David Bruce: Movies Anecdotes

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A knowledge of James Bond movies can be helpful when watching the British tongue-in-cheek spy series The Avengers. When Honor Blackman, who played Mrs. Cathy Gale in the series, left, she starred in the James Bond thriller Goldfinger, which had a plot about stealing all the gold from Fort Knox. In the Avengers episode “Too Many Christmas Trees,” Emma Peel, who took over for Ms. Blackman’s Avengers character, reads a card out loud, “Best wishes for the future. Cathy.” Steed replies, “Mrs. Gale! How nice of her to remember me! What can she be doing in Fort Knox?” When Diana Rigg left the series, her character, Mrs. Emma Peel, told her replacement, Tara King, played by Linda Thorson, “He likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise,” a reference to Bond’s liking his martinis shaken, not stirred.

When Maury Maverick, Jr. served in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1950s, a powerful movie lobbyist named D.F. Strickland gave him a movie pass that would allow him to watch movies free in any Interstate Theater in Texas. However, Mr. Maverick felt that politicians ought not to accept such freebies, so he returned the free movie pass. Mr. Strickland wrote him a note: “Dear Mr. Maverick: I have been a lobbyist in Austin for over three decades. In all that time only one other legislator returned his movie pass, and he was a Baptist preacher who later went insane.” Mr. Maverick wrote back: “Dear Mr. Strickland: Please send me back my movie pass.”

Believe it or not, producer Val Lewton’s film I Walked with a Zombie was based in part on Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre — in the novel, Jane works for a man whose wife suffers from incurable insanity. Mr. Lewton’s film studio, RKO, gave him a small budget and were worried that his films were too arty, relying more on atmosphere than on blood to frighten people. One of his bosses complained about I Walked with a Zombie that “sock-it-to-them was being sacrificed for arty stuff.”

When writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur ran a movie studio that produced their own scripts in the 1930s, they hired a stage actor named Claude Rains to appear before a movie camera for the first time in their movie Crime Without Passion. Because he had a problem with his feet swelling under the hot movie lights, Mr. Rains performed many of his love scenes while standing barefoot in a pan of cool water — the movie camera, of course, was kept focused above his waist.

Bob Denver appeared in the movie Back to the Beach, starring Frank Avalon and Annette Funicello. In it, he played a bartender who looked very much like Gilligan (Mr. Denver played Gilligan on the TV series Gilligan’s Island). In the movie, his character said that he once knew a guy who could build a nuclear reactor out of coconuts and pineapples, but the guy didn’t know how to build a boat.

Actor James Cagney was a class act, even when not acting. When he received his 1942 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy, he made a short, classy speech: “I’ve always maintained that in this business you are only as good as the other fellow thinks you are. It’s nice to know that you people thought I did a good job. And don’t forget that it was a good part, too. Thank you very much.”

While Bob Hope was filming The Road to Hong Kong, he met Zsa Zsa Gabor, who told him, “Bob, darlink, I understand that there is the most vonderful part in your picture for me.” Mr. Hope replied, “There sure is, honey. We’ll have it written tomorrow.” Then Mr. Hope told his writers to create a part for Ms. Gabor.

Phyllis Diller’s first movie starred Bob Hope: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number? On the set, Mr. Hope noticed Ms. Diller looking around. After asking, he found out that she was looking for the cue cards. “Phyllis, we don’t use cue cards in movies,” Mr. Hope explained. “That’s only in television.” Ms. Diller was surprised: “Oh? Then I’d better learn my lines.”

Early in his career, actor David Niven received a bad review for his performance in the movie Dodsworth. He had the review framed and hung it in his bathroom: “In this picture we are privileged to see Mr. Samuel Goldwyn’s latest ‘discovery.’ All we can say about this actor is that he is tall, dark and not the slightest bit handsome.”

Screenwriter Charles MacArthur had an interesting way of convincing movie producers not to change his scripts. He used to climb out the window of the producer’s office, then hang to the window sill with one hand and threaten to let go until the producer agreed not to change his script.

When Charlie Chaplin was directing and starring in Modern Times, he was on location with a mass of camera equipment and crew members. He looked around, then sadly said, “We used to go into the park with a stepladder, a bucket of whitewash, and Mabel Normand, and make up a picture.”

Violinist Mischa Elman was once present at a dinner given by Harpo Marx during which a movie producer listened to some criticisms of his recent movies, then complained of the difficulties of producing. Mr. Elman asked, “If it’s so hard to make bad pictures, why don’t you make good ones?”

When she was growing up, ballerina Darci Kistler was asked to appear in a scene in the movie The Turning Point, which starred Mikhail Baryshnikov. Unfortunately, as she and her family discovered when they went to see the movie, Darci’s scene was cut.

Peter Ustinov once said about Biblical films, “Virtue wins by a Technicolor knockout in the last reel, but up to that moment, the Devil has been leading handsomely on points.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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