Here are seven fun stories about Hollywood:
The Universal Maniac
In 1999, an Australian gentleman told me about an interesting experience he and his family had at Universal Studios. They were on the backlot tour passing one of the theme park’s main attractions, the Bates Motel used in the 1960 horror classic Psycho, about a murderous young man named Norman Bates who loved his mother a little too much. As the guide gave out information about how director Alfred Hitchcock shot the picture, a tall man, dressed in drag and carrying a large knife, emerged from behind the old set and charged toward the tram. The narrator seemed to know nothing about the Norman Bates look-alike and clammed up completely. The make-believe killer wore such a convincing maniacal expression that some of the paying customers were frightened and screamed when he raised his weapon. Then the “fiend” pulled off his wig and he turned out to be comic Jim Carrey; the thirty-seven-year-old star was clowning around during a work break. After his laughing “victims” calmed down, Jim was happy to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
The Wildest Guest
Longtime staff at the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles had many candidates for the most outrageously behaved celebrity guest. There were the hammy Barrymore brothers who always tried to outdo one another; after the drunken John earned many stares for bringing his pet monkey in the hotel’s famed Moroccan-style club, the Coconut Grove, Lionel arrived there with seven chimps. Chaos erupted when the well-dressed guests chased the animals as they swung through the paper Mache trees. Then there was famed movie theater owner Sid Grauman who told Charlie Chaplin that he found a dead body in his hotel bed. The tramp fled in terror when Sid pulled back the blankets, not realizing he was looking at a wax dummy covered in ketchup. But it was hard to top the antics of actress Tallulah Bankhead who once called for room service, answered the door in the buff and told the bell boy no tip; she had nothing on her.
Marlene’s Wartime Regret
Marlene Dietrich found her true calling entertaining the Allied troops in 1943. The forty-two-year-old actress, who never enjoyed making movies, got a crash course in how to talk to audiences. Nothing could be tougher or more fulfilling than performing in front of young men who might die in battle the next day. The Berlin-born American citizen overcame suspicions that she was actually an Axis spy, and was proud of spurning Hitler’s request to return to Germany. After World War II ended, she enjoyed being a lusty cabaret singer for many years and tried never to take herself too seriously. Marlene, whose long list of romances ranged from John Wayne to General Patton, once mentioned to her husband that she should have married Hitler back in the thirties, and then there would have been no war. She laughed when he agreed and stated that the Fuhrer would have killed himself much sooner.
We Don’t Want a Hit
Executives at United Artists Studio were unimpressed viewing the initial footage of Sean Connery playing James Bond in the 1962 spy thriller Dr. No. The thirty-two-year-old Scottish actor, whose receding hairline was carefully hidden by a toupee, seemed to change his accent in almost every scene. Sure, the former Mr. Universe runner-up was a formidable presence, but did Connery have the sophistication to play the suave super spy 007, a role originally meant for Cary Grant? The studio kept the completed film on the shelf for many months before releasing it in England where it was a smash. Well, it had to be a fluke; Bond was English, after all. Six months later, they released it in the USA where it did great again. Dr. No led to a hugely successful James Bond franchise and made Sean Connery an international star. It failed only in Japan, where movie-theater owners translated Dr. No to read, “We don’t want a doctor!”
The Battle of the Munchkins
The actors who played the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz were hard working and much maligned. In the 1960s, the often-inebriated Judy Garland became a favorite TV talk show guest and would trash her former co-stars from the 1939 classic. She would make up tales about them being drunk, swinging from chandeliers, getting into knife fights, making lewd propositions to her, and being rounded up for their scenes in butterfly nets. In real life, the New York- based Leo Singer Midgets had won the lucrative Oz contracts in a hard- fought battle with another group of little vaudevillians managed by dwarf actor Major Doyle. There was much animosity between the two rival bands of performers. The cigar- chomping Doyle was in his apartment on Fifth Avenue, still fuming over the job losses, when a phone call instructed him to look out the window. Three busloads of tiny entertainers mooned him and then it was on to California.
Walt Disney’s Daughters
Walt Disney’s two daughters, Sharon and Diane, grew up sheltered from the limelight. The children had no images of Mickey Mouse around their home. Their father didn’t go to many parties, preferring to stay in after a long day of work. Sometimes he would playfully chase the youngsters upstairs, cackling like the evil peddler woman in Snow White. When they behaved badly, Walt would admonish them with a raised eyebrow; his stern demeanor inspired the character of the wise old owl, in the 1942 animated feature Bambi. As toddlers, the brainy Diane and beautiful Sharon stayed blissfully unaware that their parents worried about them being kidnapped and allowed no pictures of the sisters to be publicly circulated. Once in 1939, a curious classmate questioned six-year-old Diane about her family. She went home and said, “Daddy, you never told me you were that Walt Disney,” and asked him for an autograph.
Who Won the Race?
Writer/director Billy Wilder liked to mess with producer Samuel Goldwyn’s head. The Austrian-born Wilder, who had fled Europe when Hitler rose to power, respected how the former glove salesman from Poland had good taste in stories, even though Sam hardly ever read anything. One time Wilder pitched the mogul a screen idea about Nijinsky, the famous Russian ballet dancer. Goldwyn was dubious, Wilder persisted; the story had great cinematic possibilities. As a young man, Nijinsky danced for the Bolshoi and received international acclaim. Then he met the great love of his life, was rejected, ended up in an insane asylum and thought he was a horse. Goldwyn stared daggers at him. Sam didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. The public would never pay to see something so negative.
“Don’t worry, Sam, it has a happy ending.”
Goldwyn asked what could possibly be happy about a man who believes he’s a horse.
“He wins the Kentucky Derby!”