the incomparable Ava with boyfriend Peter Lawford
Ava Gardner’s very physical affair with the bisexual Peter Lawford ended, or so he later said, the evening he bid her goodnight after several hours of spirited bedroom frolicking, only to bump into singer Mel Torme on his way into her apartment for a bit of the same. She and Torme went off for a dirty weekend the following morning. Somehow, Ava’s ex-husband Frank Sinatra learned about it and Lawford was frozen out of the singer’s circle of friends for the rest of his life. Frank was a most jealous individual and carried a torch for Ava long after they had parted company.
Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (1965)
Jane Fonda described, in considerable detail in her autobiography, how she was introduced to bingeing and purging; what we now know as bulimia, while a student at Emma Willard. She did this for decades without the knowledge of even her family. The problem lasted from her sophomore year in boarding school, through two marriages and two children and into her early forties. Incidentally, Emma Willard School stood in for the Baird School in Al Pacino’s excellent film Scent of a Woman (1992).
Like almost every biopic churned out in Hollywood, the makers of The Fighting Sullivans (1944) altered history to accommodate dramatic license. In the movie, all five Sullivan brothers die together when their ship USS Juneau is torpedoed during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. In reality, Frank, Joe (Red) and Matt were killed instantly and Al drowned the next day. George survived the sinking for four or five days, but suffered terribly from thirst and became delirious. He slipped over the side of the life raft one night and was never seen again. This real-life loss of five brothers in the same action inspired the idea behind Saving Private Ryan (1998).
Attenborough & Ben Kingsley with their Oscars for Gandhi (1982)
Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) was one third financed by the Indian Government on the understanding that the man would not be shown in a negative light at any time, even though he had character flaws aplenty. Another source of finance for the movie came from Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim. They sold their rights to Britain’s longest-running stage production, ‘The Mousetrap’. This play has been running continuously for 66 years since opening in London’s West End in 1952, twenty-seven thousand performances ago!
Sean Connery agreed to make The Hill in 1965 in an attempt to escape the James Bond image he had created for himself since Dr No in 1962. His third Bond feature, Goldfinger (1964), was about to premiere, but he missed it because shooting had already started on this movie. Michael Caine begged to be released from his role in The Hill, because he had just been offered the role of a lifetime – the Cockney lead in Alfie (1966). Director Sidney Lumet graciously allowed him to walk away from his commitment and Alfie made him an international star.
James Garner Garner & Bacall in an episode of The Rockford Files
James Garner owned 37.5% of The Rockford Files TV series in the seventies. Universal made $150 million from the highly successful series but he never saw a cent of it. When he sued the company, Universal’s ‘creative accounting’ showed the series had lost $9 million! ‘When I found out there were no profits it turned me off this business’, he said. ‘I was going to chuck everything, the business, the family. Everybody can go to hell.’ In the end his six-year legal battle won him a huge settlement, but it almost destroyed his marriage along the way. His much-rumoured 1979 affair with Lauren Bacall did not help much either.
Susan Hayward portraying Jane Froman Jane weds John Curtis Burn 1948
The 1952 feature, With a Song in My Heart, is unusual for a Hollywood biopic, in that its dramatic moments are mostly uncontrived. Singer Jane Froman did, in fact, suffer serious injury when the plane taking her to Portugal during the Second World War crashed-landed in the Tagus River outside Lisbon. Furthermore, she was rescued from the wreckage by co-pilot John Curtis Burn (played by Rory Calhoun) just as we see in the movie. Later, Burn would become her second husband. Susan Hayward portrayed Jane here although Miss Froman did all the singing. A very young Robert Wagner has a career-boosting spot as a shell-shocked paratrooper in this, his sixth screen appearance.
Basket Case (1982) is about Duane Bradley who arrives in New York City carrying a locked wicker basket, inside which is his (still living) deformed, conjoined twin brother! The twins had been surgically separated at birth and Duane is on a mission to kill the doctors responsible for the separation. Sounds cheerful enough. The picture was shot on 16mm film, utilising a budget of just $35,000. Curiously, the end credits are nearly all fake, made-up names. There were so few people involved in the making of Basket Case that the director decided to invent a crew for the sake of image…or something. I have not seen the picture, nor do I intend to. And that goes for the two sequels as well.
Two Disney versions of ‘The Mad Hatter’ in Alice in Wonderland
When Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, he inserted the following nonsense riddle into the mouth of The Mad Hatter: ‘Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?’ It even gets an airing in the 2010 screen version of his tale. Incredibly, in spite of Carroll repeatedly stating that the riddle has no answer and was never intended to have one, people the world over have been trying to come up with one ever since. An exasperated Carroll once offered a half-hearted answer out of sheer annoyance at being questioned about it time and again, but there truly is no answer to it. There never was.
Melissa Mathison & Harrison Ford
Most of the script for E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was dictated by Steven Spielberg to screenwriter Melissa Mathison during filming breaks on location while he was making Raiders of the Lost Ark. Melissa was there with her boyfriend, Harrison Ford, whom she would later marry (in 1983) and divorce (in 2004). E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial went on to become the most successful movie in history until Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park took the title in 1993. James Cameron’s Titanic wrested the title from him in 1997, only to outdo himself in 2009 with Avatar. Curiously, Columbia had been developing two scripts involving aliens at the same time in the early eighties. Not wishing to make both, the studio head chose to produce Starman (1984) and to let E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial go. Universal swooped on it. Sadly, the lady who coined the line, ‘E.T. phone home’, passed away at the age of 65 in 2015.