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Friday, December 16, 2011

Interview with Author Stephen Schochet of Hollywood Stories

Author Stephen Schochet (pronounced Show-het) is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! The book contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard.”

1) Let’s get right to some vintage Hollywood. Tell the story of Jane Russell agreeing to co-star with Marilyn Monroe, in Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953).

Director Howard Hawks wanted levelheaded Jane Russell to star alongside Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Twentieth Century Fox head honcho Darryl Zanuck told Hawks to forget it; Russell was unavailable. The filmmaker asked the mogul if he could borrow his phone. Fourteen years earlier, Howard had discovered the eighteen-year-old buxom brunette Russell working in a dentist’s office, making ten dollars a week. When he reached Jane at home, the loyal actress immediately agreed to do the picture then asked, “Do you think I could get fifty thousand?”

Hawks eyed Zanuck then replied into the phone, “Nope, try again.”

“Seventy-five?” asked Russell.

“You’re being unreasonable,” replied Hawks.

The conversation continued for another few minutes, then Howard put his hand over the receiver and said excitedly to Zanuck, “Great news. I got her down to two hundred thousand.”

Darryl agreed to pay Russell’s fee, and the comic pairing of Monroe and Russell onscreen proved to be priceless.

2) Another famous blonde, Veronica Lake, had a reputation for turning in great performances but being difficult, is that correct?

That’s right, she did:

Rising star Veronica Lake continued her pattern of infuriating co-workers at Paramount Studios on the set of the 1941 film Sullivan’s Travels. The blonde actress, famed for her “peekaboo” hairstyle that covered her face, was constantly late and did not bother to learn her lines. Her resentful leading man Joel McCrea was forced to do tons of retakes in their scenes together. The twenty-two-year-old also lied to writer/director Preston Sturges about not being pregnant; he had to restrain himself from hitting Veronica when she confessed the truth. A tramp’s outfit and careful camera angles hid her growing belly. The completed movie about a filmmaker who lives like a hobo was a challenge for the Paramount marketing people; they decided to make Lake the main selling point. Unaware of her antics, cinemagoers were once again drawn to Veronica’s sexy screen presence and she was praised for her fine performance.

3) Please tell that story about the misunderstanding on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939.

William Dieterle when he directed The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. Up to now, the German filmmaker’s instructions were being carried out flawlessly. In blistering Los Angeles’ heat, covered in tons of make-up, Charles Laughton was wonderful as the deformed bell ringer. Playing the gypsy Esmeralda, Maureen O’Hara was excellent in her dialogue and dance scenes. And hundreds of costumed extras were performing without a hitch. The mammoth production had gone smoothly until that day; there were a bunch of chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas running around their seventeenth-century Paris set. Dieterle, who always wore white gloves to protect himself from germs, demanded to know what these smelly, noisy creatures were doing there. It turned out that a hard-of-hearing assistant misunderstood the director’s request for some more monks.

4) You have a pretty big bibliography; why was David Niven a better source for lore than history?

In my opinion David Niven was the greatest Hollywood raconteur:

British actor and raconteur David Niven never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn. In his wonderful 1975 book about Hollywood, Bring on the Empty Horses, Niven described Christmas in 1947 when he convinced his neighbor Tyrone Power to dress up as Santa Claus at a party for Niven’s children. At the last moment, Power came down with a bad bout of stage fright and tried to back out of his promise; only after downing a great deal of Scotch did he stumble into the backyard as St. Nick. Like most actors, once Tyrone got into character, he began to enjoy himself. At one point, the inebriated matinee idol put Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria on his knee. “Ho, Ho, Ho, little girl. You tell your old man Santa enjoyed watching him in High Noon. And ask him to get that pretty Grace Kelly’s phone number for me while you’re at it. Ho, Ho, Ho.”

High Noon was released in 1952, five years after Tyrone supposedly put on the white whiskers.

5) It took Ingrid Bergman a while to become a fan of Casablanca, correct?

Yes, I think the years gave her some perspective; I think a lot of actors realize after a time that if people have a favorite role that you did it is a compliment, not a knock on their talent:

Throughout the filming of Casablanca in 1942, leading lady Ingrid Bergman felt she was working on a loser. The unfinished script gave her no clue as to which of her leading men she was supposed to be in love with: Humphrey Bogart, playing her ex-fiancĂ© that she jilted in Paris, or Paul Henreid, as the husband she mistakenly thought was dead. Play it in between, she was told. Bergman felt very little connection to Bogart; that Casablanca won the Academy Award for best picture made little impression on her. Other roles meant more, and for years Ingrid lamented that all anybody wants to talk about is “that thing I did with Bogart.” But in the late 1960s, Bergman was invited to a college retrospective of her films; she watched Casablanca with an enthusiastic young crowd. After the screening, Ingrid walked up to the podium and seemed surprised as she smiled at the audience and said, “Wow, that was a really good movie!”

6) Speaking of Bogie, he had a tumulotous third marriage didn’t he?

Yes, but sometimes her toughness came in handy:

The five-foot-eight Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) was so convincing as a tough guy on screen that it sometimes landed him in trouble. One time he was dining out with his third wife, Mayo Methot (1904-1951), when an idiot walked up to his table. “So you’re Mr. Tough Guy, Humphrey Bogart. You don’t look so tough to me! Why don’t we step outside?”

Bogart sighed. “Sit down, pal. Have a drink.”

“No, I don’t want a drink. I told my friends at the bar I could beat you.”

The man kept badgering until the weary star turned to his wife. “Hey, Mayo. Take care of him.”

Mayo took off her shoe and beat the hell out of him.

7) Now Fred MacMurray and Cary Grant were a bit frugal weren’t they?

Their thriftiness was the stuff of legends:

Cary Grant and Fred MacMurray were both millionaires many times over, raised lots of money for charitable causes and were known for being two of the biggest cheapskates in Hollywood. One possibly apocryphal tale involved the two film legends meeting for an expensive dinner at a popular Beverly Hills restaurant. Both men seemed to enjoy each other’s company greatly and the conversation went well. When the last course was finished, the check was placed between them, but neither Cary nor Fred made any effort to pick it up. As they slowly ate their desserts, the trendy eatery began to clear out. The oblivious stars drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, while their small talk continued. Their waiter stayed on well after all his colleagues went home. After a time, he approached the two actors and politely inquired if they wished to see the breakfast menu.

8) Harold Lloyd and Douglas Fairbanks were big inspirations for a pretty famous fictional character weren’t they?

Yes, their on screen personas helped to create a dual personality:

One of Douglas Fairbanks’ contemporaries, Harold Lloyd (1893-1971), had struggled to gain traction in silent films. Lloyd’s friend and fellow actor Hal Roach (1892-1992) inherited some money in 1915 and produced some short comedies featuring Harold. After two years, Roach suggested that his pal needed a disguise; he was too handsome to be funny. Lloyd remembered seeing a film about a mild-mannered, bespectacled clergyman who became a he-man in dangerous situations. The young comedian purchased a pair of cheap glasses at a dime store and transformed himself into an all-American boy next door. Cinemagoers totally identified with this new, go-getting character who maintained his pluck in perilous situations. In 1938, Harold’s onscreen persona became the inspiration for the comic book character Clark Kent, while Fairbanks’ gravity defying Robin Hood helped bring forth the creation of Clark’s alter ego Superman.

9) Judy Garland got some clever coaching during the making of The Wizard of Oz, correct?

Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland had a tough time taking her job seriously in the 1939 MGM musical The Wizard of Oz. The character of Dorothy was actually much younger in L. Frank Baum’s book causing some at Metro to push for the unavailable ten-year-old Shirley Temple for the part. Director Richard Thorpe had Judy running around in a blonde wig and baby-doll make-up giving a campy performance. It was hard for the fun-loving teenager not to laugh at some of her hammy co-stars dressed up in their ridiculous costumes. Thorpe’s job was deemed inadequate and George Cukor replaced him. The new director, who left after three days to begin making Gone with the Wind, told Garland to lose her childish get-up and be herself. From then on, the Minnesota-born actress played her farm-girl role with sincerity, and for generations audiences believed that she believed in the wonderful Land of Oz.

10) Where can people go to get more information about you and your book?

Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!

(ISBN 9780963897275)

Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or wherever books are sold.

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