Vera and Laura
Vera Caspary (1899-1987) wrote twenty one novels including Bedelia (1945) and Stranger than Truth (1946), but Laura remains the one she is best known for.
Laura is the story of a New York City career woman mistakenly thought murdered in her own apartment and the three men most affected: her narcissistic former lover, her philandering fiancee, and the hard-boiled detective assigned to investigate her case.
Originally the story was called Ring Twice For Laura and was published as a serial novel in seven parts in Collier’s Weekly during October and November of 1942. That is the version that we have published HERE.
In 1943, Houghton Mifflin republished Laura in book form and it was highly successful. In 1944, Caspary sold the film rights to Twentieth Century Fox, and Otto Preminger adapted it into the hit movie starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. The film version is considered a masterpiece of early noir and its theme became a jazz standard.
Vera and Otto
It was no secret that Vera Caspary and Otto Preminger fought over the film adaptation of her novel. Caspary revealed her side of the story when she wrote My “Laura” and Otto’s which was published in The Saturday Review, June 26, 1971. The two issues they fought over were the means by which Laura was killed and the question of Laura’s character.
Caspary and Preminger fought over the method by which Laura was killed, with Preminger saying that it was impossible. In the Afterward to this volume of Ring Twice For Laura, Caspary’s method, while not common, is shown to have existed for at least a century. Rather than spoil the ending, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how Caspary had Laura killed. In Preminger’s film, while the method of her death is somewhat awkward, there is a very satisfying shoot out at the end.
While the method of Laura’s death might be glorified stage mechanics, Laura’s character was seen in diametrically opposite ways by Caspary and Preminger. From My “Laura” and Otto’s:
We argued another point more vehemently: the character of Laura. I found her a flat, conventional movie heroine. “Why don’t you give her the character she has in the book?” I asked Preminger.
“In the book,” he answered, “Laura has no character.”
I howled. “In New York the magazine and book editors are urging me to write about another wonderful, warm, sexy girl like Laura.”
“Laura has no sex.”
I gasped. My Laura was adored by every man in the story. I had also shown that Laura enjoyed her lovers. “Then why did she have to pay a gigolo?” asked Preminger. “What did she get out of sex?”
I could have been struck down by an inch of celluloid. Gigolo indeed! That Laura had loaned money, got jobs, and strengthened her weak fiancee with fondness and flattery did not make the man a gigolo. She had been too kind for caution, too bright-eyed about a man’s virtues to see his flaws clearly. “Do you mean she never got money out of men or mink or diamonds? That doesn’t mean a girl’s sexy, Mr. Preminger, it just means she’s shrewd. Laura’s just the opposite. She gives everything with her love. Perhaps you don’t know anything about love, Mr. Preminger,” I said, and made a haughty exit.
The portrait of Laura was always an important plot device, even in the earliest versions of the story. It inspired Detective McPherson’s (Dana Andrews) fascination with Laura as a dead corpse and love for her as a live woman. In Ring Twice For Laura, it is described like this:
Jacoby had caught the fluid sense of restlessness in the position of her body, perched on the arm of a chair, a pair of yellow gloves in one hand, a green hunter’s hat in the other.
By the time Otto Preminger had filmed the movie Laura, the portrait had become iconic, but it wasn’t the same portrait.
Rouben Mamoulian, the original director of Laura, commissioned his wife Azadia Newman to create the first version of the portrait. After about a month of filming, Mamoulian was fired and Preminger took over the direction of the film. Preminger tossed out everything that Mamoulian had done and began again.
In his autobiography, Preminger wrote, “When I scrapped Mamoulian’s sets, the portrait of Laura went with them.” Preminger sent Gene Tierney to the Twentieth Century Fox studio photographer Frank Polony for a sitting. Preminger chose one of the photographs and had it enlarged and lightly brushed with oil paint to give it the qualities he wanted.
According to Preminger, “portraits rarely photograph well, so I devised a compromise. We had a photograph of Gene Tierney enlarged and smeared with oil paint to soften the outlines. It looked like a painting but was unmistakably Gene Tierney.”
The differences between the original description of the portrait and the final filmed version are significant. In the novel, Vera Caspary wrote Laura Hunt as a “modern woman” which meant at that time, an independent career woman, a business executive who lived as she wanted, unafraid to take lovers as she wanted.
In the film, the portrait and the portrayal of Laura Hunt by Gene Tierney have more feminine elegance, more society woman, and less of the hunter.
The beautiful portrait of Gene Tierney, the iconic image of the film Laura, was ultimately just a studio prop and was reused in On the Riviera (1951) with Tierney and co-starring Danny Kaye, and in Woman’s World (1954) starring Clifton Webb. In Woman’s World the painting hung on a wall with portraits of several other women who were supposed to have been former lovers of Webb’s character.
The portrait of Laura was sold at a Twentieth Century Fox studio auction in the 1970s. It is rumored to have been restored at least once and is assumed to be in the hands of an anonymous private collector.
Ring Twice For Laura by Vera Caspary is available HERE on the Pulp Fiction Book Store.
The film Laura can be found here: