What Price Hollywood?

Last updated

What Price Hollywood?
What Price Hollywood window card.jpg
Theater window card
Directed by George Cukor
Screenplay by Jane Murfin
Ben Markson
Allen Rivkin (uncredited)
Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns
Louis Stevens (uncredited)
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
David O. Selznick
By Gene Fowler
Rowland Brown
Starring Constance Bennett
Lowell Sherman
Cinematography Charles Rosher
Edited by Del Andrews
Jack Kitchin
Music by Max Steiner
Distributed byRKO-Pathé Distributing Corp.
Release date
  • June 2, 1932 (1932-06-02)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$416,000 [1]
Box office$571,000 [1]

What Price Hollywood? is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett with Lowell Sherman. The screenplay by Gene Fowler, Rowland Brown, Jane Murfin and Ben Markson is based on a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns and Louis Stevens. The supporting cast features Neil Hamilton, Gregory Ratoff, Brooks Benedict, Louise Beavers and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.



Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? What-Price-Hollywood-Sherman-Bennett.jpg
Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood?

Brown Derby waitress Mary Evans is an aspiring actress who meets film director Maximillan "Max" Carey in the restaurant. Max is very drunk but is charmed by Mary and he invites her to a premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Max, who has an active sense of humor, arrives to collect her in a jalopy rather than a limousine and then gives the car to the parking valet as a tip.

Max takes Mary home after the event, but the next morning he remembers nothing about the previous night. Mary reminds him that he had promised her a screen test and expresses concern about his excessive drinking and flippant attitude, but he tells her not to worry.

Mary's screen test is a miserable failure, but she begs for another chance. After extensive rehearsals, she shoots the scene again, and producer Julius Saxe is pleased with the result, signing her to a contract. Just as quickly as Mary achieves stardom, Max finds his career on the decline, and he avoids a romantic relationship with Mary so that she will not become involved in his downward spiral.

Mary meets polo player Lonny Borden, who loves her despite his jealousy of her career demands. Lonny convinces Mary to marry him although Julius and Max try to discourage her. Lonny becomes increasingly annoyed by Mary's devotion to her work and finally leaves her. After their divorce is finalized, Mary discovers that she is pregnant.

Mary wins an award for her acting, but her moment of glory is disrupted when she must post bail for Max after he is arrested for drunk driving. She takes him to her home, where he wallows in self-pity despite her encouragement. Later, alone in Mary's dressing room, he stares at himself in the mirror and compares his face to that in a photograph from long before. He finds a gun in a drawer and commits suicide with a bullet to the chest.

Mary becomes the center of gossip about Max's suicide. Hoping to heal her emotional wounds, she flees to Paris with her son and reunites with Lonny, who begs her to forgive him and give their marriage another chance.



Lowell Sherman, Neil Hamilton and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? (1932) What Price Hollywood lobby card.jpg
Lowell Sherman, Neil Hamilton and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? (1932)

The film's original title was The Truth About Hollywood. Adela Rogers St. Johns loosely based her plot on the experiences of actress Colleen Moore and her husband, alcoholic producer John McCormick (1893–1961), and the life and death of director Tom Forman, who committed suicide following a nervous breakdown. [2]

Producer David O. Selznick wanted to cast Clara Bow as the female lead, [3] but executives at RKO's New York offices were hesitant to invest in a Hollywood story because similar projects had been unsuccessful in the past. By the time that Selznick convinced them that the project had potential, Bow was committed to another film. [4] Constance Bennett considered What Price Hollywood? her greatest film. [5] [6]

Selznick initially promised writer-director Rowland Brown the direction of What Price Hollywood; after Brown rewrote the script, however, Selznick replaced him with George Cukor. Four years after the film was released, Selznick hired Brown to direct the next incarnation of the script, altered and renamed A Star Is Born and set to feature Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, but Brown refused to rewrite the script, saying that it required no changing, upon which Selznick fired Brown. Selznick then approached Cukor and asked him to direct, but Cukor felt the plot was still so similar to that of What Price Hollywood? that he declined. Selznick himself claimed credit for the original story. [7] RKO executives considered filing a plagiarism suit against Selznick International Pictures because of the similarities in the story, but eventually opted against legal action. [8] [9] In the event, none of the original writers of What Price Hollywood? received credit.[ clarification needed ] Cukor would later direct the 1954 musical version of A Star Is Born starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

Note that despite the film's interrogatory title, neither of the two contemporary posters shown here do end with that punctuation.


In a contemporary review, The New York Times wrote: "Parts of 'What Price Hollywood' are very amusing, intentionally, and others are despite themselves. Sections of it are very sorrowful, in the bewildered manner of a lost scenario writer, and yet others are quite agreeable. There is some good acting in the picture—much more, indeed, than it deserves." [10]

Variety 's July 1932 review proclaimed: "It's a fan magazine-ish interpretation of Hollywood plus a couple of twists invariably known as the working girls' delight. ... Cukor tells it interestingly. Not so much for show people, perhaps, but the peasantry will like it as amusement even if it fails to fully convince them, too. Story has its exaggerations, but they can sneak under the line as theatrical license." [11]

The film was a runaway box-office hit. [12] However, according to RKO records, the film lost $50,000. [1]

Awards and honors

Adela Rogers St. Johns and Jane Murfin were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Story but lost to Frances Marion for The Champ .

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Cukor</span> American film director and producer

George Dewey Cukor was an American film director and producer. He mainly concentrated on comedies and literary adaptations. His career flourished at RKO when David O. Selznick, the studio's Head of Production, assigned Cukor to direct several of RKO's major films, including What Price Hollywood? (1932), A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Our Betters (1933), and Little Women (1933). When Selznick moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933, Cukor followed and directed Dinner at Eight (1933) and David Copperfield (1935) for Selznick, and Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Camille (1936) for Irving Thalberg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David O. Selznick</span> American film producer (1902–1965)

David O. Selznick was an American film producer, screenwriter and film studio executive who produced Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940), both of which earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture. He also won the Irving Thalberg Award at the 12th Academy Awards, Hollywood's top honor for a producer, in recognition of his shepherding Gone with the Wind through a long and troubled production and into a record-breaking blockbuster.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gregory La Cava</span> American film director

Gregory La Cava was an American film director of Italian descent best known for his films of the 1930s, including My Man Godfrey and Stage Door, which earned him nominations for Academy Award for Best Director.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Constance Bennett</span> American actress and producer

Constance Campbell Bennett was an American stage, film, radio, and television actress and producer. She was a major Hollywood star during the 1920s and 1930s; during the early 1930s, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. Bennett frequently played society women, focusing on melodramas in the early 1930s and then taking more comedic roles in the late 1930s and 1940s. She is best remembered for her leading roles in What Price Hollywood? (1932), Bed of Roses (1933), Topper (1937), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), and had a prominent supporting role in Greta Garbo's last film, Two-Faced Woman (1941).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Val Lewton</span> Ukrainian-American writer and film producer

Val Lewton was a Ukrainian-American novelist, film producer and screenwriter best known for a string of low-budget horror films he produced for RKO Pictures in the 1940s. His son, also named Val Lewton, was a painter and exhibition designer.

<i>A Bill of Divorcement</i> (1932 film) 1932 film

A Bill of Divorcement is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Cukor and starring John Barrymore and Katharine Hepburn in her film debut. It is based on the 1921 British play of the same name, written by Clemence Dane as a reaction to a law passed in Britain in the early 1920s that allowed insanity as grounds for a woman to divorce her husband. It was the second screen adaptation of the play; the first was a 1922 British silent film also titled A Bill of Divorcement. The film was made again in 1940 by RKO Pictures.

John Cromwell was an American film and stage director and actor. His films spanned the early days of sound to film noir in the early 1950s, by which time his directing career was almost terminated by the Hollywood blacklist.

<i>Little Women</i> (1933 film) 1933 film by George Cukor

Little Women is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Cukor, and starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker. The screenplay, written by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman, is based on the 1868-1869 two-volume novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott.

<i>Gone with the Wind</i> (film) 1939 film by Victor Fleming

Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American epic historical romance film adapted from the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. The film was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming. Set in the American South against the backdrop of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, the film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, following her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, and her subsequent marriage to Rhett Butler.

<i>A Star Is Born</i> (1937 film) 1937 film by William A. Wellman

A Star Is Born is a 1937 American Technicolor drama film produced by David O. Selznick, directed by William A. Wellman from a script by Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell, and starring Janet Gaynor as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March as a fading movie star who helps launch her career. The supporting cast features Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander, and Owen Moore. At the 10th Academy Awards, it became the first color film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

<i>Intermezzo</i> (1939 film) 1939 film by Gregory Ratoff

Intermezzo is a 1939 American romantic film remake of a 1936 Swedish film of the same title. It stars Leslie Howard as a married virtuoso violinist who falls in love with his accompanist, played by Ingrid Bergman in her Hollywood debut. The film was directed by Gregory Ratoff and produced by David O. Selznick. It features multiple orchestrations of Heinz Provost's title piece, which won a contest associated with the original film's production. The screenplay by George O'Neil was based on that of the original film by Gösta Stevens and Gustaf Molander. It was produced by Selznick International Pictures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gregory Ratoff</span> Russian-American actor

Gregory Ratoff was a Russian-American film director, actor and producer. As an actor, he was best known for his role as producer "Max Fabian" in All About Eve (1950).

<i>Alice Adams</i> (1935 film) 1935 film by George Stevens

Alice Adams is a 1935 romantic drama film directed by George Stevens and starring Katharine Hepburn. It was made by RKO and produced by Pandro S. Berman. The screenplay was by Dorothy Yost, Mortimer Offner, and Jane Murfin. The film was adapted from the novel Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington. The music score was by Max Steiner and Roy Webb, and the cinematography by Robert De Grasse. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress.

<i>Our Betters</i> 1933 film by George Cukor

Our Betters is a 1933 American pre-Code satirical comedy film directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett, Anita Louise and Gilbert Roland. The screenplay by Jane Murfin and Harry Wagstaff Gribble is based on the 1917 play of the same title by Somerset Maugham. Tommy Atkins worked as assistant director, while the sets were designed by the art director Van Nest Polglase.

<i>Rockabye</i> (1932 film) 1932 film

Rockabye is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film starring Constance Bennett, Joel McCrea, and Paul Lukas. The final version was directed by George Cukor after studio executives decided that the original film as directed by George Fitzmaurice was unreleasable. The screenplay by Jane Murfin is based on an unpublished play written by Lucia Bronder, based on her original short story.

Katharine "Kay" Brown Barrett was a Hollywood talent scout and agent beginning in the 1930s. She is most famous for bringing Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind to the attention of David O. Selznick, for whom she worked, in 1936. She had a long career as representative, talent scout and agent with Leland Hayward, MCA and International Creative Management ("ICM").

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jane Murfin</span> American dramatist

Jane Murfin, née Macklem was an American playwright and screenwriter. The author of several successful plays, she wrote some of them with actress Jane Cowl—most notably Smilin' Through (1919), which was adapted three times for motion pictures. In Hollywood Murfin became a popular screenwriter whose credits include What Price Hollywood? (1932), for which she received an Academy Award nomination. In the 1920s she lived with Laurence Trimble, writing and producing films for their dog Strongheart, the first major canine star.

Rowland Brown, born Chauncey Rowland Brown in Canton, Ohio, was an American screenwriter and film director, whose career as a director ended in the early 1930s after he started many more films than he finished. He walked out of State's Attorney (1932), starring John Barrymore. He was abruptly replaced as director of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

<i>The Common Law</i> (1931 film) 1931 film

The Common Law is a 1931 American pre-Code romantic drama film directed by Paul L. Stein, produced by Charles R. Rogers and starring Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea. Based on Robert W. Chambers' 1911 novel of the same name, the film was the third film adaptation of the book, and the first during the sound-film era. It was received well both at the box office and by film critics, becoming one of RKO's most financially successful films of the year.

<i>Symphony of Six Million</i> 1932 film

Symphony of Six Million is a 1932 American Pre-Code drama film directed by Gregory La Cava and starring Ricardo Cortez, Irene Dunne and Gregory Ratoff. Based on the story Night Bell by Fannie Hurst, the film concerns the rise of a Jewish physician from humble roots to the top of his profession and the social costs of losing his connection with his community, his family and with the craft of healing.


  1. 1 2 3 Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994, p. 39
  2. "What Price Hollywood?". TVGuide.com.
  3. Smyth, J. E. (June 1, 2006). "Hollywood 'Takes One More Look': Early Histories of Silent Hollywood and the Fallen Star Biography, 1932–1937". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 26 (2): 179–201. doi:10.1080/01439680600691701. ISSN   0143-9685. S2CID   193227635.
  4. Behlmer, Rudy, Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: The Viking Press 1972
  5. Bennett, Joan; Kibbee, Lois (1970). The Bennett Playbill. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p.  226. ISBN   9780030818400.
  6. Kellow, Brian (November 26, 2004). The Bennetts: An Acting Family. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p.  169. ISBN   9780813123295.
  7. Baxter, John (1975). Sixty Years of Hollywood . New York: A.S, Barnes and Co. pp.  182. ISBN   0-498-01046-5.
  8. McGilligan, Patrick. George Cukor: A Double Life (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991); ISBN   0-312-05419-X
  9. Levy, Emanuel. George Cukor: Master of Elegance (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994); ISBN   0-688-11246-3
  10. "The Screen". The New York Times . July 16, 1932. p. 5.
  11. "What Price Hollywood". Variety . July 19, 1932. p. 24.
  12. "What Price Hollywood?". tcm.com. Retrieved August 22, 2022.