In another extract from his wonderful memoir on the Golden Age of Hollywood – In Like Niven: The Frivolous, the Filthy and the Fluffer – Sir Edwin Fluffer recalls a certain Mr William Wilder, better know to the world as Billy Wilder:
Don’t get me, wrong I loved Billy Wilder like he was my own brother. The problem was I hadn’t actually spoken to my brother since that misunderstanding over his wife’s ankles.
Relations were just as tense with Billy who’d been hired to direct yours truly in Me And My Big Mouth, a wise cracking comedy about a dentist who couldn’t pronounce the word ‘Tipperary’. In all honesty the script wasn’t all it we hoped it would be and I didn’t see eye to eye with Bill who stood just a few inches under five feet tall. Gloria Swanson told me that’s not the only reason why they called him Little Billy, but I don’t want to bore you with the man’s many, many shortcomings. Let’s just say that one day I nearly trod on him in the car park and relations between us went downhill from there.It all came to a head one afternoon at 4 o’clock, which is when I simply had to insist on taking a cup of Early Grey tea. Most people thought this was just a quaint English custom, but if truth be told that’s when I had to have the tablets my doctor had prescribed for an unfortunate and persistent skin condition. I went back to my dressing room and there I was confronted with a sight which could only strike revulsion into the heart of any gentleman.
Someone had removed the cosy from my teapot. The tea inside was now utterly tepid and completely undrinkable. I’m afraid to say I lost my temper and started calling Billy every name under the sun. I was in no doubt that he was the one behind this outrage and I swore that he would feel my wrath. I was loading a revolver I always kept handy in case Tony Randall came looking for me when darling Walter Matthau came in. And where his wig should’ve been was my tea cosy! ‘Looking for these Wally?’ I asked, holding up his spectacles. Quick as a flash he said ‘Now that’s a sight for sore eyes!’We were still holding our sides and roaring with laughter when I realized that somehow I’d taken the safety catch off and shot George Burns.
But that’s another story…