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. In her memoirs, entitled Free Admission, Ilka Chase remembers her experiences filming there:
We were going on location to Arrowhead Lake, where I had never been, and the question of what to wear was a weighty one. I knew it was in the mountains, but was it really cold or just cold for California? On the other hand, the drive up would probably be on the warm side. What to put on? I finally settled for an olive-green gabardine suit. Once the choice had been made, I considered it inspired and went happily off to the studio, where the cast was to assemble and be driven up in cars. Alas, my complacency was short-lived.
No matter how pleased I may be with my clothes when I am ordering them, no matter how successfully I may feel they have turned out the day they come home from the shop and are lifted from their boxes, I have only to walk into a restaurant or the theater or a friend's house to be instantly convinced that every woman there is more appropriately and becomingly dressed than I. That day at the studio was no exception. I arrived in my gabardine, Bette arrived in distinguished tweeds, and my heart sank. Of course, I thought, tweed. Even I, dope that I am, should have known enough for that. Correct and smart. Naturally. And far better cut than this sacking I'm draped in. I drove to the mountains plunged in gloom and self-disgust.
Later that afternoon Bette asked me to come over to her cottage for a drink with her and her husband. In the course of the visit I remarked that I liked her suit and that it was the perfect thing for Arrowhead. She looked at me in pleased disbelief. "You think so?"
"Yes, of course. I only wish I had one to wear up here."
The Duse of the screen burst into the unrestrained laughter which is characteristic of her. "My God," she said, "that's funny. I'd been debating what to wear and I finally settled for this, then you walked on the lot. I took one look at you and thought, Of course, Ilka's no fool, gabardine. That's what I should have on! I damn near went back home to change."
Another celebrated woman who suffers from clothes insecurity is Miss Gertrude Lawrence. Miss Lawrence, to the innocent beholder, is smart as all get out, but she, too, apparently views her own reflection with a soured eye, once she has spied the other entrants in the social arena. Moreover, she is harassed by a further ailment common to the fashion-conscious. She has only to see an outfit she has sold or given away worn by someone else to be instantly aware of its outstanding chic and to be moved by a strong impulse to kick herself for having got rid of such a becoming and durable garment. I know what she goes through. During the rest of our stay at Arrowhead the clothes problem no longer troubled either Miss Davis or myself, for we were wearing costumes designed for us by the studio wizard.
We had several days of radiant weather for shooting, and when not in a scene I used to lie on the grass and look up through the glittering leaves of the trees or through the dark gleaming needles of the pines, deep up into the sky where the litt1e clouds drifted.
I was trying to apply a lesson I knew well but which is hard to put into practice, and that is not to let personal unhappiness blunt for us the loveliness of the external world. When we do we are a little less civilized. Unhappiness spreads a scar tissue over our perceptions and we rob ourselves of our most intimate wealth, the awareness of nature.
Love was my trouble and my woe was unconfined.
An emotional orgy is momentarily gratifying to the emoter, but it is sterile and any performance is the more impressive as well as more sincere if there is evidence of intellect. Besides, this sort of sentimental suicide is futile; since we will survive anyhow; we will not induce love where love does not exist and we cheat ourselves out of countless delights by coddling our misery. All this I knew.
Putting it into practice I found virtually impossible, yet my sense of degradation was partially alleviated by the kindly understanding of Claude Rains, who was also working in Now, Voyager. One day, seeing me tearful, he asked what was the matter. Between laughing and crying I told him I was ashamed of myself but that I waited for word which didn't come. I waited without humor and without courage. I knew I was behaving with self-indulgence and with a marked lack of common sense, with my experience and at my age . . . I continued to castigate myself, but faster fell the tears. Claude laughed, but his laughter was gentle.
"My dear," he said, "I am many years older than you but I am still capable of disappointment if a letter I am hoping for doesn't come. Don't count on age to get you over that one. Realize that when your feelings do not dull you are the more alive. It's painful but it's worth it." Mr. Rains is a nice man.
We were at Arrowhead only a few days and it was in the season of my discontent, but owing, in large part, to his understanding, I remember with delight the sky and the water and the dark, strong color of the pine trees like a canvas freshly painted.
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 recounts her experiences adapting Now, Voyager.
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