Several years ago, while on location for a TV movie I had penned, one of the featured actresses made it known that she was unhappy with, well, everything.
The producer, a total pro, did all in his power to please her, going well beyond the details of her contract. She received a luxurious hotel suite, a big limousine, and even, I kid you not, a private and very expensive Hatha Yoga instructor, who would, the actress assured us, “balance her spiritual needs.”
The yoga instructor—a Jewish woman (natch) in hideous Birkenstocks and equally outre Woodstock-inspired tie-dyed outfits—was always hanging around the set and earnestly dropping pearls of wisdom, which to me, sounded like warmed over Khalil Gibran. Stuff like: “To prepare the rice, you must do nothing but prepare the rice.”
End Cruel Interpolation
No matter what the actress was given, it was never enough.
Appeasement does not work in geo-politics or Hollywood.
The budget was being strained and we were losing valuable time as the actress was habitually late for her morning call. The director, a sweet man with a long list of impressive credits, confided that he was losing patience and maybe, “It would be a good idea just to strangle the b***h.”
Finally, I was asked to step in and have a private chat with our actress. Being the unthreatening screenwriter, perhaps I might gain some insight into her ceaseless demands.
After meeting with the actress for about two hours—I barely spoke, just listened and nodded, all Freud Jr.—I debriefed the anxious producer and homicidal director.
“She doesn’t really care about the hotel room, the limo, the yoga, all the, um, stuff.”
The producer and director were baffled.
Her demands, I explained, were just a means to an end, a boorish if effective strategy.
Bottom line: “She thinks you don’t give her enough respect.”
“But we hired her for the job,” said the director.
“Yeah, but she knows that she wasn’t our first choice. She knows that first we offered the role to Name of Actress Redacted, who passed.”
“They’re all so damned insecure,” sighed my producer.
As I said, the producer and director were experienced pros and they immediately made the proper adjustments. They doted on our actress like indulgent parents, and boom, before you knew it, she was as content as a drug addict with a life long supply of narcotics.
Which brings me to Margaret Dumont, (real name Daisy Juliette Baker) and Greta Garbo.
Eve Arden had a sixty year career in Hollywood. Her work spanned Hollywood’s Golden Age to early television, where her unique personae—sardonic but lovable—was, at last, fully realized in the classic series Our Miss Brooks.
In 1939, I was called to do a picture at MGM with the Marx Brothers. They were at their zenith then, and the fair-haired boys of the lot. The picture was A Day at the Circus, and my part was a zany one. I was to be the lady who walked on the ceiling…
In a day or so, I arrived, letter-perfect, to do a scene with Groucho. As I slipped on my leotard and spangles in the set dressing room, I could hear Margaret Dumont, the grande dame of the Marx Brothers pictures, complaining in her most elegant voice that her dressing room had no top on it.
“They wouldn’t dare do this to Garbo,” she boomed.
No matter what heights you reach in Hollywood, actors, writers, directors, in fact everybody is obsessively measuring themselves against an impossible yard stick: the accomplishments and status of others. It’s inevitable in a town where so many creative and fragile egos collaborate/collide on an hourly basis.