Sunday, November 10, 2019

Cheating Hitler: Surviving The Holocaust-- One Of TV's Best Of The Season

Just when it seems quality programs on Canadian TV are fading fast along comes  this special documentary that may very well be the best of the year.
Called Cheating Hitler: Surviving The Holocaust this 88-minute masterful  documentary comes just in time.
The premiere is appropriately on History Monday November 11 at 9 p.m.
We are rapidly ending the era when there are any survivors of the Holocaust still living.
So cheers to director Rebecca Snow for allowing three feisty veterans of the Holocaust to tell their stories on the very locations where  millions of other Jews were slaughtered.
The premiere is entirely and appropriately scheduled for Remembrance Day--it runs on History Monday November 11 at 9p.m.
Snow tells me "The challenge was working with such elderly survivors. And of course I never knew exactly what the ending would be in all three stories. I think we told their stories of survival just in time."
First there is Maxwell Smart who was just nine when his family was rounded up as Nazi troops moved to send them in cattle cars on the way to slaughter.
It was his mother who told the little boy to run into the woods and hide.
And he survived for months in hiding until he met another boy Janek who was also in hiding.
Smart tells us he wasn't sure how long he'd survive but the two companions helped each other.
One day they rescued a woman and her baby in ice water. And Max thinks this was the reason Janek soon sickened and died.
And he has felt guilty ever after.
To survive he says "I became a human animal...I was alone for six months."
Then the story turns remarkable--the baby survived and may even be alive in Tel Aviv as an incredibly old woman.
The camera follows Smart to Tel Aviv and its here his incredibly odyssey ends.
The conclusion is truly amazing but you'll have ti watch the feature to find out.
The other survivors are Helen Yemus and Rose Lipszyc and against all odds they also survived.
Their True stories are indeed stranger than fiction.
And astonishingly the images of deep forest and lakes are incredibly beautiful, tranquil these days. At Sobibor where two million Jewsare said to have perished a vast lake of white stones marks the terrible spot of mass executions.
The  film should serve as history lesson for all of us who don't realize the magnitude of this event and how it changed the demographics of a huge portion of Eastern Europe.
These three eye witnesses remember the execution shots --at one spot empty German cartridges still litter the forest floor.
Helen remembers the fear inside the ghetto in Lithuania --she spent three years there, Rose returns to Sobibor where her family perished --the terrible, ghastly loneliness of theist now a museum is hard to take.
"Everything seemed to work out," Snow tells me. "It was a big gamble that mostly worked."
I simply believe Cheating Hitler is the type of true story that must be screened in every classroom.
MY RATING: ****.

Friday, November 1, 2019

I Remember Hal Wallis

It was June 1982 and I was still sleeping at 7 a.m. in my room at Los Angeles' Century Plaza hotel--the phone kept ringing until I picked it up.
"Hal Wallis here," came the booming voice. "My car will be picking you up in half an hour for our interview."
I sat upright. "I thought this was for lunch," I stammered.
"Right on!" came the booming reply. "I'm in Rancho Mirage this week. It will take my driver three hours to get you there. So get up and be ready at the entrance at 8:30!" Then Hallis rang off.
I did as I was told and at three hours later emerged from the sleek white Rolls to bang on the door of Wallis and his second wife Martha Hyer.
After pleasantries we retired to a gigantic sunken living room and later retreated to a fancy bistro for a leisurely lunch.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
MARTHA HYER:Jim, you should have been here last night as we ran Casablanca. Hal provided a running commentary for each scene including the last line which he thought of during the last night of filming at the San Diego airport.
JB: Mr. Wallis, that's an excellent way to begin the interview, your buying an un-produced Broadway play and turning it into one of the most treasured movies.
HW: The unproduced play was called Everyone Comes To Rick's. I could see it needed a whole lot of work and I had the Epstein twins work on it for a bit and later Casey Robinson rewrote some of their dialogue and then Howard Koch polished it a bit more. I needed Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa but David Selznick owned her contract and said she was set on going to Paramount to co-star with Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls. I did a superb test with Michele Morgan but her studio RKO then asked for a double salary which made me hopping mad.  Hedy Lamarr had a one picture deal with Warners but she chose The Collaborators because it had a complete script.
I  sighed in relief when George Raft sent a note saying he couldn't possibly make a movie without seeing a full script. He'd already turned me down for The Maltese Falcon saying he had vowed never to do a remake. And for High Sierra he scrawled "I'm through with gangster types!" So one could say Humphrey Bogart who was my first choice became a huge star based on the scripts Grorrge Raft turned down.
JB: But Ingrid Bergman did wind up in Casablanca.
GW:Paramount decided on a contract player  Vera Zorina and Selznick phoned and we got her but for a limited time meaning I had to start production sooner than I'd wanted. I paid a fortune to get Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt. Dooley Wilson couldn't sing much and he couldn't play the piano at all --MGM asked a fortune but it almost went to  Lena Horne! I thought she was too beautiful so I forked up to MGM. On some days the cast would be standing around until new dialogue pages arrived.
Mike Curtiz did a terrific job but at first he said no and I had to warn Vince Sherman he might have to jumping as director. Mike came around --he had an ability to shoot fast and goad his cast into great moments even if he was a bit of a bully.  Of course the Allies landing in North Africa just as we opened the picture certainly helped.
JB: Then came Oscar night.
HW: Jack Warner had nothing to do with this movie until he realized it was going to be this monster hit.  He made sure Paul Lukas also got a  best actor nomination  (for Watch On The Rhine) and campaigned against Bogey which was very perverse. Paul won and Casablanca was named as best picture and a phalanx of Jack's relatives blocked my aisle and Jack ran up and received the award.  I was stunned and then angry. I resigned the next day but stayed on to finish the editing on Saratoga Trunk which starred Bergman and Gary Cooper.
Days later the Academy sent over a second Oscar for me and the next year asked me to present the Oscar for best picture. As I trotted up to the stage I could see Jack glowering in rage. When he came to write his autobiography he never mentioned me once. Now that's carrying a real grudge.
JB: Let's get back to your roots and how you became such a powerhouse at Warners.
Hw:Well, I started at Warners in the publicity department in 1922 and worked my way through the system so that I knew everything about how movies are made and how they get targeted. It was an invaluable education, one young people simply can't get in any film school. And my mentor was always Darryl Zanuck who was one step ahead of me.
 In 1928 I was made head of First National --the Burbank studio Warners had bought cheaply the year before. First National had initially been a huge, sprawling success but it had one key weakness --the studio owned no theatres whereas feisty Warners may have been smaller but it pioneered talkies and was hugely rich. As the years went by the difference between First National and Warners was mainly a bookkeeping enterprise. The U.S. anti-trust department dictated the two studios could not merge and that went on until 1951 when TV started eating up the movie business.
JB: When you took up production what were the main problems you could see.
HW: We were riding high in brutality. We had the tough guy stars Cagney, Robinson, Muni but few female stars. In 1931 we bought the contracts of Bill Powell, Ruth Chattewrton and Kay Francis after Jesse Lasky inadvertently let their contracts lapse at Paramount.
I was determined to build our own cadre of female stars. I thought Bette Davis would go far. Ann Dvorak was equally talented but her brawls with Jack Warner got so vicious she finally left in a huff. I gave Olivia deHavilland her big breaks in 1935 when she was 19 in Captain Blood and A Mid Summer Night's Dream. I thought Jane Bryan had the looks and talent to go to the top but she married industrialist Justin Dart and retired from the business.
In 1938 I signed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon to short term deals because we had such a need for leading ladies.  But neither of those ladies exactly fitted in. In 1939  I brought Geraldine Fitzgerald to the studio --on her first day Jack loaned her out as Estella in Goldwyn's Wuthering Heights for which she was Oscar nominated and then she co-starred with Bette Davis in Dark Victorty Bette gave her bad advice --to fight against any casting and she was on suspension when I was casting The Maltese Falcon and I was unable to use her.
JB: I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) was a huge success but also a big gamble.
HW: Yes, because the author Robert Elliot Burns was in L.A. for the filming and we had to move him from safe house to safe house because the authorities from Georgia were determined to re-arrest him. At the time I was locked in combat with Jack Warner who wanted most features to run about an hour. He was very close with the exhibitors who wanted two new hourlong features a week but I pressed for longer features to better tell a story. Jack roared  because the length of Chain Gang  was 87 minutes. But the cost was under $200,000 because director Mervyn LeRoy filmed so quickly and Paul Muni was brilliant in it.
JB: Your thoughts on Muni.
HW: I once assigned him to High Sierra and he said "Hal, I've played my last gangster." I said "But you've never played a gangster at WB!"  Did this mean after the success with The Life Of Louis Pasteur he'd no longer play scientists. Or after The Story Of Emile Zola he was through playing writers. Those great men roles and their huge success meant he only wanted to play great men. I hated his make-up in Juarez--the face never moved but he said Indians never showed emotions. And it was a flop, he'd lost the sympathy of the audience. He came from Yiddish theatre where one hides  behind false noses and bears. There was intense rivalry between him and Eddie Robinson. Once Eddie said he didn't want ro do A Despatch From Reuters and I said "OK, Muni wants that one." And he grabbed the script and ran from my office.
JB: I saw you at the table with Bette Davis at her 1978 AFI dinner and it's obvious you knew how to deal with her.
HW: She'd yell and scream at Jack Warner but never at me. She'd try to intimidate her directors. For awhile Teddy Goulding could do no harm and then she became so difficult he faked a heart attack so he wouldn't have to work with her again on Old Acquaintance. She first knew Irving Rapper when he was her dialogue director on several pictures. They were very chummy on the set of Now, Voyager which I consider one of her best. But later after I left WB she tried to have him removed as director of Deception.  When she refused the female lead in Watch On The Rhine I said Irene Dunne wanted the part and Bette instantly said she'd do it. At the AFI dinner she was taken aback by how many of her co-workers simply had refused to come out and salute her.
JB: At one time William Wyler was her favourite.
HW: He got her the Oscar for Jezebel. During one scene he photographed her coming down the stairs to greet Donald Crip 13 times and the selected the second take. He could do that with Sam Goldwyn because Sam only released one or two pictures a year. On The Letter there's that marvellous opening on the Malay rubber plantation and he took a whole day and photographed it seven times. And I picked the first time and harsh words were spoken on both sides. I never borrowed him again and Davis later came in conflict with him when Goldwyn borrowed her for The Little Foxes --in return we got Gsary Cooper who we needed for Sergeant York. And the arguments between the two became so bitter Willie would never use her again. She refused to go to his AFI salute or  so I'm told  but he was there at hers which was a pleasant surprise.
JB:Probably your top picture of that era was The remake of the Maltese Falcon (1941).
HW: Jack Warner said "Make it or whatever --I don't care."I had to have Humphrey Bogart and was anxious that George Raft might insist but he sent me a letter explaining he'd never do a remake.  Then Jack forbade me using Gerry Fitzgerald as co-star because she was already on suspension. I'd wanted Mary Astor all along --she was seven years older than Gerry and I knew she could capture two two sides of Bridget. I promised Johnny Huston he could direct if he first produced a new screenplay. He bought multiple copies of the novel so he could paste verbatim some of the choice speeches from the book. And I assigned him an ace cameraman Arthur Edenson.
It really was an easy one to direct because there are mostly dialogue scenes in hotel rooms and Sam Spade's office and apartment. I watched the rushes and suggested a few times he speed up the action. The fire on the ship is the only big outdoor scene. Total cost was under $200,000 and it made five times that in first release.
And I know your next question will be why no sequel. Nobody thought in those terms at the time. A typical Warners sequel was Brother Rat And A Baby. But we didn't have the rights to use Sam Spade in another story and we asked Dashiell Hammett to supply a new novel but he just couldn't do it, he was so alcoholic by then.
JB: Jack Warner didn't want it to be Oscar nominated at all?
HWL He said it was a remake and beside the credits say "With Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor" so they couldn't be nominated as best actor and actress. He ordered Mary be nominated instead as best supporting actress for The Great Lie and she won.
JB: But then John Huston made Action In The Pacific (1942)
HW: Garbage! We took all the actors from Bogey to Greensatreet to Astor and put them in a melodrama about the Japs blowing up the Panama Canal. Johnny was drafted and left without finishing an ending so Vince Sherman had to make something up. But it made money!
JB: Let's look at 1938 when you produced  196 major movies. In 1940 you produced 21. the 1938 pictures includedJezebel, White Banners, Brother Rat, the remake of Dawn Patrol, the Adventures of Robin Hood. In 1940 you had such hits as City For Conquest, Virginia Vity, All This And Heaven Too, the Fighting 69th. How did you do it?
HW (chuckling): I need went home. No, seriously! I'd arrive at 8 a.m. and spend hours checking the rushes from the day before. All the time I was dictating memos to the associate producers. Let's see, I had Robert Llord ever since Chain Gang, David Lewis who I got from MGM after Thalberg's death, Mark Hellinger, Henry Blanke who replaced me as production head in 1943. but no doubt about it I was seriously overworked.
JB: You put Errol Flynn and Olivia deHaviland in their first picture together. And they went on to make six more blockbusters. I'm trying too be delicate but Errol was not a nice man.Our legal department had to extricate him from many serious issues. He simply didn't care about anything but pleasuring himself/ But underneath the golden boy facade there was a seriously ill man. He'd had TB and typhus in Australia and often an irregular heartbeat. In 1942 he collapsed on the set of Gentleman Jim with his first heart attack --the reason he failed a physical to get I not the army during wartime.
B: After Jack Warner grabbed the Oscar for Casablanca you resigned.
JB: I'm a big fan of your production of Kings Row (1941) but I wonder why it was done in black and white.
HW: Wartime restrictions. If we'd made it in color it would have been as popular today as Gone With The Wind. I hired Sam Wood to direct but hewasas slow as molasses. We were going to use Jeffrey Lynn as Parris but Sam said he looked too similar to Ron Reagan. So I narrowed Bob Cummings at the last minute from Universal. I needed aCassie but Ida Lupino went on suspension rather than do it. I used  Betty Field but she wasn't quite right. Bette Davis wanted it but she was a decade too old. I think Claude Rains was wonderful, so was  Charles Coburn as the cruel doctor who saws off Robbie's legs. This one made Reagan into a big star.
JB: You twice won the Irving Thalberg award but did you ever met him.
HW: I'd see him at premieres. Always beautifully dressed. Very pale and thin.  the big studios used to send out copies of their big hits. So he'd seen Captain Blood and said he liked it. Which was a thrill. Later, I wanted to nab Norma Shearer becauseWB needed female stars. She was very gracious but said --this was in 1942--that she considered herself totally retired.
JB: Why did you call the making of Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)  the happiest experience of your career?
HW: I knew this was going to be Jimmy Cagney's last WB picture. I'd starred Jim in such hits asG-Men,Boy Meets Girl, The Roaring Twenties and Strawberry Blonde. I phoned him and he immediately accepted but there were only few months before his contract expired. I hired his brother Bill as associate producer and agreed when his real sister Jeanne Cagney was hired to play his movie sister. On this one I believe Jimmy as co-director. When Curtiz had yelled at him in other films he'd roar right back. Here he set up every scene and let Curtiz concentrate on lighting and camera work. The facts were substantially altered because George M. Cohan wasn't the nicest of men. In this treatment he only has one wife and his nastiness was airbrushed out. Jimmy's dancing made the movie. That scene where Cphan visits President Roosevelt was tough to shoot--we had FDR Mostly with his back to the camera. And when Jimmy as George leaves Jimmy interpolated a little jig down the stairs. Then came the big test: Cohan had story approval and the movie was run for him in New York and he loved it. It made him a big name again and he died a happy man shortly after.
Jimmy found out how hard it was to make his own pictures. He made Johnny Come Lately and Blood On the Sun (1945) but they were inferior to his WB work.13 True Madeleine (1946) was for Fox.But his production of The Time Of Your Life bombed. So in 1949 he was back at Warners.
JB: But you are still incensed Jack Warner ran up on Oscar night and took the best picture statuete for Casablanca.
HW: Yes! His relatives blocked the aisle until he grabbed it. The audience knew what was happening. I call it the Curse of Casablanca. Because Jack did not win another Best Picture Oscar until 1964 for My Fair Lady. I'm still bitter about it. But I stayed to supervise postproduction of Saratoga Trunk which didn't have  much pep as far as I was concerned. Louis Mayer wanted me to become the new Thalberg at MGM but I finally formed a production unit releasing through Paramount. I'd have my own set of stars which Paramount could use and vice versa.
The first was Lizabeth Scott who I saw on Broadway and I promptly starred her with Robert Cummings in a tearjerker It Had To Be you (1945). I fully acknowledge I made a mistake with her --she was terrific as the girl with a past in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers. She was sort of bad but really a good girl in Deserty Fury and then I loaned her to Columbia for Dead Reckopmning and she was typecast. Her rival art Warners was Lauren Bacall and Warners gave Lauren more challenges --she was excellent in Key Largo and I blame myself for not getting Liz into more sympathetic parts.
My second find was Burt Lancaster who had a circus background. He was born in 1913 and had almost no acting experience but I immediately loaned him to Mark Hellinger for the small but important part of The swede in The Killers. He looked terrific and was cast against another unknown Ava Gardner,. He got third billing on Desert Fury but attracted all the attention. He told me early on he wanted to move quickly into producing and he did so by the Fifties.
JB: You rarely used the old Warners stars.
HW: Bogey was always asking why I wasn't hiring him. But I had nothing for him and he was too expensive. I did buy Come Back Little Sheba for Bette Davis but she refused it after watchingShirley Booth on Broadway. So I had to use Shirley who had never made a picture and was10 years older than Bette. Then Burt Lancaster flopped me by saying he wanted to play Doc --he was 30 years younger than the alcoholic, elderly doctor but he was terrific. And he was terrific again with Anna Magnani in The Rose Tatoo --and she also won an Oscar. For The Rainmaker I wanted Eva Marie Saint but she refused to sign a term contract. So I used Kate Hepburn who was 20 years older and it showed and that one wasn't very successful.JB: You used Barbara Stanwyck a Lot in those days.
HW: Shared a contract for her with Paramount. She was terrific in Martha Ivers --her weakling husband was newcomer Kirk Douglas who came from the New York stage. He thought he was going to play Van Heflin's part but he was terrific as the alcoholic husband and began a career of sympathetic weaklings. Even then there was a rivalry with Burt that continues to this day.Kirk didn't get out of that typecasting until he made Champion in 1949,
And Barbara? She got an Oscar nomination for Sorry, Wrong Number (`948), Agnes Moorehead had played that part live on TV. I offered her a supporting role but she refused and good for her. Barbara was also great in The File On Thelma Jordan and The Furies, the last film of Walter Huston. But it didn't do as well. She was 43 by then and Paramount thought she could no longer appeal  to younger film goers. Sot she just kept going but at other studios.
HW: You made few comedies until Martin and Lewis came along.
HW: I saw them on TV. I tested them out in a comedy My Friend Irma in 1949 which grossed five times its actual cost. Sp I followed with My Friend Irma Goes West to the same uge reception. From the beginning I knew the boys hated each other. Dean wanted to be as funny as Jerry. Jerry wanted to be as suave as Dean. They'd make a picture a year for me. They also were rotating stars on Colkgate Comedy Hour. U always paired them with veteran directors to teach them the business.For At War with the army (1950) it was Hal Walker. For Jumping Jacks (1953) it was Norman Taurog.Scared Stiff (1953) was a remake of a Bob Hope vehicle The Ghost Breakers. I'd add some pretty starlets like Polly Bergen, Mona Freeman, even Donna Reed.Each vehicle could be churned out in about four weeks and the profits were large.
Jerry was always difficult to control, always making crazy demands. Sometimes he wasn't speaking to Dean or vice versa and finally he comes and tells me" I'm splitting up the act. I still had both of them on contract so I used Jerry solo on The Sad Sack and then he went off on his own way becoming ever more obstreperous, Nobody thought Dean could succeed on his own but after he made Rio Bravo (1959) with Duke Wayne for Howard Hawks he did just fine.
JB: You have a story about making Career at Paramount in 1959.
HW: Jerry Lewis was doing something,  I had  Career (1959) with Shirley MacLaine and Carolyn Jones --they switched roles with my permission and that worked out just fine. Perlberg and Seaton were in pre-production for The Pleasure Of His Company and that was it. The rest of the lot was dark and a majority of the employees had been dismissed.
HW: You've described Shirley MacLaine as difficult.
HW: Yes! But also very talented. I saw her dancing in a Broadway show and she had everything. She signed with me but I had little work for her. She did my Artisys And Models with Jerry and Dean. And I loaned her to Paramount for The Trouble with Harry.Mike Todd wanted her as the Hindu princess in Around The World In 80 Days.She did Hot Spell for me and Paramountr used her in The Matchmaker. In 1958 she garnered her first Oscar nomination for Some Came Running.Then came the incredible The Apartment. Magnificent! I wanted her to end her contract with Wives And Lovers but she turned it down so I refused to loan her for The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I used Van Johnson and Janet Leigh and that one just tanked so maybe Shirley  was right after all.
JB: You made buckets of dough with Elvis Presley.
GW: I saw him live on TV wigging those hips. I thought I just had to have him under contract. His agent Colonel Parkrt was a cagey old bird. He signed Elvis to contracts with me, Fox and MGM. I'm proudest of King Crerole where he really acts --I brought in Mike Curtis and they boded and Mike coaxed Elvis out of his shell. The craziest time came when I cast Angie Lansbury as his ma in  Blue Hawaii --and it worked. He was petrified when put against Barbara Stanwyxk in Roustabout --she'd bark ay him when he forgot lines. Elvis always reported to work with a paunch so I had to hire all his sidekicks --yjey were to play touch doornail with him out on the Paramount lawn every day and work him up to a sweat. But did I ever know age guy? No. He told me after his ma died that he really didn't care anymore. his favourite director as the years passed was Norman Taurog who usually directed little kids. And that's what Elvis remained --a little, starstruck kid.
JB: Why move to Universal in 1969?
Because Paramountt wasn't Paramount any more.Charles Bludhorn was chairman and it was part of a conglomerate.and he said nobody was interested in Becket  because "It was a "mediaeval thingy." But he was wrong. Then when I wanted to do Anne Of A Thousand Days he flew into a rage. He'd wanted Richard Burton to do narration on another picture and Richard said sure but he wanted Charles to give wife Liz Taylor a baubel or two. Chjarles went ballistic and cancelled the picture so I took it to Universal . And it was a hit and so was Mary, Queen Of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave. Glenda Jackson refused Elizabeth I because shed already done the TV miniseries.Finally, she said she'd do everything in three and a half weeks.I think we finished with her latest night on the last day.
JB: Will Rooster Coburn  (1976) be your last picture?
HW: Probably. I'd outbid Duke Wayne for the right to True Grit, then the next day I phoned him and offered him the lead and he burst into laughter. For the girl I almost used Sally Field but I was told she was TV's Flying Nun and that might distress moviegoers. So I used Kim Darby plus Glenn Campbell. Henry Hathaway directed it. Then in1976 came the sequel Rooster Cogburn. Hathaway phones me and shouts "I'm 78, Duke is 69 and has cancer, Hepburn is 70 and twitches like crazy." So include men out. So we used Stuart Millar and Kate and Duke just rode roughshod over the young  guy. But it made a huge profit."
JB: Do you consider yourself retired?
HW: Not from life. I might make a few more films. Or Not. the picture business is in trouble these days. Too many sequels, special effects, murders. Whatever happened to telling a simple love story?
Hal Wallis did not make any more movies. He died at Rancho Mirage in1986, aged 88.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

I Remember Budd Schulberg

There I was last week watching the classic boxing movie The Harder They Fall starring Humphrey Bogart and written by Budd Schulberg --it was on Turner Classic Movies salute to Film Noir.
And then I sat upright --I remembered I'd interviewed Budd Schulberg at a fancy dinner party in Los Angeles in 1986.
It was the PBS portion of a 15-day tour by visiting TV critics and late on the last night.
I'd been out on sets all day so when I got back to the hotel it was after 8 p.m, and there was only one empty seat left in the vast ballroom.
I looked up and found myself seated next to Budd Schulberg andI instantly discovered why he rarely went on TV talk shows --he had a terrible stammer.
Here are highlights of our conversation.
JB: I remember watching you guest on the Merv Griffin talk show one late night and you told the other guest --Gloria Swanson-- that she'd been the inspiration for one of the main characters in your great novel The Disenchanted.
BS (chuckling): We taped in an old Hollywood movie theatre and afterwards Gloria jumped up, ran out the door and ordered her chauffeur to find a book store open so she could buy the book.
Well, there are lots of used bookstores on Hollywood Boulevard but were they open late nights? I was dubious.
JB:Your memoir of growing up in Hollywood, Moving Pictures, is one of the best books about "the  biz!..
BS: My father B.P. Schulberg ran Paramount Pictures after merging his own studio Preferred Pictures. He had one b ig asset Clara Bow who wasn't much of an actress but boy could she shimmy. I'd play jacks on the landing with her when she came over for a swim but if she lost she'd scream up a storm --a real sore loser. But Clara couldn't stand still --when talkies came in she had to stand still and speak into a big vase where the mike was located and she just couldn't do that.
JB: Then you say your happy family life blew up in 1931.
BS: When papa ran off with Sylvia Sidney who had replaced Clara as Paramount's hottest star. He was 60, she was 21 and, pf course, it didn't last.
JB: And then your papa was tossed out of Paramount by his body Adolph Zukor.
BS:Mean, nasty, and always triumphant over his enemies. He got rid of Jesse Lasky around the same time. For some reason the Great Depression affected Paramount more than any other studio. And Zukor made sure he was the winner in a very nasty power struggle. Papa went on to Columbia which was a Poverty Row studio and things were never the same again.
BS: You write about how B.P. would go one all night  benders of playing poker and almost always loose.
BS: One night he lost $20,000 which is around  a million dollars in today's money. He finally gambled away everything.
BS: You've written feelingly about working with F. Scott Fitzgerald on the 1939picture *(*(*(.
BS: I told the boss Walter Wanger that it needed a quick rewrite and he said "Oh, I've got Scott Fitzgerald working on dialogue in the next room. I'd thought Scott had died, it was years ago that he had a new book. So we went up to Dartmouth together and he got progressively more smashed and finally I did all the rewriting. He'd been one of my heroes but here was a tragic, broken man who just couldn't write the kind of snappy movie dialogue that any third rate writer could have delivered.
JB: Did you know what you were doing when writing your magnificent 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?
BS: I thought I was telling a great story but it rocked Hollywood. MGM head Louis Mayer demanded I be deported as if Hollywood was a separate country. I was toiling for Sam Goldwyn at the time and he ran down the stairs where he saw me and shrieked "Sammy how could you?" Exactly. How dare I tell the truth. I was fired on the spot.
JB: Many producers wondered if they provided the character of Sammy Glick?
BS: Jerry Wald swore it was him and he was mighty proud. But it was a compendium, I had so many bastards to chose from.
JB: I saw the 1959 live TV movie version. It had John Forsythe, Dina Merrill, Barbara Rush and Larry Blydeb as Sammy,
BS: There was also a 1949  TV version. More recently Steven Spielberg had an option on it to do a version with Ben Stiller, But I'm not sure. Steven makes blockbusters, safe, earnest productions but on the bland side.
JB: I recently watched The Harder They Fall, the terrific 1956 movie on boxing and Humphrey Bogart's last movie.
BS: He looked haggard. Coughed incessantly. Was very prickly. It has the wonderful actress Jan Sterling in a rare sympathetic role. Rod Steiger's histrionics could get out of place and I remember Bogey rolling his eyes as Rod ranted on and on. I've always loved boxing. But I don't think our wonderful director Mark Robson did. So there were some clashes over interpretation.  But as Bogey's last film it is an oddity and it did bigger business than On The Waterfront.
JB: Critics say On The Waterfront dramatizes the awful act of naming names.
BS: There was nothing awful about it. I named names, yes, but only people who had already been named. I'd joined the Communist party in the depth of the Great Depression ... then it was overtaken by the Stalinists and everything changed and I left the party.
JB: I'm surprised by what you just told me --Marlon Brando refused to do the Scene "I coulda been a contender"in On The Waterfront (1954).
BS: He told Elia Kazan it didn't ring true and he'd walk if forced to do it. Then it turned out the scene had Steiger pointing a gun at him and Gadge  knocks the gun away and Marlon did it on the first take and it's his signature thing. I saw the story as more an indictment of corruption on the waterfront. we tried selling the story to Darryl Zanuck at Fox and he yelled "Who the talk wants to see a bunch of longshoremen brawling?" So we took it to cagey  Harry Cohn and it won all kinds of awards.
JB: Describe your association with Kazan
BS: He's the rare director who likes and admires fine writing. As long as he staged and also edited Tennessee Williams those plays shone. When Tennesse went it along he had a chain of big flops.
JB: You were just telling me of an attempt to do a new version of A Face In The Crowd.
BS: I watched the rise of such TV icons as Arthur Godfrey who one day turned on his star singer Julius LaRosa and fired him, live on TV. From that I thought of a story of a country and western cowpoke who could indeed manipulate the medium of TV. We had a low budget so Gadge hired Pat Neal who needed the work and used an unknown Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes and he was terrific and so was an unknown from Broadway, Walter Matthau. And it remains my favourite picture.
JB: What about a proposed new version:
BS: I was told Warners wanted a remake with Tom Cruise so they arranged a screening with many directors and screenwriters and at the end everybody just drifted out. I was told Tom Cruise's team said "This is a masterpiece, It can't be bettered or even matched."
JB: After that you seemed to drop out of movie making.
BS: I had a terrible experience with Wind Across The everglades and I even had to direct a few scenes when our director Nick Ray disappeared for a time. So I went back to memoir writing and writing about fighters.  They've even done On The Waterfront on stage. I'm not written out at all, I fully intend to go on and on.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Science Of Fear Will Scare You

Be Afraid: The Science Of Fear revs up the day after Halloween which is entirely appropriate.
You can catch it Friday November 1 at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things.
Director Roberto Verdecchia on the phone tells me he first thought about the subject after his last Nature Of Things documentary on household insects seemed to incite fear in a whole lot of viewers.
The nature of fear  it seems is somewhat of a mystery.
And there's the suggestion some amount of fear could actually be good for us.
So he set about trying to find the nature of fear.
 He visited with a young motorcycle stunt rider who seems not at all fazed by  the stunts he must clearly execute to avoid injury.
There's the strange case of Miriam who with pulverized with fear over chickens.
We see how a therapist helps her until in one shot she is petting the very hen that caused her such misery.
Then there's the lady who is terrified of heights. Pills can help but she also needs to work through her problems with a therapist
I liked the segment on haunted houses--you would never ever get me inside one all the years I visited at the Canadian National Exhibition's Midway.
Some visitors would leave the haunted house feeling exultant they had confronted their fears --and survived.
But I would go on some of those gravity changing rides and yell and scream and really enjoy myself.
For many --not me-- the mere anticipation of fear is something they actually enjoy.  Our emotions get aroused but then rational behaviour sets in.
Some fears it turns out are good for us. It seems we're born with some senses of fear as a segment on babies demonstrates.
Women are four times as afraid of spiders and snakes than men.
And then there's the odd case of a woman who has no fear --it's due to an illness in her amygdala.
"She's not shown because we were fearful people could take advantage of her," Roberto explains to me.
"But we show she certainly has no anticipatory feels of fear no matter what."
It was only in a controlled experiment when she was deprived of oxygen for a second that fear appeared.
"It's an example of more than the amygdala controlling fear patterns."
By the way this hour may be filled with scare inducing moments but it ends on a bright, calm moment. Turns out some fear is necessary to survival for us all.
MY RATING: ****,

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I Remember Diahann Carroll

The news of the passing of Diahann Carroll caught me off guard.
I'd known the black super star had been in declining health in recent years but I was astonished she was 84 at her passing --I always thought she was a bright, vibrant personality who could do it all --as the star of the pioneering sitcom Julia and later the elegant seductress of Dynasty.
I first interviewed Carroll when she was preparing toped as the star of the Canadian production of Sunset Boulevard in 1984. I later followed with several telephone conversations.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
JB: You are about to come the first black Norma Desmond. How does that  feel?
DC: Oh, I' m always breaking the rules, I guess.
JB: You also starred in the first sitcom to star a young black woman who wasn't a domestic --Julia which ran on NBC for three seasons which began in 1968.
DC: The first season we were up against Red Skelton on CBS and It Takes A Thief on NBC so the competition was always fierce. We stayed there for three seasons --in the third season we knocked out Red and went up against CBS's Her Haw. It was deemed revolutionary in its day and the only way I got through it was with the support of veterans Lloyd Noland and Lureen Tuttle. We had great guests stars --veterans Ezra Stone and Don Ameche  not only acted they also directed episodes. We were making a big statement of equality --I played the widow of a Vietnam veteran. Not a great show but a landmark nevertheless.
JB: How did you get started?
DC: Well, I was born in the Bronx, daddy was a subway conductor. I grew up wanting to be a singer and my parents reluctantly agreed that I could try but if over time I couldn't do it then I'd finish my university degree in sociology.
JB: Then you won a TV talent show on Chance Of A Lifetime?
DC: Yes, that was so long ago it was on the old DuMont network. I was also on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts on CBS. I sang at the Latin Quarter and then in 1954 I was signed for the musical Carmen Jones. Otto Preminger was the director and the stars were Harry Belafonte and the wonderful Dorothy Dandridge, Otto screamed a lot and Dorothy screamed right back at him. You have to remember there was fear among movie producers about highlighting black females. Dorothy's career was tragically short because she just couldn't get any traction and it preyed on her.
JB: Later on you were also in Porgy And Bess starring Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier. I've never seen this movie but I'm told your voice was dubbed.
DC: I was told my voice was tools and I was dubbed. I thought it was crazy. Qe started rehearsals with the great director Rouben Mamoulian who had directed the stage original. Then a gigantic fire resulted in destruction of all the huge sets on the Goldwyn lot.  We started over with --you guessed it --Otto Preminger who yelled even louder. I wasn't a fan of the finished product.  And these days the Gershwin estate won't permit it to be shown or so I'm told.
JB: I first saw you singing at the Imperial Room of the Royal York hotel  circa 1971 and realized you possessed one of the greatest voices. I had to review and interview such stars as Julie London and Peggy Lee who had the talent to just sing without much amplification.
DC: I loved singing in those clubs. I was told when Dorothy came to sing at the Imperial Room she asked "Where am I staying" and became tearful when told she'd have the penthouse suite.
JB: In fact she dropped to her knees and kissed the floor. In the American hotel supper clubs she had to stay at a black residence e such was the segregation of the times. But I'm wondering why you think the age of the luxury supper clubs has passed.
DC: In America it's scary. You have to dress up, go downtown after dark and there's violence everywhere. And some of the newer singers just don't have the skills to sing in such an intimate setting and hold the audience. They rely on amplification and just plain singing is foreign to them.
JB: I've listened to the cast album of No Strings, the brilliant 1962 Richard Rodgers, starring Richard Kiley and you in great voice. And I wonder why it never became a movie.
DC: They tried. Ray Star
 bought the rights but an interracial love story?No way! Ray tried to change the girl into a Eurasian and announced Nancy Kwan as the new lead. I felt devastated. But there was such a storm of controversy among the black community that he backed off and the project was shelved.
JB: But you did some movies, prominent ones.
DC:Paris Blues (1961) was a cute thing set in the jazz world starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and I was aired with Sidney Poitier who I almost married --what a mistake that would have been. Then Old Otto phoned me and signed me for Hurry, Sundown which starred Michael Caine and Jane Fonda. We shot in St. Francisville county, Louisians, home of the KKK. I received death threats, so did other cast members. It was all very scary, much more interesting than the actual ploy.
You always made TV acting a part of your career.
DC: I did them all but always as a guest star, never the series star.
JB: Tell me the story of joining Dynasty in 1984.
DC: Esther Shapiro who created the soap told me she had always been aware there was no prominent African American star.I told her I'd love to join but as an upscale character. And she came up Dominique who is half sister  to Blake played so well by John Forsythe.  The clothes were fantastic but are sometimes uncomfortable because they are so bizarre. I wondered what Joan Collins would make of all this. But she is a professional, she understands a series needs new characters to continue. And she knows everything about camera lenses, lighting. I loved playing this black bitch and I also got to co-star on seven episodes of the spinoff series The Colbys. And it made mr a name with all the younger audience who didn't know about Julia.
JB: You then joined the cast of Lonesome Dove in 1994 shot in Alberta.
DC: It told the true story of the American west. We're usually written out of the official story and its important to keep the record straight.
JB: And now you're a black Norma Desmond. I remember catching Diana Sands in Saint Joan and after a few moments the fact she was black seemed irrelevant --she was such a force.
DC: We're still in rehearsals. It's a new theatre the Ford way out in suburban Toronto. I saw the movie and I also saw a clip from the Tonight show where Gloria Swanson sang a so g from a musical version that never got fully produced. So far I'm walking up those d-d stairs so often I wonder if I'll survive. What I've been through in my career I think I'm finally ready to play this one, it has one of the greatest roles ever written for a woman.
NOTE: After her triumph in Sunset Boulevard Carroll returned to TV series work --she was on 25 episodes of White Collar (2009-14), and seven episodes of Grey's Anatomy (2006-10).
DIANNE CARROLL DIED ON ()()()(). She was 84.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

RCAF Is No More

The CBC caused much consternation the other day by announcing it was cancelling the venerable comedy sketch show Royal Canadian Air Face.
'My neighbour heard about the news and asked me "I thought that one was gone long ago."
I had to explain to her that indeed the weekly half hour series RCAF was gone but a New Year's Eve special had been running for some time.
By contrast NBC has constantly revived and re-invigorated Saturday Night Live as a case study in keeping a well regarded series going.
But CBC these days is trying to ditch as many of its older shows in a misplaced economy drive.
These days only two founding members of RCAF are still around: Don Ferguson and Luba Goy.
They've added to the roster other, younger comics but it's tough when you're only around once a year.
The real reason is CBC's determination to get out of producing entertainment shows.
And also RCAF doesn't travel well abroad --the rest of the world couldn't care less about Canadian humour.
For this reason CBC last year cancelled Ron James's annual one man show that usually ran on New Year's Eve. and last time out garnered a cool million viewers.
It seemed to be made for $1.99 and James was usually the whole show.
So what if it hit 1 million or so viewers? It didn't fit CBC's idea of what it should be doing.
Other shows like Murdoch Mysteries are kept around because they sell well in other countries and still fare fairly well at home, too.
So this New Year's will be the last time RCAF goes at it.
Some RCAF series are on video but just try finding a copy these days.
And just for the record the great RCAF team originally included Roger Abbott, John Morgan and Dave Broadfoot --all deceased,
CBC these days is out of the production field except for national newscasts.

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Kandahar Away Is Must See TV

A Kandahar Away is a complete surprise --a compelling but beguiling documentary about one man's decision to honour his home town of Kandahar by building a war memorial in another Kandahar --a Canadian prairie hamlet so small the entire population is 15 people.
This is one of those must-see productions we can still occasionally catch on Canadian TV.  The premiere is on Documentary Channel Saturday October 20 at 9 p.m.
It's a true life exploration of the emotional gulf that divides generations and was beautifully directed by Canadian filmmaker Aisha Jamal.
She also co-stars in the true life saga of her  articulate  and sensitive father  Abdul Jamal who remembers the days in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he grew up before being forced to migrate with his family to Canada.
Somehow Abdul discovered there was a second Kandahar in Saskatchewan and his heart ached so much for his home town he planned a trip with his family to explore this hamlet --it was named by Canadian soldiers returning from the war but in recent decades has deteriorated into a few habitable homes and nothing else.
The Jamals journey to this place with their five children who have grown up in Canada and have Canadian sensibilities.
All are surprised he wants to build a war memorial to the fallen Canadian soldiers --158 soldiers have died in the conflict which seems never ending. But he also wants to honour Afghan civilians who died in the war.
What do the few residents of Canada's Kandahar think of this? Some seem surprised or even bemused --they rarely see tourists at the best of times.
Aisha is such an accomplished filmmaker she makes us care for Abdul and his quest.
She also appreciates the skepticism of her siblings who wonder why build a monument in a place tourists never visit.
There are wonderful portraits drawn of the local Kandaharites -the mayor, the old man who spends winter snowed under in his tiny cabin and  the coffee shop waitress among others
We see the townsfolk  kicking up their heels at a local dance--they seem so accepting of the newcomers in their midst.  Abdul even gets to propose his plans to a surprised Canadian general Rick Hillier.
See, nobody wants to discourage him. Most of his children are silently opposed to the plan. They figure Abdul must discover reality of the situation for himself.
What Aisha has done is paint a vivid portrait of generational conflict --we all come from other countries and retain a vivid if misleading image of what it was like back then.
Abdul must confront reality for himself. His children must respect his deep wishes.Aisha has caught all the ups and downs of their journey beautifully.  The theme is universal --one man's dreams and home sickness confronting the harshness of  reality.
Says filmmaker Jamal: "I started this film without knowing how it would end. There were endless surprises particularly the wonderful way the Canadian residents of Kandahar took to my family. And it's a voyage that still continues."
As of air date Adbul Jamal remains determined to build his war memorial in the Canadian hamlet of Kandahar.
MY RATING: ****.