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Monday, August 19, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: The Direct-ators Part II

Lily Garland (Carole Lombard) gives her director/ex-lover Oscar Jaffe
(John Barrymore) a kick  in the pants in Twentieth Century.

You hear the name Audrey Hepburn and you think, "greedy little diva," am I right? Umm, not so much, (see adorableness, left). Audrey was pretty much the most cooperative and amiable actress in Hollywood, at work and in life. Though a serious actress who was hard on herself and stuck to her guns when it counted, it could hardly be said that she instigated egotistical wars on the sets of her films. One would be hard pressed to find a director who had anything but nice things to say about her. Billy Wilder would once joke that he was lucky that his wife's name was also Audrey, as he often called her name in his sleep! From the beginning of her career, Audrey seemed to enchant people. A hopeful dancer, she worked her way up from early theater work to her eventual experimentation with the movies. Audrey had very few films under her belt when she started working on the film Young Wives' Tale for Associated British Pictures Corporation-- the other ABC-- in London. She had previously been discovered by Robert Lennard, who had scooped her from the cabaret show she performed in at Ciro's. She had performed but two bit parts in Laughter in Paradise and One Wild Oat  by 1951, but she was already making an impression on industry players.

Certainly, Audrey assumed that the romantic comedy Young Wives' Tale (right) would be the standard-hit-your-mark-and-smile gig, particularly since she had a very small role as a typist. The focus of the film would be on lead performers Helen Cherry and Nigel Patrick. Nonetheless, somehow, some way, Audrey managed to earn director Henry Cass's antipathy-- perhaps because he was the sort of director who needed one person to pick on. (Orson Welles once admitted that he liked to fire someone at the beginning of every film, just to make it clear who was in charge). Perhaps with her soft personality and fragile appearance, Cass assumed that Audrey would be an easy mark for his ego game. Audrey was tough enough to behave professionally and take all of his unnecessary hits, but the consistent diatribes and verbal abuse she suffered under Cass's harassment often left her in tears. In later years, she would openly admit that Wives' was "the only unhappy picture [she] ever made." Still, she had her victory. Cass should have known to look out for the quiet ones. His film was panned and the only positive notice it received was generally due to underdog Audrey. Cass probably felt like an ass having wasted a golden opportunity to work with a rising star. He probably felt even worse when she made Roman Holiday and hit it big, never looking back or submitting to undue tyranny again!

Another classy lady forced to put up her dukes was Ingrid Bergman (left). This ambitious actress had the air of an angel and the fire of a warrior. Put these things together, and you get quite the combustible artistic passion! Ingrid's work was her everything. She hurled herself into her roles with a violence that few of her contemporaries, predecessors, or followers could match. Yet, her kittenish and amiable nature kept the drama where it belonged-- "in the can." On set, she was the perfect soldier, totally cooperative and only vehemently outspoken when she had something particular to add to her characterizations or the project as a whole. She didn't make waves, because the work came first. As such, she was basically a director's ideal. One would think that this made her a shoe-in for the rapidly-moving, no nonsense W.S. Van Dyke. Such was not the case. "Woody" had a habit for wrapping a scene in one take-- thus the genesis of his nickname "One Take Woody." Additionally, he had the personality of a crotchety corporal. He was able to make some allies in the industry, his most notable partnership being with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series, but his sharp-shooting and unsympathetic methods could rub some people the wrong way. If you were a pro, hit your marks, and gave him no lip, all was well, but woe betide anyone who went against his current.

Ingrid was very frustrated with master Van Dyke (right) when they began filming Rage in Heaven. A sensitive actress interested in doing deep, developmental, emotional work, Ingrid was thrown for a loop when her hyperactive and irritable director began running manic circles around her. It was fairly clear to all involved that this movie was destined to be a clunker, and equally that Woody wasn't wasting his time putting any fine spit and polish on what he deemed another, shoddy melodrama. He wanted to get the job done quickly-- in and out. Ingrid's hopes for doing her best with the material were thus not supported by her director. Robbed of extra takes and the opportunity to perfect her performance, Ingrid was irked. She also disliked the way Van Dyke was barking orders at the rest of the cast-- including Robert Montgomery and George Sanders-- and crew. One day, while watching Woody run back and forth slinging insults, she decided to unleash her inner Hell cat. She really let him have it too! Out came a fierce little speech about his dispassion for performance art, general inconsiderateness, and lazy, ignorant mode of direction. Then Ingrid nailed him with, "Why don't you put on roller skates so you can go quicker from one place to another!" Well, Woody went wooden! He mumbled something about her being "fired," but later he slipped into her dressing room-- hat in hand, you could say-- and apologized for his behavior, promising to be a good boy. He was, and for the remainder of the shoot, Ingrid was worshipped by all for her bold tongue thrashing W.S. Van Hush.

But of all the bad asses of film, Robert Mitchum (left) probably delivered the best back hands. He could easily be managed by women, but when it came to men, look out! The harder people tried to rein him in, the more he just wanted to rebel. To begin with, he hated all the pretension that came with show business, and he could take the majority of the self-important people he worked with just as easily as he could leave 'em. Just so long as the director, cast, and crew knew what they were doing and left him alone to do his job, Bob was fine. At worst, when annoyed with someone or something, he would just take off fishing for days to make his point-- he'd rather be fishing anyway. Sometimes, there were a few dudes that got him worked up, and when that came, the foe would either find himself on the wrong end of one of Bob's furious and unexpected punches and beat downs, or worse-- the mark of his latest practical joke.

John Farrow was one of the first to learn this the hard way. An impossible alcoholic and "mean, ruthless son of a bitch," Farrow wasn't making a lot of friends on the set of Where Danger Lives-- a film co-starring Howard Hughes' infamous protégé Faith Domergue (right). Now, on a personal level, Bob was kind of simpatico with John-- who was then married to Maureen O'Sullivan and later father to Mia. The two men were both lovers of liquor and were hard-asses overdosing on machismo. Yet, where John was cruel bordering on sadistic, Bob was generally putting on a farce to cover his more sentimental side. He was entertained by Farrow's rudeness and vitriol, but he was quickly angered when it became directed at him. For example, his character was to tumble down three flights of stairs in Danger. Naturally, it was suggested that an experienced stuntman be used, but Farrow would have none of it. To wield his power and bolster his own ego, he demanded that Bob perform the stunt himself. Well, Bob knew this was a game. He could either say "no" and be insulted for being a sissy, or he could take the plunge and probably break his neck. As was his way, he opted for the latter. Despite protest from the rest of the cast, Bob tossed himself down the stairs. One take was enough; Bob stood up a success but dizzy and worse for the wear. Still, Farrow demonically told Bob to do the stunt again. Now, Bob was stubborn, but not crazy. He calmly told Farrow to go f*ck himself. After all, he'd proved his point, and Farrow knew he wouldn't make it one round opposite Bob in the ring, so the scene was indeed wrapped.

This battling duo was re-teamed on the follow-up project, the odd but delightful noir His Kind of Woman-- which would be a triumph in Bob's career as well as in his buddy and co-star Jane Russell's (right). Farrow was on better behavior to Bob and the rest of the major players this time, including Vincent Price and Raymond Burr, but he was still mean as a viper to the lower rungs on the cinema ladder. He knew that Bob couldn't be intimidated, and as Jane could hold her own and was equally under Bob's protection, filming went rather smoothly. The trick was to give the vindictive director as good as he got. If you couldn't match his venom or at least take his jabs as a joke, you would become the prey to his always ravenous predator. Well, Bob hadn't forgotten his treatment during Where Danger Lives, and he could certainly notice the way Farrow was mistreating people. This, according to Bob's surprising moral code, was unacceptable. He also noticed that John liked to drink from one particular bottle of Scotch in his trailer every day. Hmm... Now, it can't be proven just who did it, nor who instigated it, but one day a group of daring men snuck into Farrow's trailer, poured out half of the rare, pricey Scotch he so loved, and took turns... refilling it with a little help from their bladders. From that moment on, Farrow may have maintained his unashamed onslaughts, but no one seemed to mind. At least, not as soon as he took an ignorant sip of his specially made cocktail.

Another hard-liner was Otto Preminger, with whom Bob would work on Angel Face and River of No Return. Clearly, Otto had a little insecurity issue when it came to women, particularly beautiful women. He had a habit of sadistically terrorizing a majority of the actresses he worked with, behaving quite tyrannical and merciless in his criticism of them. Bob, who again had a soft spot for the ladies, didn't take too well to these tirades during Angel Face. Jean Simmons was the chosen victim on the film. Despite the strong-willed English beauty's incredible talent, she still managed to run afoul of the Austro-Hungarian Otto, who was a true genius at his craft but a living Hell to work with. His attacks in this particular case were further fueled at the insistence of Howard Hughes, who had been unable to get the defiant actress into bed. Otto's resulting attacks on Jean were unrelenting. "He absolutely, totally destroyed me," she would recall. When it came to a scene wherein Bob was to slap Jean, he naturally was able to feign the hit so it looked believable. Still-- just to be a creeper-- Otto insisted he do it again. For real. Jean was tough, so she told her co-star to go ahead. Bob adhered but yet again held back his full force, only grazing Jean's cheek. Otto demanded that he do it again, again, again, each time insisting that  the slap didn't look real in the close-up shot. Jean's cheek was growing red, and Bob was growing more and more nervous that he was truly hurting her, so when Otto howled out "Vunce more," once more, Bob lost it. "Once more?!" he yelled. With that, Bob slapped Otto clean across his stunned mug. Otto turned red and was soon on the phone demanding that Mitchum be replaced! No dice. Bob was there to stay. Somehow, the film was finished with no blood being spilled.

Bob was understandably unenthusiastic about Otto's following harassment of Marilyn Monroe during River of No Return, but at least in this case, Otto had already learned his lesson and knew that going too far would mean a punch in the jaw. Thus, through the intimidation of his pure presence, Bob was able to keep Otto in line. In fact, Otto even asked Bob to act as the go-between when director and actress stopped speaking. It could be said that Bob behaved as Marilyn's private director during filming, as he was able to get a performance out of her despite Otto's attempts at terrorizing the sensitive actress. He was even able to counteract the interfering instructions of Marilyn's then acting coach, Natasha Lytess, whose instruction of Marilyn's over-enunciation and exaggerated eye and lip movements did less to perfect her acting abilities than paint her as a sexual cartoon. He encouraged Marilyn to ignore Natasha and that they just perform a given scene "like human beings." While the humbled Otto sat behind the camera, Bob and Marilyn completed the project unscathed. Marilyn was eternally grateful to substitute brother Bob, whom she would describe as, "one of the most interesting, fascinating men I have ever known."

While I have painted some of Hollywood's best filmmakers in very bad lighting, it should be said that sometimes a little authority goes a long way. Directing a film is not an easy job. There are a lot of balls to juggle, including forming a coherent and visually compelling storyline, staying on schedule, and dealing with unpredictable diva temper tantrums. A master of the perfect blend of work and play was Howard Hawks-- with whom Bob worked in El Dorado. John Wayne was the star of the film, and he had come a long way from his days of being John Ford's whipping boy, and was now one of the biggest stars in the world. Things were much easier on a Hawks set. Whose policy was, as someone once said, "to make good pictures while having a good time." There was a definite feeling of camaraderie, and Bob and Duke got along like peas and carrots and had a mutual love and respect for their skilled ,yet laid back, director. Of course, despite being chums, Howard knew when he had to step up and play the father figure from time to time, just to keep his boys from acting up or getting into trouble.

One particular evening, the cast and crew had wrapped another long night, but besides Hawks-- who liked to get his rest before the next day's shooting-- the wild boys' club was just getting revved up for the night. The typical late-night bro-fest included alcohol, cards, and Bob occasionally holding someone in a headlock-- the usual. Well, this time things got a little carried away, with everyone was making way too much noise! Ed Asner, who was also a member of the gang, started getting worried that this little shindig was getting out of control. If they woke up Howard, there was going to be Hell to pay! They were hushed by neighbors several times, they would cool down, be quiet as mice, but inevitably they would start getting obnoxious again-- boys will be boys, as they say. While Ed started the sweat and Bob laughed a cussed, there came the loud thundering of three Bangs! outside. One of the stunned fellas opened the front door to take a peek at the source of the ruckus. There, standing in his PJs and pointing the gun he had just fired into the air at their heads, was Howard Hawks-- clearly grumpy that his bedtime had been interrupted. "Goddamn it," he said. "If I see anybody not in their bed in five minutes, they're on the goddamn plane outta here!" The white-faced boys scrambled out of that room like their britches were on fire and hopped right into bed. Now that is how you run a picture!

Duke and Bob in El Dorado-- two drunks caught-red handed and
reprimanded by director Howard Hawks.


  1. Hee! I was hoping you'd remember Mitchum sticking up for Simmons against Preminger! The more I read about that Mitchum, the more I love him.

    Fantastic post, as always!

    1. Thants, doll! Yes, I love me some Mitchum. A good man to have on your side! ;)

  2. Replies
    1. That is probably the best compliment I have ever received, hahaha. Thanks so much for reading and for the kudos. Happy Labor Day weekend!