“You’re Goddam Right I Remember” – Howard Hawks Interviewed
by Kathleen Murphy and Richard T. Jameson
[Originally published in Movietone News 54, June 1977]
Howard Winchester Hawks was home the afternoon of July 12, 1976. For some time there, it looked as if it wouldn’t happen. Kathleen Murphy had finally taken the leap and declared Howard Hawks: An American Auteur in the Hemingway Tradition as her dissertation subject. Then she decided she’d better talk with the man himself. Phone calls were made, and friendly sounds, but Hawks could never plan “that far ahead” because he was “working on a story.” When “that far ahead” got cut to a little over a day and a half, it was on, and there was a frantic scramble for a borrowed tape recorder (courtesy of Ron Green), plane reservations, and an L.A. homebase (provided by Rick and Leslie Thompson). That was Saturday; Sunday, we flew; Monday morning, we were driving in a rental car to get to Palm Springs by noon.
When we walked in out of the 98° air about five minutes late, three dogs checked us over while our host continued strongly to advise the person on the other end of his phone line that the air conditioning equipment he’d installed wasn’t working, and that he, Hawks, had come to the conclusion “you’re a goddam crook.” Serious doubts about the enterprise set in when I took an indicated seat on the edge of a Relaxacisor chair and inadvertently tripped the activator switch, precipitating a non-Hemingwayesque movement of the earth beneath me; and when I failed to locate the switch by conscious means, I became the object of an icy blue stare that made me feel distinctly like the “Fancy Vest” who’d been dumb enough to sidle toward his rifle under the assumption that Cole Thornton wouldn’t notice. An attempt to start recording with side two of the first cassette almost came as an anticlimax after that.
Still, we were there—and we stayed there. We had brought along about 30 hours worth of tape; we could have filled nearly twice that, despite several gestures of willingness to depart if we were being too much of a bother. Mr. Hawks, who had turned 80 just over a month before, had driven 350 miles the previous day, taking his son to and from a motorcycle meet in the desert; and he frequently kneaded a stiffening hand he’d once broken on Ernest Hemingway’s jaw. He talked. We talked. Whenever he left the room to find a sketch or article that had come up in the conversation, we prowled around looking at the original Red River D belt buckle on the wall, the title painting from El Dorado, the mugs painted HOWARD, FROM DUKE. The dogs clicked in and out of the immediate vicinity on the cool flagstone floor, occasionally crowding up to Hawks for special attention; he put on his sternest manner to dismiss them, but when, about the third time it happened, we managed to remark out loud that he wasn’t being very convincing, he broke into a richly pleased smile, and from then on there was a lot of laughing.
We didn’t go to Palm Springs to interview Howard Hawks for Movietone News, but in listening and relistening to the tapes and seeing the more-than-pleasure they brought to other people, we finally decided what the hell. The following represents but a portion of what we recorded. The Hemingway material, while valuable and provocative, has been left out here. We heard some of the anecdotes that previous Hawks interviews have included, and some of them are reproduced here yet again—partly because they will be new to some readers, partly because they’re wrapped around other material, partly because even many months later they still seem different to us because we heard them from Howard Hawks himself and watched him while he told them. There are scads of questions we wish we’d asked. Some we did ask didn’t go anywhere (like what happened to Malcolm Atterbury and Harry Carey Jr., listed in the credits of Rio Bravo but not on view in the film itself). Sometimes the ways Hawks misconstrued, or chose to misconstrue, the questions were almost as interesting and suggestive as more direct answers might have been; but mostly these have been edited out.
As days go, it will be hard to top. Just about the time the cassette went into the machine right, Mr. Hawks was looking at a copy of MTN 26, containing the John Ford memorial, and remarking that he’d “seen it before—about 50 times.” He meant the Monument Valley butte on the cover. We’ll let July 12 take it from there.
John Ford, John Wayne, acting like an old man, etc.
Well, Ford and I guess I were the only people that worked with Wayne that he didn’t want to know what the story was or he didn’t want to see the script—he just said, “When do we start?” … And of course he adored Ford. As a matter of fact, Ford came down here to die. And I used to stop in at his house and have a drink on the way to playing golf. One day I went in and he was laughing like hell, and I said, “What are ya laughing about?” and he said, “I was just remembering all of the things I’ve stolen from you.” I said, “I’ll make ya any kind of a bet that I’ve stolen more. Hell, you’d be dead before you’d even find out.” And one day—he was really laughing—he said, “I just thought of the best thing I ever stole from you. I had just a fair-to-middling picture up for an Academy Award [How Green Was My Valley] and you had a real good one [Sergeant York] and I beat ya out of it!” And when I went over to see him and he said goodbye to me about six times, I knew that something was happening and I phoned Wayne and I said, “You better get down here and see Pappy. If I were you I’d fly down.” He came down and he saw him just two or three hours before he died.
My opinion was that he was the best director in the picture business. It was very strange because we were both very pleased that the other one would steal from him. We didn’t have any feeling of jealousy or anything like that. When I made Red River with Wayne, Ford saw it and said, “I didn’t think the big son-of-a-bitch could act!” And he put him in two really good pictures immediately after, and within a year and a half Wayne was one of the biggest stars in the picture business.
Every time I made a picture with Wayne, Ford used to come down and stay with us on location, watching. And I’d say, “Can’t you wait to see it to steal something from it?”
It’s amazing how Wayne manages to age in Red River—and I don’t just mean in terms of makeup, but in terms of his behavior and the way he walks and moves and speaks.
Well I’ll tell ya a funny story. He wasn’t sure about how to play it. He said, “I don’t know about playing an old man, I don’t know whether I can do it—I’m not that kind of an actor.” I said, “When we get to the old man part I’ll tell ya how to play it. But in the meantime we’re gonna start the picture while you’re young.” So we made all those scenes and we were talking and out on location getting ready to make a shot; and we were squatting on our heels the way, you know, the way cowboys and western people do. And he said, “Ya gotta tell me, how the hell am I gonna play an old man?” I said, “Watch me get up.” He watched me and he said, “OK, I know what I’m doing.”
It’s a shame he doesn’t seem to be working with anybody who challenges him now—I mean, a director. His recent films … they’re always ready to hand him anything and know that he’ll carry the picture, which of course he can do—
No, he can’t. He needs opposition; and without opposition, it’s very difficult to make a picture with him. He blows the rest of ‘em right off the screen.
I was going to make Hatari! with another star [opposite Wayne], and the studio couldn’t afford it. So we had to hire—I hired a German boy and a French boy to play the parts, and Wayne just went [makes a quick shrugging gesture] and they were gone. I had to change the story. But when I put him with Bob Mitchum and Dean Martin and Montgomery Clift, we got a story.
I was curious how he—and you—got along with James Caan in El Dorado because James Caan seems to be of such a different acting style than John Wayne. I mean, if I may say so, he’s got a kind of smartalecky, very modern style of acting—
I didn’t think he came out as smartalecky and modern in the picture El Dorado, did you?
Well, there’s a real difference between his style of acting and Wayne’s, it seems to me. That business of dressing up like the Chinaman out in the alley behind the bar is the kind of improvisation that I associate with a more modern school of acting, you know what I mean?
[Long pause] Well, it wasn’t in the script and … Matter of fact, Jimmy didn’t realize it but he was playing a comedy part. [Chuckles] I don’t believe in people trying to be funny. And as long as he didn’t know, I didn’t tell him. And he was quite amazed at the way the audience laughed at him. And he said, “I learned more on this picture than I ever knew before. I thought you had to try to be funny, but when I played it serious, they laughed!”
But people are not funny if they try to be funny. I don’t think.
Paul Newman can be very witty, very amusing, but when he “plays it for laughs” it can be dreadful.
Well, Wayne, ya really have to jump on him—although he’s getting smarter about everything. Except directing.
Working with writers.
[Between cassettes Hawks started talking about an author who had objected to Hawks’ revision of his story—until the film was released and proved successful, giving the director the opportunity to say, “I guess you don’t think we messed up so badly that you want your name taken off it.”]
…But that’s the only trouble I ever had. I never had any trouble with Hecht and MacArthur, or Dudley Nichols, or Leigh Brackett … I don’t change the story, I don’t change the scene: I just make it the way that I think it should be made, and that means that you just do little things with the dialogue, and that ya run into a place where ya can make something funny, and you add that to it because it’s awfully hard to get anybody today who can write funny. They try to write dialogue that’s funny, and no, I don’t trust dialogue at all. But I can write action that’s funny. I made one-reelers …
These “little changes” you made—it seems to me that a lot of what’s funny in your films has to do with the fact that people are having trouble with dialogue, they’re having trouble talking; it’s as though your movies were about—
I haven’t any idea. I don’t analyze them—I just go ahead and do it. I see too many people that I thought were good get into trouble by starting to analyze their own stuff…. I read one of Frank Capra’s things where he told you how to make pictures. I wouldn’t know how to make pictures from the way he talked about it—and I don’t think that he did….
I liked Capra; I still do…. He came to me one time and said, “This kind of dialogue that you do, Howard, what’s the principle of it?” I said, “Going round Robin Hood’s barn in order to tell something. And then the next thing, being absolutely direct.” And we discussed it and I said, “Funny that you come around, ’cause Noël Coward came and introduced himself on the set—nobody brought him in or anything—and he said, ‘I wondered if I could talk to you about some of this dialogue that you do. Whaddayou call it?’ I said, ‘Hemingway calls it oblique. I call it three-cushion.'” Capra went out and did a marvelous scene between Jean Arthur and Tommy Mitchell [in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington] where she gets tight and tries to get Tommy to marry her because she’s in love with Jimmy Stewart and … It went clear around like that. He did it better than I did it—that one time, and he never did it again.
But Coward, whom I admire so much, was very interested in talk, and talked about it. And then I said, “If you like my dialogue you’ll like Hecht and MacArthur. They’ve got a story—called The Coward, no, The Scoundrel….” And when Hecht and MacArthur got ready to do it, they called me up and said, “Howard, ya have to come help. We hadn’t realized what directing means. Could ya come back a couple weeks and help us?” and I said Sure. So the first thing I had to do with Noël was this scene where he turned around and walked back through this … thing, and I said [sighing] “Hey, Noël, you can’t wiggle your behind like that—it shows up too much.” “Oh my God!” he says, “Tell me if I do that!” I said, “You’re goddam right I’ll tell ya about it!” (Laughter)
I wanted to ask you who Seton I. Miller was or is. He worked a lot with you early on.
He was a boy at Yale with my brother who sent me some stuff that he wrote. I worked a lot with junior writers that I thought were good, because they’re so easy to work with, because I’m gonna change it anyway. He was a good plodder, ya know what I mean, he worked, he studied. He really worked on … not very many talking pictures, I don’t think….
John Lee Mahin was one of those boys. He worked for a newspaper—so did Hecht and MacArthur—but he was good, so I hired him. Introduced him to Victor Fleming and he did great work for Fleming and for me. But he was a peculiar type of a writer. He had to be told what to write. Then he did it well.
What do you mean when you say “he had to be told what to write”? Do you say, “I want a scene in which this gets established between these characters”?
Tell ’im what the scene’s for, tell him a little of the attitudes of the people and everything, and then he wrote beautiful dialogue. He worked with me on Red Dust (1932, dir. Victor Fleming) and China Seas (1935, dir. Tay Garnett)—I was producing over at Metro for a while….
He worked with Jules Furthman on China Seas, didn’t he? Another writer you’ve worked with—
I can’t remember. I can remember them if I directed them. I was producing for about 15 directors and 80 writers over there.
I had fun when we wrote Rio Bravo. My daughter was getting interested, and she had one good idea about throwing dynamite. I said, “Look, I’ll write the story and give you a credit and it’ll save me money on income tax and you’ll get enough to buy a new house.” So she’s listed as the writer.
That’s B.H. McCampbell?!
Yes! (Laughter) Barbara [Hawks) McCampbell! But I used to work with a kid who was beginning writing, and pay him five or ten thousand dollars for the writing, and I’d rewrite it myself. And if it was something I didn’t want to do, I’d sell it. I could charge off the guy, I didn’t get credit for being a writer and you could charge those things off.
On The Sun Also Rises.
I bought The Sun Also Rises and kept it for 25 years. And then I just decided that I couldn’t do it. With the condition of pictures at that time it was pretty damn tough to show that a man had had his balls shot off, ya know. We tried all kinds of ways of figuring how to tell it, and it didn’t turn out very nice with the characters…. So I sold it to [Darryl F.] Zanuck. And he went all over town saying he’d got the best of me, ’cause of the way he’d bought it. About eight months later he came to me and he said, “How were you gonna do that?” Well, I said, “I’d be very glad to tell you—for $50,000.” “Oh I’m not gonna pay you that.” I said, “Go and make it then!” He made it and I sent him a wire saying, “You’d have been a whole lot better off if you’d paid me the 50,000 bucks because it was a pretty bad picture.”
Source material for Only Angels Have Wings.
One critic said that usually I was pretty much to be relied on, but when I made a picture called Only Angels Have Wings, now that was just too much for anybody to believe. I wrote him a letter and said that—I kept a copy of this letter and I’m thinking of publishing this letter—every single thing in that picture was absolutely true, there wasn’t anything I invented. I invented how to use it. I got back a very nice letter.
The whole story was about … I was down in Mexico hunting with a bush pilot. You know, there weren’t any landing fields; they land anywhere. He had some homemade things that he dropped, and smoke would come out, and he could see which way the wind was blowing. And we’d go down and land and run our wheels on the ground to see whether it was mushy and marshy or what. And I went to dinner, and there was a guy there whose face had been burned in flying. All scarred. No expression on his face. Just talked to ya—nothing happened on his face. There was the cutest girl. The dinner was for a pilot and this girl. They were married, and they met in exactly the same way that the two people in Only Angels Have Wings met. And the only thing I couldn’t use was the fact that the fellow with the burnt face got up and said, “A year ago tonight you were married. You went to bed about ten minutes to two. You got up at two o’clock. There was a pause of about 15 minutes, then you repeated this thing,” and the girl said, “Damn you, you were peeking!” And they brought out a German machine used to keep the hours on flying; and it recorded when the motor started on a scroll, it recorded the takeoff run and recorded in the air, change of altitude, and landing bumps, so that they had a complete record of the time. And he’d hung it under their bed. Instead of being angry, the girl was so pleased and so proud of it, she put it up over the fireplace….
The Dawn Patrol, Richard Barthelmess, and a toast to the dead already.
When you were talking about the guy with the burnt face and Only Angels Have Wings, I naturally was reminded of Richard Barthelmess, who was great in The Dawn Patrol and gives a magnificent performance in Only Angels. I wondered if there was any story behind your using Barthelmess. He was past his peak as a star, wasn’t he, and yet be was so fine….
Well, I wasn’t very popular about the time that talking pictures came in. The head of Fox was a former police commissioner, and I made a picture kidding policemen—A Girl in Every Port (1928)—and this guy came out of the theater and said, “Well that’s the worst picture that Fox has made.'” And I said, “You’re just a goddam fool.” It got its cost back in one theater! But he never forgot that I called him a goddam fool. I couldn’t get to do a picture. He’d turn down every story. I asked the lawyer about it and he said, “He’s got a pretty good defense if he says that you were not capable of making a good picture. I’d wait a little bit.” So I wrote the story and the scenario and the dialogue of The Dawn Patrol. I paid John Monk Saunders $10,000 to put his name on it, because I didn’t think I was going to do too well; I was just a beginner. Barthelmess took Dawn Patrol and insisted I make it. It was my first talking picture. [The film was made at Warner Brothers First National; Hawks did not return to Fox Films, although he eventually got his back salary.] Barthelmess stuck by me, and it was the biggest-grossing picture of the year. I had no trouble after that, and he’d done a great deal for me.
Do you remember that song in The Dawn Patrol–“stand by your glasses, steady”?
You’re goddam right I remember it. My brother and I were just discharged from the First World War and we were in New York. We went into a restaurant bar, something. Young fella there, about four cops around him, and in a quiet voice he was just telling them what sons-of-bitches they were. Boom! they knocked him down. I went over to the sergeant and said, “What the hell did you beat up on that kid for?” He was drunk, had been. in the war and everything. “Well, we can’t control him. Do you think you can?” I said, “Well, we can try.”
So my brother and I took him over to the Deke house—we were both Dekes from Cornell and Yale—and we put him to bed. My brother said, “That guy certainly started something.” And this figure came out of the bed and said, “Well, I’ll finish it now!” and boom! we had to knock him out. He turned out to be the editor of the paper at Princeton, and he’d been at all the fronts since Verdun, and he told me about how he’d get back for a leave and he had this little French girl and he’d stay with her and drink brandy and then go back and get in the thing again. So that’s where this whole idea came from, because he told me the song. And my brother could play the piano a little bit, and he could remember it. So when I was making the movie I said to him, “Do you remember that song?” and he played it, and we could remember the dialogue between the two of us, and we put it in the picture. And I was asked to sign a release by Warner Brothers for the song, and I said, “I can’t sign a release.” I told them where I got it. It was a number of years before I found out who wrote it. It was Rudyard Kipling. [Pause; then, speaking quietly]
We meet ’neath the sounding rafters,
The walls all around us are bare.
They echo the peals of laughter,
It seems as though the dead are there.
So stand by your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies.
Here’s health to the dead already
And hurrah for the next man that dies.
That was Kipling.1 And we were never sued.
Come and Get It and Frances Farmer.
Do you remember what you had in mind for the ending of Come and Get It? I gather that your ending didn’t please someone at the studio and William Wyler had to take over and finish the film….
Well, [Edna Ferber] wrote a story … First place, [Sam] Goldwyn was going to the hospital so he said, “I want you to make this. Do anything you want to do.” And then I talked to her, and I said, “That isn’t such a good story that you wrote. You really ducked around all the issues.” And I talked to her a little while, and she said, “How come you know so much about it?” and I said, “You’re writing about my grandfather and all the people in his class—they were the lumber barons of the time—and your mother kept a little antique store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and it was so crowded that everybody knocked a dish off when they went in, and then they had to pay for an antique.” (Laughter) “My God!” [said Ferber.] “What were you going to do?” “Well, for one thing this poor little lame girl that you make all the lumbermen laugh at, I’m gonna turn into a good lusty whore.” “I wish I had,” she said.
Utilizing all that I knew about logging drives and stuff like that, we did that picture until Sam Goldwyn came back. And I said to his wife, “I won’t finish it for about four or five days. You better keep him outta there.” “Why?” ”’Cause he’s gonna faint!” Finally she comes to me and says, “I can’t keep him out, Howard. What are we gonna do?” “Well, get ready to help him if he faints.” And I went to see him. He wanted to see me the next day at his house. He was sitting back in the chair with his legs covered like an invalid. He started talking. I said, “Wait a minute. Are you a sick man?” “Yes.” I said, “OK, then we ought not to talk. Have you got any ideas about what you’d like to have done with this picture?” He said yes. I said, “Tell ‘em to somebody that you trust and let me communicate with him, ’cause I don’t want to argue with you if you’re a sick man.” So a very nice guy that used to work for Saturday Evening Post was working for him. He said, “I don’t understand the difference, what he wants compared with…” “Well, tell me what he wants,” and he told me, and I said, “Well, I think that’s easy to fix up,” and I wrote some scenes. Then he [Goldwyn] wanted to see me and he said, “Now these scenes are just what I want. Just perfect. Who wrote ‘em?” I said, “I did.” And he said, “Directors shouldn’t write.” And I said, “You stupid son-of-a-bitch, I don’t want to work with you any longer.” And I quit. And he had everybody in town call me to come back. And I said, “I won’t come back.” So Wyler came in and they tried to write some scenes and finally Wyler found the scenes I wrote and said, “This is the scenes we ought to use.” He didn’t make ‘em the way I’d have made ‘em, but they had the same effect.
Would you have had the father and son [Edward Arnold and Joel McCrea] split at the end and go their separate ways? I often thought that maybe .you’d have had it end like Red River….
Oh, I would have, sure. Underneath it, you know, is the feeling, and I think that the father loved an image, and felt very guilty about what he’d done, and I think when it was all over that he’d have been very happy that his boy fell in love with her. Otherwise it would have separated them completely over such a little thing.
Did you like Frances Farmer?
I thought she was tremendous in that.
Ah, God, she was so good.
Just beautiful. Really sad what happened to her.
She came into my office and I talked with her for half, three-quarters of an hour, about a little part. And finally I said, “You oughta be playing the lead.” She said, “I can do it.” “Well,” I said, “we’ll try a test.” And we made a test. And she, like any kid, you know, get theories what they should do and all, how they’re gonna age and everything. All I wanted was mannerisms. We made a test. She had to cry in it. I told the makeup man to get some stuff to blow in her eyes. “I don’t need that.” I said, “OK.” She didn’t realize she had to do it four times in different shots. She dried up. So finally I said, “You’d better let me help ya,” and she did. She saw that and she said, “You were right.” And I said, “But you weren’t right. You didn’t have the right attitude. You didn’t take it right. Where do ya live?” She told me and I said, “I don’t know where that is. Where is it near?” She said, “Schwab’s drugstore.” I said, “I’ll pick ya up there at eight-thirty tonight, and we’re going hunting until we find some little joint that’s got somebody that will show you how to play this thing. And we saw this marvelous dame singing—she was talking with some friends of hers and they hit the chords for her to start—”I’ll be with ya in a minute” and she goes on talking. And I said to Frances, “Now look. It’s gonna cost ya about fifteen dollars. Sit her over a beer or two. You won’t get hurt, you’re a big husky girl, you may get your leg felt a little bit, but just watch. Whoever sits down and picks you up, mimic this girl.” She came back in about ten minutes and said, “I’m ready to do the part.” No makeup. Just a different-color hair and this marvelous attitude. And she sang. And I said to Eddie Arnold, “This girl’s new, this is her first picture.” Very first scene, she said, “Mr. Arnold, if you’d answer me just a little quicker we could keep up the speed of this scene, we could keep it going.” He come and said, “Hey, she’s pretty good, isn’t she?” I said, “She’s so damn good that you better really go to work or she’s just gonna take it right out from under you.” And she was fabulous. And I paid off the other girl, 25, 30,000 dollars, that they’d engaged; put her in at $75 a week.
I had a boat at that time. Be going out in the boat for the weekend. She’d show up with a—blue denim trousers, bare feet, toothbrush stuck in her pocket—and the cleanest, freshest-looking girl ya ever saw in all your life. And probably spoiled her in a way, because they gave her some boys didn’t know how to direct, and then some bad stories, and she’d been used to working the other way, and she became a pain in the neck to the poor directors that had to work with her because they couldn’t keep up their schedules. I tried to reason with her. Then she met Clifford Odets, and fell in love with him; and he was a nasty man. And he put her really through the wringer. And she ended up a drunk, and she didn’t even take a drink before she met him. And every time they’d let her out of the hospital she’d come and see me, but my God!
I think she had more talent than anybody I ever worked with.
Joan Crawford and Today We Live.
Joan Crawford was probably one of the … I used to go around with her when she was just a beginner; tried to teach her some of the things and taught her pretty well. But when Bill Faulkner wrote a story, a script for me, we didn’t have any woman in the story. And they told me, “Have you got your cast?” and I said yeah—Gary Cooper, and Bob Young, and Frank, Franchot Tone. “Oh ,” they said, “you’ve got Joan Crawford,” and I said, “Oh, you’ve got the wrong place, there’s no girl in this,” and they said “There is now.” And they said, “Look, we’ve discussed this and we haven’t got a picture for her and we’ll lose a million dollars if we haven’t got a picture, so you’re stuck.” And well, there wasn’t anything I could do. I didn’t have anything in my contract that allowed me to say no to them. And I said, “Have you told Joan?” “Yeah, she’s down in the commissary waiting for ya.”
I went down there, she saw me and she started to cry, the tears started falling. “Howard, I—I read that thing and there isn’t a part for a girl in it!” [Chuckles] I said, “Look, Joan”—I told her about what happened—”you’re under contract, I’m under contract. This can be the worst thing and we can both have the worst time, or we can have some fun. We don’t have to start sleeping together again, but you can kiss me when I come on the set or something like that, and you’ve just gotta take it.” “OK,” she says, “I will.” And she gave me a flower and a kiss every morning, and drove me half nuts about some of the thing, y’know. She wanted to talk like the boys talked. Well, I couldn’t blame her for wanting to talk that way because it was very special. Some of the clothes she got on were really … But she was a marvelous kid, dame, y’know, to go through this thing, with me handing her a scene each day and …
Actresses in general.
When I see a girl that I think has possibilities, by the time she’s in a TV show that’s pretty good and by the time she’s finished so that I can use her, she’s got the cutes. All these people hear these laugh tracks that they attach to the thing, and they begin to think they’re funny and that they’re cute. Just messes them all up.
I was wondering why, for instance, you’ve worked through the years with Walter Brennan and John Wayne and Cary Grant, people like that, actors like that, but I know of only three actresses that you’ve used more than once: Bacall, and Ann Dvorak, and Charlene Holt. And I was wondering why you don’t use, or you haven’t used, actresses more than once.
Well, to be truthful about it, usually they’ve done pretty well when they become stars, and then they think “My public likes me to be this kind of a person” and they don’t want to try anything.
I made a test of a girl once. She was just fabulous. She was a rebel in everything she did. The way she wore her hair, the way she wore her clothes, the way she’d read lines. I signed her for a movie to play the part of a girl who thought that if she slept with somebody she brought bad luck and they got killed. When I told her she had the part, she said, “I’m a movie star. Now everybody’s gonna love me”—and she started changing. She was lousy in the picture. Matter of fact, I didn’t make any closeups of her. I was going to leave them, hoping that she’d get better toward the end of the thing and I’d get the closeups then. She never got anyplace; she just spoiled the picture.
Well that’s one of the things—for instance, you take Charlene Holt. Charlene was really a good actress but she’d been brought up and—the clue came one day when she said, “I used to watch So-and-so and she was so lovely, just lovely,” and I said, “I don’t want you to be lovely, I want—” you know. Now she was pretty good in El Dorado but she wasn’t so good in the other picture before it [Red Line 7000]. Now in real life you get a couple of drinks in her and look out! I mean, she’s dangerous!—and attractively so. But she thought that she ought to be “liked”…
Was that moment at the end of Rio Bravo when Stumpy imitates Chance and says “Ah told you to get back in thar!”—how did you do that? Was that improvised or—?
You do that by a very simple thing, and that is you’re making fun of the star. Walter Brennan was ideal for me to do that with, and he did it in everything I ever did. I don’t know if you ever heard about this. I had a very smart production master, and he said, “When you were telling us the story, Mr. Hawks, about one character, I know a fellow that’s so near the man that you told us about. Ah but hell, he’s just an extra.” I said, “Look, if you think that he’s good, bring him in, but do one thing for me. Give him some pages of dialogue and get him in costume so I don’t have to see him two or three times, and when he knows the dialogue bring him in here.” And he brought in Walter Brennan. And I laughed the minute I looked at him. And I said, “Mr. Brennan, they got some lines for you to read?” and he said yeah. I said, “D’ya know ‘em?” and he said yeah. “Well, let’s you and I read ‘em. I’ll read one part and you read the other,” and he said, “With or without teeth?” I said—started laughing—”Without.” He turned around, took his teeth out, put ‘em in his pocket, turned around, [imitating toothless Brennan] started talkin’. I hired him; he was supposed to work three days; I kept him six weeks, and he got nominated for an Academy Award.
Everything Brennan did, he did so easy, and so well. … In Red River I called him up, said “Walter, I got a story.” “I’ll be right over.” He came over, sat down [rubs his hands together]—”What are we gonna do?” “Well,” I said, “I want you to read this script.” Had one line in it—the cook’s name is Groot—that’s the only thing it had; didn’t even have a scene with him. “Well,” he said, “where’s the contract?” And I said, “Well, the contract isn’t here.” [Rears back] “Well, I don’t read anything until I get the contract signed”—which is the directly opposite from the usual. So he came in the next day, I said “Here’s the contract,” he signed it [slaps hands together and rubs them]—”Now I wanna hear about the story.” I said, “Now, you son-of-a-bitch, you’re signed! I don’t have to tell ya the story—read it!” And he came in the next day and he read the script and he said, “Jeez that’s a good story. What are we gonna do?” I said, “Remember the first time we met, you were gonna read the scene for me?” “Ah , you mean that thing about the teeth?” I said, “Yeah. You’re gonna lose your teeth to an Indian in a poker game and then all the way through the picture, every time you wanna eat you’re gonna have to get ‘em back from the Indian.” “Ah, Howard, ya can’t do that,” and I said, “Yes we can.” So that’s all we started with. Every scene that he did like that, he played with the Indian, I wrote. Then I found out he was so damned valuable in making scenes, as a judge, y’know, as a … to condemn Wayne or anything, and to buck against Wayne. He got an award out of the damn thing.
But he was a hell of an actor. He was so funny in making Rio Bravo … [Reverie interrupted to let a dog outside … ]
Scarface, rerelease, Paul Muni, actor’s vanity.
If you were going to do [Scarface] again today, you’d make it about the same way.
It’s a completely modern film. It really is. What about the rerelease? Is Scarface going to be rereleased now that Hughes is gone?
We were just in the middle of correspondence where he’d asked me what I would do. He’s got a motion picture division and I sent them some correspondence and I said, “Do you want to do this?” and I think that they want—it would mean that I’ll release it.
It would be good if people could get to see it again in this country. There was a showing of it in Seattle a few months ago in a classic films series, and I noticed on a poster at the top of an escalator where most of the people go by who are coming to campus in the morning, and the next week after it had been shown somebody drew a big ring around Scarface and wrote “Best Film of 1976.”
Well, it’s amazing the reactions … Hughes didn’t have a negative on it, so when I wrote him I said, “I’ve got a negative, perfectly good negative; I can make all the prints that I want. I’d change the [foreword] titles and take out the silly scene about the mayor of a city [publisher] in the middle, and put back the old ending where [Tony Camonte] ends up in some horse manure: in the gutter.”
I wanted to ask you about the ending, what you felt was going on. Early in the picture someone predicts, “Someday we’re gonna take your gun away from you and you’ll squeal like all the other rats. “And then at the end they bust in, shoot the gun out of his hand, and Camonte goes into this “Don’t shoot!” and appears to be acting like the rat as predicted. But when he bas his chance he bursts through the cops and runs outside, and of course is killed. Was he putting on an act, looking for a last chance, or was he literally “no good alone” as he was saying and he’d just gone to pieces—?
I think he’d just gone to pieces. Muni was very funny. He was a good actor, played a marvelous part. But he wasn’t a bit happy about going to pieces and being a yellow bastard, you know. And we rehearsed it and I said, “This the way you’re gonna do it?” He said, “I think it’s the best way.” I walked back and started playing cards with somebody. He said, “When are we gonna shoot the scene?” I said, “Whenever you stop being an actor and start being a real good one.” Finally he came over and he said, “I’ll do it.”
Too many times an actor realizes that he’s had a hell of a part, and the better he acts his finish, the more he loses the sympathy of the audience. I asked—who was the English actor? So good an actor, did Elizabeth Browning [The Barretts of Wimpole Street / Forbidden Alliance]—Charles Laughton. Vic Fleming and I met him one night. We sat alongside him and he got further down in his chair, you know, asking him questions. And I said, “Charlie, what are you gonna do with this scene?”—he told me what he was gonna do next day—I’ve forgotten the scene, but anyway he had his choice of playing it honestly or playing it as an actor playing a role. He was quite a bit fairy-like, you know. “Well, I don’t know—” I said, “Are you gonna have the guts to play it honestly?” “Well, I don’t know. I won’t know till I get there.” I said, “In other words you’re afraid what the answer is.” “Well,” he said, “maybe that’s true.” He was quite funny about it.
One of the things that it seems to me is happening now, both onscreen and off, is distinctions between men and women are blurring. You can hardly tell boys from girls a lot of the time. It seems to be the fashion for everybody to kind of be “people,” not individuals—sexual individuals. And a lot of your men and women get together through sexual antagonism/attraction, which has a lot to do with being a man, being a woman, and being individuals. Do you think you’d find it difficult to do something like that now in a film? Who would you get to play parts like that?
The trouble is to get people to play parts like that. Let me ask you a question. If you had a good tough hero, who would you sign today to play it? A lot of them are more effeminate than the women.
Maybe Jack Nicholson.
Maybe, but I doubt if you could do anything with Jack Nicholson that’s different than what he’s done, because I think he was the same in the picture before One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he was in that. I think he’s gonna play that kind of man, and that isn’t the kind of guy I want.
How about James Coburn? Do you like him at all?
Yeah, I like him, he’s pretty good. But it’s awful hard to … They wanted me to make a picture, they were stealing Winchester ’73, something like that, and doing it in Turkey, with gunrunners. And I said, “I’ll only make this if I can rewrite the whole story, if I can get who I want to play in it.” “Who do you want?” I said, “I’d like to have James Coburn and”—oh, who was the fellow, the famous quarterback, the blackhaired guy?—”Joe Namath.” And the guy in charge said, “Who’s Joe Namath?” I said, “I don’t want to work for you.”
But that’s how hard it is to cast. I’ve made pictures with Bogart, and all the westerns I’ve made with John Wayne; and you start thinking who you’re going to put into a movie; and these fairy-like people that are running around—I mean, there’s no strength or guts to them, they don’t do scenes…. The only one that’s worth anything today is Robert Redford. He’s pretty good. Redford and another combination usually works out pretty well … I’ve got a great story about two guys, two really good tough guys, going around the world getting into scrapes—women every place they go. I haven’t started it yet because I can’t find anybody I think’s good enough to put in it….
The industry today.
I had a funny experience with Peter. I was talking to the fellows at CBS. I said, “I know a fellow who, if things go right, he ‘ll probably be one of the best of the young directors, Peter Bogdanovich.” They called me and they said, “Look, he doesn’t want to do stories that we want to do.” I said, “Well I told you he was smart.” And they said, “What are we gonna do?” and I said, “How’d you like’ it if I produced them and he directed them and then I would choose the stories?” Well that’d be OK, and I said, “I’ll talk to Peter,” and I talked to Peter, and I said, “We’ll do four pictures for you. You’re looking for four. But we don’t want to be stuck with casting, so when we’re making the first one we can be preparing the second one and we can get it cast well.” They said OK. Peter and I picked four stories. And I said to Peter, “Look, this is all too easy. I think we oughta give ‘em something … let’s give ‘em five stories and let them eliminate one of ‘em.” They took the turkey that we handed them, chose that and didn’t want the others! And so Peter said, “I won’t work for them,” and I said, “Neither will I.”
There was one very nice fellow running a studio. He asked me to come in and talk to him. When we started to talk he said, “You’ve got a story you’d like to do?” and I said yeah. He said, “Do you mind if I ask somebody to come in?” I said, “No, go ahead.” I told him the story and he said, “Gee that’s a good story. Really good one. Who have you got an idea of putting into it?” and I said, and they said “Oh we’ve got him. We could put in another person.” “Well we have a commitment,” the other fella said, “with So-and-so.” “Yeah, we could put him in with him.” And pretty soon they were casting the whole picture with people they had something going with, until they said, “Where are you going?” and I said, “Home. You’re just wasting my time.” And I said, “Who the hell are you?”—the fella he’d brought in. “You ever direct a picture?” No. “Ya ever written one?” No. “Ya ever produced one?” No. “What are ya?” “An agent.” And I said, “I hate agents.” And I said to this fella, “Now you know why I’m walking out. If I’m gonna deal with people who just hear a story that I’ve been working a long time on, and then they know how to cast it and how to make it—I thought you told me you wanted me to make the picture?” He said, “I did.” I said, “You want to make ‘em right now and you don’t know anything about ‘em.” And he called me after I got home and he said, “Look, I made a mistake in asking that fellow in”—he was trying to blame it on somebody. “I’d like to have you do this picture,” and I said, “You’re too late. I went from you to somebody else and they wanted to do it and it’s all settled.” “Well,” he said, “whenever you’ve got a story, phone me, will ya?” and I said, “Whenever you need somebody, phone me.”
1 The lyrics are from Kipling territory but not Kipling–specifically, Bartholomew Dowling’s “The Revel,” a poem “commemorating those who died in a great cholera epidemic in India,” according to Bartlett. They are somewhat altered in Hawks’ film—another writer rewritten.
© 1977 Kathleen Murphy and Richard T. Jameson