A Midsummers Night's Dream premieres in NYC
In 1935, famed Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt (who fled to Los Angeles from Nazi Germany) staged his elaborate version of Shakespeare’s fantasy comedy A Midsummers Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. The production proved so popular that Warner Brothers hired him to bring his vision to screen. Warner Brothers, known for their hard-hitting (and profitable) gangster films, wanted to branch out into more prestigious fare, and nothing could be more prestigious than the first major sound production of a Shakespeare play. At the time, Variety described it as “ perhaps the biggest gamble ever taken by a picture company or producer.” The studio budget $1.3 million for a 70-day shoot. While Reinhardt would bring to the production his decades of theatrical experience, he also wanted to harness the power of cinema to capture the magical fairy realm. As such he hired a hundreds of extras to suggest the fairy realm. To boost the film’s marketability, Warner Brothers and Reinhardt opted to cast Hollywood names, rather than depend on stage actor. As such James Cagney took the part of Bottom, Dick Powell, Lysander, and most famously Mickey Rooney was Puck. Kenneth Anger, who would go on to be a major experimental filmmaker, was cast as one of the fairies. The cinematographer Hal Mohr, who devised a new lighting system to handle the dense forests that Reinhardt had designed for the production, won the only write-in Oscar of the Academy Awards history. Yet despite Warner Brothers best effort, the film tanked at the box office, losing more than half a million dollars. And then to add insult to injury, Germany banned the film because the director and film’s composer, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, were Jewish.