Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Postscript to Come Fill the Cup (1951)


Above: The cover of the original novel. 
Since writing about Come Fill the Cup (1951) on this blog last week, the "Abend status" of this film has been confirmed for me by Turner Classic Movies Senior Researcher Alexa Foreman, who verified that the network has never aired this film in their two decades of existence due to its legal standing.

In a delightful turn of events, I have also been in contact with Ciji Ware, the daughter of Harlan Ware (1902-1967), the author of the story behind the film. Ms. Ware, a noted journalist, novelist, speaker, and producer, has shared generous details about this film's journey over the years and its present state in legal limbo.
Ms. Ware has given me permission to quote from her account of circumstances surrounding the transition of Come Fill the Cup from the page to the screen. As clarified by the author's daughter, "her recollection [comes out of her memories] as a youngster...overhearing conversations between Jim Cagney and his brother [William] and my dad."

As explained by Ciji, "Warner Brothers cannot air the movie without paying my father's literary estate royalties, which they never seemed to want to do. About 15 years ago we [the Ware family] learned that the movie had been shown on TV 'bundled' with a few other Warner films and sold...we threatened suit and were paid what was owed, but I believe the film is not shown on TV." I confirmed for Ms. Ware, as others may also, that many of us who remember this memorable film from our childhood recall it being shown on broadcast television more than once in the '60s and '70s, which may be when this movie was still controlled by Warner Brothers.

Ciji explained that the story, which is out-of-print, was initially shepherded through Warner Brothers by the Cagney brother's production arm, run by Jim's brother, William Cagney. Working with his brother, William Cagney Productions was the independent corporate affiliation that had backed the filming of such James Cagney vehicles as Blood on the Sun (1945), The Time of Your Life (1948), and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) prior to Come Fill the Cup.
Above: Former actor and Associate Producer William Cagney and James Cagney signing the incorporation papers creating their own production company in 1942.
Since the studio and the star were engaged in several disputes over the years, not surprisingly, the eventual production of Come Fill the Cup was part of the "negotiations [that] had taken place to lure [Cagney] back into the Warner Bros. fold" after the actor had allowed his previous contract to lapse. Harlan Ware's daughter pointed out that, as a result of this settlement with Cagney, "the studio had the last word and yes, declined to have a black actor play the part as written in the book. [The character of Charley Dolan was ultimately portrayed by James Gleason]. My father was not happy about this. He and Jim remained good friends throughout his life, so I imagine Cagney wasn't very happy about the change either, but by then, Warners won out."

"Jim and my father became friends as a result of their association in this film--a friendship that lasted until my father died in the late 1960s, and the families remain friends to this day..." Ciji went on to recall that her family's friendship with the actor extended to the whole family. "Jim's brother Bill headed up Cagney [Productions] and was the financial whiz in the Cagney clan.  Brothers Harry and Ed were both physicians; Sister Jeannie and I picked each other as Godmother and God-daughter and were close until she died of lung cancer. At one point Jeanne and Bill asked me to write a joint memoir with them THE CAGNEY CLAN," a project which went dormant after the siblings became ill and passed away. It would be wonderful if Ms. Ware could eventually craft this into the long-planned chronicle, working with the Cagney descendants.

Ciji explained that the exploration of alcoholism and sobriety in the movie was drawn in part from her father's own life. Her father had been "a member of AA before I was born and I think that Come Fill the Cup was filled with his own experience and was [also] inspired by the life that Jim Richardson led as a hard-boiled city editor who 'knew where all the bodies were buried in City Hall.'" Ms. Ware confirmed that her father and Richardson were longtime friends with newspaper backgrounds and experience in vaulting some of life's more personal hurdles. "Jim Richardson," she wrote me, "was among my father's best friends, along with Jim Cagney and another actor, Ralph Bellamy. In fact, you may have noticed that the book [which I found in the library in researching this work] is dedicated to JR as "The Last of the Terrible Men." The Richardsons and the Wares lived a few blocks apart from each other in the late '30s, '40s, until 1954 when we moved to Carmel, CA. I grew up with these wonderful gents telling wonderful stories and howling with laughter."
Above: Author Harlan Ware (left) and his friend editor Jim Richardson (right). [Used with permission of Ciji Ware]
Perusing the IMDb entry for Harlan Ware, his work as a screenwriter was confirmed, but as my research and his daughter verified, his work included plays as well as "some 45 short stories published...[in] The Saturday Evening Post, ColliersCollege Humor magazines." For fourteen years, Ware had also written the radio show classic "One Man's Family," the longest-running serial drama in American radio history. Ciji explained that the writing gene extended to her father's "two brothers, Darrell Ware (nominated once for an Oscar [for his co-authorship with Karl Tunberg of the original screenplay for Tall, Dark and Handsome in 1941] and Leon, [who is also credited with some screen work]." Growing up in this literary household, Ciji recalled her father's "wonderful work ethic" demonstrating that "[w]riting consists of writing" as he "pounded his typewriter all day, nearly every day...alternating between his own work and writing scripts for 'One Man's Family,'" sometimes taking his daughter "to the studio on occasion." Eventually, the budding writer in the household received "the best kind of legacy from a parent: faith in my ability as a creative person," when he finally told her when she was in the 7th grade, 'Ciji, my girl, you can WRITE!"

Ms. Ware's work, including seven novels and nonfiction books, have earned her a Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence, and includes a novel, "A Cottage By the Sea," incorporating elements of her family's story. Copies of her work can be readily purchased on the internet, including here.

As Ciji Ware carries the literary banner of her family forward, perhaps the knot of issues surrounding the film of Come Fill the Cup will eventually be unraveled and more people will be able to discover what is of lasting value in this movie.  As TCM has proven so successfully in the past by their efforts to unlock similarly disputed properties such as The Constant Nymph (1943), it is sometimes possible for long-archived work to be circulated again. Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, (which even won an Oscar nomination for Gig Young's anguished supporting performance) and the continued pertinence of the themes of the story, perhaps there may be a time in the near future when it will once again be readily accessible to the public, enriching the viewers as well as the creators of this resonant story once again.

The original post about this movie is found here.

8 comments :

ClassicBecky said...

Fascinating story about the background of this movie! I'm so glad you did this followup. It also explains why I remember this movie from a long time ago, but have not seen it in so many years. I hope, as you say, that things can be untangled and it will eventually become available, as it should be. Thanks again for telling this wonderful story of the relationships and friendships that went into the back story of Come Fill The Cup.

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks, Becky. If nothing else, I hope that these two posts encourage other people to take a look at other films languishing unseen in vaults due to the Abend ruling and to look at the good quality of writing that often initiated projects, even when they later "evolved" under the studio creative and commercialization process.

Thanks for your encouraging support.
Appreciatively,
moira

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Love your very fine scholarship on this piece. Hope you eventually have good news to report on it.

Caftan Woman said...

What an interesting glimpse into a time not that long ago, but so far removed from our lives.

I appreciated your follow-up and hope one day the rights issues are resolved in our favour.

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks for taking a moment to comment Jacqueline & Patricia.

From what I have learned this film is probably in good shape (Warner Bros. has an excellent archive from all reports) and it is a matter of finding a way to allow all parties involved to feel as though they have been treated justly. Maybe this needs Jimmy C. to burst onto the scene crying out "Whaddya say? Whaddya know?!!"

Vienna said...

So interesting . thank you and to Ms Ware. We can only hope this fine film is released soon.

Page said...

Hi, Moira!
Let me join in on congratulating you on Ms. Ware. Such great news and like everyone else I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

I'll be checking back often for updates.

Have a great weekend!
Page

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Vienna and Page. Maybe we can stimulate more interest just by asking about this film occasionally. Undoubtedly, it will take time to make a case for this movie's revival, but your enthusiasm should help. I've seen it happen before and try to be optimistic about making our film heritage readily accessible to all.

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