Peter Bogdanovich, known primarily as a director, film historian and critic, has been working with professional actors all his life. He started out as an actor (he debuted on the stage in his sixth-grade production of Finian’s Rainbow ); he watched actors work (he went to the theater every week from the age of thirteen and saw every important show on, or off, Broadway for the next decade); he studied acting, starting at sixteen, with Stella Adler (his work with her became the foundation for all he would ever do as an actor and a director).
Now, in his new book, Who the Hell’s in It, Bogdanovich draws upon a lifetime of experience, observation and understanding of the art to write about the actors he came to know along the way; actors he admired from afar; actors he worked with, directed, befriended. Among them: Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, John Cassavetes, Charlie Chaplin, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda, Ben Gazzara, Audrey Hepburn, Boris Karloff, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, Frank Sinatra, and James Stewart.
Bogdanovich captures—in their words and his—their work, their individual styles, what made them who they were, what gave them their appeal and why they’ve continued to be America’s iconic actors.
On Lillian Gish: “the first virgin hearth goddess of the screen . . . a valiant and courageous symbol of fortitude and love through all distress.”
On Marlon Brando: “He challenged himself never to be the same from picture to picture, refusing to become the kind of film star the studio system had invented and thrived upon—the recognizable human commodity each new film was built around . . . The funny thing is that Brando’s charismatic screen persona was vividly apparent despite the multiplicity of his guises . . . Brando always remains recognizable, a star-actor in spite of himself. ”
Jerry Lewis to Bogdanovich on the first laugh Lewis ever got onstage: “I was five years old. My mom and dad had a tux made—I worked in the borscht circuit with them—and I came out and I sang, ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ the big hit at the time . . . It was 1931, and I stopped the show—naturally—a five-year-old in a tuxedo is not going to stop the show? And I took a bow and my foot slipped and hit one of the floodlights and it exploded and the smoke and the sound scared me so I started to cry. The audience laughed—they were hysterical . . . So I knew I had to get the rest of my laughs the rest of my life, breaking, sitting, falling, spinning.”
John Wayne to Bogdanovich, on the early years of Wayne’s career when he was working as a prop man: “Well, I’ve naturally studied John Ford professionally as well as loving the man. Ever since the first time I walked down his set as a goose-herder in 1927. They needed somebody from the prop department to keep the geese from getting under a fake hill they had for Mother Machree at Fox. I’d been hired because Tom Mix wanted a box seat for the USC football games, and so they promised jobs to Don Williams and myself and a couple of the players. They buried us over in the properties department, and Mr. Ford’s need for a goose-herder just seemed to fit my pistol.”
These twenty-six portraits and conversations are unsurpassed in their evocation of a certain kind of great movie star that has vanished. Bogdanovich’s book is a celebration and a farewell.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Who the Hell's in It|
|Release Date: 12-22-2010|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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Who the Hell's in It
The first and only star I ever asked for an autograph was Marlon Brando; he was also the first star I had met. It was around New Year’s 1954, I was fourteen, and had just seen a matinee at New York’s City Center starring
José Ferrer in a heavy drama, The Shrike. Outside on the darkening winter sidewalk, I was looking at the posters proclaiming the production “a major cultural event” when I glanced up the street toward Seventh Avenue, and instantly from about a half-block away recognized the person coming toward me. My heart started beating faster as I quickly turned back to the poster. I felt I had to talk to him: it was Marlon Brando, for God’s sake, and if I didn’t get an autograph, no one would believe I had just seen him walking up 55th Street toward Sixth Avenue.
I knew Brando was in town shooting the longshoreman drama On the Waterfront, with Elia Kazan directing (and for which Brando would win his first Best Actor Oscar), but I didn’t know until I saw the film eight months later that he was wearing his costume home: soon-to-be-familiarto-the-world gray checkered jacket, work pants and motorcycle boots. I glanced again; when he was just a few feet away, absorbed in thought, hands shoved into the jacket’s side pockets, I turned and approached him, saying, “Mr. Brando, may I have your autograph?”
He didn’t alter his step a fraction, looked at me briefly, and just kept walking as he said, fairly deadpan, with that slightly nasal Midwestern twang, “Yeah.” I fell in step with him, starting to search for a pad and pencil
I knew I had somewhere, which is what I mu