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The alleged quote is false. The line never appears in “Son of Ali Baba.” It was a story told by ex wife Janet Leigh to make fun of Curtis. In his autobiography, Curtis is very bitter about this myth. He considered it—I kid you not—anti-Semitic.
Welcome to the land of divas. And like most divas she was unaware of her behavior on those around her.
You might be very right that the Fred Astaire story was something she concocted to bolster her image. But look, she was supremely talented and I'm sure Astaire did admire her work. He was definitely aware of her career.
The main problem with British crews was the process. For instance, at RKO the wardrobe people measured Jessie once and told her to come back the next day for the outfit—and it fit perfectly. In Britain, their would be endless fittings, endless do-overs until they got it right. Same for hair and makeup, and only when she got an American cameraman was she properly lit.
That's why Hitchcock couldn't wait to get out of Dodge, I mean London.
Speaking of Hitch, he directed Jessie in his worst movie ever, "Waltzes From Vienna," 1934. He really didn't like or get Jessie and it shows.
Yes, Jessie was supposed to be paired with Astaire, but it didn't work out.
But hey, Ginger was not too shabby.
MGM was dying to sign Jessie to a contract but she was bound to a British studio. Jessie was the biggest British star in the world and the Brits were not about to give her to Hollywood, knowing she would never return.
Jessie did appear in one segment (directed by Victor Saville) of an RKO all star charity revue during the war, "Forever and a Day." In her bio, she lavishes praise on Hollywood's make-up, hair and wardrobe people. She was amazed by their resources and excellence, in contrast to the lamo-o British studios.
Which is something I still hear from the zillion or so Brits who who work in Hollywood today.
Oh, BTW, read "City of Nets" after your post: amazing book, thanks for the tip. Never heard of the book before you brought it to my attention.