Cukor, George: Writers–Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham

Another dear friend, a member of Cukor’s British colony in Hollywood (which included Noel Coward, Vivien Leigh, and others) was noted British writer, Somerset Maugham.

Cukor and Maugham’s long-enduring friendship began in as 1923, when Cukor served as a stage manager for Maugham’s three one-act farce, The Camel’s Back on Broadway.  There is a large file of letters which they exchanged, spanning decades.  In one, dated June 15, 1946, Maugham wrote: “A rumor has reached me that you have made a new arrangement with MGM which will give you an enormous salary and, at the end of the period, a huge pension.  I cannot make out why I did not become a movie director instead of a struggling author.”

Cukor was most interested in directing Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, on the condition that he would write the screenplay.  Maugham had sold the book to Darryl Zanuck, head of Twentieth-Century Fox, for 250,000 dollars.  Zanuck commissioned a script from one of his contract writers, Lamar Trotti, which no one liked.  Cukor continued to insist that Maugham write the script, though Maugham was too expensive for Zanuck.  A telephone call from Cukor made Maugham agree to write the script for nothing.  But Zanuck did not like the idea of “gratis” work.

The following conversation took place between Cukor and the noted producer:

Zanuck: Would he like some nice cuff links?

Cukor: He’s got some nice cuff links.

Zanuck: Would he like a gold cigarette case?

Cukor: He’s got a gold cigarette case.

Zanuck: Would he like a car?

Cukor: He’s got a car.

Zanuck: Well, what the hell would he like?

Cukor: I think he’d like a picture.

Zanuck authorized $15,000 for Maugham, who was thrilled to “spend so much on a painting.”  (Maugham bought his first impressionistic painting by Pissaro).  In a typically Hollywood manner, Maugham wrote a wonderful script which was never used.  The movie was made in l946 by Edmund Goulding, based on the initial Lamar Trotti script.  This was a severe blow to both Maugham and Cukor, but it did not strain their friendship.