Sorry for the two-weeks late report, but things have been busy since the festival, which was a huge success. Apparently it sent a new attendance record for the ten-year-old festival, even though there were fewer screenings than in some previous years. Palm Springs is ground zero for seeing great noir personalities at the screenings, so here's a summary of the apperances from each of this year's guests:
The still-spry (at 93!) superstar of almost sixty years was the opening night guest, in tandem with a screening of his 1960 period gangster film PAY OR DIE. He told some Spencer Tracy stories, from the filming of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. Borgnine was nervous one day on the set because he was about to read for the lead role in MARTY, but Tracy encouraged him, and after Borgnine got the part, Tracy was full of congratulations: "I knew you'd get it, kid!" Fast forward to a year later, when Borgnine collected the Best Actor Oscar for that role, and one of the nominees he beat out for the award was none other than...Spencer Tracy, who had been nominated for BAD DAY.
Another fun story he told was from early in his career, when he was just getting into the movie business. He got called for a screen test in New York with Robert Siodmak. When he showed up at the appointed time, there were more than a hundred actors ahead of him in line, so the production people told him to come back in a couple of hours. With no money to spare, Borgnine went to the one place he could think of to kill some time for free, St. Patrick's Cathedral, since "they can't kick you out of church," as he put it. Despite not being very religious, he did some praying about how "I know I haven't been the best Catholic, but please, I need the work." After returning for the screen test, he was the last person they were looking at, and when he finally sat down in front of the camera, Siodmak told him, "Say 'shit'!" Surprised, Borgnine asked him why, and the answer was that it was a guaranteed way to get a smile from nervous performers. In the end, Borgnine got the part, and his movie career was off and running.
Borgnine also told the story of how he decided to accept the lead role on McHale's Navy. He initially turned it down, figuring that a TV series would be a step down for a successful movie actor. Not long afterwards, a kid knocked on his door, trying to sell cookies. The kid claimed to recognize him, but couldn't figure out who he was. Deciding to have some fun with it, Borgnine said, "I'm James Arness," but the kid said, "no, you're not the guy from Gunsmoke." "OK, I was just kidding," replied Borgnine, "my name is Richard Boone." "No, you're not the guy from Have Gun Will Travel." So now the joking ended--"OK, seriously, kid. My name is Ernest Borgnine." "Who?" The name meant nothing to the kid--so immediately afterwards, Borgnine called his agent and accepted the TV role. "What made you change your mind?" asked his agent. "None of your business," was the reply.
On hand to discuss memories of THE GLASS WALL, starring Vittorio Gassmann and Gloria Grahame, Ms. Robinson told a story about when she was dating her romantic interest in that film, Jerry Paris. After the production wrapped, they went on double dates with Gassmann and his new wife, Shelley Winters. One day, they all went to Tijuana, but having forgotten that Gassmann only had a work permit for the US, they realized they were going to have trouble getting him back into the country (an ironic oversight, considering the refugee-on-the-run storyline of their just completed film). The standard question from the border police was, "where were you born?", so they all racked their brains to come up with something Gassmann could say without revealing his thick accent. Shelley ended up driving, with Gassmann trying to stay inconspicuous in the back seat. She used her considerable charms to keep the border guard's mind off any suspicious behavior, and when the guard asked where they all born, the answers came from each passenger: St. Louis, San Francisco, Hollywood, and..."yeah." That one word was all Gassmann could mutter without giving away the game, but it worked, and they got back over the border.
Ms. Robinson also talked about starting in the movie business as a stuntwoman, a job she first landed by fibbing about how much experience she had (in reality, almost none). When she had to climb a 15-foot fence at Tahachapi prison on THE STORY OF MOLLY X and jump down from it, she had no idea how to pull it off, but somehow did it without getting hurt. She also talked about being in Paramount's "Golden Circle" of young actors, whom the studio was promoting not only as stars, but also as wholesome role models. The studio took pains not to show them drinking alcohol on screen, and apparently off-screen as well: when she met several members of the British royal family who were visiting Hollywood, she reached for a bottle of sherry that was being passed around, but Douglas Fairbanks Jr. smiled and said, "Ah ah, Ann, remember the Golden Circle."
The star of the Bernard Vorhaus B-thriller BURY ME DEAD, photographed by John Alton, charmed the audience for nearly an hour after the screening with stories about her colleagues and her experiences in movies and television. She went back to her parents' background with a fascinating account of how they were introduced to each other by none other than Thomas Edison, when they both appeared on-stage in Edison's traveling promotional tour of inventions, a group that included its own fully operational stock company for theater. Another fun story was about doing her French homework on the set of ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO, when one of the co-stars offered to help her with the pronunciations, having a bit of experience with that language himself: Charles Boyer.
Her TV stories started with an amusing description of what it's like to act on camera with a dog, with multiple crew members holding up pieces of meat just off camera to get the star of the show looking in the right direction. LASSIE director Bill Beaudine apparently wasn't too kind with his performers; she recalled him calling for "the dog and the girl" whenever she had to do her scenes. For that particular show, it took about two months to get an answer from the production company after she accepted the role, because (even in the late '50s) they were running background checks on her. Ms. Lockhart tersely summed up the result of that investigation: "I was clean enough to work with the dog." She also told some LOST IN SPACE stories, mostly revolving around the low budget, complete with a remarkably demonstrative physical recreation of the actors bending their knees while walking in place, to simulate descending below the ground on a faraway planet.
The daughter of Hollywood icon John Garfield came onstage after a screening of her father's last film, the beautifully affecting HE RAN ALL THE WAY. She talked about the influence on her dad of New York educator Angelo Patri, who had faith in the young Julius Garfinkle and steered him into the debating club. After showing a knack for performing, Garfield got a scholarship to study with the great Maria Ouspenskaya, and eventually joined the Group Theater. At that time, to make some extra money on the side, Garfield had what has to be one of the strangest "before they were famous" jobs of any Hollywood star: he worked for Margaret Sanger as a door-to-door salesman of diaphragms!
One of Hollywood's living legends introduced his screen debut, THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, in a taped interview from before the festival. He discussed a mix-up that gave him some extra work when he first got to Hollywood: having prepared with the script on the train ride all the way from New York to California, he discovered on arrival that he had mistakenly been prepping for Van Heflin’s role! He also talked about how his co-star, Barbara Stanwyck, was fairly distant at first, but eventually warmed up to him. He claimed that the idea for the exact way the last scene between them plays out (specifically, who handles the gun at the most crucial moment) was actually ad-libbed on-set by her.
After the screening, Kirk’s son Joel reminisced onstage about his dad’s career, including a warm anecdote from when Kirk was just starting out as an actor in New York. Unable to afford an overcoat in the winter, he was assisted by Lauren Bacall, who gave him her grandfather’s coat that she still owned.
The star of the 1957 noirish addiction drama A HATFUL OF RAIN was on-hand to discuss the movie after a screening of the only print still in circulation. He said that Fox had purchased the rights to Michael V. Gazzo’s play with the idea of casting him in the broad role of the main character’s brother, since he was known more as a comic actor at that time. But Murray was determined to tackle the lead role of a Korean war vet hooked on heroin, and director Fred Zinneman eventually agreed. Murray also talked about how the atmosphere on the set was kept light-hearted (mostly through the efforts of cinematographer Joe McDonald), to give the actors a break from the harrowing material they were playing. He said he actually laughed more on the set of that production that any other role he ever played, which one certainly wouldn’t have guessed from seeing the movie!
Murray also talked briefly about the experience of working opposite Marilyn Monroe, which he had done the year before in BUS STOP. The main difference between that and working with seasoned pros (including Eva Marie Saint and Tony Franciosa) on HATFUL OF RAIN was that they could do “ten sentences in one take instead of one sentence in ten takes.” He said the difficult thing about working with Monroe was that she could be good in short bursts, but something would inevitably go wrong in a longer take. But, thanks to editing, the finished product always showed her at her best.
After a screening of Robert Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY, the actor who played Richard Conte’s kid brother shared some of his memories. On the set of that movie, Victor Mature asked him to come knock on the trailer door whenever they needed Mature on set. Mature came to the door sweating, after the trailer had been rocking up and down, but it wasn’t until much later that the youthful Cook realized exactly what had been going on! Cook also talked about asking out his fellow teen performer from that film, the beautiful young Debra Paget. She agreed to go on a date with him, but he was surprised to find out that her mother would be accompanying them every step of the way—and not much happened, since the mother was every bit as intimidating as Hope Emerson was in the movie.
Some other fun Hollywood anecdotes included a bit about playing tennis with Jack Warner, a competitive player who insisted on getting the best advice from better players, so Cook would tell him “stand here, Jack” when they were on court together. But off-court, it was always “Mr. Warner.” Another story was about Shelley Winters in the ‘50s. Trying to find a way back from New York to California, Cook was able to get transport when she asked him to take her car cross-country. On the day he left town, he drove her to a short appointment with her therapist, and she came out crying about being advised that she needed to break off her relationship with Tony Franciosa. But a few days later, halfway across the country, Cook turned on the radio and heard that the two of them had eloped!