In his tales, Hollywood legends live
By STEVE PERSALL
Published September 16, 2005
The toughest ticket to score at the recent Telluride Film Festival wasn't for a movie, but for one man's memories. Only 200 seats were available inside the quaint Sheridan Opera House for director/historian Peter Bogdanovich's presentation "Sacred Monsters," a fascinating live account of Hollywood legends he has known.
Not many people alive can claim friendships with Cary Grant, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, or testier relationships with filmmaking icons John Ford and Howard Hawks. The cramped theater was littered with dropped names for nearly 90 minutes, casually recalled with a raconteur's wit for one show only.
Bogdanovich, 66, hasn't only "done that" by making films such as The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon; he has also "been there" with many of the greats, as interviewer and sometimes an accomplice. "Sacred Monsters" is simply a formal presentation of what Bogdanovich has done for years at parties and in several books: a first-person anecdotal history of Hollywood.
"Movie stars have disappeared," he said at the outset. "We don't have them anymore for two reasons: One, the death of the studio system that manufactured stars and, two, Marlon Brando, who refused to be typecast and inspired other actors to do the same."
Bogdanovich is a romantic for screen personas - John Wayne's swagger, Grace Kelly's icy beauty, James Stewart's sincerity - that carried them from film to film and always pulled viewers along. He loves the straight-arrow lines connecting Ford's moral Westerns and patriotic war movies, and the consistent thread in Hitchcock's suspense. He's old school, and a convincing professor.
Bogdanovich has only performed "Sacred Monsters" twice; at last year's Telluride Film Festival as a favor to organizers who have honored him in the past, and this year's encore by popular demand. Bogdanovich really should consider taking this show on the road.
Not only does Bogdanovich seem to have fine recall for details, he also possesses an impersonator's ear. He does Cary Grant's voice, for one example, as well as any professional mimic. But nobody else could use it in this context, illustrating Grant's enormous star quality in the early 1960s:
"I was at Cary's home one afternoon when the telephone rang," Bogdanovich said, before shifting into the actor's clipped accent for Grant's side of the conversation:
"Yes. Well, hello, Mr. President. Yes. That's nice. Certainly I'll speak to him. Hello, Mr. Attorney General. What can I possibly do for you today? Oh, well, that's nice. My pleasure. Goodbye."
Grant placed the phone on the receiver and confirmed that it was John and Robert Kennedy calling from the White House. Borrowing the actor's voice, Bogdanovich relayed the executive request:
"They just wanted to hear Cary Grant speak."
Bogdanovich shared such memories like some Forrest Gump of cinema history, always around famous figures at key times.
Like the time he shared a few drinks with Hitchcock at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, then entered the elevator with him.
"We stopped at a floor and a few people entered," Bogdanovich said. "And Hitch started saying (in the director's unmistakable voice) "Oh, it was quite horrible, you know, there was blood everywhere.' "
For several floors, Hitchcock continued his horrible description while strangers on board pretended not to eavesdrop. As the elevator car slowed to its last stop in the lobby, Hitchcock said: "I asked him who did this, and do you know what this man told me with his last breath?"
The door opened and Hitchcock stepped past everyone into the lobby and out to the street. The riders were perplexed. Bogdanovich, as curious as anyone and a bit tipsy, caught up to Hitchcock and pleaded to know what the victim said.
"Oh, that?" the filmmaker said, "That's just my elevator story."
Anyone who has enjoyed squirming at Hitchcock's playful tension, or swooned at Grant's unflappable charm can appreciate how well Bogdanovich illuminates the bond between fact and legend. Certainly a few surviving Hollywood reporters such as Robert Osborne or Army Archerd had star encounters, but not as a creative equal, which Bogdanovich's films afforded him.
Only Bogdanovich could call Welles in 1973 and ask what he thought about the new title for his latest movie: Paper Moon.
"The title is so good, you don't have to make the movie; just release the title," Welles said.
Only Bogdanovich could be at Ford's bedside late in the filmmaker's life, asking what he thought about buying Wayne a book for a birthday present.
"He's already got one," Ford said.
And only Bogdanovich could find the perfect description of "Sacred Monsters" in a long-ago conversation with Stewart, and deliver it with the actor's trademark stammer:
"If you're good, and God help you if you're lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, you're going to give people tiny little pieces of time that they'll never forget."
- Steve Persall can be reached at 727 893-8365 or firstname.lastname@example.org His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/film
[Last modified September 15, 2005, 12:49:03]
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