An Englishman in Hollywood

In 1945, Author, W. Somerset Maugham traveled to Hollywood to write a screen adaptation of his recent novel, The Razor’s Edge.

20th Century Fox had purchased the rights to the book in October 1944 for $150,000, however, Maugham insisted on writing the screenplay for no fee, with only his expenses being paid. Maugham had seen adaptations of his earlier work, and was unhappy with the finished production. Maugham wanted this novel to be recreated as faithfully as possible. Whilst Maugham collaborated with Writer/Producer Lemar Trotti, he was surprisingly unprotective of his novel.

When Trotti had tentatively advised a change in dialogue, Maugham simply replied, “You have more respect for Maugham, the writer than I have”. Maugham had also admitted that The Razor’s Edge had a “pedestrian quality which invited the injection of cinematic stimulus”

After three months, Maugham completed the screenplay and on the insistence of producer, Daryl F Zanuck accepted payment in the form of a painting of a snow scene by Matisse worth $15,000 (He would later swap it for a painting of the harbour at Rouen by Camille Pissarro). On the cover of the script, Maugham had written, “Please note that this is, on the whole, a comedy, and should be played lightly by everyone except in the definitely serious passages.”

However, Zanuck never used the script, instead using what became a twelfth draft by Trotti himself. Maugham commented, “You see he (Zanuck) didn’t use a single line from my script…they took a lot of liberties with my original novel in the final shooting script”. Maugham felt glad to be “eliminated for $15,000”. Maugham’s original script is now in storage at the New York Public Library.

W Somerset Maugham in Hollywood, 1945

Somerset Maugham in Hollywood, 1945

Hollywood star, Tyrone Power was cast in the lead role of Larry Darrell. He had recently returned from service in World War 2 and had been famously quoted as saying “I’m sick of all these ‘knights in shining armour’ parts, I want to do something worthwhile like plays and films that have something to say”

Hollywood legend has it that Power agreed to star in one more Zorro film if he could be allowed to play the lead in The Razor’s Edge.

The film opened on 20th November 1946 at the Roxy cinema in New York City to a star-studded premiere. Reviews were mixed, The New York Times had made references to “vacuous dialogue”. The film however, was a major box office success, grossing $5million an earned Anne Baxter an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress”.

Zanuck had later approached Maugham about the idea of a sequel with a mid-western American setting. Maugham replied by saying “The only example of a sequel being as good as the original is Don Quixote, and I should be crazy to attempt one to The Razor’s Edge“. Although a sequel never materialised, around 20 years later, John Byrum and Bill Murray collaborated on a re-interpretation of The Razor’s Edge, which would attempt to bring the story to a new and younger audience and which would suffer much harsher criticism in the process.

Sources

“The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham”, Selina Hastings (2009), John Murray Publishers

“Maugham in Hollywood” – American Film magazine (By Wilmon Menaurd; April 1979; P15)

“Maugham in Hollywood” – New York Times (By Thomas F. Brady; Jul 28, 1946; pg. X1, 2)

“The Razor’s Edge” Review – New York Times (By Bosley Crowther; November 18, 1946; pg. 50)

Read more

Somerset Maugham and the Guru – Daily Telegraph

Tyrone Power – King of Hollywood

“This is what I believe” Tyrone Power interview

“The Inner Power” Tyrone Power interview

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