with Alicia Mayer

That time my grandmother Mitzi won 50 bucks in an M-G-M ‘picture titling’ contest

I love this letter from my grandmother Mitzi Cummings to my grandfather Sol Baer Fielding from 1939, the year they were courting. At the time, she was still working in the M-G-M script department in Culver City and he was working for McCann Erickson in Denver. The relationship didn’t start out as a long distance one but after his mother became very ill he went back home to Denver to be with his family, initiating a flow of letters between Mitzi and Sol.

Mitzi letter snipppet naming Maisie film

A snippet from one of my grandmother Mitzi’s letters to her then beau, who would later become her husband, Sol Baer Fielding. 1939.

I have what eventually became a towering stack of letters over the year or so they were apart here in my collection in Sydney. Mitzi wrote five letters for every one missive from Sol, but she was a writer, after all, and she brilliantly kept him up to date on the goings on at home and work, and regarding her own scripts, which she was diligently shopping around.

In this snippet Mitzi proudly announces that she won $50.00 for “titling a picture” from the original book title of Dark Dame, to “Maizie.” (Because the film was released with an ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ she either misspelled or it was changed again.) It’s an interesting insight into the goings on at the studio. Who knew they ran internal titling contests?

And I love how she spends her winnings: paying up debts to her garage for car repairs, I assume, and her dressmaker. What I would give to know who that talented person was! Mitzi is always so stylishly dressed in every photo.

Maisie Film Poster

MAISIE was purchased for Jean Harlow but when she died suddenly in 1937 the script was shelved but later identified as a good property for Ann Sothern. What a good choice it was, too. It became the first of 10 films starring Sothern as ‘Maisie Ravier,’ a brash but lovable Brooklyn showgirl. The film was released almost exactly two years after Harlow’s death in June of 1939.

Despite Mitzi’s windfall of 50 bucks and the knowledge she pipped M-G-M’s head of advertising Frank Whitbeck at the post by two days, she irreverently downplays it all by adding “‘Maisie’ smells — but what do I care?”

Mitzi also mentions legendary agent Vic Orsatti, who represented some of the biggest stars of the 1930s and 1940s, including Judy Garland, Betty Grable, and Edward G. Robinson, as well as directors Frank Capra and George Stevens.

In fact, Orsatti negotiated the contract for Judy Garland to play the role of ‘Dorothy’ in THE WIZARD OF OZ, which of course released the same year as this letter. And he was so ubiquitous in Hollywood that Lucille Ball even mentions him by name during an episode of I Love Lucy.

So Mitzi was certainly connected! But I always find reading these letters of hers both laugh out loud funny and terribly sad. As I read, I get carried away with her personality — she’s hilarious, feisty, and such an amazing storyteller. But I also know that she never reached the writing heights she so dearly wanted…

mitzi w jean harlow blue watermark

My grandmother Mitzi Cummings with Jean Harlow, 1934. This photo was taken for Mitzi’s popular column in Photoplay Magazine.

 Copyright 2017 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.
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