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MGM INTEROFFICE MEMO
January 3, 1932
From: Irving Thalberg, Head of Production
To: Louis B. Mayer
First off, thanks again for the invitation to your Herbert Hoover fundraiser tonight. As appealing as the prospect sounds of seeing the magnetic Mr. Hoover in person, I'm afraid that Norma and I have our regular bridge game with Marie Dressler and Ben Turpin and so we must reluctantly pass.
Now down to cases -- I understand that you have seen a rough cut of "Freaks" and that you have some concerns. As I have already told you, this is a very unusual film, which, granted, makes it a risky proposition for MGM. On the other hand, overall box office business is good -- so good that the grapevine reports you are getting ready to buy Mexico, which is something I'm sure Mr. Hoover can help you with. Given that, I think we can find room to release a movie that takes an artistic risk.
Now, to address your points one by one:
2. You write that you hate the title of the picture, that "Freaks" is too sensational-sounding. We chose that title because that is the derogatory term given to the circus people by the evil trapeze artist. The title is ironic because the movie shows us that these people are much more than freaks. I cannot accept any of your alternative titles -- "Saw Dust," "Bareback Mountin'," "Bearded Lady for a Day," "Carnivale" or "Sideshow Mob."
5. You express concern about the level of "violence" in the film. What mayhem there is flows naturally from the plot, and the idea of giving the sideshow folk "cuter weapons" is unacceptable.
6. Under no circumstances will I even consider your suggestion that we should replace our male lead, Harry Earles, with Jackie Cooper. I don't care how much Cooper made you cry in "The Champ" -- the character of Hans is not a boy, he is a man who happens to be a midget. Therefore I also cannot consider your other plot suggestion -- that in the end, Hans is adopted.
7. I do agree with you that a picture of this nature requires a special publicity push, but the idea of a "Miss Freak of 1932" beauty contest at major theatres is out, as is the "Pinhead the Tail on the Donkey" competition.
In conclusion, I hope that after an interval of time you will come to appreciate this film as a unique, engrossing look at a subculture -- a group of very human people who band together to protect one of their own (Hans) from the bullying trapeze artist and her brutish lover, the strong man. I'm hearing from people all over the lot that this is one of MGM's most remarkable films, with or without Jackie Cooper, and I feel very strongly that it is ready to go as it is. All the mishegas about this picture is going to fell me at an early age, I swear.
I believe that covers all of your concerns. Give my regards to Mr. Hoover.