Robert J. Flaherty (1884-1951) and Typee
[M]uch to [Robert J. Flaherty’s] surprise, in the summer of 1927 Howard Dietz of M.G.M. asked him if he would like to work on a film of Frederick O’Brien’s White Shadows in the South Seas. Flaherty, though puzzled how that book of travel impressions could make a film, answered ‘Yes’. So Dietz passed the acceptance on to Irving Thalberg, ‘the brilliant young genius’ who had become General Manager of Universal Pictures at the age of nineteen and Production Manager of M.G.M. at twenty-five.
Thalberg called Flaherty by long-distance telephone and asked if he would co-direct the picture with W. S. Van Dyke II, an M.G.M. staff director, known for successful Westerns. Frances Flaherty was suspicious; but Flaherty accepted. He had a child-like enthusiasm for new proposals; and he realized that to become a professional film director would involve his taking the jobs offered. If all worked out well, Frances could join him with the children on the Tahiti location.
Arrived in Hollywood, Flaherty found Thalberg had bought O’Brien’s book [White Shadows on the South Seas] not for its denunciation of the degrading impact of white civilization on the Marquesans but for its intriguing box-office title. Laurence Stallings, author of the successful play and later film What Price Glory? was called in to work with Flaherty on a story-line.
They started by trying to persuade Thalberg that he could make a far better film of the South Seas out of Melville’s Typee, but Thalberg was sold on White Shadows and Stallings quit the job.
Calder-Marshall, Arthur. The Innocent Eye: The Life of Robert J. Flaherty. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963. 122-123.
Omoo. A narrative of adventures in the South Seas. Herman Melville. U.S. Book CO., New York, 1892. (Sequel to Typee.)
“Inventory of Books in the Personal Collection of Robert J. and Frances H. Flaherty; Books relating to the South Seas arranged in chronological order by date of public” https://cst.edu/flaherty/BOOKS_OWNED_BY_ROBERT_AND_FRANCES_FLAHERTY.pdf