Thursday, December 1, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
Four years ago, when I was writing a two-part article about the remarkable career of writer-director William Asher (whose birthday is on Monday), I had the chance to interview a number of Asher's colleagues. There were many to choose from. Asher is perhaps best known for his work on I Love Lucy and Bewitched, as well as the "beach party" films he made for American International Pictures, such as Beach Blanket Bingo. (Film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon credits Asher with "concocting what was practically a new genre" in the beach movies.) During his five-decade career, he did a lot more than those projects, however, and I didn't limit myself to the most famous ones. (For example, I interviewed the editor and the director of photography of his final feature, the underrated Movers & Shakers.)
One of the people I most enjoyed speaking with was Patty Duke. With Sidney Sheldon, Asher co-created The Patty Duke Show, and he directed the majority of episodes during the first season. I was eager to hear what Duke remembered about working with him on this very innovative series -- as memorable, in its way, as Lucy or Bewitched.
At the time of our conversation, I had only seen a handful of episodes of The Patty Duke Show. I admired Duke primarily on the basis of her dramatic work, most notably her truly iconic performance as Helen Keller in Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, as well as her Emmy Award-winning performance in the lesser known My Sweet Charlie, directed by Lamont Johnson. So when Shout! Factory began releasing all three seasons of The Patty Duke Show on DVD in 2009, it was a revelation -- at least as far as I was concerned. Playing the dual role of cousins Patty and Cathy Lane, Duke was clearly a born comedienne.
For Asher's part, the first season of The Patty Duke Show was just one of the many things that occupied his time in 1963 -- that same year, he had two movies in theatres (Beach Party and Johnny Cool), and he had two more (Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach) out the following year. "Our producer-director, Bill Asher, was a man who liked to be simultaneously involved in several different projects," Sidney Sheldon wrote in his autobiography -- and my research told me that was an understatement.
Though we only spoke for perhaps 15 minutes, Duke couldn't have been more helpful. When I called, she had in mind several points that she wanted to make to me, and I chose to let her guide the brief, highly enjoyable discussion that followed. I found her to be completely disarming, and full of enthusiasm for the show -- and for its director. In fact, everybody I talked to sang the praises of William Asher (and I plan to post more extracts from my conversations with his collaborators in the near future), but Patty Duke sang them especially well.
Some of this material first appeared in my article, "Up From the Cutting Room: The William Asher Story, Part 1," CinemaEditor, Volume 57, Issue 4, Fourth Quarter 2007.
Patty Duke: Sidney Sheldon actually created the concept and the story. But certainly Bill's work on the set, and what he brought to it as a director, was a major contribution to the creativity of it. On a personal level, one of the many things that Bill did for me -- and I don't exactly know how he did it, except by osmosis -- was to infuse me with a kind of confidence that I really didn't have going in. He got that going and then he kept it afloat for playing both characters. I always had more trouble with the Patty character, the supposedly more outgoing one. Oddly, the other character was more like me! Shy. Bill would run around, saying, "Come on, Chicky Baby! Come on, Chicky Baby! Chicky Baby, you can do this!"
Monday, July 4, 2011
Anna Massey: He [Cukor] and Katharine Hepburn knew each other so well that they had a special way of talking to each other which was quite amusing to listen to. He would always say, “That was a good take and now we’ll go again.” She would always say, “If it’s a good take, then why are we going again?” It was a running gag.
I found him quite irascible, to be perfectly honest, and quite unbending and slightly old-fashioned. I thought it was very much a 1940s Hollywood version of The Corn Is Green.
Peter Tonguette: Of course, Hollywood was the world Cukor came from.
AM: Yes, but a lot of the great directors moved more with the times. There were great directors, like Michael Powell and Ford and Huston, who didn’t get stuck in the era that they worked in.
It [The Corn Is Green] was very formal and unexploited. We did it, but it wasn’t really discovered. It felt to me very old-fashioned.
PT: This was your first time working with Cukor. Had you worked with Hepburn previously?
AM: It was my first time working with both of them. I adored her. She was a most original person and terribly generous. She took us all out for picnics made by her on Saturdays or whenever we had the day off. She would wear Spencer Tracy’s old shirts and old trousers and sit under umbrellas. At that time, with her skin, she couldn’t have any sun anywhere near her. She loved the water where we were staying and she took bottles back to the States. She said her skin felt terrific, washing in that water. You felt like you were in an old film.
I just would have loved more direction [from Cukor]. He let my voice get higher and higher with each take. At his peak, he was meant to be the great director for women, wasn’t he? He was always known as the great director for women. But I would have liked more direction! They didn’t really know that much about the subject that they were filming. Emlyn Williams’s story, which took place in the early part of the 20th century, wasn’t their territory, really. They weren’t at an age when you explore that. It was their version of something that they already had in their minds.
She didn’t take direction either. Nobody would say, “That’s not what that line means!” Nobody could say it. Although, actually, if you had, she would have been totally open to it. But when you’re a legend, you tend to become slightly out of touch with the real world, don’t you? I remember John Gielgud said once, when he was doing all of these Hollywood films and they had him for millions of dollars for very small parts, “I will play it, I accept it, but please, please tell the director to give me some direction!” The greats, the geniuses -- they long for it. I think if somebody would have come up and said, “Look, this is what this line means, Katharine,” she would have been very, very grateful. But nobody did.
[Cukor] was in considerable pain, exacerbated by the damp Welsh weather. He never joined in on the weekends when we all went off traipsing into the Welsh hills. He didn’t come with us.
When you’re in something, and you’re with the director, you do the shot. You don’t really see the overall view that he has until you see it all together. I have to say I was extremely disappointed when I saw it all together. I didn’t believe in the boy at all. I knew Emlyn Williams very, very well. He was one of my mother’s closest friends. And Emlyn was a little Welsh pit pony, and this boy was just not.
PT: Had you ever played in The Corn Is Green before making the film?
AM: No, but I did afterwards. I performed it on the radio. I played Miss Moffat on the radio. It was a very good production we did. Emlyn was around at the time that we did it.
I mean, listen. Let’s be brutal. [Hepburn] was no more Miss Moffat than the side of the moon. She was a huge personality and she had enormous screen charisma. She was the heroine to beat all heroines. I knew the character upon whom Miss Moffat was based; I knew Emlyn’s teacher. And [Hepburn] was no more like that than I’m like the Queen of England.
But I’m saying this at the grand old age of 72. When I was in it, it was the most extraordinary experience and I loved every minute of it. I actually found [Cukor] really waspish. But I think looking back, when you’re in pain you lash out sometimes when you don’t mean to.
AM: If you take Gideon’s Day, that was quite far from John Ford’s world. But he encapsulated it with wit and it had some wonderful things in it. He was wonderful to work with. He edited on the floor. He knew exactly what he wanted. He knew to the millionth of a second how long a take should be.
AM: George Cukor, compared to Otto Preminger, was a saint. Preminger was the most irascible and unpleasant director that I have ever worked with.
PT: I don’t know how you feel about the film, but I think it’s wonderful!
AM: I think it’s terrific. Terrific suspense and talk about visuals. Very, very powerful. And I loved it being in black-and-white. Such a coup, that.
On George Roy Hill:
AM:I loved him. He was a darling man. The Sting is one of the greatest films of that genre ever made. He was so witty. Oh, God, he was so funny.
AM: Normally directors say “Action,” but because [Cukor] worked in [early] movies, he said “Camera.” And I loved that! I said to somebody on the set, “Why is he saying ‘Camera’ and not ‘Action?’” I didn’t start when he said it the first time because I didn’t know what it meant! [Laughs]
PT: Ford and Hitchcock began in the silent era -- did they say “Camera”?
AM: With Hitchcock, I think he allowed the first assistant director to say “Action.” I don’t think he said it. I’m not sure. A lot of directors do allow that. The first assistant says, “Are you ready, sir?” I have a feeling that Colin Brewer [assistant director on Frenzy] said “Action.” But I might be wrong. Hitchcock would say “Cut.”
PT: And Ford?
AM: Ford would have said “Action.” I had never heard “Camera” before Cukor. But one is always very, very nervous in those situations, when you’re working with those very great people. You are working with legends. So they well might have said “Camera”!
If you ever find out if Hitchcock said "Action," will you let me know? [Laughter]
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
My new book, The Films of James Bridges, was published this past week. (You can purchase it here or here.) It took me three full years to research and write the book, during which time I worked on no other major projects. I was surprised to realize recently that I spent more time working on it than I did my previous book, an ambitious interview book about Orson Welles. Why did it take me so long to write about a director who made just eight films?