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 Harpo Marx        

Harpo Marx was offered $50,000 to utter the solitary word, ‘Murder!’ in the 1946 film A Night in Casablanca. He declined the offer, adhering to his policy of remaining mute on-screen and in public. In fact, he never spoke a word in any of the Marx Brothers movies and only spoke publicly once, and that was at a concert a year prior to his death in 1964. Because all the Marx Bros films were shot in black and white, audiences were mostly unaware that the curly wig he wore was actually bright red. On the screen it appeared to be blonde. An avid golfer, he left instructions that his ashes were to be spread in the sand trap at the seventh hole of the Rancho Mirage Golf Course in California where he played on a monthly basis.

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917)

Until censorship was introduced in the early thirties there was a lot of nudity in Hollywood movies, especially in the days before the arrival of sound in 1927. Cecil B. DeMille took advantage of the absence of policing nudity when he directed Cleopatra (1934) with Claudette Colbert in the title role. Paramount head Adolph Zukor wanted him to make a historical epic with plenty of sex in it. He was aware that censorship in the industry was about to become a fact of life. CB managed to lay his hands on Fox’s print of the 1917 silent version of Cleopatra that had starred Theda Bara and screened it for ideas. On 9 July, 1937, a fire swept through the Fox facility at Little Ferry, New Jersey and almost all of the studio’s archived prints were destroyed, including Theda’s Cleopatra. DeMille was probably the last person to see it.

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Lauren Bacall & President Harry Truman

In the train scene in Dead Reckoning (1947), after it is discovered that Sgt Drake (William Prince) is to receive the Medal of Honour, ‘Rip’ Murdoch (Humphrey Bogart) quips that maybe the President will let Drake ‘sit on top of his piano’. He is referring to a then ‘scandalous’ photograph taken at a National Press Club dinner, showing President Harry Truman playing a tune as a beautiful blonde sits perched above him on top of the piano. The blonde is Bogart’s real life wife Lauren Bacall. The snapshot is as tame as dishwater but it caused quite a stir at the time.

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Cloris Leachman & Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein (1974)

Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman, (she won three years earlier for The Last Picture Show), appeared in the Mel Brooks comedy Young Frankenstein (1974) and was singularly unimpressed by the star, Gene Wilder, and his unprofessionalism. ‘He killed every take [with his laughter] and nothing was done about it!’ she complained. Shots would frequently have to be repeated as many as fifteen times each before he could finally summon a straight face and avoid ruining the shot. Cloris rightly resented him making a lot of extra, unnecessary work for all concerned, herself included. By the way, director Brooks considers this picture to be the third funniest he ever made – behind Blazing Saddles (1974) and The Producers (1967). For what it is worth, I concur.

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Hedda Hopper in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Billy Wilder wanted rival gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper to make an appearance at the conclusion of his 1950 feature Sunset Boulevard. Hedda loved the proposition and even came up with an idea for the scene. She and Louella would race each other for the phone at Norma Desmond’s home, Hedda would trip and say sweetly, ‘After you, Louella.’ Unfortunately, Louella petulantly refused to be in the film if Hedda was also going to be in it. In the end only Hedda made it onto celluloid. A totally miffed Louella did not mention the picture in her column for months.

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Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

It is common knowledge that Elizabeth Taylor was paid a million dollars to star in Cleopatra (1963), the first movie star, male or female, to crack the magic million for a single performance. It may be less well known that she insisted a cheque for $9,000 be placed in her hand every morning of the shoot before she would condescend to start work for the day. Furthermore, her husband, the ever unpopular Eddie Fisher, had to be paid his $1,500 each week. His job? To make sure his wife made it to the set on time each day. That was his entire job. Liz was well aware that the picture was sending 20th Century Fox to the wall, but she did not appear to be in the slightest bit concerned about that.

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Elvis Presley in the US Army

Elvis Presley was paid the princely sum of $145 a month while he was in the US Army. Only $12 of that, however, was realised because his pay was subject to 91% surtax. Not that this overly bothered Uncle Sam’s star recruit. During his hitch, the trade in Presley merchandise – shirts, slacks, ties, statues, masks, even dog tags, plus sheet music and records – brought in a healthy $3 million! And a lovely bonus was his meeting 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the step-daughter of a USAAF officer stationed in West Germany during Elvis’s tour of duty there. She would marry ‘the King’ eight years later.

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Kim Novak & Sammy Davis Jr.

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May Britt & husband Sammy Davis Jr.

Kim Novak was contracted to Harry Cohn at Columbia and he had constructed an image of her as a sweet, friendly girl from Chicago. In his bigoted eyes, however, that image took a battering when she began dating black singer/ actor Sammy Davis Jr. Intent on putting an end to their budding romance, Cohn put in a call to an enforcer in Vegas and asked him to take care of the problem for him. The man assured him he would pick up Sammy and put a proposition to him: ‘You’ve only got one eye; want to try for none?’ Sammy was duly driven out into the desert and the question was posed to him. Shortly after that he suddenly married Lorena White, an African-American Vegas show girl he barely knew. After a few weeks later they started divorce proceedings. In November 1960 he wed May Britt. Like Kim she was white but, unlike Kim, she was not one of Cohn’s ingénues. She was contracted to 20th Century Fox.




  1. You’re right, Alan. But Farrow has done some great things as an actor, and her son, Ronan–Sinatra?–just won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Think of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. (By the bye, Dory Previn–who deserves a piece of her own–was also Farrow’s roommate for awhile. She took Farrow in and Farrow repaid her by stealing Previn’s husband when Previn was locked up in the loony bin. Let’s hear it for Karma!)

    • When I was a kid I used to think it would be great to be a movie star, Max, but the more I discover about them the less enchanted I have become. Obviously, there are decent people in the industry, but one gets the impression that they are not as prevalent as they should be. I have become quite disillusioned over the years.

  2. Harpo Marx spoke onstage countless times at the end of personal appearances….everytime he did it, the local paper reported as the “first time ever”. I have researched Marx-related newspaper clippings and have found at least 20 instances, starting in the mid 40s…

      • Dory Previn wrote a Jungian-oriented song about the Marx Brothers, titled “Four”:

        The four Marx Brothers are better than the others,
        Groucho’s funny, Chico is fine;
        We know Zeppo’s only so-so,
        But Harpo, wasn’t he an androgyne?

        I don’t know why I think this song is so sweet and so accurate, but Previn knew everybody in Hollywood before she (at her husband’s nasty insistence) entered a mental hospital for the first of her seventeen mental breakdowns. Dory and Andre Previn wrote the “Theme from Valley of the Dolls” which Dory said was inspired by the colorful variety of pills she was force-fed in the loony bin. Andre Previn took advantage of his wife’s absence to fuck and eventually marry Mia Farrow, an ACTUAL basket case, and also a first-class lying bitch, in my estimation. There’s actual written evidence–by Dory Previn herself–to detail the truth of my accusation. Many of the lies that have been spread about Woody Allen (whatever you think of him as a filmmaker) came directly from the lyrics of Ms. Previn and turned by Mia Farrow into her from-the-clouds-of-nowhere family court narrative. The songs were written at the time when Andre left Dory for Mia. Please see the lyrics of “Beware of Young Girls” and “With My Daddy in the Attic”–written by Previn long before Farrow and Allen had even met–to verify what I’m saying.

        P.S. I also love Mia Farrow as an actor and think she’s one of the most beautiful women to ever grace a movie screen. A Dresden China sociopath.

        • There have been so many accusations, counter-accusations, denials etc between Farrow and Allen. The waters are so muddied it would take a court case to even attempt to arrive at the truth, and that will never happen now. Personally, I think they are both oddballs and incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction half the time. Come to think of it, Max, I don’t know why we even waste our time talking about them.

  3. It seems to me that the late, brilliant Madeline Kahn played a significant role in the success of Mel Brooks’ films. To this day, long after Kahn’s early passing from ovarian cancer, I can’t get her out of my head. When I’m down and need to laugh, I turn on one of her movies and my spirit is restored. I’ll bet Lucille Ball feared–rightly– that Kahn would steal “Mame” as Gooch, and so had her axed. Like Gilda Radner (who also, like too many women, died young of ovarian cancer), Madeline Kahn could make people laugh simply by opening her mouth. Gosh, I miss them both.

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