Tag Archives: Ron Miller

In Memory of one of the Great “Screen Heavies”

buono2Victor Buono (February 3, 1938 – January 1, 1982), one of the most popular screen “heavies” of the 1960s and 1970s, may have been the heaviest of the “heavies” of his era, weighing in at 280-300 pounds. But Buono was chock full of acting talent and came to Hollywood with a rich background in Shakespearean roles on the stage at the Globe Theater in his native San Diego, California. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for 1962’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for his performance as the weird musical accompanist to Bette Davis’ Baby Jane character. He was also famous for playing the villain King Tut on the television series Batman (1966–1968).

Noted for his ability to mix comedy with villainy, Buono played some of TV’s most notorious bad guys with his tongue in his cheek. Among them, the grand Dr. Schubert of The Man From Atlantis, a Capt. Nemo-style villain who roamed the seas in his super submarine; and colorful Count Manzeppi on The Wild, Wild West.

 

In honor of this talented actor, who passed away 32 years ago today, we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet! Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era.


Setting the Scene

I met Victor Buono when he was appearing in a 1965 stage production of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Comedia Repertory Theater in Palo Alto, California. He was absolutely fabulous in this stage role, literally commanding the stage whenever he set foot upon it. He was such a powerful stage performer that I don’t believe his movie and TV fans ever experienced the real Buono if they hadn’t seen him live on a theater stage.

He was the most charming and self-effacing of men and if he was haunted by the limitations of his great bulk, it certainly didn’t show. He struck me as a very happy soul who was quite content in his own skin and really enjoying the great variety of comic and villainous roles that kept coming his way.

Bawden2_Image085The Interview

MILLER: Like Sydney Greenstreet before you, you seem destined to be typecast as a villainous character on screen. Your reaction?

BUONO: If you weigh more than 280 pounds, you better get out the black hat and forget about getting the girl at the end of the picture. I’ve been shot, stabbed, run over, and been pushed off of, out of, under and over more things than you can imagine. I never get the girl. In fact, I’m not even allowed to have a friend.

MILLER: Given that, what do you consider the ideal role for you?

BUONO: Oh, no doubt, Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. But ever since I played the sinister mama’s boy in Baby Jane, nobody wants to hire me to play Falstaff.

MILLER: Did you ever think about losing weight and slimming yourself into another category?

BUONO: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to lose weight in order to change the direction of my career. But I always give up and shoot back up to 350 pounds or so.

MILLER: I’ve seen you on the TV talk shows and you always seem to have a pretty amused attitude about your weight.

BUONO: What else can I do but joke about it all the time? I mean, people ask me when I eat breakfast and I usually tell them I sit down to breakfast about 8 a.m. and that usually lasts until 2 or 3 p.m.

MILLER: Does being a big guy present any problems for you doing your parts in movies or TV?

BUONO: Well, let me tell you about one incident. I was playing a bad guy on The Untouchables and they had to show me in a close-up, driving a car. Well, I don’t drive, so they had to tie a rope to the car and have a gang of grips tow me across the set. You can imagine how much they loved doing that.

MILLER: What about your visits to wardrobe? Do they have trouble fitting you with clothes?

BUONO: Trouble? My tailors don’t measure me; they survey me.

MILLER: So, you don’t expect to ever slim yourself down?

BUONO: Well, there’s about as much chance of me losing weight as there is of the Pope being named chairman of the Communist Party.

MILLER: Your villains certainly don’t fit the normal dimensions of movie bad guys.

BUONO: No, I’ve developed my own style. I don’t just torture the hero. I torture him while reciting poetry or enjoying an epicurean feast.

Afterword

Buono never married and often gave whimsical answers when asked about it. Some sources say he was openly gay, but others say he liked women. Let’s just say that he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he never “got the girl” on screen and draw our own conclusions about why. Buono died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day in 1982 at his home in Apple Valley, California. He was just 43.

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Happy 100th Birthday to Kirk Douglas!

One of the original leading men, Kirk Douglas came along in the final days of the major studio system, and he was one of the first box office stars to take charge of his own destiny by  becoming involved in the production and marketing of the films in which he appeared.

He was a vital force in such classics as Out of the Past (1947), Champion (1949), Detective Story (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Lust for Life (1956). He formed his own company, Bryna, and made such major films as Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964).

Along the way, he distinguished himself in a number of westerns, including The Big Sky (1952), Man without a Star (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and The War Wagon (1967), while also tackling several action roles in historical period pictures like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), Ulysses (1955), and The Vikings (1958).

conversations_with_classic_film_stars_coverRenowned for his support of liberal causes, Douglas is often credited with helping break down the dreaded Hollywood anti-Communist “blacklist” by hiring blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (who also celebrates a birthday today!) to write the screenplay for Spartacus.
In a conversation with Douglas in conjunction with Draw!, a 1984 HBO TV western, Ronald Miller asked the iconic actor about his work with other leading actors and actresses, antiheroes, and working within the studio system. You can find a full transcript of their conversation in Conversations with Classic Film Stars—a perfect gift for the film buff this holiday season.

In the excerpt below, Miller and Douglas discuss the unique art of filmmaking, and its pitfalls, as well as Douglas’s involvement in the Oscar-winning, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Excerpted from Conversations with Classic Film Stars:

Miller: You’ve worked with every kind of movie director and you don’t have a reputation for getting into disputes with them, but you are known for demanding a collaborative atmosphere on the set. Explain that.

Douglas: I’ve worked with [Joseph] Mankiewicz, [Howard] Hawks, [Elia] Kazan, [William] Wyler, [Billy] Wilder. I’ve been very fortunate. All of them work differently. I’ve even directed a couple of pictures, so I have respect for the work. But no matter what anyone says, it’s a collaborative art form. No matter how much one person is a binding force, it’s still a collaboration.

I think the problem today is that we’ve been contaminated by the European concept of the auteur system. I’ve had movies where I bought the book, developed the script, and cast the whole picture, but then the director walks in and says, “It must be a John Smith film!” I think sometimes we emphasize that too much.

Miller: Though you’ve avoided big hassles with your directors, you’ve had a few disputes with studio managements, haven’t you?

Douglas: Let me give you an example of that: Lonely Are the Brave. You need the proper selling of a picture like that. I thought Universal just threw it away. They didn’t give it a chance. They took it out of circulation. Then there were all those great reviews and people said, “Where’s the picture?” Their ego prevented them from making a different campaign for the picture. The longer I’m in this business, the more amazed I am that a movie can be made, good or bad.

Miller: You’ve taken lots of chances in your career, but I imagine one of your greatest frustrations was not being able to play McMurphy on the big screen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after acquiring the rights to the book from Ken Kesey and playing the part on the stage in New York.

douglas-kirk_03Douglas: It was way ahead of its time. When I took it to Broadway, the critics didn’t know what to make of it. The audience loved it, but it didn’t do very well. I tried for nearly twelve years to make it as a movie. I took it to every studio. But they wouldn’t do it, even with a limited budget. Finally, I went into partnership with my son, Michael, and we were able to find somebody outside of the industry to put up the money and we made a little picture that I never predicted would be a hit. So it did over $200 million! Nobody knows what will really be successful.

Miller: What do you think of Michael as a producer?

Douglas: I told him, “Michael, you’re the kind of producer I’d like to work with because you give everything to the other person even when you’re in the movie.” He did that in Romancing the Stone [1984]. He focused all the attention on the girl [Kathleen Turner]. I haven’t been that generous. I’ve been a producer, but I find a product like Spartacus or The Vikings or Seven Days in May or Paths of Glory and somehow there always seems to be a good part for me.

In Memory of Screen Legend Dorothy McGuire

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Dorothy McGuire, circa 1945. James Bawden collection.

Stage-trained actress Dorothy McGuire, whose credits include A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Old Yeller (1957), and A Summer Place (1959), was one of the most interesting leading ladies of the 1940s and 1950s. She was extremely versatile, always bringing style and grace to every performance. But she didn’t build a large cult following of fans despite a solid legacy of truly memorable screen performances. Perhaps that’s due to her general aversion to publicity and a life lived without a breath of scandal or notoriety.

In honor of this talented stage actress, who passed away 15 years ago today at the age of 85, we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release Conversations with Classic Film Stars.


Setting the Scene

Dorothy McGuire’s disdain for publicity always brings a smile to my face because I remember how severely I was warned about that subject when she agreed to do an interview with me in 1983 in connection with the ABC TV movie Ghost Dancing. The publicist insisted, “Don’t ask her about anything except the new movie. She hates talking about the past. If you try asking her about the ‘good old days,’ she may get up and walk out on you!”

Well, I certainly didn’t want that to happen, yet…how could I ignore those “good old days” that included so many movie classics? So, here’s what I resolved to do: Concentrate hard on getting the bare essentials about Ghost Dancing, then damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead into all the really good stuff. If she bolted on me, then I’d still have enough for a story on the current project, even if she dumped her soup over my head when I asked about her earlier work.

It turned out to be a pretty decent plan. McGuire issued no new rules when she arrived for our luncheon date at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, so I hot-footed it through the Ghost Dancing questions, then waltzed her right down memory lane without giving her a chance to catch her breath.

If she knew she’d been scammed, she didn’t let on. McGuire turned out to be a relaxed and friendly lunch companion, still a handsome woman with genuine class. My guess is she did like to talk about the earlier stuff–as long as the questions were fair ones. She also seemed to appreciate the fact that I actually knew what she’d accomplished before meeting her.

dorothy-mcguire-2

Dorothy McGuire with Gregory Peck in Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1947. Courtesy of 20th Century-Fox.

The Interview

MILLER: From what I’ve read about the beginnings of your acting career, I’d say there was a blessing on you from the start.

McGUIRE: Maybe so. I had such extraordinary breaks–from the moment I entered the theater. I made my stage debut at age 13 at the Omaha Community Playhouse in James Barrie’s A Kiss of Cinderella. My leading man was the young Henry Fonda!

MILLER: I’m guessing the breaks continued when you finally headed for New York and the Broadway stage.

McGUIRE: I arrived on Broadway in 1938 and began as the understudy to Martha Scott for the role of Emily in the original production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  When Martha was signed to star in the movie version, I took over for her.

MILLER: Getting to play the leading female role in a play destined to become an American drama classic was certainly a big career plus for a young actress. So, that made you a pretty hot property in theater?

McGUIRE: It certainly led to my getting the title role in Claudia, the play based on Rose Franken’s novel and stories about a young woman who marries and starts learning about adult life in the 1940s. That was in 1941. The producers had rejected 208 other actresses before picking me.

MILLER: I guess their faith in you was justified when you won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for your performance.

McGUIRE: I think it also justified Leland Hayward’s faith in me. (Hayward, her agent, was the most influential Broadway agent at the time.)

MILLER: With Leland Hayward going to bat for you, you were in good shape for theater work–and you had a pretty good spokesman for your movie career, too, didn’t you?

McGUIRE: If you mean David O. Selznick, you’re right. He signed me to a movie contract after Claudia became a Broadway hit and he was then the most successful producer in Hollywood after Gone With the Wind and Rebecca had won back to back Best Picture Oscars.

MILLER: What did he have in mind for your movie debut?

McGUIRE: He really didn’t have anything for me and, as it turned out, I never made a movie with him!  But he decided to make some money off me by loaning me out to other studios, who did have things they wanted me to do. I think he needed to pay off some of the enormous sums he spent on Gone With the Wind and that was one way to do it.

dorothy-mcguire-3

Dorothy McGuire in her most famous “mom” role, with Tommy Kirk i Disney’s 1957 Old Yeller. Courtesy of the Walt Disney Corp. and NBC.

MILLER: Did you resent that?

McGUIRE: No. That turned out to be perfectly OK. David watched over what scripts were sent to me and things like that. He was a man of great integrity.

MILLER: Where did he send you first?

McGUIRE: Fox and RKO.  They both were making good pictures in those days. Twentieth Century-Fox had the movie rights to Claudia, so they had me reprise my stage role, playing opposite Robert Young as my husband, David.

MILLER: Claudia (1943) turned out to be a big hit for Fox, especially among women who identified with the young wife as she learns how to grow up at the same time she’s learning how to be a wife. It was such a hit that they immediately decided to continue the story in a sequel, Claudia and David. That was a phenomenal start for a young actress with no film experience.

McGUIRE: I took it all for granted, I’m sorry to say. I thought it was just the way it is.

MILLER: While the sequel was being written, Fox put you into another prestige picture, the film version of Betty Smith’s best-seller A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Your reaction?

McGUIURE: I was terrified. I didn‘t think I‘d be convincing in the challenging role of teenage star  Peggy Ann Garner’s pregnant mother.

At that exact moment in my life, I’d never had a child. I wasn’t quite sure about the whole mechanism, about what really happened to you. Being a very serious-type actress, I was very upset by this.

MILLER: Your director was Elia Kazan, who was making his debut as a movie director after years on the stage as an actor and director. Did you get much help from him?

McGUIRE: I went to him and told him I had no such experiences in life and didn’t know where to get the emotions I’d need. He was very patient with me and let me ramble on about my misgivings and anxieties. What he did, in a sense, was lock up all this intensity inside me so it wouldn’t be dissipated. He was marvelous. There are intangible things about actors like that which he just instinctively knew.

MILLER: The film was a big success and put both you and Kazan on the map as the hot new prospects in Hollywood. James Dunn, who played your alcoholic husband, won the supporting actor Oscar and Peggy Ann Garner won a special Oscar as best child actress of 1945. That’s when RKO stepped up with another wonderful role for you.

McGUIRE: They gave me the part of the mute servant girl who’s menaced by a serial killer in The Spiral Staircase.

MILLER: That was a real acting challenge because you had to play virtually the entire film in pantomime. How did that go?

McGUIRE: Robert Siodmak was a brilliant director and he lifted the film out of the ordinary. You know those creepy close-ups where we just see the eye of the strangler, watching me? That was Robert’s eye! He was that vain!

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverAfterword

Our interview finally ended when the waiter brought our lunches. “Turn off your recorder,” she told me. “Now we’re going to eat.”

Which is what we did, all right, just chatting about nothing in particular from then on. With the recorder off, Dorothy McGuire was just a handsome middle-aged lady having lunch with a friend in Beverly Hills. And, unless I put one of her films on the TV for a reminder of how good she was on screen, that’s the way I’ll always remember her, too.

McGuire was married for 35 years to Life magazine photographer John Swope and had two children with him. Her last film role was in a 1990 TV movie (The Last Best Year) and she spent the last decade of her life in retirement. She died of cardiac arrest in 2001, just a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, so there was little news space devoted to her death. She was eighty-five.

Golden Galley Awards: Day Two

Day 2 No Rules

The Golden Galley Awards start back up again today, featuring another photo from Conversations with Classic Film Stars by James Bawden and Ron Miller. Did you identify from where this scene took place? Featuring one of classic Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs, Cary Grant, and the iconic Katharine Hepburn in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story (image courtesy of MGM and TV station KTVU of Oakland, CA). Here’s what Grant had to say about The Philadelphia Story and working with Miss Hepburn in his interview with James Bawden:

“Grant: [Hepburn is a] real character. She’ll try anything. I taught her acrobatics and she even does a turn in Holiday. She was always standing on my shoulders and heaving into a rolling fall. In Bringing Up Baby, we had the sweetest leopard to work with, very adorable, always purring when petted. When they substituted the nasty leopard, Kate got scratched up. So in the scene when she’s dragging the leopard into the police station, they double-printed the leopard in later. Look closely and you’ll see the strands of rope don’t match.

In the final scene, we had one chance at doing it on top of the dinosaur skeleton or somebody could get hurt. I trained Kate myself. She was fearless. There was no mattress on the floor. I had her let me grab her, not by her hands because her arms would pop out of the sockets. I grabbed her by her wrists and we’re up there tossing back and forth as the skeleton crashes. Scariest thing I’d ever done, but Kate said it was wonderful and talked
about deserting acting for acrobatics!

I tried to get out of Philadelphia Story because my part was small. So in the movie version Hepburn doesn’t have a brother. I got all those lines. But it still didn’t flow. On the last day of shooting, Cukor came up with the visual gag that opens the movie: Dexter is moving out and she comes behind him and breaks all his golf clubs over her knee. Then I push her violently backwards, using her face to push her away. Of course, there was a mattress out of camera range, but most big stars would have hollered. On the second take Kate merely said, “Push harder, if you like.”

Of the four stars—Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey all got Oscar nominations and Jimmy won. How do you think that made me feel?”

If you want to see more interviews like this one, be sure to sign up for our Golden Galleys Contest! All submissions are due by midnight tonight. To enter, just click here.

Day One of the Golden Galleys

Golden Galley One.jpg

Today is the first official day of our Golden Galleys Award competition, where you can receive an advanced reading copy of Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era by James Bawden and Ron Miller completely free of charge! During this competition, we will be giving away three copies on three separate days. To participate in the competition, all you have to do is come up with something witty for the featured actors to say and submit it to the email address listed above.

Today’s Golden Galley image shows Rory Calhoun coming onto Marilyn Monroe in 1954’s River of No Return (image courtesy of 20th Century Fox). In Calhoun’s interview with Ron Miller, he discusses the excitement of working with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading actresses of the time:

Miller: Once you were back at Fox, you really started to get career momentum after your romantic role opposite Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart. How was she to work with?

Calhoun: She was marvelous—a real pro. God, what a pleasure to work with that lady!

Miller: And of course the studio put you into two of its big Cinema-Scope pictures with Marilyn Monroe—How to Marry a Millionaire and River of No Return. Your memory of Marilyn?

Calhoun: She was a phenomenon that I doubt like hell this town will ever see the likes of again. There have been a lot of people trying to copy her one way or another—and to me, they’re third stringers.

Miller: In River of No Return, you lost her to Robert Mitchum. Like you, he’s an actor who had his hard times in the tabloids. What do you think of him?

Calhoun: He’s one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet in your whole life. I’m very fond of Bob. He’s a hell of a guy. I guess we could have swapped roles [in that picture], but he was right for that and I was right for what I was doing because I was more greasy, more slick. Well, let’s face it: that’s where it is. I had this shitty look. That’s what they wanted and that’s what I gave ’em. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of effort involved.”

Conversations with Classic Film Stars is set to release this coming April. If you can’t wait that long, be sure to enter into our contest. For more information on the book, click here.