Stanley Donen Chapter 3


INT: It's interesting, being your own producer, I wonder if part of that is you have obviously had strong relationships with talent. Has that helped you make that transition going from GRANT to ASTAIRE?
SD: People I admire, it's not hard. If I really admire them, I want to go see their interests, be a part of it. Create some interest in them. That's part of it. The benign despot that a director should be, it's still a collaborative form. You can't do everything. You got to have actors, writers, you can do some of it. Be your own star, writer, but you still have collaborators. Editors composers. It's a collaborative medium. It's not like painting a picture or writing a play. I had no problem with being a producer. In those days it wasn't ignominious to be a producer. Now there are nine producers, it's meaningless credit now.


INT: As a director and producer on CHARADE, INDISCREET, this is such a simple and emotional question. Did it ever become to much? Do I really want this responsibility? Did you ever hate one of your movies?
SD: If you hate the movie you want to kill yourself. There are some I had to do out of some ethical reason. Those movies are horrible. I'm exhausted, I hate it and everybody in it. [INT: That feeling during the shooting, not just after?] After I hate it even more. As somebody wiser than I said, the problem when you make a movie is you can't be divorced from it. You're responsible.


SD: I'll tell this story of SPYROS SKOURAS. He ran 20TH CENTURY FOX. I was in New York, SPYROS SKOURAS said he wanted to meet. I went over to the West Side. Spoke with a Greek accent, I thought he was great. He said I looked over your list of credits and I think I could be wrong but all of them have been commercially successful except one called KISS THEM FOR ME which you made for FOX. He said running the studio at the time, that picture was the biggest embarrassment I have ever made. It's a story about how the industrialists and big men who made money during World War II were insensitive to what the soldiers and sailors were going through. He said you directed it with CARY GRANT, explain to me how you did this horrible thing to me. I said you have to understand I didn't produce that picture. It was produced by JERRY WALD. Sent me the script, I said no I didn't want it. GRANT said I had to do it. Kept after me. They had cast the picture, I just had to go over. I didn't prepare the script, didn't cast it, just came over and told the actors where to stand. I'm not really responsible. He looked at me and said are you Jewish? I said yes. He said have you ever heard of a Jewish traffic cop? I will never again say I am not responsible. I was at fault. You are responsible. No cop out.


INT: Another thing I'm always struck by is the title sequences are always original and fascinating?
SD: The title sequence for KISS THEM FOR ME is really good. [INT: I have never seen it.] I forget what year, it was way after the end of World War II, it was the story of military men and the people they loved during the war. I went through the research and found photographs of soldiers kissing and hugging family members. I got the feeling of what it was like being a military man. I made my own stills. They're really good. Those are the titles. [INT: It's interesting, I don't know the openings of other movies. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN the opening with the three in white in the slickers is so emblematic and simple. Were you interested in that people didn't care about title sequences?] I always did. Movies are great, and titles give you license to do some stylistic approach to the thematic idea of a movie. The title of THE GRASS IS GREENER, you can do fun things. Title of FUNNY FACE are RICHARD AVEDON'S photographs. They're really good. The titles can be wonderful.


INT: I want to ask about CHARADE and PETER STONE, how the film came together. I think WALTER MATTHAU became a leading man, one of the strangest advents of acting?
SD: That was the point of casting him in CHARADE. A lot of people said it was a great role and I could get a big star to play that. I said if we get a sweet guy like HENRY FONDA there must be some reason. It will make you wonder. If we get somebody the audience doesn't know then we can make the point and make the switch. WALTER had been on Broadway, I saw him and knew him, seemed like a good idea. MGM in the early days of talkies, you could tell the studio by their idea of who the leads could be. MGM, leading men and women were very attractive. WARNER BROS had EDDIE ROBINSON, people who weren't really handsome. FOX movies had ALICE FAYE, BETTY GRABLE, nice looking hunks for men. That's the way movies were made. Casting MATTHAU was misdirection. I thought he was wonderful.


INT: Did you find the book, did you develop the project form the beginning?
SD: Yes, I did. It was written as a novel in REDBOOK magazine. An agent for PETER, JOHN VAN EISEN sent me this book. I wanted to buy it. PETER said everybody wanted to buy it although it was a screenplay first. That prose piece on THE UNSUSPECTING WIFE was sold to me even though it was less money because I knew CARY GRANT and AUDREY HEPBURN's phone number. I bought the rights, in spite of the fact of there being a script, we started over. Worked on it in London for COLUMBIA, MIKE FRANKOVICH was running COLUMBIA. When we finished we sent the script in and they rejected it. They said they have the rights to turn around if you pay us back what you invested. We sold it to UNIVERSAL. From then on I did what I would have done anyway.


INT: How elaborate a shoot was it?
SD: Not long, I don’t remember. Probably 55 days. We were in Paris. [INT: Textbook of how to mount a film] Well I love Paris. It was always in Paris but it was part of the romance of the play.


INT: I just wondered, as a director who is now producing yourself, what was your feeling about schedules and budgets. In general what is your work day like, first are you usually on schedule?
SD: Not usually, always. I only made on picture where I went over budget, I didn't really but studio said I did. It was called LUCKY LADY because it took place at sea in a sail boat. I knew it was going to be slow. To get out to sea and have the wind, I made a schedule that was a physically active picture. STANFILL said I couldn't get the board of directors to agree if you give me this budget then I said don't make the picture. He said you have to give me a budget they'll approve of, then go over it. Then do anything you want to do. He said that was how we were going to do it. I did that, then went over budget and he wrote me letters saying he was going to pull the rug out from under me. Aside from that I'm quick. If you look at VINCENTE MINNELLI at MGM, I bet our budgets were 50% of his. I don't shoot that quickly. I don't have a lot of coverage. I had a lot of experience in the nuts and bolts of making movies, that has a lot to do with it. Movies are ditch digging enterprises. tough physical job. when you start to make a movie as a director, you wonder how you will live to the end of it. The pressure is so great, things that happen, get in the way, it's really a tough position if you take responsibility. It's tough. Hang on to the bucking horse.


INT: I know you’ve spoken about the benefits of rehearsals and musicals, on non-musicals did you like to rehearse?
SD: I would have liked to but I didn’t have the opportunity. [INT: What was you shooting day like for you, rehearse in morning, shoot in afternoon?] Let's put it this way, on the first day you got to come in and rehearse, can't shoot it without knowing it. As the day comes to the end you either know the shot for the next day and plan it, hopefully what you are going to do. Otherwise you have to start in the morning. I used to laugh on TWO FOR THE ROAD, it was all made on the road. I thought we were like an army. Thought it wasn't going to be hard. We had five different cars. Shot two different sequences. Their makeup had to be changed, we moved like an army. Trucks with cars, AUDREY HEPBURN'S trailer, dressing rooms, camera, crew, kitchen, we were an army. [INT: Feels like a movie that you went out with three or four people.] That's what was imagined, but it was tough. [INT: Was the car on a process trailer or was it real?] Car was real. [INT: Were they driving themselves?] Sometimes, sometimes not. When the car catches on fire there was nobody. ALBEE had to push buttons to make the smoke come out. Sometimes they were in the station wagon with the wheels off on a flatbed truck. None of it done on a processor. [INT: The little girl is such an effective performance, she is just dead pan.] It was the line in the movie, she's a horrible creature then finally ALBEE says to AUDREY I thought you wanted a child, just don't want that child. That's what it's about. It was long, 60 days or something. [INT: I ran it the other night and it's interesting so much around the time that you made that film, the style I think that has been attributed to RICHARD LESTER and THE BEATLES film is most effective in your film, I think it's because it's integrated in your story. Feels fresh, not like I'm watching a 60s style.] It is the film.


INT: I know you didn’t story board but I can't grasp how to plan a movie like TWO FOR THE ROAD without a system, was it all in your head?
SD: I made notes but no storyboard. Fascinated by photography since before dancing. Before I was nine I was hooked on cameras. [INT: So Broadway was a stop for you?] I came from South Carolina, California was 3000 miles away, I was familiar with New York, but movies were still my love. I've been fortunate in seeing almost every good show since I was six. I thought New York was the place where the important artists came to work. Broadway was the garden where the film people came from, not people like DISNEY. Most of them came from theater, the KAZANS and actors.


INT: And yet the generation of directors preceding you were largely made up of people who had a disdain for movie making, thought it was second class pursuit?
SD: It was [INT: You were the first film geek in a way.] What happened is my early days in Hollywood we used to laugh they would come screaming to Hollywood. What made us a first class medium was television came along to be a second class medium. Broadway changed and started to come to movies.


INT: In the 60s the musical had another life with the road show movies; AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, SOUND OF MUSIC and yet you never made a musical. Where you interested in making another musical?
SD: I'm going to do one now. Road show came out of a way to compete. The idea of MIKE TODD selling it theater by theater, he became his own distributor. Financed in part by CBS he had the wherewithal to do it. Movies are all kinds of things. Don't have to be big. Little ones can be great. [INT: Were you approached to do musicals?] Some of them I was approached to do. I would have liked to have done FIDDLER ON THE ROOF but I wasn't asked. I would like to have done MY FAIR LADY. [INT: I'm sorry you didn't do PAL JOEY] I don't remember the movie, FRANK plays PAL JOEY, but I never saw it. I think they changed it. She's this tough dame on the stage Vera and made it RITA on stage, it got lost. [INT: It's a little flat]


INT: The last few movies that you’ve made to date that I think were too adult for what America's become, I've always liked BLAME IT ON RIO. I was watching LUCKY LADY and these are very adult and worldly concepts for relationships?
SD: The script for LUCKY LADY was just wonderful. The movie I made didn't live up to the promise of what the script is. A lot of the problems are endemic, it could have been a good movie. [INT: BLAME IT ON RIO was delicious, but I wonder if it's beyond our culture to watch a story like that?] But it's so true about guys and girls wanting to flirt with older man. It's got a lot of reality in it.


INT: You worked with CHRIS CHALILIS a lot, what qualities does he and other DP's have that you like?
SD: He was wonderful, as I say I was hooked on film. He was there, I became friends with him, did picture after picture, he was good and friendly and adventurous. He felt supported by me. I think he's still around. I wrote the intro to a book he wrote. [INT: It's such a sensitive relationship, interesting that you mention the support, it needs to be mutual. Have you ever had to deal with a situation where you're not feeling that?] Oh yea, FUNNY FACE, RAY JUNE, he hated every minute of it. DICK and I used to shoot 16mm stuff on the weekend and he was tough and unhappy. Old school but it made his career of course, gave him 20 more years. [INT: Absolutely defeating thing to have to approach?] It was, he was always on the set, it was tough. Everything happens. You don't know what's going to happen, you just don't know what you're going to go through. I chose RAY JUNE, it was my choice.


INT: Without trying to get you to name names or anything, did you ever have to deal with an actor like that?
SD: I fired an actor once in the middle of shooting, I think it was in INDISCREET. She was playing INGRID BERGMAN's sister. She just wanted to play serious and angry. I kept saying no, finally I got rid of her. It was only three or four days but I fired her. [INT: It wasn't an ego issue with an actor?] She didn't like it and I didn't like it. [INT: And yet you've worked with demanding actors, ASTAIRE was supposed to be.] I've never heard that, I didn't have any problems. [INT: What I'm thinking of is how exacting he was about dancing and rehearsing.] Who did it better, why not?


INT: Can you talk a little bit about what you're working on?
SD: I'd rather not, better to do it after. [INT: It's great to know that you are.] Otherwise you become a vegetable. [INT: What have I not asked you, anything you're dying to add?] No this is enough. I appreciate your doing it.