BILLY WILDER WAS NEARLY
READY FOR HIS CLOSE UP
Ever the rebel, Billy Wilder was determined
to take a florid story by Tom Tryon and turn it into a movie that
would go against the Hollywood grain--which meant no nudity or special
effects and not even one Sue Mengers client. My New York Times interview
with the great man was published on 9/3/76. --Guy Flatley
Wilder, who applied a wicked scalpel to the underbelly of Hollywood
in the classic "Sunset Boulevard," is at it again. He
and his collaborator, I.A. L. Diamond, are now writing an adaptation
of "Fedora," one of four kinky tales of Hollywood horror
that comprise Thomas Tryons novel, "Crowned Heads,"
in which the central character, an eerily ageless movie queen, is
a cross between Greta Garbo and "Sunset Boulevards"
Norma Desmond. The other day, the 70-year-old director of such enduring
films as "Double Indemnity," "The Lost Weekend,"
"Ace in the Hole," "Love in the Afternoon,"
"Witness for the Prosecution," "Some Like It Hot,"
"The Apartment" and "The Fortune Cookie," took
a break and talked about his latest project.
know that some of our literary epicures pooh-pooh Tom Tryons
book," he said. "Its just too entertaining for their
ascetic tastes. Of course, I realize that the whole caboodle may
crumble at the first preview, but lets just say the blueprints
look very promising. There is no cast yet. We need Garbo, age 35,
and Spencer Tracy, age 50. Any ideas?
picture is set mostly in Greece and in Paris, but we plan to do
all the interiors right here in Hollywood. Its more comfortable
and a lot cheaper. One martini at the Plaza Athenee in Paris is
$6. The olive is optional. Well start shooting at the end
of January, for the simple reason that I never shoot until after
the Superbowl. And I make absolutely sure to finish before the World
Series. Like one of Caesar Chavezs grapepickers, I consider
moviemaking a seasonal employment.
"What makes 'Fedora' very special among todays movies
is that it has no special effects, no stunts, no demonic possession,
no nudity--frontal or otherwise--and a conspicuous absence of orgasms
and Sensurround. It is not even a sequel, although we were seriously
considering calling it 'Fedora II.' And since Universal is a well-to-do
company, we have no problems with financing, which is not the case
with even the richest independent producers today. To make a picture
bankable, they had better come up with the double-barreled combination
of Redford and Newman or Newman and McQueen or McQueen and Hoffman
or Hoffman and Redford--all variations on a theme by the agent Sue
"But Dino De Laurentiis is a smart cookie who would not go
for the prices or the percentages being asked by those stars. So
he simply built his monster, King Kong. It cost him $8 million,
but there will be no 15 percent of the gross for the big ape and,
of course, Dino has got him for all the sequels. However, I think
that the good Neopolitan lawyer outsmarted himself by not giving
King Kong any sex organs. This means there will be no Son
of King Kong or King Kong Meets Deep Throat. "
Where will all the Hollywood folly end?
"Now that the agents are running the business, its as
if the barbers union decided to expand into brain surgery,"
says the cheerfully cynical Mr. Wilder. "And with all of these
cycles and recycles, and the audiences narrowing and the San Andreas
fault widening, I have the feeling that we are heading for The
Last Days of Pompeii II."
Editor's Note: Wilder eventually picked
Marthe Keller and William Holden to play the Garbo and Tracy-like
characters in "Fedora," which was released to so-so reviews