In 1949, director Charles Vidor (Gilda, ’45), brought a lawsuit against Harry Cohn, founder and President of Columbia Pictures. Vidor charged that Cohn constantly abused him through the use of obscene language. Vidor demanded to be released from his contract with Columbia Pictures.
In fact, Harry Cohn was famous for his liberal use of expletives. He was a deeply insecure studio chief whose coarse and vulgar mannerisms were part and parcel of tinsel town.
Cohn groomed Rita Hayworth into Hollywood’s greatest star and she hated him with every fibre of her being, claiming that he demanded sex in exchange for good roles.
Jean Arthur, perhaps Columbia’s most versatile and talented star—the myth is that she was reclusive and shy, but Arthur was in the grip of a severe personality disorder—was so consumed with hatred for the tyrranical studio chief that she carefully plotted Cohn’s murder and was only talked out of the lunatic scheme by a friend who convinced Arthur that she was bound to be caught.
The great director Frank Capra, whose string of brilliant films catapulted Columbia from poverty row into studio respectability, also despised Cohn and fled Columbia Pictures as soon as it was feasible.
Cohn was the classic builder and destroyer.
And when Cohn died of a heart attack in 1958, Red Skelton said of the well-attended funeral, “It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they’ll come out for it.”
In any case, Judge Harrison recognized that Vidor was using Cohn’s foul language as a legal pretext to break his contract with Columbia and move on to a more luctrative deal with another studio. After nine days of deliberation he decided against Vidor:
The court finds that Harry Cohn was accustomed to and in the habit of using obscene language in talking to Mr. Vidor and others. Such language was part of Mr. Cohn’s speaking vocabulary. It was used by him as superlative adjectives, not intended by him as insulting or used for the purpose of humiliating the plaintiff , and the plaintiff so understood that.
In the course of the trial, Judge Harrison was afforded a glimpse into Hollywood’s unique sub-culture and the view left an indelible impression. Harrison’s verdict is amended with this simple yet profound observation:
Both [Cohn and Vidor] inhabit a fictitious, fabulous, topsy-turvy, temperamental world that is peculiar to their way of life. Their standards are not my standards. Let them be judged by those people of decency who inhabit their world of fantasy and fiction.
Sources: King Cohn, by Rob Thomas. Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew by Jon Oller. If This Was Happiness, A Biography of Rita Hayworth by Barbara Leaming