When Howard Hughes took over RKO, there were mass firings. The new boss was unhappy with key personnel that had made deals he did not approve of…one of the greatest casualties was producer Dore Schary who had many successes at RKO, suddenly jumping ship to MGM. But the shake-ups were not only at the top.
Hughes was not enamored with some of the starlets on contract and sought to rid himself of them. For example, he wasn’t particularly fond of Barbara Bel Geddes, who had recently triumphed under Schary’s guidance with the nostalgic favorite I REMEMBER MAMA. The new movie mogul quickly loaned her out with Robert Ryan to MGM for its Max Ophuls-directed noir CAUGHT (which ironically featured a main character modeled on Hughes himself).
But Bel Geddes wasn’t the only actress Hughes had taken a disliking to when he took charge. His other castoff was proven A-list star Ann Sheridan, who had just finished a long association at Warners and was now freelancing. Her agent negotiated a plum deal for her to star in her next picture at RKO. This deal was likely brokered by Schary, just as Hughes was assuming control.
Sheridan had many perks in her new RKO deal. She was to get paid $150,000 for a romantic drama called MY FORBIDDEN PAST, plus 10% of the profits. She also had approval over casting, the script, and other important items like who would direct. Robert Young, who was under contract with RKO at this time, was originally chosen as her costar but he was forced to drop out. Sheridan gave Hughes a list of five acceptable male costars. One of the five was Robert Mitchum, who did take the male lead.
But Hughes had something else in mind. Not only would he replace Young with Mitchum, he would replace Sheridan with Ava Gardner. He felt that Sheridan was not sexy enough and convinced MGM to lend Gardner to him for the picture.
As a result of the switch, Sheridan was now suddenly out at RKO. Except, unlike Bel Geddes, she had a much more ironclad contract. She and her agent waited until MY FORBIDDEN PAST had completed principle photography with Gardner, then they sued Hughes and the studio for breach of contract at $300,000, which was double the original amount.
Meanwhile, Sheridan starred at Fox in the hit comedy I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE with Cary Grant. She followed it up with a sharp satire called STELLA, then went to Universal for a film with director Douglas Sirk. So her movie career was not harmed by feuding with Hughes.
Hughes and his high-powered attorneys fought Sheridan, but they did not succeed. The actress prevailed and was paid for not appearing in MY FORBIDDEN PAST (the Ava Gardner picture lost money at the box office so there was no percentage of the profits to award Sheridan). Then, for the other $150,000 sum, RKO was ordered to put Sheridan in a new picture. So two years later she finally did go to work at the studio in an action adventure called APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS with Glenn Ford and Zachary Scott.