“See this knife? This is the one you pulled on Maggio”
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
Fred Zinnemann . 1952
“When I heard he was going to be in Eternity, I thought: Holy mackerel, they’re going to make a musical out of it” - Ernest Borgnine, aka Sergeant "Fatso" Judson.
In the end, the most famous comeback in Hollywood history, was due not a horse's severed head, but Ava Gardner's splendifrous posterior.
Frank Sinatra's career was in the toilet. “I'm washed up,” he told his wife. “I oughta just face it. The public is finished with me.”
“No one with your talent is ever washed up,” Ava was overheard telling him. “This is just a bad time."
“Here, rub my ass,” said Ava.
“It’ll give you good luck.”
He did. It did.
Columbia czar Harry Cohn - The Most LoathedMan In Hollywood - had been adamant about his ex-pal. No Sinatra! “No matter how good he tests.” The saloon singer was trying everything to be the scrawny Italian-American Angelo Maggio to surely rescue his suddenly lost fame and fortune. He even sent out cables seeking support from Hollywood pals - signing them: Maggio.
“I’ll pay you!”
Sinatra told Cohn.
He'd do it for $8,000 instead of the $150,000 fee for his recent clunkers. Music to Harry ears as he set about building Cohn's Folly: a novel that was too long, too adult, already rejected by two other studios and minus any US Army co-operation deal - the novel was scathingly anti-military. Harry, however, was quite happy. He had Ava begging him to allow her Frankie to test...
Cohn still kept Sinatra in his place, making him wait two hours outside his office after flying in from Ava's Mogambo locations in Nairobi (she paid for his ticket). After the test (so good, it's in the film), Cohn grudgingly gave in but didn't want Sinatra's name above the title. “People will think it's a musical.”
Old Blue Eyes was right. It was a stunning comeback (complete with an Oscar) that remains unmatched in Hollywood history. He was soon telling Ava, in the expression later stolen by George Costanza on Seinfeld : “I'm back, baby, I'm back!” (And to prove it, he arrogantly dropped St. Louis Woman with Ava for a possible musical with another fine ass that he also knew intimately, Marilyn's. By this time, Ava had aborted their baby. They were over. The sex was dynamite but their marriage, revealed Ava's pal, Lana Turner, was a fiasco.
Sinatra was back due to his own tenacity and talent until Mario Puzo spun a new version, with his Mafia Godfather making a horse's-head-in-his-bed-offer a studio tycoon couldn't refuse about using an Italian-American hasbeen singer in a film...
“At no time were horse’s heads involved in the
casting decision,” insisted Fred Zinnemman,
who might not have been averse to see
Harry Cohn’s head separated from his body.
It was not long before Fred was pressing his agent to spring him loose. Harry Cohn kept saying: “I'm the president of Columbia - you can't give me ultimatums.” His first line to Mrs Zinnemann was: “Your husband is a louse!”
Cohn, said Fred, was bull-like in attack, yet straight in a crooked way - and unbelievably rude. “So we started our working relationship on the basis of mutual hatred, mixed with mutual respect.” He won his fight about shooting in black-white - colour would make the film soft and trivial. “People yessed him day in, day out. He seemed a man in search of people who would say No to him and mean it.”
Private Angelo Maggio . According to the legend (and a book or two) the Mafia fixed it for Sinatra by exerting pressure on Cohn... And it does seem to bea remarkable coincidence that Eli Wallach, Zinnemmann's first choice for Maggio, suddenlyremembered a Broadway date. As if actors forget Broadway dates. Particularly for new plays by Tennessee Williams.
Maggio was Wallach’s first movie offer.Everyone raved about his test,although he was more muscular than vulnerable, suggested scenarist Daniel Taradash...whobrought Zinnemman to the Columbia project, although Cohn had turned down releasing Fred’sHighNoon- “a dog.”
Despite The Godfather book and film’s take on the sudden casting switch, Wallach forever insisted that The Mafia had nothing to do with it. “I’d promised to do Tennessee’s play, Camino Real, but they couldn’t get the money together. So I auditioned for From Here To Eternity and got the job, but then they found the money for the play, so I pulled out.... If you're in love with two women at the same time, you’ve got to choose.” Sinatra made a habit of sending Wallach flowers every successive opening-night. With the same note: You dumb actor. Thanks, Frank.”
Some 38 years later, Wallach replaced Sinatra as Don Altobello in The GodfatherPart III - among Wallach’s 162 screen roles during51 years - earning him a career Oscar in2010 at age 95.
Fine, fine, but who put up the suddenmoney for Eli’s Broadway play?
Private Robert E Lee ‘Prew' Prewitt . Cohn was determined to keep the budget to $2m. “He even had a sense of humour, as long as money was not involved,” noted his director. Therefore, Cohn looked at his contract players and considered John Derek before choosing the beefy Aldo Ray for the “deceptively slim” Prewitt.
“He’s under contract, hasn’t worked for ten weeks,
his salary’s mounting up, he looks like a boxer,
the girls love him...
What else ya wanna know?”
Prew required more than beef and that “deceptively slim” line made Zinnemann vote Montgomery Clift - “no soldier, no boxer and probably homosexual,” thundered Cohn. Clift was nervous: “Can I play a fighter?” Author James Jones Jones told him: “You sure as hell can.” By the time Clift was ready for the cameras, Zinnemann said: “One could have sworn he had bugled all his life and that he was a top soldier and a good boxer.” (He was not that hot in the ring, being doubled by a real boxer for long shots).
They were old friends. Fred made Monty's first film, The Search , 1948 - saved, said the director, by Clift rewriting the script. This time, Clift almost co-directed. “Monty got better performances, totally genuine reactions than the actors had given before,” insisted Zinnemann. “I could never have directed Sinatra so well.”
1st Sergeant Milton Warden . Howard Hughes refused to let Robert Mitchum work for Columbia (or succeed Brando as Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway). “Jesus Bob,” said Hughes, “you don't want to be going over there with those Jews. You don't want to be associated with those people.”
So Cohn thought of Ronald Reagan (!) and Walter Matthau (then a TV actor), before offering Sergeant Warden to Burt Lancaster. (Two years later, as director and co-star, Burt gave Matthau his movie debut in The Kentuckian). Negotiations were tough and with six weeks to go, Cohn called up Edmund O'Brien. He also talked to Gldenn Ford, Tyrone Power. And Stewart Granger - his oddest offer since he was asked to London's Kowalski! “Maybe the fact that I was cheaper than Lancaster coloured Harry's opinion.”
Karen Holmes . Joan Crawford quit over a costume dispute about her usual damned shoulder pads. (She also insisted on “her” cameramen and makeup artists). She chose the wrong studio to fight with about clothes. Columbia was not MGM and Harry Cohn hated wardrobe rows since Loretta Young chose a $155 dress in a sale and charged him a design fee of $700 during The Bedtime Story, 1941. (Cohn killed her top billing and had Wardrobe run up a little something for her. Young only agreed to fittings during overtime hours. The little something finally cost Cohn $5,000).
Joan Fontaine forever regretted refusing
(“for family reasons”) the adulterous army wife
- Lady Chatterley to Lancaster's Mellors.
She blamed the failure of her later career
on bypassing Karen.
“You stupid sonuvabitch,” Cohn said to agent Bert Allenberg when suggesting his new client, Deborah Kerr, to replace Crawford. Fred, however, thought it a marvellous idea - completely different. “With a sexy actress, the outcome would be a foregone conclusion.”
The outcome (the most copied love scene in Hollywood history) was shot at Diamond Head, Honolulu, with Zinnemann “timing the scene with the incoming waves so that they would break over the couple at the right instant.” A rythym slightly upset when censors hacked out four seconds
Sergeant “Fatso” Judson . While Cohn could only think of Broderick Crawford, who specialised in argy-bargy seaty bullies (not unlike Cohm, himself), Zinnemann showed more class by prefering the depth offered by Ernest Borgnine. Just seven movies away from his 1956 Marty.
Alma Burke aka Lorene . If Fred got his way with Kerr, he lost out the battle of Lorene the hooker. He had scant interest in the curvaceous Roberta Haynes because he wanted Julie Harris, nicknamed Sunshine by their Member of the Wedding crew in 1952. Then, Fred saw Donna Reed shine as Lorene opposite Aldo Ray in his tests for Prewitt.
“She’s a child frightener!”
OK, then, Kim Stanley... eagerly working on scenes with Clift for the only movie role she ever wanted "really badly."
When Zinnemann took Kim to meet Cohn, the tycoon looked her straight in the eye and rasped: “Why are you bringing me this girlie? She's not even pretty.” She knew that, “but I wasn't ready for that kind of artillery at that close a range.” As she left, she recalled using the word pig.
Fred Zinnemann phoned Shelley Winters, forgetting her two-week-old, premature daughter Vittoria Gina Gassman was still in an incubator. “I was so preoccupied with my baby, I was barely civil to him. When he informed me that filming was scheduled to start in Hawaii in six weeks, I hung up.”
Carolyn Jones had pneumonia and, anyway, Cohn was more keen on proving MGM's LB Mayer wrong - again. Cohn caught an actress that Mayer had dropped and, after three tests, Donna Reed played Lorene and, after the 41-day shoot, won an Oscar.
King Cohn was not always wrong.