Excerpted from McBride’s new critical study, Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge (Columbia University Press, October 2021), with the kind permission of the author.
* * *
Billie Wilder (as he was called until 1937) was working with only intermittent success as a screenwriter when he fled Berlin shortly after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. The Jewish emigré, an Austrian born in 1906 in what is now Poland, spent a year in Paris, where he co-directed his first film, a lively, proto-Nouvelle Vague comedy-drama, Mauvaise Graine/Bad Seed (1934, directed with Alexandre Esway). But Wilder had always loved American culture and yearned to escape his native Europe for freedom, though freedom also meant several years of toil as a fledgling Hollywood screenwriter struggling to establish himself in a new language in various genre projects, often uncongenial. His passage to the United States in January 1934 resulted from the sale to Columbia Pictures of a film treatment he wrote with a German colleague, Max Kolpé, a show business comedy called “Pam-Pam.” Joe May, the pioneering German producer-director, another fellow refugee from UFA and Nazism who had made it to Hollywood earlier, persuaded Columbia to send Wilder a one-way boat ticket. They put him to work for six weeks as a contract writer at $150 a week. He had only a three-month visitor’s visa.
Selling the treatment to Columbia was no panacea. After Wilder turned “Pam-Pam” into a screenplay, it vanished into the limbo of unproduced pictures (Kolpé turned it into a stage musical that premiered in Vienna in 1937). When Wilder became unemployed again, he had to leave the country in the spring of 1934 to try to get another precious visa to reenter as a resident alien. Driving his beat-up 1928 De Soto coupe – a far cry from the stylish new Graham-Paige (American-made) convertible he had sported in Berlin – he traveled south to San Diego and east to Calexico, where he crossed into Mexico. The border city of Mexicali, the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California, was 190 miles from Los Angeles and had the closest American consulate. Wilder languished in a seedy hotel with other would-be immigrants, some of whom had spent years hoping to get into the U.S. as part of the quota system.
Foreigners wanting to obtain entry permits had to apply outside the country and wait with their documentation for a quota number as a legal immigrant. They were required to prove that they were not “likely to become a public charge” and to file declarations of intent to become permanent citizens, with seven years allowed to petition for naturalization. After opening its doors to immigrants during the Industrial Revolution, the U.S. had largely closed them with the Immigration Act of 1924, allowing few to receive quota numbers. The flood of mostly Jewish refugees from Hitler met with especially stern restrictions imposed by anti-Semitic forces in the State Department, especially Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long. Although Wilder had been raised in hotels (his father, Max, was a hotelier) and frequently used them as settings for his movies, his time in Mexicali was one of the most depressing periods in his life. Before he became a Hollywood director, Billy Wilder would mine that experience (along with his dispiriting stay at the Hotel Ansonia in Paris) for the most directly autobiographical script of his life, Hold Back the Dawn. That 1941 Paramount film was directed by Mitchell Leisen from a script Wilder wrote with his screenwriting partner Charles Brackett; they adapted it from a treatment by Ketti Frings. Despite the film’s complicated pedigree, Wilder’s influence is dominant, which is especially clear in retrospect, when you know how much it reflects his life story.
When Wilder received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his producing career from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on April 11, 1988, he told one of his favorite stories, a moving account of how he finally was accepted into America, with the suspense and passion of a scene from one of his films. “I would very much like to thank one specific gentleman without whose help I would not be standing here tonight. I have forgotten his name but I have never forgotten his compassion.” Recalling his insecurity as one of many exiles in the wake of the takeover by Hitler and his unhappy expulsion from Hollywood, Wilder said that as he entered the consulate and met with an American official he thought was the consul, “I was drenched in sweat. It was not the heat. It was just the panic, the fear. I knew that I needed a whole bunch of documents: affidavits, official proof of former residence, sworn testaments that I had never been a criminal or an anarchist. I had nothing, zilch. Just my passport and my birth certificate and some letters from a few American friends vouching that I was harmless. It looked hopeless.
“The consul – he looked a little bit like Will Rogers – examined my meager documentation. ‘Is that all you have?’ he asked. And I said, ‘Yes.’”
Wilder told the official that after his hasty exit from Berlin, he had tried unsuccessfully to get the necessary papers from Nazi Germany. He said that if he went back to Germany, they would put him on a train and “ship me off to Dachau. So, he just kept staring and staring at me and I was not sure whether I was getting through to him. . . . Finally he asked me, ‘What do you do? I mean professionally?’ And I said, ‘I write movies.’” The official began pacing back and forth behind the anxious young refugee, who was still a Polish citizen.
I felt that he was measuring me. Then he came back to the desk, picked up my passport, opened it, and took a rubber stamp and went [thumps twice], handed me back the passport and he said, “Write some good ones.”
That was fifty-four years ago. I’ve tried ever since. I certainly did not want to disappoint that dear man in Mexicali.
Wilder received many phone calls after his speech, and one caller told him that the consul would have been on holiday at the time. The man who let him into the United States was the vice consul, whose name he was told was Meyer. Actually, his guardian angel was Willys A. Myers. Myers’s sympathy with Wilder may have stemmed from the fact that he was also a member of the international family of show business: his lifelong hobby was as an amateur magician. Wilder may have felt that his reentry into the United States, which enabled him to survive against such long odds, was something magical. Even though he had not been able to make a film for more than six years, he told the audience at the Academy Awards ceremony that as he looked back he felt, “I’ve lived a charmed life.”
Before his and Brackett’s triumph with Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka in 1939, which brought Wilder his first Oscar nomination as a writer, the team paid their dues like most Hollywood contract screenwriters on a potpourri of projects, only one of which had much merit. Midnight, a romantic comedy released earlier that year and directed by Leisen, is a frivolous yet delightfully frothy story indulging the team’s shared fascination with masquerading and hijinks across class barriers. But Leisen became Wilder’s bête noire for trashing a key scene the team wrote for Hold Back the Dawn, the film that is most celebrated in cinematic history for driving the despondent Wilder back to directing in order to protect his material. Leisen is also “credited” with the same function in the career of Preston Sturges, his screenwriter on Easy Living (1937) and Remember the Night (1940).
But that one glaring problem aside, Hold Back the Dawn is a gem, a deeply personal work for Wilder with its echoes of his struggle to surmount the roadblocks of the U.S. immigration system and become an American. A largely unsung classic of romantic comedy-drama, it can stand muster in the hierarchy of “Brackettandwilders”’s achievement with Ninotchka and their brilliantly witty script for Howard Hawks’s zany comedy about gangsters and philology, Ball of Fire (also 1941). Leisen also directed their script for Arise, My Love, their uneven 1940 mélange of romantic comedy and political propaganda. Leisen’s work as a director was often sophisticated but was also erratic (even his often hilarious Easy Living eventually gets tiresomely protracted and silly), and Wilder regarded him as too fussy about decor and not attentive enough to stories and characterizations. Leisen had begun as an art director and costume designer, and his overt gayness was a fact that Wilder sometimes gratuitously dragged into his attacks on him, despite Wilder’s generally sophisticated tolerance of all varieties of sexual orientation.
Leisen regarded Wilder with similar distaste. He told David Chierichetti for their oral history, Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director,
Writing a script with Charles Brackett and Billy was very hard work, but we got results. We had daily meetings [on Midnight] in [producer] Arthur Hornblow [Jr.]’s office, and built the thing up slowly, sequence by sequence, arguing all the way. Billy Wilder was a middle European fresh from the old country [sic], and most of my fights were with him. Having done eight years of psychoanalysis, I knew that a character had to follow a certain emotional pattern. I’d say, “Billy, you have this guy doing something that is completely inconsistent. You suddenly introduce a completely different emotional setup for this character, and it can’t be. It has to follow a definite emotional pattern.”
Well, Billy couldn’t figure this one out, but Brackett could. Brackett was sort of a leveling influence. He would referee my quarrels with Billy. As a team they were the greatest. Billy would scream if you changed one line of his dialogue. I used to say, “Listen, this isn’t Racine, it’s not Shakespeare. If the actors we have can’t say it, we must give them something they can say.” Later, I went on the set one day when Billy was directing one of his own scripts and it was very funny. He was having to rewrite the whole thing!
In response, Wilder told his biographer Maurice Zolotow,
Leisen spent more time with Edith Head worrying about the pleats on a skirt than he did with us on the script. He didn’t argue over scenes. He didn’t know shit about construction. And he didn’t care. All he did was he fucked up the script and our scripts were damn near perfection, let me tell you. . . . Charlie hated him as much as I did. Because if we gave in to him there would be holes in the script which he shot. Charlie never was a peacemaker. That’s bullshit. It was Arthur Hornblow who refereed our fights. . . . And about this Shakespeare – well, I didn’t think our lines were the Ten Commandments chiseled with a platinum hammer out of Carrara marble. It was just – oh hell, there were these voids in most of his films where any screenwriter could see Leisen has been chopping. Midnight is perfect because I fought him every inch of the way.
Wilder was spoiled by having worked with Lubitsch, who had greater respect for his writers. But even if Leisen was a few notches below Lubitsch in talent and stature, he had a true sense of style and, when not tempted to mess with a script, a gift for bringing out vivid performances. Wilder was fortunate to have Leisen directing some of his work in that transitional period, as he later grudgingly acknowledged. When he lamented in our 1978 interview the coarsening of modern Hollywood filmmaking and the loss of the classic tradition, he said with graceful alliteration, “All of that is gone: Lubitsch, Leisen, Love in the Afternoon.”
“SHE WAS – SWELL”
When actress-writer Carrie Fisher was asked by Film Comment in 2011 to contribute a “Guilty Pleasures” column, she began with Hold Back the Dawn:
It was one of Billy Wilder’s first [sic] writing credits, starring Olivia de Havilland and Charles Boyer, and it’s about people who just don’t belong. She’s a schoolteacher, and he can’t get over the [Mexico-United States] border, so he marries her by lying to her because, really, he just wants to get into the States. He’s a gigolo, but ultimately he falls in love with her. I went up to Billy Wilder once and said, “I love that movie.” And he looked at me like I was insane.
I love that movie too. Wilder undervalued it because of the bitter run-in he had with Leisen and Boyer over the omission of a scene involving a cockroach. That loss convinced him he would have to return to directing to protect his scripts. Even when Wilder and Brackett saw the film in rough cut, they found it “a pretty bad picture – jerky – undistinguished in writing. . . . not a disgrace, but nothing to crow about,” Brackett confided to his diary. That seems a bizarre response, but sometimes filmmakers are blind to the quality of their own work, especially if the shooting was problematical. Although Hold Back the Dawn was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, actress, and adapted screenplay, it won none in the year of Citizen Kane and How Green Was My Valley. That must have rankled not only Brackett and Wilder, but even more so de Havilland, who gives one of the most moving performances of her career as Emmy Brown but notoriously lost to her sister and archenemy, Joan Fontaine, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. (Wilder and Thomas Monroe were also nominated for the original story of Ball of Fire but lost to Harry Segall for Here Comes Mr. Jordan.)
For a film with such a pedigree as Hold Back the Dawn, it is strange that it was so forgotten in recent years that it was not officially released on DVD or Blu-ray until 2019 (by Arrow Video). Wilder’s oft-repeated story about his displeasure over the loss of the cockroach scene played a part in unfairly diminishing the film’s reputation. Because it fell into the category of a “women’s picture” or “melodrama,” Hold Back the Dawn probably was stigmatized for that reason as well, since reviewers and even many film historians tended to sneer condescendingly at that genre. Even today, some still deride what are now labeled “chick flicks,” although more enlightened historians recognize that “women’s pictures” from Hollywood’s Golden Era are among the richest in dealing frankly with social issues. The film’s title, although expressive in context to refer to both characters’ awakening (romantic and sexual in her case, romantic and moral in his), seems hackneyed and generic, the kind that could be applied to numerous Hollywood love stories of that period; a film’s reputation can be hurt by a weak title.
Nevertheless, Hold Back the Dawn, like Ninotchka, is a major film that deserves to be regarded as among the best to which Wilder ever contributed. His vitriolic aspersions on Leisen ignore the empathetic and insightful way the director guides the performances and gives the film a believable atmosphere, including an unusual degree of location shooting for that era in Oxnard, San Clemente, and Baja California. Wilder’s intense personal involvement with the story of a penniless man desperately trying to get into the United States while stagnating in a Mexican hotel, “the end of the Earth,” draws from his experience in Mexicali waiting anxiously for a visa to reenter California. It also evokes his agonized temporizing in a Paris hotel and youth growing up in hotels (and on trains; the film describes the couple as “like two trains halted for a moment at the same station”). Boyer’s Georges Iscovescu is, like Wilder, a man perpetually in transit.
A Rumanian refugee and professional continental lover, Georges is even a screenwriter of sorts. He is shown successfully pitching the story to a director (Leisen himself) on a soundstage at Paramount while on the lam from the federal police. That meta-film framing device foregrounds the story’s personal nature for Wilder as screenwriter and prefigures the memorable scene at the studio with Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Blvd. Before Georges sneaks onto a soundstage while on a tour of the lot with some American rubes, Hold Back the Dawn opens with a written prologue, “Perhaps the best way to begin this story is to tell you how it came to us. . . .” Leisen takes a break from the (recreated) shoot of his 1941 film I Wanted Wings (with Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake appearing but not William Holden, another near-miss for Wilder) to listen skeptically, at first, to the fugitive’s tale. Selling it earns Georges enough to pay back the savings he fleeced from Emmy and ultimately helps him enter the country legally by reconciling with her. So Hollywood comes to the rescue of this down-and-out exile on the run from the authorities, just as it did for Wilder. The benevolent act of an American consular official in granting Wilder a visa (“Write some good ones”) is echoed in the film’s depiction of a sharp but benign American immigration inspector, Hammock (Walter Abel), who does a similar favor for Georges.
Georges is a gigolo and dancer, like Wilder while he was struggling in Berlin. This heel who becomes “Slightly reformed” by the end is one of the most acute and honest depictions of the antiheroes who populate Wilder’s work. They get their comeuppance and/or “regeneration” often through romantic involvement of women with greater emotional sincerity. While glibly pretending to romance the intelligent but guilelessly trusting, lonely young schoolteacher from the small town of Azusa, California, the jaded, older Georges is hooking up in the hotel with an old partner in sleaze, a ruthless dancer and gold digger named Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard). Anita may owe something (if not her crooked personality) to the girlfriend who taught the Charleston with Wilder in Berlin. The deceptively glamorous Anita is portrayed as even more heartless and contemptible than Georges, but at least she has the saving grace of self-mocking humor. Their scheme to work as a team seducing and soaking rich people in America is a striking example of Wilder’s career-long concentration on the theme of prostitution.
Hold Back the Dawn is set in the summer of 1940, with Georges among a small expatriate community waiting to enter the U.S. during wartime. The characters’ eloquent expressions of love for American liberty and history are heartfelt statements by Wilder. They convey his deep sense of gratitude for being given a haven in his adopted country. The script makes a telling satirical point when at a July 4 celebration, a Dutch professor (Victor Francen) writing a book on the founding of the United States while he lives in the Hotel Esperanza (the Spanish word for “hope”) recites from the Emma Lazarus poem on a plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The capper is that the American immigration inspector at the celebration doesn’t know who wrote the poem (and Lazarus was a Jewish woman). He confuses that inscription with Thomas Jefferson’s words “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.
With such fervent sentiments uttered by foreigners trying to enter the United States and its dramatization of actual immigration issues on the border, Hold Back the Dawn is not only “ripped from the pages” of 1941 headlines but also more topical today than at any other time since its release. Although the optimism of the love story of two individuals who finally manage to circumvent immigration barriers is qualified to some extent by the film’s acknowledgment of the restrictive American policies toward the millions fleeing that war (especially Jews, even if they are not specifically mentioned), its hopeful expressions of belief in America’s acceptance of refugees are aspirational on Wilder’s part and especially poignant in today’s time of rampant xenophobia. “There is a wire fence,” Georges bitterly tells Leisen’s director character. “You can see right through into [the] United States. If you are an American or have a visa, you just walk in. Yes – a wire fence. Don’t let them tell you it’s only twelve feet high. It’s a thousand miles high.” And to explain when he meets Emmy why he has “very little” affection for the United States, Georges says of the fence, “You Americans make a very definite point of it.”
Although Hold Back the Dawn was adapted from a story by Katherine (Ketti) Frings, it was a substantial departure from its source material. A fan magazine writer, she based her forty-page treatment, “Memo to a Movie Producer,” and 1940 novel version (published in 1941 as a movie tie-in with the same title as the film) on her involvement with a German boxer named Kurt Frings, whom she married in 1938 and divorced in 1963. They met in France, where he was working as a ski instructor, and lived for a time in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, just across from San Diego, while she commuted from Southern California until he received his entry permit in 1940. The treatment was written in the form of a letter to the film’s producer, Arthur Hornblow Jr., but the couple were radically changed when Wilder made it autobiographical.
The novel contains the basic situation of a foreigner waiting in a Mexican hotel (in Tijuana, although the town is unnamed in the film) while his American wife tries to get him a visa. The process is ultimately successful but complicated by perjury he committed in an act of desperation while applying for a visa in Europe. The characters in the novel are one-dimensional figures, too simply and cautiously drawn from the author’s own life. The ex-boxer, Klaus, is an upstanding, loyal, and somewhat pathetic fellow, and the fan magazine writer, Jennifer, is not a naïf like Emmy but an earnest but creatively frustrated Hollywood hanger-on and aspiring fiction writer. Because the characters are so bland, the novel lacks the emotional drama and complexity of the screenplay, which stems from Georges’s caddish, deceitful behavior toward the innocent Emmy and his gradual transformation into a mensch, a classic Wilder situation. Frings’s novel becomes tedious, because the situation has little tension other than the couple’s endless waiting and bogs down in interactions with people at the hotel. Any venality is laid off awkwardly on minor characters, including one who is something like Georges, a Hungarian playboy named Tibor, whose unscrupulous behavior toward women might have helped point the screenwriters to enliven their male lead by combining him and Klaus. But Wilder’s own experiences as an Eintänzer (a tea dancer or gigolo dancing with women for hire in Berlin hotels) and man-about-town in Europe made Georges largely a character of his own creation.
According to Zolotow’s biography of Wilder, Kurt Frings somehow obtained a copy of the screenplay and was incensed at the way he was portrayed in such an entirely different and unflattering light. Frings complained to Wilder and told Hornblow he would sue but dropped his claim when, ironically in view of the film’s themes, Hornblow threatened not only to have him arrested for stealing the script but also deported. Frings eventually became a Hollywood agent, representing de Havilland, Elizabeth Taylor, and such Wilder stars as Audrey Hepburn and Hildegarde Knef (I was represented briefly as a screenwriter in the early 1970s by the Kurt Frings Agency but never met him). Ketti Frings’s screenwriting credits after Hold Back the Dawn included The Accused (1949) and Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), and she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for her stage adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel.
Brackett and Wilder smarted over Kurt Frings’s objections and believed they had turned the story into something new, which was mostly accurate, since they had created the all-important conflict between the natures of the two central characters. They managed to get their credit changed from “Screenplay by” to “Written by,” the Writers Guild code for an original screenplay, while Ketti Frings received the story credit. Before shooting began, concerns also were raised by the Mexican government about the depiction of that country, which Paramount assuaged partly by casting Eva Puig, the widow of a former Mexican secretary of state, as the hotel maid, a part that had been assigned to an American; Lupita finds a German refugee named Wechsler hanging from the ceiling in the room that Georges, in a black-comic touch, manages to claim as his own. A comical Mexican garage mechanic was changed to a Russian, another refugee (a hilarious performance by Mikhail Rasumny). The town and hotel were depicted as less shabby than they had been envisioned in the script.
Wilder was not happy with all these pressures being exerted on the production. But it does not hurt the film that Mexico was treated with greater respect than usual in Hollywood films of that era. The country is praised by two of the refugees during a toast to the American Independence Day for giving them a safe harbor, and a Mexican priest tells the newly married couple, “God bless you, good neighbors,” a reference to the Roosevelt administration’s Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America. A religious festival to bless brides and bridegrooms in another small Mexican town becomes a turning point in the story, beautifully filmed with genuine warmth and reverence as the symbolic “wedding ceremony” between the uncomfortable Georges and the radiant Emmy following their perfunctory civil ceremony. Their Mexican honeymoon, although troubling because his guilt over conning her is becoming more acute as he gets to know her and see life through her eyes, helps bring him around to regarding his bride in a genuinely romantic light, abandoning his former mendacity.
His narration is our window into the inner life he conceals with his elaborate Wilderian masquerade. Narration is a device Wilder often uses to convey the inner feelings of his duplicitous, role-playing characters. The eleven tips for screenwriters Wilder gave to Cameron Crowe for their interview book included, “In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.” Sometimes Wilder’s narration substitutes for on-screen dialogue to provide an attitude toward a scene or situation. As Emmy drives Georges back from the honeymoon, he confides to us in voice-over, “She kept talking about the United States, about Boulder Dam and how her brother went to school with a very famous man by the name of Joe DiMaggio and what the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] is and what the word ‘swell’ means. That’s exactly what she was – swell.”
The contest between cynicism and romanticism, between money and love, that dominates much of Wilder’s work is clearly, almost allegorically dramatized in the relationship between these two characters. Georges is the epitome of a jaded European cynic, a continental lover who has made his living by duping rich women (a mother and daughter are said to have tried to gas themselves as a result, among the many attempted suicides or actual suicides in Wilder films). After an American consular official tells Georges that the small Rumanian quota will force him to wait up to eight years for a visa, he heeds Anita’s suggestion to go back to his old tricks and follow her callous example by marrying and quickly dumping a gullible American. He cruelly preys on Emmy only after striking out with another American woman he approaches with suave professionalism during the holiday festivities but learns she is already married. Emmy is in town for a field trip with a bunch of bratty schoolboys in a school station wagon. She and Georges “meet-cute” when one of the boys throws firecrackers at him and he angrily rebuffs her attempt to apologize. Then he pulls a dirty trick when the station wagon breaks down and he deliberately makes an engine part disappear so he will have time to put the moves on her. It’s a ploy Wilder will reuse in Kiss Me, Stupid when Barney’s garage mechanic/wannabe songwriter disables Dino’s car to trap him overnight in the miserable Nevada desert town so he and his writing partner can peddle their wares.
Wilder characteristically takes the risk with Georges of creating a contemptible cad and daring the audience to care about him. Leisen said, “I did not want to create any sympathy for the heel in the beginning. . . . I didn’t intend to make him sympathetic until the very end when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, when she’s had the [quasi-suicidal car] accident and he jumps the border to get to her. He goes to the hospital and gives her the will to live. Then you realize this man is really in love with the woman.” But we do feel some empathy with Georges along the way, partly because of his nearly hopeless situation in immigration limbo but mostly because Emmy gradually recognizes and brings out his better nature, which we realize he has long repressed because of the squalid circumstances of his career as a gigolo in Europe. By surrounding Georges with émigré characters who have fled intolerable conditions, Wilder and Brackett convey something of the perilous world situation they endure, although Georges unsentimentally admits he fled because he was embroiled in a scandal. The most powerful motivating factor in his relationship with Emmy is her natural goodness and sincerity, a quality that could have become cloying in a movie romance under other hands but de Havilland makes convincing and appealing, as she had done with her celebrated performance two years earlier as the generous, strong-willed Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.
“Anyone who knows me knows the cynicism hides my sentimentality,” Wilder “said slowly” to a Los Angeles Times interviewer in 1986. He told the interviewer while discussing the autobiographical elements of his films, “Isn’t it pieces of yourself, of your life, that you inevitably use? You suck art out of your finger in a way.” The interviewer mentioned the gigolo in Hold Back the Dawn, and Wilder said, “Or let’s take Sunset Blvd. Maybe you believe it when William Holden’s car is repossessed. Because, yes, it happened to me, it happened here in Hollywood, and it happened to work in that movie.”
Emmy’s equivalent in Sunset Blvd. is Nancy Olson’s wholesome story editor, Betty Schaefer. Such female characters are not uncommon in Wilder, who writes them with conviction, although they are seldom discussed or admired by critics, who tend to consider cynical behavior more honest, not realizing (as the saying goes) that “The wicked forget the good can be wise.” When de Havilland was asked why she relished the challenge of portraying “good girls” in films, she replied, “I think they’re more challenging. Because the general concept is that if you’re good, you aren’t interesting. And that concept annoys me, frankly. They have the same point of view about girls who are plain. They think that somebody who’s intellectual is sexless. Ha. Ha.” To borrow what Molly Haskell wrote about Melanie, Emmy Brown has “a moral majesty,” and her “utter sincerity was part of her fineness. She captures the inner security of a perfectly loving woman.”
With what Georges sneeringly calls “her hungry heart” that led her into his “trap,” Emmy ingenuously believes the smooth patter he is peddling about being “perhaps the loneliest man” in the world. His shameless tale full of self-pity nevertheless awakens her loving nature and causes the overly trusting young woman to marry him within a few hours of their meeting. That development might have seemed hard to believe, but the writing, direction, and de Havilland’s sensitive acting helps convince us that this guileless woman would fall for such a corrupt man. We see closer and closer shots of Emmy, with pauses and hesitations as she studies Georges’s face, revealing her evolving emotions and letting down her guard.
A character perceptively observes of James Stewart’s naive senator in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, “This boy’s honest, not stupid.” Emmy has the wholesomeness of a Capra heroine; Capra wanted her to star with Stewart in You Can’t Take It With You and It’s a Wonderful Life. Emmy is not stupid but unsophisticated – a quality once regarded as a virtue, when “sophisticated” meant devious or deceptive. She has led a sheltered, repressed life, following the patterns laid down for her in small-town America and her school board. She has yearnings for something better; that’s why she’s saving her money for postgraduate education at a teachers’ college and resists an engagement proposal from her kind but dull principal (Charles Arnt). Georges craftily senses the loneliness this radiant young woman must feel; de Havilland’s natural beauty and simple but elegant white dress match her emotional forthrightness when she gives herself to Georges. While Emmy sleeps fitfully in the hotel lobby the night they meet, he tells us, “Her heart was beating fast, and her neat, tidy senses were all thrown out of gear.” Her initially shy nature is a sign of insecurity and sexual inexperience and a lack of the kind of cunning Georges uses to seduce her. But while he liberates her dormant romantic passions and sensuality, especially on their honeymoon, during which he feigns an injury to avoid taking sexual advantage of her, his feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing, a condition shared by many Wilder protagonists, become more acute.
As Hold Back the Dawn progresses, Georges loses his glib, devilish charm and becomes more solemn while Emmy becomes increasingly exuberant, making plans for their future life. The religious overtones that sometimes peek through in Wilder’s world are not mocked; the film’s title appears over a painting of the Mexican church where their “wedding” ceremony will take place, and the ritual makes Georges aware of the sacrilegious nature of his act, the enormity of the harm he is planning to do to the woman he has emotionally as well as financially defrauded. He uses the pickup line that seeing her is “like a sudden breeze on a stifling day” but later admits more honestly in his narration that kissing her is “like kissing fresh snow.” Her sincerity is what moves and disturbs him and rouses his dormant conscience.
Emmy’s girlish gaiety and enthusiasm for America are expressions of Wilder at his most optimistic, his heartfelt way of expressing gratitude for being accepted by his adopted country in a time of world crisis. During the Mexican celebration, Emmy tells Georges that her mother was “foolish” for suggesting they Americanize their last name: “This is America – for the Rockefellers and the Joneses, for the McGonigles and the Frankfurters, for the Jeffersons and the Slovinskis. You see, it’s – it’s like a, like a lake, clear and fresh, and it’ll never be stagnant while new streams are flowing in.” Georges retorts, “Well, your people are building pretty high dams to stop those streams.” She says, “Just to keep out the scum, Georges, don’t you see?” That word suddenly reveals a streak of prejudice, a limitation in her provincial background. But it stings for more than one reason. Georges reacts in closeup with a stricken expression, because he knows that’s what he is. He eventually decides “not to behave like a swine for once in my life.”
When the truth is revealed about his deceit, Emmy proves “tougher than we thought,” as her doctor says near the end of the film. She has the strength of character – “that inner fiber of steel,” as Robert Mitchum said of Lillian Gish – that de Havilland also finds in Melanie and other characters. It’s ironic that one sign of Emmy’s goodness is that she is willing to lie – and to the U.S. government – on behalf of Georges, even after she learns what he has done to her. When Anita harshly exposes the truth, Emmy refuses to betray the man she loves or prevent him from entering the country, declaring in a double-edged line, “I learned life from a schoolbook, remember?” She pretends to Hammock that Georges told her all about his past and that she asked him to marry her. “It’s a fine marriage,” she tells the flabbergasted immigration inspector. After he departs, she tells Georges that when she first met him, “I shouldn’t have been so vain. I should have looked at your face more clearly.” She puts on her glasses for the first time in the film, says goodbye, and walks out, leaving her wedding ring behind.
Earlier Georges, while trying to con her with his self-pity, spoke a form of hidden truth she had no way of understanding, because of his deceptive behavior. Echoing the escaped criminal Jeannette (Danielle Darrieux) near the end of Mauvaise graine, who says “I am dead,” he says, “I am dead, you see. I’ve asked myself thousands of times why they shouldn’t bury me, why I should go on breathing and talking and walking. I was dead.” This recurring theme of the protagonist as a “living deadman” or a “dead man walking,” a key to Wilder’s work, is interpreted by film scholar Nancy Steffen-Fluhr as centered covertly around his feelings of helplessness as a Jew and an exile, with “the vulnerability, the immense personal pain” carefully hidden behind his facade as a jokester and entertainer. Although Steffen-Fluhr’s superb 2011 essay on Wilder, “Palimpsest: The Double Vision of Exile,” barely mentions Hold Back the Dawn because Wilder did not direct it, it exemplifies as much as any of his films what she identifies as the “blocking of intimacy. . . . All Wilder protagonists struggle with this conundrum, especially in the films he made from 1943 to 1951, when his survival as a director was contingent on his ability to mask his identity, keeping his fists in his pockets.”
Steffen-Fluhr connects Wilder’s obsession with living death as reflections of his hidden anguish over the Holocaust, his inability to rescue an elderly Jewish man being beaten to death by Nazi thugs in 1933 and his survivor’s guilt stemming from his abandonment of his mother when he went to Vienna in 1935 and tried to save her to no avail. Wilder’s lifelong feeling of being a Jewish outsider and exile in various societies made him akin to the Wandering Jew of folklore, and he explores in his films the trauma caused by those feelings of helplessness, rage, and alienation. So it is no coincidence that the theme emerged most strongly during the war and its immediate aftermath. Wilder’s protagonists must deal with that guilt and either overcome it (usually through love) or let its consequences devour them; we see the theme over and over in such characters as Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend, Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., and Chuck Tatum in Ace in the Hole. Being “the living deadman” is a terminal form of the masquerade, stemming from the need of the exile and the Jew to deal with the threat of oblivion through adaptation and/or disguise.
In this sense, Hold Back the Dawn, so nakedly autobiographical but not recognized as such because a screenwriter in Hollywood is a covert operative perennially unrecognized as an author by the industry and critics, serves as the template for much of Wilder’s later work as a director. It is significant that what he regarded as the mutilation of his screenplay by Leisen and Boyer is what drove him to become a director, to overcome the helplessness he felt as a screenwriter lacking the power to protect his work. That traumatic experience was also Wilder’s rebirth as a creative artist.
Georges is reborn as a man and as an American through Emmy’s love and goodness; it is paradoxical that her goodness perversely attracts a form of evil yet is powerful enough to surmount and transform it. There is suggestive use of crosscutting in the climactic scenes between Anita telling Emmy the truth about Georges and the pregnant Berta Kurz (Rosemary DeCamp), a refugee in the Hotel Esperanza from Wilder’s home country (Austria), desperately sneaking across the border to give birth on American soil. She has her baby behind a Lubitschean closed door in the U.S. Customs and Immigration station – itself an ambiguous symbol of closed and open doors to America. This episode is drawn from Frings’s novel, but the film greatly intensifies the passionate feelings the waiting immigrants have toward America as a repository of their hopes and dreams of freedom, a reflection of Wilder’s own deeply felt convictions about his adopted country. When I interviewed Katharine Hepburn about Capra, an Italian immigrant for whom she worked in State of the Union, she observed, “I think they know more about what this country means than those of us who were born here and criticize it. Those of us who were born here, we take it for granted.” But to borrow what she said of Capra, Wilder had a different attitude: “Pleased to be here.”
Anita’s revelation of Georges’s true nature as a con man could have caused his moral “death” but instead leads to his moral rebirth by making him abandon his old flame and all she represents and throw himself on Emmy’s mercy. With the crosscutting, the baby being born as an American citizen – Washington Roosevelt Kurz, whose appearance is heralded on the soundtrack by “California, Here I Come” – is symbolically linked with Georges’s rebirth as a future citizen of the land of freedom.
“La Marseillaise” is also played at the end of Hold Back the Dawn, when a French barber (Curt Bois) returns in triumph to Mexico, having become an American citizen since he is a relative of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been awarded the status of a “natural born” American citizen for his service to the United States during the Revolutionary War. This patriotic finale, while adding a bit of humor, avoids what in a clichéd film would have been a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”; but Wilder tends to avoids jingoistic flag-waving (except in Arise, My Love and his 1943 war film Five Graves to Cairo). The French national anthem and the parade for the barber instead underscore the cosmopolitan nature of the film’s themes and the long kinship between France and the United States, then in jeopardy due to the recent fall of France. The ending of this September 1941 release reminds the still-isolationist audience of what U.S. Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton declared during a ceremony at Lafayette’s tomb in Paris in 1917, during World War I: “Lafayette, nous voilà”/“Lafayette, we are here.”
After Georges has broken through the border in a car, pursued by police, and drives through the night to Emmy’s hospital bed in Los Angeles, she also returns from near-death, through his willing her to live (the film even gave him a strange premonition of her auto accident, as it ventured into the realm of mysticism and magic). Finally, through the benevolence of the immigration inspector, Emmy is seen waving Georges’s entry papers from the American side of the border, with an American flag flying next to her. From an overhead angle, he is seen pushing toward her through a crowd going in the opposite direction. We can imagine their final clinch, which the film has the discretion not to show (that scene was shot, but Leisen and Hornblow convinced Paramount not to use it), and leaves us with the image of Georges still heading toward the border of his new country, suggesting that, like Wilder, he is a man ever in transit. Georges has wryly told the inspector he is advertising his availability as a “slightly reformed character, eager for some decent work – any place on the globe that will have him.”
Although Wilder was working with a group of collaborators at the peak of their powers, he clearly was the dominant creative force on this exceptionally personal film. The experience of working with Lubitsch on Ninotchka, vaulting him into the top ranks of Hollywood writers, seems to have galvanized Wilder’s talents and given him the confidence to write such a soul-baring screenplay. Perhaps one reason he came to disdain Hold Back the Dawn, largely irrationally, is that it exposes so much about himself. It is unusual in his work to foreground his life and feelings this nakedly, rather than behind a hard-boiled veneer and through the stream of subtextual signs and references Steffen-Fluhr identifies as his way of conveying his most troubled obsessions via the careful misdirection of his “double vision.” She calls Ace in the Hole Wilder’s most personal film; it is a profoundly felt Holocaust allegory with Kirk Douglas as its “walking deadman” protagonist, a venal reporter who keeps a man trapped in a cave for the sake of a scoop. It is by far Wilder’s darkest film, the one that alienated the American audience as much as any he ever made, but it is more covertly personal than Hold Back the Dawn. Overtly personal works are usually discouraged in Hollywood, but that film draws from a world situation of such urgency that Wilder’s own experiences with immigration could be grafted seamlessly onto the original material and mined by Paramount under the protective coloration of romantic entertainment, however deeply the love story conveys Wilder’s underlying obsessions.
The intensity of his anger over the removal of a key scene from his and Brackett’s screenplay, and the resulting major change in his life and career, can be understood as a reflection of how crucial the script was in directly reflecting what Steffen-Fluhr calls his “immense personal pain.” The clash with Leisen and Boyer came over a scene early in the script showing the despondent Georges in his Mexican hotel room. Previously we had seen Georges enter the town jauntily swinging his cane; a cane was an implement Wilder liked to wield while writing (canes and other forms of sticks are identified by Steffen-Fluhr as the symbolic weapons Wilder used to overcome his feelings of helplessness). The undisguised allegorical scene that went unfilmed helps express the Kafkaesque nature of Georges’s situation:
Interior. Iscovescu’s Room. Iscovescu is pacing the floor restlessly, cane in hand. As he passes the washstand, his eyes fall on something. He stops. A cockroach is crawling down the wall on its way to a haven behind the blotchy mirror. Iscovescu raises his stick.
ISCOVESCU (to the cockroach): Where do you think you are going?! You’re not a citizen, are you? Where’s your quota number?!
He smashes the cockroach with his stick.
Wilder often told the story of what happened when he learned that the scene would not be in the picture (instead we see Boyer lying in his bed, wagging his cane nervously up and down, and hear him tell us that his nerves are “in such a state by now that hook in the ceiling seemed to be beckoning”). Paramount did not encourage writers to visit sets while their films were in production, but Wilder managed to get onto the set in anticipation of watching the cockroach scene being filmed. When he found it had been cut, he charged over to Lucey’s restaurant on Melrose Avenue next to the studio, his and Brackett’s regular luncheon haven, and confronted Boyer, who was wearing his seedy costume. As Wilder remembered it, the actor explained:
“I could not speak such lines – to this – this cockroach. One does not talk to cockroaches. One does not ask a cockroach for his passport. You wish me to look stupide?”
When Wilder tried to explain why the scene was important, Boyer said, “I do not wish to have these discussions while I am at the table. Go away, Mr. Wilder. You disturb me.”
That evidently was a bit rewritten in Wilder’s memory, for Brackett’s diary reports the incident somewhat differently. It happened on March 6, 1941, the same day they became enraged to learn that Ketti Frings was getting a story credit. They were working at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio on their next project, Ball of Fire. When the team lunched back at Lucey’s, Wilder saw Boyer eating in his shabby attire and asked what scene they were shooting, “The cockroach scene?” Boyer replied, “I don’t like cockroaches. We are not doing the cockroach scene.” To which Wilder replied, “It’s in the script, isn’t it?” The writers then declared to Leisen, “No cockroach scene, no end of the picture, and not just a casual cockroach scene, a well done one.” Leisen “fumed” and insisted, “I don’t think it’s such a charming scene.” The writers “yelled” back, “It’s not supposed to be charming. You’ve shot the charming scene . . . this is a lump of black in contrast to that.”
Brackett writes that it was the next day they learned the cockroach scene had not been filmed despite their complaint, and they “started to raise more woe.” Wilder’s account picks up back in the office at Goldwyn after the incident at Lucey’s while he exploded to Brackett, whacking the furniture with his cane: “I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him. I’ll beat out his brains. No, he has no brains. He is an actor. I’ve got a better idea, Charlie. If that bastard ain’t talking to cockroaches, he ain’t talking to nobody. Let us give the rest of the picture to Olivia de Havilland.”
It might seem that refusing to let Boyer say much in the third act would be a self-sabotaging act that would hurt the story, but Brackett and Wilder cunningly work his muteness into the characterization. Georges loses his glibness as guilt and fondness for Emmy take over his personality. When Anita, after trying to destroy the marriage, demands, “What’s the matter, Georges, why are you so quiet?,” he simply walks out without a word. Sometimes omitting dialogue is more eloquent than anything a character can say. To Emmy after she lies to save him, Georges says, “I’ve always been full of words – you know, big ones, fancy ones. Just one more – thanks.” Despite what Wilder thought of Boyer, he gives a complex performance as the saturnine, self-lacerating Georges, whose darkness and despondency are as believable as his gradual transformation into a mensch. From a conventional Hollywood point of view, it is easy to see why Boyer would not want to play the scene identifying himself with a cockroach, even if he was willing to play a character entertaining thoughts of suicide. Perhaps, like Leisen, he found the cockroach scene uncomfortable because it was so atypical for a Hollywood film in its blatant and indeed disgusting symbolism, an anguished cry from Wilder’s wounded heart.
In Chierichetti’s oral history, Leisen offers no comment on the excision of the cockroach scene. But Wilder’s anger over it and their other battles over scripts was so acute that he succumbed to homophobia in ranting to Zolotow about how the director “fucked up” their scripts:
Leisen was too goddam fey. I don’t knock fairies. Let him be a fairy. Leisen’s problem was that he was a stupid fairy. He didn’t have the brains to see that if Charlie and me, if we put in a line, we had a goddam reason for putting in that line and not a different line, and you don’t just go out and cut a line or a piece of action to please some actress, at least without putting another line or action in its place. I ask you, is that so difficult to understand? . . . Leisen wasn’t the only director who didn’t know what a script was. He was more arrogant and more ignorant than the average.
Wilder’s “terrifying neurosis that everything isn’t crystal clear to the audience” (as noted by Brackett) exists in parallel with the many symbolic elements Wilder brought to his films (with his lack of sympathy for Wilder personally, as his diaries reveal, Brackett may not have fully understood that), but usually those elements are more disguised than the killing of the cockroach. Wilder tends to hide his symbols or temper them with humor, but in this case the meaning is so obvious, and spelled out in the dialogue to boot, that virtually every spectator would have understood the connection between Georges and the cockroach. There is humor in the scene, but it is very black comedy, a form that much of the 1941 audience would have found unfamiliar (among the reasons some reacted the following year against Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be).
Wilder could not bear the loss of this scene because the subject matter of exile, exclusion, and immigration was too urgent for him as an exiled Jew in the early days of the war, and Georges’s bitterness and reformation were too close to his heart and personal story. The imagery of the cockroach symbolizing the man without a country carries deeper, covert meanings as well, ones that many viewers would not have understood, the kind that give Wilder’s films their double layers. The cockroach evokes not only the 1915 novella Metamorphosis by his fellow Jewish writer Franz Kafka but also the Nazi propaganda equating Jews with vermin. The unusually raw feelings expressed in Hold Back the Dawn may have been so painful for Wilder to deal with that he could never react to the film without strong, even irrational emotion, not only to the loss of this cherished scene but even to the film’s considerable strengths.
The cure he found for his helplessness as a screenwriter was to control his own work as a director, to put the stick symbolically back into his hand. “I made myself rather unpopular at Paramount,” he recalled, “because I would come on the set and they would chase me off. I was known as The Terror. They would say, ‘Keep Wilder away from us, he’s always raising hell, he wants everything done his way.’”
When Wilder managed to start directing his own scripts in Hollywood in 1942, he and Brackett found another devious way to take revenge on Boyer. In The Major and the Minor, they had a scene in New York’s Grand Central Station with Ginger Rogers buying her train ticket. The decor includes a magazine rack. On it is a movie fan magazine. A young girl asks her mother to buy it so she can read an article entitled “Why I Hate Women: By Charles Boyer.”
* * *
NOTES ON SOURCES
Billie Wilder’s forced departure in 1933-34 from Germany to U.S. via Paris on Austrian passport: Hellmuth Karasek, Billy Wilder: Eine Nahaufnahme/Billy Wilder: A Closeup (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1992); Maurice Zolotow, Billy Wilder in Hollywood (New York: Putnam, 1977); Wilder departure on Aquitania for U.S. on January 22, 1934. Wilder sale of “Pam-Pam” treatment to Columbia and Joe May: Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder (New York: Hyperion, 1998); Karasek; Max Kolpé turned it into a 1937 stage musical: Andreas Hutter and Klaus Kamolz. Billie Wilder: Eine europäische Karriere/Billie Wilder: A European Career (Vienna, Cologne, and Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 1998). Wilder travel to U.S. in January 1934: Karasek; Sikov. Wilder having to leave Los Angeles for Mexico and living in hotel in Calexico: various biographies. U.S. immigration laws in that period: various sources, including Donna Rifkind, The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood (New York: Other Press, 2020).
Wilder acceptance speech for Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, April 11, 1988: YouTube. Willys A. Myers: Karasek writes that Wilder was told the name of the American consulate official was Meyer, but his name was listed as Willys A. Myers in “Index to Politicians,” Political Graveyard.com; he was U.S. vice consul in Veracruz, 1924-29, and Mexicali, 1932-38; amateur magician: his collection of material about magic, 1900-60, at UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, OAC: Online Archive of California, www.oac.cdlib.org; photograph from the Photographic Register, The American Foreign Service, in The American Foreign Service Journal, November 1936.
Charles Brackett, ed. Anthony Slide, “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age (diaries from 1932-1949) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). “Brackettandwilder” term; comments on Wilder-Brackett working relationship: Lincoln Barnett, “The Happiest Couple in Hollywood,” December 11, 1944, reprinted in Robert Horton, Robert, ed. Billy Wilder: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002). Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, “Palimpsest: The Double Vision of Exile” in Karen McNally, ed., Billy Wilder, Movie-Maker: Critical Essays on the Films (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011).
Mitchell Leisen on Wilder: David Chierichetti, Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director (Los Angeles: Photoventures Press, 1995, revised from original publication as Hollywood Director [New York: Curtis Books, 1973]). BW on Leisen: Zolotow; Wilder, “All of that is gone”: Joseph McBride and Todd McCarthy, “Going for Extra Innings: Billy Wilder Interviewed,” Film Comment, January-February 1979, reprinted in Horton and McBride, Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies (Berkeley: Hightower Press, 2018). Ketti Frings novelization, Hold Back the Dawn (New York: Triangle, 1941, copyrighted 1940); her film treatment, “Memo to a Movie Producer,” and involvement with Kurt Frings: Brackett diaries, March 6, 1941; AFI Catalog, aficatalog.afi.com.
Pressures put on Hold Back the Dawn production by Kurt Frings and Mexican government, and Wilder and Brackett changing credit to “Written by”: Zolotow. Wilder on narration: “Wilder’s Tips for Writers” in Cameron Crowe, Conversations with Wilder (New York: Knopf, 1999). Leisen on film Hold Back the Dawn: Chierichetti, which also notes ending clinch was filmed but not used. Molly Haskell, Melanie’s “moral majesty” in Gone With the Wind: Frankly, My Dear: “Gone With the Wind” Revisited (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Katharine Hepburn on immigrants: McBride, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), which also reports on Capra wanting de Havilland for You Can’t Take It With You, Meet John Doe, and It’s a Wonderful Life. U.S. Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton, “Lafayette”: John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (New York: Stokes, 1931). Wilder’s desire to direct in Hollywood prompted by experiences with Leisen and cockroach excerpt from script of Hold Back the Dawn: Sikov. Wilder, “I’ll kill him”: Zolotow, and details of story from Zolotow and Brackett diaries, March 6 and 7, 1941; Brackett on seeing rough cut with Wilder: May 14, 1941. Wilder as “The Terror”: quoted in Jeffrey Lane and Douglas Borton, eds., Billy Wilder, AFI Life Achievement Award program book, Los Angeles, American Film Institute, 1986. Brackett on Wilder’s “terrifying neurosis”: diaries, March 21, 1941.
Carrie Fisher on Hold Back the Dawn: “Guilty Pleasures,” Film Comment, November-December 2011. “Ketti Frings, Stage and Film Writer” (obituary), New York Times, February 13, 1981; Wikipedia entry on Kurt Frings. De Havilland on playing character who is good: Anita Gates, “The Good Girl Gets the Last Word,” New York Times, November 7, 2004. Wilder, “Anyone who knows me”: Paul Rosenfield, “Billy Wilder’s 50-Year Itch in Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986.