The Pride and Prejudice 1940 Trivia Challenge is unique in that many of the Austen Authors readers may have never even seen this adaptation. The drama that went on behind the scenes is as fascinating as the film. See how you do on the Trivia Challenge Quiz, and then check your answers while you relax. Get a mug of something warm and put your feet up. You’re going to enjoy the 20 points of Trivia! Let me know in the comments if you’ve learned something new today!
- Where was the 1940’s version of Pride and Prejudice filmed?
- Technicolor film was invented in 1916 and in common use in Hollywood by 1922. Why was the 1940 Pride and Prejudice filmed in Black and White?
- How old was Greer Garson, the actress who played twenty-year-old Elizabeth Bennet, at the time of the filming?
- What did the cast and crew routinely do at 4:00 PM every day during filming?
- What actor was MGM’s first choice to play the role of Mr. Darcy?
- Why did Laurence Olivier accept the role of Mr. Darcy?
- The film was originally going to begin the pre-production stages in 1936 but was derailed by a certain event that postponed moving forward for several years. What was the event?
- There is a scene in the 1940 film that was echoed in a more recent Austen adaptation in spite of there being no such scene in any of Austen’s novels. What were the lead characters doing in both scenes?
- Although the source material for the screenplay is said to be Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, what copyrighted source was the film actually adapted from?
- Is Edna Mae Olivier who played Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the real-life aunt of Laurence Olivier?
How did you do? Did you know all or most of the answers? The answer key (in case you don’t find them as you go through the trivia list) is at the end.
20.) A little sea-bathing set her up for filming – According to Karen Morley, who played Charlotte Lucas, Edna Mae Olivier, who played Lady Catherine, had a daily routine that included a sunrise swim:
“She used to swim in the ocean every single morning before work. About six o’clock she’d go to the sea. She had a companion who had to go into the Pacific with her … rain, shine, storm! And the shooting schedule was arranged to allow Edna May her morning dip in the ocean.”
Since the MGM Studios were in Culver City, it is likely that her swim took place somewhere near Venice Beach, located just seven miles from the studio. I wish I had an image to share of Edna Mae in her swimsuit. You’ll have to dig into your imagination for this one.
19.) Death comes to Irving Thalberg – Irving Thalberg was, at age 37, known as “the Boy Wonder of MGM.” As Head of Production for the studio, he was in the position to green-light films and make or break careers. He had married actress Norma Shearer in 1927 and cast her as Elizabeth Bennet in the planned production of Pride and Prejudice. His untimely death of pneumonia put the film on hold for a few years, and the leading lady role was eventually re-cast by the new director, Robert Z. Leonard. As a side-note, his wife, Norma Shearer, was born in 1902 making her two years older than Greer Garson.
18.) Everyone wants to be an Olivier – You may have wondered, as I did, if Edna Mae Olivier, the actress who played Lady Catherine de Bourge and Laurence Olivier, who played Mr. Darcy, are kin. I asked someone–I don’t remember who–and was told that she was his real-life aunt. I went for years believing that the acting bug must run in the Olivier family as it does in the Barrymores. But no, the fifty-seven-year-old actress who played the role of Lady Catherine was born “Edna Mae Nutter” and took Olivier as a stage name.
17.) How to catch a man! – The studio publicity department didn’t hold back on the Sadie Hawkin’s imagery for this film. It was marketed as a romantic comedy with an emphasis on the comedy. I found several taglines on film posters but they all had the same man-chasing flavor:
- Bachelors beware! Five gorgeous beauties are on a madcap manhunt!
- The merriest man-hunt that ever snared a bewildered bachelor!
- When pretty girls t-e-a-s-e-d men into marriage!
- Five love-hungry beauties in search of husbands!
16.) Timing beats out Location – MGM had originally been considering filming Pride and Prejudice in the UK at the MGM studio on in Borehamwood, England. The onset of WWII in Europe closed down that studio, forcing MGM to shift the production to Hollywood.
15.) Not three and thirty – It is well known among Austenites that Greer Garson was 36 when she portrayed Elizabeth Bennet. What many may not realize is that this number was retroactively applied at her death, when her true year of birth was disclosed as 1904. Until then, she was believed to be born in 1908, the year she had claimed in resumes for her stage auditions. This went unquestioned, so the studio thought her to be thirty-two when she played the role of Elizabeth Bennet. MGM was well known for what was referred to as “loving-lighting, which could make a significant difference in the appearance of the actors. Cameraman Karl Freund is cited by members of the cast as the person who shaved ten-years off of Greer Garson’s face and made her look like she was closer to 20 than she actually was.
14.) Garson was not a given – When the casting of Norma Shearer was dropped, MGM turned their eyes to British actress, Vivien Leigh, who had just won the hearts of America as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind which was also produced by MGM. The idea was to continue their onscreen chemistry with Clark Gable as Mr. Darcy. When it became evident that this pairing wouldn’t happen, Greer Garson, who had been sidelined by an injury for eighteen months after she signed on with MGM, and had then done well in the box-office with “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” was selected for the role, partly to fulfil promises made to her by Louis B. Mayer when he discovered her on stage and recruited her to sign a contract with MGM.
13.) Olivier’s competition – The studio’s first choice for Mr. Darcy was Clark Gable. He turned it down, feeling that he was not right for the part. Norma Shearer was still up for Elizabeth at that point and petitioned the studio to borrow Errol Flynn from Warner Brothers to play Darcy. Instead, they wanted to cast her opposite Robert Donat, Robert Taylor, or Melvyn Douglas at various points in the casting process. During the time when Vivien Leigh was the leading contender for the role of Elizabeth, the part of Darcy was offered to Laurence Olivier, who signed on, believing he would be playing opposite Leigh, who had not yet been offered the role. See #1 for the rest of that story.
12.) Never Underestimate the Power of an Austen Adaptation – Similar to the waves of public interest in Pride and Prejudice that occurred in 1995 and 2005, the public fell in love with the story and characters. There were five affordably priced editions of Pride and Prejudice printed in the wake of the 1940 film release. One of these was even a Pocket Book 25 cent paperback edition. Over the next eight years, the newfound popularity of the novel would result in twenty-one print runs of the novel.
11.) If Social Media had been a thing in 1940 – Oliver was open about his disappointment in the film. He was critical of how they portrayed him as Darcy, and also of the casting of Greer Garson opposite him, although he clearly liked Greer personally. One can’t help but wonder how this would have played out on Twitter. Worst case scenario may have been something like this:
10.) When life imitates art – Due to the number of British cast members, the production schedule broke for tea at 4:00 PM every day of the filming.
9.) Broadway does Austen – Playwright Helen Jerome had adapted Pride and Prejudice for the stage, and it’s 1935-36 run on Broadway ran for 219 performances. In the play, she hadn’t deviated much from the novel since the dialogue and story structure were well suited to the stage. Harpo Marx had seen the play on Broadway and recommended that Thalberg purchase rights to it even though the novel was already in the public domain. Thalberg did just that in January of 1936, paying $50,000 for rights to the script. He did so with an eye toward casting his wife as Elizabeth.
As many have noted, significant liberties were taken with the characters and plot in the film by screenwriters Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin. Thalberg believed that few people were even familiar with the hundred-year-old novel at that time and staying faithful to Austen’s vision was a tertiary concern. As noted in #12, above, there was a revival of interest in the novel after the film, so the success of the film was likely one of the culprits that led to it’s most common criticism.
8.) Don’t Shoot the Dogs or Drown the Kitty! – Two subsequent Austen films have paid homage to the 1940 film:
- In the 2004 Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice that was loosely based on Austen’s novel, Mr. Bakshi makes a joke referring to his large family of daughters teasing they “should have drowned one or two at birth.” This echoes a line from the 1940 adaptation where Mr. Bennet says: “Perhaps we should have drowned some of them at birth.”
- Although Austen never wrote an archery scene, the scene between Elizabeth and Darcy is iconic in that it captures the witty banter and growing physical tension occurring between the pair. In Emma (1996) the evolving relationship of Emma, played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Mr. Knightly, played by Jeremy Northam is likewise portrayed in an archery scene.
7.) Shades of Gray – The answer to the question of why the film is in black and white instead of Technicolor comes back full circle to MGM. Director David O. Selznick had acquired and used every single reel of Technicolor film on the market for the 4-hour epic Gone With the Wind. The sets were built, the costumes were made, and due to scheduling commitments of the cast and crew, Pride and Prejudice had film on schedule – in black and white. This major snafu had a small silver lining in a 1941 Academy Award. The Oscar was given to Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White.
6.) Bring on the Color – Although myriads of colorized images of Pride and Prejudice can be found, I could find no evidence that the film has been formally colorized for English-speaking audiences, and it does not appear on the Wikipedia List of Colorized films. The original cast has expressed a strong desire for this to happen since they know how beautiful and colorful the sets and costumes were. Strangely, I did find a couple of colorized clips in Spanish. What do you think? Should this film be colorized for the viewing pleasure of English speaking audiences? I know I’d buy a copy.
5.) A classic screwball comedy – When viewed through the lens of shifts in film culture that began during the depression and lasted into the early 1940’s, the tone portrayed in Pride and Prejudice is more easily understood. The following excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on the genre is helpful:
Screwball comedy is a genre of comedy film that became popular during the Great Depression, originating in the early 1930s and thriving until the early 1940s. Many secondary characteristics of this genre are similar to film noir, but it distinguishes itself for being characterized by a female that dominates the relationship with the male central character, whose masculinity is challenged. The two engage in a humorous battle of the sexes, which was a new theme for Hollywood and audiences at the time. Other elements are fast-paced repartee, farcical situations, escapist themes, and plot lines involving courtship and marriage. Screwball comedies often depict social classes in conflict.
It’s fairly easy to see how producers saw potential in fitting Austen’s satirical style to the screwball comedy template.
4.) What does Mr. Collins do again? – I have watched the film a number of times and completely missed this subtle but significant change in the backstory and characterization of Mr. Collins. Film studios of the era had strict codes of what was acceptable, and to portray a member of the clergy negatively was not. So they simply left that little detail out. He is still the heir to Longbourn and still refers to Lady Catherine as his patroness, but he only refers specifically to his role as her librarian. In his proposal to Elizabeth, he refers to the “responsibility of every gentleman in easy circumstances to marry,” rather than “the importance of setting an example in his parish.” Unless you know how Austen wrote him, you wouldn’t even realize what his living was.
3.) Deja vu – Pride and Prejudice was considered a risky venture, so producers were keen to save money where they could. Since the MGM Costume department was overflowing with Civil-war era costumes from their recent production of Gone With the Wind, the gowns worn by the background “extras” in Pride and Prejudice were re-purposed gowns from the earlier film, adapted slightly with new trims and with petticoats instead of large hoop cages. New gowns were made for the principal actresses.
2.) Poofy is more fun than a wet nightgown – The costumer for the film, Adrian, felt the Regency-era clothing was drab and not ornate enough, so he used his influence to use the more elaborate and romantic silhouettes from 1830 as his inspiration for the women’s costumes. Ann Rutherford, who played Lydia Bennet said in a 1989 JASNA interview:
“But I must say, that when the studio, in its infinite wisdom, when they changed the wardrobe from the wet-nightgown look, that empire look, to the ship-in-full-sail – they did such a wise thing. Because the sight of Mary Boland bustling down the street with all of her little goslings behind her in their huge voluminous skirts, and all of them chattering at once – it wouldn’t have been nearly as delightful a sight-gag if we had all been in little, skinny wet-night-gown-type things.”
1.) Let’s Not Forget Propriety – There was a good reason that Laurence Olivier wanted to co-star in a film project with Vivien Leigh. The pair were engaged to be married. Unfortunately, they had engaged in an offscreen love affair while both were still married to other people, and the media had taken no pains to conceal the affair. Public opinion on this matter was something of a minefield. Studio executives believed it the public would consider the adulterous behavior to be sanctioned by the studio if they were cast to star together. Pride and Prejudice hit the theaters in July of 1940 and Olivier married Vivien Leigh in August of 1940. Had their wishes to film together not been thwarted by studio executives, this would be Elizabeth and Darcy, 1940.
Answers: 1.) On MGM’s back lot in Hollywood. 2.) Because all the Technicolor film had been purchased for Gone With the Wind and the production schedule could not be delayed. 3.) 36. 4.) Took a tea-break. 5.) Clark Gable. 6.) He thought Vivien Leigh had been cast as Elizabeth Bennet. 7.) MGM Production Chief, Irving Thalberg, died of pneumonia. 8.) Archery 9.) The script for a Broadway production of Pride and Prejudice. 10) No. Olivier was her stage name. She was born Edna Mae Nutter.
Whew. That was a bit to wade through. I hope you enjoyed it though. As your reward for making all the way through, I’m sharing a link to a wonderful paper doll set of Greer’s P&P costumes.
Let me know how you did in the comments.