“Why I Made That Immoral Movie?”
Very early in my motion picture career, I once asked for time out to consider a director’s request that I kiss my leading lady. I simply wanted to talk it over with my wife Shirley. Before I could tell the studio that I’d agreed to do this scene, papers all around the country were dutifully reporting that I had refused. A hard-working press agent at 20th Century-Fox figured it was a better story to simply say I refused—which wasn’t the ease at all.
But if that bit of trivia was regarded as news, you can imagine what happened when the story recently leaked out that the movie-censoring body (The Shurlock Office) had refused a seal of approval to my latest film, “The Main Attraction.” I wish I could pass this off as another publicity stunt, but the basic facts are true.
But like any controversy that’s fed into the Hollywood gossip mill, the story has been blown up out of proportion and once again the studio—in this ease Seven Arts Films—has obviously decided that they can sell tickets if the public is duped into thinking that Pat Boone has made a film that’s larded with sex and steaming dialogue. Well, I’m afraid this kind of fan is in for a big disappointment! While “The Main Attraction” is a far cry from the roles I’ve been playing, and still contains one scene that I am morally opposed to, I would have never accepted this film if I hadn’t thought it had a moral and a point of view that made sense and I still think it’s a whale of a film. But I must retrogress and start at the beginning.
There comes a time in every actor’s career when he must take inventory and decide where he is going. I felt I had reached this vital crossroad just last year.
I have always known that I could never be happy unless I used my success as a source of good and was at least content with the thought that my films have been entertaining and harmless fun for the teenagers who went to see them.
I was given new songs, a new cast in half a dozen pictures, but the premise of every Pat Boone film was basically the same—the All-American boy involved in the same simple, harmless problems. Boy wins girl, boy sings, boy loses girl, boy sings a sad song, boy wins girl again and fade out on him singing a happy tune.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that— except that the studios have almost stopped making this kind of motion picture. I sometimes think I was born a generation too late and wish I could turn back the clock to that happy era when Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were peddling the kind of entertainment that was uncomplicated, wholesome fun. The fact that Walt Disney still makes this kind of movie and the public flocks to see them, only proves that there is a market for family films. And I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been patiently waiting for Mr. Disney to invite me to appear in one of his pictures. I keep hoping that Fred MacMurray might be unavailable one of these days!
I don’t want to embarrass any other actors, but I have been offered and have rejected many off-beat films that turned out to be successful. I felt that most of them had shock value and nothing else.
And while some of these pictures would have provided a challenge to me as an actor that I would have welcomed, I knew that I’d be betraying my conscience and fans if I appeared in them. Then why did I consent to “The Main Attraction?”
I will never forget the day that the story was submitted to me. It was to be made by a first rate producing company and I was intrigued with the character of Eddie Phillips. There was nothing about him to suggest Pat Boone and I knew this would be the first real test of my acting ability. I also knew it might very well shatter the Boone image which was my chief concern. I don’t have and I don’t want a new image. An actor who builds his success according to a certain so-called “image” and then takes chances with it to make money or to court popularity is as dishonest as the married man who passes himself off as a bachelor.
There were numerous meetings with my advisors and I’m fortunate enough to have a handful of business associates whom I can respect. But even they were divided in their opinions. They ranged from everything to “This is a chance to mature as an actor,” to “This will open up a whole new career,” to “You can’t do this to your public,” and “You will be selling out to Hollywood.”
The discussions went back and forth for weeks and always in the back of my mind, I kept saying, “But my friends will realize that I’m only playing a role. They will certainly know that I haven’t changed. I still stand for the same things.”
Then someone reminded me that Bing Crosby played an alcoholic in “Country Girl,” and that Jimmy Stewart committed murder in a picture without destroying their images as solid citizens. That made me do a lot of thinking—and maybe it was all wishful. But I suddenly realized that you can’t always hold to a set of rules and I had been guilty before of making certain statements that I later realized were hasty. For instance, I have said I would never make a motion picture that I wouldn’t take my children to see. Which was a rash statement. I can now think of many adult films that I would have been proud to be in that I still wouldn’t want my children to see. This is how I evaluated “The Main Attraction.”
But something went wrong somewhere and I can’t unload the responsibility for certain mistakes that I made. I was certainly naive—and that’s no excuse—but I did take a deep breath and decide to make this film when I was assured that certain changes would be made in the basic story. I had hoped to keep what’s referred to as the Pat Boone image and build it—add to it—-by becoming a better, more serious actor, but I was still resolved not to make a picture that wasn’t worthwhile and in good taste. Now “The Main Attraction,” as it was presented to me when I contracted to do it, promised me a chance to grow as an actor without denying my principles. Yes, it’s true that in the picture I play a young man wanted for murder. During most of the story he is rootless, faithless and a wastrel with no rules to live by. But before the story ends, he falls in love with innocent, lovely Tessa (played by Nancy Kwan) and for the first time he is loved—completely. It stuns him—it changes him. He realizes the futility of his past, and with his new outlook has hopes of finding happiness. This is the story I agreed to film.
When I contracted to make the picture, the script hadn’t been completed. It was still incomplete when we left for England to begin filming, but I had discussed it in detail with Ray Stark of Seven Arts Productions (producers of the film), and he had assured me that it would be finished to our mutual satisfaction.
I’m sure he meant what he said, but Ray couldn’t have realized any more than I did then that there could never be such a thing as our mutual satisfaction where “The Main Attraction” was concerned.
Without giving away the entire plot, I have to tell enough of the picture’s story to explain the differences that arose.
Marguerite Roberts, an Academy Award winner, was the first writer hired to do the screenplay and she and I ironed out one problem with no difficulty.
At first the story called for Eddie, the boy I played, to take advantage of young Tessa’s love—to have an affair with her in a deserted Italian chalet.
To me, this didn’t seem reasonable. A young man who had dozens of women but who is sincerely in love for the first time wouldn’t allow himself to wreck the life of a tender young girl who loves him.
Marguerite said that she thought I was right and changed the story.
But then she and Seven Arts parted and John Patrick, another award winning writer, replaced her. We all left for England.
The scene that then caused the greatest trouble was between Nancy Kwan and me—the same one I’ve been talking about.
Tessa and I, ardently in love, are alone in an Italian chalet. Eddie knows that he can never marry the girl, because he’s a murder suspect and a fugitive who must leave her in the morning.
The girl, however, doesn’t realize this. All she knows is that she loves Eddie desperately—and he loves her.
Eddie and Tessa romance for a while in front of the fire; he sings her a song, and then, when she goes up to bed, he goes with her to light the way and kiss her good night.
Timidly, Tessa offers herself to Eddie—finally she begs him to stay with her. It was over Eddie’s answer that Patrick and I disagreed.
To me, the real drama of the situation would be Eddie’s struggle within himself. Try to imagine how he would feel. He wants the girl desperately. Previously, if he wanted a woman and she offered herself to him, he just took her.
But now, everything is different. At last, Eddie has traded passion for compassion and for the first time he is sensitive and understanding and doesn’t want to crush and destroy the first real love in his life. He doesn’t want this to be just another sordid affair.
That’s the way I saw the scene; because I believe there’s something inherent in human nature that would keep even a wastrel from wrecking his first love.
As I saw it, the great and honest conflict of the story would be the one within Eddie in the face of temptation.
Patrick tried for three days and three nights to mite the scene the way I wanted it, but he couldn’t do it. He said that he wouldn’t be honest with himself if he let Eddie walk away and resist the temptation to have an affair with Tessa.
“The audience would laugh you out of the theater,” he told me. I didn’t believe he was right, and I still don’t. Am I that out of touch with humanity? Are people that sex hungry? Do you think an audience would find the victory of unselfish love over physical appetite so impossible as to be ridiculous?
Patrick struggled so hard with the scene and worried about it so much that he became physically ill.
I can understand that now, because a couple of days later I had worried until I was sick, too.
Then, in the middle of the night, I thought I had found a way out of the dilemma. The scene had to be dramatic, and it had to provide a reason for the girl to be distraught the next morning. Otherwise, the following scene, a near suicide, wouldn’t fit.
I suggested to Patrick, “Let Eddie not only reject the girl but reject her with violence. He loves her, but at the same time, he almost hates her because of the torture he’s undergoing for her sake.
“Write a scene in which he throws her down and curses her. She, not understanding the struggle, reacts hysterically. She’s hurt almost beyond endurance, because she has offered him everything and he has cursed her.”
Well, Patrick couldn’t go for that idea either, and, finally, we compromised with a scene that was supposed to be ambiguous. The talk, the love scene, the fade out, the following scenes—all could be taken on two quite opposite levels.
In the compromise version of the morning after, for example, I am dressed and the camera picks me up shaving, allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions about the night before. This is considerably more wholesome than the original.
I was still unhappy with the scene. In fact, during the argument over the script, I said I wanted out, because the film wasn’t the one I had agreed to make.
That brought a call from my agents warning me that if I walked out, Seven Arts would probably sue me for the cost of the picture, a million and a half dollars, and might win. Maybe I should have walked out and taken a chance on the suit, but, instead, I settled for the compromise of ambiguity.
Now, I hear, the scene is even less ambiguous than it was when I made it. After I left England, some lines were dubbed in to clear up any doubts that the audience might have and this must be what caused the censors to refuse a seal for this film. I can’t think of anything else that could have been objectionable.
I got myself into this mess through ignorance, naivete—or both. I’m not blaming anybody else for my mistake, but as long as I have anything to say about it, no Pat Boone picture will be released without the Motion Picture Board’s seal.
I have told the producers that I will happily work free of charge to make any changes in the picture that the censoring board requests.
I’ll even remake the picture from scratch if it’s made in compliance with the Board’s requirements.
However, I can’t agree to the picture’s release without the seal of approval.
The producers have tried to reassure me by saying the picture will create a new excitement about me.
Personally, I’d rather never appear in another picture than to be seen in one that doesn’t have the seal.
I have talked to attorneys about getting an injunction to keep the film from being distributed. Unless the changes are made and a seal of approval is awarded, I’ll take whatever legal action I can.
The thing that hurts me most is the mail I get from people who say that I have let them down.
I try to remind myself that for every letter I get deploring my part in the picture, there must be countless people who won’t give it a thought. Maybe the protests of a comparative few shouldn’t matter.
But the people who write crush me.
I feel keenly their disappointment in me. To me, it matters.
It matters a great deal.
Pat’s in “The Main Attraction,” an M-G-M release, and “The Yellow Canary,” 20th.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1963