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Charles Davies Lederer (December 31, 1910 – March 5, 1976) was an American screenwriter and film director. He was born into a prominent theatrical family in New York, and after his parents divorced, was raised in California by his aunt, Marion Davies, actress and mistress to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. A child prodigy, he entered the University of California, Berkeley at age 13, but dropped out after a few years to work as a journalist with Hearst's newspapers. Lederer is recognized for his comic and acerbic adaptations and collaborative screenplays of the 1940s and early 1950s. His screenplays frequently delved into the corrosive influences of wealth and power. His comedy writing was considered among the best of the period, and he, along with writer friends Ben Hecht and Herman Mankiewicz, became major contributors to the film genre known as "screwball comedy". Among his notable screenplays which he wrote or co-wrote, were The Front Page (1931), the critically acclaimed His Girl Friday (1940), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Ocean's 11 (1960), and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).
In Steven Bach’s biography of Moss Hart, Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart (2001), the author revealed that throughout his marriage Hart was a closeted bisexual. He had a physical relationships with literary agent Lester Sweyd, MGM screenwriter Charles Lederer and many of the homosexuals mentioned in Hart’s autobiography. In a 1939 letter written by Hart to Dore Schary (later president of MGM Studios), he wrote the words, “We shall once again lay in each other’s arms and taste the sweetness of sin – I love you very much.” After his death his wife sealed Hart’s diaries and prevented access to materials that contained evidence of his sexuality. Nevertheless, Hart’s name cropped up on lists of bisexuals by Yamaguchi Fletcher, Adrien Saks and others.
Although George Oppenheimer enjoyed the film colony at first, he found it "inbred and insular, small town and small-minded." He attended practically every party to which he was invited, but never felt at home among Hollywood types, preferring to spend time with fellow writer Charlie Lederer and his aunt Marion Davies, who was regularly surrounded by gay men.
Charles Davies Lederer was born in New York City to two prominent figures in the American theater, Broadway producer George Lederer and singer Reine Davies. Lederer's father, George Lederer, produced her first film, Runaway Romany. Hearst, who at that time had not known Davies, saw the film and offered Davies a one-year acting contract, leading to their future relationship and further roles for Davies.:258
After his parents were separated, Lederer and his older sister Pepi Lederer moved to California and were raised by his mother's sister, actress Marion Davies. He grew up in Hollywood, spending much time at San Simeon, the "enchanted castle on the hill", where his aunt reigned as publisher William Randolph Hearst's mistress. He was a child prodigy and was admitted to UC Berkeley at the age of 13, but dropped out a few years later to work as a journalist for Hearst's newspapers. According to biographer William MacAdams, "Hollywood was home to Lederer, where for most people it was a place they moved to in order to work for the movies. Virtually none of the film community had grown up in Los Angeles, but Lederer had been brought there when he was 11 by Marion Davies, his mother's sister... Lederer thus knew the movie colony inside out as seen from the top and wasn’t impressed ..." :146
In July 1928, Davies and Hearst left on a summer vacation to Europe. Among those invited who joined them, at Hearst's expense, were Lederer and his sister Pepi.:399 During another summer trip to Europe in 1934, Hearst and Davies considered having Lederer write a scenario for a movie project called Movie Queen, a proposed film and vehicle for Davies that had been discussed in Hollywood.:305 Hearst also asked Lederer to help rewrite the script for another Davies film, Hearts Divided (1936), which he did without credit.:411
When he was 19, Lederer became friends with Ben Hecht, who introduced him to the New York literati. His friendship with Hecht led to his being hired to write additional dialogue for the film The Front Page. He later moved back to Hollywood to become a full-time screenwriter. Lederer is recognized for his acerbic wit, with adaptations and collaborative screenplays written mostly during the 1940s and early 1950s. His screenplays frequently delved into the corrosive influences of wealth and power. His comedy writing was also among the best of the period, and he, along with Hecht and Herman Mankiewicz became major contributors to the film genre known as "screwball comedy". He was friends with screenwriters Joseph and Herman Mankiewicz. Herman would later become co-screenwriter of Citizen Kane. After becoming friends with Lederer, "Herman told Joe to come to the office of their mutual friend Charlie Lederer ... ":144 Herman, who met Hearst as a result of his friendship with Lederer, later "saw Hearst as ‘a finagling, calculating, Machiavellian figure.’ But also, with Charlie Lederer, ... wrote and had printed parodies of Hearst newspapers ...":212–213 As explained by The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, "Mankiewicz found himself on story-swapping terms with the power behind it all, Hearst himself. When he had been in Hollywood only a short time, he met Marion Davies and Hearst through his friendship with Charles Lederer, a writer, then in his early twenties, whom Ben Hecht had met and greatly admired in New York when Lederer was still in his teens. Lederer, a child prodigy, who had entered college at thirteen, got to know Mankiewicz ... Lederer was Marion Davies’s nephew – the son of her sister Reine ... Marion was childless, and Lederer was very close to her; he spent a great deal of his time at her various dwelling places, and took his friends to meet both her and Hearst.” :254–255 After finishing the script for Citizen Kane, Mankiewicz gave a copy to Lederer, which Kael explains was foolish: He was so proud of his script that he lent a copy to Charles Lederer. In some crazily naive way, Mankiewicz seems to have imagined that Lederer would be pleased by how good it was. But Lederer, apparently, was deeply upset and took the script to his aunt and Hearst. It went from them to Hearst's lawyers. . . . It was probably as a result of Mankiewicz's idiotic indiscretion that the various forces were set in motion that resulted in the cancellation of the premiere at the Radio City Music Hall [and] the commercial failure of Citizen Kane. Lederer, however, told director Peter Bogdanovich that Kael was totally incorrect in this matter, and "she never bothered to check with him." He did not, in fact, ever give the script to Davies. Lederer explains: I gave it back to him. He asked me if I thought Marion would be offended and I said I didn't think so. The script I read didn't have any flavor of Marion and Hearst—Robert McCormick was the man it was about.:xxv According to Hecht biographer, William MacAdams, "When Hecht began looking around for a new collaborator ... he thought of Charlie Lederer, whom he had met on one of his first trips to Los Angeles....In a letter to screenwriter Gene Fowler, Hecht called Lederer "a very tender soul....[who] captivated the New York literati just as the other Charlie (MacArthur) had a few years earlier.":145
His friendship with Hecht led to his being hired in 1931, when he was 20, to write additional dialogue for the film version of the 1928 play The Front Page. The film would be nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 1933, he made contributions to Hecht's screenplay for Topaze, along with many others, without being credited. From 1940 to 1943 Lederer worked at MGM where he wrote a series of light comedies, usually centering on mismatched couples. Comrade X (1940), written in collaboration with Ben Hecht and directed by King Vidor is the story an American in Russia (Clark Gable) who falls in love with a streetcar conductor (Hedy Lamarr). In 1942 he directed his first film, Fingers at the Window, although he did not write the screenplay.
During his visits at Hearst's estate, Lederer befriended Charlie Chaplin, also a frequent visitor, and got a small role in his 1931 film, City Lights. The scene was cut from the final film, however, and the seven-minute clip was first publicly shown in the 1983 documentary Unknown Chaplin.
Lederer married Virginia Nicolson Welles, ex-wife of Orson Welles, May 18, 1940, in Phoenix, Arizona. Lederer, at the time, was a "good friend" of Welles, notes Welles biographer Peter Bogdanovich:557 According to Guiles, "she married Charlie… coming back to the Lederer home on Bedford Drive [in Los Angeles] with her young daughter, Chris, Welles’ first-born child.”:306 The couple divorced in 1949. Lederer's second wife was actress Anne Shirley whom he married in 1949.
In 1950, Hearst personally asked Lederer to find him an attorney to draw up a trust agreement for his will in order to provide Davies with a lifetime income from the Hearst estate after his death.:595 Lederer remained close to Davies after Hearst's death in 1951. When Davies died in 1961 at age 64, nearly recovering from cancer treatments and deterioring health from years of heavy drinking, Lederer, along with Davies' husband and her sister, were at her bedside.:605
Lederer penned the screenplay for the classic 1951 science-fiction/horror film The Thing from Another World, directed largely by Howard Hawks but credited to Christian Nyby and co-wrote the original 1960's Ocean's 11. Lederer wrote or co-wrote screenplays (notably with Ben Hecht) for Howard Hawks's production of His Girl Friday (a remake of The Front Page), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the Lewis Milestone remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando. His Girl Friday has remained his most popular and critically acclaimed screenplay.:209 At the suggestion of the films' director, Howard Hawks, Lederer changed the sex of the lead character in the play, Hildy Johnson, from male to female. With Ben Hecht, he co-wrote the original Kiss of Death which was to feature the actor Richard Widmark's chilling debut as the psychopathic killer with a giggle. In addition, he wrote and directed the 1959 film Never Steal Anything Small, an adaptation of a play by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian, starring James Cagney. The Spirit of St. Louis was Lederer's last significant film work. The films that followed that were primarily vehicles for established stars. Lederer was valued as a Hollywood screenwriter who produced lively, acerbic adaptations and worked well in collaboration with others. He was also a member of another circle of writers on the East Coast which included Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman, Howard Dietz, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and editor Harold Ross. These writers were to become the nucleus of the Algonquin Round Table.
In 1954, he won three Tony Awards for the Broadway Musical Kismet, as Best Producer (Musical), as Best Author (Musical) with Luther Davis, and as co-author of the book which, with several collaborators, contributed to the Best Musical win.
According to Mankiewicz' biographer Richard Meryman, Lederer "isolated himself in his last years, contorted from arthritis, addicted to narcotics.":317 He died in 1976, aged sixty-five.
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