.

The film premiered simultanously in London, New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 9th 1935 and was attended by the you know whos of Hollywood. The anouncements of the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Mae West etc. took longer as the movie`s original running time of 132 minutes. It was trimmed to 117 minutes for general release. Catch a glimpse of the Flamitas, one of Tiger Lil and Errol`s earliest entries into the echelons of movie stardom in this featurette:

A Dream Comes True (1936 promo featurette for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’s DREAM – KORNGOLD/Max Reinhardt (…)


— shangheinz


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  1. Ralph Schiller

    June 2, 2024 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you Heinz for this article on the finest version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935) with an all-star cast and Felix Mendelssohn’s symphonic poem. There have been remakes of this Shakespeare play in color, also with all-star casts but none can hold a candle to the enchanting original thanks to Max Reinhardt’s vision.

    • shangheinz

      June 3, 2024 at 3:47 pm


      Probably due to their European flair the Flamitas were literally catered to the Rheinhardts when they were in town. Damita had been a household name in Vienna before coming to…
      This also shows how fond Jack Warner was of Errol at the time. Much to the detriment of midsummernighter Ross Alexander, who had to take a backseat as the next pretty face. Alexander took on the role in Captain Blood reserved for Flynn had Robert Donat played the lead. Within two years the unlucky youngster would shoot himself with the pistol that took the life of his wife. But you already knew that, right RR?

      • Ralph Schiller

        June 5, 2024 at 11:17 pm

        Ross Alexander was a very talented young actor with a flair for both comedy and drama. His suicide was our loss.

        • shangheinz

          June 7, 2024 at 5:52 pm


          Alexander and his wife Aleta, also a talented actress, both were at a loss at a life in the limelight. One power pair’s demise led to Errol and Lil‘s rise. Damita here seems to be auditioning for the lead in Joan of Arc. It would take another 13 years and a sensual Swede (plus Ward Bond!) to see the film made.

          • Ralph Schiller

            June 7, 2024 at 6:11 pm

            Yes Heinz! The Swede played the role on film twice! Once in a lavish production for Walter Wanger and once for her husband in an obscure production.

            • shangheinz

              June 8, 2024 at 4:09 am


              Twice? How very appropriate for a mother of twins. I wonder where Lil would have gone with JOA. Anyways, Errol went to Rosselini in ‘55 for some kind of a remake of his Will Tell. The neorealistic filmmaker lived door to door in Rome with the infamous Dracula Count Fossataro.

              • Ralph Schiller

                June 8, 2024 at 6:23 pm

                The first was the big Walter Wanger/RKO production “Joan Of Arc” (1948) which holds up beautifully. The 2nd was produced and directed by Roberto Rosselini, “Joan At The Stake” (1954). This is considered a static filming of a stage play and cinematically unwatchable. Lili Damita should have played the martyr Joan, because she would have been perfect for the role.

  2. Ralph Schiller

    June 15, 2024 at 5:24 pm

    Heinz Hamlet: I watched this enchanting masterpiece of Shakespeare last night. “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” which has been done many times on film. By far this is the finest adaptation. Erich Wolfgang Korngold did masterful work adapting Felix Mendelssohn’s symphonic poem of Shakespeare’s work for the film’s score. Ross Alexander as romantic swain Demetrious nearly stole this movie away from Dick Powell’s Lysander. Top movie villain was perfect as the dark, sinister king of the Faries, Anita Louise was unforgettable as the romantic Titania, Queen of the Faries. Mickey Rooney was born to play the mischievous Puck, and then continued in that role on and off camera for the rest of his long life. Olivia De Havilland, Jean Muir, Ian Hunter all did fine work, and leave it to Joe E. Brown to win some laughs. James Cagney was miscast as Bottom and played it over the top. Thanks to Max Rheinhardt;’s vision for bring it to the big screen.

    • shangheinz

      June 19, 2024 at 3:27 pm

      Ralph Reinhardt, glad you liked Max` dream come true film adaptation. It was actually Hal B. Wallis who suggested to turn the theatre version into a movie. For once Jack W. chose broadway over bullets. Mischievous Mick starred in a real life drama when his wife was shot by the ex bodyguard of Alain Delon. Divorce came into effect immediately. A very unfairy tale.

      • Ralph Schiller

        June 19, 2024 at 8:36 pm

        I recall the scandal around the murder and for once Mickey Rooney had everyone’s sympathy for the funeral of his murdered wife. I must correct my previous posting since there is no longer an editing key on this page. Top movie villain Victor Jory played Oberon to absolute perfection. On a side note, the famed movie historian and Hollywood gadfly, the late Kenneth Anger bragged for decades that he played the role of the Changeling Prince in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” (1935). This was false. The little adorable Indian Prince was actually played by a little girl Sheila Brown. Anger swore on a stack of H.P. Lovecraft novels that he was in fact the illegitimate son of the infamous high priest of the black arts, Aleister Crowley. He even claimed to have inherited Crowley’s magical powers and prowess! When challenged about his powers Anger retreated.

        • shangheinz

          June 20, 2024 at 3:27 pm

          Kenneth for sure had anger issues. As far as his false memory is concerned, I think Sheila Brown even gets mentioned in the clip about the premiere posted above. Anger gave Andy Warhol an idea how to make movies with his low budget artsy trash approach. He casted Bobby Beausoleil for a lead role. Bobby opted for jail instead. When the Weinstein of his time, Derryl Zanuck died, Ken Anger bought his entire household. Who knows what the occultist had liked to find.