Vanity Fair – Letters From Hollywood Gives New Life to Vintage Scandal and Gossip

Letters From Hollywood Gives New Life to Vintage Scandal and Gossip

Collaborators Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall—and contributor Eva Marie Saint—preview their new book, featuring missives about everything from James Bond (“New York did not care for [Sean] Connery”) to Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway’s unconsummated love.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich in 1938. ABOVE, FROM BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES.

Before Gyl Roland, daughter of actor Gilbert Roland, gave Rocky Lang permission to print a passionate letter her father wrote to silent-screen siren Clara Bow, she wanted something in return. Lang—who went to great lengths to secure the rights to dozens of vintage missives for his coffee-table book, Letters from Hollywood—is himself a Hollywood scion: His father was Jennings Lang, an agent celebrated for his A-list clients, but infamous for a scandalous affair that found him on the wrong end of a jealous husband’s gun.

In short: In 1951, Jennings was having an affair with actor Joan Bennett—the wife of producer Walter Wanger, and Gyl Roland’s aunt. When Wanger learned this, he retaliated in spectacular fashion—by allegedly shooting Jennings in the balls.

“We chitchat about the book,” Lang recalled in an interview. “And Gyl says, ‘You know who I am, don’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ She says, ‘You do know I know who you are.’ I said, ‘I know.’ Huge dramatic pause—and she says, ‘Well, was Walter accurate [in his aim]?’ And I said, ‘No, or I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”

According to Lang, Jennings was actually shot in the upper thigh. Satisfied with his answer, Roland gave him the okay to print the letter.

Letters from Hollywood, compiled by Lang and film historian and researcher Barbara Hall, is a priceless treasure trove of more than 130 letters, telegrams, memos, and other missives dating from 1921 (Harry Houdini to producer Adolph Zukor) to 1976 (Jane Fonda to her Julia director, Fred Zinnemann). Each is presented chronologically, and reproduced in its original form; the elegantly designed hotel stationery letterheads alone are almost worth the price of admission.

It is a personal epistolary history of Hollywood, as told by the people who lived and worked there. As Peter Bogdanovich writes in the book’s foreword, “This is a delightfully intimate and illuminating way to learn about Hollywood history.”

Several letters call to mind Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman’s classic Hollywood maxim, “Nobody knows anything.” Consider the 1961 telex to producer Harry Saltzman from his partner “Cubby” Broccoli, who was seeking a leading man to portray James Bond in Dr. No. “New York did not care for [Sean] Connery,” Broccoli reports. “Feels we can do better.”

Or try a 1945 letter from playwright and screenwriter Robert Sherwood, which Lang calls one of his favorites in the book. In it, Sherwood tries to convince producer Samuel Goldwyn to abandon the proposed postwar drama that would become The Best Years of Our Lives, arguing that it “will be doomed to miss the bus.” Years would go on to win seven Oscars in the main competition categories—including best picture and, for Sherwood, best screenplay—plus an honorary award.

“It resonated with me,” Lang said. “One, as a movie I love; two, it’s a great piece of film history; and three, as a filmmaker, I’m constantly dealing with creative and executive people trying to guess the market.”

For Lang, who has been in the film business for 35 years as a producer, writer, and director (White Squall, Girl Fight), one letter in particular—shared with him by Howard Prouty, then the acquisitions archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—hit home, inspiring him to compile Letters from Hollywood.

Dated April 14, 1939, it was written by his father to celebrated literary agent H.N. Swanson, asking for a job. “Ten minutes with a young personable attorney, with years of drama and screen criticism experience, and with a living desire to imitate you and your position might not prove boring,” the young go-getter wrote. “Please see me?”

“My dad was 24 years old,” Lang said. “He had just come off the train from New York with $100 in his pocket…. He went on to represent Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart, and later produced the sequels to Airport, as well as Earthquake. He gave Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg their first [theatrical] directing gigs. His whole life was ahead of him, and the letter moved me so much.”

Prouty recommended that Lang collaborate with Hall, who was a special-collections researcher at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library before becoming an archivist for the Art Directors Guild. She was familiar with the archives that preserve the collections of film-business professionals. What sorts of letters were she and Lang looking for? “Rocky and I talked about this a lot,” she told Vanity Fair. “We were looking for letters that revealed something about what it was like to live and work in Hollywood. We wanted to get some big names, but we also wanted to include letters by someone who wasn’t as well-known or remembered, if [the letter writer] had an amazing voice or revealed something about Hollywood that maybe we hadn’t seen before. I particularly like, for instance, the 1933 letter from cameraman Bert Glennon to Katharine Hepburn. You could tell they were great friends.”


Better-known friends were Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, who costarred in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Letters from Hollywood includes a charming 1961 letter from Grant to Saint and her husband, director Jeffrey Hayden, belatedly thanking them for a teleidoscope the couple sent him for Christmas. In a phone interview with Vanity Fair, Saint, 95, did not recall the letter, but it sparked vivid memories of meeting Grant on the set. “He said to me, ‘Now, Eva Marie, you don’t have to cry in this movie; we’re going to have a great time.’ Isn’t that the dearest?”

Letter writing, Saint said, is something of a lost art. “I have my computer…but I still get letters,” she said. “Very often it will be someone who says they have my email, but that they just wanted to write to me. That’s so sweet. I have envelopes and my stationery ready to write them back and thank them.”

Much more than friends were Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway, whose unconsummated love burns red hot in a 1955 billet-doux written by Dietrich. It begins with “Well, you, my eternal love,” and ends, “Please write to me about everything, how you are and Mary [Hemingway’s fourth wife] and what you are thinking and if you still love me.” She signs it, “Your Kraut.”

Many of the entries in Letters from Hollywood offer an invaluable inside look at the business of show: Bette Davis threatening to walk out unless studio head Jack Warner gives her a more artist-friendly contract; director Joseph Mankiewicz lamenting to producer Darryl F. Zanuck that he cannot complete All About Eve within the studio’s allotted tight schedule; Zanuck negotiating with Production Code Administration chief Joseph Breen about the John Ford Western My Darling Clementine’s depiction of “whiskey drinkers, gun toters, and prostitutes.”

In the ever ongoing battle between filmmakers and the executives, Lang and Hall each noted, some things never change.

Hall hopes that this book conveys the importance of film archives as a resource to “learn about Hollywood history in the words of the people who were there.”

She also hopes it expresses an appreciation for the art of letter writing. “No matter how convenient it is to have all these other forms of communication,” she said, “there is something about letter writing they can’t replicate…. It’s like the person’s personal imprint goes into the letter.”

The book’s most charming example of this is a 1974 letter written by 17-year-old Thomas Hanks to George Roy Hill, the freshly minted Academy Award–winning director of The Sting. In the most Hanksian way possible, the future two-time best actor angles to be discovered. “My looks are not stunning,” he writes. “I am not built like a Greek God, and I can’t even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films (The Exorcist, for one) they will pay to see me.”

“There is nothing more personal than handwriting,” Saint said.

That’s why the Eva Marie Saint papers, housed in the special-collections department at the Margaret Herrick Library, actually don’t contain her cherished cache of letters written to her by her beloved husband of 65 years, who died three years ago. “Jeff and I wrote so many letters to each other; he was on location, and I was on location,” she said. “They are close to my heart. I have a stack that no one will ever see.”



NPR – In Golden Age Hollywood, Film Stars Slid Into Each Others’ Telegrams

Audrey Hepburn appears as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. In a letter to director George Cukor, she raved about the script.

Ingrid Bergman was a so-so typist. Katharine Hepburn’s signature was indecipherable. Marlene Dietrich signed her letter to Ernest Hemingway as “Your Kraut.”

A collection of letters, memos, telegrams and other written communiques from the golden age of Hollywood are collected in a new book. Letters from Hollywood, edited and compiled by Barbara Hall and Rocky Lang, is a delicious peek into very famous people’s private lives.

Take Audrey Hepburn. On screen, she was perfection: the bangs, the long cigarette-holder in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the lavish hat at Ascot in My Fair Lady.

In 1963, after seeing the My Fair Lady script for the first time, she wrote the director (in perfect schoolgirl penmanship) of her delight.

It’s MARVELLOUS, I am beyond myself with happiness and excitement! It is all so good and so solid, warm funny and enchanting. I just pray every day to be as good as the role, or is that too much to ask for? All the wonder of the musical and the play are there, it’s just smashing!

But perfect Audrey, it seems, had bad feet. Hepburn asks for the designer’s sketches of her shoes so that her private bootmaker in Paris can cobble them for the movie.

One is an awful lot on ones feet when working — and since my days in the ballet I have had “trouble with me feet” unless properly “shoed.” … It does make all the difference.

Letters from Hollywood Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking by Rocky Lang, Barbara Hall and Peter Bogdanovich

“I think it’s the kind of thing that it’s great to learn about an actress,” co-author and film historian Barbara Hall says. “We think of them — sort of put them on a pedestal, but really, she was a regular person, and obviously a very charming one.”

In other words, she was a great star who knew what she needed to do her best work.

Bette Davis was also like that. A winner of two Oscars, she’s famous for the immortal line from All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Years before Eve, Bette Davis was exhausted, overworked. Hollywood studios controlled their actors in those days, and there was little rest for Warner Brothers’ biggest star.

“They just kept putting her in more and more films,” Hall says. “And she felt like she needed more time between projects.”

Davis wanted to make fewer pictures every year — more time off between movies. So she wrote (again, by hand) to studio head Jack Warner, protesting her contract. She ended her very firm letter:

Would appreciate your not communicating with me — it upsets me very much. I must be allowed to completely forget business. … Also arguing with me is no use — nor do I want to come back until it is settled —

Another letter-writer in this collection is Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar (for best supporting actress) as Mammy in 1939’s Gone with the Wind.

McDaniel was a busy actor in the 1930s and ’40s — always playing a maid or servant. In 1947, she thanked gossip columnist Hedda Hopper for printing kind words about her. But others criticized her for taking so many servant roles. McDaniel wrote:

Truly, a maid or butler in real life is making an honest dollar, just as we are on the screen. I only hope that producers will give us Negro actors and actresses more roles, even if there will be those who call us Uncle Toms.

The NAACP and other civil rights organizations had started pressuring studios to get rid of stereotypical roles like McDaniel was playing — the only parts African Americans could get then. The protests had a bitter result for the Oscar-winner: Hattie McDaniel found that she was getting fewer and fewer roles in the immediate postwar years, because they weren’t being written.

In a letter to the director of My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn asks for costume designer Cecil Beaton to send her the designs for her footwear — such that her bootmaker could replicate them. A replication of the note appears in Letters from Hollywood.

Among the 137 items in this book is a telegram to director William Wyler, sent in 1937 by an extremely precocious star-to-be.


The real author of the telegram was Henry Fonda — Jane Fonda’s father. So in his reply to the new baby, Wyler wrote that he wanted to make a screen test of her as soon as possible. But he also took a playful shot at her dad: “WE FEEL IT OUR DUTY TO CORRECT ANY ILLUSION YOU MAY HAVE BEEN UNDER IN THE PAST … YOUR FATHER NEVER WAS AN ACTOR.”

Letters from Hollywood is subtitled Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking. These are very personal letters from stars, directors, heads of studios. So is it an invasion of privacy to publish them?

“I don’t think so,” says Peter Bogdanovich, the director, writer, actor, film historian and author of the book’s foreword. “It’s history.”

By Susan Stamberg
Nina Gregory edited this story for broadcast.

LA Times – ‘Letters From Hollywood’ opens mail from Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford and more

Actor Bela Lugosi’s lobbying efforts for a role that would make him a legend in 1931’s “Dracula,” in “Letters From Hollywood.”

“Dear Fly in the Ointment. Because I always open my wife’s mail, I read your insidious and immoral proposals to my wife…”

So begins Humphrey Bogart’s 1952 letter to director (and friend) John Huston about Lauren Bacall. It’s one of the 135 letters, memos and telegrams in a new Hollywood time capsule culled from libraries, archives, and personal collections.

Letters From Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Filmmaking,” compiled by producer Rocky Lang and film historian Barbara Hall, features five decades of correspondence from the likes of Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Tom Hanks, Bela Lugosi and Frank Sinatra.

Readers learn that Joan Crawford loved to write letters to friends and fans.

The book includes her handwritten 1956 note to Hollywood biographer and novelist Jane Kesner Ardmore about a royal premiere in London. After gushing about meeting Queen Elizabeth, Crawford included a few jabs at sex symbols Marilyn Monroe and Anita Ekberg.

The cover of “Letters From Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking.”

“I was presented to the Queen last night — nearly died of excitement and fear,” Crawford wrote. “Of course, I was not too happy about being presented with that group of people representing the Motion Picture Industry, such as Marilyn you-know-who, and Anita Ekberg. Incidentally, Marilyn and Anita were howled at because of their tight dresses — they could not walk off the stage. It was most embarrassing.”

Lang and Hall provide images and historical context for each letter.

“We tried to have a lot of different types of letters in the book and sort of strike a balance between letters that are sort of about personal relationship between people and then letters that are about the making of the film,” said Hall, the archivist at the Art Directors Guild. She previously worked at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Lang, a producer of “White Squall” and other films, said he became inspired to do the book after receiving a 2015 letter from Howard Prouty, acquisitions archivist at the academy.

Prouty had found a 1939 letter written by Lang’s father, Jennings Lang, to powerful literary agent H.N. Swanson.

His dad wanted a job with Swanson: “Ten minutes with a young personable attorney with years of experience of drama and screen criticism experience, and with a living desire to imitate you and your position might not prove boring. Please see me?”

Lang shares the back story: “He was 24 years old and had 50 bucks in his pocket, he had just arrived in Los Angeles and wanted to be an agent. In that letter I could see my dad’s heart and soul, his humor and his bossiness. It was incredibly moving.”

After a lunch with Prouty and a tour of the academy’s Margaret Herrick Library archives, Lang knew he had a great subject for a book. And it was Prouty who suggested Hall as a partner on the project.

“Barbara brought this sort of library science to finding these letters and then even giving me road maps that looked like treasure hunts when I would go across the country to archives looking for letters,” Lang said.

Neither realized how difficult it would be to find, acquire and get permission to use the letters.

They searched archives at UCLA, AFI, the academy, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Library at Boston University. They reached out to auction houses and families with personal collections.

Lang even hired private detective David Gurvitz to track down relatives for permission to publish the letters. “The copyright was with the writer, not the receiver,” he said.

The pair hit a dead end tracking an heir after Hall found a letter actor Gilbert Roland wrote to costar Clara Bow years after the “The Plastic Age.” The private eye, however, quickly located Roland’s daughter — who lived just 10 minutes from Lang.

Gilbert had sent a December 1949 letter to Bow, who struggled with mental issues, while she was in a psychiatric hospital.

“I hope the treatments there alleviate your illness…. I will go to church and pray for that. How is your Dad? I would like to see him. I always had a warm spot in my heart for him, even though many years ago he refused to let me marry you because I was making seventy-five dollars a week and you were three hundred … and so it goes and that’s the way it is.”

Hall also found a 1961 letter from agent and producer Charles K. Feldman to actress Angie Dickinson and director Jean Negulesco about the sadness permeating Hollywood in the wake of actor Gary Cooper’s terminal cancer diagnosis. He wrote the letter just days after an emotional Jimmy Stewart accepted Cooper’s honorary Oscar and just three weeks before Cooper’s death at 60.

“About four weeks ago, when he returned from Florida, Coop was out washing the car, swimming, etc. Because the doctors feared that the pneumonia might set in, the family and the doctor told him for the first time. I must say that I have never known anyone to be as brave as ‘The Marshal.’”

“He has made his peace — never brings up the subject, gets up two or three times during the day, watches television, and then back to bed where they ease his pain with various strong drugs. I have seen him practically every day. We talk as if there is no tomorrow.”

Lang said “Letters From Hollywood” became a passion project that has forged a connection with the families of Hollywood legends.

“They lived in the shadows of these icons and they saw this big life,” he said. “Now they have this community of each other who are now connected through this book. “

Hollywood Reporter – The Fascinating Gossip in Hollywood Legends’ Letters

A new book, ‘Letters From Hollywood,’ collects the judgments, gossip and predictions in telegrams and handwritten notes from industry notables.

Letters courtesy of Sol Wurtzel’s great-granddaughter Sharon Rosen-Lieb; Daniel Selznick; The Bryna Company; Frances Dee McCrea Trust/Estate of Joel McCrea—Wyatt McCrea, Trustee

Three years ago, filmmaker Rocky Lang received an unexpected note from an archivist at the motion picture academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, telling him he’d found a letter from his father, agent-producer Jennings Lang.

“There before me was a letter written by my father in 1939 to [the literary agency] H.N. Swanson,” Lang recalls. “He’d just gotten off the bus in Los Angeles, had a hundred bucks in his pocket and was looking for a job. It was amazing because later he had a big career as an agent, representing Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart. I called [the archivist] and he showed me the library and I realized, ‘Wow, there are millions of documents here, 13 million photos alone and all sorts of letters.’ And I thought: what a great thing — to tell the history of Hollywood through letter-writing.”

That’s what Lang has done in a new book edited with archivist Barbara Hall, Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking.

After sifting through thousands of pieces of correspondence at the Herrick and other archives, Lang and Hall settled on 137 examples from such stars as Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Groucho Marx, as well as others including director William Wyler, executive Irving Thalberg and even illusionist Harry Houdini.

In one from Christmas Day, 1936, Tallulah Bankhead writes coldly to David O. Selznick, clearly irritated that he has not yet offered her the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. “I want you to believe me when I say this letter is not written in any spirit of hurt, arrogance, or bad temper,” she notes. “As I see it, your wire to me means one thing — that if no one better comes along, I’ll do. Well, that would be all well and good if I were a beginner at my job. It would be a wonderful thing to hope and wait for, but as this is not the case, I cannot see it that way, and I feel it only fair to tell you that I will not make any more tests, either silent or dialogue, for Scarlett O’Hara, on probation.”

Three years later, the part went to Vivien Leigh and Bankhead turned down the supporting role of a brothel owner, Belle Watling.

Another letter, from October 1922, pinpoints one of the most famous firings in film history: Thalberg’s termination of director Erich von Stroheim.

“Ever since the execution of your contract of employment with us dated May 19th, 1920, we have labored patiently and conscientiously with you for the purpose of endeavoring to secure your cooperation in the production of the pictures which you were making for us,” asserts Thalberg, then only 20 years old and the general manager of Universal. “The fact that more productions have not been completed is due largely to your totally inexcusable and repeated acts of insubordination, your extravagant ideas which you have been unwilling to sacrifice in the slightest particular, repeated and unnecessary delays occasioned by your attitude in arguing against practically every instruction that has been given to you in good faith, and by your apparent idea that you are greater and more powerful than the organization that employs you.” For those reasons, “you are notified that you are discharged from our employ, your discharge to take effect as of this date.”

Stroheim, the director of Greed and Foolish Wives, would go on to make other movies, but by 1933 his career as a filmmaker was over and he would have to be content working as an actor, most notably playing “that goddamned butler” part in Sunset Blvd.

Judgments here can look right in retrospect (Charlie Chaplin in 1955 writes to writer John Howard Lawson, praising his courage in standing against the blacklist: ”In these days of trumped-up hysteria, I think it is important and essential that the artist and intellectual unite and consolidate against these political forces that have instigated this deplorable police system, which attempts to turn the United States into a nation of informers”). And they can equally look wrong (gossip columnist Hedda Hopper writes of Citizen Kane, before its release: “I’ve seen the picture, and it’s foul…I personally hope it will never be shown on the screen”).

The letters crack open a window on some classic films, often while they were being shot or edited. In one, producer Edward Lewis writes to actor and fellow producer Kirk Douglas about their battles with the censors over a celebrated scene in Spartacus in which Laurence Olivier, as the Roman general Crassus, tries to seduce the slave Antoninus. (Tony Curtis). Dalton Trumbo had written dialogue that used men’s tastes for oysters and snails as a metaphor for other appetites.

“It is possible (although they will not say for certain) they would pass the scene if we substituted ‘artichokes’ and ‘truffles’ for ‘oysters’ and ‘snails’,” notes Lewis. “My feeling on the matter is that I would hate to substitute the words, although in the final analysis I believe I would prefer the scene with artichokes and truffles to no scene at all.”

In the end, the scene was cut, though it’s since been restored to the film.

Lang’s personal favorite among the letters is one dated August 1945, from playwright Robert Sherwood to Sam Goldwyn, begging not to write a script the producer had commissioned, Glory for Me, about three Americans coming home from World War II.

“I have been thinking a great deal about Glory for Me and have come to the conclusion that, in all fairness, I should recommend to you that we drop it,” he writes. “This is entirely due to the conviction that, by next Spring or next Fall, this subject will be terribly out of date [and will] arouse considerable resentment by suggesting that these three characters are designed to be typical of all returned servicemen.”

Goldwyn refused to let Sherwood out of his contract. The 1946 movie, retitled The Best Years of Our Lives, won the best picture Oscar, and Sherwood won an Oscar for his script.

Courtesy of Daniel Selznick
Producer David O. Selznick’s Nov. 12, 1942 telegram to Warner Bros. production head Hal B. Wallis regarding Casablanca.


Courtesy of Daniel Selznick
Producer David O. Selznick’s Nov. 12, 1942 telegram to Warner Bros. production head Hal B. Wallis regarding Casablanca.


Courtesy of Sol Wurtzel’s great-granddaughter Sharon Rosen-Lieb
Sol Wurtzel’s Feb. 20, 1928 letter to Madge Bellamy.

ABC News – ‘Letters from Hollywood’ is a movie nerd’s dream

“Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking,” published by Abrams, compiled and edited by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall

Paul Newman passes on an offer to co-star with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl,” saying he can’t carry a tune or dance.

Col. Tom Parker suggests a story line for a movie starring his client Elvis Presley in which the singer plays a young man raised by the gypsies who had kidnapped him as a baby — “with a good love angle involved.”

A 17-year-old Tom Hanks, writing on notebook paper, pitches himself to be “discovered” by the director of “The Sting,” George Roy Hill, who happens to be the uncle of some of his classmates.

“My looks are not stunning,” writes the future two-time Oscar winner. “I am not built like a Greek God, and I can’t even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films (‘The Exorcist,’ for one) they will pay to see me.”

These and other little joys are to be found in “Letters from Hollywood,” a collection of movie-related correspondence from archives, libraries and private collections. Many of the missives deal with the nuts and bolts of filmmaking — screenwriting, casting, directing and more — along with personal reflections and an occasional catty comment.

Fans of classic films who know the difference between a Sturges and a Selznick or a Kazan and a Karloff will be intrigued or amused by private reflections such as:

—”Now I have reformed from all that foolishness of gabbing around, Its one of the lowest forms of art there is, is after dinner speaking, and besides I am an Actor now, they are on the verge of putting me in sex parts, (that’s not six, that’s SEX).” — Humorist turned movie star Will Rogers, declining to address a bankers group, circa 1926.

—”Except as a scientific achievement, I am not sympathetic to this ‘sound’ business. I feel, as so many do, that it is a mechanical resource, that it is a retrogressive and temporary digression in so far as it affects the art of motion picture acting, — in short that it does not properly belong to my particular work.” — Actor Ronald Colman, 1928. Nonetheless, he was a major star in the first three decades of talking pictures.

—”I’ve seen the picture, and it’s foul. It doesn’t leave Mr. Hearst with one redeeming feature. Nobody but Orson would have dared do a thing like that, and I personally hope it will never be shown on the screen.” — Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper on “Citizen Kane,” its inspiration, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and director Orson Welles, 1941. The movie is widely regarded today as the greatest ever made.

—”Blumofe reports New York did not care for Connery feels we can do better.” — Producer Albert Broccoli on United Artists’ initial reaction to the idea of casting actor Sean Connery as British agent James Bond, 1961. Connery got the job after all.

Editors Rocky Lang, a writer and producer who grew up in the movie business, and Barbara Hall, a film historian and archivist admired by many a researcher, wisely present correspondence in high-resolution, full-color scans, allowing readers a view of telegrams, unusual letterheads, unique handwriting and even the occasional sketch in the margins.

Their book is a testament to the value of archives and those who nurture them as one would an endangered species.



Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Anne Bancroft: A Life” (University Press of Kentucky) and other books.


Forbes – ‘Letters From Hollywood’ Exposes The Core Of Classic Hollywood

Gloria Swanson (1897 – 1983) and Erich Von Stroheim (1885 – 1957) in ‘Sunset Blvd’, the 1950 film directed by Billy Wilder for Paramount. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) GETTY IMAGES


Filmmaker and author Rocky Lang has spent his life in Hollywood. The son of veteran producer and MCA/Universal executive Jennings Lang and stage and screen star Monica Lewis, he can tell childhood stories of hanging out with Steven Spielberg and playing tennis with Clint Eastwood. Then there’s that time he couldn’t sleep during one of his parents’ parties.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, came to the kitchen and there the Beatles were sitting around at the table with Barbra Streisand drinking milk and eating cookies,” explained Lang during a 2014 podcast conversation with me.

Stocked with fond memories that could fill a Who’s Who rolodex in show business, Lang had no plans to dig deeper into old Hollywood until three years ago when two letters changed everything. Contacted in a letter by Howard Prouty, the acquisitions archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library, Lang was thrilled to also receive a copy of a 1939 job-seeking letter written by his then 24-year-old father to legendary literary agent H.N. Swanson. The senior Lang never got the job he had requested, but the letter was meaningful for his son.

“What was amazing about this letter—at 24 years old is that I saw his personality in the letter. What his soul was. What his humor was… And it was all these sort of qualities that I saw when I knew him many, many, many years later,” said Lang in a recent interview.

“So this letter really blew me away and it touched me at a very deep level. And I called Howard and took him to lunch. And at lunch he took me back to the Academy and showed me the archives. And on the way home I called my agent and I said, ‘I want to do a book called ‘Letters from Hollywood.’”

That powerful printed glimpse into his father’s life would indeed inspire Lang’s next project and eighth book, Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American MoviemakingCompiled and edited with archivist and film historian Barbara Hall after three years of research and investigation, the book features 137 letters from Hollywood royalty and influencers (chosen from thousands) with a forward by Peter Bogdanovich.

‘Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking (Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall)ABRAMS, THE ART OF BOOKS

Spanning more than five decades from the silent era of filmmaking to the golden age, the letters found in libraries, archives and personal collections offer insight into the industry and the personalities that fueled it. Letters from Hollywood was compiled by Lang and Hall so that readers could not only see the actual letters, but understand their messages and how they related to the film and political history of the time. Painstakingly researched and verified, the book offered plenty of discovery opportunities for its collaborators.

Said Hall, “It really appealed to me to do a book that was primarily relying on materials in archives, because I think not enough people appreciate the work that’s being done in archives and libraries to preserve our cultural heritage, in this sense, specifically our film heritage.”

Letters from Hollywood captures the essence and nuances of classic Hollywood. It was a time when directors like John Huston and stars like Gloria Swanson, Tallulah Bankhead and Shelley Winters revealed their passion for specific projects and roles and attended to the details.

Swanson’s 1949 correspondence with friend and publicist Barron Polan highlights her enthusiasm for bringing Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond to life.

In a 1951 letter to Katherine Hepburn, who was slated to star in his upcoming film The African Queen, Huston discusses her costumes and adds two rough sketches in the margins.

And Winters’ 1957 letter asks director George Stevens to consider her for the role of Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Ann Frank. Winters would later win an Academy Award for that portrayal.

Tallulah Bankhead’s 1936 letter to Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick hadn’t been as effective. Bankhead’s desire to play Scarlett O’Hara is evident from her writing, as is her frustration with the apparent runaround she got from the casting decision makers. In the end, Vivien Leigh was given the role of Scarlett. From the tone of Bankhead’s letter, one might guess that by the time the waiting game was over, Bankhead probably didn’t give a damn.

Letters from Hollywood reminds us of how times have changed in Hollywood. Says Lang, “I think that you see in the letters this passion for material, and passion for character and passion for storytelling. And it was a time where the original idea was valued, or the writer coming up with something out of nothing, facing a blank page, creating something today that didn’t exist yesterday. There was a lot of that. It didn’t mean that there weren’t great movies made from books like Gone with the Wind or The Best Years of Our Lives. I mean, these are fantastic films. They were made from fantastic books and we still do that today. But today it’s more about branding material…studios are now looking for not necessarily what the best idea is or the best script is, it’s more of like, ‘How can we sell this project?’ And I think that in the old days, the studio heads and the great producers were people who were like, ‘Hey, you know what, if I like this, other people are gonna like this. They sort of just relied on their gut and it wasn’t like, ‘Okay, let’s send this out for research. Let’s send this out and have 10 people look at it. Let’s now come back with the writer with notes from 10 people.”

Besides the business, Letters from Hollywood highlights the friendships and gratitude that evolved from the process of filmmaking including Greta Garbo’s 1938 Western Union message to friend and actress Marion Davies (longtime mistress of William Randolph Hearst) asking for help from the hounding press she couldn’t shake.

There is Ingrid Bergman’s 1957 letter to Cary Grant for so sweetly accepting her Academy Award in her absence, and filmmaker Sidney Lumet’s 1963 correspondence with Katherine Hepburn during her time caring for actor Spencer Tracy during his illness.

Legendary actors also set the stage by setting some limits or pushing the limits as evidenced in a 1939 letter to Jack L. Warner from Bette Davis requesting time off between pictures and reminding him that she didn’t wish to speak with him.

Of course gossip is nothing new in Hollywood. But if you need a dose of Marilyn Monroe gossip, Joan Crawford’s 1956 letter to friend and biographer Jane Kesner Ardmore offers up a tiny tidbit as she fills her friend in on the fact that she didn’t like being associated with Marilyn “you-know-who” Monroe and Anita Ekberg in their too tight dresses as they were presented to the Queen of England.

Dreams are often captured by the written word and those letters didn’t escape Lang and Hall. From Jennings Lang’s 1939 job hunting letter that started it all to the 1974 correspondence between acting hopeful Thomas Hanks* and Academy Award-winning director George Roy Hill, Letters from Hollywood showcases the dream and the reality in poignant print and beautiful photos.

*Yes, that was future Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. The 17-year-old wrote his humor-filled letter to the director on notebook paper. And Hill’s typed response to Hanks is laugh out loud funny.

Nancy Berk

Inside the World of Classic American Moviemaking: Rocky Lang on Our Lives with Shannon Fisher

Inside the World of Classic American Moviemaking: Rocky Lang on Our Lives with Shannon Fisher

An episode of Our Lives with Shannon Fisher

BY Shannon Fisher
NOVEMBER 28, 2019

Shannon Fisher explores personal, political, and societal perspectives of the human experience through in-depth interviews on Our Lives with Shannon Fisher and The Authentic Woman on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her shows delve deeply into the worlds of writers, artists, celebrities, and community leaders. Shannon is also among a small team of hosts of the National Press Club’s Update-1 podcast, covering current events as they relate to the media. All of Shannon’s podcasts can be found on this channel.

Letters Give an Intimate Look at Classic Hollywood Era

Letters Give an Intimate Look at Classic Hollywood Era

January 27, 2019

Filmmaker Rocky Lang was taken aback a few years ago when he learned of a letter his father, producer Jennings Lang, had written in 1939.

Lang the elder had just arrived in Los Angeles that year and was seeking a job from the famous literary agent H.N. Swanson. “It was amazing because when I saw the letter he was at the start of his life, and I could see his personality in that letter,” Lang told the Hollywood Reporter.

Later, his father represented Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart as an agent, and he produced movies including the “Airport” franchise, “Earthquake” and “Play Misty For Me.”

Howard Prouty, an archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, sent the letter to Lang. After meeting Prouty and learning more about the academy’s archives, Lang realized his father’s letter was but one example in a vast trove of letters, telegrams, memos and other missives that, together, had the potential to offer a unique view of Hollywood history.

Lang teamed up with film historian and archivist Barbara Hall to collect some of these materials into a book. Last fall, the pair published “Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking.” The collection includes correspondence from the academy and other repositories, including the Library of Congress.

Rocky Lang. Photo by Christopher S. Nibley.

Here, Lang answers a few questions about his book and his research at the Library.

Tell us about “Letters from Hollywood.”
It begins in the silent era and runs until the mid-1970s and contains 137 letters from many of the icons of Hollywood and those behind the scenes. Barbara and I knew from the start we could not possibly include every major figure. But we tried our best to include a selection of letters that would take us through those decades of film history and offer insight into actors and filmmakers and their personalities. We began to look for letters that spotlighted the friendships, concerns, hopes and fears of the men and women who made Hollywood great. Some are revealing, some are hilarious and some are extremely thoughtful.

Describe a few standout letters.
All the letters are standouts in their own right. In a wonderful letter from famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to silent movie actress Aileen Pringle, Hopper writes that she had just seen “Citizen Kane.” She described it as a “foul” film and suspected it would flop. Cubby Broccoli, producer of the early Bond movies, recounts that United Artists felt it could do better than Sean Connery for Bond. And actor Gilbert Roland reminisces about his 1920s love affair with actress Clara Bow.

From the Library’s collections, there’s a letter from Groucho Marx to Jerry Lewis in which Marx humorously deflects praise for his work in a serious role by joking that dramatic acting is a racket that isn’t as hard as it looks

My favorite might be a letter to Sam Goldwyn from Robert Sherwood, the writer who would win the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Sherwood begs Goldwyn to let him out of his obligation to write the script, listing all the reasons the movie will fail. Goldwyn of course made the film, and the movie was incredibly successful.

The beginning of the 1939 letter from Jennings Lang that set the book into motion. Copyright: Rocky Lang. Published with permission.

Which collections did you consult at the Library?
First, I have to give credit to Barbara Hall, who gave me a cheat sheet of where to look. Barbara is a 30-year veteran in archival research, and I like to say she knows where the bodies are buried. I looked in a lot of collections at the Library, including the Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy papers and the papers of Rouben MamoulianGroucho MarxBob HopeVincent PriceRuth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Every one was filled with great letters and great history. One can get stuck in a Twilight Zone of letter reading — they can be mesmerizing.

Did you make any surprising discoveries at the Library?
The biggest surprise occurred after I finished my research for the book. I spent some time looking to see if the Library had any footage of a trip my mom, singer-actress Monica Lewis, took with Danny Kaye to Korea in 1951 to entertain troops during the Korean War. I was surprised to find there was quite a lot of footage, some of which showed my mom and Danny Kaye onstage with shots of troops and life behind the lines. (You can see my mom at minutes 1:56 and 2:24 in the link.) I can tell you it was a very surprising and worthwhile find.

Did your research change your view of Hollywood in any way?
I don’t believe it did. I have spent my life in Hollywood as a producer, writer and director. Although I am not a historian or archivist, I have experienced the world, the characters, the egos, the passions, the emotional commitment to the work and just about everything else. The letters we chose show for the most part the best part of the men and women who built Hollywood, but we also show its dark side. In one letter, for example, silent film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle writes to mogul Joseph M. Schenck after Arbuckle was arrested for the murder of model and wannabe actress Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle was acquitted, but the scandal ruined his career and changed the way Hollywood was perceived by the public.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, c. 1920-25. Photo: Bain News Service. Prints and Photographs Division.

Can you comment on the Library as a venue for research?
Barbara and I went to many libraries and archives. For me, the Library of Congress was one of the best. The staff was very helpful and supportive. And of course, the main reading room in the Thomas Jefferson Building is absolutely stunningly beautiful. Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate surrounded by all that grandeur, history and sheer magnificence.


Is the Underhand Serve Underhanded?

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On an early fall day in the quiet residential community in Tarzana, California, I was warming up on court 7, while a foursome was playing doubles on an adjacent court.

They were solid clubbers playing social tennis–weekend warriors who come to play with knee braces, arm braces and then cool down with ice packs on various parts of their bodies.

What reactions do players get from an underhand serve?

Then something happened. One of the four, Little Mikey, as we call him, served an underhand serve to his opponent Butch for an ace. And Butch’s head exploded off his shoulders.

He let out a guttural scream, marched around the net and pointed a threatening finger at Little Mikey. Everyone became silent, waiting to hear what would come next. “If you do that one more time, I am walking off this court and I will never, ever play with you again. It reminded me of the Taylor Swift song. “We are never ever getting back together.”

I’m a pretty good player, rated a 4.5, and I personally don’t think the underhand serve is underhanded. But Butch obviously did.

Chang Did It

Michael Chang used an underhand serve famously at The French Open in 1989 when he played Ivan Lendl and went on to win the title. Martina Hingis did the same to Steffi Graf at Roland Garros in the 1999 final.

Michael Chang’s famous underhand serve against Ivan Lendl.

Tomas Berdych hit one in Montreal in 2013. Last year, Bernard Tomic used it at the Vienna Open. Bobby Riggs even used the underhand serve against me in a money match in Palm Springs in 1980. (He won.)

Dave Sivertson, a master pro and a winner of the 2017 World Team Championships in the 65 and over division says, “The underhand serve is an incredibly useful tool in the right situations. It is a disrupter, and can also be a game changer.”

Said Jimmy Parker, holder of 132 Gold Balls, “I have wondered if the reaction to the underhand serve is a cultural thing.”

While in Argentina playing a doubles tournament, Parker underhanded the serve to his Argentine opponent who apparently felt his manhood had been disrespected. “The guy fell apart as he spent the rest of the match trying to take my head off. It was an easy win for us.” Parker went on to say.

“The underhand serve is just another shot to use, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t try to be deceptive when using it, and in fact, people now expect it from me,” he added.

Underhand Was the Original

In the 19th century when the net was 4 feet high the underarm serve was the norm.

What most people don’t know is that when tennis was being born, the underhand serve was the norm. The net was quite a bit higher, approximately four feet high and the server had to underhand the serve just to get the ball over the net. The serve at that point was just a way to start the point.

However, in 1882, the net was lowered to 36 inches at the center strap and 42 inches at the posts. With this change, it became more effective to serve the ball from an overhand position.

In the 20th century the overhand serve became a huge weapon with players like Bill Tilden and Ellsworth Vines blasting balls for easy points. But the underhand serve was never declared illegal or unethical. Technically it was just another possible shot.

Butch, the ballistic club player, might as well have said that the drop shot is illegal, or that the curveball in baseball or the reverse in football are also unethical and unfair.So, why the outrage? Lobbers, dinkers, pushers, and drop shotters all drive people crazy, but nothing drives people crazier than the underhand serve.

Joel Drucker, a writer for Tennisplayer, Tennis magazine and theTennis Channel told me this: “When competing, we often live on a thin knife’s edge between tranquility and tension. The rarity of seeing an underhand serve –and the challenge of having to deal with a ball that’s potentially quite short and spinning in previously unseen and difficult directions — can send someone right over the cliff.”

Just last week at the Monte Carlo Masters, Tennisplayer contributor Craig O’Shannessy suggested somebody should try an underarm serve against Rafael Nadal.

“Rafa is standing to receive the serve so far back that if you are behind the court you can’t see him if you are sitting in the stands,” Craig said.

“It would be a perfectly legitimate tactic and would disrupt the way he is playing at the moment.”

In the 20th century with Bill Tilden and others the overhand serve became a weapon.


Of course we see club players blasting balls everywhere, over hitting and doing multiple other things that are outside of their talent box. They do it for a reason. They like the concept of the winner, they like the ace, they like the big shot. Even if they lose badly they will tell you about the point at 15-40 when they crushed a ball down the line for a winner.

They won’t remember the next three shots they missed by three feet. And so, when a player lines up to serve and then wickedly spins an underhand serve that hits the court surface and wildly spins away from the receiver, that guy’s worldview has been destroyed.

Now one of two things will happen. The guy goes nuts and calls you names and threatens to attack. Or more rarely, a light bulb goes on and he considers doing it himself at the next opportunity.

Personally, I have had significant arm issues and I have developed an underhand serve that I use occasionally to give my arm a break. However, I also use it when I see my opponent standing so far back behind the baseline that he’s pretty much in another county.

To have an effective underhand serve takes practice, just like any other shot. There is a skill to it, a technique. How hard do you slice the ball, do you put a fast slice on it or a slow slice?

How will you anticipate where the return goes and what is the connecting shot after that? It’s not, or shouldn’t be, just a spur of the moment impulse. It takes the same consideration as any other shot you learn to master.

I use the underhand serve to give my arm a break—and as a tactic.

Stacy Margolin Potter, former NCAA singles champion and a top twenty player on the WTA Tour said that she learned the underhand serve from famed coach Jerry Teegarden. Stacy, “If it’s good enough for Peaches Barkowicz it’s good enough for you.” For those of you unfamiliar with the legendary Peaches Bartkowicz, she was one of the original nine women who formed the WTA with Billie Jean King. She was unafraid to use the underhand serve.

So, there is more to the underhand serve than most people think. There is technique, strategy, and execution. And you also have to prepare for the guy who goes Rambo on you. In my opinion if that guy comes charging at you, it’s okay to protect yourself with an overhand serve or any other perfectly legal tennis shot.

The History of Tennis Balls

This article originally was published at

The History of Tennis Balls

Real Tennis, the sport of kings–circa 700 years ago.

Can you imagine tennis without the balls? Tennis balls have undergone an incredible journey. That journey goes back over 700 years or more.

Before there was tennis as we know it, there was a game called Real Tennis, the original racket sport from which the modern game of tennis is derived. Real Tennis, coined the Sport of Kings, started in England in the 1400’s.

The game was played inside on an oval court with balls that didn’t bounce, weird rackets and a scoring system and rules that would confound any serious student of the game. But they did use some sort of ball.

The balls in those times were often made of cork, with fabric tightly wound around the cork, and covered with a hand-sewn layer of heavy woven woolen cloth. But since there were no uniform balls in Europe, they could be made of pretty much anything that could fit inside the covering including animal intestines.

Real Tennis actually evolved from a 12th century game in France that is thought to have been called tenez, which means “take hold.” I think this was a metaphor for their get out of my face attitude, given the wars between France and England at the time and might explain Shakespeare’s scene in the Henry V:

When we have marched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a
wrangler hat all the courts of France will be disturbed
with chases.
Henry V


The original balls: stuffed with wool or cork, wound with fabric or animal intestines, covered in woolen cloth or leather.

In England in 1463, Parliament passed an act banning the importation of tennis balls, as well as playing cards, and dice, which hurt the game significantly. Across the channel in 1480, Louis XI of France, a tennis buff himself, forbade the filling of tennis balls with chalk, sand, sawdust or earth and sand.

He said the balls needed to be made of good leather and well stuffed with wool. He didn’t want them stuffing them with animal intestines either.

Centuries later, some balls recovered on the roof of Westminster Hall in London, during a period of restoration in the 1920’s , found old balls made of putty and human hair, possibly cultivated from the French they guillotined in the town square.

The first proto-modern balls: vulcanized, air-filled, with and without cloth coverings.

Origins of The Modern Ball

The first significant change in the tennis ball came in the 1870s in England when lawn tennis began to replace real tennis as the game. Walter Clopton Wingfield, a Welsh inventor, who was one of the pioneers of lawn tennis along with Augurio Perera and Harry Gem, began to import rubber balls from Germany where the Germans had been successful in creating vulcanized air-filled balls.

These were light and grey or red in color and had no covering. Then John Moyer Heathcote, an English barrister and real tennis player, suggested covering the rubber ball with flannel. By 1882 Wingfield began advertising his balls as clad in stout cloth. This was the beginning of the balls we know today.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the entire tennis market was affected. Because 90% of the rubber being cultivated was going to war priorities, this put an end to the manufacturing of tennis balls. Tennis players would go into tennis stores and buy them out in fear there would be no balls on the market.

The Wilson Victory ball made of reclaimed rubber, used during WW II.

There was a good back-stock of balls, but all the ball brands went into R&D looking for ways of creating balls that didn’t need crude rubber. Out of this came the “Victory” ball made of reclaimed rubber with black seams, although its bounce height was about 6 inches lower than traditional balls.

The Pennsylvania ball company also made balls from recycled rubber and, in a big step in the history of the game, was the first company to sell balls in pressured cans.

The modern ball has gone through its own evolution especially when it comes to the packaging and the cans, and of course, changing the traditional white balls to optic yellow in 1972 so the TV audience could better see the ball.

Penn balls: the first sold in pressurized cans.

Interestingly, because of International Tennis Federation regulations, the making of the tennis ball hasn’t changed much in years and most of the factories are the Far East. Outside of Bangkok, Wilson’s 118,403 square foot factory turns out a 100 million of the yellow-green furry things every year, using a process that involves 24 intricate steps.

Chris Clark, the Global Product Manager for Wilson Racquet Sports said that the difference with the balls both for Wilson and the other companies is the manipulation of the felt on the ball.

“It’s what gives the ball its own personality,” he said. “A ball that is woven tighter will play faster and will turn bald faster, while other balls that tend to fluff up are termed in the industry as ‘hairy halos’, and these balls will play slower.”


The Wilson factory in Bangkok turns out 100 million balls a year.

Strangely, modern tennis balls have made an appearance on the political scene. In one of the oddest edicts came from the city of Cleveland during the 2016 Republican convention when they banned at least 72 kinds of weapons and gadgets from the 1.7 square mile “event zone”.

Guns were allowed, as it’s an open carry state but not tennis balls. Tennis balls were deemed more dangerous than carrying a gun.

On a more serious note, Wimbledon was called out this year as it was revealed that the beloved Slazenger tennis ball used at The Championships were made in a sweltering factory in the Philippines. The workers were making pennies on the hour, far less than the allowance the ball boys and girls get for handling them on the Wimbledon grass.

Further down the supply line, the rubber workers supplying the rubber for the shells of the balls earn less and are forced to cultivate the rubber from Basilan, a dangerous Island that is terrorized by the Islamic State.

The Wimbledon ball: from sweltering factory to cool grass lawns.

Tennis balls continue to be the great equalizer as they are used at every level of the game and with the advent of youth tennis; they now come in different sizes.

The bigger foam balls and the various depressurized balls used by young aspiring players are intended to grow the game of by helping players become more skilled at earlier levels.

At the club and USTA level, the balls often become a point of conflict. Who brings the balls, who opens the balls and when, and what kind of balls does a particular player want to play with? Dunlops are harder, Penn’s fluff up more and what about the many kinds of balls offered by any one company? And then there is that Federer ball that is more expensive than any of the others.

The Future

Rich Francey, Director of Sales for Tennis Warehouse says “I don’t see any significant changes in ball technology in the future and I don’t see manufacturers doing anything to increase the life of the ball.” Francey went on to say that tennis ball prices have not increased in the last twenty years in the U.S. but in Europe they sell for as much as $12.00 a can.

A big change in junior tennis – depressurized, lower bouncing balls.

The relationship with the player and the tennis ball can be a complicated one. Players like Novak Djokovic are so mesmerized by the ball that they will bounce it dozens of times before actually striking it. His bounce record is 39 times in a 2007 Davis Cup match against Australia.

Former U.S. #1 and 1959 Wimbledon semi-finalist Sally Moore, who always had a positive outlook on the game, stated that she loved tennis balls and believed because of that love the balls would be good to her in her matches.

Djokovic once bounced a ball 39 times before a serve.

Dominika Cibulkova appears to kiss newly opened tennis balls. She denies that and said instead, “I smell them, I love their smell, the smell of new balls.” The Slovakian claimed that she could smell a ball and know which tournament it came from. At the 2017 Wimbledon Championships, Dominik was blindfolded and then correctly matched each ball by smelling it to the tournament it was originally used in.

Other tennis players seem to hate tennis balls so much that they will hit them out of the stadium. Players often curse at the ball and call it names. Canadian player Denis Shapovalov hit a ball that nearly took off the head off chair umpire Arnaud Gabas and fractured his eye socket.

American Jack Sock has developed his own ritual and wants each ball handler to only have three balls at any time. He recounted a story: “At one point one ball boy had four balls and the other had two, and I got broke in that game. I had to have a little talk with the ball handlers and told them they needed to keep it three and three.”

Ever Present

Tennis balls have become ever-present in our world today. They are used on the bottoms of walkers, as throw toys for dogs, doorstoppers and even reconstituted carpets made from repurposed rubber.

Denis Shapovalov fractured the eye socket of chair umpire Arnaud Gabas.

In the United States alone 125 million tennis balls are sold each year and 325 million worldwide. Sadly over 100 million balls are dumped into landfills each year and will take over 450 years to decompose. So the next time you decide to hit a ball over the fence remember, it will likely be there long after you’re gone.

Finally, the great Billie Jean King finds spiritual meaning in the tennis ball. She said, “I love the smell of the ball and the sound of the ball hitting the strings. The seam on the ball reminds me of the separation between the land and the ocean on earth.” That is deep thinking.