A Leap Day, February 29, is added to the calendar during leap years. This extra day makes the year 366 days long. The next Leap Day is in 2024. Some people born on February 29 celebrate their birthdays on the 28th, but most only celebrate every leap year. Among the queer or queer-adjacent figures born on Leap Day: artist Balthus, entertainer Dinah Shore, actor-dancer James Mitchell, and activist Pedro Zamora.
Filmmaker Jean Negulesco (born Ioan Negulescu) was born February 29, 1900. He was a Romanian director and screenwriter who was noted for his film noirs and films such as Johnny Belinda (1948), Road House (1948) and Titanic (1953). He was known as “the first master of CinemaScope”.
Negulesco claimed to have been born on February 29 even though 1900 was not a Leap Year in the Gregorian calendar; it was under the Julian calendar, which Romania still used at that time.
By 1959, Negulesco had already made two films about three young women looking for love in the big city: How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) and Three Coins In The Fountain (1954), so why not one more? The Best Of Everything is based on editor Rona Jaffe‘s novel set in the world of New York publishing. In a typing pool, three roommates, go-getter Caroline (Hope Lange), good-girl April (Diane Baker), and glamorous Gregg (supermodel Suzy Parker), are each undone by the man they love.
The Best Of Everything also features handsome Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, and Robert Evans, plus someone named Joan Crawford.
The screenplay is by Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin. Alfred Newman wrote the score, the last under his longtime contract as Fox’s musical director.
This movie is sidesplittingly sexist, absolutely absurd, and crazily camp. The males may or may not be married or are just out for a little something on the side. The women all long for love, while the guys are trying to get away as fast as they can. The females at this publishing house just want to get married and get out. These women are sophisticated; they know what “spend the night” means. That they had actual sex lives was simultaneously scandalous and progressive in 1959.
Female executives like desolate Amanda serve as the cautionary tale. Amanda has no husband, no family, just a married lover she sees once a week. She is played by Joan Crawford, in her first supporting role in decades.
It has a wistful Johnny Mathis theme song, CinemaScope, Academy Award-nominated costuming, and appealing players. Parker is compelling as Gregg, a ravishing young beauty who becomes slowly unhinged in her obsession with Jourdan’s character, David Wilder Savage (is that the best name?). Why didn’t Parker have a film career? Her modeling career reached its zenith during the 1950s, when she appeared on the covers of dozens of magazines and in ads. In 1956, she became the first model to earn $100,000 per year ($980,000 in 2001 money).
In one of The Best Of Everything‘s few forward-thinking storylines, Caroline (Lange) could find happiness with co-worker Mike (Boyd), a man she hasn’t fallen for but with whom she has built a relationship based on friendship and mutual professional respect. But she still must choose between romance and career. In the 21st century, we call that the best of everything.
20th Century Fox producer Jerry Wald announced he was buying the rights to the novel, saying:
“There are 10 roles in this for young people, and I hope to get some of our outstanding actors such as Lee Remick, Hope Lange, Diane Varsi, Suzy Parker, Robert Evans, Lee Philips and Bob Wagner.”
Other casting considerations included Joanne Woodward, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Margaret Truman (!). Jaffe sold the rights to her book for $100,000; she did not want any part in writing the screenplay, but instead asked to be an extra. Jaffe:
“I want to appear in the movie in a walk-on part. I would just appear briefly as one of the office’s pool of stenographers.”
Martin Ritt initially was signed to direct, but he was replaced by Negulesco because Ritt was upset with the casting of Parker. On playing a neurotic, Parker commented:
“I know the type extremely well.”
Crawford was cast 10 days before shooting began. This was the first time she had accepted a supporting role since the silent era. Crawford was in heavy debt after the death of her fourth husband, Alfred Steele. She needed the money. Crawford:
“I’m on the screen only seven minutes. But I liked the part, and I want to do other movies and TV films if I can find what I want.”
She had recently been elected to the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola and planned to spend more time doing company promotion. Crawford insisted on having a Pepsi-Cola machine placed in the secretaries break room in the film. Much of Crawford’s performance was cut from the finished film, including a major drunk scene.
Negulesco’s life was filled with lucky breaks. At 15 years old, while working in a military hospital during World War I, Georges Enesco, the Romanian composer, came to play the violin for the wounded. Negulesco drew a portrait of him, and Enesco bought it. Negulesco decided to be a painter and studied in Bucharest. He went to Paris in 1920 and sold one of his paintings to filmmaker Rex Ingram.
He visited New York City for a showing of his paintings in 1927 and he was soon off to Hollywood, at first working as a portraitist. He became interested in filmmaking and financed, wrote, and directed an experimental film which got him a job at Paramount. He worked his way to assistant producer, second unit director, until his first movie, Singapore Woman (1941) starring Brenda Marshall.
He directed over a hundred short films and 40 features. His final film is Hello-Goodbye (1970), a comedy starring Michael Crawford. After that, Negulesco moved to Spain, where he died, at 93 years old, of heart failure. He is buried in the Virgen del Carmen cemetery in Marbella.