This is the twenty-sixth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Gwyneth Paltrow had an interesting approach to a radio contest revolving around her.
In 2003, actress Gwyneth Paltrow was in New Zealand filming a movie about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (originally titled Ted and Sylvia, it eventually was released as just Sylvia).
While driving to the film set one day, the star was listening to the radio. A local radio station was running a sort of “Star Stalker” game. They would give away $100 for a photograph of Paltrow, $1,000 for a pair of knickers stolen from her hotel room or $5,000 if they could get Paltrow to actually come to the phone and speak live on-air.
Well, Paltrow figured, why not play along?
So when she arrived at set, she found a young worker on the set (accounts differ on how she chose the young man – one version says she checked around to see who was paid the least on the set, I find that one a little hard to believe, while another version says that she had a particular production assistant in mind from the get go, I think that sounds more plausible) named Nathan, and the two of them called in the radio station and voila, we had a winner!
Paltrow raved to the radio station about how much she was enjoying her time in New Zealand, and she talked about what a hard worker young Nathan was.
Isn’t that an awesome thing for her to do?
Thanks to The Mirror for the information on the situation.
MOVIE LEGEND: Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. attended Harvard University.
When it comes right down to it, it’s amazing how far you can go with a story just by flat-out lying.
For his entire life, the great star of the silent pictures (and right into the Sound era), Douglas Fairbanks, talked about attending Harvard University.
Even today, a quick glance at the internet finds statements about Fairbanks like…
After graduating from Harvard he became an actor.
His family moved to New York in 1900 and Douglas Fairbanks attended Harvard.
He attended Harvard, traveled to Europe, worked on a cattle freighter, in a hardware store and as a clerk on Wall Street
Naturally, it was a pretty straightforward lie on Fairbanks’ part.
He never attended Harvard University.
At least Harvard has no record of him ever being a student, plus his son Douglas Jr. said that the story was just another one of his father’s fanciful tales.
Fairbanks Sr. was a master at re-inventing himself. Heck, the Fairbanks name itself was invented in an attempt to hide his Jewish heritage, so it is not so surprising that the articulate actor would wish to create the impression that his well-spoken demeanor came attached to an Ivy League pedigree.
And once it made it into his official studio biography (which it did, in 1919), then it was part of the accepted history for Fairbanks.
Here’s a bio of Fairbanks from 1920 (a “Who’s Who in Hollywood” type deal):
Douglas Fairbanks was born in Denver Colorado, and as a boy attended a military academy, later entering the Colorado School Of Mines, and Harvard University. He has appeared in Vaudeville and under the direction of William A Brady in “The Pit.” He was co-starred with William H. Crane in the “New Henrietta” and featured in “A Gentleman From Mississippi” and starred in “He Comes Up Smiling.” Mr. Fairbanks enjoys a splendid following upon the screen, where he has appeared with great success, heading his own company. Mr. Fairbanks is an all-around athlete and has performed many marvelous feats of strength, cunning and endurance in his film work.
Once it is a part of “Who’s Who,” you’re set, whether true or not!
MOVIE LEGEND: More than 40 actors in Philadelphia died of AIDS within a few years of the film’s release.
STATUS: True (With a Notable Caveat)
In an old Movie Legends Revealed, I made reference to how of the 50 or so openly gay actors who appeared in the film Philadelphia, 40 or so of them were dead within a few years of the film’s release.
Reader Mike took a bit of an issue with that statement…
I read today the Movie Legends Revealed featuring Tom Hanks. I was particularly interested in the Philadelphia one. The stat you mentioned at the end about 40+ of the 50 gay actors who were in the movie dieing by 1995 warrants a feature in it’s own right. I noticed that the IMDB has the same stat with no other information. Was this your source for this item or did you find more info elsewhere?
This just seems too over the top to be true. It obviously gives the assumption that they died of AIDS related conditions. But unless they specifically hired AIDS afflicted actors, it would seem very unlikely that 43 would succomb to the disease in the next few years. If they did hire 40+ actors with advanced HIV or AIDS, it would render the main point of that legend (about an actor almost denied being in the film due to having AIDS) a little odd.
Alternatively if they didn’t die from AIDS related conditions, I think a follow up legend that cleared that up would be interesting (perhaps there was a wrap party catastrophe that killed 80% of the cast and crew, gay or straight). I think the stat as it is would seem to promote a stereotype that most gay men have AIDS.
It’s a fair point, Mike, that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that last little bit without going into it any further, and I certainly did not wish to promote any sort of stereotype about gay men.
As it was, the whole story turns on the term “actors.”
What is an actor in a film?
If you see a scene in a movie where two characters go to see a band perform, are the members of the band they see considered “actors” because they’re in the movie?
If a character buys a newspaper from a vendor and the vendor says, “Thanks,” is the vendor an “actor” in the film?
That was how almost all of the 43 actors who passed away from AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses appeared in Philadelphia.
From a 1995 New York Times article (hence the 1995 cut-off point):
“Philadelphia” became one of the most successful dramatic films of 1993, earning an Oscar for Tom Hanks and $125 million at the box office worldwide before it was released on video. But audiences may have forgotten about the men in the film with AIDS.
Most of them had volunteered to populate the clinic, party and courtroom scenes; many played AIDS activists. The producers came to Action AIDS Philadelphia, a social services agency, for help in casting people with AIDS. “I tried to cast interesting people,” said Bruce Flannery, who represents the organization. “But it wasn’t very complex. In some cases, they needed people who were sick looking — in hospital scenes, for instance, where someone really robust would not have been right.” By contrast, he said, “to participate in the courtroom scenes you had to be able to make the commitment to be available for a whole month, and be strong enough to withstand the grueling schedule, including long days of shooting.”
The selection process was fairly democratic, with anyone able to put in the necessary hours accepted as an extra.
Jonathan Demme, the film’s director, made a conscious decision to use as many people directly affected by the virus as possible.
A very cool thing to do by Demme.
And that is why Vawter’s inclusion (which was the topic of the previous Movie Legend about Philadelphia) was different – he was one of the main actors in the film, so insuring him was a much bigger deal than a background actor.
Thanks to Clifford Rothman for the excellent Times article, and thanks to Mike for the question!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org