THE BRIT WHO FOUND OUT HOW
TO HAVE FUN IN HOLLYWOOD
"The Seventh Veil,"
"Odd Man Out," "Caught," "The Reckless
Moment," "The Desert Fox," "5 Fingers,"
"Pandora and the Flying Dutchman," "A Star Is Born,"
"Bigger Than Life," "North By Northwest," "Lolita,"
"The Pumpkin Eater," "Georgy Girl," "The
Verdict." A quick scan of James Mason's movie titles provides
an instant reminder that the charismatic British actor was one of
the truly great international stars. Which is why I was delighted
to get this 1977 interview with him for The New York Times. --GUY
have no complaints," brooded
James Mason. His voice, as he spoke by phone from Lisbon, was pristinely
British and tinged with elegant boredom, a uniquely Masonian blend
of warmth and disdain. "I have only happy memories of my years
in Hollywood. I had a good time."
Good times march on, even for rakish matinee idols, and so Mr. Mason
no longer resides in the city of his past pleasures. Instead, he
journeys there on rare occasions, to visit with his son, Morgan
who is said to be contemplating marriage to Louise Fletcher
or to tackle an infrequent movie role, such as that of a
bumbling messenger of God in Warren Beattys recently completed
"Heaven Can Wait."
These days, Mr. Mason and his wife treasure the serenity of their
home in Switzerland, though the 66-year-old trouper will travel
virtually anywhere, at any time, for a plum part a fact that
accounts for his presence in Portugal, where "The Boys From
Brazil" is now shooting. Franklin J. Schaffners thriller,
based on Ira Levins novel about a ring of furtive Nazis who
hatch a plot to establish a Fourth Reich, also stars Gregory Peck
as a fiendish geneticist Laurence Olivier, Lilli Palmer,
Uta Hagen, Rosemary Harris, Bruno Ganz and Anne Meara.
"I was alerted just last week, when I was finishing up on Warrens
movie," said Mr. Mason, "so I havent read the book
yet. Im just using the script and my discussion with the director
as the basis for what Im aiming at. Im rather arbitrarily
filling in the background of my character. As I understand it, he
is sympathetic, compared to the man Gregory Peck plays. Ill
be a man of action, yet one who is given to clinging on to gold,
to things that glitter, a man who hangs golden jewelry about his
body, which is a symptom Ive noticed in various successful
men of war, like General Montgomery."
Mr. Mason, too, is a man of action, yet he has no desire to call
"Action!" on a movie set. He recognizes his own limitations
and would not dare to direct a film in which he was also appearing,
as Warren Beatty and Buck Henry, Mr. Beattys co-star
and co-director did with "Heaven Can Wait."
"I was not upset by having two directors, but it was different.
When Warren was in front of the camera, he decided it would be a
nice idea to have somebody with whom he was on good terms behind
the camera. That way, the decisions about his own performance were
easier to arrive at; he didnt have to bother keeping an eye
on other actors.
reason I never became a director," Mr. Mason explained, "is
that I have been busy clinging, with all my fingernails, to what
I laughingly refer to as a star. It was not always easy going, you
know. Remember, I was in Hollywood for 16 years and I had my ups
and downs. I suppose that many of my films would be better forgotten.
Its not that Im trying to put myself down. I made several
good films, too Desert Fox, Pandora and
the Flying Dutchman' (at left, with Ava Gardner), 5 Fingers
and then I made 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,
which made a huge amount of money. So my agent said, Now,
just sit back and wait till the scripts come rolling in. Well,
I sat back, and I waited, and do you know what happened? Not one
bloody script rolled in. Not one."