Nathan Juran Chapter 1


NJ: My name is Naftuli Juran. Naftuli is Nathan, and Juran is Juran. [INT: That was in Austria.] That was in Austria. [INT: Right. And you were born when?] 1907. I can't give you the right date because I didn't know. [INT: You didn't know. How do you celebrate your birthday?] September 1. [INT: How'd you choose September 1?] I chose it. [INT: That's okay.]


INT: So your parents immigrated, so you got here as a child.

NG: Yeah, my father came first. That was kind of customary in the old European days. And he built a shack in the woods in Minneapolis. He was a shoemaker. We came three years after he came, and this little… should have been a one-room shack, but it had little partitions sneaking in on the side that divided into three rooms: kitchen, bedroom and front room. The front room was forbidden for anyone to be in there. My father was a real martinet. [INT: He was an Austrian.] Yeah. [INT: Strict.] Very. And we couldn't bring home other students in the school, couldn't bring them home to our house to play with them or anything. We had a crummy old piano in the house that nobody was allowed to touch, nobody. [INT: No one played?] No one played it, and they weren't allowed. And the furniture was miserable kind of rosewood, looks like rosewood. And one time my brother and I were playing around, and one of us staggered into that room and grabbed a chair arm, and of course it came right off, busted in two, and we were really… anticipated a real waling when my father came home. I can't remember if we got it. [INT: Well, you remember worrying about it, but you don't remember if you got it or not.] Oh, yeah. Yeah. [INT: That teaches you something.] Well, it teaches you something, and there was one of many as far as walings go. [INT: How long did you live in that house?] 'Til I was going to high school. It was quite a while. [INT: And then you went to college.] I wanted to be an engineer like my brother, who was an engineer and a good one.


NJ: It's a complex life I led, you know. I lived on a screen porch, washed up at the spigot on the side of the house, and it'll come out. But this party that I went to, I don't know if you remember the old songs, “Marquita”. Do you remember that song? [INT: I don't. But that's okay.] That's the whole past. Anyway, we were singing around the piano, and I saw that my clock was past. So I called up--[INT: Your father had told you to be home?] 10, yeah. [INT: At 10.] Yeah. And that didn't mean five after 10. That just meant 10:00. So I call up the shoe shop where my brother and I were living, in the back of the shoe shop and said, "Gee, tell Pa I'm so sorry but I didn't realize the time would go by so fast. But I'm coming right home." Well, he talked to my father and he came back and he says, "Pa says don't bother. Come tomorrow and get your stuff." [INT: And you were five minutes call, you were five, called five minutes late?] Yeah. Like that, yeah. [INT: Gees.] Oh, he was a martinet. He really was. [INT: That's polite.] Yeah. [INT: So you went and you got your stuff, and where… and so where did you live?] Well, I lived on that… on the girl who invited me to the party. They were all a little concerned because I didn't have a place to go to after 10:00. [INT: Sure.] And she said, "Well, come and stay on our porch." So I did, and that was pretty good. And she was a good-looking little girl, and… but I lost out on that too because the boy who made time with the girl eventually married her, smoked, did all those things that I'd never dream about, you know. [INT: So did you… how long were you out of the house living on your own?] The rest of my days. [INT: Oh, so you never went back?] Never went back. [INT: Did you ever have a reconciliation with your father?] One time I was working, shining apples on a street stand for a Greek fruit stand when he happened by, and our eyes met, otherwise he probably would have kept going. And he said, "How are you?" And I said, "I'm fine." And he said, "How are you… you got enough for everything?" And I hauled out my little pass book in those days and showed him my bank balance, which was not great, but it was there. And he walked away. I never saw him again. [INT: And how old were you when your mother passed away?] I can't remember. [INT: You were young.] Very, yeah. [INT: Very young. And your dad raised you and your brother and then threw you out after a while.] Threw me out, yeah. [INT: It was very Dickens.] Well, we were three boys in the family, and the third brother left on his own accord, and he did real well, awfully good man. He died young too.


INT: Alright. Well, now tell me, you went to MIT. [NJ: Yeah.] And was that before you were in the Army or after? Way before. [INT: Way before.] [OFF CAMERA - Catherine Juran: When… he worked…] [INT: Okay. Come on. What?] [CJ]: He worked his way through the University of Minnesota. And then he with one…]

JN: Oh, I got to tell you… one minute, Catherine. [CJ: Okay.] You're good. You just stick close. [INT: Go on.] When I went to register to be an engineer, to study, right, and I got to the end of the matriculation line, and the lady said, "You're in the wrong line. You're in the architecture line." So I said, "Well, I'd better go back and start over in the engineering line to register." And she said, "Well, it wouldn't make any difference. The first year's the same in both. So you just stay in this line, and next year register as an architect." [INT: So that's how you got into architecture.] That's how I got into architecture. [INT: Well, that was, that was a lucky break.] Yes, it was, or maybe it was. I don't know. [INT: Well, because I'm going to… I'm going to go very fast because we want to get into the film business for the DGA.] All right. [INT: But tell me about… so you went to the University of Minnesota.] [CJ: I've got to tell you about this, John.] [INT: Okay.] [OFF CAMERA: You got to tell you about this--] [INT: You're the captain. Go.] Make it, make it quick. [OFF CAMERA: He lived on next to nothing, put himself through, went to L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, where he met Jacques Carlu…] That's right. [CJ: Who said, "You should come to MIT." And he says, "I have no money." Jacques Carlu arranged for a full scholarship to MIT, 100 percent.] [INT: And you'll forgive us. Who is Jacques Carlu?] Jacques Carlu is a wonderful guy who must be long time dead now. But he was the chief architectural critic for MIT, and--go ahead, doll. [INT: You met him in Paris, or in Fontainebleau?] He… every year Jacques Carlu and Mr. Labatut [Jean Labatut] and another guy at Harvard went to Paris to teach in the summer school at Fontainebleau. And every fall, they picked up their luggage and went back to their respective schools. And coming… when they were, everybody was leaving at the end of the summer school, Carlu said, "Mr. Juran, why you don't come to MIT and study with me?" And I said, "No thank you, Mr. Carlu, but I have to work." So I went to work in New York when I landed, and… and I got a letter. This is two years later. I got a letter from Carlu, says, "I have arranged a scholarship for you." [INT: Wow.] That's pretty terrific. [CJ: Then he had no money, so he made friends with the friendly janitor, he studied late in the library, left the window. At night he slept in the girls' restroom.] Toilets. [CJ: And they've got two cream cheese and bread--] [INT: How many years was that?] Four years. [INT: Four years in the girls' toilet. Sounds like it's a good time.] [CJ: And the janitor would come and wake him up in the morning. And--] And his name was Ollie Olsen. [INT: Really? Ollie Olsen? How wonderful.] Yeah.


INT: What was your first job as an architect?

NJ: I'll tell you, as an architect, when I was getting into my senior year and so on, I was drawing plans for a lumber company that would give you free plans for anything you wanted to build if you bought your lumber from them. [INT: Ah-ha.] And I… one of the jobs that I undertook under that arrangement was for a church in Wisconsin, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. [INT: So you actually designed the church?] I designed the church of… it wasn't a big… it was a little country church. And… [INT: That's a pretty good deal just if you’re buying their lumber.] Yeah, it is for the church. But I never got my money, and I finally borrowed a car and I went to Turtle Lake, Wisconsin to talk to the preacher who owed me the money, and he was very nice, and he… the collection plates were coming into his office, and I said, "Aren't you going to give me what you owe me?" And he said, "Well, let's wait and see how the day goes on the collections." "And the Holy Ghost stays through our heart," he kept saying, "The Holy Ghost is the truth." And by the end of the--he was a circuit rider, going around to more churches. By the end of the day he had a pretty good little leather sack of cash, but he never did pay me. Still owes it to me. [INT: Still owes it to you?] Yeah. [INT: That's, was that the last time you trusted a preacher?] Yeah. Yeah.


INT: How did you get to the film business and what was your first job or first connection when you first…

NG: I can tell you. It's… I'll try to keep it short, but it's hard to. [INT: Okay.] You see, I was an architect in New York. First, I had finished MIT, gotten my diploma, got a license to practice as an architect in New York and was practicing. Not many jobs to be had, but what little things you could get you did as well as you could, and everything went along on the bare bones. And I got a commission to do an alteration to a 10-story building on 45th Street, West 45th Street. And the guy, Godfrey Weinstein was his name. He said, "Look, Jerry…" or whatever he called me, "I can't pay you any money for this job, but it's a good job, and I can give you one…" there were three penthouses on this building, big building. "I can give you one of the penthouses for five years if you'd like to take it." [INT: Wow.] And I thought, "Wow," too. So I took it. Well, by the end of you know six or eight months or whatever, it was getting colder and colder, and the job was not progressing too greatly for time-wise. And the elevator cabs had not been installed yet, the new elevator cabs, and the steam heat had not yet been functioning and it was colder than ever. And I'm thinking, "How can I get out of this?" And I had, by that time, been married and had a little boy, and I'm worried about him in the cold, and so I… while I was in this, throes of this, a former client called me up and said, "How would you like to have those $400 I owe you?" And I said, "Oh man, I would love it." So he said, "Well, you come right down here to my office." [INT: A lot of people owed you money.] Well, this one was a pretty nice guy because he was about to go bankrupt, and he wanted to be sure that I got my money before somebody else got it. [INT: Oh, that's good.] So I went down to his office, gave me the check, and he said, "Now go straight to the bank with this and don't fool around." I did. The check was good. And I took the $400 and bought a railroad ticket to Los Angeles, being the warmest place I could think of. [INT: Really? That's why you came to California?] Yeah, that's how I came to California. [INT: And you brought your family?] Yeah.


INT: Okay. So you arrived in LA.

NG: And… oh, God, this is so complex. You see, my mother-in-law and I didn't make it. We never got along. So… and she… the mother-in-law lived here in Los Angeles, another thread pulling us here. [INT: Wow.] And the result of this trying to live in the same town with her was that there was a bad scene and a divorce. So I'm in Los Angeles, and I got nothing but time on my hands, and I thought, "Oh, I've got to get some income from somewhere." So I went around to the movie studios, which were about the only people running in those days. And… [INT: What year was this?] This was… I can tell you that exactly. It was… well, the picture being made that they hired me for was QUALITY STREET with that cameraman who did GIANT next. He was the Director. [INT: George Stevens?] George Stevens. [INT: George Stevens.] So they gave me a job in the drafting room, but--[INT: Now, so you went around to the studios saying… as an architect.] As an architect from New York, which turned out to the main reason I got a job, and they kept saying, "Well, fine. If we find a place we will… we'll call you. Don't call us. We'll call you." I didn't even have a phone. So one day, I'm home, and a big Cadillac pulls up, and it's a guy that says, "They want you at RKO. [INT: Wow.] Just like that, out of the blue. [INT: Just like that. So it's a real Hollywood story.] Yeah. [INT: And so they hired you as a draftsman?] Yeah, because they were doing a picture had something to do with New York, and they figured, "Here's a guy that… an architect who lives in New York. He'd be good for us. You're the right flavor." So I got hired on that job. Then they were just hiring an Art Director for that job. And they hired a guy by the name of Hobe Erwin, who had never been in the movies before and was a New York decorator, sort of. And he did some beautiful drawings for the sets. [INT: Right.] And the sets were beautiful. And I think George Stevens was directing this, whatever picture that was, maybe something about Brooklyn, A TREE GROWS BROOKLYN [A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN] or something. It wasn't that, but something like that. And he and I did all the artwork on these sets. I mean I wasn't a dummy either by that time. So it came time to show the set to the Director. George Stevens walks on the set, and he goes like this, "This will be the first shot in the morning. Lose that wall, that wall and that wall, see.” Well, I never knew about wild walls. [INT: Nobody told you about wild…] Nobody told me. [INT: So you built it solid.] That's right. And the wallpaper was pasted right around the corners, everything. [INT: Oh. But nobody at the studio said anything?] I think it was on purpose. They didn't want this New York guy brought in over their head, I think. [INT: Wow.] So they got all these guys in there and cutting with razor blades and claw hammers and stuff, took the whole set apart, put it back together again, and by the next morning they were done. So… but that was how I got in the picture business for starters. [INT: And did you stay at RKO for a while?] No, I got fired because you know this cock-up on the wild walls wasn't too palatable, and I got a job right away at MGM [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer] as a draftsman.


INT: You were at Metro [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer].

NG: At Metro working--[INT: And this Art Director…]--on ROMEO AND JULIET. [INT: Right.] Yeah. And this Art Director was a guy by the name of Joe Wright [Joseph C. Wright]. He had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, but no relationship. [INT: Right.] And he made me his assistant. I was a hard worker and a good worker. He made me his assistant. And then one day he said, "Jerry, how would you like to move over to Fox [20th Century Fox] with me where Richard Day is the head Art Director and he's a good friend of mine, and he's invited you to come along too, and we'll go over there together," which suited me fine. So I left Fox and got… I mean MGM and went to Fox and--[INT: Now, all this time you have no thought of directing?] No, no.


INT: How did you become an Art Director on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY?

NJ: That's what I'm going to tell you. [INT: Okay.] There was a head of the art department who handled all of the employees. And he was a nice guy, and Richard Day decided, "Gee, this is a prestigious picture. I may do the sets on this myself." So he started working on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. Then right after that… oh, and he was going to have George, the chief of the drafting room, be his assistant. And George had a two-week vacation coming, and he elected to take his vacation right at the time when things had to be started in a big way on this HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. So Richard Day said, "Look Jerry, you back for George until he comes back." And now I'm assisting Richard Day for a couple of weeks. It's just getting started, but, boy, it's starting to get… pile up and be complex because Fox [20th Century Fox] had bought the property for… specifically for that set. And there were surveys to make 'cause the hill countries… [INT: Because it's the Malibu ranch.] Yeah. And a lot of work to do, and Richard Day was getting other pictures and other Art Directors. The studio was moving along, and they decided… Oh, and before George got back, I had a lot of preliminary work done, pretty good sketches too of the mine and--[INT: Because you were building the exterior of the mine and a whole Welsh village.] The whole Welsh village-- [INT: Right. Big deal.] Including a church and shopping area and everything. [INT: Right.] So Richard Day… when George came back from his two weeks, Richard Day put him back in the drafting room from where he had been plucked and said to me, "Jerry, I want you to be the Art Director on this picture." [INT: Wow.] Yeah, it was over… he was having too much to do. [INT: Was George angry?] No, never said anything. [INT: Okay.] I left him a good friend, and I went to work with a vengeance on that show.


INT: Tell me about your collaboration with John Ford.

NJ: John Ford had a Naval unit of photographers. He had Artie Miller [Arthur C. Miller] and lots of good photographers. And they were part of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services], which was in being either before or after or in both cases the Japanese war [Pacific theatre in World War II]. And he wanted to train these photographers, so he got a Naval man assigned to him for Navy protocol and everything, and he got me to build a set of a battleship on one of the stages in my spare time. [INT: This was during production of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY?] Well, they kind of… [INT: Overlapped.] Overlapped. [INT: Oh.] Because…a Naval commander had an office in 20th Century Fox, a recruiting office. And John Ford had a battleship, and he's training these cameramen and everything, all of them except… and I'm right in the middle of all of this for the battleship, and I went over and said… told commander that I wanted to enlist. So I went over to Westwood, got a uniform and I was in the Navy. [INT: About… now, was the picture finished before you went into the Navy?] Oh no. No, it was in its early stages. [INT: So you're in the Navy now.] [SINGS] You're in the Navy now. [INT: But now, but were you still the Art Director on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY?] Yeah, I finished as an Art Director on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. [INT: Then you went into the service. And you were in the OSS.] I was in the OSS, in the Field Photographic Unit, and we had some real characters in there. The man who was teaching us protocol was a real character. One time… Now we go a little farther and skip a bit. [INT: Okay.] And we're in London. He and I and this girl who was a stenographer in the OSS office in London, three of us. And he's writing a letter to his wife, Gratzky is, and he's got this little stub of a pencil, and he's writing, and he… what's the lead. And he says to the girl, her name was Miss Thompson. "Say Tommy, how do you spell yacht? You know one of them things you sail in?" She says… she looked at me and winked, and she said, "Y-O-T." He goes, "That's right, Y-O-T." And he kept right on writing. [LAUGH] [INT: This is the commanding officer?] No, he was just protocol. [INT: Oh, protocol. Okay.] But those are the little things are what make, give something character, I think.


INT: Did you only art direct that one picture before you serviced? [NJ: Yeah] And then so now your military service is over.

NJ: And I'm back at Fox [20th Century Fox]. [INT: You’re back at Fox.] Because they had to give you your job back. [INT: Right.] And they got another picture for me to do… [INT: Oh, RAZOR'S EDGE.] Yeah, yeah. THE RAZOR'S EDGE. [INT: That is a big picture.] It was a very big picture. [INT: And you were the Art Director on BODY AND SOUL?] Yeah. [INT: The Garfield [John Garfield] picture?] Yeah. [INT: Wow.] That was interesting too. That was a different… that was an independent studio that opened up. They were going to become, you know, grow and become another Metro [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer], they thought. [INT: These are art directing credits. You worked on… I'm going to zoom through here, but you worked on a lot of Westerns. The WINCHESTER '73…] Oh, great picture. [INT: Great picture.] Yeah, I loved that. [INT: And then HARVEY. So you worked with Jimmy Stewart [James Stewart] quite a bit.] Yeah. [INT: All the way up here, BEND OF THE RIVER.] Yeah, that's another one. [INT: And so you did very well as an Art Director…] Oh, yeah. [INT: And you're very well established.


INT: How did you become a Director?

NJ: That's something I really wanted to do. I wanted to make more money, and I figured that's where it would be. So… but I never did, I wasn't obvious about it or anything. I did my work and did it well. But I made a lot of good friends in that direction. Bill Gordon was a good friend of mine. He was public relations for the man who owned Universal, and Aaron Rosenberg was a big friend of mine. There's so many little stories, peripheral, you know, that are just delicious, and Rosenberg was in a couple of those. [INT: Well, so tell me the Aaron Rosenberg story.] All right. They bought a house in Malibu. Right at the beach, the water used to rush in under their house and hit all the cooling… [INT: The pylons?] Everything. And their house would rumble and shake. And then the water would go… come back for another charge. [LAUGH] Anyway… and there were a lot of parties, a lot of parties in those days, and I'm being a good friend of most of the party-givers, I was always invited. But I was a single man at the time, having been divorced. So I was a legitimate partygoer. And it was a rainy night, and I just finished working on this house Rosenberg bought out there, putting another story on, all that stuff. [INT: As an architect?] Yeah, as a favor. [INT: Right.] And it was raining, and Vickie, his wife, came to me, and she said, "Jerry, you got to do something. There's a leak in the den upstairs. I need a plumber, and I need him badly. And I said, "Well, take it easy. Let me go look at it first. Show me what's leaking." So there was a leak coming through the den upstairs, and I looked out… I opened the window and I looked out, and I thought I can detect where the water was entering the house in the shingles, the way it was flowing. So I said, "Bring me a cookie tin." And they brought me a cookie tin. And I opened the window wide, leaned way out, and I shoved this cookie tin in where it should have been [LAUGH], and sure enough, the leak stopped and I was the hero for… [INT: You were a genius.] Yeah, a genius. From then on, I was Rosenberg's architect, come hell or high water. [LAUGH] And…


INT: You had been an Art Director. And now how did you get the opportunity to do the first one, and was the first one the one with Boris Karloff. [NJ: Yes.] THE BLACK CASTLE. [NJ: THE BLACK CASTLE.] 1952. So how did you become the Director of THE BLACK CASTLE?

NJ: Well, first of all, I had pretty much carte blanche on what I did as far as the sets go at Universal [Universal Pictures]. I was considered that I knew what I was doing. [INT: Right.] And I took the script, and I did the sets, no Director, no anybody. Just go ahead and manufacturer the sets on the stages. [INT: So you were hired as the Art Director?] I was hired… as the Art Director. That's right. [INT: Right.] And then I got the sets built as the Art Director. Now it came time for the Director to come on board, and that was Joe Pevney [Joseph Pevney]. And Pevney came out, and he read the script a couple of times, and he said, "Listen, I need some changes in this script." And the studio said, "Sorry, Joe. No changes. We've got to go on this." And Joe says, "Sorry boys, no changes, no Joe," which is kind of, I thought, unnecessary on Joe's part, but… and Joe was a very good friend of mine. So studio's looking for a Director. I knew all the script by heart. I knew all planning in the sets and everything, how it should go, and I thought, "Boy, this could be my chance." So I talked to Bill Gordon, who was right with the studio head, and I had done a lot of things for Bill Gordon [LAUGH] too such that he… that all I did was ingratiate these guys, and he said, "You know I think you could do it fine. I'm going to talk to Bill about it." And then I was doing the sets at that particular moment for a picture called [THUNDER ON THE HILL]… with Claudette Colbert, where she was a nun, I think, or something. Anyway, there was an Actor by the name of Pate [Michael Pate], who was supposed to be the mixed-up handicapped man around the nunnery that fixed broken things and brought up cots from the basement when they were needed and so on. And I said to the Director [Douglas Sirk], I'm trying to think of his name but it doesn't matter, "You know what I'd like to do on this main set here?" It was a stormy set, big storm. [INT: Okay, still on the Claudette Colbert picture?] Yes. [INT: Right.] "I'd like to have a great big frame for a lace curtain stretched on it and have a few nuns in there doing some needlework, and when the storm hits its full volume, we bring this guy up from the basement with a cot under his arm, an added cart… cot." [INT: Right.] And, but he's supposed to be kind of a half-idiot. This is all in the script. [INT: Right.] And I said, "When he's going to put the cot down, another nun grabs him and says, ‘No, put it over here.’ You get a lot of confusion in the storm, and then turning from one to the other, this cot you know with the handle extended, gets caught in this big tapestry and tears it off the frame, and everything goes to hell, and you got the feeling of the script that this is a real problem moment.” [INT: Right.] And the Director liked it. And he did that when he was shooting the picture. And I always took my job seriously, and I talked to him and told him I'm trying hard to get, to direct the picture. He says, "Gees, you could do it with a hand behind your back." So he talked to Bill Goetz [William Goetz. [INT: So Bill Goetz, the head of Universal [Universal Pictures], said, “Okay.”] He said, “Okay.” And somebody said you know, "At 2:00 this afternoon, you're due to go in and see Bill Goetz," and I was kind of timid about it. I was always the little guy. So I went in and knocked… and, “Come in,” and I said, "I’m Jerry Juran, Mr. Goetz." And he said, "Well, sit down, Jerry. You know, now that you're a Director, you don't have to say 'Mister' to me anymore," something like that. [INT: Right.] Put me at ease. And he said then, "I want you to do a good job, but I want you to…" he encouraged me, and he said, "I want you to come into my office and see me anytime you have a problem," which is nice. And he says, "You know, there's a woodpecker outside of my little bungalow here, and he keeps pecking on that wall, and anytime now I expect to see him stick his head in and say, 'Can I have a few minutes with you, Bill,’" [LAUGH] which I thought was just charming. Such a nice guy.


INT: So your first film [THE BLACK CASTLE], did it go well?

NJ: It went very well, yeah. [INT: Do you remember who your cameraman was?] Yeah, Irving Glassberg. [INT: And you had a good relationship?] Oh, yeah. [INT: And Boris Karloff was a pleasure.] Very much so. And the other Actors were equally accomplished Actors, good Actors. In fact, for a while, with my limited little stock of Actors, I used to have them in everything I could think of. One of them was Torin Thatcher, who was a good Actor. [INT: The great… he was the great villain in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.] Yes, he was. Yeah. One time Irwin Allen said to me, "Jerry, are you related to Torin Thatcher," because I'd been asking for him every time. God, the memories.