Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here's the Story...

As a voracious reader, mostly nonfiction books related to show business, naturally, I often have two or three of them going at once. As for fiction, I tend to tackle a long novel during my days at the pool in the summer time. (This past summer, I conquered Harold Robbins' “The Carpetbaggers,” but a few years prior was Margaret Mitchell's “Gone with the Wind” – an instant favorite – along with Daphne du Maurier's “Rebecca” – also wonderful -- and the year after that, James Jones' “From Here to Eternity” – sheer agony to get through for the most part...) Most often, my nose is buried in the biographies and autobiographies of stars of all sorts. Early posts at The Underworld touched on this subject here and here.

In the interest of coming up with fun, interesting and different types of posts (I do try not to fall into the category of predictable), I'm going to share a few incidents today from a book called Movie Anecdotes, assembled by Peter Hay. It's chock full of stories concerning the cinema and its participants. To be honest, I doubt the veracity of some of them, but they're amusing nonetheless. As you can guess, I like the ones that involve snarkiness.

Take this one about Orson Welles working on a scene (from 1944's Jane Eyre) in which he was about to be broiled to death in a fire. He yelped, “I now know what Joan of Arc endured!” and fellow actress Joan Fontaine shot back, “Keep your spirits up, we'll let you know if we get the odor of burning ham.”

During 1932's Night After Night, there was a competitive atmosphere between Mae West and female costar Alison Skipworth, an older, British stage veteran of some note. After their various attempts to steal scenes from one another, an annoyed Skipworth looked at West and said, “I'll have you know—I'm an actress.” West's amusing response was, “It's all right, dearie. Your secret is safe with me.”

There's also the famous bit of repartee between the complicated and flamboyant star John Barrymore and Katharine Hepburn, then a Broadway star making her film debut in A Bill of Divorcement. The two didn't hit it off in the slightest and at the end of filming, she told the legendary, but testy and troubled, star, “Thank God I don't have to act with you anymore!,” to which he replied, “Oh, I didn't realize you ever had, darling.”

Even with a more amenable costar like Spencer Tracy, with whom she made many movies, there was the occasional barb. Upon first meeting him, she said, “Oh, Mr. Tracy, I'm really too tall for you,” but he countered with, “That's all right, dear. I'll soon cut you down to size.” When asked why he always insisted on billing above Hepburn and Garson Kanin suggested “ladies first,” Tracy responded, “This is a movie, not a lifeboat.”

There is an instance of a gushing fan, a writer in her own right, who raced up to the luncheon table of the famously private and reclusive Greta Garbo who greeted the horrified star with, “Oh, Miss Garbo, I always wanted to meet you, and now at last, I can tell all my friends that I finally met the great Garbo!” Garbo's frosty reply: “You can also tell all your friends that it was an accident.” Incidentally, Garbo's movies almost invariably flopped in Ireland. One critic wrote, “If Miss Garbo really wants to be alone, she should come to a performance of one of her films in Dublin.”

Reams of stories have come about regarding producer Samuel Goldwyn and his “Goldwynisms,” wherein his lack of grasp on the English language resulted in amusingly discombobulated statements such as, “Our comedies are not to be laughed at.” (One of his alleged compliments to an employee was congratulations for “taking the bull by the teeth!” Another remark was, “Keep a stiff upper chin.” Then there was his purported response to a colleague: “In two words: im-possible!”) He had purchased the rights to a novel called “The Well of Loneliness,” a pioneering, but scandalous and controversial, work about a pants-wearing Victorian lady who falls for a female ambulance driver. When alerted that the story couldn't be filmed because it dealt with lesbians, Goldwyn said, “So all right, where they got lesbians, we'll use Austrians.

So many Goldwynisms have been relayed over the years and many of them are believed to have sprung from the minds of others who had fun replicating his (wrong) way with words. Consider these:

“I can't make it, but I hope you'll give me a raincoat.”
“Gentlemen, do not underestimate the danger of the atom bomb. It's dynamite!”
“You are partly one hundred percent right.”
“I don't care if it makes a nickel, so long as everyone in the United States sees it.”
“It will create an excitement that will sweep the country like wildflowers.”
“They always bite the hand that lays the golden egg.”
“He's living beyond his means, but he can afford it.”

Hungarian director Michael Curtiz (Seen here with Joan Crawford during the filming of Flamingo Road in 1949) wasn't far behind in his broken English phrases:

“If I told you the truth, I'd be a hypocrite.”
“Don't talk to me while I'm interrupting.”
“You can't do it that way, you spoil the anticlimax.”
“I want this house overfurnished in perfect taste.”
“The next time I send a dope I'll go myself.”
“It's dull from beginning to end, but it's loaded with entertainment.”
(to a group of extras) “Separate together in a bunch!”

Director Cecil B. DeMille, known for his epic films, was asked why he returned so often to the well of The Bible. “Why let two thousand years of publicity go to waste?”, he responded. When his mammoth 1923 movie The Ten Commandments was costing so much it couldn't possibly recoup it's costs and he was prodded about it, he said, “What do they want me to do? Stop now and release it as 'The Five Commandments?'”

In the mid-1940s when Ingrid Bergman was frequently working for Alfred Hitchcock, she ran into a brick wall when it came to one of her scenes. She said to him, “I don't think I can do this naturally,” then proceeded to give a long list of her reasons why. (She was searching for her motivation.) Hitch listened with apparent interest, nodding occasionally, and then retorted, “All right, if you can't do it naturally, then fake it.” Bergman came to consider this one of the greatest bits of advice she had ever been given about acting! Amazingly, I was having this same trouble once in a production of “Where's Charley?” and the director took a drag on her cigarette and exhaled to me, “It's musical comedy theatre... just fake it!” (And I, too, found it to be good advice!)

Studio head Jack Warner, upon meeting the esteemed scientist Albert Einstein, greeted him with the fact that he, too, had a theory of relativity: “Don't hire 'em!” He and his brother Harry could rarely see eye to eye. In fact, in 1958 when Warner had a collision with a truck all the way over in the French Riviera, word facetiously spread that Harry must have been driving the other vehicle! Harry is at the far left, below, with jack in front of him, followed by Sam and Albert – all four of the famous Warner Brothers in presumably happier times.
Most of us have at least seen a shot of silent star Francis X. Bushman as Messala in the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. I mean, how could you ever forget those eyes once you've seen them? Bushman had been a stage actor and a nude sculptor's model in New York City as well as an actor in some films. Wanting to win the potentially rewarding role (which did turn out to be an iconic one), he and his agent devised a scheme that worked.

They arrived at Grand Central Station and on their way to the Metro Films office dropped pennies from a large bag that had a hole in it. Upon arrival at the office, they'd amassed a crowd of followers that movie representatives took to be clamoring fans of the actor! He won the role and a place in film history. His meteoric success was short-lived due to the great stock market crash of 1929, which practically wiped him out, and a clash with Louis B. Mayer, who was insulted when Bushman's butler didn't recognize him upon a visit. He had to make due with bit parts in films and TV guest roles until his death of a heart attack in 1966 at eighty-three.

Assistant director Rudolph Seiber went to his employer, director Alexander Korda, and asked if his wife might be afforded a teensy bot role in the film they were working on. Korda reportedly told Seiber that his wife didn't possess even the slightest bit of potential as a screen actress. The wife? She went by her maiden name of Marlene Dietrich and later went blonde and found staggering success in the cinema.

When Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors came to Hollywood, she began to wonder about the bathing and cleaning habits of the city's inhabitants. She'd repeatedly heard about this person or that one being “washed up!”
Acerbic author and poetess Dorothy Parker did some screen-writing for a time in Hollywood and during her long hours on the lot, she found herself lonely in her tiny office. After too long a stretch of this, she impishly removed her name from the door and replaced it with a sign that said “MEN.” After this, she never wanted for company again! One of the producers asked her why she had missed the deadline for a script she was working on and her pithy response in memo form was, “Because I've been too fucking busy – and vice versa.”

Groucho Marx was once asked over the radio what he thought about the upcoming film Samson and Delilah (1949), which starred Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. His response: “No picture can hold my interest when the leading man's bust measurement is bigger than the leading lady's.”
The power columnists of the golden era are also given some space. One segment on Hedda Hopper (an actress who morphed into a gossip columnist famous for her hats) and Louella Parsons (a doctor's wife who rose to a position of importance as a gossip monger) quotes Louella describing the (rather apt) difference between them: “Louella Parsons is a reporter trying to be a ham; Hedda Hopper is a ham trying to be a reporter.” That's a young Sophia Loren at the far left with Louella next to her and Hedda hovering above. See below an early instance of “photo-bombing.”
Allegedly, one Hollywood couple planning to elope had to call the nuptials off because they had mislaid Parsons' phone number and feared her wrath if they didn't alert her to it right away. Then there's a bit about Parsons printing that an actress was pregnant when she wasn't, so the husband had to get busy to make the item a truthful one! Joan Bennett was so incensed by something Hopper had printed about her that she had a live skunk (de-scented) delivered to her house. Hopper one-upped her by announcing that the beast was well-behaved and that she'd named it Joan!

Joan's sister, a perturbed Constance Bennett, once strode up to young columnist Sheilah Graham and said, “It's hard to believe that a girl as pretty as you could be the biggest bitch in Hollywood.” Graham rebounded with, “Not the biggest, the second biggest.”
Errol Flynn had it out with columnist Jimmy Fidler over the death of his beloved dog, Arno. The dog had leapt to his death from the Flynn yacht and the Coast Guard found the body. Flynn was asked if he wanted it, but he could only stand to accept the dog's collar and didn't want to be confronted with his faithful friend's corpse. Fidler wrongly interpreted this act as Flynn not caring enough to collect the body and printed such. Flynn soon saw him in a restaurant and whalloped him to the floor, but was soon stabbed in the ear by Fidler's wife! A lawsuit came soon after, but it was settled out of court and the men later became friends. Flynn remarked to Fidler, “Your wife has good table manners. She used the right fork.” (I adore Errol Flynn and think he looks divine - not to mention contemporary - here with often-combative wife Lili Damita!)

I've always enjoyed this oft-told howler about Tallulah Bankhead, using the ladies room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. She really had to go and the only unoccupied stall had no toilet paper, so she went from stall to stall knocking on each door, a monetary note wafting in her hand, with the entreaty, “Can anyone break a ten?”

When Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (longtime rivals, filled with varying degrees of disdain for one another) were filming What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), a reporter asked Crawford about their on-set relationship. She responded, “Bette and I work differently. Bette screams and I knit. While she screamed, I knitted a scarf that stretched clear to Malibu!”

People have long applauded the work of Marlon Brando, but at least one costar had different ideas. When Joanne Woodward worked with him in 1959's The Fugitive Kind, she said, “He was not there. He was somewhere else.” She added that the only way she would ever work with him again was if he were shown in rear projection! Presumably she got on better with Anna Magnani, shown holding her hand here. Marlon looks happy nonetheless!

During the production of 1958's Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis became miffed over the way he was billed in a prospective ad campaign and went to director Billy Wilder to complain. Wilder volleyed, “The trouble with you, Tony is that you're interested only in tight pants and wide billing.” The subject was never broached again.

This infamous exchange came in 1959 when Oscar-winning actor Edmund Gwenn (for 1947's Miracle on 34th Street) was on his deathbed. Newfound friend Jack Lemmon asked the veteran actor how hard it was to be facing death after a stroke, compounded with pneumonia. Gwenn managed to whisper, “Oh, it's hard, very hard indeed. But not as hard as doing comedy.”

This is but a smidgen of the (sometimes lengthy) tales featured in the book, but hopefully these examples, along with the always-important photos, piqued your interest today!


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