I’ll Be Seeing You: Cukor Directs Shirley Temple

While George Cukor was shooting Winged Victory, producer David O. Selznick asked for his help.  He was not pleased with the work of director William Dieterle on I’ll Be Seeing You, an overblown production in which Ginger Rogers played a convict who, at home on parole, falls in love with a disturbed soldier (played by Joseph Cotten).

Reviewing the rough-cut of I’ll Be Seeing You, after the production disbanded, Zanuck too was dissatisfied, especially with the last sobbing scene between Rogers and Shirley Temple. Cukor was brought to direct a replacement scene, one which Selznick wrote, featuring Temple’s full-face instead of Rogers. But Rogers had prevailed on Dieterle to eliminate some of Temple’s dialogue and extend her full-face close-up.

Kneeling at bedside for the replacement shot, Temple began to blurt her sad emotional confession of how she tattled to her boyfriend that Rogers was a convict. But suddenly Cukor shouted, “Where did you learn this business!” and without waiting for an answer, he added, “That’s awful!” Removing his horn-rimmed glasses, and letting both arms hang limp, he stared helplessly at the door.

It was the first time a director had “openly declared me a dunce,” Temple observed, and that it came from someone of Cukor’s stature was even more humiliating. “Look,” Temple said, “all you want is a good cry. Give me five minutes and you’ll get a good cry.” “Cry, nothing,” Cukor retorted, “I want emotion, not tears.” At this point, there was complete silence on the set.

The next try resulted in another Cukor explosion of dismay. “Unnerved by his violent reaction,” Temple recalled, “whatever capacity I had for emotional versatility simply vanished.” Angered by his bullying direction and frustrated by her failure to please, Temple’s lines came out with increasingly hysterical inflection. By the twelfth take, both Cukor and the actress were exhausted. To Temple’s surprise, Cukor put his arm around her affectionately and told her he finally got what he wanted. Never mind all those earlier harsh comments; that was only his style. “Harangue and insult the woman,” she observed, “that was his way of getting results.”

Still, never before had Temple been bullied into an emotional reaction, let alone deliver a better performance because of it. With each successive verbal buffeting, the actress felt she produced a less convincing result. To this day, Temple believes that Cukor picked her worst rendition. Critics, however, sided with the director. Applauding her final scene, Elsa Maxwell described it as “a remarkable metamorphosis of a performer, who, frankly, used to bore me with her glibness.”