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.