The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner
Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner

' The Bad and the Beautiful ' is a dramatic movie about the Hollywood movie industry. It was made in 1952, directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon and Gloria Graham.

It is a much praised film and it received six Academy Award nominations, winning five. The nomination it did not win was Best Actor for Kirk Douglas, who lost out to Gary Cooper in 'High Noon'. It won Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame), Best Screenplay (Charles Schnee), Best B/W Cinematography, Best B/W Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best B/W Costume Design. Five Oscars is still a record for the most awards for a movie that had not been nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. Gloria Graham's screen time was very short at just over 9 minutes and was at the time the shortest performance to ever win an Academy Award for acting. This has since been beaten in 1977 when Beatrice Straight set a new record of five minutes and forty seconds.

In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.


Three movie people are brought together by Hollywood studio boss, Harry Pebbel, played by Walter Pidgeon. Representing different aspects of the movie business they are movie star Georgia Lorrison, played by Lana Turner, director Fred Amiel, played by Barry Sullivan and screenwriter and author, James Lee Bartlow, played by Dick Powell. Pebbel wants to know if they will work again with producer Jonathan Shields, played by Kirk Douglas.

All three have previously been close to Shields and all have had their careers both built up and then nearly destroyed by Shields.

The movie tells in flashback the stories of the three and their relationship to Jonathan Shields. We begin to understand why all three refuse to work with him again - but do they mean it?


The movie was originally intended to be a low budget picture but when MGM realised that the script and production team were an attraction to top box office names, they quickly increased the budget and made the movie a high priority production. The film was based on a 1951 short story by George Bradshaw entitled 'Memorial to a Bad Man' which was originally about the theater, not Hollywood. MGM paid $11,500 for the rights to "Memorial to a Bad Man" and a similar Bradshaw story, "Of Good and Evil". Producer John Houseman changed the setting to Hollywood as being more glamorous and also finding parallels in the story's flashback system of narration with the most famous film on which he had worked 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.

The film's original title, in deference to Bradshaw's story, was 'Tribute to a Bad Man'. The title was later used by MGM for a James Cagney Western in 1956.


Vincente Minnelli was already famous for his spectacular musical successes 'Meet Me in St. Louis' in 1944 and 'An American In Paris' in 1951 and he was Houseman's first choice to direct the movie. 'The Bad and the Beautiful' displayed his skill in a new genre entirely. Along with comedies such as 'Father of the Bride' in 1950 and later melodramas such as 'Some Came Running' in 1958 and 'Home from the Hill' in 1960, Minnelli would earn a place as one of Hollywood's greatest directors.

The movie was the first of a three film association between Vincente Minnelli and Kirk Douglas. They would also make 'Lust for Life' in 1956 and 'Two Weeks in Another Town' in 1962.

The Jonathan Shields studio was actually MGM's own studio. The film also used location shots of the Beverly Hills Hotel and of Lake Arrowhead.


Kirk Douglas was Houseman's first choice to play Jonathan Shields although Robert Taylor, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy had also been considered by MGM.

Because of the lengthy time period covered by the film covered a lengthy time span and Kirk Douglas had a wardrobe of 73 pieces - unusually large for a male star.

Although 'The Bad and the Beautiful' was one of the most famous films made by both Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame never appear on screen together leading some critics to surmise that they were deliberately kept apart for fear of making Turner, the older actress, jealous.

Lana Turner's own makeup man and hairdresser and her stand-in appear in the film playing their normal roles.

Gloria Grahame perfected the Southern accent required for her role by using it both on and off set during the shoot. Walter Pidgeon lobbied for the role of producer Harry Pebbel. When he met Minnelli to discuss it, he deliberately wore an ill-fitting suit and sported a crew-cut wig to sway the decision. It worked.

Dick Powell was first offered the role of the director Fred Amiel, but after reading the script he opted for the part of the writer James Lee Bartlow, as he could identify more with the role.

Real Life Parallels

Many of the characters in the movie can be compared to real life Hollywood personalities. In fact David O. Selznick instructed his lawyer to view the movie to check that it contained nothing libellous about him. He was an autocratic independent producer who had built his career in the footsteps of his father. Jonathan Shields is generally thought to be a mix of Selznick, together with Orson Welles and horror film producer and screenwriter, Val Lewton who produced 'Cat People' in 1942.

The Lana Turner character, Georgia Lorrison, is supposedly based on Diana Barrymore, the alcoholic daughter of famous actor John Barrymore and James Lee Bartlow, the famous writer with the zany Southern belle wife has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald and his similarly tempestuous wife, Zelda

The "difficult" English director, Henry Whitfield, played by Leo G. Carroll, is based on Alfred Hitchcock and the foreign director Ivan Triesault is modelled on Fritz Lang or possibly Erich von Stroheim or Josef von Sternberg.

Latin lover film star Victor "Gaucho" Ribera, the character played by Gilbert Roland, is supposedly based on ...Gilbert Roland, a delicious irony if true.

Main Cast

The cast is exceptionally strong.
Lana Turner ... Georgia Lorrison
Kirk Douglas ... Jonathan Shields
Dick Powell ... James Lee Bartlow
Walter Pidgeon ... Harry Pebbel
Barry Sullivan ... Fred Amiel
Gloria Grahame ... Rosemary Bartlow
Gilbert Roland ... Victor "Gaucho" Ribera
Paul Stewart ... Syd
Ivan Triesault ... Von Ellstein
Leo G. Carroll ... Henry Whitfield
Sammy White ... Gus
Elaine Stewart ... Lila


Director ... Vincente Minnelli
Producer ... John Houseman
Screenplay ... Charles Schnee
Based on ... "Tribute to a Badman" by George Bradshaw
Music ... David Raksin
Cinematography ... Robert L. Surtees
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... December 25, 1952
Running time ... 118 minutes

Academy Awards

Five Wins:
Best Supporting Actress ... Gloria Grahame
Best Art Direction (B & W) ... Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno, Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason
Best Cinematography (B & W) ... Robert Surtees
Best Costume Design (B & W) ... Helen Rose
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay ... Charles Schnee
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actor ... Kirk Douglas