Sounds Off With Sydney Skolsky
FROM A STOOL AT SCHWAB’S:
I’ve got two “sermons” for this month’s column. I want to let off steam, medium warm, on two subjects.
Subject Number One: Protecting Actors From Their Own Worst Enemies—Themselves.
Subject Number Two: Screen Credits. They are real crazy!
As an example of protecting actors from themselves, I’m selecting Cary Grant. There isn’t an actor of whom I’ve been fonder during his long and glorious career. Grant took me much more decisively than his namesake ever took Richmond. I’ve been a Grant (Cary) fan ever since he was straight man for Mae West’s remark: “Come up and see me sometime—tall, dark and handsome.” I admired the manner in which Cary advanced to stardom, held the front line for years and conducted himself onscreen and offscreen. This includes some bad pictures and some unsuccessful marriages.
But no matter what Cary did, he had Class with a Capital “C.” He maintained a privacy about himself in a charming manner: He didn’t try to be a male Garbo, but his privacy is something he guarded like a jewel. “My private life is my own,” he must have said several times a day.
And then what does this charming—and now unpredictable—Cary Grant do but invade his own privacy. He sold it to a magazine. One sure bet is he didn’t do it for money, regardless of the sum. Among the many treasures Grant has, is money.
I can almost hear him say that he wanted to do the magazine story himself to set the record straight; to get it down in type correctly, once and for all. It’s almost a good reason. The motive is good, but the time for it is not now. There is a time and a place and Cary Grant. master at underplaying, overplayed it this time.
Do you know what would happen to any writer if he told the things about Cary Grant that Cary Grant told about himself? Cary would threaten to sue him; Cary would want to duel him; Cary would vow he’d never speak to him again. This last would hurt. I like to talk with Grant, whenever our paths meet: on sets, in a barber shop, at the Academy Awards. Believe me, I wouldn’t do to Cary Grant what he has done to himself. And he isn’t the only one, I could start with Vic Damone and run down the list—or up the list—to Kirk Douglas. Give an actor a chance to be an author and he certainly needs protection from himself.
And now I come to Subject Two: screen credits. I don’t know about you, but they’re too much for me. I liked the days when Leo The Lion roared and M-G-M presented a movie. Now the Lion roars and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents a Seven Arts Production which presents a Harris-Kubrick Production titled “Lolita.” I’m confused. And I got it straight from the Lion, so is he!
Yet this is simple compared to other credits. As I recall. “Lover Come Back” had an executive producer credit—Robert Arthur—followed by two other producers—Stanley Shapiro and Martin Melcher. Yet officially on the screen it was labeled “A 7 Pictures Corporation—Nob Hill Productions, Inc.” It was also an “Arwin Picture, Inc.” And to top it all, it was a “Universal-International” release. I was tired before the movie started. The credits dragged.
But worst of all is the fancy title situation, started by the talented Saul Bass. It was okay when it was a novelty, but now Bass and his imitators are trying to outdo each other. On the wall-to-wall screen, it’s murder—they break out anywhere on the acreage. The titles now are as important as the movie itself, there are as many title conferences as there are story conferences.
Imagine, if you can without too much stretch of the imagination, a title conference between Director Joseph Mankiewicz and artist Saul Bass concerning “Cleopatra.” It would go something like this:
Bass: You mean you finished the movie?
Mankiewicz: Not really. But overyone thinks so, please don’t wise them up.
Bass: Me? all I’m interested in is titles.
Mankiewicz: You’ve had a chance to absorb what we’re trying to create. How does it strike you?
Bass: Does it have to be a snake? Is history positive it was a snake? Positively positive.
Mankiewicz: Who cares about historians Darryl wants a snake.
Bass: But a cat would be nice. I did vex well with a cat for “Walk On The Wild Side.”
Mankiewicz: Yeah, but nobody used a c when they made “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” Also, the cat bit’s been done.
Bass: So what? I did the arm bit for “Man With The Golden Arm,” and I did the arm be again for “Exodus.” I’m very big with arm And cats, too.
Mankiewicz: Maybe so, but not for this on The cat would be very confusing on account Liz did “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and it might mislead the audience. They’d be staring up and down the Nile, waiting to spot Big Daddy I wouldn’t risk $25,000.000 on cats or arm.
Bass: Okay, then, about snakes. Can it be maybe a cobra?
Mankiewicz: What’s wrong with an asp?
Bass: I got nothing against asps. I do cobra better. They’re bigger and more colorful.
Mankiewicz: I don’t like it. It’s too . . well, it’s too snake-bitey. Maybe a barge?
Bass: Say, I like barges. Okay, this barge has a very colorful canopy and we work each name into it. The barge appears at the to of the screen and drops down through. Then another barge appears upper right and descends at an angle to lower left.
Mankiewicz: Why not straight across the screen? Like a barge sails.
Bass: Wouldn’t work. If a boat appears an it sails like people expect it to sail, there no surprise. Besides in “The Vikings” boa) sailed across the screen. I have a reputation to consider.
Mankiewicz: I think I’ve got it. The girl Queen of Egypt and most people, when the think of Egypt, think of pyramids.
Bass: So let’s do pyramids.
Mankiewicz: I take back my idea. I wouldn’t work. Put names on each tier of pyramid and Darryl would be sued out of him socks. A pyramid is smaller at the top where star wants to be, and some lesser star would get the big lower tier of the pyramid and than would upset the contract clauses.
Bass: Yeah. Besides, pyramids don’t move Arms move, cats move. But not pyramids.
Mankiewicz: You’ll have to come up with something else.
Bass: What have you got against arms? For instance, her arm with a gold bracelet shaped like a snake. Or his arm with a hammered bronze wristband.
Mankiewicz: It has to be her arm, if we use arms. I’m sure it’s in her contract. Everything else is.
Bass: I sure like arms. I’ll have half a dozen arms jumping all over the large screen. You won’t be able to follow them. I might ever throw in a few snakes. And maybe one cat.
Mankiewicz: Not cats. But maybe a few sand dunes. If you can make them look different than the sand dunes in “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Bass: Fine. When do you want them?
Mankiewicz: You’ll have to work fast. I’d like them in time for the release of the picture. It would be great to have the credits in front of the picture.
Bass: You’ll have your credits jumping all over the screen before the picture starts.
Mankiewicz: I’ve got to hand it to you.
Bass: Hey! How about hands . . . ?
Hey fellows, Bass and your followers, quit with those tricky, jumpy titles. It’s worse than watching a tennis match!
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1963