Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Remember Arthur Hiller

So there I was in the Academy Awards library in July 1980 getting material on some of the personalities I was going to interview on the annual Television Critics Association press tour.
And the man sitting beside me saw my Toronto Star notebook and tapped me on the shoulder and said "I'm a Canadian too."
It was director Arthur Hiller best known for the blockbuster Love Story.
Shot for just $2 million the weepie saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy and took in more than $130 million on its first release making potent movie stars out of Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw.
"I know the exact amount because I took a percentage," he told me over coffee in a cafe on Wilshire Boulevard. "I got a best director nomination. I'd been in the business for a long time but Love Story made me."
Arthur Hiller was part of a small but influential group of Canadian directors who mostly worked abroad.
Others in that category include Norman Jewison, Alvin Rakoff and Daniel Petrie.
Hiller was born in Edmonton "of Jewish parents" and served with distinction as a navigator aboard the famed Halifax bombers over missions against Germany.
He then studied at the University of Toronto and got a M.A. in psychology before turning to directing on CBS Radio.
When TV came to CBC in 1952 he jumped with zest directing many hours of live drama.
"I wish I had a list of all those hours but even CBC says their lists are incomplete. Eventually NBC asked me to submit samples which I did --these were kinescopes. It was Bill Shatner who I had frequently directed who talked me up and so I jumped. I wanted to make movies and there was no Canadian movie business in those days."
Hiller directed hours on Gunsmoke, the first Addams Family TV pilot and key epiusodes of The Naked City shot on film on New York city streets.
"I did the first ever TV actng assignment of a young guy named Robert Redford and the last ever acting job of Errol Flynn who was so drunk I had to feed him lines."
In 1957 he made his first feature about wayward teens titled The Careless Years starring a very young Dean Stockwell.
"Then Disney hired me for Miracle Of The White Stallions which starred Robert Taylor the first big movie star I worked with."
His best film, he maintained was ":The Americanization Of Emily: Julie Andrews, Jim Garner and a great script from Paddy Chayefsky. Paddy liked me so much he gave me another script to direct: The Hospital."
His worst?
"I'd say Man Of La Mancha. Peter O'Toole was not always sober and was badly miscast. He hated Sophia Loren and the feeling was mutual. It was an absolute train wreck."
Hiller blamed the box office failure of Making Love on his rapid descent as a front line director.. His last big hit was Outrageous Fortune with Bette Midler asnd Shelley Long.
From 1989 to 1993 he served as head of the Directors Guild of America and subsequently was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
A few years ago when back in L.A. I phoned him for lunch and he politely turned me down saying macular degeneration had turned him into a recluse.
"My biggest regret is I never came back to Canada and made a personal film about growing up Jewish in Alberta. I have a partial script but it can never be made now."
Arthur Hiller died on August 17 v2016.,aged 92.

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