Having fun with
The cast and a couple of high points of the Warner Brothers movie
Did you ever try to picture other actors in the roles of a movie? How would Now, Voyager have come out if Mack (you remember Deb and Mack, on the ship) had been played by someone like . . .Louis Calhern? Louis Calhern had been briefly married to Ilka Chase.
Step one: Edmund Goulding's Treatment
Edmund Goulding had directed Bette Davis in 1939: Dark Victory. Once Bette was cast in the lead for Now, Voyager, Goulding was tapped to analyze the novel and make suggestions about how it should be adapted into a movie. Hollywood calls this a treatment.
The film, he argued, should begin with Mrs. Vale's disruption of Charlotte's adolescent romance with Leslie Trotter. Goulding insisted that Charlotte be presented as "smouldering rather than passive, posssessed of a deep resentment rather than passive acceptance," heightening the dramatic tension of opposition to such a woman's desires. Goulding perceived the scene in which Charlotte confronts her mother as splendid.1
Critics who praise Bette Davis and screenwriter Casey Robinson for their wit knew little of how much of that was supplied by Prouty's pen. What Robinson contributed however, was to eliminate minor characters, drop the coincidences that have them intersecting, and reduce much of the conversation between between Jerry and Charlotte. Robinson achieved Goulding's call for "swift clean strokes" by condensing brief incidents into single scenes, eliminating the need for a whole scene by inserting the information into the conversation of another or using voice-over as memory to supply needed information.2
The Sweetest Scene
The way Bette Davis glows in her role, can you imagine Irene Dunne delivering these lines to Tina about
a light that shines from inside you because you're a nice person? The studio had planned at first to use Irene Dunne in the role of Charlotte Vale.
Tina, in bed sobbing: I'm ugly! And nobody likes me.
Charlotte, holding Tina lovingly: Tina, you’re what?
Tina: I'm not pretty in the least. You know I'm not.
Well who even wants that kind of prettiness, Tina? There's something else you can have if you earn it—a kind of beauty.
Tina: What kind?
Something that has nothing to do with your face. A light that shines from inside you because you're a nice person. You think about it; some day you'll know I'm right.
Tina: Will they like me then?
Charlotte: Who are they?
Everybody. All the kids at school. Miss Trask and the nurses and the doctors. Oh, there must be something awfully wrong with me!
Do you like them, Tina? The kids at school and Miss Trask and the nurses and the doctors?
Tina: No! I hate them!
Shhh. That’s something else you’ve got to grow up with. If you want people to like you, you’ve got to like people. That's why Miss Trask asks you to cooperate. That's what Dr. Jaquith means when he tells you to play the game.
Tina: I bet you're only fooling me
You try it and see. In the meantime, if it’ll help you any, I like you. I think you’re very pretty. Very sweet. (Kisses her forehead). Alright?
Tina: Alright. Why are you so good to me?
Charlotte, looking into the distance, stroking Tina’s hair:
Because somebody was good to me once when I needed somebody.
Most of the others were well cast in Now, Voyager:
Claude Rains works well as the wise Dr. Jaquith, imparting emotional stability wherever he goes, and giving his character the strength to speak up to the formidable Mrs. Vale. . .
Gladys Cooper—in real life was only 19 years older than Bette Davis. She probably had to undergo an extensive makeup each morning of the shoot to make her look older. And while she was undergoing that, she focused on assuming the mean personality she displayed in the role of the elder Mrs. Vale.
Ilka Chase projected a combination of high class and empathy bordering on saintliness—the character traits of Lisa Vale. Ilka played a very different role several years later in The Big Knife—the role of a ruthless gossip columnist who threatened to ruin an actor's life by exposing his past.
Bonita Granville — perky & audacious. Only she and Ilka Chase dared to stand up to Bette Davis off camera and razz her a little bit—just as June did on camera. Bonita showed the same kind of moxie in the Nancy Drew roles. In fact, her Nancy Drew movies became a cult favorite in the Middle East among woman there who saw them as a role model for female empowerment. See Aayan Hirsi Ali's account of how the Nancy Drew series sowed the seeds of rebellion in her, setting her on her road away from Islam. The transformative power of literature.
Janis Wilson as Tina — In her memoirs, Olive Prouty said that Janis Wilson exactly matched her conception of the role of Tina.
Lee Patrick as Deb— what a pleasant, sincere friend Lee Patrick makes. In 1938 she played Bette Davis's San Francisco friend in The Sisters. Later she won the pleasant and sometimes daffy roles in Pillow Talk and in Auntie Mame. A solid and adaptable actress, Lee Patrick could have handled bigger parts if given the chance.
Mary Wickes as Dora, the nurse, reprised the role she played in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). The same nurse, handling an impossible employer with equanimity and even a wise-crack or two.
In the novel, Jerry struggled through life—not succeeding in his business and unhappy in his marriage. Charlotte and Jerry click partly because they have both struggled, both spent time in a sanitarium. They seem to be on the same wavelength.
The movie script downplays this. Due to the stigma around psychiatry, especially in the 1940s, the screenwriters changed the character of Jerry when adapting the novel to a movie. In the movie, Jerry has much more command of his life. Paul Henreid's Jerry maintains a confident presence despite his unhappy marriage.
Still, in both vehicles, Jerry understands Charlotte and her difficulties almost instinctively. He becomes a sympathetic savior for Charlotte.
The scenes at Cascades, Dr. Jaquith's Vermont retreat, were shot eighty miles east of Los Angeles at a conference center and resort called Lake Arrowhead. The buildings seen in the movie remain pretty much unchanged today.
Buick paid Warner Brothers for product placement in the movies around this time. At right, gleaming in the sunlight, stands the Buick that Charlotte Vale drove when she went camping with Tina.
See the article Prouty's Later Writings, where she talks about the time she helped make Now, Voyager into a movie.
1 Jeanne Thomas Allen, Introduction to Now, Voyager screenplay (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 18-19
2 Ibid. pp. 22-23