"SO LET IT BE WRITTEN . . . .": The Creation of Cecil B. DeMille's Autobiography

Article excerpt

Cecil B . DeMille was a producer-director who was geared to larger production budgets, clearly structured production schedules, meticulously researched sets and larger-than-life story content. His concern for his films often took him to the editing table until the final cut was spliced on all of his movie epics. DeMille's mark was not only emblazoned on the credits of his films, but was in the very look and feel of the seventy motion pictures that bore the credit, "Produced and Directed by Cecil B. DeMille." The writing of The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, according to its editor, Donald Hayne, resembled the preparation of one of DeMille's motion picture blockbusters. In reality, the experience challenged nearly every moviemaking instinct that DeMiIIe held dear. In terms of time spent, it was overbudgeted and behind schedule. Its progress was often charted in fits and starts, but hovering over the entire project was the immense responsibility felt by Hayne to write the life story of one of the most complex and multi-faceted men in America. The distance in time and effort between the two parts of DeMille's oft quoted line, "So let it be written," and "So let it be done," uttered by Sethi in The Ten Commandments, was often filled with the writer's frustrations in trying to comer the precious time of his subject, his failure to record the master storyteller on tape, and at one time the near abandonment of the project.

In preface, Hayne wrote that work on the autobiography began long before his association with DeMiIIe in 1945, ' but according to the papers in DeMille's files serious work on the book did not begin until November 1952. Also, negotiations with the publisher, Prentice-Hall, had been going on during the entire year. The "seemingly interminable negotiations,"2 as editor-in-chief at Prentice-Hall, Howard L. Goodkind, phrased them, were the result of DeMille's insistence on contracting for a publisher to share in his profits on the book, and not the other way around. In an unmistakably clear letter to DeMille's literary agent, Ned Brown of MCA Management, Neil McCarthy, DeMille's longtime attorney, wrote, "Mr. DeMiIIe will write his autobiography and he is desirous of arranging with someone to publish that autobiography for a percentage to the publisher of the proceeds of its sale. The document should proceed upon that principle."3

DeMille's original concept for the book was a combination biography/autobiography with DeMille's recollections in one typeface and Donald Hayne's running commentary in another. He also planned to hire additional writers, consistent with another DeMiIIe practice of working with more than one screenwriter on a film. According to memos exchanged between Hayne and DeMiIIe, Neil McCarthy was to write a chapter on DeMille's aviation days in the late 1910s, stressing, among other things, that "the danger of flying is not in the machine but in the individual. "^Finally, DeMiIIe wanted several other persons to write chapters for the book, "some who might even hate the sight of him."5

In January 1953, Hayne wrote a suggested foreword and passed it on to DeMille that clarified the concept of the book, divided into two sections. The first section, autobiographical under the title To See Himself, was to be written by Hayne under DeMille's supervision. According to the plan, the second section, entitled As Others See Him, was to include chapters by DeMille's brother William, his daughter Cecilia DeMille Harper; and business associates from the early days, Sam Goldwyn and Adolph Zukor, who were to write on DeMille's activity in motion pictures "considered as an industry (rather than as an entertainment medium or art form."6 The only film critic considered for the negative look at DeMille's films was the highly respected New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, whom DeMille told Hayne, "gave me two favorable notices in thirty years." A "friendly" critic was also to contribute to the second part of the book "to balance Mr. …