Mel Brooks is profiled
in a superb American Masters documentary entitled Mel Brooks: Make a Noise,
which premieres nationally on PBS stations on May 20th. One of 14 EGOT
(Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winners, he has earned more major awards than
any other living entertainer, and shows few signs of slowing down. With new interviews with Brooks, his friends
and colleagues, including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Joan
Rivers, Tracey Ullman, Rob Reiner, and his close friend, with whom he created The 2000 Year Old Man, Carl Reiner. A
DVD with bonus material will be available Tuesday, May 21 from Shout Factory.
"When they called me to say I had been
chosen as the next 'American Master,' I thought they said I was chosen to be
the next Dutch Master. So I figured what the hell, at least I'll get a
box of cigars. When I realized my mistake I was both elated and a little
disappointed at losing the cigars," Brooks said.
The comprehensive film takes viewers from
Brooks’ early years as Melvin Kaminsky in the Catskills (“I became a drummer
because I wanted to make a noise,” Brooks said. “I could have been a floutist, but there was not enough noise”), to his
work with Sid Caesar (“that SOB held me back because of his Promethean talent”),
to finding his own voice. He knew he had
something, he didn’t know how to peddle it, ultimately realizing that his “job
was to spot the insane and the bizarre in the commonplace.”
has a unique and a decidedly different feel. “You get a view of the participants being seen on monitors,” said
filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg.
a photographer by trade so I usually shoot my documentaries in studios to
achieve a consistent look (and be able to get more people interviewed per day).
Because Mel is a filmmaker, I thought it was appropriate to show the milieu -
the edges of the set, the monitors, etc. I didn't want the interviews to exist
in a vacuum, and I flat out refuse to have a vase of flowers or a lamp behind
“Mel was different from anyone else I've worked with because
.... he's Mel! It's a pleasure to talk with someone who is so bright and has
such command of the language - you don't want it to end. The most fun was being able to throw out
questions that he hadn't heard before - or approach topics from an angle that
was new to him. As Rob Reiner says, he's at his very best when he's put in a
asked him deep, probing questions for four months, and he got to keep the shirt
we bought for him. So I think we both made out pretty well."
for my conversation with Mr. Brooks earlier this week, I spent two weeks
calling close friends with whom I shared an eternal love and reverence for
Brooks and his works and sought their input as to what made him better and more
enduring than anyone else who does what he does. It was the joyful conversations themselves
that provided the obvious conclusion: No
one else could have gotten me to make those calls to other busy people who took
the time to think and laugh. Each call reflexively
elicited dialogue from his films (including my favorite, “What’s a dazzling
urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”), which over the years
has become the shorthand of our affection. Brooks’ comedy is the currency of our friendships.
While it is well-settled that he is a genius
at comedy, he is also a genius at collaboration and friendship. Infused in his work is his love for comedy
teams and the journey: The Marx Brothers
and the Road Pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. At the core of every one of Brooks’ films
there is a partnership and a friendship between at least two characters that
are on an adventure. It is the well-defined characters that launches and
sustains the comedy and makes the stories enduring. “Unconsciously I was a pup in a cardboard box
with three other pups, my brothers, and we tumbled about with each other,” Mel
Brooks insightfully said, recalling his modest Brooklyn roots. “That’s why my films are almost always two
guys on a journey,” he said.
“When you parody
something, you move the truth sideways,” Brooks said. However in developing the on-screen
friendships, Brooks built foundations of truth and drilled down deep into the
I invoked Sid
Caesar, Brooks’ friend and former boss, who said: “Great comedy is stories with
beginnings, middles and ends. And its
best version is combining comedy with pathos. In City Lights, Chaplin’s little tramp character falls in love
with a blind girl. He takes out his last dime and gives it to the blind girl to
buy the violets she is selling. When she goes over to the water fountain to
rinse out her cup, Chaplin follows her with love in his eyes. She rinses the
cup and then throws the water in his face. There was a hush in the audience
because they didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. That to me was a great
piece of comedy because Chaplin captured that bittersweet moment, and was truly
working both sides of the street.”
While most of
the interviews analyzed the comedy penthouses of his skyscraper classics, I
challenged him to analyze the foundation of Brooks’ work: The Da Vinci “science of the art,” the sub-textual
pathos of his work- comedy as the currency
and engine of friendship, defining the essence of the characters that define
and drive the comedy, and a comparison of his fictional friendships with his
real-life counterparts. Brooks’ understanding and creation of screen
friendships mirror his real-life friendships which go back decades.
Early days: Mel and Sid Caesar (Photo courtesy Mel Brooks/PBS)
Brooks’ 1974 masterpiece is a satire of Western films and a brilliant social
commentary on race and government. The two
heroes- Black Bart (Cleavon Little), the Sherriff of Rock Ridge and The Waco
Kid (Gene Wilder), are overtly friendlier than Newman and Redford’s Butch and
Sundance, on which they are based. When
it comes to character development, the Brooks films take the attendant
characters and make them more passionate, compassionate, and affable. The
comedy is buttressed by friendship, heroism, and honor.
interchange in the film occurs after Bart has killed Harvey Korman’s villainous
Kid: “Where are you going?
Kid: “Nowhere special… I’ve always wanted to go
As the two ride
off into the sunset, and then into a town car, the scene is as poignant and
heartfelt as it is anachronistically funny, with the best friends not knowing
where they are going next, and not concerned because they are going there
friendship mirrors the relationship Brooks has with Carl Reiner, his comedic
and creative partner in crime for over 60 years. “When I first joined The Admiral Broadway
Review, the predecessor to Your Show of Shows, I was so unsure of myself I was
throwing up between parked cars. I came
from South Third Street in Williamsburg [Brooklyn]. I thought I was destined to work in the
Garment Center and work my way up from shipping clerk, to salesman, to maybe a
partner. I thought that any minute I
would be fired. Sid fought for me, but
[Show of Shows producer] Max Liebman didn’t want me.” According to legend the stern and staid
Liebman would throw lit cigars at the young and animated Brooks.
With Carl Reiner, 2001 (Photo courtesy Robert Trachtenberg/PBS)
“Carl came to
the show and thought I was really talented- he supported me at every turn. Carl was a little older and had been on
Broadway, he starred in Call me Mister. I
was leaning on him for the first two years until I felt I could be there and
had my own sense of confidence. If I
said I was the best, he said “’you are.’” He created the 2000 Year Old Man with
his tape recorder having faith that I could become any character he threw
out: From a submarine commander to an
Israeli psychiatrist or a Cockney English director.”
portion of my life Carl was my rock. Christ said on this rock I will found my church. On this Jew from the Bronx I founded my
In public from
across a room he looks at Carl not only affectionately and for artistic fuel,
but often protectively, to make sure his friend is okay. To anyone with close friendships of their
own, their rare and enviable bond is apparent and palpable. There is purity to it. They are the Butch and Sundance Kid of
comedy, both comedic alchemists, creating funny lines, images and situations
literally from the air spinning their golden wit and entertaining and
energizing everyone around them, endeavoring to make everyone in the room not
only entertained by but engaged in the comedy. “We have a talent for that-
turning a room into a community and we enjoy doing that,” Brooks said.
“He’s not a kid anymore
and I still love him,” Brooks said of the now 91-year old Reiner. Things turned
around. 60 years later Carl leans on
me. We’re both very lucky we’ve survived
the storms of age and loss. It’s the
son’s duty to take care of the father. He
just called to ask whether I want the marinated lamb chops or the baby lamb
chops- I said get the baby lamb chops thick.”
In 1967’s The Producers,
Brooks took the name of Gene Wilder’s character Leopold Bloom from James Joyce
Ulysses, and undertook the challenge of making the audience root for two
characters that are crooks. It is because
of the affection and friendship between Bloom and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)
that the story works.
“You can’t help
yourself, you want them to succeed,” Brooks said. “I try to explain it all in the lovely speech
that Bloom makes in the courtroom trying to protect his friend, Max.”
After the jury
foreman (Bill Macy) announces that the jury finds the pair “incredibly guilty,”
Leo: “Ladies and Gentleman of the jury, Max
Bialystock is the most selfish man I ever met in my life.”
Max: “Don’t help me.”
Leo: “Not only is he a liar and a cheat and a scoundrel
and a crook who has taken money from little old ladies, he has talked people
including me into doing things that they would never have done in a thousand
year… this is a wonderful man who made me what I am today. And what about all the women: Max made them feel young, attractive and
“It’s the father
taking care of the son,” Brooks said. “And
then the young guy is taking care of the old guy. I also had that in The Twelve Chairs. The young streetwise guy is dealing with the
“’out of it’” privileged aristocrat, who never had to worry about life until
the revolution set him back on his heels.”
Frankenstein, which director Brooks co-wrote with Wilder has Wilder’s Victor
Frankenstein nurturing Peter Boyle’s monster. In none of the other 200-plus versions of the genre did the creator ever
risk his life to save his creation. Boris Karloff never sang and danced when he portrayed the monster, nor
did he sit on his creators lap. “In no
other version did anyone say: “This is an angel- this is a good boy,”” Brooks
Producers and Young Frankenstein are metaphors for Brook’s friendship with Gene
Wilder. In accepting his Oscar for Best
Screenplay from Frank Sinatra for The Producers he thanked Wilder three times, with
both men fighting back tears. “Gene
Wilder came from nowhere, unknown. Just
like Carl spotted the talent in me ten years before that, I spotted the talent
in him. I knew there was no more
talented actor in comedy or drama than Gene Wilder.”
“He was so grateful
to me for supporting him emotionally and bringing the best out of him. I have a great wine collection because of
him. I was drinking Manischewitz until I
met Gene. He really understood
wine. Anne [Bancroft] and I went over to
his apartment in the [Greenwich] Village one night. A real dump. But he had a rotisserie, a barbequed chicken. I didn’t know how he did
it. He servedChâteauneuf-du-Pape, a Rhone wine, and
I said “What the hell is this liquid?”
So I began buying that wine and then he served NuitsSaintGeorges, a burgundy. I
had not yet hit gold, a claret or Bordeaux. At the next meal he ordered LynchBages, a French Bordeaux, which I began to collect Bordeauxs,
including Sassicaia. I now send Gene something I don’t think he
can afford and he’s always happy to get it.”
Cinematic legends meet: Mel, Alfred Hitchcock (who he used to call "Al"!) and Anne Bancroft during the production of High Anxiety. (Photo courtesy of Mel Brooks/PBS)
Favorite Year was Brooks’ love letter to Sid Caesar and early television, and
was based on his own experience as the youngest writer on Your Show of Shows. Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned to
chaperone the less than reliable movie-star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is
scheduled to appear on King Kyser’s (Joseph Bologna) Cavalcade of Comedy. The film made me fall in love with Sid as
well. I told Brooks that it was 20 years
to the week after I saw My Favorite Year that I was writing with Sid. The affection between the two is still
strong. “If Sid Caesar was in a coma and
you walked into the room, Sid would get up, say “’hello Mel,’” and drop back
into the coma,” I said.
acknowledges the connection he still has with the 90 year old Caesar, whom he
visits regularly. “I’m one of the few
people who can get his synapses to fire in that special way. And I’m proud that I can do that. Because if there was no Sid Caesar there
would be no Mel Brooks.”
Brooks of an evening at New York’s Pierre Hotel in 2000, where Caesar was
honored and Brooks presented him with an award. He moved the capacity crowd of the great ballroom to near tears. “And it’s not the chicken,” the choked up
Brooks said at the time, praising his friend. “Life takes you on different paths. I got on the right road when I went with Sid- and it never went wrong.”
He recalled the
now fabled “Writers’ Room,” still one of the most romantic metaphors in history
for creativity and comedy and arguably the greatest collection of comedic
talent ever assembled.
“It was very
stressful to be that creative. We had an Olympic level of comedy height and had
to get over that crossbar. We knew when we
were settling for cheap standup material and when we were exalted in terms of
the human condition and being genuinely funny. We always aimed for that. Max
Liebman was a master- he put on live Broadway review every week for 39 weeks a
year. Sid wanted me- I could come up
with bizarre things- all kinds of crazy things that distinguished Sid from
other comedians. I came up with material
for the German Professor character and foreign movies.”
“There were only
a few of us in the beginning. Max
supervised the writing with Sid and Carl sitting in. There was Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen and then
myself. Tony Webster was brought
in. The later incarnation of the
Writers’ Room included Doc and Danny Simon, Mike Stewart, Aaron Ruben, Woody
Allen, and Larry Gelbart. We’d work
separately and all meet and complete each other’s tasks. Unless there was a big movie parody where we
all sat in a room together. It is still
the only show where the writers became as famous as the stars.”
He recalled meeting
another young writer whom he is still close to, Rudy DeLuca, who along with
Steve Haberman is part of Brooks’ inner circle. “Rudy is a real pal- he was working on the Carol Burnett show with his
partner, Barry Levinson. Rudy has such
a funny personality- he was crazy board member in Silent Movie. In High Anxiety, Rudy played the hit man with
the aluminum teeth. Who came up with the
idea of putting a little Japanese umbrella in his drink when he was stalking me
in the bar.”
wrote with me on High Anxiety. He would
tell me stories about growing up with his friends in Baltimore. I took him to Il Vitelloni, Felini’s first
film- which is about a group of friends who grow up together in Italy. I said, this sounds like what you’re talking
about. Take your stories put them
together and take out the ones that don’t work. He wrote the script to Diner in three weeks.”
I explained to
Brooks that two people shaped my creative life and influenced what I wanted to
do more than anyone else: Larry Gelbart
and Mel Brooks. “Including me, he could
have been the best writer in the Writers’ Room,” Brooks said.
I told him that
1974 was my “favorite year,” Gelbart’s MASH was on TV and Blazing Saddles and
Young Frankenstein were in the movies. The intellectual driven comedy made the smart kids feel hip and
ambitious. “You have to know a little
bit about the world and the history. All
the references are critical- if you don’t get them you don’t get the essential comedy
and what we’re trying to do.”
In 1982- I
bought 10 copies of The High Anxiety Soundtrack, the flipside of which included
the songs from all of the other prior Brooks’ films, to give as holiday gifts
to friends. When I presented it to one
of my college friends, he clutched the LP to his chest and ran off eager to
play it. Flash forward to 1995, I get a
box in the mail- it was The 2000 Year Old Man Boxed Set that had just been
released on CD with a note from that friend thanking me for the LP 12 years
a similar experience: “I screened High Anxiety for Alfred Hitchcock. He didn’t say a lot, turning to me a few
times, when the newspaper ran down the drain, he said “’brilliant,’” which was
very nice. He said he had less showering
[in Psycho] than I had. At the end he
got up and left without saying a word. I was so worried. I thought this is no good. I guess he didn’t
like the picture.”
“The next day on
my desk in my office at 20th Century Fox there was a beautiful wooden
case of 1961 Château Haut-Brion. Six
magnums. Priceless. Unbelievable to this day. There was also a little note: "Dear Mel: I have no anxiety about High Anxiety,
it’s a wonderful film. Love Hitch.”
“The only two
people who ever said I was a good director were Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. I
never heard from anyone else in the business. Until the AFI called me. Last October, the AFI named Brooks the recipient of the 41st American Film
Institute's Life Achievement Award,
which will be presented in June, joining Shirley MacLaine, Tom Hanks, John Ford,
James Cagney, Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier
and both Kirk and Michael Douglas.
been saluted as a comedy force but never as a film director. I always explained the movie clearly so that
the story worked. My dream was to get
over the Williamsburg Bridge and get to Manhattan ever since I was three years
old. Me and my childhood [and lifelong]
friend Gene Cogan, formerly Eugene Cohen, would walk over the bridge to
Delancey Street and get a knish and a root beer. I knew there was something great over that
Kaminsky got his knish and root beer. And Mel Brooks crossed the East River Rubicon and journeyed to entertain
millions as a masterful storyteller and continues to entertain new generations
of grateful fans with big noises that get even bigger laughs.
Retro Contributor Eddy Friedfeld teaches comedy and film history at NYU and
Yale and is the co-author of Caesar’s Hours with Sid Caesar
Can't get enough Mel? Check out Lee Pfeiffer's extensive interview with him in the latest issue (#16) of Cinema Retro.
He's been in movies so long, it's hard to remember when he wasn't on the scene. From his first big splash in the 1962 film adaptation of Billy Budd up to the present day, Terence Stamp proves he is a diverse talent with a knack for stealing every scene he is in. Filmmaker Magazine writer Lauren Wissot caught up with Stamp at the Palm Springs Film Festival and got him to open up about some fascinating aspects of his long career- including an amusing anecdote about Joshua Logan literally begging for him to star in the 1967 screen version of Camelot. Click here to read.
Screen legend Jerry Lewis just turned 87 years old but he still has plenty of energy- as evidenced by the fact that he's currently in production on a new film titled Max Rose, which is a drama. Lewis was recently interviewed by Entertainment Weekly and he discusses the film and his career. Click here for more
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
(This interview originally ran in November 2009)
By Nick Thomas
Alan Young created some memorable characters over his long career in film and
television. Co-starring with Rod Taylor, Young played David Filby in the classic
sci-fi film of the 60s, The Time Machine. He also horsed around as Wilbur
Post for six seasons in one of best-loved sitcoms ever, Mister Ed,
and was the voice behind numerous cartoon characters such as the grumpy Scrooge
McDuck. Mr. Young is celebrating a milestone birthday- although he isn’t
especially fond of talking about such traditional annual events. But when
I spoke with him a few days ago, he was quite happy to chat about his long
Born in Northern England, Alan’s Scottish father soon moved the family to
Edinburgh, then later to Canada when he was six. Bed-ridden for months at a time
with asthma, Alan would listen to radio shows and write his own comedy routines.
He later made Los Angeles his home and went on to appear in some 20 films and
dozens more television roles. In 1994, he wrote "Mister Ed and Me," detailing
his experience with the world’s most famous TV horse, of course. He recently
revised and republished the book as "Mister Ed and Me... and More!"
Why did you update "Mister Ed and Me"?
My publisher suggested adding more stories about my life so I included some
that I think will interest readers. He also wanted more about Connie Hines, my
TV wife on Mister Ed. So I asked Connie if she would do a chapter about
her life and she was happy to.
The book’s divided into 3 sections, one called Lips Don’t Sweat. That’s an
When I was young, I was paid $3 for doing a short monologue. That impressed
my dad, who earned the same amount for working all day in a shipyard at the
time. He told me to "keep up this talking business because lips don’t sweat!" It
was good advice.
You also wrote "There’s no Business Like Show Business ....Was" which is
crammed with delightful Hollywood memories and stories. It’s extremely enjoyable
Well I love to write. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with so
many lovely people here in Hollywood. I’ve heard so many of them tell
fascinating stories, so I wanted to put it all together so fans could read about
working in Hollywood in the "old days." Young people often say to me that it
must have been easier working back then. But in many ways it wasn’t. For
example, we had to learn by the seat of our pants, as there were few schools
that taught acting skills.
Here is an excellent, informative interview with the legendary Sir Christopher Lee, conducted back in May 2012 when he turned 90 years-old. In it, Sir Christopher discusses his film career at length and thanks his millions of fans for their support over the course of his remarkable career.
He was the basis of Sidney Lumet's acclaimed 1973 film and says that Al Pacino played him better than he could play himself. Frank Serpico, who along with his friend, the recently deceased David Durk of the famed Knapp Commission, exposed massive corruption in the New York City Police Department, is living quietly in upstate New York, enjoying life with a younger woman, the occasional cigar and working on his memoirs. The former detective with the mindset of a counter culture protestor started on the NYPD as an idealistic young cop determined to bring in Gotham's crooks. What he was appalled to realize was that many of the crooks were working as cops themselves. Serpico violated the "Blue Wall of Silence" and exposed his fellow officers, leading to the formation of the famed Knapp Commission that helped clean up the NYPD but also gave the force a black eye for many years. Serpico was alienated and despised by his fellow officers, a bunch of boneheads who adhered to an "all-for-one and one-for-all" policy that saw them side with the worst elements of the force. Serpico was shot in the face while making an arrest and he still gets a bit riled by the fact that his fellow cops were less than helpful in getting him prompt medical assistant. Today, he takes satisfaction in knowing that, although his name is still cursed by some current bone-heads on the NYPD, he is revered by law enforcement agencies around the world. He also takes amused pride in the fact that the cinematic Serpico ranks #42 on the list of all-time screen heroes (right behind Lassie). For a recent New York Daily News interview, click here.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is not one for courting the press or giving extensive interviews, but he is making an exception for Hitchcock, the acclaimed new film in which he portrays the legendary director's trials during the filming of Psycho. The blunt-speaking Hopkins weighs in on his doubts about playing the role, Hitchcock's later career and the "disgusting" spectacle of actors trying to curry favor with Academy members in order to secure an Oscar nomination. Click here to read.
Elsa Martinelli reads the article in Cinema Retro #23 about the filming of Howard Hawks' Hatari! (Photo copyright: Roland Schaefli. All rights reserved.
By Roland Schaefli
Martinelli checked out our “Hatari!” article in issue #23 of Cinema Retro while
attending the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, she enlightened us about
how she induced baby elephants to follow her around in the film. Not surprisingly,
we ended up following her everywhere. Here are a few highlights of one
of our discussions.
We did an article about the
making of “Hatari!” and how the locations look today.
Oh. They must have changed a lot.
that much. The Ngorongoro Crater (where the pre title sequence was shot) is
full of tourists, of course.
Back then, we were to first to actually go down there.
But you were very lucky to travel there nowadays. You know, we were there four
months and it wasn’t quite as comfortable as it looks today.
night, to honor you, the film festival showed your Italian movie “La Risaia”
which was produced by Carlo Ponti in 1956 – right after your first American film.
What kind of a feeling was that, to see yourself up there on the screen at the
very beginning of your international career?
Well, I’ve seen it before. It’s always something quite
particular. In a way I always look at myself like I was somebody else. And then
it happens that you say to yourself, “she could have done this” or “she could
have done it that way”. Yet mostly I say, “She was OK”. Like it was somebody
your experience as an actress now, would you play the part differently today?
I don’t think about that. What I DID think about was
the copy we got to see. We could not appreciate the scope and the beauty of the
color and so on. Because this was an old print, they obviously didn’t have the
new restored one which is much better. Too bad.
were actually one of the first fashion models to break into movies, which is
much more common now…
Well, I was really a photograph top model in New York.
With Eileen Ford, the great agency. I was just doing photos with some of their
great photographers, and they appeared in “Life” – I had two, no, three covers
in “Life”, and they appeared in “Vogue” – so it was difficult NOT to notice me (laughs).
That’s when I was approached by Kirk Douglas’ wife. He was producing this film
(“The Indian Fighter”). She was French so I was able to understand what she was
saying. And so I got started.
In his new and controversial
book “I Am Spartacus”, Kirk Douglas recounts how he cast the leading lady. He
was originally planning for you to play the part of “Varinia” but finally he
tore up your contract. What went wrong with Kirk Douglas?
Nothing went wrong. It was wonderful to work with him.
The thing was that I was getting ready to get my first baby. I just couldn’t
make it. I suppose somebody else would prefer “Spartacus” to having a baby. But
that was not my case.
from the fashion scene, it must have been something special to wear the
costumes designed by Edith Head for “Hatari!”.
Actually, all the costumes for the film were chosen by
Mr Hawks, like he always did. To him, the costumes were very important. He was always dressing the characters
accordingly. Think about Montgomery Clift in “Red River”, he stood out. He
dressed Gerard Blain the same way (in Hatari!). He had something similar in
mind for him, dressing him all in black. Unfortunately, Gerard was very
difficult, so Hawks cut a lot from his part. So, Hawks not only chose the
costumes of the females but also of the men.
Hawks was also one of the first directors to show women as self-confident in a
male group, even sexually aggressive.
But Hawks was a very sweet man, you see. He was a
strange man, a fantastic man to work with. But quite a hard man. He knew what
he wanted. So you had to be prepared: prepared to realize what he expected from
you. Usually, there was no script. But Welles also never had a script. Probably
some of the greatest stories in Hollywood films weren’t scripted to begin with.
Like some of the scenes in John Ford’s movies: you can’t script the way a horse
dies. So Hawks used to get on the set at 5 in the morning and write the lines
and tape them and as soon as you arrived he gave them to you. And you had to be
quite fast to memorize them.
you had to improvise a lot in the scenes with animals.
Actually I went there one month ahead of the others
just as the baby elephants were born. You see, the trick is to feed them right
away. That’s how you become their “mother”. So they got used to me and would
follow me everywhere. Nobody believes that’s true, but that’s it. When we came
back to Paramount to shoot the interiors, they put them in the San Diego Zoo.
And they were growing quite big. The last time I saw them one of them bumped me
in the knee.
beautiful music by Henry Mancini is still played around the world. What do you
think when you get to hear it somewhere?
The biggest surprise I got is when I went to Brazil. I
went to a very strange section of Rio to buy something. Suddenly, all these kids
came after me and sang the Baby Elephant March. Unbelievable, the way this
music travelled the world and is still so present. God knows how much music
Mancini has written. But that’s the one that sticks.
have acted with some of the great he-men of the screen: Wayne, Mitchum, Heston.
Can you even compare them to the actors of present day?
Yes, but there are some wonderful new actors. Sean
Penn is wonderful. There are so many great new actors, especially in the United
States. Don’t forget the Al Pacinos.
they’re not macho in a sense that Mitchum and Wayne were.
Of course it was different back then. John Wayne was
quite tall, much bigger than me. They were born that way. They didn’t have to
act macho. They were a special kind of people. Think of Gary Cooper, they were
all two meters tall! They were just physically built differently. I mean, they
didn’t have to go to the gym! (laughs)
was also quite different is that leading men and women were smoking in the
movies. You had your share of cigarettes on screen. We actually counted six
times you light up in “Hatari”.
In Bogart’s films, there were cigarettes all over the
place! Nowadays, there would be a sign saying “No smoking”. Look, we all smoked
back then. I myself really stopped 9 years ago, from one day to another. I just
got tired to it and said “Basta”. Of course, to smoke in a movie is a question
You’re still working in film.
What can attract you to a project?
It’s always the story, that comes first. You see, I
took many chances in cinema. I’ve made movies with directors who never did
direct before, at least five or six films with novice directors. Because
whenever I read a story I always know there is a director somewhere behind it.
That’s when I like to take risks…
like to take a chance.
Yes, because if it’s a special story I sense that
somebody special might be behind it.
(Roland Schaefli, Swiss contributor to Cinema Retro, visited the African locations seen in Hatari!. His extensive report about the locations today and the making of the film appear in Cinema Retro issue #23. Click here to purchase from our eBay store.)
Deane was crowned Bunny of the Year in 1969 by the screen's new James Bond, George Lazenby.
The terrific retro web site Spy Vibe pays homage to the glorious mod era of London in the 60s and 70s with a special look inside the Playboy Club. Bunny Deana, who worked at the club between 1969-1972, takes a trip down memory lane. To read the interview click here
Batman's original Catwoman, Julie Newmar, is not among those purring over the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight interpretations of the Caped Crusader. Although she admires her successors on the big screen- Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway, she says the series has become too morbid. She attributes this to a post-Vietnam War era funk that influenced popular culture. She liked the comedic tone of the TV series in which she appeared with Adam West and Burt Ward. For more and a video interview with Newmar click here
In a poignant and moving article for TV Guide, Ron Howard remembers his "second" dad, Andy Griffith. Howard was but a tyke when The Andy Griffith Show started in 1960 and he was a teenager when Griffith voluntarily pulled the plug on the top-rated show. In the intervening years, the cast and crew became like family and forged life-long friendships. This included Howard, who graduated to becoming a world-acclaimed director. He had given up acting completely but made only one exception: the return to the role of Opie Taylor in the 1986 TV reunion movie Return to Mayberry.Click here to read his memories of working with Andy Griffith.
(Click here to listen to Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer, author of The Official Andy Griffith Show Scrapbook, interviewed on the Bob Collins radio program).
In recent years, Woody Allen has come out of his shell to actually participate in interviews to promote his latest films. The Woodman may still be at his comedic peak, as evidenced by last year's Midnight in Paris, but he relishes waxing over the more depressing aspects of life. In a revealing interview with Rachel Dodes of the Wall Street Journal to promote his latest, To Rome With Love, Allen discusses his philosophies behind life and his chosen profession. As he's stated before, he is pleased if one of his films is well-accepted, but never wants to watch it again. As for his long-standing battle against modern technology, Allen says, "Idon't have a computer. It's more than just incompetence, which I also have. I have an aversion to anything mechanical. I never liked cameras, tape recorders, cars. I have a car. I don't drive it. I don't have a camera. At home, if I want to watch a DVD, which is almost never, I have to have my wife put it on. I would never in a million years know what she was doing to put it on. There's something I generally don't like about it. It isn't just that I can't do it, which I can't. If I liked it I couldn't do it. But I also don't like it. It may be because I can't do it that I don't like it, but it bothers me.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Bradford Dillman: A Compulsively Watchable
By Harvey Chartrand
a career that has spanned 43 years, Bradford Dillman accumulated more than 500
film and TV credits. The slim, handsome and patrician Dillman may have been the
busiest actor in Hollywood
during the late sixties and early seventies, working non-stop for years. In
1971 alone, Dillman starred in seven full-length feature films. And this
protean output doesn’t include guest appearances on six TV shows that
Dillman first drew good notices in the early 1950s on the Broadway stage and in
live TV shows, such as Climax and Kraft Television Theatre. After
making theatrical history playing Edmund Tyrone in the first-ever production of
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956, Dillman landed the role of blueblood psychopath Artie
Straus in the crime-and-punishment thriller Compulsion (1959), for which
he won a three-way Best Actor Prize at Cannes (sharing the award with co-stars
Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles).
On the And You Call Yourself a
Scientist! Web site, Dillman’s Artie Straus is described as “all brag and
bravado, contemptuous of everything but himself, with his
bridge-and-country-club parents, and his vaguely unwholesome relationship with
In the early years of
his career, Dillman starred in several major motion pictures, picking and
choosing his roles carefully. He was featured in Jean Negulesco’s romance A
Certain Smile (1958) with Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine; Philip Dunne’s
World War II drama In Love and War (1958) with Robert Wagner and Dana
Wynter; and Tony Richardson’s Sanctuary (1961) with Lee Remick and Yves
Montand, a rancid slice of Southern Gothic based on the novel by William
Yet in the early sixties, Dillman started
taking any part that came along to support his growing family. From 1962 on, he
guest starred in dozens of TV series -- among them Espionage, Kraft
Suspense Theatre, Twelve O’Clock High, Shane, Felony Squad,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Marcus Welby, M.D., The Streets of San
Francisco, Bronk, How the West Was Won and FantasyIsland.
In 1975, Dillman won an Emmy Award for
Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Special for his performance as Matt
Clifton in Last Bride of Salem (1974), an excellent tale of modern
witchcraft. The 90-minute Gothic horror movie aired on ABC Afternoon Playbreak and was so well received that it was
rebroadcast during primetime.
Over the years, Dillman appeared in scores
of made-for-TV movies and theatrical releases, such as Walter Grauman’s drama A
Rage to Live (1965) with the late Suzanne Pleshette; John Guillermin’s war
story The Bridge at Remagen (1969) with George Segal; Hy Averback’s satire
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970) starring Tony Curtis; and
Jud Taylor’s horror-thriller Revenge (1971), with Shelley Winters.
Dillman also played a psychiatrist who goes ape for Natalie Trundy in Don
Taylor’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and a scientist battling
firestarting cockroaches in Jeannot Szwarc’s Bug (1975) — the final film
produced by legendary horror schlockmeister William Castle.
now 81. After retiring from acting in 1995, he took up a second career as a writer. He is excellent at his new avocation,
requiring no ghostwriters to tweak his prose. Dillman’s autobiography Are
You Anybody? is a series of amusing anecdotes about his Hollywood
years. He has also written a harrowing adventure tale entitled That Air
Forever Dark, set in Papua New Guinea
“It’s a terrifying account of the Jet Age meeting the Stone Age – Deliverance
in a jungle setting,” the actor-turned-author says.
Dillman’s latest book,
published in 2005 by Fithian Press, is a comedy of errors entitled Kissing Kate. “The novel is about an
amateur production of Kiss Me Kate,”
Dillman relates. “An out-of-work professional actor is hired to play the male
lead opposite a wealthy community icon. Ultimately, of course, they end up
in bed together, where a ‘catastrophe’ occurs and all hell breaks loose. I
assure you that Kissing Kate is not in the least bit autobiographical!”
Fifty-two years after
appearing on stage in O’Neill’s landmark theatrical event, Dillman is now a
playwright as well. His Seeds in the Wind
made its debut in May 2007 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California.
The play is set in 1939 in Santa Cruz,
California, during a weekend
celebrating the 40th birthday of a society hostess' daughter. The interaction
of the houseguests is both humorous and dramatic, and all manner of unexpected
events occur, Dillman assures us.
veteran performer spoke to Cinema Retro
from his home in Santa Barbara,
Retro: You achieved
international prominence in Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, in which you
were unforgettable as the frightening and magnetic Artie Straus, a wealthy
law-school student on trial for murder in this taut
retelling of the infamous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s. You had been playing
romantic leads up until then, so this leap into villainy was quite a daring
career move on your part.
Bradford Dillman: I had a commitment to Twentieth Century Fox to do two pictures a
year and, as fate would have it, the timing of the filming of Compulsion coincided.
Nothing to do with the moguls’ belief that I had talent. It was just dumb luck,
pure and simple.
Compulsion (1959) with Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles
Following Compulsion, you were often cast in villainous roles. In 1964,
you co-starred with B-movie cult figure John Ashley (The Mad Doctor of Blood
Island) in an episode of Dr. Kildare with the intriguing title Night
of the Beast. What was that one about?
BD: I was the beast. I was such a bad guy I had my
thugs hold Kildare down while I raped his girlfriend in front of his very eyes.
When we came to the comeuppance scene, I learned that Richard Chamberlain had
obviously never been in a fistfight in his life. The stunt men couldn't teach
him how to throw a punch; I couldn't teach him. So we had a gentle comeuppance.
He's a nice, sensitive man who has since come out of the closet.
With Carol Lynley, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film The Helicopter Spies (1968)
CR: In 1967, you were the guest villain on The
Prince of Darkness Affair, a two-part episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E,
later repackaged as a theatrical release – The Helicopter Spies (1968).
You were great fun as Luther Sebastian, the Third Way cult leader who steals a
rocket.Did you have any scenes with
lovely Lola Albright?
BD:The Helicopter Spies has disappeared in
the vortex of remaining brain cells. I don’t remember if I exchanged words with
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES. (FROM NOVEMBER 2009)
By Nick Thomas
Best known for his
swashbuckling roles in films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain
Blood, and The Sea Hawk, or as the dashing hero in war adventures and westerns,
Errol Flynn appeared in some 50 movies during his short 16 year career in
Hollywood. This year is the centenary of Flynn’s birth in Tasmania, the southern island
state of Australia. So you can bet Errol Flynn fans are whooping it up big,
down under. In fact, a chunk of June and July was set aside in the city of
Hobart, Flynn’s home town, to celebrate Tasmania’s most famous Hollywood son.
Special guests at the celebrations were Flynn’s daughter, Rory, and grandson
Rory Flynn was just 12 when her father died which, as it turns out, was exactly
50 years ago this year too. She recently wrote about memories of her dad in
“The Baron of Mulholland: A daughter Remembers Errol Flynn.” Rory inherited
just a handful of items from her father, as most of Flynn’s estate went to his
third wife. But earlier this year, Rory visited Tasmania and gave all her Flynn
memorabilia, including love letters from her dad to her mom, to the Tasmanian
museum for display.
Since any discussion of the Flynn clan is complicated by three marriages, let’s
sort that out first: Errol married three times. First to French actress Lili
Damita (one son, Sean, a photojournalist who went missing during the Vietnam
war, and was never found); second to Nora Eddington (two daughters, Deirdre and
Rory who had one son, also named Sean); third to actress Patrice Wymore (separated
from Flynn but never divorced, and lived on Flynn’s old plantation in Jamaica;
one daughter Arnella who died in 1998 who had one son, Luke). So the Errol
Flynn lineage lies with two grandsons, Sean and Luke.
CR: How did you get involved in the centenary festivities?
There’s a big fan club down there, the Errol Flynn Society of Tasmania. They
started organizing this a couple of years ago and asked me to come down.
CR: Nice to see that Errol Flynn was recognized by the Aussies!
It’s great that Tasmania - and Australia - are honoring their native son this
year, because Hollywood isn’t. They’re much more involved in their current
stars, whereas Europe and other parts of the world are very considerate towards
the older stars.
CR: What did it mean to you to visit Tasmania?
Well, I actually feel like I’ve brought my dad home. That’s where his roots are
and they love him and honor him there. I think the people there understand that
my father was an extraordinary man. I have also learned more about my roots. My
grandfather was a very interesting man and is still well-known down there.
There’s a street named after him, he was the curator of the museum for 6 years,
and he was a professor of biology. They say my grandmother was a direct
descendant of midshipman Edward Young, of the HMS Bounty. So I feel like I’ve
come home too.
CR: What are some of your earliest memories of your father?
When I was around five, I used to lie on a bearskin rug in his den and I would
fall asleep to the sound of his writing - the scratching of his pen. He was
always writing. He was writing his autobiography from a very early age, and
other books, documentaries and newspaper articles. I grew up with him until I
was about 7, then after my parents separated I would see him several times a
year. Those visits became huge. He was really big about spending quality time
with us when he could.
CR: Did you know how sick he was towards the end of his life?
No, my mom didn’t tell us about it. We know now that shortly before he died, he
told my mother that he was only given a year to live, but he only made it three
more months. His liver was shot, he had tuberculosis, malaria, terrible back
problems - and there he was, still swashbuckling all over the place to the end.
CR: What do you think made your dad stand out as an actor?
I think he bridged the gap between actors playing the tough American cowboy
type who were simple and direct, and the European actors with sophisticated
dialogue, like Leslie Howard. My dad was able to be that action hero, and still
hold an intelligent conversation. No one had really done that before.
CR: In his 20s, Flynn sailed up the east coast of Australia to New Guinea where he
had all sorts of real-life adventures, as recounted in his book, “Beam Ends.”
Did that period of his life influence his acting?
Absolutely. This early period formed who he was.He was who he was by the time he got to
Hollywood - he was that “Tasmanian Devil” and he brought that to his films.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVE
(This feature originally ran in 2008)
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer chatted with Robert Osborne, the popular host of TCM's movie broadcasts. Osborne, who is also the official Oscar historian, is well known for his informative introductions and epilogues for the films that TCM broadcasts. Director Sidney Lumet once said that even if he doesn't desire to see certain films, he always tries to tune in for Osborne's introductions. Osborne is as affable offscreen as he is on the air. Witty, knowledgable and conversant in all things Hollywood-related, he has many of the attributes he ascribes to the stars he grew up idolizing. In addition to being a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, Osborne is by all accounts America's premiere film historian.
CR: You seem to have every movie lover's dream job: to get paid to watch and analyze classic movies. How did this come about and what led to your association with the Academy?
RO: When I was first starting out as an actor, I was under contract to Lucille Ball at Desilu Studios, which was owned by Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Lucy knew I had this passion for movie history which at that time was not a normal thing. Most people weren't interested in movie history. She said, "You know, you would have a happier life as a writer than as an actor. You should be writing about movies, because nobody is." She told me that she thought being an actor would never make me happy, but writing would. She knew I was a journalism major at the University of Washington. She told me that if I took up writing as a profession, the first thing I had to do was write a book because people would look at you differently if I did. She told me it didn't even have to be a good book, but that everyone is impressed with anyone who writes a book because most people lack the discipline to do it. I knew she was telling me this for my own good, not some other agenda, so I quit being an actor and became a writer.
The thing I decided to write about was the Academy Awards because you could always find a list of who won Oscars, but you could never find a list of who was nominated. It was even hard to get one from the Academy because that was a very small organization at the time. So I wrote this book and it hit a chord with people because you couldn't get a book about the Oscars anywhere else. The cult success of that book has followed me around ever since. Years later, when they decided they wanted a history done of the Academy, they asked me to write it. (The latest edition of the book is titled 75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards-Ed.)
If die hard Star Wars fanatics are fed up with George Lucas making changes to the original series, he's fed up with them griping about it. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas candidly addresses the fans who have built their lives around his franchise saying, "It’s not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It’s a movie, just a movie." Lucas explains and defends some of the changes he's made and makes an analogy to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, using it as an example of a director exercising his right to keep "improving" a film. Lucas also says he's in the early stages of working on a new Indiana Jones adventure. Click here for more
Walt Disney's daughter Diane remembers what it was like growing up with a genius for a father. She recalls the family's "secret" apartment in Disneyland, her father's favorite rides and how he managed to be a regular dad despite his international fame. Click here to read and to enjoy a Disney family slideshow.
Mary Badham was only ten years old and had never even been to a movie before she landed the key role of Scout in the 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird opposite screen legend Gregory Peck. She had no idea she would be part of an iconic film experience. On the movie's 50th anniversary, Badham recalls the experience, including her Oscar nomination, in an interview with Moviefone. Click here to view
Click here to order 50th anniversary Blu-ray from Amazon
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
the NEW episode of Dave’s Gone By(#373 – Kir Package) – LIVE, this
Saturday, 1/21, 10am-1pm(MT) on UNC Radio (www.uncradio.com).
Featuring: Dave chats with Oscar winner GEORGE
CHAKIRIS (“West Side Story”). Plus: Inside Broadway, Bob Dylan – Sooner &
Later and the Saturday Segue (Dave’s birthday songs).
Says Dave about this
week’s show, “In his film and TV career, George Chakiris has worked with
Natalie Wood, Yul Brynner, Gene Kelly, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe. I once
interviewed Dick Van Patten and had dinner with Larry `Bud’ Melman, so
basically, George and I are in the same league.”
Gone By episodes are archived,
free, on the web! They’re at www.davesgoneby.com. See an
alphabetized list of all our previous guests – complete with hyperlinks to
their episodes – at davesgoneby.com.
GONE BY offers talk, humor and
music, from political commentary to sketch comedy, from theater reviews to
interviews, from musical detours to straight-talking monologues. Guests have
included Neil Sedaka, Christine Lavin, Carol Channing, Peter Schickele, Jane
Siberry, Dr. Demento, Juliana Hatfield, Tom Paxton, Wreckless Eric, Joe
Franklin and Shecky Greene. Visit us at www.davesgoneby.com.
Since debuting Oct. 6,
2002, DAVE'S GONE BY has treated
listeners to one of the most off-beat and engaging shows in radio. An
award-winning playwright, Dave Lefkowitz is the programming director for UNC
Radio. He’s also founder and editor of TotalTheater.com, co-publisher of
Performing Arts Insider (PerformingArtsInsider.com),
producer of “Shalom, Dammit!”, and monthly columnist for the Long Island
GONE BY is produced by
TotalTheater Productions (P.O. Box
31, Greeley, CO
In Clint Eastwood's generally underrated 1975 thriller The Eiger Sanction, the macho actor/director took an admittedly neanderthal view of gay men. The villain of the piece, played by Jack Cassidy, is subject to every type of ugly stereotype imaginable. Although I haven't seen the film in years, I also recall Eastwood's character, in a cringe-inducing sequence, referring to a gay man as some sort of diseased miscreant. No word on whether Eastwood now regrets filming those scenes, but his views have evolved over the decades. In a recent interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Eastwood demonstrates he has a far more nuanced view of homosexuality. He favors gay marriage ("Why not?"), cites the importance of the Stonewall revolt and says that the modern definition of a gay relationship is no longer confined to sex acts. Eastwood also discusses his sensitive treatment of J. Edgar Hoover's alleged homosexuality. He doesn't believe Hoover ever consummated the act with his long-term male secretary, but believes they were genuinely in love. He also laughs at recent revelations that he was once considered to be a vice presidential running mate with the first President Bush. To read click here
In a frank and illuminating interview in the Irish Times, Harrison Ford reflects on his life and career. With typical bluntness, he explains why he gets second billing to Daniel Craig in Cowboys & Aliens: "I'm not a leading man anymore. I'm a character actor. I've had my time." Ford's no-nonsense approach to evaluating his own career extends to clearing up myths about his early days in the industry. He was no pal of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola: “I just worked with them a few times. I’ve only ever spent very small,
finite periods of time with any of the people I work with.” Ford also says he's no film buff. He enjoys watching movies occasionally but isn't committed to the format in the way a fan would be. It's claimed his wife, Calista Flockhart has never even seen Star Wars. For more click here
MICHAEL MORIARTY, who starred in
such classic films as Who’ll Stop the
Rain and Pale Rider, exiled
himself to Canada in 1995, following a nasty confrontation with U.S. Attorney
General Janet Reno in a Washington, D.C. hotel room. Moriarty was invited along
with network television executives and producers to hear Reno’s views on censorship
of TV violence. Law and Order, one of
the least violent shows on television, was cited as a major offender. Incensed
by Reno's campaign to “forcibly end violence on television and trample on
rights of free expression as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Moriarty quit the series and left the U.S. in protest. He has
been a landed immigrant in Canada ever since. Why the fateful encounter
with Reno led to a radical (and seemingly
overnight) transformation of Moriarty’s political views from soft liberal to hard-core
conservative remains unexplained to this day. The onetime Manhattan über-liberal’s
sudden shift to “gun-toting” arch-conservatism proved to be too much to fathom for
his socialite wife Anne Hamilton Martin, and their seemingly ideal marriage
ended after almost 20 years.
was an up-and-comer in the early seventies. In 1973, he drew lavish praise for
his back-to-back performances as a baseball player who befriends a dying
teammate in Bang the Drum Slowly and as
a cold-blooded Marine Duty Officer in The
Last Detail. That same year, Moriarty starred in a TV-movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie with Katharine
Hepburn. Moriarty's role as the Gentleman Caller won him an Emmy Award
for Best Supporting Actor of the Year. Moriarty
then nabbed the 1974 Tony Award in the Best Actor category for his
role as a young London homosexual with a blistering razor-sharp tongue in Find
Your Way Home, beating out
heavyweight competitors Zero Mostel, George C. Scott, Jason Robards and Nicol
Moriarty’s bid for big-screen stardom was a complete failure. In 1975, he was
cast as a rookie detective who unwittingly kills an undercover policewoman in
the Serpico-like drama Report to the Commissioner. The film (now
hailed as a masterpiece) was shredded by the critics, especially the
influential Pauline Kael of The New
Yorker, who dismissed Moriarty’s acting as unbridled hysteria. Roger Ebert
described Moriarty’s performance as manic: “During whole stretches of the
movie, (the rookie detective) seems to be in the grip of incomprehensible
tensions and fears, and Moriarty makes these so obvious we wonder why he isn’t
sent in for observation. Underplaying, providing
just the slightest suggestion of inner terrors, would have made the performance
necessity, Moriarty made the switch to television, appearing in series like The Equalizer with Edward Woodward and starring
as a GermanSS officer in the landmark
television miniseriesHolocaust, which won him another Emmy.
Moriarty was also unforgettable as an aggressive professional hockey player in The Deadliest Season, one of the
greatest TV-movies about hockey ever made.
the 1980s, Moriarty started turning up in increasingly lurid fare such as Larry Cohen’s
The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, It's
Alive 3: Island of the Alive and A Return to Salem's Lot. In 1986, Moriarty
starred in the fantasy science-fiction movie Troll,
playing the role of Harry Potter, Sr.! In the decades since, these films have
all become cult classics. Moriarty is especially proud of his involvement in The Hanoi Hilton, a harrowing true story
about the ordeal of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam’s most infamous
prison during the Vietnam War.
Yet the role that Moriarty is still
best remembered for is that of Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone in the
first four seasons of Law and Order (1990-1994).
Stone is an essentially humorless man of unflinching rectitude who believes in
maximum enforcement of the law, but is open to plea bargaining if conditions
“In early 1994,
I quit Law and Order and announced my
departure in the Hollywood Reporter
and Daily Variety,” Moriarty told Cinema Retro. “My employers, the
mainstream press and even Wikipedia
like to say that it was (executive producer) Dick Wolf who fired me and not the
other way ‘round. People say: ‘Oh, well, no one fires Dick Wolf!’ Well, I did. At any rate, I had become an
American dissident. I left for Canada not too long after that.”
After shedding his
sleek Ben Stone persona, Moriarty moved to Toronto (and later Halifax and
Vancouver) and became a radically different person – some described his
behaviour as crazy or bipolar. At age 52, after a lifetime of discipline and
abstemiousness, Moriarty began drinking and smoking heavily. The years of hard
living were evident in the thickening of his features and a noticeable weight
gain. His smooth-as-velvet voice became raspy from the constant intake of
nicotine. The onetime exemplar of virtue on television even got into a few
scrapes with the law. He was thrown into a Halifax drunk tank in 1997. In
November 2000, Moriarty was arrested for assault after slapping his former
girlfriend and manager Margaret Brychka during a drunken argument in a
Vancouver bar. The charges were later dismissed in court.
The dark years passed and, through
rigid adherence to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and his abiding faith
in the Roman Catholic Church, Moriarty was able to lay his demons to rest. He
says he has been clean and sober since 2003.
AA fraternity and their infinite faith in the power of God have brought me to a
calm and utterly sober joy in life I had never thought possible,” Moriarty
Until 2006, Moriarty continued his
acting career from his home base in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, where he
lives with his lady friend Irene Mettler. Since relocating to Canada, the
former star of Law and Order appeared
in a steady stream of movies and TV shows, notably the hard-edged police drama Major Crime, Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, Emily of New Moon, Crime of
the Century, Courage Under Fire, Children of the Dust (with Sidney
Poitier), The Arrow, Earthquake in New York, James Dean (Moriarty won an Emmy for
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie as Dean’s father), Taken (in the UFO TV mini-series
premiere episode directed by Tobe Hooper) and director Larry Cohen’s Pick Me Up episode of Masters of Horror.
70, Moriarty is semi-retired from acting, mainly due to health concerns
following open-heart surgery and the lingering effects of serious injuries
sustained during a savage beating at a Maple Ridge tavern in 2002. Moriarty’s last
completed film to date is the still unreleased The Yellow Wallpaper, in which he plays a mysterious realtor.
Lensed in Georgia in 2006, The Yellow
Wallpaper is loosely based on the famous horror story by Charlotte Perkins
Wayne, Ron Soble, Darby and Campbell on the set of the original True Grit.
Here's a link to an insightful article from January that appeared in the Los Angeles Times: Kim Darby and Glen Campbell recalling their experience working on the original 1969 classic True Grit with John Wayne.
Landers with William Shatner in the final episode of Star Trek.
Stephen Bowie, who runs the excellent retro web site The Classic TV History Blog, has a fascinating interview with character actor Harry Landers, who worked with Hitchcock and DeMille, as well as featured in countless memorable TV series. Click here to read
Paramount Home Video has released Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in a restored, Blu-ray edition. Painstakingly restored by Ron Smith and his team, the film has been can now be seen in its original magnificence. Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer discussed this project and other aspects of Charlton Heston’s career with his son, filmmaker Fraser Heston.
Cinema Retro: The year 2011 is shaping up to be a great time for Charlton Heston fans. There are some very high profile releases of his major films. What do you attribute that to?
Fraser Heston:Much of it is due to my own hard work trying to get some of these titles out. In all seriousness, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur are both coming out in April. I think it’s a coincidence that the new technology has come around so much that it allows you to go back and restore these films in such a manner as to allow you see these films in ways you haven’t enjoyed them before.For example, Paramount really broke new ground with The Ten Commandments. It looks great.
CR: The credit goes to Ron Smith at Paramount and his team.
FH: Yes, they have done stuff at high resolutions that has never been done before with more lines per frame than anything like it. I saw it projected on a very large screen at the Egyptian Theatre and it looked phenomenal. Obviously, the colors looked great and it was pristine. The grain in each shot was very fine. I’d like to think the restoration looks like the answer print that C.B. first screened for Paramount. Even when you see a first-run movie in a theater, you’re not seeing a print made from the negative.You’re seeing a print made from an inter-negative, which is several generations down the line. So, in essence, the restoration allows you to be virtually sitting next to C.B. looking at his first answer print.
CR: It must give you satisfaction to see your father’s legacy so much in the forefront recently.
FH: It does. You know somebody asked me the other day if I was ever disappointed that he was primarily associated with The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. The answer is no.Those films became a major part of our family history and we’re very proud of those films and I know dad was, too. They made his career and I think it’s wonderful that we can see these come out again. The same sort of technology can be applied to his other films like Antony and Cleopatra, Mother Lode and Treasure Island and the Bible series that we’re also coming out with next month.
CR: I’m happy to hear that because some of these films like Mother Lode, I haven’t seen in many years.
FH: Neither had I. When I watched Mother Lode and Antony and Cleopatra the other day, I was blown away. We did the frame-by-frame restoration of both of those films from the original negatives and I got take part in that process. I sat there for every single frame. It’s amazing what they can do. I haven’t seen the Blu-ray versions yet, but even the standard DVD version is so much better.
CR: Although your father won the Oscar for Ben-Hur, would you say that The Ten Commandments was the film that was most important because it elevated him to major stardom?
FH:It certainly started him on that path. I was re-reading his journals for a documentary we’re preparing about my dad. So I went back and scanned those journals day-by-day back to 1957. (Note: Heston kept a journal of his experiences on every film set. The journal was published in book form as The Actor’s Life.- Ed.) I went back to his original pages, so there was a lot of stuff I hadn’t read before. He felt The Ten Commandments hadn’t quite put him in that stratosphere yet. That was surprising to me, because it was one of the most successful films of all time. It certainly helped him get the role of Ben-Hur, which he won the Academy Award for. That certainly cemented it, if you will.
In a terrific, in-depth interview with entertainment writer Brad Balfour, the legendary Robert Duvall talks about his career-topping performance in Get Low (which Oscar inexplicably snubbed), running his independent production company and his dream of playing Don Quixote for Terry Gilliam. Click here to read
If you haven't seen the remarkable film Get Low, click here to order from Amazon
In one of his most in-depth and interesting interviews, Clint Eastwood talks to London's Daily Mail about viewing life at age 80. He admits he thinks more about the frailty of his life nowadays, but it doesn't slow him down. His latest film Hereafter is just opening in the UK and he is about to begin work on a big screen biopic of J. Edgar Hoover. Among his observations:
He was raised as a church-goer, but eventually gave it up, preferring meditation to any established religion.
He jokes about his age, saying that there would be no point in going to a school reunion because there wouldn't be anyone else to show up.
He's somewhat conservative and voted for John McCain, though paradoxically he has nothing against Barack Obama and opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He says people still want him to revive the character of Dirty Harry
He recalls his early days in show business and his friendships with Elvis Presley, James Dean and Steve McQueen.
Eastwood also elaborates on the bizarre offer extended to him to play James Bond (he wisely turned it down):
‘I love London,’ says Eastwood. ‘I guess it’s in my genes. My dad was Scots/English and my mother was Irish. It’s funny, but years ago when Sean Connery left the James Bond pictures the producers contacted me and asked if I would like to be James Bond.
'I’d been doing all those Westerns, so it was flattering to be asked, and they offered quite a bit of money. But I told them I thought they should have a Brit; I was so associated with Americana. I said, “I don’t think that’s good casting.” It would have been fun to do it once but it would have been a very bad move." To read click here
While playing Dr. Kildare in the 60s, Chamberlain became pin-up material for countless teenage girls - none of whom suspected he was actually gay.
For decades, Richard Chamberlain was the quintessential romantic leading man as well as a star of action films. He was the first actor to portray secret agent Jason Bourne and he made women swoon with his leading role in The Thorne Birds. There had been rumors in the industry for many years that Chamberlain was secretly gay but it wasn't until he was in his sixties that he confirmed that fact in his autobiography. In a revealing interview with the gay-themed web site The Advocate, Chamberlain discusses how progress has been made in some areas in terms of actors being able to come out of the closet. Tellingly, however, he still advises that it probably is a poor career move in terms of getting meaningful roles as a leading man. And by the way, Chamberlain is still offering a reward to anyone who can prove that his boyish good looks are the result of plastic surgery! Click here to read.
With the 25th anniversary DVD of Back to the Future in release through Universal, actress Lea Thompson spoke to the New York Times about her role in the original film and its sequels, playing the goody-two-shoes 1950s teenager who confronts her own offspring before he is born.
The 1971 007 blockbuster Diamonds Are Forever was among many hit films Tom Mankiewicz worked on.
The BBC Radio program Last Word interviews author, filmmaker and Cinema Retro writer Matthew Field about the life and career of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who passed away last week. James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson also reminisces about working with Mankiewicz on several 007 hits. Click here to listen. (The Mankiewicz segment begins at approximately 5:50 in the program)
Cinema Retro columnist Steve Saragossi has launched an exciting new film-related blog, The Screen Lounge. Steve already has a coup: an exclusive interview with acclaimed character actor Ed Lauter, whose talents have enhanced such memorable films as Magic, The Longest Yard, Hickey and Boggs, Executive Action and so many more. Click here to read
In a fascinating article on The Huffington Post, writer Patricia Zohn interviews legendary dancer Marge Champion, who, as a teenager, was one of the living models hired by Walt Disney to inspire his famed group of artists who were working on the land-breaking Snow White feature film. Marge, who went on to marry Gower Champion, is now 90 years old and provides fascinating, first-hand insights into the process of making this masterpiece. Click here to read.
Warner's Clint Eastwood DVD collection contains 34 films and Richard Schickel's new documentary The Eastwood Factor.
By Lee Pfeiffer
There have been precious few film critics with the reputation of Richard Schickel. If he seems an omnipresent aspect of virtually every classic film discussion, it's because he represents the Golden Age of movie criticism. Schickel's long and impressive career has made him a legend in his own right, but his talents extend beyond writing. He's also an award-winning filmmaker. Schickel has occasionally found inspiration in his long-time friendship with Clint Eastwood as the basis for documentaries. His TV special that chronicled the making of Unforgiven was the first in-depth look at how Eastwood approaches filmmaking. Now, Schickel has created a new documentary- The Eastwood Factor - that is available as part of Warner Brothers' new DVD collection dedicated to the iconic star and director. The set contains every film Eastwood has made for Warner Brothers and Schickel's documentary provides the perfect companion piece. The film takes Eastwood on a trip down memory lane, with visits to the Warner's studio lot where he made so many movies. To commemorate the release of the documentary, Warner Home Video arranged an exclusive interview with Richard Schickel.
CR: When you first saw the Sergio Leone trilogy in the
1960s, you weren’t very impressed with the films or Eastwood…
RS:When I first saw
those films, I didn’t care for them but I now care for them very greatly. Historically
they became incredibly important in the western film genre. I also just like
the movies:they’re smart, they’re
funny, they’re weird. They’re extraordinarily good movies, but I didn’t notice
that at the time because in those days I was a traditionalist.
CR: When did you first meet Clint Eastwood?
RS: In 1976, after the release of The Outlaw Josey Wales. The friendship just developed the way
friendships do. There was nothing magical about it. When I first saw Josey Wales, I thought it was a terrific
movie.I liked the theme of the movie:
the rescue and reconstruction of troubled and hard-pressed people. I had missed
the whole Dirty Harry factor
initially after Pauline Kael had said it was fascist.I think I was kind of misled by that.Instinctively, I liked the movie, but then I
thought “I shouldn’t like this
movie!” (Laughs). I revisited the
film not too long after that and found a lot of virtue in the character.
CR: Ironically, in recent years, you’ve become sort of a
Boswell to Eastwood’s Dr. Johnson.
RS: I don’t know about that. I just like the guy and he
likes me. We get along in a casual, male bonding sort of way.That isn’t to say I don’t admire many of his
films. Unlike most actors, he greatly expanded his range and work in films like
Tightrope and especially with Unforgiven. He also did movies that were
not very commercial like Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart. More
recently, he’s undertaken movies that most directors of his age wouldn’t think
about undertaking – even if they were able to. It’s a classic example of an
older man doing his best work.It’s
certainly unusual in the movie business. Most older directors fall into silence
or irrelevance.Eastwood doesn’t just
screw off. He chooses fairly difficult topics. He proceeds with them in a
rational way.He’s not subject to
“celebrity follies” of one sort or another.
CR: It’s interesting that, like John Ford,Eastwood has acquired somewhat of a stock
company he prefers to work with.
RS:Yes, Joel Cox has
been editing for him for twenty years. The same with the cameraman Jack
Green.Eastwood talks about that. He
says it’s much easier to work with someone you’ve known for many years. You
don’t even need to communicate verbally- you just point your finger or give a
nod and the guy knows what to do.When
you’re on one of Clint’s sets, you’re not aware of him doing any heavy duty
directing. He’s there for the actors, if
they have a question or something like that. He believes that if you have the
right person in the part, you really don’t have to do very much.
It's rather ironic that the most impressive and insightful Quentin Tarantino interview we've seen in a long while should come on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow generally doesn't deviate from her nightly opinion program about political issues - and she admits to Tarantino that she's never seen one of his films in its entirety because of the violent content. Nevertheless, Tarantino, who is deprived of his penchant for dropping four letter words, is far more articulate and interesting than when he does indulge in that habit. In an extended and intelligent discussion of Inglourious Basterds, the Oscar-nominated director traces the origins of the film to the days of the Old West. He explains that he has been fascinated by the concept that a much smaller group of fighting men can terrify large armies if they use sufficiently brutal tactics. He cites the Apache's ability to fight the U.S. Cavalry to a standstill for years using this method. He also says he watched many Nazi-era propaganda films produced by Goebbels in researching his movie. He correctly points out that, while some of these contained horrible anti-Semitic messages, the majority were feel-good, Hollywood-like musicals and costume dramas because the Nazi propaganda minister fancied himself a major film talent. To watch click here
On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Bill Marx
will be the featured guest on KSAV’s broadcast of “Dave White Presents.” Bill
will discuss life with his famous father (Harpo Marx), his famous mother (the
girl with the “Million Dollar Legs”), his legendary uncles (Groucho, Chico,
Zeppo, Gummo), not to mention Bill’s own musical career which included working
with his Dad. And, of course, we’ll talk about Bill’s new book, Son of Harpo Speaks, now available as an
audiobook Bill read himself for Bear Manor Media. You don’t have to be a Marx
Brothers fan to enjoy this one—Bill Marx is more than entertaining in his own
Competing with Bill for your
smiles and laughs will be one Dave White who promises to be more “predictably
unpredictable” than usual, if that’s possible. We’ll hear a new “Poor David’s
Almanac,” comic songs from years past, and new products from Dave’s questionable
Altogether, this will be a very
special occasion not only due to our guest of honor, but because, for the very
first time, listeners can catch the debut airing of the 90 minutes of variety
entertainment at one of two times. Starting with this program, “Dave White
Presents” will air at 7:30 p.m. EST and then later at 7:30, Pacific Time
Cinema Retro is proud to present the concluding part of writer Kris Gilpin's 1988 interview with director Monte Hellman.
KG: Now to my favorite: Two-Lane
Blacktop.Like author Rudy Wurlitzer,
you’ve used the road-movie or searcher motif in many of your films.From where did you get this affinity?
MH: I don’t know; when I
was a film student the only book I read which had any lasting effect on me was
Kracauer’s Theory of Film, Or the Redemption of Physical Reality.He makes a case for the Road Movie being the only valid form of cinema; any film that
takes place within four walls without any relationship to the street outside is
a play, not a film.So for him La Strada
is the ultimate film.That was an idea
which stuck with me.I didn’t choose Beast from Haunted Cave – there
was a basic idea which existed before I became involved with it – but it’s a
road movie; it’s a trek across the mountains on skis – a band of robbers
escaping from a mine robbery with the loot on a ski trip.So that was a trek; the two Westerns are
treks; the two Philippine pictures are treks; Two-Lane Blacktop is a trek; Cockfighter
is not a trek a circle – they go around [in a circle] from one cockpit to
another.Iguana is not a trek, but it is
also a circle.
KG: After Easy Rider, the
industry was selling Two-Lane as the second coming, what with the screenplay
publication in Esquire and all.Do you
think it was a case of over-hype which caused its initial “failure” at the box
MH: No, it was a case of a
different philosophy.I think Easy Rider
was a film which was not offensive to the status quo because what it put down
was a part of the status quo that everybody
condemned.It wasn’t critical of the way
studio executives live their lives; it was critical of Southern bigots, so
everybody could get behind that.Two-Lane
Blacktop was critical of middle-class morality – for want of a better term – it
was critical of the way the average person lived his life, and the studio
executives were offended by it, and they killed the film.It didn’t die a natural death, it was
KG: By the lack of
publicity, right.I was shocked to read
in Danny Peary’s Cult Movies that Laurie Bird (who played The Girl) had died; I
didn’t know that.When and how did she
MH: She died in, I guess,
’79, of an overdose of Valium.
Hellman's most acclaimed film, the cult movie Two Lane Blacktop
KG: What was Dennis Wilson
(as The Mechanic) like to work with?
MH: Of the whole group, I
think Dennis really was the most instinctive actor.James [Taylor, who played The Driver] was
very serious about the work, as he is with everything in his life, and very
dedicated it and very professional, but Dennis may be, I think, the only actor
I’ve ever worked with who’s totally unaware
of the camera; he was absolutely at home [in front of the camera].
KG: Totally unpretentious?
MH: It wasn’t even
unpretentious; he was just unconscious
of it, unconscious of the fact that he was performing in a way, and he would
get into a scene and he would just start living it.He would get lost in the reality of the
moment and you can see it in his face; you can watch him and the way he’s
watching what’s going on in a scene, and he’s totally transfixed by it.He became
it; it’s just an amazing thing.I’ve
never seen anything like it.
KG: It seems to me that
the majors (Two-Lane was a Universal picture) would rarely make a
character-based film like that today, unless there were cute little, flying
aliens in it or something like that.
MH: The films that they
make today are so full of artificiality and shtick, they don’t bear much
resemblance to any of the kinds of
films that were made in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
KG: That must also,
obviously, be one of the reasons you take the time to try and find the projects
that interest you.
MH: Well, I have a lot of
things which interest me but most of the things I like don’t interest
distributors and producers.
KG: Two-Lane ends with a
famous optical shot, in which the film slows down, and is then made to look
like it gets caught in the projector before it breaks down and burns.Was there any intent behind that other than
it’s being a neat optical effect?
MH: Well, basically I’m a
very instinctual, emotional kind of director; I’m not an intellectual in most
of what I do.In that instance, I let my
intellect impose a choice that was purely intellectual, that I hoped would be
transformed into an emotional affect on the audience; I didn’t know that it would be and I was very
hesitant about using it because of the way that it evolved.But what I was trying to do was make a
relationship between the speed of cars on the road and the speed of film going
through the gate of a projector; I hoped it would work and I guess it did,
because a lot of people are moved by
it, as I ultimately was, too.
KG: Was that Rudy
Wurlitzer’s idea or yours?
MH: That was my idea.
KG: Why isn’t Two-Lane out
on video again?I still see that
question in video magazines all the time.
MH: Well, for the same
reason a lot of other films aren’t; it’s because of music rights.At that time they didn’t anticipate video, so
they didn’t specifically put video into the contract, so in order to put it on
video all those songs would have to be renegotiated, and it would cost a
fortune.I think it’s very unlikely
it’ll ever come out.
KG:God, that’s a shame.It’s doubly ironic, too, because as I was
first watching the film I got an eerie feeling that something was off-kilter or
missing, and slowly I realized it was because there was no background music, no
mood music in the film, not by Taylor or the Beach Boys or anyone.The only tunes were incidental, playing on a
car radio or jukebox in a scene, and when the scene cut away, so did the
music.I thought that was a brilliant
tough of verisimilitude.
MH: I did the same thing
in Iguana, as a matter of fact, with one exception, which was the opening and
closing credits, in which we used a song [sung by Joni Mitchell] that was not
source music.But in every other place
it was all source music.
KG: How did Corman recut Cockfighter
MH: He added two 20-second
segments of dream sequence; it was something that had nothing to do with the movie-
cop cars getting blown up and naked girls.The reason was, he wanted to have material for a trailer and he didn’t
want to cheat, so he wanted it to be footage that was in the film.It was very offensive, and he cut the
three-minute porch scene.[It caused a
rift between us] at that time.[Eventually] the uncut version came out probably because – although I
don’t know for sure – [L.A. cable channel] the Z Channel insisted on it, which
meant that the video in general became that version, and also the version
that’s played on cable.
KG: Warren Oates was mute
through most of the film; was his character that way in the book, not wanting
to speak until he won the big fight?
MH: Yeah, that’s the
character.Warren pretended like it was
the easiest job he eve had; he said, “Wow, I don’t have any dialogue to
learn?Fantastic!They’re overpaying me.”[Smiles]
KG: How do you think it
stands up today?
MH: Well, it’s no secret,
I guess, that it’s one of my least favorite of my films and the reason is, it’s
the only time I haven’t been able to do the work on the script that I would
like to have done.In every other film
I’ve made I’ve been able to create the script that I wanted; in that case it
was Roger’s baby and he hired me to do it with the production already in place,
with a start date and everything.I told
him I wanted to do some work on the script and he said, “O.K.” and I hired Earl
Mac [Buckaroo Banzai, Wired] Rauch to come in and work on the script.We worked for a week and Roger saw a sample
of what he was doing and he became panicked; he thought we were ruining his
baby, so he said, “O.K.You’ve just got
one more week and that’s it.”I’d
planned to go through the script methodically from beginning to end, and Mac
worked on the first 10 or 15 pages; at that point, when Roger pulled the plug,
I decided to have Mac, in the remaining week, just do the key scenes that I
thought needed the most work.So he
basically did everything relating to Warren’s relationship with his girlfriend
in the film.
KG: What are your thoughts
today on China 9, Liberty 37?
MH: I like it.When you start making analogies between one
film and another, I think that every film is different and that, essentially,
my style changes with the nature of the material.I think China 9’s certainly the most romantic film I’ve made, and I
KG: What was it like
directing Sam Peckinpah in a small part in that film?
MH: He was [laughs] very difficult to work with.He wouldn’t finish a sentence; we would say
three words and then stop.I literally
had to piece his performance together.He was ornery as hell but we were very good friends without really ever
spending a lot of time together;
there was a great affection between us, and he was an amazing man, really
amazing. I think he was one of the great
American directors for sure.
KG: How were you involved
with his Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (also written by Rudy Wurlitzer)?
MH: I was the original
director and I developed the project, and had worked out with Rudy Wurlitzer
the basic idea of the film, which was unique I think in Billy the Kid stories,
in that it dealt with the only period in the history of Billy the Kid that
nobody knew anything about.He literally
disappeared from the time he escaped from jail until the time he was shot and
so, rather than repeat any of the known history of Billy the Kid, Rudy and I
decided to develop a picture that could be completely fictional because it was
about a time [of] which nobody knew the real story.
As Cinema Retro 'regulars' know, we have occasionally been able to find unpublished or rarely-seen interviews with legendary film personalities and provide them for our readers. In issue #1 of the magazine, Steve Mori provided an unseen interview Steve McQueen from 1968 and in issue #15, Steve did the same with a fascinating 1974 discussion with Lee Marvin. Now contributing writer Kris Gilpin has been kind enough to share with us with a 1988 interview with director Monte Hellman, whose work is revered by some of the great directors of our time. Please keep in mind that the text and events that are discussed in this interview took place in 1988 and have not been amended. (This is part one of a two-part interview.)
INTERVIEW WITH MONTE HELLMAN
By Kris Gilpin
Born July 12th,
1932 in New York City, writer-director Monte Hellman’s work is miles above
typical American drivel; while working in various traditional genres (war,
western, road film, etc.), he has produced a series of very personal character
studies, while still remaining true to the genre within which each film is
set.And his films have a definite
European flavor to them; in fact, he still has a huge following in Europe –
with Monte Hellman film festivals constantly being held there – despite the
fact that his last feature (the western China 9, Liberty 37, starring the late,
great Warren Oates, Jenny [An American Werewolf in London] Agutter and Italian
superstar Fabio Testi) was released a decade ago.
After studying theater at
Stanford University and film at UCLA, Hellman spent three years acting and
directing in summer stock before landing his first gig in film, as the
assistant editor on the Richard Boone TV series, Medic.He quit that job to return to directing plays
for a theatre company he founded, then accepted an offer from B-movie mogul
Roger Corman (who had invested in his theatre company); Hellman’s first film, Beast
from Haunted Cave, was shot back-to-back with Corman’s Ski Troop Attack in North
Dakota, using the same cast, crew and locations.He then helped finish a number of films for
Corman, one of which was the infamous The Terror, starring Boris Karloff, Jack
Nicholson and Dick Miller, a film they all made up as they went along.
Next, Hellman shot two
films back-to-back in the Philippines, Back Door to Hell, a war story with
Nicholson and country singer Jimmie Roders, and Flight to Fury, a film noir
starring, and written by, Jack Nicholson.(Hellman, who always edits his own pictures, was cutting Back Door at
night, while directing Flight during the day.)
His international fame
came in 1967, with a pair of westerns filmed in Utah (once again back-to-back):
the existentialist, purposely vague The Shooting (with Nicholson and Oates) and
equally existential Ride in the Whirlwind (with Cameron Mitchell and Nicholson,
who once again wrote the script).Four
years later I first saw Hellman’s subtle cult masterpiece, Two-Lane Blacktop (which
featured Oates in a superb performance, the late Beach Boy drummer-singer
Dennis Wilson and songwriter James Taylor, in his only starring role), and I’ve
been in love with road movies ever since that day.The film’s screenplay, by Rudy (Candy
Mountain – another road film – and Walker) Wurlitzer and Will Cory, was so
impressive it was published in its entirety before the film’s release in Esquire
magazine.This was followed by Cockfighter
(aka Born to Kill), again starring Warren Oates, this time with Harry Dean
Stanton; the film was recut by producer Roger Corman and not seen its original
form until several years later.
Now Monte Hellman is back
with Iguana, the story of Oberlus, a sailor from the early 19th
Century who is persecuted due to the lizard-like scales, which deform half of
his face and neck (Oberlus is played by Everett [Quest for Fire, Silver Bullet]
McGill).He flees to a desert island,
where he declares war on mankind, capturing castaway sailors and cutting off
the fingers and heads of the “slaves” who disobey him.When Carmen (Maru Valdivielso), a
beautiful/sexy Spanish libertine, comes to the island, the two of them
eventually play out a twisted version of Beauty and the Beast (the film also
features Fabio Testi in a supporting role).
Hellman was kind enough to
give me a friendly, long interview on Saturday October 29th, 1988,
in his Los Angeles home.I met his
pretty daughter, Melissa, and marveled at the framed stills and lobby cards
adorning the walls and bookshelves (early stills of Nicholson, John Ford [with
Hellman], Sam Peckinpah [who acted in
Hellman’s China 9], Martin Landau, Millin [The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind]
Perkins, the late Laurie Bird [from Two-Land Blacktop, as the hitchhiker who
unknowingly breaks up the cross-country race between Warren Oates and James
Taylor, and she was also in Cockfighter]; a foreign lobby card for La
Sparatoria [The Shooting], a Japanese lobby card for Two-Lane, etc.And you can still hear the loss in his voice
when Hellman recalls his old friends Oates and Bird).Many thanks to Monte Hellman (who has always
been a favorite filmmaker of mine) for giving me such a complete interview that
Doreen Kern "casts" Clint Eastwood in his latest role: as model for a surprise sculpture in 1977. (Photo copyright: Doreen Kern)
By Spencer Lloyd Peet
In 1977, Clint Eastwood was cast as himself; not in
a Hollywood blockbuster movie but as a life-size portrait sculpture.Renowned sculptor, Doreen Kern, immortalised Eastwood
in bronze on the request of his then wife Maggie Johnson who asked for it to be
made as a surprise gift for the Hollywood superstar.During her stay at the Eastwood’s home, Kern
vigilantly studied Eastwood’s face and expressions making notes as he went
about his daily business.Eastwood
suspected nothing as the ladies chatted amongst themselves.
Kern first met Johnson, a former swim-wear model,
in 1974 when she came to London. Because
Johnson didn’t really know anybody in London, but a mutual friend of theirs, Connie
De Nave, who was in the music business working in New York at the time,
suggested the two ladies should get together.“I spoke to Connie on the phone,” remembers Kern, “and she said ‘A
friend of mine, Maggie Eastwood, is coming to London and I think it would be
nice for you to meet up with her.You
know, Maggie Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s wife.’ I hope it doesn’t sound
detrimental, but I really didn’t know who Clint Eastwood was back then.When I told my children they said, ‘Oh,
mother, what planet are you on?’Anyway,”
continues Kern, “I spent some time with Maggie and took her to the theater.We had a really enjoyable time together.”Eastwood was directing The Eiger Sanction, at that time and he also played the main
character, Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, a former professor of art and an assassin who
is forced out of retirement to track down the killer of an old friend.Much
of the filming - in which Eastwood performed his own stunts - took place on
snow-covered mountains and involved some risky mountaineering.During her visit, Johnson told Kern that
Eastwood was extremely upset by the death of David Knowles, a stunt-climber
who, within a few days of shooting, was killed instantly after being hit on the
head by a falling bolder. Eastwood wanted to quit production but was persuaded to
carry on filming by the other professional mountaineers who were working on the
been 60 years since the Marx Brothers – Groucho, Chico, Harpo – officially
appeared together in their last feature film, Love Happy. Although fans have
little “love” for it and the brothers were not “happy” making it, the film did
provide some enjoyable moments showcasing Harpo’s silent talents.
with brothers Zeppo and Gummo, the five Marx Brothers grew up in New York.
Gummo dropped out of the act and the four brothers traveled the country as
stage performers before taking Hollywood by storm, starting with Cocoanuts in
1929.Straight man Zeppo eventually
bailed too, and the three remaining brothers went on to become arguably the
greatest comedy team ever.
them, the five brothers raised a dozen children and a few went into the
entertainment business. Now 72, Bill Marx (one of Harpo’s four children; see
www.sonofharpospeaks.com) had a successful career as a musician, composer,
comic, speaker, and writer. He talks at length about life with Harpo and his
brothers, concluding the interview by paraphrasing his Uncle Groucho’s biting
recently published a book, “Son of Harpo Speaks!” What’s it about?
not really a book about the Marx Brothers. It chronicles my relationship with
my dad and our working together for 12 years.My stories have never been told before and I guess I’m one of the last
people left who actually worked with the Marx Brothers first hand. I’m just
finishing up an audio book of Son of Harpo Speaks! that should be available
soon. It contains material that nobody’s heard before.
us about your career.
what you’d call a sit down - stand up -sit down - stand up comic! I sit down,
play the piano, then stand up and tell stories, then sit down again and so on.
Then I do Q&A sessions. I’ve been a composer and jazz pianist most of my
life - doing film scores, symphonic writing, and arranging. I’ve played with
many of the great jazz artists of the twentieth century.
Harpo influence your musical career?
When I was 2 years old, he recognized my musical ability, but he never forced
anything on me. I was not a disciplined young musician - I hated scales and
lessons. I wanted to play baseball!
two of you worked together, correct?
When I was 16, I wound up as his personal arranger and conductor. We did two
albums together for Mercury Records. When he appeared on TV programs like The
Lucy Show, he often played the harp and I did all the musical arrangements for
him. I was only in my late teens then, so he helped validate me as a composer
you play the harp?
Dad used to say “one harpist in the family is enough!”I have written a couple of concertos for the
harp and did all the pop arrangements for my dad later in his career.
Harpo play the harp at home for the family much?
really, he’d play to practice. He loved to practice; he’d do it for 2-3 hours a
day whether he was working or not. He just loved the harp – its feeling, its
sensuality, the vibrations, and the harmony and sounds of the chords. The harps
you see in the films were his personal instruments.
happened to his harps? They would be priceless Hollywood memorabilia today.
he passed away, my mother and I went to Israel and donated them to the Rubin
Academy of Music [now the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance]. Students are
still playing them, which is wonderful.
about his other old movie props, have they been saved?
have a lot of stuff – his prop chest, his coat, his hat, wigs. I’m looking for
a place to have it all displayed. I turned down the Smithsonian because I don’t
want it stored in a vault. These are pieces of American film history and they
need to be on permanent display somewhere.
happed to his famous walking stick with the honker?
sister has that. But it doesn’t work any more because the bulb has worn out
over the years.
you have a favorite Marx Brothers film?
Go West, only because I thought dad was phenomenal in it. It was written by a
great friend, Irving Brecher who just passed away. He was one of the funniest
guys ever. I recommend reading his book, The Wicked Wit of the West, which is
full of delightful stories. I also love Monkey Business and A Night in
Casablanca. The Big Store was the first Marx Brothers movie I saw when I was 4
or 5. I love the scene where dad is playing the instruments in front of the
mirrors. It’s very charming.
If you missed this interview from September 2008, here is Robert Vaughn on The O'Reilly Factor. He discusses The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Magnificent Seven and his working relationship with Steve McQueen. O'Reilly's questions are intelligent, but once again one of his celebrity segments is undone by the awful, rapid-fire editing in these segments that accentuates film clips and leaves the guest talking in brief sound bites. Click here to view
Cinema Retro London correspondent Mark Mawston recently caught up with director John Landis to discuss his classic horror film.
26th June 09 was a sad day for many as they woke up to the news of
Michael Jackson’s untimely passing. Although tributes were many and were
omnipresent on TV and radio, the image that seemed to represent the high point
in the singer’s career and resonate with fans and general public alike was his epic
‘Thriller’ video. Probably the most famous and influential music video ever,
the landmark film was directed by the incomparable John Landis. On the day of Jackson’s
death, Landis was in London to attend the Curzon Soho’s ‘Midnight Movies’
tribute to him with a rare screening of An
American Werewolf In London. As usual, the Curzon staff had made a splendid
effort, this time creating a theme at the cinema’s bar around the Slaughtered
Lamb pub which features in the film, as well as dressing as having characters
from the film on hand, too. The ticket-holding
attendees again showed that an Englishman (or woman) never need to be asked
twice to dress up, as several of the films most memorable creations seemed to
be present and correct. There was even a fully blown lycanthrope that appeared
to be stalking the aisles and dancing to the house band in the foyer as the ‘Nightmare
Demon’ in full trench coat (on one of the warmest nights ofrecent years) prowled the bar looking for
American tourists with backpacks (see Mike Strick’s sitejust to see how much
goes into the creation of these monsterpieces).
John Landis and fiends raise a glass to the legacy of American Werewolf. (Photo: Mark Mawston. All rights reserved)
the band played, Landis signed a limited amount of copies of the new book
detailing his career, which includes essays on such cinematic gems as Animal House, Kentucky Fried Movie, The Blues
Brothers, Trading Places, the
hugely underrated Into the Night and
the aforementioned ‘Thriller’. Kim Newman was on hand to ask the questions in
his own inimitable manner, and we were also graced by the presence of John’s
wife Deborah and the ever-glamorous Jenny Agutter, who was the female lead in American Werewolf. One of the high
points on the night for this writer occurred when Agutter turned up to the
strains of ‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison, still looking as though she had just
slipped out of the nurse’s costume that many hold so close to their heart. Despite
John Landis’ enormous success as a director, it’s wonderful to see that he is still a fan
boy at heart. He was just as enthused about my story in Cinema
Retro #14 regarding clearing Ray Harryhausen’s garage as he was about answering
the questions about movies he’d made.
course, it was the stories behind his wonderful films that we were all
interested in and it was a fascinating experience delving into the Landis
treasure trove of iconic cinematic moments. He confirmed that it felt surreal
to be sitting in The Curzon which borders Piccadilly in the heart of London
where the famous finale to American
Werewolf in London had taken place (Ironically, the musical of Michael Jackson’s
‘Thriller’ plays a few doors down). He said he had very fond memories of the
area, especially the sequence from the film that was shot in a nearby cinema in
which the decomposing Jack visits his friend David as the wonderful parody of a
British 70’s porn movie plays (it’s title See
You Next Wednesday is a trademark of Landis which appears in most of his films).
Landis told me, “I spent a great deal of time at that cinema when I was over
here as one of the fourteen or so writers on The Spy Who Loved Me. I would disappear and head for that cinema as
they showed a lot of Tex Avery cartoons, which I’m a big fan of. Cubby thought
I was insane!”