Cast & Crew
One evening, at her lavish San Francisco home, wealthy Joyce Ramsey is introduced to her teenaged daughter Martha's boyfriend, Phil Polanski, who proudly reveals his working class background. Distressed by Phil's modest ambitions, Joyce later voices her disapproval to her husband David, but instead of agreeing with her, David turns away in disgust. When Joyce presses David to explain his attitude, he reveals that he is profoundly unhappy and wants a divorce. Stunned, Joyce slaps David, then begs to know why he is so dissatisfied. After declaring that he is fed up with Joyce's unrelenting love of success, David leaves home. Later, alone with her thoughts, Joyce recalls better times with David: As a young woman, Joyce, who is living on her aunt's farm, makes plans with boyfriend David for an exciting, prosperous future. After they marry, Joyce works as a secretary in David's struggling Santa Rosa law office and tricks a prospective customer, Mr. Swanson, into hiring David instead of his partner, Robert Townsend. David, who has been working construction jobs with Bob to make ends meet, is thrilled to have snagged his first client, especially when Joyce reveals she is pregnant. A year later, however, David and Bob learn about Joyce's subterfuge, and the financially troubled Bob announces he is quitting the practice. David, who has prospered from his relationship with Swanson, a former factory worker with a valuable steel-making patent, denounces Joyce and threatens to drop Swanson as a client. Joyce soon changes his mind, however, saying that she lied only to help him and their unborn child. Back in the present, Joyce says nothing to her eldest daughter Diana about David's departure, and the next morning, lies to both her daughters about David's absence. After a society columnist telephones with questions about David's move to a men's club, however, Joyce admits all. Although Joyce insists to Martha and Diana that David will return in time, her belief in the marriage falters when a friend reveals that David has been seen in the company of another woman. Through her lawyer, Joyce hires a private detective to spy on David, then recalls another incident from her past: Just after Joyce gives birth to Martha, David, who is now an executive in Swanson's company, announces he is being transferred to San Francisco and wants to build a house in the countryside. Joyce, who has long dreamed of the excitement of city living, angrily rejects David's idea, and he relents. Later, Joyce and David attend a party at the home of society matron Emily Hedges, who identifies Joyce as a conniving social climber like herself. Joyce and Emily become fast friends, and Joyce cajoles David into befriending Mr. Hedges for the sake of his career. Soon after, Bob drops by the Ramseys', confessing to Joyce that he is in desperate need of $15,000. Repulsed, Joyce tells Bob, who previously had turned down David's help, that David is out of town and cannot help him. When David later discovers her lie, he comes to Bob's aid, then derides Joyce for her callousness. Back in the present, David and his new girl friend, the soft-spoken, well-educated Eileen Benson, enjoy a drink together in his apartment. As soon as David and Eileen start to kiss, however, they are interrupted by the flash of the detective's camera. To protect Eileen's reputation, David offers to marry her, but Eileen bravely declines. Enraged by David's infidelity, Joyce demands all of his assets during the divorce hearings, and he wearily consents. Out of concern for her mother's well-being, Martha, still a minor, then chooses to live with Joyce instead of David. Later, while on a Caribbean cruise, Joyce meets handsome Englishman Anthony Tunliffe. During a stopover in Port-au-Prince, Joyce and Tunliffe visit the now-divorced Emily, who warns Joyce about becoming a deluded, drunken woman like herself. Strongly attracted to Tunliffe, Joyce at first dismisses Emily's concerns, but takes heed after Tunliffe reveals he is married but is nonetheless looking for romance. Crushed, Joyce decides to cut short the cruise to attend Martha and Phil's wedding. David also attends and offers Joyce comfort when she breaks down in tears at the end of the day. David accompanies Joyce home, and while standing on the doorstep of the house they once shared, suggests they start over. Joyce demurs, stating calmly that she wants to wait until she is sure that he loves, not pities, her.
Barbara Davis Sherry
Albert S. D'agostino
Jack H. Skirball
Jack H. Skirball
Payment on Demand
The story of the breakdown of a marriage was the subject of Curtis Bernhardt's film Payment on Demand (1951), which starred Bette Davis as a woman who pushes her lawyer husband (Barry Sullivan) to the top. Once there, and tired of her social-climbing ways, he becomes involved with a schoolteacher (Frances Dee) and shocks his wife by asking her for a divorce.
Davis had worked with Curtis Bernhardt before on the successful A Stolen Life (1946) and the two had become friends. Bernhardt and screenwriter Bruce Manning had come up with a script that cried out for Davis' strength and talent. Joyce Ramsey was a role Davis could understand - a woman who works hard to get where she is, despite the toll it takes on her home life. It would be difficult for an actress to make an audience care for such a hard woman, but if anyone could do it, it was Bette Davis.
While Payment on Demand was in production (between January - April 1950), Davis' own life had been turned upside down. She had recently left Warner Bros. after nineteen years. Stars under contract during the Golden Age of Hollywood were strictly controlled by their studios, but they were also protected. Now, for the first time in her film career, Davis was the one in full control. In her autobiography, The Lonely Life, she wrote of her uncertainty, "It is like leaving home and going out in the world for the first time to seek your fortune. But I felt that if after all my fighting for the right scripts they were still giving me the wrong ones, there was no longer any point." Like Joyce Ramsey, Bette Davis' marriage to W.G. Sherry was breaking up. Rumors began to circulate around town that Davis was having an affair with her handsome co-star, Barry Sullivan.
Davis was happy to be working with another member of the cast, legendary theater actress Jane Cowl. Writing of the experience, Davis remembered, "I worked with Jane Cowl in this one. It was the last part she played before she died. I was thrilled to be in the same scene with her. I had been an admirer since childhood." Curtis Bernhardt was also in awe of Cowl, who was not only an actress, but also a director and writer, having penned Smilin' Through with actress Jane Murfin under the pseudonym of Alan Langdon Martin. Bernhardt later recalled that Davis, "had great respect for Jane Cowl and Bette had respect for nothing. That's how tremendous this actress was. She died soon after the picture. She has only two scenes in the film but they are both capital scenes. I adore the scene with her and her gigolo, Arthur. The actor who plays Arthur is also wonderful, James Griffith. And Cowl plays this scene with so much dignity and authority, it's beautiful." Cowl, who played the older divorcee, Mrs. Emily Hedges, had just received a diagnosis of terminal cancer when she appeared in Payment on Demand. She would pass away in June 1950, before the film was released. On a happier note, Davis' young daughter, Barbara Davis Sherry (known as B.D.) appeared with her mother in the film, playing her daughter, Diana, as a child. As an adult, she would publish two unflattering books about her mother, under her married name of B.D. Hyman.
When Payment on Demand was shown to the management of the Roxy Theater in New York before the preview, they considered the film's ending, in which there seems no hope that the Ramseys will ever get back together again, too depressing, and asked that it be changed. Bernhardt had a meeting with Manning and Howard Hughes, then the owner of R.K.O. and well known for interfering in the minutiae of his films. Bernhardt was surprised that Hughes had practically memorized the dialogue and was able to advise him on where he should make his edits and rewrites. In the end, it was decided to leave the ending ambiguous and let the audience decide if the couple reunites. Despite the alterations, Bernhardt maintained that of all the films he made in the United States, Payment on Demand was his favorite.
While Davis was working on Payment on Demand, she received a call from Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, telling her that Claudette Colbert had just injured her back and would be unable to star in All About Eve (1950). Zanuck offered her the role of Margo Channing, which is arguably her most famous performance. It is a tribute to Davis that she was able to finish production on Payment on Demand and in less than a week be on the set of All About Eve with that character fully realized.
Payment on Demand was left in the can until All About Eve was released, and so was viewed as her follow-up, despite being filmed first. This led to mixed reviews from the critics. Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, bemoaned the fact that after wowing audiences with All About Eve Davis was "back in bondage to the supposed interests of her female fans. And once again in her haughtiest fashion, she is making it evident to members of her sex how perilous it is for married women to aggravate their spouses (or is it spice?)."
Producer: Bruce Manning, Jack H. Skirball (producer)
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay: Curtis Bernhardt, Bruce Manning (writers)
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Victor Young
Film Editing: Harry Marker
Cast: Bette Davis (Joyce Ramsey (nee Jackson)), Barry Sullivan (David Anderson Ramsey), Jane Cowl (Mrs. Emily Hedges), Kent Taylor (Robert Townsend), Betty Lynn (Martha Ramsey), John Sutton (Anthony Tunliffe), Frances Dee (Eileen Benson), Peggie Castle (Diana Ramsey), Otto Kruger (Ted Prescott), Walter Sande (Swanson).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Bubbeo, Daniel The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies
Crowther, Bosley, The New York Times "Bette Davis Plays Divorcee in 'Payment on Demand,' " 16 Feb 51
Davis, Bette, The Lonely Life
The Internet Movie Database
Klersch, Mary, Curtis Bernhardt: A Directors Guild of America Oral History
Thomson, David, Bette Davis
Payment on Demand
Frances Dee (1907-2004)
She was born Jane Dee, on November 26, 1907 in Los Angeles, California. She was the daughter of an Army officer who grew up in Chicago after her father was transferred there when she was still a toddler. After he was re-stationed to Los Angeles in the late '20s, Jane accompanied him back.
Although she didn't harbor any serious intentions of becoming a star, Dee, almost out of curiosity, found work in Hollywood as an extra. With bit parts in small features in the films Words and Music (1929), True to the Navy, and Monte Carlo (both 1930), it didn't take long for studio executives to take notice of the sleek, stylish brunette. They changed her first name to Francis, and gave her a prominent role opposite Maurice Chevalier in one of the first all-talking musicals, The Playboy of Paris (1930).
She proved she could handle drama in her next big hit, An American Tragedy (1931) as Sondra Finchley, the role played by Elizabeth Taylor in the George Stevens' remake A Place in the Sun (1951). She met her husband Joel McCrea while filming The Silver Cord (1933), and after a romantic courtship, were married that same year in Rye, New York. It was well-known within film industry circles that their 57-year marriage (ending in 1990 when McCrea passed away) was one of the most successful among Hollywood stars.
From there, Dee played important leads in several fine motion pictures thoughout the decade: Little Women (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn; Blood Money (also 1933), where she was cast thrillingly against type as a sex-hungry socialite whose taste for masochistic boyfriends leads to harrowing results; Of Human Bondage (1934), in which she played Leslie Howard's devoted girlfriend; The Gay Deception (1935), a charming romantic comedy co-starring Frances Lederer; Wells Fargo (1937) a broad sweeping Western where she again teamed up with her husband McCrea; and the classic period epic If I Were King (1938) making a marvelous match for Ronald Colman.
Dee's film career slowed considerably in the '40s, as she honorably spent more time raising her family. Still, she was featured in two fine films: the profound, moving anti-Nazi drama So Ends Our Night (1941) with Fredric March; and Val Lewton's terrific cult hit I Walked with a Zombie (1943), portraying the inquisitive nurse trying to unravel the mystery of voodoo occurrences on a West Indian plantation. Dee officially retired after starring in the family film Gypsy Colt (1954) to commit herself full-time to her children and her husband.
For those so inclined, you might want to check out Complicated Women (2003), a tight documentary regarding the racy Pre-Code films that represented a realistic depiction of the Depression-era morality before the Hays code took over Hollywood in 1934. Frances Dee, although well in her nineties, offers some lucid insight into her performance in Blood Money, and clearly demonstrates an actor's process of thought and understanding in role development.
She is survived by three sons including the actor Jody McCrea, who found fame as "Bonehead" in the AIP Beach Party films of the '60s, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Frances Dee (1907-2004)
Jane Cowl's last film.
Originally titled "The Story of a Divorce"
The film was made before Bette Davis' comeback film, "All About Eve", but wasn't released until the year after.
The working title of this film was Story of a Divorce. The picture marked Bette Davis' first free-lance appearance after being a contract star at Warner Bros. for eighteen years. Gwenaud Productions, which co-produced the picture with RKO, was owned by Bruce Manning and Jack H. Skirball. According to a January 5, 1950 Daily Variety news item, Robert Young was first slated to co-star with Davis in the picture. In late January 1950, Hollywood Reporter announced that RKO was arranging to borrow Wendell Corey from Hal Wallis' company for the male lead. RKO borrowed Barry Sullivan from M-G-M, Betty Lynn from Twentieth Century-Fox and Peggie Castle from Universal for the production. Davis' three-year-old daughter, Barbara Davis Sherry, made her screen debut in the film, appearing as Davis' fictional daughter "Diana."
Payment on Demand marked the final screen appearance of actress Jane Cowl, who died on June 22, 1950. It also marked the return of actress Frances Dee, who had been absent from the screen for three years. Her previous film was the 1948 United Artists release Four Faces West (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Night location shooting took place at Los Angeles International Airport in Inglewood, CA, according to a mid-March 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item. According to the Time review, just prior to the film's release, producers Manning and Skirball, uncertain whether to conclude the story with a reconciliation scene, tested four different endings with preview audiences. On September 3, 1951, Davis and Sullivan reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the story.