Book Excerpt: Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II by Christian Blauvelt | Features

Carmen Miranda’s career had only grown since her breakout Hollywood smash, Down Argentine Way (1940). Early in 1941 she was invited to be the first Latin American star to enshrine her handprints and footprints in a cement block outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Her next films for 20th Century Fox, That Night in Rio (1941) and Week-End in Havana (1941), built on Argentine’s success. As you can tell, each of these movies was set in a different country: Zanuck’s idea for casting as wide of a net for the Good Neighbor Policy as possible. But box-office success aside, Miranda was still beholden to a deeply unfair original contract she’d signed with the Shuberts—the producers who first brought her to America to star on Broadway—which gave them half of her earnings. Don Ameche, costar in her first two films, helped her negotiate more equitable representation, and visibility. With Miranda now getting second billing, Week-End in Havana bowed just one week after Citizen Kane expanded nationwide and immediately dethroned it from the top of the box office. Kane was only ever number one in that first weekend. 

Welles may have had other reasons to commit such a significant chunk of 1942 to his Brazil trip. As being dethroned so quickly from the top of the box office might suggest, Citizen Kane had lost $160,000 in its initial run. In October 1941 he’d begun work on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), production of which stretched into January, but relations with his distributor, RKO, were becoming strained. Nelson Rockefeller—a major stakeholder in RKO, and now the head of the OCIAA in charge of Good Neighbor Policy work—had John Hay Whitney reach out to Welles about becoming a goodwill ambassador. The night of Pearl Harbor, Welles said on the Gulf Screen Guild Theater radio show, “We’ve got a nerve calling ourselves Americans all the time, when we’re really only United Staters. We’re a little selfish about that. It’s America down there in Chile too, all the way down the spine of the Andes. If any of you folks are hearing this down around Mexico, or Honduras, or Salvador, or Argentina . . . or even if you’re an Eskimo in the Arctic, we hope you’ll overlook our calling ourselves Americans as if we were the only ones in the hemisphere. We do that just because it’s so much easier to say than anything else . . . and also because it sounds so good.” 

On December 22, Whitney telegrammed the director with an offer to make a documentary about Rio’s Carnaval: “Personally believe you would make great contribution to hemisphere solidarity with this project.” But before he could leave, Welles not only had to finish Ambersons, he had to act in Norman Foster’s fellow Mercury Theatre film Journey into Fear (1943) in January 1942—and he had to give sufficient notice to CBS about winding down his weekly radio show. Welles was starting to take on so much work that it was inevitable he would take his eye off certain projects. Acting in Journey into Fear (plus, handling some uncredited directing work on it, and rewriting the script with Joseph Cotton), while finishing up directing Ambersons, and then departing for Rio to make his Carnaval documentary—trusting Ambersons’ final cut to his editor Robert Wise and RKO—was highly unwise. The cast and crew on Journey into Fear worked for twenty-four hours straight to finish Welles’s scenes before he departed. By that point Welles had decided that his Carnaval footage would comprise just one segment of an anthology film—kind of like live-action versions of the anthology films Disney was making from his Good Neighbor trip. He already had one segment done and dusted: a short filmed in Mexico by Foster the previous year called My Friend Bonito, about a young boy’s friendship with a bull destined to face a matador in the arena. 

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