Seventy years ago, today, the #1 film at the box office was A Letter to Three Wives, starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas and Jeffrey Lynn. Celeste Holm provided the uncredited voice of Addie Ross. Directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz, the movie was adapted by Vera Caspary from a 1945 John Klempner Cosmopolitan magazine novel titled A Letter to Five Wives. Mankiewicz also wrote the screenplay.
Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women’s husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present.
♦ The identity of the actress Celeste Holm who did the voice-over for Addie Ross was kept secret when the film was released. The studio held a number of “Who is Addie?” contests around the country where moviegoers could guess the actress’ name.
♦ General Douglas MacArthur was so confused by the ending that he had his aide write Joseph L. Mankiewicz a letter asking with whom Addie had, in fact, run off.
♦ The film actually went into production in 1946 as “A Letter to Five Wives” from a script by Melville Baker and Dorothy Bennett. Gene Tierney, Linda Darnell, Maureen O’Hara, Dorothy McGuire and Alice Faye were all earmarked to play the wives but, this version was quickly shelved until Joseph L. Mankiewicz retooled it in 1948.
♦ Both Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered for Addie’s off-screen voice before Celeste Holm was cast. When Mankiewicz offered Holm a role that would never be seen in the film, she quipped, “Oh my, that’s wonderful. My wooden leg won’t have to show.” (Holm, quoted in Geist). She consented when he told her Crawford was after the role.
♦ When Ann Sothern’s look of joyful surprise on finding her husband hadn’t run off with Addie wasn’t strong enough, Mankiewicz had Kirk Douglas jump up from behind the set’s sofa (out of camera range) in only his underwear.
♥ Best Director & Best Writing/Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz/1950 Academy Awards)
♥ Best Written American Comedy (Joseph L. Mankiewicz & Vera Caspary/1950 Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award)
♥ Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (Joseph L. Mankiewicz & Gaston Glass/1949 Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award)
♥ Top Ten Films (1949 National Board of Review (NBR) Award)