i'm on my third read on lillian ross' PICTURE. what a great book, and ross is a great writer. this stuff is too good not to share. in keeping with efforts not to get wellesnet sued for infringement, this stuff won't be here for long.
PICTURE is not an easy find, but it's a terrific read, and worth the chase. ross also wrote portraits on chaplin, and hemingway, i have both, have not read either yet.
sometimes PICTURE turns up at www.half.com for 2 or 3 bucks, and it's a well spent 2 or 3 bucks
this is liilian ross's meeting with huston.
soon to come:
partying at chasims with dore schary
meeting in L. B. Mayer's office.
huston and murphy in the screeening room
lunch with L. B. Mayer
lillian meets with huston:
The door of Huston's suite was opened by a conservatively attired young man with a round face and pink cheeks. He introduced himself as Arthur Fellows. "John is in the next room getting dressed," he said. "Imagine getting a layout like this all to yourself! That's the way the big studios do things." He nodded with approval at the Waldorf's trappings. "Not that I care for the big studios," he said. "I believe in being independent. I work for David Selznick. I've worked for David for fifteen years. David is independent. I look at the picture business as a career. Same as banking, or medicine, or law.
You've got to learn it from the ground up. I learned it from the ground up with David. I was an assistant director on `Duel in the Sun.' I directed the scene of the fight between two horses. Right now, I'm here temporarily on publicity and promotion. David= He broke off as Huston strode into the room. Huston made his entrance in the manner of an actor who is determined to win the immediate attention of his audience.
"Hel-lo, kid," Huston said as we shook hands. He took a step back, then put his hands in his trouser pockets and leaned forward intently. 'Well!" he said. He made the word expand into a major pronouncement.
Huston is a lean, rangy man, two inches over six feet tall, with long arms and long hands, long legs and long feet. He has thick black hair, which had been slicked down with water, but some of the front strands fell raffishly over his forehead. He has a deeply creased, leathery face, high cheekbones, and slanting, reddish-brown eyes. His ears are flattened against the sides of his head, and the bridge of his nose is bashed in. His eyes looked watchful, and yet strangely empty of all feeling, in weird contrast to the heartiness of his manner. He took his hands out of his pockets and yanked at his hair. "Well! he said, again as though he were making a major pronouncement. He turned to Fellows. "Art, order some Martinis, will you, kid?"
Huston sat down on the arm of a chair, fixed a long brown cigarette in one corner of his mouth, took a kitchen match from his trouser pocket, and scraped the head of the match into flame with his thumbnail. He lit the cigarette and drew deeply on it, half closing his eyes against the smoke, which seemed to make them slant still more. Then he rested his elbows on his knees, holding the cigarette to his mouth with two long fingers of one hand, and looked out the window. The sun had gone down and the
light coming into the suite, high in the Tower, was beginning to dull. Huston looked as though he might be waiting-having set up a Huston scene-for the cameras to roll. But, as I gradually grew to realize, life was not imitating art, Huston was not imitating himself, when he set up such a scene; on the contrary, the style of the Huston pictures, Huston being one of the few Hollywood directors who manage to leave their personal mark on the films they make, was the style of the man. In appearance, in gestures, in manner of speech, in the selection of the people and objects he surrounded himself with, and in the way he composed them into individual "shots" (the abrupt closeup of the thumbnail scraping the head of a kitchen match) and then arranged his shots into dramatic sequence, he was simply the raw material of his own art; that is, the man whose personality left its imprint, unmistakably, on what had come to be known as a Huston picture.
"I just love the light at this time of the day," Huston said as Fellows returned from the phone. "Art, don't you just love the light at this time of the day?"
Fellows said it was all right.
Huston gave a chuckle. "Well, now," he said, "here I am, spending the studio's money on this trip, and I don't even know whether I'm going to make the picture I'm here for. I'm auditioning actors at the Loew's office and talking production up there and doing all the publicity things they tell me to do. I've got the `Red Badge' script O.K.'d, and I'm going down South to pick locations for the picture, but nothing is moving. We can't make this picture unless we have six hundred Confederate uniforms and six hundred Union uniforms. And the studio is just not making those uniforms for us. I'm beginning to think they don't want the picture!"
"It's an offbeat picture," Fellows said politely. "The
public wants pictures like `Ma and Pa Kettle.' I say make pictures the public wants. Over here," he said to a waiter who had entered with a tray holding six Martinis in champagne glasses. "No getting away from it, John," Fellows went on, handing Huston a drink. "Biggest box office draws are pictures catering to the intelligence of the twelve-year-old:"
People underestimated the intelligence of the twelve year-old, Huston said. He said he had an adopted son in his early teens, a Mexican-Indian orphan, Pablo, whom he had found while making "Treasure of Sierra Madre" in Mexico a few years ago, and his boy had excellent taste in pictures. "Why, my boy Pablo reads Shakespeare," he said. "Do you read Shakespeare, Art?"
"Television, John," said Fellows. "The junk they go for on television:"
Huston asked him vaguely what the talk was in New York about television.
Television was booming, Fellows said, and all the actors, singers, dancers, directors, producers, and writers who hadn't been able to get work in Hollywood were going into television in New York. On the other hand, all the actors, singers, dancers, directors, producers, and writers who had gone into television in New York were starving and wanted to go back to Hollywood. "Nobody really knows what's happening," said Fellows. "All I know is television can never do what pictures can do:"
"We'll just make pictures and release them on television, that's all. The hell with television," Huston said. "Do you kids want the lights on?" The room was murky. It made a fine tableau, Huston said. Fellows and I agreed that it was pleasant with the lights off. There was a brief silence. Huston moved like a shadow to a chair opposite mine and lit another brown cigarette, the quick glow
from the match lighting up his face. "Been to the races out here, Art?" he asked. A few times, Fellows said, but David Selznick had been keeping him so busy he hadn't had much time for horses.
"The ponies have me broke all the time," Huston said. "You know, I can't write a check for five hundred dollars. I am always broke. I can't even take an ordinary vacation. But there's nothing I'd rather spend my money on than a horse, especially when the horse is one of my own. There's nothing like breeding and raising a horse of your own. I've got four horses racing under my colors right now, and in a couple of years I'll have more, even if I have to go into hock to support them. All I want is one good winner of my own. Everybody I know is conspiring to take my horses away from me. Someday I'll have one good winner, and then I'll be able to say, `Well, you bastards, this is what it was all about!"'
Financial problems, Huston said, had prevented him. from taking the trip around the world. Although his M-G-M salary was four thousand dollars a week while he was making a picture, he had had to get the company to advance him a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which he was paying off in installments. He was bound by his contract to make at least one picture a year for the next three years for M-G-M. He was a partner in an independent company, Horizon Pictures, which he had started a couple of years before with a man named Sam Spiegel, whom he had met in the early thirties in London. Huston had directed one picture, "We Were Strangers," for Horizon, and he was scheduled to direct another "The African Queen," based on the novel by C. S. Forester-as soon as he had completed "The Red Badge of Courage" for M-G-M. Huston said he thought "The African Queen" would make money, and if it did, he would
then make some pictures on his own that he wanted to make as much as he did "The Red Badge of Courage." The reason L. B. Mayer and the other M-G-M executives did not think that "The Red Badge of Courage" could be a commercial success, Huston said, was that it had no standard plot, no romance, and no leading female characters, and, if Huston had his way in casting it, would have no stars. It was simply the story of a youth who ran away from his first battle in the Civil War, and then returned to the front and distinguished himself by performing several heroic acts. Huston, like Stephen Crane, wanted to show something of the emotions of men in war, and the ironically thin line between cowardice and heroism. A few months earlier, Huston and an M-G-M producer named Gottfried Reinhardt, the son of the late Max Reinhardt, bad suggested to Dore Schary, the studio's vice-president in charge of production, that they make the picture.
"Dore loved the idea," Huston said. "And Dore said he would read the novel." A couple of weeks later, Schary had asked Huston to write a screen treatment-a rough outline for the detailed script. "I did my treatment in four days," Huston said. "I was going down to Mexico to get married, so I took my secretary along and dictated part of it on the plane going down, got married, dictated some more after the ceremony, and dictated the rest on the plane trip back." Schary approved the treatment, and the cost of making the picture was estimated at a million and a half dollars. Huston wrote the screenplay in five weeks, and Schary approved it. "Then the strangest things began to happen," Huston said. "Dore is called vice-president in charge of production. L. B. is called vice-president in charge of the studio. Nobody knows which is boss." His voice rose dramatically. "We were told Dore had to O.K. everything. We got his O.K., but
nothing moved. And we know that L. B. hates the idea of making this picture." His voice sank to a confidential whisper. "He just hates it!"
For the role of the Youth, Huston said, he wanted twenty-six-year-old Audie Murphy, the most-decorated hero of the Second World War, whose film career had been limited to minor roles. Huston said he was having some difficulty persuading both Schary and Reinhardt to let Murphy have the part. "They'd rather have a star," he said indignantly. "They just don't see Audie the way I do. This little, gentle-eyed creature. Why, in the war he'd literally go out of his way to find Germans to kill. He's a gentle little killer."
"Another Martini?" Fellows asked.
"I hate stars," Huston said, exchanging his empty glass for a full one. "They're not actors. I've been around actors all my life, and I like them, and yet I never had an actor as a friend. Except Dad. And Dad never thought of himself as an actor. But the best actor I ever worked with was Dad. All I had to tell Dad about his part of the old man in `Treasure' was to talk fast. Just talk fast." Huston talked rapidly, in a startling and accurate imitation of his father. "A man who talks fast never listens to himself. Dad talked like this. Man talking fast is an honest man. Dad was a man who never tried to sell anybody anything."
It was now quite dark in the room. We sat in the darkness for a while without talking, and then Huston got up and went over to the light switch. He asked if we were ready for light, and then snapped the switch. He was revealed in the sudden yellow brightness, standing motionless, a look of bewilderment on his face. "I hate this scene," he said. "Let's go out and get something to eat."
Huston finished his drink in a gulp, set the glass down, and put a gray Homburg on his head, and the three of us rode down in the elevator. It was a warm, drizzly evening. The Waldorf doorman got us a cab, and Huston told the driver to take us to "21.." He raised one of the jump seats and rested his knees against it. "You know, I just love New York when summer is coming in," he said, emphasizing each word possessively. "Everything begins to slow down a little. And later on, the clatter and hassling sort of comes to a stop. And the city is quiet. And you can take walks!" he said in a tone of amazement. "And you pass bars!" he said, as though this were even more astonishing. "And the doors of the bars are open," he said, holding up his hands, palms toward each other, framing a picture of an open door. "You can go anywhere alone, and yet you're never alone in the summer in New York," he said, and dropped his hands to his lap.
more to come