Monday, February 21, 2011

Kiss and Tell with Marianna Hill

Fans of Westerns shot in Spain most fondly remember Marianna Hill for her role in EL CONDOR.
by James Bacon

One day I had lunch at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel with a fetching young actress by the name of Marianne Hill. As is often the case when a young actress lunches with a columnist, she tried to give me news.
"Guess who I had a date with last night?" she said. I couldn't guess. "Henry Kissinger."
I knew she wasn't kidding. This was when the secretary of state, between marriages, was in his Hollywood starlet phase. He was in town because the president was in residence at San Clemente. Remember when that was the Western White House?
So I started asking her questions about Henry as a lover, not a diplomat. Suffice it to say that on a Richter scale of ten, she rated him below five. In fairness to Henry, Marianne said that Secret Service men were always present and didn't lend themselves to romantic dalliance.
"I think," she said, "that if Henry could function alone, he would be all right. But it's very hard to make love when someone is standing around holding a lantern."
I couldn't use those exact words in my column because I do write for family newspapers, but I somehow got the meaning across. By the time the column appeared in print, President Nixon and Henry were back in Washington. I knew Henry was going to hear about the column because three of Henry's other girl friends called me. All of them, as if in a chorus, all said the same thing: "Marianne Hill is just a fill-in date. Henry took her to dinner at Chasen's that night, nothing more. He promised me that he wouldn't see her again. I am his one girl out here."
I was impressed by Henry's prowess with the ladies and began to think that Marianne had prehaps downgraded him too much.
His most publicized date out here was Jill St. John, but that was a publicity front. Jill, at the time, was the mistress of someone even more powerful than Henry, and her lover liked the publicity the Kissinger dates gave her. It took the heat off at home with his wife. And, as the lover once assured me, there was no action.
Jill was not one of the three girls who called, by the way. They were all starlets whose names today would mean nothing to the general public. At least one of them told me that she had read the column over the phone to Henry in Washington.
The next night when I came home my wife gave me the astonishing news that the White House had called and would call back. To show you the ego of gossip columnists, I never dreamed it was Kissinger. I immediately assumed it was the president. Before long the phone rang; it was the White House switchboard.
"Just a moment, Mr. Bacon. I'll connect you."
The voice that came on sounded like Conrad Veidt - unmistakably Kissinger.
"Could I talk to you as I talk to the White House press?" he asked. I assured him that he could.
"It's true," he said, "that I took out Marianne Hill, but I won't again. She is the first one who ever talked about me like that. I assure you that that one date will be the only one. As you know, my job requires that I have a certain amount of dignity. The Marianne Hills don't help."
I then pointed out to Henry that he dines with some of our most beautiful actresses in the really chic places to be seen, such as the Bistro. It's bound to get in the columns.
"I like the Bistro and Chasen's," he said, "because I am known there. I don't know where else to go in Beverly Hills. It's not my town," he replied. "I don't object to your writing that I dined with Joanna Barnes at the Bistro, where you saw us the other night. I just object to Marianne Hill getting so explicit. Could I ask you to just write about my dates with Joanna and Jill St. John? It would help keep my job dignified. After all, it is very important to our country."
Since he put it on a patriotic basis, I complied.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Time an Ulcer Won the Academy Award

by James Bacon

Whenever there is talk about Hollywood's classic westerns, the name HIGH NOON always comes up. But did you know that when HIGH NOON was first sneaked in Riverside, it was one of the great disasters of all time? It was so bad that even the producer, Stanley Kramer, wanted to forget about it.
I know because I saw that first sneak. The picture was way too long because the director had a crush on a new actress by the name of Grace Kelly. About half the picture was close-ups of Grace. She may not have known that Fred Zinnemann was in love with her but that's the word of Elmo Williams, now a producer, in those days a cutter. Elmo won the Oscar for editing HIGH NOON.
The original version stressed the love story between Grace and Gary Cooper - a co-plot with the tale of the killers arriving in town to kill the brave sheriff. But those close-ups of the future princess were too much. Incidentally, whenever you see a preponderance of close-ups in a movie you can always be sure that the director is in love with the star.
In was a depressed bunch who came back from that sneak in Riverside. One other major fault of the movie was Cooper's ulcer. It kept burping in key scenes. I had been on the set at the Columbia ranch in 1951 during the making of the movie. Coop told me his ulcer had been giving him unusual trouble.
"Jesus, I don't know whether I'll make it through the picture," he said one day over a glass of tequila at the China Trader, a restaurant near the ranch in Burbank.
As I say, Kramer was so disgusted that he was all for writing off the movie. You would be amazed to learn how many movies made are never released. Elmo the cutter begged to have one weekend with the movie, a request that was granted.
"I worked night and day for the whole weekend cutting that movie. I took out most of the love story and about 99 percent of the close-ups of Grace," Elmo recalls. "I confined the action of the movie to the actual hour of high noon. There were shots of the town clock. I inserted more, ticking off the time.
"As the picture was cut, I could see that Coop's ulcer, a liability in the love scenes, was a huge asset in the suspense. Three killers were out to kill Coop and he was getting no help from the townspeople. It was terrifying situation and the burp only accented his terror.
"Towards the end of the weekend, I knew I had a good movie. I also had a short movie. There was no exposition of the plot. I hit upon the idea of putting a song in front and over the titles. It had never been done before. I tested it with a recording of Vaughan Monroe singing 'Ghost Riders in the Sky.' That was just temporary until I could get a song in there. On Monday I talked with composers Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin and told them that I needed a song that would both set the mood and also tell the plot before the picture got started. They came up with 'The Ballad of High Noon.'"
Now, if you listen to that song even today, you don't have to see the movie to know what it's all about. The whole plot is in the song. Elmo said that he knew just the right voice to sing it - that of the old cowboy star Tex Ritter, who wasn't doing too well at that time. Tex jumped at the chance to sing the song.
George Glass, who was a member of the Kramer company at the time, says that it was Kramer who inserted the close-ups of Cooper and his ulcer and the town clock. "Stanley took over the final editing," says George, "giving the movie the sense of urgency that made it, especially the inserts of the town clock."
And Carl Foreman, the writer, says that Coop's not accepting credit for his acting was due to "Coop's characteristic modesty." It's true that Coop would downgrade even an Oscar, but I saw him right after he won it and this was his aside to me: "First time in the history of the Academy an ulcer ever won an Oscar."
As for the editing, I believe Elmo's version. After all, he won the Oscar that year. And the other editors who do the voting know who did the work. I am sure that Kramer oversaw Elmo's work and heartily approved. Who wouldn't approve a cutter who had turned disaster into triumph?
Whatever happened, it is still one hell of a picture. And now you know why studios have sneak previews. Only the audience can make a hit.

[You'll notice that Bacon doesn't mention the fact that Carl Foreman was also the producer of this picture and left early to move to England because of the House Committee Un-American Activities "Hollywood Red Scare". Foreman's producer credit was taken off the picture.]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lee Van Cleef on Gene Autry's "Cowboy Code"

From: The Story of Hollywood "The Western"
A BBC TV Production In Association with Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc.

Lee Van Cleef: Never kick dogs.
I'll never hurt a child.
I'll never slap a woman.
The three things I won't do on film.
Now you saw me do it in one film, but I didn't do it. I refused to do it. So, the director pulled a stuntman in and had him do it.