Cast & Crew
Patricia "Pinky" Johnson, a light-skinned African-American woman, returns by train to her childhood home in a small Southern town. Her grandmother Dicey, a hard-working, religious washerwoman, is happy that Pinky has come back from the northern school to which Dicey sent her when she was very young. Pinkie is now a fully qualified nurse, and Dicey hopes that she will use her knowledge to help their community. Dicey suspects that Pinky has passed for white up North, and when Pinky confesses that she has, her grandmother, ashamed that Pinky has denied her own racial identity, makes her pray for forgiveness. Pinky is haunted, however, by thoughts of her fiancé, Thomas Adams, a white Boston doctor to whom she wants to return. When Pinky learns that neighbor Jake Waters has kept money that the illiterate Dicey gave him to mail to her, she confronts Jake at his shack. Jake, a conniving lay-about, gives her fifteen dollars belonging to his wife Rozelia and promises to return the rest soon, but Rozelia sees Pinky leave with the money and threatens her. Two police officers see the confrontation and, believing Pinky to be white, begin to slap Rozelia. When Rozelia reveals that Pinky also is black, the police arrest them and shove them all into their car. At the courthouse, Judge Walker, who is fond of Dicey, releases Pinky with a warning to keep out of trouble. Later, after the distressed Pinky goes out walking, Jake visits Dicey and finds a letter addressed to Pinky that Dicey had been keeping from her. Dicey snatches it back and burns it, but Jake warns that the white doctor whose return address is on the envelope will surely come looking for Pinky and offers to send a telegram to stop him. While walking alone, Pinky is accosted by two intoxicated white men, and after she escapes their lecherous grasp, she returns home and begins to pack. Dicey stops her, however, and tells her that she has volunteered her as a nurse for Miss Em, a sickly white woman living in a nearby, decaying mansion. When Pinky refuses, saying that Miss Em treated her as an inferior in the past, Dicey berates Pinky for her hardened heart and relates that when she had pneumonia, Miss Em slept in her shack, fed and washed her, and even emptied her "slops" until Dicey recovered. Pinky then agrees to nurse Miss Em for Dicey's sake. Although she is humiliated by the domineering old woman, Pinky realizes that Miss Em will die soon, after which she will be able to leave. When Miss Em castigates Pinky for pretending to be what she is not, Pinky disparages the racial rules set by white society. One day, Pinky is met by Tom, who has located her after receiving the telegram sent by Jake. Pinky reveals that she is black, and Tom tenders his belief that no race is superior to another and his hope that he has no hidden racist feelings. He asks her to return North with him and live as a white, but she insists she must continue with her case and not join him after she is finished. When Melba Wooley, the wife of Miss Em's cousin, visits, Miss Em, not wanting a long visit from the busybody, has Pinky remain in the room. Mrs. Wooley, obvlivious to Miss Em's sarcastic attempts to get rid of her, reveals that her maid, Rozelia, has been spreading gossip that Pinky is a thief. Although Mrs. Wooley does not want Miss Em to make a will, after she leaves, Miss Em sends Pinky away and writes one. She collapses as Pinky is returning, and when Miss Em revives, she has Doc Joe, her physician, witness the will without Pinky's knowledge. Pinky has grown fond of the old woman, who has never been afraid to speak her mind, and is saddened when Miss Em dies. When Mrs. Wooley sees Pinky at the dry goods store soon after, she castigates the owner for allowing his saleslady, who is unaware that Pinky is black, to sell to "nigras" before whites. She then implies that Pinky, who is there to purchase a mourning veil, is using money stolen from Miss Em. After the funeral, Pinky and Dicey learn from Doc Joe that Miss Em left Pinky her home and land as an expression of regard and confidence that she would put the property to good use. Outraged, Mrs. Wooley decides to contest the will, and rumors spread among the whites in town that Pinky drugged Miss Em and forced her to make the will. Jake warns Pinky that she and the other blacks in town will face severe repercussions if she accepts the bequest, but Pinky, touched by Miss Em's faith in her, decides not to return North until the matter is settled. Although Judge Walker believes that Miss Em acted unadvisedly, Pinky prevails upon his lifelong friendship with Miss Em and he agrees to represent her. Unable to obtain nursing work and needing money for the court expenses, Pinky does washing for Dicey, who is ill now herself. When Tom visits, he tries to convince Pinky to drop the case, but she is adamant that she does not want to let down Miss Em, herself or her people. She states that if the whites are going to get the house and land by cheating, she wants it out in the open for all to see, and Tom pledges his support. During the trial, Mrs. Wooley's lawyer tries to prove that Pinky exerted undue influence over Miss Em, but the presiding judge rules that the will is a binding legal document. Afterwards, Judge Walker expressed to Pinky his doubts that winning the case has served any interests of the community other than justice. When Tom tells Pinky that he plans to join a clinic in Denver because too many people in Boston have read about the trial, Pinky realizes that Miss Em gave her the house so that she would stay in the South and be herself. She tells Tom that she cannot deny she is a Negro and that she does not want to be anything else, then asks him to go. Using the house and land, Pinky establishes "Miss Em's Clinic and Nursery School" for the black community and operates it with Dr. Canady, a black physician, Doc Joe and Dicey.
Nina Mae Mckinney
Tiger Joe Marsh
Maj. Philip J. Kieffer
Noble "kid" Chissell
Frank Cory Jr.
Walter M. Scott
J. Russell Spencer
Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actress
According to writer Judith Smith in her book Visions of Belonging, "White and his associate Roy Wilkins demanded that the script include material referring to the wartime call for an end to racial discrimination. They also demanded cuts of material that encouraged suspicion of civil rights agitation and militancy and acceptance of segregation. In August  Zanuck reminded people who was in charge by announcing in Variety that the production of the film had been 'virtually abandoned'. Privately he wrote a long memo to White and others conceding that it was possible to allow Pinky to confront Miss Em's paternal influence, but also insisting that the picture's success depended on its appeal to white audiences."
The first major change was to give the screenplay to Philip Dunne, who felt that the ending didn't work. Dunne felt that Pinky was "a very special colored girl who could pass for white, who has made up her mind which race she will belong to, who finally makes the hard decision to live as a Negro, and who is then subjected to persecution and slander because of that decision." Jane White felt that Dunne's ending in which Pinky leaves her white fiancé and turns Miss Em's house into a clinic for black children lacked credibility. As Smith wrote, "She wanted to see signs of the momentum toward racial equality. White rejected the script's association of visible race with the South, pre-modern backwardness, and accommodation to segregation, calling attention to its use of racial stereotyping in the characters of Granny, Jake, and Rozelia." In the end, it was what Zanuck thought that mattered and the film adopted the Dunne ending.
The second major change in the production of Pinky was the director. John Ford left the film after only a week of shooting that was so traumatic Ethel Waters described it as a "shock treatment", with Ford's abrasive personality making her "almost have a stroke". Zanuck was unhappy with the rushes he saw. "Ford's Negroes were like Aunt Jemima caricatures. I thought we're going to get into trouble. Jack said, 'I think you'd better put someone else on it." Ford was replaced with Elia Kazan, who had made Gentleman's Agreement (1947), another racially-themed film for the studio, and earning it an Academy Award in the process. The official reason for John Ford's departure was listed as a bad case of the shingles, which Kazan later admitted was a lie. "He pretended to have shingles. Some years later I said to Zanuck, 'Jack Ford never had shingles, did he?' And he said, 'Oh, hell, no. He just wanted to get out of it; he hated Ethel Waters and she sure as hell hated him.' Jack scared her to death and he knew she didn't want to work with him. I also think maybe he didn't like the whole project. Anyway, Zanuck wired me and asked if I'd come out. I wired back, 'I'll do it as a favor.' Firstly, I threw away whatever Ford had shot. It was poor. It showed a lack of interest and involvement. So, all the footage was mine. The only things that were not mine, which are a hell of a lot, were the script and the cast. It was the last time I ever allowed that. Jeanne Crain was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher. I did my best with her but she didn't have any fire. The only good thing about her face was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is part of what 'passing' is."
Kazan found that he had his work cut out for him. "I rehearsed more on Pinky than on any of the earlier films. By the time I started to work on it, the actors were terrified. They all felt that they had a disaster. They had expected to work with Jack Ford and he had quit. He rejected them and they all felt very unworthy. You have no idea how fragile an actor's self-worth is. And if Ford didn't like something, he didn't try to put a good face on, especially in those days. He was already cantankerous. They all felt shunned, so I had some readings. I rehearsed a lot with Jeanne, because the minute I saw her I knew what the problem was. I think I used her quality pretty well. I tried to pass off her strained face and passivity as tension. I tried to at least make her internal movement a little more clear to her. Where it changed, where it developed, what she was seeking, what she was after, what we call the actions. [...] The first thing I did was relax her, made her feel, put my hand on her body a little bit. I don't mean sexually but like you do with a horse, you know, 'Just take it easy, calm down. I'm here and you're gonna be alright.' I did that with Ethel Waters, too. Ethel was interesting because she had a strange duality she was religious on the one hand and on the other full of hatred. I was interested in Ethel personally, I liked talking to her. So perhaps I worked more than I would have ordinarily, but I always worked a lot with all the actors. "
Kazan was able to get his way with almost everyone except the 20th Century-Fox front office. He wanted to shoot at least part of Pinky on location in the South, which the studio denied. "Almost everything was shot in the studio. Even the outdoor set, the village, was built indoors. The trees went up just so high, so you had to put the camera at eye level or slightly above eye level and shoot down. You had to frame on things in the middle foreground so that you didn't go over the edge of the set. Naturally, there was no dirt, no sweat, no water, no anything. That's why I say I don't like Pinky much."
African-American critics deplored the casting of Jeanne Crain (a white actress) in the role that Lena Horne had wanted, as well as noting that the studio couldn't seem to decide whether the film was "pro-Negro or follow[ing] the same old Hollywood trends in dealing with the subject." As a rebuttal, Philip Dunne wrote a piece entitled "Approach to Racism" in The New York Times stating that the film rejected "the long-standing taboo against films dealing with the problems of racial and religious prejudice." Crain herself said "So many people have told me not to stir anything up that I feel we've got to really move them into feeling for Pinky and her problems."
Mainstream film critics like Variety accused Zanuck of focusing on "entertainment above soapboxing", which was ironic given Zanuck's earlier insistence that the film was to be purely entertainment. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times thought the opposite, stating, "Now that our screen has contemplated some bitter evidence of anti-Negro bias as it has crashed with dramatic explosion upon individuals in the Army and in 'the North" (Home of the Brave and Lost Boundaries), it has remained for Darryl F. Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox to shift the scope of observation into that more noted arena of racism, the Deep South. And in Pinky, their film upon this subject, which opened at the Rivoli yesterday, they have come forth with a picture that is vivid, revealing and emotionally intense."
Elia Kazan may not have delivered another Gentleman's Agreement for Fox, but he did help Jeanne Crain get an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress, and Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters nominations as Best Supporting Actress. For him, "[T]he most memorable thing about making that picture was the party at the end of shooting. Ethel Waters had been so sweet, kissing me all the time and telling me how much she loved me and how grateful she was to me. She and I got drunk, and I said, 'Ethel, you don't really like any white man do you?' And she said, 'I don't like any of them. I'd never trust any of 'em.' When she got drunk she told the truth, and I liked her better for it. I thought, 'I don't blame her. I can understand that.'
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Elia Kazan; John Ford (uncredited)
Screenplay: Philip Dunne, Dudley Nichols; Cid Ricketts Sumner (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Art Direction: J. Russell Spencer, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Harmon Jones
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Patricia 'Pinky' Johnson), Ethel Barrymore (Miss Em), Ethel Waters (Pinky's Granny), William Lundigan (Dr. Thomas Adams), Basil Ruysdael (Judge Walker), Kenny Washington (Dr. Canady), Nina Mae McKinney (Rozelia), Griff Barnett (Dr. Joe McGill), Frederick O'Neal (Jake Walters), Evelyn Varden (Melba Wooley), Raymond Greenleaf (Judge Shoreham).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley "Pinky, Zanuck's Film Study of Anti-Negro Bias in Deep South, Shown at RIvoli", New York Times , 30 Sept 1949
Smith, Judith E. Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy
Young, Jeff Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films
Elia Kazan's Pinky on DVD
Pinky tells the story of Patricia Johnson (Jeanne Crain), a Black woman whose skin is so light that the locals have nicknamed her title nickname. Her grandmother, Dicey Johnson (Ethel Waters) has slaved away taking in washing in order to send her to nursing school in the North, but when Pinky returns to the squalor of the small southern town from which she came, Dicey notices that a definite change has come over her. Dicey learns that while up north Pinky has managed to pass as white, an experience she found both enlightening and enjoyable: as Pinky explains, "I've known another kind of life. I've been treated like a human being." And not only has she found a new life, she has also found a white fiance, Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan).
Unfortunately, Pinky quickly discovers that nothing has changed in her home town. Racial prejudice is still rife, particularly highlighted in a scene where the police intervene in a scuffle between Pinky and a Black couple from whom she has come to collect her grandmother's money. Initially the police treat her with respect, until the female antagonist says, "Why are you ma'am-ing her? She ain't nothing but a colored girl!" When Pinky confirms that this is the truth, the cops' attitudes immediately change to one of outright bigotry toward her. After this incident, Pinky decides that it was a mistake to return home, and starts to pack her bags, telling Dicey of her intention to leave on the next train.
But an emergency in a nearby mansion throws a monkey-wrench into Pinky's plans. White, cash-poor landowner "Miss Em" (Ethel Barrymore) is in precarious health, and when her condition takes a turn for the worse, Pinky is pressed into being her private nurse. Pinky chafes at the job, having borne a grudge against Miss Em for over a decade over a minor incident where Pinky strayed into her garden, and Miss Em promptly ordered her off the property. Pinky is determined to believe the incident was racially motivated, despite Dicey's assurances that Miss Em treated all children the same way. Once installed in the position, Pinky chafes at being ordered around by the old woman, mistaking irascibility for prejudice. But over the course of time she learns to appreciate and even admire the old woman's wisdom, as Miss Em proves the unlikely source from which Pinky will learn self-respect and pride.
When Miss Em eventually dies, Pinky is shocked to learn that the old woman has left a will bequeathing her mansion and all of its furnishings to the young nurse rather than to her greedy, grasping sister-in-law Melba Wooley (Evelyn Varden), because of her "confidence in the use to which she will put this property," . Of course, the Wooleys immediately files suit contesting the will, claiming that Pinky wielded undue influence over Miss Em, and that she kept the old woman drugged. While everyone around her, including a longtime friend and lawyer, advise her not to fight, Pinky decides that she must stand up for her rights, and carry out Miss Em's last wishes. A surprise verdict in the trial leaves Pinky with many important decisions to make about her future, both in her career and her impending marriage.
Pinky was a groundbreaking film when it was made, and surprisingly has not lost much of its punch. The off-beat casting of Jeanne Crain in the lead--necessitated because to the hypocritical Hayes Office interracial romance was only acceptable if both parties were white—shouldn't work, but it does. Kazan elicits one of Crain's greatest performance in this unlikely role for which she would be nominated for Best Actress. Ethel Waters is equally fine as Dicey: Waters manages to convey both the understanding and the heartbreak of dealing with a granddaughter who is embarrassed by her lineage. And Ethel Barrymore gives yet another canny performance as the domineering Miss Em. Both Ethels received Oscar-nominations as best supporting actress for their work in this film.
Pinky is another entry in Fox's new Cinema Classics Collection. Unfortunately, the source material is not in very good shape: there is debris and general wear through most of the film, and the image exhibits some very noticeable jitter at times. The soundtrack is also exhibiting quite a bit of deterioration, impacting on Alfred Newman's lovely score. The disc includes an audio commentary by Film Historian Kenneth Geist, who spends far too much time talking about his own personal difficulty in accepting Crain in the leading role, which he appears to believe is more important than the film itself.
For more information about Pinky, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Pinky, go to TCM Shopping.
Elia Kazan's Pinky on DVD
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
Kazan was born Elias Kazanjoglou in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) on September 7, 1909. In 1913, he immigrated with his parents to New York City, where his father sold rugs for a living. At age 17, Kazan enrolled in Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. After graduation, he went to Yale University's School of Drama, where he studied musical theater and began acting and directing plays.
In 1932, Kazan joined New York's socialist minded Group Theatre as an actor and assistant manager. At the time, the Group Theatre was the epicenter for radical thought and activity in the arts. Kazan befriended such notable theater personalities as Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler and Clifford Odets. Kazan even joined the Communist party for two years (1934-36), before resigning because of his disillusionment with its leadership.
After his stint in New York, Kazan went to Hollywood, where he found work as an actor in two Warner Brothers films: City for Conquest (1940) and Blues in the Night (1941). He made his Broadway debut in 1942, directing Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth with Tallulah Bankhead; Fredric March and Montgomery Clift. It was a huge hit. After that success, it was back to Hollywood, this time as a director for Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Kazan's directorial film debut was the poignant A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), based on Betty Smith's bestseller about tenement life. From the beginning, Kazan proved his talent for enticing natural performances from his actors; James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner both won deserved Oscars for their work in this film.
1947 would prove to be a breakthrough year for Kazan. He notched two huge hits on Broadway: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller's All My Sons; co-founded the Actors Studio with Lee Strasburg, a leading proponent of "Method" acting that is still widely practiced today; and two potent treatise on anti-Semitism Boomerang and Gentleman's Agreement, the latter earning Kazan his first Oscar. Kazan's next few films were not among his best, but they were well crafted and interesting: Pinky (1949), the story of a light-skinned black woman who passes for white (hampered by Jeanne Crain in the lead); and Panic in the Streets (1950), a taut thriller about efforts to contain a burgeoning epidemic which was shot entirely on the streets of New Orleans.
It wasn't until he brought Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire to the big screen that Kazan had a major impact on American cinema. Featuring an explosive Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski, the films' raw sensuality brought a stark and galvanizing realism to cinema that simply hadn't happened before. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) not only earned Kazan another Oscar nod for Best Director, but it made a star out of Brando and earned best acting honors for the rest of the cast: Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter.
It was around this time that Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). On April 10, 1952, he informed on former associates from the Group Theater, including Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, John Garfield, and Lee and Paula Strasberg. Despite formal protests from many acquaintances from his past, including Odets and Arthur Miller, Kazan remained unapologetic to the end for his actions, and he would remain questioned by social critics for the remainder of his life.
Kazan continued his association with Brando in Viva Zapata! (1952), and then in the powerful On the Waterfront (1954), which took eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and a second Best Director Oscar for Kazan. Budd Schulberg's incisive drama about the corruption of longshoremen's unions was the perfect subject matter for Kazan's ever trenchant approach to social consciousness and cinematic naturalism.
Kazan's next effort, based on John Steinbeck's East of Eden (1955) featured James Dean in his first major role. Kazan's continued ability to draw such raw, vulnerable performances out of his actors (as exemplified by Dean) drew critical praise from all quarters, and the film still stands today as one of the most searing looks of a family in conflict.
After East of Eden, Kazan would never quite scale the artistic heights of his previous movies, yet he still came up with some first-rate cinema: the steamy, boldly suggestive Baby Doll (1956), with a thumb sucking Carol Baker as a provocative child bride; an early, superior look at populist demagoguery A Face in the Crowd (1957) with Andy Griffith giving the performance of his career as a corrupt media darling; the moving coming-of-age drama Splendor in the Grass (1961) starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty; the evocative America, America (1963), based on the experiences of Kazan's own uncle's immigration experience; and his final film The Last Tycoon (1976) an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, which starred Robert De Niro.
Kazan was in retirement for several years, but he made a notorious return to the limelight when in 1999, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decided to give Kazan an honorary Oscar® for lifetime achievement. It was a decision met with vocal protests from aging blacklisted artists as well as younger activists. At the time of the presentation, several audience members would not stand up as a form of protest. Still, Kazan attended the ceremonies, thanked friends and family, avoided political discussion, and went home, a most dignified handling of a very controversial moment. Besides his widow, Frances Rudge, Kazan is survived by his sons, Leo, Marco, and Nicholas, a screenwriter who was nominated for an Oscar for Reversal of Fortune (1990); daughters Judy and Katharine; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
The working titles of this film were Quality and Crossover. The novel was originally published in an abridged form in the December 1945 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. At the time of the Ladies' Home Journal publication, the NAACP, in an internal memo dated December 27, 1945, written by Annette Peyser, included in the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, noted that the publication marked "the first time in any popular national magazine a short novel in which the protagonist was a Negro ... dealt with apparent sympathy and realism with Negro problems in white society." The NAACP, criticized the story, however, stating that it was "propaganda of the most insidious sort" because "each social or political problem presented is resolved most frequently through an advocacy of the status quo" rather than through "positive legal or social action." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, author Cid Ricketts Sumner also wrote a play based on the book.
Motion picture rights to the novel were originally optioned in February 1948 by Nathan Dyches, a Twentieth Century-Fox publicist, according to news items and information in the legal records. Dyches acquired the rights to the story in April 1948 and formed Pomeroy Enterprises, Inc., with Harry Brand (the head of Fox publicity) and Nicholas Nayfack to make the film, then hired Richard G. Hubler to write a screenplay. Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck became interested in producing the film, and Jason S. Joy, Fox's liaison with the PCA, sent the office a synopsis for their approval. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA was concerned that a film based on the story might lead to distribution and exhibition problems in the South. A PCA official worried that should the film be made the industry might be accused of siding with President Truman's civil rights program; that new local or state censor boards might be established, which could cause difficulties for the industry; and that its release might lead to a rise in Ku Klux Klan activity. The PCA chose not to issue a policy decision regarding the proposed film, however, or films dealing with similar subject matter, though they did point out their concerns to studio officials.
A year later, in February 1949, as Fox was about to put the film into production, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen urged the studio to "avoid physical contact between Negroes and whites, throughout this picture" in order to avoid offending audiences "in a number of sections of this country." In his response to Breen, Joy pointed out that the role of "Pinky" would be played by a white actress, and stated, "It is our intention ... to have many instances of physical contact between Dr. Chester [who became Dr. Thomas Adams in the final film] and Pinky. We believe these contacts to be absolutely necessary to the power of the story as it relates to these two unhappy people." PCA official Francis S. Harmon, a white Southerner, suggested to the studio "that Pinky should be shown to be the daughter of one of 'Miss Em's' male relatives. I know case after case where just such situations arose. There is a constant conflict in Southern life and thought around this point: that Southern white people condone or tolerate 'social equality' on the level of vice while shouting to high heaven their opposition to 'social equality' on the level of virtue. Those responsible for producing and directing this picture will miss a great opportunity if the picture fails to drive home the point that the very people who attack social equality on the level of virtue continue to accept illicit sex relations, of which Pinky and her kind are innocent and tragic victims." Zanuck, in replying to Harmon, noted, "we have consulted the Negro representatives of many different Negro point of views, and without exception they have objected to the suggestion of miscegenation."
Fox purchased the rights from Dyches after he and Brand realized that they could not produce the film independently. A letter dated May 3, 1948 in the Fox legal records notes that "because of the peculiar nature of the story [Zanuck] does not want any publicity given to it at this time as he would like to be the first in the field with this type of story." In August 1948, Variety reported, "Highly publicized production of 'message' pictures has been virtually abandoned by studios, with no attendant fanfare. Twentieth-Fox's Quality planned as a followup to Gentleman's Agreement has been placed on the shelf." A January 30, 1949 New York Times news item stated that Zanuck's personal project for 1949 was to be Pinky, based on a "free adaptation" of Quality by Dudley Nichols. They stated that the studio "is officially describing it as an original story by Nichols" and was not admitting its connection with Quality. At that time, John Ford was scheduled to direct the picture.
Zanuck sent a copy of the July 7, 1948 script by Dudley Nichols to the NAACP for their comments, and NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White gave copies to Arthur B. Spingarn, president of the NAACP; Poppy Cannon, a writer with whom White had collaborated; Roy Wilkins, editor of The Crisis, a journal published by the NAACP; and his daughter, Jane White, for their reactions. White and his associates reacted negatively to the script, which Cannon called "a bid for complete submission on the part of colored people." Cannon further stated, "Pinky, the heroine, is a silly sentimental little fool....[Granny] is a female Uncle Tom but she hasn't half the brains or courage of the original Uncle Tom. Among the other Negro characters there is not one decent or believable person." Jane White noted, "The point of view which this script holds is that any kind of action taken by Negroes to secure their rights is rebellion and inspired by 'Northern agitators.'" (The original novel and early scripts included the character of "Arch Naughton," a black newspaperman from New York and an activist, who tries to get Pinky to join him and give up being a nurse; in subsequent versions of the screenplay, that character was dropped, and some of his ideas were incorporated into Pinky's dialogue.) Walter White stated, "Had the story been written around the turn of the century, it would have been novel and even revolutionary. Today it is dated, inaccurate both as to the thinking of Negroes and intelligent Southern whites, and even dangerous in its advocacy of acceptance of the status quo." White suggested that Zanuck scrap the story and get another source for a new film dealing with African Americans.
In Zanuck's response to White, he expressed his "utter disagreement with the judgments rendered in your letter and those of your associates." He warned that in the current social and political climate, "A motion picture which deals with the Negro minority in the United States must be above all things non-propagandist. All it can hope to do, at its boldest, is to make the white majority experience emotionally the injustice and daily hurts suffered by colored people." Zanuck noted that the picture would have to be less confrontational so that it would appeal to and affect people with prejudices, and that "if the picture is not shown and seen in those regions where injustice and racial prejudice are strongest, no good can be accomplished."
Although Zanuck criticized the comments of White and the others, he praised Jane White for her "constructive criticism" (although he disagreed with many of her points) and suggested that she help in revising the script. She subsequently was hired by the studio and suggested changes and additions to the January 12, 1949 script by Philip Dunne. (Dunne was hired to replace Nichols in November 1948. In a May 1949 New York Times article, Dunne stated that Nichols "had to drop the job half finished because of a prior commitment elsewhere.") According to an Ebony article of September 1949, Jane White recommended "drastic changes" but they were not made. Her suggestions, according to a list in the Produced Scripts Collection, included adding a "dark-skinned Southern Negro character to manifest the forthright militance that Arch [who had been eliminated from the January 12, 1949 script] possessed." She wrote, "I would like to be made aware that here is a man who has lived all his life in the South, under its proscription, who has not been defeated or blunted, or made to shrink from his responsibilities as a Negro and a citizen." The character was not added, although a number of her other suggestions were accepted.
John Ford began directing Pinky in March 1949, but worked on it only about a week before he left because of illness, according to news items. In a Los Angeles Daily News article before he was replaced, Ford stated, "We are not attacking any section of the country or any group of people ... but we are attacking a bigotry that should have been uprooted from the American scene a long time ago." Elia Kazan replaced Ford, and according to a May 29, 1949 New York Times article, "Kazan said that, despite his admiration for Ford, he had redone the material shot by his colleague because he could not attempt to match the Ford style." The New York Times article stated that "scouting rumors to the contrary, Kazan confirmed the official studio explanation that the substitution was made because Ford was seriously ill." In his autobiography, Kazan states that Ford had a case of shingles, but also relates that Ford left the picture because of conflicts with actress Ethel Waters.
The finished film was accepted for showing in Atlanta, where it made its Southern debut. The Atlanta censor stated, "I know this picture is going to be painful to a great many Southerners. It will make them squirm, but at the same time it will make them realize how unlovely their attitudes are." The Roxy Theatre, where the Atlanta debut took place, opened its entire balcony to African Americans. (Previous policy was to limit blacks to just a few gallery seats.) After the first-day showing broke a box-office record, the film was booked for additional southern showings. In the East Texas town of Marshall, prior to a scheduled showing in February 1950, a censorship board was formed when theater owner W. L. Gelling refused to cancel the booking even though individuals and the Kiwanis Club complained. The board rejected the film for exhibition in the town, but Gelling presented it anyway, and he was arrested and fined. He appealed, backed by the PCA, who wanted to make the incident a test case of censorship, hoping that the Supreme Court would revoke their 1915 decision that motion pictures could not claim the same rights as the press. After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the lower court ruling, the Supreme Court, in June 1952, struck down the censor's decision, citing their decision from the previous week regarding the Italian film The Miracle. The issue of applying freedom of the press rights to motion pictures, however, was not decided at that time.
The film received three Academy Award nominations: Jeanne Crain for Best Actress and both Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters for Best Supporting Actress. It was highly praised by reviewers. Hollywood Reporter called the film a "brilliantly compelling presentation" and stated, "Its power is drawn from purely creative forces rather than the realism of documentation or the crutch of psychiatric exploration. Pinky is the kind of story the screen does best, a pictorial novel with a factual basis and with which there is that all-important element of self-identification. Neither white man nor Negro can appraise Pinky without thinking earnestly: 'What would I do under the same circumstances?'" New York Times, while appreciating that the film did not "skirt around the edges, intellectual or geographical, of racial discrimination," criticized it for coming "perilously close to denying the very equality it seems to espouse by accepting paternalism as the easiest and the happiest way out." On September 18, 1950, the Lux Radio Theatre presented a radio broadcast of Pinky starring Jeanne Crain, William Lundigan and Ethel Barrymore.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States November 1949
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1994
John Ford started the film on September 3, 1949 and was director until September 11, 1949. Elia Kazan took over on April 4, 1949.
Shot in 52 days in 1949.
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Kazan" November 22 -December 26, 1996.)
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1994
Released in United States November 1949