This is the thirty-first 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: Laurence Olivier had a clever retort in response to Dustin Hoffman’s “method” style of acting when they were filming The Marathon Man together.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
The hit 1976 film, The Marathon Man, is still extremely memorable, over a quarter century later…
Mostly because of the famous scene where the evil Nazi dentist (played by Laurence Olivier) is torturing the hapless man (played by Dustin Hoffman) caught up in the spy affairs of his older brother (played by Roy Scheider).
As the sadistic man drills into his victim’s tooth without anesthetic, he continues to ask “Is it safe?”
It’s a brutal scene, and the “Is it safe?” line is one of the most notable movie quotes of all time.
However, the film is also very well known for having one of the most notable behind the scenes ANECDOTES of all time.
And I’m pretty sure that it is not a real anecdote.
As the story goes (there are tons of slight variations, but I’ll use the one on the Wikipedia page for The Marathon Man):
The film is remembered for the shooting of a particular scene in which Hoffman had been awake for three nights in the story, and had replicated it in real life. When he came on set exhausted, Olivier simply said, “Why not try acting, dear boy?”
It’s a brilliant story, and there’s no question as to why the story has persisted so long – it’s a really great story.
But Hoffman has argued for decades now that the story is not accurate and I think it appears as though Hoffman’s take on the story likely is the accurate one, in that the story does seem to first appear FROM Hoffman – Olivier, for instance, never told the story himself – and no one else has ever confirmed it independently (Director John Schlesinger, for instance, while also keeping the story going over the years, never really confirmed it, either – he just told it like everyone else), and Hoffman’s take is not really all that different from the one that has been told over the years, so I’m inclined to agree with him.
According to Hoffman (in many different interviews over the years), his marriage was in the midst of falling apart, so he was partying night and day, so when Olivier made the remark, it was a playful dig at his PARTYING, not his method acting.
You know, “You should just try acting instead of partying every night.”
So really, the entire story exists as it has always been told, just the MOTIVATION behind the comment is changed, so it’s very easy to see how the story could have been misquoted/misconstrued/misinterpreted over the years.
I’m especially willing to believe Hoffman’s version of the story because it also seems to fit Olivier better.
From what I’ve read about Olivier, he never seemed to be a guy who would put down method acting. He did not “just” act – he looked for new methods to learn, as well, so it makes a lot more sense for him to be jibing his co-star for partying too much than for him to be criticizing a style of acting.
What gets me, though, is that Hoffman always points to a “Time Magazine article” that originated the story – but I’ve never been able to find the story, and Time is pretty good about having access to their old stories, so I wonder if Hoffman is mistaken as to who originally told the story.
MOVIE LEGEND: Ingrid Bergman was publicly censured in the United States Senate over her adultery.
Ingrid Bergman was one of the most striking and effective actresses of her time (or heck, any time, really).
The Swedish actress is perhaps best known for her starring role opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca…
but she starred in many films, winning a Best Actress Academy Award in 1945 for Gaslight…
In 1949, she wrote to the famed Italian Director Roberto Rossellini to express interest in working with him on a film.
He then cast her in the Italian film Stromboli…
While working on the film in 1949, the two fell in love (even though both were married, and Bergman had a young daughter in the United States). Bergman also became pregnant with Rossellini’s child, giving birth to a son in February of 1950.
As you might imagine, this news did not exactly go over well in the United States.
However, HOW BAD it went is really quite depressing.
Her husband (a Swedish dentist named Petter Lindstrom who had, by this time, become an American citizen) used the press to score points against his wife BEFORE the news broke in December of 1949 that she was pregnant with another man’s child.
On March 14, 1950, Senator Edwin C. Jackson (D – Colorado) took the floor of the Senate to rail against both Bergman and Rossellini…
Mr. President, now that the stupid film about a pregnant woman and a volcano has exploited America with the usual finesse, to the mutual delight of RKO and the debased Rossellini, are we merely to yawn wearily, greatly relieved that this hideous thing is finished and then forget it? I hope not. A way must be found to protect the people in the future.
When Rossellini the love pirate returned to Rome smirking over his conquest, , it was not Mrs. Lindstrom’s scalp which hung from the conquering hero’s belt’ it was her very soul. Now what is left of her has brought two children into the world – one has no mother; the other is illegitimate. Even in this modern age of surprise, it is upsetting to have our most popular but pregnant movie queen, her condition the result of an illicit affair, play the part of a cheap chiseling female to add spice to a silly story which lacks appeal. To bolster the box-office take, Stromboli simply has to have a private scandal on the part of the leading lady. the vile and unspeakable Rossellini sets an all-time love in shameful exploitation and disregard for good public morals.
His main position was to argue that the Senate establish some sort of ground rules for the morals of the actors and directors of Hollywood (I know, it’s as crazy as it sounds). He continued to note that Bergman had committed “assault on the institution of marriage. She is one of the most powerful women on earth today – and, I regret to say, a powerful influence for evil.” (yes, he actually called her a “powerful influence for evil”)
Finally, he ended with…
under our law no alien guilty of turpitude can set foot on American soil. Mrs. Petter Lindstrom has deliberately exiled herself from a country which was so good to her. If out of the degradation associated with Stromboli, decency and common sense can be established in Hollywood, then Ingrid Bergman will not have destroyed her career for naught. Out of her ashes may come a better Hollywood. Since both of these alien characters are guilty of moral turpitude, they cannot set foot on American soil under our immigration laws.
While his proposed bill never went to a vote, Bergman still took the hint and stayed in Italy for the next seven years (as while she might not have been deported, she certainly WOULD have been detained).
Finally, I suppose enough time passed and she returned to the American screen in triumph with the success of her 1956 picture, Anastasia…
for which she once again won the Academy Award for Best Actress!
She did not come to the States to accept, but in 1958 she showed up to present the Academy Award for Best Picture.
She would later win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1974′s Murder on the Orient Express .
In 1972, Senator Charles H. Percy (R – Illinois) made her re-acceptance by America somewhat official by officially apologizing to Bergman on behalf of the US Senate and recorded in the Congressional Record.
MOVIE LEGEND: The writer of Reality Bites was sued by the actual Troy over his depiction in the film.
Helen Childress’ script for Reality Bites is impressive in how well it captures a particular point in US cultural history, specifically the lives of the so-called “Generation X” (young adults during the 1990s).
However, the film, which stars Winona Ryder as a young film-maker named Lelaina trying to make a documentary about her life (and her friends’ lives) torn between two men, Michael Grates(Ben Stiller) and Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) might have been a bit TOO true to life for one man – the “real” Troy Dyer!
First, here’s Hawke as Troy with Ryder…
Dyer went to USC film school with Childress during the late 1980s, when she dropped out to pursue the film she was working on (which ultimately became Reality Bites).
Childress contends that she named the character of Troy (who is basically the ultimate slacker) after Dyer as an “in-joke” because the real Dyer was pretty much the opposite of the fictional Dyer.
She also claims that the real Dyer gave her permission. He, naturally, denies that he ever gave her permission.
In any event, Dyer claims that he inquired into suing Childress when the film opened in 1994, but he figured that the Statute of Limitations likely had tolled on his defamation claim, but he felt that the release of the 10th Anniversary DVD of the film re-opened the door, as Childress discussed in the commentary for the film that she did, indeed, name the character of Troy after a former classmate of hers.
The real Dyer was a financial consultant in Wisconsin, and he alleges that the association between he and the fictional Troy has been detrimental to his business, as clients wonder if he is the inspiration for the fictional Troy, and I suppose people don’t want to do financial business with the “ultimate slacker.”
Childress (and the studio behind the film) tried to get out of the lawsuit on First Amendment claims, but that was denied, as Dyer’s name was not seen as being central to the film’s message, which was a discussion of Generation X politics.
So the case went on.
Dyer wrote in to let me know that the case recently settled to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.
Dyer remains close friends to all his past classmates at USC film school, and is currently working as a screenwriter and film producer. His resume is available at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3606414/resume
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