Un espacio para aquellos films poco recordados del período clásico y neoclásico

Location: Capital Federal, Argentina

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Did you do any flying yourself?

I did one stunt-one of the German planes that landed and rolled over a few times.

How did you avoid getting hurt?

How can you get hurt? You're strapped in, you duck your head, and let the goddam thing roll over. And you have very little gas in it, to avoid setting yourself on fire.

Being a young director on his first important film, didn't you feel a bit unsure of yourself directing a famous actor like H. B. WaIthall?

No, he was a wonderful guy. I always got along well with character men and women. It was only the stars I had trouble with. And a lot of the stars other directors had trouble with got along fine with me.

How did you come to pick Gary Cooper for Wings?

I'd been looking at so many people, so many guys, and suddenly I saw him. He had that wonderful smile, that wonderful way. I took him down to Texas for weeks. We did the scene and he came up to see me in my hotel room, calling me "Mr. Wellman".

"Mr. Wellman, could I do that over again?"

"Well, what is it that you think you can do better this time?"

''Well, I picked my nose.''

"You keep on picking your nose and you'll pick your way into a fortune."

I told Cooper to always back away from everything and as long as he did that he was great. Hell of a nice guy.

Buddy Rogers has always said you were the best director he ever had.

I love Buddy. He's a tough son of a bitch. To show you how tough he is, he hates flying - it makes him deathly sick. He logged over ninety-eight hours of flying on that one picture. Every time he came down, he vomited. That's a man with guts. I love him.

In the fight scene that takes place in the training camp, Arlen, who I don't like as much as Buddy - too cocky - came to me and said, "You know I can fight. You better tell Rogers because I don't think Rogers knows how to fight." So I said O.K. and that I'd tell Buddy to be very careful. So I went to Buddy and told him exactly what I just told you. He said, "Well, I don't know how to fight." I said, "I know, but you can still kick his brains out." And he did. Kicked the living hell out of him, simply on guts alone.

Did you feel yourself getting into a rut with the aerial combat type of picture?

Not really. After Wings was a hit, they asked me to do another one and I said O.K. [Legion of the Condemned, 1928.] A little while later, Howard Hughes wanted me to do Hell's Angels. They told me, "You don't have to do it, just make an appearance. We don't want to get in wrong with him." So I went over and met him and said, "No, I'm sorry. I've just done two of them and I'm sick to death of them. I wouldn't make a good picture for you." He was very nice and we had an amicable talk. That was the only time I met the great Hughes.

Why did you make Young Eagles?

Buddy's [Rogers'] box-office had fallen off and it was an attempt to make another Wings. It was frightful - a bad movie

. Why did you move from Paramount to Warners?

Money. Every time I ever made a change, it was for either freedom or money, usually money.

How did you come to make Public Enemy?

I got the story from two druggists from Chicago. They were visiting the studio when they stopped me and asked me if I'd read their story. They were such nice guys that I asked them to sit down and have lunch with me. There they told me the story. At that time, it was called "Beer and Blood". I went nuts about it and went in to see Zanuck and told it to him. He said, "Bill, I can't do this, I've just made Little Caesar and Doorway to Hell." I said, "I'll make this so goddamn tough you'll forget both of them." So he said O.K.

How'd you pick Cagney?

Didn't pick Cagney - Eddie Woods played the role, the main role. We had shot for three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, I went in to see the rushes and called Zanuck who was in New York at the time.

"We've made a frightful mistake. We've got the wrong man playing the wrong part. This Cagney is the guy."

So he said, "O.K., make the switch."

Didn't Woods resent it?

Sure he resented it, but I didn't give a goddamn. I said, "Look, you're not good enough for us. Play the second lead." And he was lucky to get that. I had to be honest with him. So he agreed - what else could he do? I could always get somebody else if he didn't like it and he knew it.

What about the famous grapefruit scene?

I've been married so many times, and they were all beautiful. 90% of all the domestic troubles I had with these wives was my fault. But this one particular wife, whenever there was any anger (and you've got to have a few rows, for Christ's sake), this beautiful face would just freeze and wouldn't say a word. It used to just kill me. You're whipped, you're licked before you start. Anyway, I like grapefruit halves and when we used to eat breakfast I often thought of taking that goddamn grapefruit and just mushing it right in that lovely, beautiful, cold face. I never did it really, because I did it in Public Enemy.

That was your scene?

That was my scene. I know Zanuck says it's his but he's a goddamn liar. I can show you in the script. Cagney was supposed to throw the grapefruit at the woman.

I'm one of the very few directors who likes Zanuck - as a producer. You see, pictures that still live, that are still successful, are made with the combination of a writer and a director and a producer. The writer and the director gave the producer the talent, the producer gave them the money and got the hell out of the way. Now, for Christ's sake, there's the Producer, the Associate Producer, the Assistant to the Producer, the Assistant to the Associate Producer, all of them lined up against one poor goddamn director. And all the women that they've got, whether they're married to them or living with them . . . Jesus, the pillow talk that goes on has ruined more great pictures than anything you can imagine, including the agents and the unions.


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