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I ran into this 1935 Warner Brothers title on YouTube and had my curiosity aroused by Warren William’s connection. Plus now that I’m regularly reviewing non-WW films at another site of mine, Immortal Ephemera, I knew that 85 minutes of Stella Parish was good for not just one, but two separate posts in two places. Here’s the I Found Stella Parish review on Immortal Ephemera.
Warner Brothers originally intended for Warren William to play the role of Stephan in I Found Stella Parish, but he refused and was replaced by Paul Lukas. William seems to have worked out an amiable agreement with Warner Brothers and specifically Jack Warner whereby he was placed on suspension without pay for the length of Lukas’ use on the picture. The suspension appears to have run from August 19 through September 19, 1935.
Warner Brothers had just exercised a six picture option on William’s contract May 13 of the same year with the new option to start as of June 6. On July 19 The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935) went into production which was completed on August 15.
Warner’s files show multiple communications stating William was to report to Stella Parish director Mervyn LeRoy on August 19, though his actual replies, if any, are not on file. A letter dated August 17, 1935 from Warner legal executive R.J. Obringer to William’s agent, Mike Levee, summarizes the suspension settlement referring to William’s “refusal to to the part of ‘Stephen’” and stating that William himself had “expressed his opinion as the set up being agreeable to him in the event that there was no other alternative.” Obringer also notes that J.L. (Jack Warner) feels he’s doing William a favor with the arrangement.
So why did Warren William refuse the part? Speculation time.
1. As filmed the part of Stephen is very small with Paul Lukas appearing opposite Kay Francis and Ian Hunter throughout the first fifteen minutes of the film only to disappear until the final ten minutes.
2. Living on Velvet (1935) was just released in March and in it Warren William’s character is in love with the Kay Francis character, introduces George Brent to her and then steps aside as both Francis’ love interest and for most of the picture leaving Francis and Brent the bulk of the screen time.
In I Found Stella Parish the Stephen character is in love with Kay Francis and then left behind as Ian Hunter’s character pursues her across the Atlantic and takes over as love interest leaving Francis and Brent the bulk of the screen time.
It’s the same formula.
3. Besides Living on Velvet, William also has appeared with Francis in Dr. Monica (1934) by this point. These, and Stella Parish, are obviously vehicles entirely geared towards Kay Francis and not the leading men.
4. Warren William would eventually escape his Warner Brother’s contract early leaving the company on June 22, 1936 after completion of Stage Struck (1936). A letter from agent Levee to Jack Warner dated April 24th of that year lays out William’s case for early termination referring to his contract started June 1933 and stating that “for the last two years, the type of stuff Warren has been requested to do is really short of disastrous.”
Forget about the films after Stella Parish, let’s run down those done before: Lucky Legs (1935); Don’t Bet on Blondes (1935); The Case of the Curious Bride (1935); Living on Velvet (1935); and The Secret Bride (1934). Just prior to that run William had been loaned out to Universal for Imitation of Life (1934) and Paramount for Cleopatra (1934), completing the first Perry Mason film, The Case of the Howling Dog (1934) on his home lot in between. Where were the quality pictures? Universal and Paramount.
The enforcement of the production code effectively killed the popular caddish characters Warren William mastered between 1932-1934 and appears to have led him to being typed two ways: 1) Husband to strong leading ladies in melodramas built around the actress and not Warren and certainly bolstered by the success of Imitation of Life on loan out; 2) Detective mysteries.
The 1936 Obringer letter to Warner opines that Warren William could have easily been as popular as William Powell by that time if handled correctly, but Warner’s dropped the ball and that time is now gone. Perhaps Warren’s refusal to take part in I Found Stella Parish was an early and ultimately unsuccessful play by the actor and his agent to prevent that from happening.
Upon his return from suspension Warren William was cast in Meet the Duchess which was released under the title The Widow from Monte Carlo (1935). He completed that 6 picture option in underwhelming fashion following Widow with Times Square Playboy (1936), the unfairly maligned Satan Met a Lady (1936), his final Perry Mason appearance in The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936), and finally Stage Struck (1936).
PS: I’m still looking for a copy of The Widow from Monte Carlo on DVD or DVD-R, if you have one please feel free to email.
Hey Cliff. I think you are spot on as to why WW would refuse the part. I was struck by the comparison to William Powell in the Warner Brothers files as well. Unfortunately for Kay, she didn’t have too many more days of being the powerhouse female left either. Later in the decade Warner’s has a good record of building up male stars (look at what they did for Bogart). Perhaps had WW stuck around he might have been groomed to find another niche or been made into one of their more important male leads. When he left a number of stars were going free agent, etc. Cary Grant left Paramount for similar reasons–they were putting him in junk, but his loan-outs were making him a star.
The Powell reference in the WB files was really confirmation for me. I was heavily into Powell around the time I originally had my WW “discovery” and I was struck by the fact that Warren could have easily slipped into any of Powell’s WB roles. I would LOVE to find it in writing, but I really believe WB let Powell go expecting WW to replace him at the time. And I’m not trying to take a shot at Powell saying that, I love him, but how strong would his career have been had he had the lead in Warren’s mid-1934-mid-1936 films?
It’s amazing how many stars had their breakout and famed roles on loan away from their home studios.