Legendary opera singer and actor Mario Lanza called himself ‘the Tiger’ and considered himself to be a stallion of a lover, with a body as strong as any animal’s. ‘I can’t help it if I was born in heat’, he liked to declare. ‘I am always the lover. I never stopped.’ His appetite for food, wine and women was truly enormous. And a danger to his health. Mario’s kidneys, for instance, had the onerous task of dealing with around 30 cups of coffee every day. He would consume a steak and six eggs at breakfast, 30 to 40 pieces of fried chicken at a sitting, whole apple pies washed down with a quart of eggnog, and an entire case of beer each night. Between movies his weight would sometimes balloon to 300 lbs or more. Producers would put him in drug-induced comas to force him to shed weight quickly in a hospital bed. Toward the end of his short life (he died at 38) he added drugs to his excesses. The man was a coronary waiting to happen.
Paul Scofield in A Man For All Seasons (1966)
When Paul Scofield won his Best Actor Oscar for A Man for all Seasons (1966), his co-star Wendy Hiller accepted the award on his behalf. Paul was at home in England. His wife was asked where he was when he heard the news of his win. ‘On the roof of our barn, mending it’, she recalled. And his response? He simply said, ‘Isn’t that nice dear?’ A far cry from the gushing, tears and false modesty we have grown accustomed to from today’s winners.
During the Battle of Midway, all the crews of Torpedo Squadron 8 were shot down. All were killed with the singular exception of Ensign George Gay who was later rescued from the water. The 1944 film Wing and a Prayer was intended to be a factual account of the lives of these men (especially Ensign Gay), but a certain high government official belatedly refused permission to shoot that story. It was his opinion that, ‘the proposed picture would carry a defeatist implication.’ Considering that the Battle of Midway was an unmitigated victory it was an odd decision. Nevertheless, the script was then rewritten as a fictional piece.
Cary Grant & Loretta Young in The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
During the shooting of The Bishop’s Wife (1947), director Henry Koster encountered what threatened to be an insurmountable problem with two of his stars, Loretta Young and Cary Grant. When it came time to film them conversing face to face, both actors claimed that their left profile was their ‘best side’, each refusing to be photographed from their right side. Koster ultimately solved the issue by placing the camera outside a window and shooting them as they both looked out in the same direction. Producer Samuel Goldwyn took a very dim view of this and angrily confronted Loretta and Cary the next day. ‘Look’, he told them, ‘If I’m only getting half a face, you’re only getting half a salary!’ Then he stormed off the set. The subject of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides never came up again.
Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland in Babes in Arms (1939)
1939 was an awesome year for Hollywood movies, probably the best one (quality-wise) in history. And that makes the nomination of 19 year-old Mickey Rooney for Best Actor a curious one. He and Judy Garland made the forgettable Babes in Arms that year, a picture that actually grossed more than The Wizard of Oz did for MGM in that production year. Maybe it was felt that somebody must have been responsible for the film’s success so Mickey was given the nomination. Mind you, there were actually ten nominees for Best Actor that year. The movie itself was not acknowledged at all in the Best Picture category, and neither should it have been. Robert Donat won the Best Actor for Goodbye, Mister Chips and Gone with the Wind was named Best Picture.
Lili Damita & husband Errol Flynn 1942
French actress Lili Damita met Errol Flynn on board the liner that took him to Hollywood for the first time, and they hit it off (sexually anyway) immediately. According to his autobiography Lili was already far ahead of him when it came to ‘erotic love-making’. ‘We were poles apart, except in bed’, he wrote. ‘Mentally, woefully inadequate. Sexually, fabulous, wonderfully exciting, beautiful. She could cook beautifully, various French dishes, and she delighted me with that art as well.’ But there the attraction ended. So, what did he do about it? He married her. In fairness to Errol, she threatened suicide if he didn’t. Already aware of her overpowering possessiveness and her violent temper he took the plunge anyway, a decision that would cost him a fortune over the remainder of his relatively short life. ‘She was bored stiff by any thoughts that didn’t bear directly on her day-to-day life’, he complained. ‘When Lili raged she had to throw things.’ In the end they paid a Yuma preacher $2 to marry them. ‘She parlayed that eventually into over a million dollars’, lamented Flynn.
Charlton Heston & Sir Laurence Olivier – Khartoum (1966)
Little wonder that the 1966 film Khartoum faired dismally at the box-office. It is pretty much a total bore from beginning to end. Sir Laurence Olivier is woefully miscast as the Mahdi, although his $250,000 for eight days work was, no doubt, a mighty persuasive incentive. For some reason he chose to deliver his opening harangue to his followers in a high-pitched sing-song voice which made him sound somewhat odd. For the remainder of the film he noticeably lowered his register and was decidedly more effective. But still dull. The real Major-General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon stood just 5’5” tall, yet was played in his usual stony fashion by 6’3” Charlton Heston. It was later said by the studio that ‘not a single horse was harmed in the making of this movie.’ That was a blatant lie. Over 100 were severely hurt in the battle sequences and many of these had to be destroyed afterwards.
Certain liberties were taken with the truth in the 2016 feature Hidden Figures, not an unusual occurrence in films based on factual events. The bathroom problem encountered by Katherine Johnson actually happened to Mary Jackson (the engineer) and not to Katherine at all. In fact, Katherine was unaware the East Side bathrooms were, in fact, segregated. She always used the unlabelled ‘whites only’ bathrooms for years anyway. Astronaut John Glenn did indeed request that Katherine review all the numbers for the Friendship 7 mission, but he did so weeks before it took place, not on the day of the launch at Cape Canaveral as depicted in this movie.