Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Great Stars have Great Pride: The Real Sunset Boulevard!

GREAT STARS HAVE GREAT PRIDE: THE REAL SUNSET BOULEVARD!  Wow, kids! Just when you thought you knew everything about one of the greatest Hollywood flicks of all time, you find out that there are still layers beneath the layers regarding all the Tinseltown shenanigans that went on behind the scenes just to get the incredibly stylish motion picture Sunset Boulevard into the theaters -- so that "those wonderful people out there in the dark" (that's us!) could revel in it for all time (you thought we'd never end this sentence, didn't you?).  And, of course, we could talk almost forever about those amazing performances by Gloria Swanson (shown above, as Norma Desmond), William Holden (top photo, as Joe Gillis) and Erich von Stroheim (as Max von Mayerling) -- but what about the equally amazing "performance" by Billy Wilder (shown in the two lower photos) for "Best Juggling Act" who brought us this classic gem? Now that alone deserved an Oscar (though the movie did receive Academy Awards for its screenplay (co-written by Wilder), art direction and score) -- but sadly not one for the dramatic leading lady Swanson. The scene from the film shown above (where Norma Desmond tries to commit suicide over Joe Gillis for seeing a girl on the side) contains those great lines -- Gillis to Desmond: "It sure would have made attractive headlines-- great star kills herself for unknown writer."  To which Desmond replies (with wrist done up in bandages): "Great stars have great pride."  And it was having "great pride" that put the kibosh on the leading lady role for several Hollywood greats: silent film star Mary Pickford was horrified while listening to the reading of the script by Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett -- and they ended up apologizing to her! Another silent film star Pola Negri had to be nixed because her Polish accent was just too darn thick to understand. And then Norma Shearer rejected it because she found it "distasteful"; and then Greta Garbo declined it all together.  As for the male lead, Montgomery Clift broke his contract two weeks before filming; Fred MacMurray rejected it because he didn't want to be a gigolo; Marlon Brando was considered -- but then the producers thought "he's too much of an unknown"! And MGM wouldn't loan Gene Kelly out! And Wilder wasn't really impressed with William Holden at the time -- so go figure!! And because the film was such a damning portrait of Hollywood, Wilder used the code name "A Can of Beans" while in production -- later, at the preview screening at Paramount, Louis B. Mayer humiliated Wilder (in front of a star-studded crowd) by ranting that the director should be "tarred, feathered and horse-whipped" for bringing such disgrace to the movie industry -- to which Wilder replied (now kids, plug your ears!) a quick "f*** you!" to Mayer! My, my!! Never mind that -- did you know that the "Alto Nido" apartment building (which is still on Ivar Street in Hollywood) that was home to character Joe Gillis was supposedly one of the places that Elizabeth Short (the "Black Dahlia") lived before she was brutally murdered? And that legendary director Cecil B. DeMille did his cameo in the film for $10,000 -- and a brand new Cadillac? And that William Haines (the silent film star-turned-interior decorator) declined a part in the film as one of Norma Desmond's bridge-playing partners? And that Erich von Stroheim (who played the chauffeur/butler) never drove a car in real life? Or that Greta Garbo later regretted allowing her name to be used -- because she was mentioned in a past-tense context? (Remember we talked about "great pride," eh?)  Or that Gloria Swanson stayed in her Norma Desmond character off the screen as well -- talking and acting like the character even at home in front of her daughter and mother during the entire filming? Now, that must have been quite the performance -- if only the cameras were rolling for those scenes! And did you know that the character name "Norma Desmond" is a combination of silent screen actor Norma Talmadge and silent film director Norman Desmond Taylor (who was shot in his Hollywood bungalow in 1922 and his murder was never solved?)  See -- we told you there was layer after layer to this one, kids!!  At the end of the day, Sunset Boulevard did receive Golden Globes for Best Picture; Best Actress (Swanson); Best Director; and Best Score -- plus Best Picture and Best Actress from The National Board of Review -- and it's on numerous lists for best film of all time.  So there ya have it!  We at Studio of Style always tell aspiring writers or actors that if they want to see and hear a great script, to watch Sunset Boulevard -- over and over!