Monday, September 12, 2011

Etched Glass at the Harry Ransom Center


Transparent Connection
107/68: Scene Conception for the film Rebecca

The atrium windows at the Harry Ransom Center are a beautiful sampling of images that represent some of the important collections within the center’s vast holdings. These glass etchings are a constant reminder of the transparency of connections among many of the archives. The David O. Selznick archive from the Film and Photography collection is the largest archive at the Harry Ransom Center. From this archive we have a glass etching in the North Atrium of a scene conception for the film Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock who was under contract with Selznick at the time, and made two other movies including Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946).
Selznick’s career spanned over 50 years. He worked for monumental and groundbreaking studios, such as, MGM, Paramount, and RKO. Selznick also formed his own production companies, Selznick International Pictures in 1935, producing great films like Gone with the Wind (1939) and David O. Selznick Productions in 1940, and Vanguard Films in 1942. A Farewell to Arms (1957) was the last film that he produced personally.
This scene conception shows the sprawling estate of Manderley where the widower Maximilian de Winter lived with his first wife Rebecca. The film, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, is about the lingering presence of the late Mrs. De Winter. There is a new lady of the house and she is not welcomed by the house staff, especially the housekeeper Ms. Danvers. This eerie and haunting story is a psychological examination of the characters. This film is no different from many other Hitchcock films in that the scenes were framed for maximum impact and suspense and the ending* contains a twist. David O. Selznick was responsible for bringing Alfred Hitchcock, a British director, to Hollywood. At the time Rebecca was being filmed Selznick was preoccupied by another movie, Gone with the Wind. The release of Rebecca was delayed, in fact, so that it would not compete with Gone with the Wind at the Academy Awards in 1939, where it won Best Picture. Rebecca won for Best Picture the following year, making Selznick a back to back winner. Spellbound another Selznick/Hitchcock film, was nominated for Best Picture in 1945.
The bulk of the material from David O. Selznick dates from the mid 1930’s to the mid-1950’s and includes items, such as, awards, call sheets, correspondence, music, props, prints and negatives of photographs, to name few. The culmination of these items makes it possible the follow the evolution of films like, Gone with the Wind and Duel in the Sun (1947). In addition to the David O. Selznick archive the Harry Ransom Center also houses the archives of John Hay “Jock” Whitney, a film financier, and Myron Selznick, brother and Hollywood agent, providing endless connections for cross referencing between archive materials.

*According to the Hollywood Production Code; the murder of a spouse could not go unpunished so the ending was reworked to make the death of Rebecca de Winter an accident.