HOLLYWOOD – Ava Gardner was one of the finest young actresses I ever met who brushed her own teeth.
After the success of Hooray for Henry it seemed the studio felt I should go on to play that same chinless wonder character again and again in whatever movie it was they happened to be shooting at the time. I scraped through the country house murder mystery The Butler Always Rings Thrice with dignity intact, but fell flat on my face in the western Apache Chaps.
I was woefully miscast as the chief of an Indian tribe with dreams of making it on Broadway, and my long suffering squaw was played with characteristic aplomb by the young Ava Gardner. We got on like a house on fire until I accidentally set fire to her house while attempting to demonstrate the correct way to remove the lint from wool. Matters were further complicated when I forgot to mention that I’d got her hairdresser pregnant. Darling Ava was furious, and rightly so.
Word of the tensions on set got back to the studio and I ended up on the receiving end of a rather curt memo from Jack Warner’s secretary’s secretary. I sent a note back saying it wasn’t me, it was Henry Fonda, and that bought me just enough time to make good my escape. The rest of my scenes were cut and I hid in Jimmy Durante’s garage until the heat died down.
It was there in a cardboard box on top of his washing machine that I discovered Janet Leigh, but that’s another story…
October 21st , 1957
I had dinner with Dietrich and Chuck Heston to discuss my latest project Touch of Evil. I’d also invited Janet Leigh but she said she had plans to go to the theatre with Tony Curtis to catch some ramshackle, post modern production of the Threepenny Opera.
As usual Marlene spent the evening smoking endless cigarettes and becoming increasingly Gin sodden and Heston insisted on trying out a variety of Mexican accents and asking me which one he should adopt for his character. After an hour or so of his incomprehensible babbling I took him by the hand and said “Chuck dear. Forget about the accent. If we put a sombrero on your head and a moustache under your nose as far as the audience is concerned, you’re a Mexican”.
The main course was so nondescript and dreary it doesn’t even deserve a passing mention but I must confess I was rather fond of the chocolate roulade.
November 5th, 1957
Jack Kennedy invited me over for a late supper and I was delighted to find that Frank Sinatra was also in attendance. We chatted about politics, civil rights and the untimely but amusing passing of Senator McCarthy but when Jack made a crude reference to a sexual liaison with Marilyn Monroe, Sinatra rose from his chair and wagged a threatening finger at Kennedy. “One day you’re going to be sorry you said that Jack” said Frank menacingly and with that he grabbed his coat and slammed the door behind him as he left.
I regretfully ordered the John Dory when any sane man would have clearly opted for the Monkfish
December 23rd, 1957
Last Thursday after a particularly savage rum session, Jack Warner proposed a wager. He said that if I could survive on nothing but brandy and mince pies from now until Christmas day he would finance my next picture and give me complete creative autonomy. I immediately agreed to the bet but after five days on my limited diet, I’m beginning to think I might have been a little hasty in accepting his challenge. My bowels are no longer functioning as they once did and whenever I sit down I can feel a hot mulch of fruit, pastry and brandy bubbling away in my stomach like the foul contents of a witches cauldron.
I believe it was the Greek Tragedian Aeschylus who said “ The reward of suffering is experience” and although once upon a time those words might have brought me comfort, if that ancient sage was stood before me now I’d ring his damn neck for a fat blood orange and a tall glass of cold water.
I had two mince pies for lunch, followed by brandy.