David Bruce: Movies Anecdotes


Darryl F. Zanuck accepting the Academy Award for Best Picture for Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).

When move producer Darryl F. Zanuck purchased the film rights of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, some people felt that he was buying the rights to prevent a movie ever being made of the book, which criticized banks and big farm interests. However, Mr. Zanuck did make a movie based on the book — the movie, starring Henry Fonda, is a classic. Because so many powerful people opposed the making of a movie based on The Grapes of Wrath, the making of the movie was kept secret. Whenever anyone asked which movie they were filming, they gave the title of another movie. In addition, Mr. Zanuck hired extra stagehands — that is, bodyguards — for the making of this particular film.

Making Jungle Fever, about the romance between a black man and an Italian-American woman, was difficult. Filmmaker Spike Lee directed some scenes of the movie in the largely Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. The inspiration for the movie was the murder of Yusef Hawkins by a white mob in Bensonhurst in 1989. While making the movie, Mr. Lee received three bomb threats, and he, actor Wesley Snipes, and his cameraman had rocks thrown at them. One of the rocks actually hit the cameraman, Ernest Dickerson. For a while, the people making the movie had to be guarded by police officers.

Sometimes life is like a cartoon. When he was a youngster, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz stood in line at a movie theater which had advertised that the first 500 children buying a ticket would get a free Butterfingers candy bar. When he arrived at the ticket booth, he was informed that the theater had run out of candy bars. Mr. Schultz figures that he must have been the 501st child in line.

French comic filmmaker Jacques Tati carefully observed people and things, as they gave him ideas with which to work. Before creating his movie Traffic, he went to a highway and observed. One of the things he noticed was that many people driving away on holiday do not look happy. He also noticed a car that contained a dog that stared at a field that the dog could have played in. (I highly recommend his M. Hulot’s Holiday, which doesn’t need dialogue.)

Whoopi Goldberg’s first movie appearance was in The Color Purple, directed by Stephen Spielberg. Ms. Goldberg wanted to play the part of Sofia, but Mr. Spielberg offered her the bigger part of Celie. At first, Ms. Goldberg hesitated to accept the part, then she remembered that this was the great director Stephen Spielberg offering her an important part, and she told herself, “Wake up, stupid. Say yes.”

Because of her job, Beth Joiner, a children’s dance teacher in Georgia, is very aware of the romantic lives of her young pupils. For example, whenever there is a movie Friday afternoon at school, her students tell her with whom they will be going. Once, a long succession of students told her about the boys they were going with, and the last student said, “I’m going with Edwin. I don’t really like him, but he’s the only one left.”

Before becoming famous as the host of Late Night on NBC and the Late Show on CBS, David Letterman appeared on television in his native Indiana. Among other duties, Mr. Letterman hosted late-night movies in a program he named Freeze-Dried Movies. During what was really his second week of hosting the show, Mr. Letterman celebrated what he called his “tenth anniversary” as host.

During World War II, British soldiers watched bad movies when that was the best entertainment available and often the only entertainment featuring female flesh. During one movie, the bad guy shot the good guy in the arm, and the well-endowed heroine tore off a strip of cloth from her blouse to use as a bandage. One British soldier yelled at the movie’s bad guy, “Go on, shoot ’im in the other arm!”

Charles Chaplin and Edna Purviance made many silent films together, but after he directed her in the 1923 drama A Woman of Paris, she stopped starring in his films. Nevertheless, although she seldom appeared in his films, he kept her under contract as a way to help her financially. She did appear in small roles in his movies Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952).

Hollywood cameraman James Wong Howe had the greatest amount of fun in his career during the days of silent movies. He remembers driving around with a crew looking for a house to shoot in front of. If no one was home, they began to shoot the film. If the home owner returned before they had finished, everyone would hop over the fence and take off running.

Movie crews sometimes have interesting assignments. When Fred Astaire’s Top Hat was ready to film, Benito Mussolini controlled Italy, and the movie’s producers knew that they could not get permission to film in Venice; therefore, they ordered the movie crew, “Build us Venice.” They got what they wanted.

When Carol Burnett was growing up, she worked part-time at a movie theater that broadcast the sound of the movie into the area she staffed. She never saw the movie Ivanhoe, but she did hear it more than a hundred times. Decades afterward, she could still repeat verbatim long passages from the movie.

“You see those charts that say if you put away $500 a year starting at age 20, by the time you’re 50 you’d have a gazillion dollars. It just makes you ill that you didn’t do it. You almost want to grab young people and shake ’em and say, ‘Please don’t make the same mistake I did. Please.’” — James Carville.

For much of his career, Steven Spielberg was known as a director of action movies for children, not as a director of serious movies. When he applied for permission to film part of Schindler’s List at Auschwitz, he was denied permission to do so.

Actor Walter Slezak learned from Hollywood director Leo McCarey just how quickly bad works of art are forgotten. Mr. McCarey once told him, “Nobody points at John Ford and says, ‘He made a picture, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.’”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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