Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

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Well, during that lime he made one movie, An Enemy of the People-and no one would book it.

I think it tried a run somewhere-maybe Minneapolis-and expired before the first fortnight. The public didn't want McQueen in Ibsen, for chrissakes. They wanted bang-bang pictures, they had no interest in seeing him act. Just as I'm sure Reynolds knows where his power lies. So why docs he keep trying to expand his scope, why isn't he satisfied just doing Smokey? I don't know Reynolds, but I've followed his career enough to be positive of this: He's serious.

He got his first stage part in and was good enough a year later to get cast in a major revival of Mister Roberts at New York's City Center. And he was good enough a few years after that to get one of the top roles in Look, We've Come Through by Hugh Wheeler, a writer who was good enough to win not one but three Tony awards. And look what Reynolds has been through. All those dreary tv series-Riverboat, Hawk, Dan August. He was damn near two decades in the wilderness, doing crap because he had to; now, when he doesn't have to, why shouldn't he do what he pleases?


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Why the studios continue to let him do what he pleases is a question we'll attack in the next section. So there is this strange "something," this nerve that is struck simultaneously in audiences all around the world. And when that happens, it's like discovering a vein of gold. Which is, of course, wonderful. But which also makes for a certain nervousness, because no one can predict the richness of the vein, or its breadth, or its depth, or when it will run dry.

So, with the major exception aside, stars are essentially meaningless. Studio executives know this-they know that the picture is the star. But they are paying four million plus to Dustin Hoffman to appear in Tootsie.

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Of Hoffman's last three films, Agatha and Straight Time were disasters. The other was Kramer Vs. Kramer, for which he deserved every award he got. But don't tell me the picture would have stiffed if Redford or Nicholson had played the lead. The picture was the star. To repeat, studio executives know that to be true. They absolutely, positively, one hundred percent in their heart of hearts, in the dark nights of the souls, they know it. They just don't believe it, that's all.

I know this must seem a bizarre and unimportant grace note, but please bear with me because I'd like to persuade you otherwise. I think Barbra Streisand finished high school. I'm not sure Hoffman or Minnelli did. I think Jane Fonda may have had a year of college, Redford the same or less, Beatty the same or less, Travolta the same or less, Nicholson the same or less, many more the same or less.

Now, this doesn't mean they're not bright. I've never met a star who wasn't clever and shrewd and loaded with more street smarts than I'll collect in a lifetime. What it does mean is this: early entry. And when you come into show business early, there is one simple truth that applies to one and all: The business takes over your life.

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At a time when a nineteen-year-old may be trying to figure out Joyce's symbolism in a course in contemporary fiction, the nineteen-year-old performer is trying to figure out how to get in to see an agent. And so, more than likely, is everyone he knows. And when this nineteen-year-old attends a dramatic event, he may actually be thinking about it-but usually what he's thinking is that great theatrical cliche: "I could have played that part.

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

So when our performer reads a script, what he thinks is "I'd be great here; and I'd kill 'em there; no, I don't want to play that scene the way it's written. How to make it work for them. Which is not the same as how to make the project work as a whole.

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Elizabeth Taylor was famous, at least in legend, for never reading an entire script, just her own lines. No one's had a more fabulous career; maybe she knew something the rest of us didn't. By now we're aware of the power of stars. The way that power most manifests itself is this: not in the material you see on screen that's something the studio decides but in the way that material is treated. And I can give no better example of how that affects screenwriters than in discussing the movie that follows.

I'll try and describe the lead-up to the scene, the sequence itself, and then why it took my head off. Duvall played the lead role, that of i great Marine fighter pilot whose name is Bull Meachum.


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But it's and there are no wars to fight. The movie opens in Spain where we see Meachum in action during air maneuvers, then watch him with his buddies, making a wonderful mess of a fancy restaurant. Bull is sent home to a new assignment, and his family meets him at the airport.

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As they wait for the plane to taxi in. Danner admonishes the kids to wait for their father to come to them, because he'll probably hold inspection, but when he alights, his arms go wide and they bolt for him, Which is not to say Bull isn't tough. The family drives to a new rented house, and there he harangues them to shape up, calls them hogs: "Listen, hogs--" is his standard family greeting.

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

You sense he cares, but that's from inside the actor and the character, not from the lines. Now Bull goes to his new post. We learn several thingschiefly, that he's been passed over for promotion and that his new boss, who has requested him, loathes him. But the superior officer wanted Bull for a reason: The Marine squadron is in rotten shape and he, the superior officer, has no intention of being passed over when his time for promotion comes.

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So Bull is to bring the squadron up to speed. Bull meets the squadron and, in a brilliant speech, scares the crap out of them. He tells them, "I don't want you to consider me as just your commanding officer. I want you to look on me as if I was.. If I say something, you pretend it was coming from the Burning Bush. It's in the backyard of the rented house, Blythe Danner and the three youngest are sitting happily around, watching Duvall and O'Keefe play a game of one-on-one, the first to score ten baskets wins.

It's all very idyllic, the family happily cheering on the underdog son. O'Keefe and Duvall engage in a little taunting family banter, the kid has the ball. He fakes, shoots, and scores. Duvall takes the ball out, maneuvers, scores. O'Keefe takes the ball out, puts on another move, slips past Duvall - and just as he goes up for the shot, Duvall shoves him against a fence.

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