HOLLYWOOD – Survivor from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sir Edwin Fluffer, reflects on the man Hollywood used to call ‘the intellectual’s Fatty Artbuckle’: Orson Welles.
Returning home from a weekend’s scuba diving with dear old Charles Laughton, I was overjoyed to find a new script waiting for me on the doormat. Actors can be superstitious old buggers at times, and I’m afraid that I’m just as bad as the rest of them. Gary Cooper would always insist on doing his initial read through standing on one leg. We used to call him The Stork, until a nasty fall meant he had to have a hip replaced.
The first thing that I do when presented with any screenplay is to have a good look at the title: always have done and always will do! The title will often give you invaluable clues as to what the picture is actually called, and it’s not at all unusual for the name of the film and what it’s called to be exactly the same. The next thing I do is look to see if Anne Baxter’s in it, and if she is I throw it in the bin! Better to be safe than sorry! After that I may pop out for a quick drink, and the next time I look at the script isn’t until the first day of shooting. Spencer Tracy would spend literally minutes going over his lines, and I personally believe this robbed his performances of all their spontaneity.
The majority of actors, directors, producers and crews I’ve worked with don’t really agree with me on this point, but like I always tell them, you can’t rush perfection. Anyway, this particular script actually looked quite promising. It was called Citizen Kane which I thought was a great title and Anne Baxter wasn’t in it, so that was a bonus! Unfortunately the weekend scuba diving had left me with a nasty case of the bends so I had to pass, and as far as I know the picture never got made. It was a terrible shame as I’d been led to believe that in one scene Agnes Moorhead would do a dance number with some of the Smurfs, but that’s another story…
HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall King Kong.
After Hedda Hopper every actor’s worst enemy is typecasting.
I lost count of the number of friends who enjoyed a big hit only to see their careers go straight down the lavatory never to work again. Just look at King Kong. Don’t get me wrong, he thoroughly enjoyed all the trappings of his success, the mansion house, the fast car, the women, but deep down I think he would’ve swapped the lot for another shot at the big time.
We all tried our hardest for him, but nothing seemed to work out. Chuck Laughton managed to wangle him a few days on Mutiny on the Bounty, but King got seasick and it affected him quite badly. He kept climbing to the top of the mast and swatting at the seagulls as they flew past and in the end they had to let him go.
It was a similar story on Casablanca. Every time Bogie tried to say goodbye to Ingrid Bergman at the airport King would run in, pick her up, and start attacking the plane. For me his finest performance will always be when he played Rod Steiger in In The Heat Of The Night. The Academy Award was the industry’s way of saying thank you for trying, but by then his best years were behind him. He saw out his last days on the golf course with Bing Crosby, and although there was some talk of an album of duets I don’t believe that anything ever came of it. He read for the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street and roles like that, but by then he’d got mixed up with the Scientologists and there was a furious row with Big Bird about his addiction to prescription painkillers.
But that’s another story…
HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall Marlene Dietrich.
I knew Marlene Dietrich before the operation, and I have to say that she was a lot more fun in those days. An ingrowing toenail is no laughing matter, just ask Claude Rains, but there was something about her that changed and in her later years she was largely absent from the screen. Our last and first picture together was Witness For The Prosecution, based on the play by Agatha Christie. I got the moustache wax out and greased up ready to give my best Hercule Poirot only to be told in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t in it.
To be perfectly honest with you I think that the director missed a trick there, but he had what I’d call an ‘artistic temperament’ and he also insisted on setting the whole thing in a courtroom rather than on a train.
I was convinced that audiences weren’t ready for an Agatha Christie with no Poirot and no Orient Express, but dear old Marlene said ‘give it a go, darlink’ and so I did. As my character spent most of his time in the dock I didn’t really think it necessary to wear any trousers as it can get rather warm under all that lighting, but then Charlie Laughton said ‘if Neddy’s not wearing his breeches then neither am I’ and off they came!
|Where are my gaspers?
Marlene thought this was all a tremendous lark, put Charlie’s trousers on and refused to take them off! We had the devil’s own job getting her out of them, and in the end Elsa Lanchester had to sit on her chest while Henry Daniel and I tried to grab her legs. The trousers were quite badly ripped, but what annoyed Charlie more was that he had a packet of cigarettes in one of the pockets. We looked everywhere for them! It must’ve been nearly twenty minutes later when we eventually found them under Norma Varden. Unfortunately when the producer heard out about the damage to Charlie’s trousers fingers were pointed and I got the blame. Yours truly was sacked and Tyrone Power took my role and played it much better than I ever could.
Every year on my birthday Marlene would send me a new pair of Oxford bags, but I didn’t see the funny side.
I sent her a chipmunk wearing a kilt one Christmas, but that’s another story.
HOLLYWOOD – In another extract from his charming whizz through the glory days of Hollywood – In Like Niven – Sir Edwin Fluffer recalls an interesting episode in the secret history of dream factory:
When I first arrived in Hollywood all those golden years ago the first thing I noticed was that in LA nobody walked anywhere. This was because the sidewalks, or pavements as I still knew them then, had all been hired by Cecil B. DeMille to appear as extras in his latest epic, All Roads Lead To Rome. Those poor downtrodden sidewalks were prepared to do anything for $20 a day with lunch thrown in. I know that many of them believed that at last this was their shot at stardom, but I fear it was to be one of the worst decisions they ever made. There were concerns about the script, the budget was out of control, and DeMille took out all of his frustration on them. Many years later Farley Granger told me he’d seen him actually spit on a sidewalk. Unforgivable behavior and it tells you all you need to know about the man.
The shoot wasn’t a happy one, and visiting dear old Charlie Laughton on set one day, he confided his fears about the once great director. ‘Talk about not being able to see the wood for the trees,’ he chuckled, ‘we can’t see the forest for the flowerpots!’ I don’t understand what he meant either, but it had been a very good lunch. And just in time. The studio pulled the plug the very next day, the crew were sent home, and the sidewalks went back to the day job. Of course some of them weren’t happy about the way they’d been treated, so they were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in return for their silence. Laughton remained great friends with the sidewalks and would always stop to chat to them. In the end the police got involved. But that’s another story…