This article was last modified on December 29, 2014.

The Creation and Legacy of “Come and Get It” (Rough Draft)

Novelist Edna J. Ferber, called “Ferb” by her friends, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August 15, 1885. Her mother Julia Neumann Ferber was from Milwaukee, and at the age of 12 (around 1897) Ferber and her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, settling at 732 North Street. She graduated from the local high school and briefly attended Lawrence University in the city. She took newspaper jobs at the Appleton Daily Crescent. Her father Jacob was a merchant, though he passed in September 1909 before his daughter achieved fame. Harry Houdini’s father had been a rabbi at the same synagogue the Ferbers attended, and the writer met the magician at least once: when she interviewed him in a drug store on Appleton’s College Avenue for the newspaper.


Following several successful novels and winning some Pulitzer Prizes, Ferber Wrote the book “Come and Get It” in 1935, saying it was about “the grabbers of the Robber Barons school”. As part of her research, she extensively interviewed an executive of a large Neenah paper mill. (Frank J. Sensenbrenner) When the book came out, and the executive had not even received a thank you note, he made her rude conduct known to the community.

At the time it was to be published in installments for Woman’s Home Companion, she was still deciding between two titles: “Come and Get It” or “Gusto”. She chose the former.

The novel covers four generations of the fictional Glasgow family, opening in 1907 when Barney Glasgow is one of the wealthiest men in Wisconsin and a prominent business tycoon nationally. He has risen up from his days as a young lumberjack, and takes a very libertarian view of his industry. Disregarding the government, he says, “I’ll cut my timber and fix my rates and ship my logs as I see fit. Always have. Always will.” But “always” turns out to be rather short; after the boom of the 1920s, the family becomes a shell of its former self once the stock market crash and Great Depression arrive.

The ecology theme is present, though not front and center. Of course, that might not make a very engaging novel. She does write of “the raping of the forests” early on, and later has a lumberjack’s son, Tom Melendys, become a college professor who acts as a mentor to Barney Glasgow’s grandchildren. He writes a book called “The Rape of American Forests”, thus bringing this theme full-circle.

Took heat for using racial slurs about Polish women in the novel, also calling the Polish workers “dumb”, getting letters from many outraged readers, including Congressman George Sadowski.

Still in 1935, she went to Hollywood to sell the story to Sam Goldwyn of United Artists, hoping to write the script herself. They spent much time chatting at lunch, dinner and enjoying drinks around his pool, but nothing was accomplished quickly.

paid $150,000 for the screen rights (about $2.6 million today). Other sources say $40,000

Howard Hawks and his wife attended Sam Goldwyn’s New Years Eve party December 31, 1935. Also present were Cole Porter, Gary Cooper, Jack Benny, Frank Capra, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers and others.

Jane Murfin wrote a draft on February 11, 1936 based on Ferber’s novel

Jules Furthman wrote his first draft on April 14, 1936 and had the final draft finished on June 16

Goldwyn hired Howard Hawks to direct, due in part to his work on “Barbary Coast”, which had just been released. Allegedly, he also liked that Hawks was the grandson of the book’s inspiration, but it is unclear how Goldwyn would know that. According to Hawks, he didn’t want to do the film, but Goldwyn’s wife begged him. He was paid $3500 per week.

“Barbary Coast” would be a crucial entry in Hawks’ early career. Joel McCrea starred in it, and the film was Walter Brennan’s debut. Both would play key roles in “Come and Get It”. Brennan and Hawks became fast friends on the “Barbary Coast” set after informing Hawks that he could deliver his lines with or without teeth.

Ferber wanted Howard Estabrook to write, especially since he had written an Oscar-winning adaptation of her novel “Cimarron”, but he was attached to Fox

When Ferber and Hawks met, she asked how he knew so much and he said his grandfather was Charles Howard, founder of the Howard and Davis Paper Company. She replied, “Oh, hell, you know more about it than I do.” Although she had her doubts about Hawks, this connection convinced her he was right for the job. She found him “charming” and allowed him to alter “a few things”. Goldwyn wanted Spencer Tracy (a Milwaukee native) to play the lead, but couldn’t get him

Goldwyn underwent surgery, so while he was gone, Hawks modified the story even more to focus on a love triangle of a single generation and less on the destruction of the land over a fifty-year period, against the wishes of both Goldwyn and Ferber. Hawks knew Goldwyn wouldn’t like it, but did it anyway. Goldwyn had “several feet of decayed intestine” removed on May 11, causing his work to be handled by his wife. Merritt Hulburd, who was acting as associate producer on “Dodsworth”, handled script supervision and casting on “Come and Get It” in Goldwyn’s absence.

Logging scenes were filmed in Idaho, with the rest done in Canada and Wisconsin.

When Goldwyn found out, Hawks was fired and replaced by William Wyler, who had been shooting “Dodsworth” one sound stage over. Because Goldwyn was still recovering, Wyler had to discuss the film at the executive’s home, the first time Wyler had the honor of visiting. The house at 1200 Laurel Lane in Beverly Hills was extravagant, with three maids, a butler and a cook living on site to care for Goldwyn, his wife and their son. The only other house in the cul-de-sac, another mansion with on-site staff, belonged to Stanley Barber, the president of a bottling company.

Once the subject was brought up, Wyler flatly refused to touch Hawks’ movie. But according to Wyler, Goldwyn “carried on like a madman about me having to do this, that I was legally obligated to do it and that he’d ruin my career if I refused. He got so furious that Frances Goldwyn took a flyswatter and beat it over his legs on the bed and I ran out of the room.” Wyler’s attorney looked over his contract and concluded Goldwyn was right: Wyler had no choice but to finish the film. And, he figured, since “Dodsworth” was still in the editing phase, he didn’t want Goldwyn upset enough to have someone else come in and mess up his film, too. Wyler took over “Come and Get It” in August 1936. With Wyler at the helm, writer Jane Murfin returned for some last-minute revisions and cinematographer Rudolph Mate replaced Gregg Toland. Like Toland, Mate had trained under Karl Freund and had worked on several of Carl Th. Dreyer’s best films, including “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) and “Vampyr” (1932).

How much Wyler did is a matter of debate, with some alleging only the last 10-15 minutes is Wyler’s work. Others say he ended up doing more than half during the month (August 19-September 19) he was on set. Hawks spent more time on set (about forty-two days) but Wyler may have been more productive. Editor Eddie Curtiss (in an October 29, 1936 telegram) had the numbers: the footage was a total of 8,945 feet. 4205 belonged to Wyler, 4506 belonged to Hawks, and 234 was titles. This would suggest Hawks played a bigger part. Yet, of his footage, that included 473 feet shot by Richard Rosson for the logging scenes. In a straight comparison, Wyler actually directed more of the completed film than Hawks.

Wyler biographer Gabriel Miller says the finished film is “thematically closer” to Wyler than Hawks; specifically “the strained relations between husband and wife… triangular relationships… the folly of attempting to recapture one’s youth, and the emotional cost of sacrificing love for ambition.” Film critic Andrew Sarris tends to agree, saying in similar terms that “the unattained woman sacrificed upon the altar of excessive ambition” is Wyler, while the barroom brawl is much more in line with what we expect from the macho Hawks. Critic Robin Wood also sees Hawks in “the saloon fight in which Barney, Swan and Lotta vanquish opposition by hurling tin trays.” Scott Berg sees Hawks as turning the picture into a “buddy movie, the story of two friends and a girl”.

Miller believes that just as Hawks was responsible for making Frances Farmer central to the film, Wyler was just as responsible for playing up the importance of Richard, as played by Joel McCrea.

Goldwyn sent a letter to Ferber on October 27 saying he “suffered a relapse for a full two weeks” because Hawks had upset him so. He also lied, saying he “threw away most of what Hawks had photographed” and “spent a good two months rephotographing it.” Ferber responded on October 31, and praised Goldwyn for his “courage, sagacity and power of decision which you showed in throwing out the finished Hawks picture and undertaking the gigantic task of what amounted to a new picture. Few producers would have done this.”

Despite this, she refused to do any publicity for the film because her ecology theme was removed. In a telegram dated October 28, she expressed her view that “the droughts and floods and dust storms of our time are the result of the Barney Glasgows of fifty years ago.” Goldwyn banned Hawks from his studio, saying he had “no character”, but caved five years later when Gary Cooper refused to work with anyone else. He insisted to Hawks that “writers should write, directors should direct”. (Whether Hawks was fired or quit depends on whether you ask Hawks or Goldwyn.) Joel McCrea said, “Hawks didn’t care about anybody except himself.”

Frances Farmer recalled disliking Wyler. He was demanding and made it clear he was working under protest. Farmer said working for Wyler was “the nearest thing to slavery”. Wyler had his own thoughts. “The nicest thing I can say about Frances Farmer is that she is unbearable.”

Hawks’ long-time actor Walter Brennan (who was cast as “the strongest man in the North woods” despite being quite thin) became the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Also hired cameraman Gregg Toland, who would go on to make “Citizen Kane”.

In the book, Lotta was a “shrinking violet” but became “full of bravado” in the film, or in Hawks’ words, he changed her from “the little lame girl who sang so badly” to a “lusty wench”. Hawks saw Frances Farmer in “Rhythm on the Range” with Bing Crosby and thought she “always looked as though she were shining.” Sam Goldwyn wanted Miriam Hopkins, Andrea Leeds or Virginia Bruce, but Hawks refused to bend. Hopkins had even been publicly announced, causing the studio to backpedal. Leeds was given the role of Evvie Glasgow. Once Farmer was cast as Lotta, she toured the red light district for ten days while wearing a black wig, learning to mimic the “cheapness” and “swagger” of the women. Up until his death, Hawks always maintained that Farmer “had more talent than anyone I ever worked with.”

Edward Arnold made $52,500. Hawks made $73,150. Farmer made $562.50.

the problems the film faced did nothing to harm the relationship of Wyler and Hawks, with the men exchanging complimentary telegrams on November 27, 1936

Goldwyn later optioned Ferber’s “Nobody’s in Town”, but the project fell through when Sidney Howard died in August 1939 while writing the script. As of 2015, the book has yet to see a film version.

The movie was poorly received by audiences, and actually lost $300,000 (about $5 million in 2014 money). Despite this, it still performed better than Wyler’s other film, “Dodsworth”, and remains better known today.

Hawks was lined up to direct “The Hurricane” (1937) for Goldwyn, but due to their falling out, the job was passed to John Ford, who had won a Best Director Academy Award for “The Informer” (1935).

Hawks returned to Goldwyn for “Ball of Fire” (1941), now serving as a mentor for Billy Wilder. Goldwyn actually disliked Hawks more now than a few years prior, because Hawks had the reputation of a gambler who didn’t pay his debts and got “involved in real estate schemes”. But there was no denying he made great films.

A few years later, “A Song is Born” (1948) was released as a remake of “Ball of Fire”, again with Goldwyn and Hawks. This time it was Goldwyn who was upsetting Hawks and not the other way around. Goldwyn was insistent that the black and white musicians stay segregated, and Hawks told him “to hell with that”. Hawks later said he would have refused the film entirely but couldn’t turn down the $25,000 per week salary.

Years later, Hawks said he would not mind remaking “Come and Get It” as a western. Then, upon further reflection, he decided that he already had when he made “Red River”.


Berg, Scott. Goldwyn.

McBride, Joseph. Hawks on Hawks. University of California Press, 1982.

McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. Grove Press, 1997.

Miller, Gabriel. William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director. University Press of Kentucky, 2013.

Still need:

Focus on Howard Hawks, by Joseph McBride
William Wyler, by Madsen
Frances Farmer: Shadowland, by William Arnold
A Talent for Trouble, by Jan Herman
Goldwyn, by Arthur Marx
Howard Hawks, by Robin Wood

Also try another article under Film Industry
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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