David Bruce: Movies Anecdotes

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Fashion designer Edith Head was nominated for 35 Academy Awards and won eight. However, to get her first job in Hollywood fashion—as an assistant—she cheated a little. She was able to draw landscapes well as an artist, but she could not draw the human form well. Therefore, she borrowed a number of sketches from her fellow art students, signed her name to them, and showed them to the man with the job, which she got. She then began studying how to draw the human form well. Of course, she had a few mishaps early in her career. For example, she was supposed to design the costumes for some elephants in the movie The Wanderer. She designed some colorful garlands made of fruits and flowers to decorate the elephants. Unfortunately, the elephants ate their costumes. Therefore, she was forced to use artificial fruits and flowers for their garlands. In 1925, she designed the costumes for the candy ball in Cecil DeMille’s movie The Golden Bed. She used real candy and chocolate in the costumes. Unfortunately, the movie lights melted the candy and chocolate. Fortunately, a couple of other fashion designers rescued the scene, but Ms. Head resolved never to embarrass herself again, if she could help it.

The mother of playwright Frank McGuinness was a movie buff. How much of a movie buff? She risked excommunication from the Catholic Church in order to see Duel in the Sun, starring Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck—a movie that the Bishop of Derry in 1946 had forbidden Catholics to see. His mother lived in Buncrana, but she and a friend went to Derry to see the movie. They planned to leave before the lights came on at the end of the movie, but they enjoyed the movie so much that they stayed until the very end. His mother whispered to her friend, “It’s all right. Nobody will know us.” But when the lights came on, they looked around and saw all of their neighbors, who had also gone to Derry to see the forbidden movie.

In a theater, Charles Bukowski saw Tales of Ordinary Madness, a movie in which Ben Gazzara played him. Mr. Bukowski was drinking, and he kept yelling criticism during the movie. In one scene, Mr. Gazzara kept typing while a beautiful prostitute lay down on his bed. Seeing that, Mr. Bukowski yelled, “If that were me, I would have stopped typing long ago!” Seeing a scene set in a flophouse, Mr. Bukowski yelled, “I’ve never seen a flophouse as empty and clean as that one.” Some of the movie patrons did not care for the running criticism, and one yelled at him to shut up. Mr. Bukowski yelled back, “Hey, I’m the guy they made the movie about. I can say anything I want to. You shut up.”

Jules Feiffer wrote the screenplay for the movie Popeye, which was supposed to star Dustin Hoffman in the title role. Mr. Hoffman decided not to act in the movie, however, thus upsetting Mr. Feiffer, who picked up a script that Mr. Hoffman did like. Mr. Feiffer yelled, “You make me jump through hoops to find out why you won’t do my beautiful screenplay, and instead you’re going to do this?” The script was for the movie Kramer Versus Kramer, for which Mr. Hoffman won a Best Actor Oscar.

Actors, like everyone else, grow old. Michael Caine once read a script, and then he sent it back to the producer along with a note saying that the part was too small. The producer returned the script to Mr. Caine along with a note saying that Mr. Caine had read the wrong part. Mr. Caine had read the part of the Lover, but the producer wanted him to read the part of the Father. Mr. Caine read the note, and he cursed, and then he looked in the mirror and realized that “the only girl I’m ever going to kiss in a movie is my daughter.”

When Billy Wilder was directing The Emperor Waltz in 1948, he wanted a scene in which 250 women curtseyed for longer than a minute—something difficult to do in the heavy period costumes the actresses were wearing. In fact, while shooting the scene, one or more women would lose her balance and wobble or fall over. Mr. Wilder solved the problem by using very small stools fitted under each skirt so that the women could sit on them. Then he was able to film the curtsy in only one take.

When comedian Danny Kaye was discovered by Sam Goldwyn, who saw him in the play Lady in the Dark, Mr. Goldwyn came backstage and said, “You’re a very funny man, but if I sign you, you’re going to have to have your nose fixed. It’s too long.” Mr. Kaye replied, “No.” And his wife said, “He’s doing all right with it the way it is.” Mr. Goldwyn said, “It’s not photogenic,” so Mr. Kaye offered him a deal: “I’ll have mine fixed if you have yours fixed.”

Christopher McDonald played Thelma’s husband—make that repulsive husband—in Thelma and Louise. When the movie first appeared in theaters, he was recognized as he was driving down the street. A woman in the car next to him saw him and said, “Omigod, it’s that guy from Thelma and Louise! Omigod!” The other woman in the car looked over and said, “Shoot him!”

While filming the movie Silver Streak, Richard Pryor held on to Gene Wilder’s belt while Mr. Wilder hung out of a moving train. During rehearsal, the train went 10 miles per hour, but during the actual filming, the train went 50 miles per hour. The stunt was dangerous, and Mr. Pryor made a promise to Mr. Wilder: If Mr. Wilder fell and was killed, Mr. Pryor would jump off the train.

Actor Kirk Douglas is the father of actor Michael Douglas, and the two men look alike. One day, Kirk was watching television, and a movie came on. He looked at the movie and thought he saw himself, but he could not remember making that movie. Then he realized, “Wait a minute, that’s not me—it’s Michael.”

“An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.”—Billy Wilder, director.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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