Monday, February 17, 2020

Pat Ferns Exits Canadian TV With A Last Flash Of Brilliance

"This is it --my last TV production," sighs legendary TV producer Pat Ferns from his B.C. headquarters.
"But I couldn't go out with anything more challenging.  I've spent the better part of a year finishing the French. German and Canadian versions  of Listening To Orcas --all of which are different."
When I first jumped into TV criticism in 1971 at The Hamilton Spectator Ferns was one of the biggest producing names in the business.
The very next year I flew to Montreal and boarded a rented car driven by publicist Pat Bowles to travel deep into the Quebec countryside and the site of the new mini-series The Newcomers.
Imperial Oil pumped millions into this project produced by Ferns and partner Dick Nielsen and each hour dramatized a different era of immigration to Canada.
A New France settlement had been meticulously reconstructed to show how our first settlers depended initially on the aboriginals to sustain themselves through the difficult winters.
Ferns and partner Dick Nielsen seemed to be everywhere in those days with bold, innovative projects that were outside the humdrum boundaries of weekly TV series.
And Ferns agrees with me this tandem worked because each was so very different they complemented each other.
Ferns was quite brilliant but taciturn with a very clear vision of what he hoped to achieve in every production.
And Nielsen was a wild man of ideas forever churning out synopses and challenging the boundaries of ordinary TV landscape.
And they both excelled at a time there were only 10 competing TV channels.
"I just felt CBC had a tremendous responsibility in bringing culture to television that can't be matched today," he says.
Part of the problem lies in the breakup of the huge audiences --in a 100 channel universe there are few outlets with the kind of audience to support cultural productions.
"We had left CBC to form a company (Nielsen Ferns Productions) and were able to do things that a single network couldn't afford to do and we could sell to other markets and that was encouraging."
I remember one NF film I was on was Quebec Canada 2005 which was put together by Nielsen and mostly shot at the King Edward hotel.  All the principals were in the Toronto Star newsroom for a shot or two and they included Martha Henry who I chatted up at my desk.
Nielsen Ferns was finally purchased by the Toronto Star (in 1976) as a production company but the federal government was not favourable to having companies owned by media giants.
So these days if a high school teacher wishes to screen a copy of The Wars to show to the class Torstar reluctantly sends out a tattered VHS copy demanding it be returned within days.
So Nielsen andd Ferns founded a second company Primedia and a whole host of sparkling new productions came forth : Glenn Gould's Toronto, the four hour mini-series Glory Enough For All, Heaven On Earth (written by Margaret Atwood) and bought for Masterpiece Theatre.
In 1995 Ferns decamped again to recharge the Banff Television Festival and turned it into an internationally renowned centre which was much admired by talent on all sides.
About the current state of Canadian TV production he says "In British Columbia the TV studios are full but most of the series being made here are American shows."
For the past year Ferns has toiled on his latest production Listening To Orcas premiering on CBC-YV's The Nature Of Things Friday February 21 at 9 p.m.
"It's about the toughest assignment I've had. There is a separate French version and another German one. I somehow feel Michael's English language version the best --they all wanted different angles to the same story."
Michael Allder directed it beautifully and the co-writer is Gail Gallant and Geoff Matheson edited it very tightly.
There are so many memorable scenes.
We see the narrow habitat of the orcas off Vancouver island which is threatened with noise pollution as well as the scarcity of salmon stocks.
We get to know neurologist Lori Marino and zoologist John Ford who are rushing to save the habitat of the orcas who are decreasing .
Sarika Cullis-Suzuki is once again our host and she covers all the basis. The use of drones to track the migration of the orcas provides a novel visual.
I think we come to care about these enigmatic animals particularly the lot of one born here in 1969 but shut up in a mainland  aquarium for 50 years.
In retirement should she be taken back to her home?
We see the shots of her reacting to her baby and not knowing how to feed it --that is the saddest moment.
Ferns says he may be finished with productions but wants to mentor students on how to survive in a cut throat business and all the while produce splendid Canadian TV shows and specials.
"After all I've been doing this for a very long time."
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A New Suzuki Shines On The Nature Of Things

Here's where I admit my age as I remember the time not too long ago when two fine CBC-TV series were battling for ascendancy. In one corner there was the great This Land and in the other long running Nature Of Things.
And as NOT's executive producer Jim Murray explained to me with upcoming budget cuts only one could survive.
"So I've decided to personalize the series with David Suzuki as host and he'll bring in his followers every week."
This Land elected to stay host-less and was the one CBC-TV eventually dropped because of slightly weaker ratings.
And then only a few years ago the new CBC programming chief told me he intended to drop TNOT on its 50th year on CBC-TV.
I broke the story in The Toronto Star,  all hell broke loose and The Nature Of Things still survives and the programmer in question is long gone.
All of which serves as a reminder that the more things change the more they remain the same.
Now I'm promoting the latest Nature Of Things hour and welcoming a new face to the perennial favourite.
She's Sarika Cullis-Suzuki and, yes, she's the daughter of guess what world famous environmentalist turned CBC-TV host.
Her first hour long program Kingdom Of The Tides is pretty terrific in its own right.
"It started out with my fascination as a little girl in the summers I spent in B.C. by the ocean. Looking at the many creatures who lived at the edge of the sea or in the tides. So this was a sort of reunion for me to help better understand how these original creatures could actually adapt and thrive there."
The hour is actually two stories in one.
"We also go to the Bay of Fundy which has an entirely different set of creatures and mud flats that stretch forever. This I wasn't used to --we have to slide along the mud flats or we'll wind up getting stuck out there."
There are some great shots --like the hermit crabs who exist living in the discarded shells of other creatures.
"And the sea stars making meals of the mussels."
One theme is the fragility of these two very different but similar ecosystems, how climate change or pollution could spoil these sites irrevocably.
"We try to show how they all exist on each other. but these creatures are all masters of adaptation. They depend on each other. I felt a sense of wonder when there."
Cullis-Suzuki says she asked her father for advice in her first hosting role --she's a marine biologist by profession-- and he simply told her to be herself.
She has a fine, instinctive way of appearing before the camera and her enthusiasm for the subject really comes across.
She does give us some facts but is not at all pedantic.
And Cullis-Suzuki has already made a second TOT documentary on orca whales to run pn Feb, 2!1.
Kingdom Of The Tiide was expertly written directed by veteran  Christine Nielsen----- and photographed beautifully by Stefan Randstrom for Infield Fly Productions.
And yes, its virtually a must see.
MY RATING: ****.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

I Remember Daniel Taradash

In August 1983 I was again on the Television Critics tour at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles and I had a day off. A friend had given me the telephone number of famed screen writer Daniel Taradash and I phoned him early that morning. Not only did he pick up the call he said he'd be over at about 3 p,m. for an hour long interview.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
JB: I was surprised you agreed so quickly to my request for an interview.
DT: Had to. Two days from now I'll be at a film festival in Barcelona where a newly minted print of From Here To Eternity is being shown.
JB: Let's start at the beginning with your upbringing in New York city.
DT: Well, I grew up in New York city, went to Harvard and law school was something my father insisted on. I was always writing short stories for myself but I didn't think during the Depression I could make a living at it. I won a contest for a new play and parlayed that into a trip to Hollywood.
JB: And then you wrote the screenplay for Golden Boy(1939)?
DFT: Something like that. Rouben Mamloulian was going to direct Golden Boy from the Clifford Odets play but Odets was in Europe with his wife Luise Rainer and unavailable. Several seasoned writers had taken cracks at it but Rouben said they were missing the point.So he hired me and Louis Meltzer from the contest and told us to try rewriting the first scene and he liked both our works and hired us at $200 a week which was a lot of money to this mostly unemployed writer.
Finally we all went to a desert retreat for two weeks along with Rouben and every day we'd tackle a different scene.We had to stick to the play as much as possible and not loose its foundations. Then Columbia had me write a biography of the warden of Sing Sing but never used it and I was dropped. So I got a job writing for Joe Pasternak at Universal in a movie titled A Little Bit Of Heaven designed to make Gloria Jean into another Deanna Durbin.
Then I was drafted and went into the army unit making the Why We Fight shorts, After the war I joined Allan Scott who was then a producer at David Selznick's lot but nothing came of the projects we worked on. Then producer Robert Lord hired me to juice up the dialogue on Knock On Any Door (1949) at Columbia where I got to know the star Humphrey Bogart who was quite a della.
JB: You also wrote the play Red Gloves for producer Jed Harris in 1949.
DT: A really nasty character. He started off very sweet but turned into this raging egomaniac. I think he just liked to be noticed. A true sadist.Charles Boyer was our star and at a certain point he told Jed not to speak to him any more.
JB: Then you wrote a western Rancho Notorious (1952) for Fritz Lang?
DT: When we met I discovered he was a real scholar of the American West.As I wrote a page he'd add the camera angles, the pauses, the direction right into the script. When we went on the floor he was suddenly challenged by our leading lead the great Marlene Dietrich. Both loved a good fight and they fought every day. The cut he delivered to Howard Hughes was so tightly edited it could not be changed much at all. This was for me a  great lesson in film making --don't give producers anything extra because they'll just cut it anyway.
JB: How did you get the assignment for From Here To Eternity (1953)?
DT: Well, James Jones had tried to adapt his own novel and failed. I had a chat with Buddy Adler who was running Columbia and he thought I was onto something and took me in to see Harry Cohn and Harry ordered me to be hired. Harry said he was stuck with a lemon because with all the bad language gone what was left? I  started off deepening the  Maggio character--he just peters out in the novel but I argued he has to die at the end. I finally went home to Florida because I couldn't deal with Harry's constant interference and I worked from there.  I doubt Harry ever read much of the book anyway.
And I was the one who suggested Fred Zinneman as director --he was close to finishing Member Of The wedding and Harry thought he was a prestige name.
JB: Were you in on the casting?
DT: I made myself available., Fred insisted on Monty Clift as Prew but Harry said "I got Aldo Ray" and insisted on a test. It was OK but Fred said he'd walk without Monty. You know Donna Reed ran lines with Aldo for his test and Fred then signed her as the prostitute although Harry wanted Audrey Totter.
Harry had just signed Joan Crawford to a multi-picture contract but she came in and selected a very expensive wardrobe that wasn't right and insisted on her own choreographer so Fred just let her go. He hired Deborah Kerr as the wayward wife which which certainly was offbeat casting. Frankie Sinatra campaigned for Maggio and took a tiny salary to get it. Lancaster was always going to be the biggest star. But you know Monty Clift was a Method man and he took lessons in boxing but was so un-muscular we used a double in some long shots. Another thing --I didn't want the couples to ever meet. The two women do but only at the end.
JB: Did winning the Oscar for best screenplay help you at all?
DT: Well, I told Harry Cohn he owned me one. And I deliberately selected the powerful story Storm Center about the censoring of books and I told Harry I was going to entice Mary Pickford out of a 20-year retirement to play the leading librarian. We were still at the height of McCarthyism,remember.
JB: Then what happened? Well, you know gossip hen Hedda Hopper was a terrible right winger and she kept pounding Mary in her column day after day for being un-American and it finally got to Mary and she just left. So I got Bette Davis and made it and it has yet to make a penny of profit which I prophesied from the beginning.
JN: Then came Desiree (1955)?
DT: Oh, please. A  terrible mess. We wrote it for Marlon Brando because he owed Fox a picture after walking off  The Egptian but he was boredas Napoleon  and didn't try and we had Jean Simmons and Merle Oberon who at least worked on their parts.
JB: Then came Picnic (1956).
DT: At the first preview an older woman comes up to me and says "There's no picnic, is there?"I talked to Bill Inge about it and he said he hated the play because a happy ending was superimposed. I tried to capture the feeling of that small Then Harry Cohn started cutting it up and Roz Russell's partas  cut sharply.  Harry wanted her nominated as best supporting actress but she refused. I thought Bill Holden too old for it and Kim Novak a blank stare. But it did make a lot of money.
JB: What about Bell Book And Candle (1958).
DT: Miscast. Jimmy Stewart was too old for it. Kim Novak wasn't comedically aware if you get my drift.I still say we should have used Cary Grant and Grace Kelly but Grace retired to become a princess and Cary lost interest.
JB: You say Harry Cohn's death in 1958 affected your career.
DT: I was going to do Andersonville for Harry but the new front office vetoed it as not box office. And I wrote some very bad pictures like Hawaii (1966) and Morituri (1965), Alvarez Kelly (1966) was another stinker and my Golden Boy Bill Holden was drunk through much of the shooting. There was turmoil on the set of The Other Side Of The Mountain(1969) and when I finished the first draft they tried to fire me.
So you see I really do miss the Hollywood of Harry Cohn. He was lucky he died before the independents took overbite business. You look shocked --I'm just being realistic. -- it was much easier  when I knew who I was working for. But whenever FHTE is on TV I'll watch a bit --I'm always interested what the local stations chose to cut for commercials.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jayne Eastwood Gets A TV Series Lead

It's certainly no surprise to me that the incredibly talented Jayne Eastwood is busy these days making a very funny comedy series titled Hey Lady! for CBC Gem available on February 14.
You see, I was the very first TV writer to interview her for her first splash in 1970 in the groundbreaking Canadian film Goin' Down The Road.
And here we are fifty years later still talking up a storm.
Here are highlights of my new telephone conversation with the divine Miss E:
JB: Jayne do you remember that day in July 1970 when I motored out to your home with a Globe and Mail  photographer to conduct your very first print interview?
JE: Actually, I think it was Cabbagetown. But I was a bit nervous, yes. I'm not sure how you got to me first.
JB: Your agent was the brother of Globe entertainment editor Donn Downey --that's how I scored that coup. I remember you were bit nervous at first. But neither of us thought this would be the beginning of a long and busy career.
JE: I've never stopped working --that's for sure.
JB: People thought Goin' Down The Road marked the beginning of a huge boom in Canadian film making. But it never really happened. Can you explain why?
JE: Financing. The big chains weren't that interested in Canadian movies, I guess.So a lot of talent drifted to TV. I know I did.
JB: You also did the long anticipated reunion TV movie Down The Road Again.
JE: Of course it did not have the impact of the first. But I thought it was important because it wrapped everything up. Director Don Shebib had exactly18 shooting days so the fact it turned out as well as possible is something to cheer about. The original was 16 mm so the second in 35 mm seems smoother.
JB: And today the two movies ares being sold in a boxed set.  I remember another early interview with you when you were at CBC rehearsing for a live TV drama.
JE: With Allyn Ann McLerie, the legendary Canadian actress who had stardom in the U.S. CBC took an old TV play first done in the Fifties and we redid it live. But ratings were poor and CBC never tried another live one.
JB: You were just telling me when Show Boat ran for several years on the Toronto stage you were in it but also as understudy for Cloris Leachman as Party Ann.
J: I was introduced to her as her understudy and she hands me her dog's leash and says to take it for walk. And I got to sub for her for a total of 12 performances. Now that was fun.
JB: I remember interviewing you again on the CBC comedy series Material World which I thought had a lot of potential.
JE: It started slowly but we were up against American shows that ran all season and I think that meant we could never catch up. They began changing the cast --the wonderful character star Lou Jacobi was out after the first season, then Chris POtter  went --he now stars in Heartland but it just never caught on.
JB: Another one I remember you in --Joely Fisher's drama show filmed here --again with Potter.
JE: And I lasted just at the beginning because the show changed  and changed. And I don't think it laster much longer.
JB: I have better memories with you on the set of Riverdale, a CBC attempt to make a long running soap series. Some of the sets were refashioned from Paradise Falls, I think.
JE: Loved that one. So did the fans. But it needed to run a half hour every night right after coronation Street to build up popularity. We had a great cast too:
JB: Ever consider moving to the U.S. like many other Canadian actors. were doing that time.
JE: Well once Lorne Michaels said he wanted me to audition for SNL but the pay wasn't so high and I would have to take my kids to live in New York city andI couldn't do that to them.
JB: I mean your credits run pages. You've done everything in TV and movies.
JE: Even commercials which keep on passing. How to establish a character in one minute! It's a real challenge I can tell you.
JB: Ever missed an important Canadian series as a character star?
JB: I'll  have to think about that.
JB: You moved from Dundas to Hamilton.
JE: After my husband Dave Flaherty passed . And in Hamilton I can tell you houses are still for sale at respectable p[rices. There's a strong artistic  community growing up here.
JB: Let's not forget you have a separate stage career.
JE: With Women Fully Clothed --we're still going.
JB: I watched your new project for CBC Gem right through and there area lot of laughs there.
JE: Great. It was made as a series of bits. You can watch a few or right through. I just thought the scripts by Morris Panych were wonderful, there are eight separate pieces and Jackie Richardson as my comic sidekick Rosie is very funny.
We got some choice talent--Don McKellar as the psychiatrist, Scott Thompson as the judge, Peter Keleghan, Zach Bennett and we all had a ball.But it is funny --my character is battling old age. She says what she's feeling, the words just pop out. And we break through the glass --I sometimes talk directly to the audience at home. I hope it catches on. I'm beginning to think of stories for the next batch.
JB: Jayne is now off to the Sundance Festival where her new show is being previewed.p
So Jayne Eastwood is doing what she always does --dancing as fast as she  can.


Friday, January 3, 2020

CBC's Future Is Murky

CBC-TV got a lot of deserved flack for mounting a ''new'' game show titled Family Feud Canada.
Remember please --here is a pubically funded network that you the tax payers fork out almost $1 billion annually and yet the choices on CBC are becoming ever narrower.
Gone from CBC are TV movies , miniseries, any sort of arts programs, Straford plays, culture; offerings..
This means no more thrilling dramatical  historical lessons like The Last Spike, no TV movies Alice Munro's  Of Girls And Women.
The last time I spoke to Emmy winning director Norman Campbell he was in cubby-hole of an office at CBC doing absolutely nothing.
True, he could look across the hall at the huge Norman Campbell Concert hall where he had never staged single production because of budgetary concerns.
When Emmy winning documentarian Harry Rasky looked for one of his "Raskymentaries" in the video store he actually found one in a boxed set of BBC titles
CBC had sold the rights to the BBC  for Rasky's masterful study of George Bernard Shaw and somehow forgot to tell Rasky about it.
Rasly's incredibly rich studies of the lives of Chris Plummer, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams lie moldering in the CBC TV archives in Mississauga.
CBC says it hasn't the money to produce boxed sets --which would sell like hot cakes --but a prominent CBC-TV veteran says "nuts" to that idea.
"CBC is afraid of opening the vaults because it would show what wonderful network it used to be," Mr. X recent;y told me.
Indeed, there was a time in the 1970s when CBC-TV hit a similar budgeting impasse and devised a series of pure reruns titled "Rearview Mirror" which ran on Sunday afternoons garnering a very respectable audience.
One of the lost and found treasures was a 1962 taped version of Macbeth done in the old Front Page Challenge setup Yonge st. and starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
Dennys Arcand directed it and when I contacted him at his Malibu home he said "I'm so very glad it still exists. After that Sean said he was going to the Caribbean to start filming his first James Bond opus."
Let's face it the future of the CBC is not altogether clear.
I'm suggesting g the main network should abandon all commercials and become a PBS of the North.
CBC still has hits like Heartland and Murdoch Mysteries but these shows are aging fasten and newer series just haven't made it,
The revamped The National is a ratings disaster and none of the several hosts boasts the gravitas of a Peter Mansbridge or a Knowlton Nash.
CBC needs a drastic shake up or there are fears it may no longer be able to justify its swollen budget.
One last point--CBC is running its game show against perennially popular Jeopardy.
If you are a game show addict Jeopardy remains must viewing.
Go watch Family Feud Canada if you like but this weird import is not going to save Canada's struggling public network.

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.