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New 'York' Anecdote

October 29, 2000

It's taken me a while to digest the conflicting elements addressed in Robert W. Welkos' article "Taking Direction From Hollywood Greats" (Sept. 17), and the follow-up letters--Dave Clayton's excellent rebuttal (Sept. 24), in particular--regarding my father producer Jesse Lasky's great film "Sergeant York."

Welkos' anecdote (culled from Tony Macklin's book of interviews, "Voices From the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews") about how Howard Hawks exchanged directorial assignments with Michael Curtiz--trading "Casablanca" for "Sergeant York"--is totally mythic, of course. "Casablanca" reached the screen 1 1/2 years after "Sergeant York" opened in New York.

According to the trades and Hawks' longtime secretary Margery Crosby (who met her first husband, my brother Billy, on the set of "Sergeant York"), Hawks had just walked out on Howard Hughes' production of "The Outlaw" and so was available. "It was a bad time in his career," Margery told me. "He wasn't getting on with Jules Furthman [the writer] and he didn't like Hughes."

I have no doubt, and Margery agrees, that my father approached Hawks to helm "Sergeant York." My father was a hands-on producer in every sense of the word. Coincidentally, the celluloid Sgt. York, Gary Cooper, lived directly across the street from us.

BETTY LASKY

Los Angeles

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