There were lots of reasons to admire that wonderful director Sidney Lumet. His party trick was to recite the whole of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner while juggling oranges. It went on a bit after the first few verses, and if he dropped one he’d insist on starting all over again, but I couldn’t hold that against him.
The only problem with Sidney was that he wasn’t very good with numbers. I found this out to my cost on the set of that marvelous picture Twelve Angry Men. We’d been filming fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, for nearly two months before we realized his mistake. We were sat around the table practicing our angry expressions when suddenly Lee J. Cobb burst into hysterical laughter. I thought Ed Begley had been doing that thing when he waggled his ears up and down, but it wasn’t that.
Lee had just counted up the number of jurors and there were thirteen of us!
Well! We just fell about! None of us could believe that we hadn’t spotted it earlier!
Poor Sidney was dreadfully embarrassed, but there was nothing he could do about it, we’d just have to start all over again.
The question was, who would be the one to go?
Henry Fonda was the star so he was in, Martin Balsam was giving Jack Klugman a lift to the studio each morning so he couldn’t go. As the only Englishman on set I felt it was up to me to do the decent thing and volunteer to be cut.
I was quite touched by the way the others stood and applauded my decision. We were more than friends on that picture, we were like family.
If truth be told I would’ve had to leave early that day anyway because I said I’d pick up Joey Bishop’s dry cleaning.
But that’s another story…