Read an Excerpt
Interviews with Hollywood Legends
By Patrick McGilligan
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2000 Patrick McGilligan
All rights reserved.
"Can you ride a horse?"
1. Interview with Raoul Walsh
Los Angeles, August 1974
by Patrick McGilligan and Debra Weiner
1910 The Banker's Daughter. Actor.
A Mother's Love. Actor.
Paul Revere's Ride. Actor.
1912 The Life of General Villa. Actor, script, codirector (with Christy Cabanne).
Outlaw's Revenge. Director.
1913 The Dishonored Medal. Actor, director.
The Great Leap. Director.
Until Death Do Us Part. Director.
The Double Knot. Actor, script, director, producer.
The Mystery of the Hindu Image. Script, director, producer.
The Gunman. Script (uncredited), director, producer.
1914 The Final Verdict. Actor, script, director, producer.
The Bowery. Director.
1915 The Birth of a Nation. Actor.
The Death Dice. Script (uncredited), director, producer.
His Return. Director, producer.
The Greaser. Actor, script, director, producer.
The Fencing Master. Script, director, producer.
A Man For All That. Actor, script, director, producer.
Eleven Thirty P.M. Script, director, producer.
The Buried Hand. Script, director, producer.
The Celestial Code. Script, director, producer.
A Bad Man and Others. Script, director, producer.
Home from the Sea. Director.
The Regeneration. Coscript, director, producer.
The Lone Cowboy. Coscript, director.
Carmen. Script, director, producer.
1916 Pillars of Society. Director (with D. W. Griffith).
The Serpent. Coscript, director, producer.
Blue Blood and Red. Story, script, director, producer.
1917 The Honor System. Script, director, producer.
The Conqueror. Coscript, director.
Betrayed. Costory, script, director, producer.
This Is the Life. Costory, coscript, director.
Pride of New York. Story, script, director.
The Silent Lie. Director.
The Innocent Sinner. Script, director.
1918 The Woman and the Law. Script, director.
The Prussian Cur. Story, script, director.
On the Jump. Story, script, director.
Every Mother's Son. Story, script, director.
I'll Say So. Director.
1919 Evangeline. Script, director, producer.
The Strongest. Script, director.
Should a Husband Forgive? Script, director.
1920 From Now On. Script, director.
The Deep Purple. Director.
1921 The Oath. Director, producer.
Serenade. Director, producer.
1922 Kindred of the Dust. Director, producer.
1923 Lost and Found on a South Sea Island. Director, producer.
1924 The Thief of Bagdad. Director.
1925 East of Suez. Director, producer.
The Spaniard. Director, coproducer.
The Wanderer. Director, coproducer.
1926 The Lucky Lady. Director, producer.
The Lady of the Harem. Director.
What Price Glory? Director.
1927 The Monkey Talks. Director, producer.
The Loves of Carmen. Script, director.
1928 Sadie Thompson/Rain. Actor, adaptation, director.
The Red Dance. Director, producer.
Me Gangster. Director.
1929 In Old Arizona. Codirector (with Irving Cummings).
The Cock-eyed World. Director.
Hot for Paris. Script, director.
1930 The Big Trail. Director.
1931 The Man Who Came Back. Director.
Women of All Nations. Director.
The Yellow Ticket. Director, producer.
1932 Wild Girl. Director.
For Me and My GallPier 13. Director.
1933 Sailor's Luck. Director.
The Bowery. Director.
Going Hollywood. Director.
1935 Under Pressure. Director.
Baby Face Harrington. Director.
Every Night at Eight. Director.
1936 Klondike Annie. Director.
Big Brown Eyes. Adaptation, director.
Spendthrift. Adaptation, director.
1937 O.H.M.S./You're in the Army Now(U.K.). Director.
Jump for Glory/When Thief Meets Thief(U.K.). Director.
Artists and Models. Director.
Hitting a New High. Director.
1938 College Swing. Director.
1939 St. Louis Blues. Director.
The Roaring Twenties. Director.
1940 Dark Command. Director, producer.
They Drive by Night. Director.
1941 High Sierra. Director.
The Strawberry Blonde. Director.
They Died with Their Boots On. Director.
1942 Desperate Journey. Director.
Gentleman Jim. Director.
1943 Background to Danger. Director.
Northern Pursuit. Director.
1944 Uncertain Glory. Director.
1945 Objective Burma! Director.
The Horn Blows at Midnight. Director.
San Antonio. Codirector (uncredited, with David Butler).
Salty O'Rourke. Director.
1946 The Man I Love. Director.
1947 Stallion Road. Codirector (uncredited, with James V. Kern).
Cheyenne/The Wyoming Kid. Director.
1948 Silver River. Director.
Fighter Squadron. Director.
One Sunday Afternoon. Director.
1949 Colorado Territory. Director.
White Heat. Director.
1950 Montana. Codirector (uncredited, with Ray Enright).
The Enforcer. Codirector (uncredited, with Bretaigne Windust).
1951 Along the Great Divide. Director.
Captain Horatio Hornblower. Director.
Distant Drums. Director.
1952 Glory Alley. Director.
The World Is in His Arms. Director.
Blackbeard the Pirate. Director.
The Lawless Breed. Director.
1953 Sea Devils. Director.
A Lion Is in the Streets. Director.
Gun Fury. Director.
1954 Saskatchewan. Director.
1955 Battle Cry. Director.
The Tall Men. Director.
1956 The Revolt of Mamie Stover. Director.
The King and Four Queens. Director.
1957 Band of Angels. Director.
1958 The Naked and the Dead. Director.
1959 The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (U.K.). Director.
A Private's Affair. Director.
1960 Esther and the King (It./U.S.). Coscript, director, producer.
1961 Marines Let's Go! Story, director, producer.
1964 A Distant Trumpet. Director.
Living in retirement on his ranch, high above Los Angeles in the Santa Susanna Mountains, film director Raoul Walsh still, at eighty-eight, met visitors in Western dress, handsome and somehow dashing in shiny cowboy boots and a white ten-gallon hat. No longer, though, did he roll his own Bull Durham tobacco "with one hand," a lifelong habit Walsh recently had surrendered. These days he was smoking Silva Thins.
One eye had long been pirate-patched in black, the result of a freak accident during the filming in 1929 of In Old Arizona, his first "talkies" Western; one year later, directing another western, The Big Trail, Walsh discovered a muscle-bound ex-USC athlete by the unlikely name of Marion Morrison, a.k.a. John Wayne. Walsh's other eye had long suffered from glaucoma, and his sight was failing. But his voice was clear and his energy good; he was able to tell long, colorful stories about the days gone by, flavoring them with an occasional Oriental or Cockney accent, a reminder that before turning screen director, "Papa" — or "Irish," as he was known affectionately to the many people in Hollywood who worked on productions with him — had a fling at acting.
He led a full and exciting life that mingles history and Hollywood, a life laid out in his funny, anecdotal autobiography, A Man in His Time. Before the turn of the century, as a lad in New York City, Walsh wooed Virginia O'Hanlon, the same Virginia who wrote a famous letter to a newspaper asking if, indeed, there really was a Santa Claus. Later, he headed west and in the dying days of the frontier became a cowboy. He was privileged to ride with Pancho Villa on assignment from D. W. Griffith. He could recall a memorable dinner one night with Charlie Chaplin, Jack London, and Wyatt Earp. In his time, he would go fishing with George Bernard Shaw and horse racing with Winston Churchill. He even met Adolf Hitler (he later came to regret having not assassinated him), under rather peculiar circumstances; that was when the Nazis tried unsuccessfully to persuade the film director to pilfer a renowned portrait of the Revolutionary War general von Steuben from the private collection of his friend William Randolph Hearst.
It was after a talent scout signed the young Eastern-bred cowpoke for the role of Paul Revere in a long-lost-two-reeler that Walsh entered motion pictures. He played John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, in D. W. Griffith's epic The Birth of a Nation, before parlaying his modest thespian abilities into a directing career that had its first peak during the silent age. He mounted a spectacular version of The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks in 1924, and his production of What Price Glory? two years later is considered a classic. People who attend the annual silent film festival in Italy, attest that among his lesser-known silent film titles there are other great works. In 1964, John Ford, asked by Cinema magazine to name his ten favorite motion pictures, listed Walsh's The Honor System, from 1917, in second place.
Walsh survived the eye accident and the arrival of talking pictures, and, especially at Warner Brothers, where he found a niche as the man-handler of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Errol Flynn, he thrived, lasting almost fifty years in the profession, having a hand — as actor, writer, director, or producer — in some 140 films. Many have outlasted the Oscar winners in their appeal. Walsh himself never won an Academy Award — he shared in only one nomination, with codirector Irving Cummings, for In Old Arizona — yet his reputation, especially in France, where he was always recognized as among the best of the journeymen contract directors, continues to grow.
* * *
How did you break into motion pictures?
People ask me how I got in pictures, and the thing that really got me into pictures was because I could ride. I got a job with a traveling Clansman company, riding the horse on a treadmill, being a Ku Klux Klan leader, and carrying a fiery cross. Now, when I first got that part, the leading man — a hell of a fine fella — told me to tell the assistant stage manager to give me some of the small parts to read, in case anybody got sick or drunk, you know. Well, we went all the way from San Antonio to St. Louis and nobody ever got drunk, and I never made an appearance.
Then I went to New York, and an actor called George Center took me to this agency. When the receptionist asked me my whole history, Center put down that I had played every part in The Clansman. She said, "Can you ride a horse?" She had heard I was from Texas. I said, "Yes." So she gave me a slip to go over to Union Hill, New Jersey, to the Pathé brothers [Charles and Émile Pathé], who were just starting to make pictures. Now, when I arrived in New York, I had some money, and the first thing I did was to go and buy a nice suit of clothes. I still had my good boots. I had my new suit on and stuff when I met these two Pathé brothers, and an interpreter who spoke fairly good English. He asked me what I could do. "Can you ride the horse? ..." "Yes," I said, "I can ride the horse," and so forth and so on, and then they signed me up for three pictures. I think I got the job because I had a good suit.
The first picture was called The Banker's Daughter. It was a crummy-looking thing. I was in love with the banker's daughter, and one of the other clerks that was in love with her stole some money, and I was blamed. Eventually, the police come, the girl breaks down, the bankers say, "Take him off!" and so forth and so on, and, finally, the janitor says he saw this other fella steal the money, so they set me free. That was the story.
In the next picture, I escaped from prison. A funny thing happened there. In those days, you know, in Sing Sing prison, the convicts all had striped uniforms. We were taking a scene out in New Jersey, it was a big field and it was getting down toward the end of the picture. The director — he was French and spoke broken English — says, "You go way off by those big trees, and then, when I call for you, you come running cross field as fast as you can, and then when you hear a gun go off, you fall ... see?" I said, "All right." So I went over way behind the fields, behind the trees, and he shouted, "C'mon, start running!" So I started running across the field and four guards were chasing me and then they shot and I fell down. And, lo and behold, there was a church just a short way away and a priest came running over from the church. He had seen me. He didn't know it was a picture. And he came running up to give me the last rites. We were all surprised. I was surprised when he turned me over. The Frenchman finally talked the priest into giving me the last rites and he gave him five dollars.
Then finally comes my big day: the third picture. The director tells me, "Now, we'll see if you can ride the horse. We have good story about your famous American jockey Paul Revere." Well, I rode over half of Jersey, jumping over stone walls, hollering, "The British are coming!" The director spotted this big cemetery. He said, "Now, you jump over the cemetery wall, and jump over all the headstones." Well, I did and I was arrested. The company was arrested too and fined fifty dollars and we had to repair whatever damage was done to the cemetery. Now, fortunately, there was a young director watching, from Biograph. He saw me do all this, and he told [D. W.] Griffith about it. Griffith sent for me and signed me up. He said, "Do you want to go to California?" And I said, "When do we leave?"
Did you act in many Biograph pictures?
Well, I acted in a lot of one-and two-reelers. They were very ordinary stories with phony titles. "The Liquor That Touches Your Lips Will Never Touch Mine." Those kinds of titles ... all that junk. At first, they used to cast me as a lover, until I finally said, "To hell with that. Let me play the heavy. Let me play the guy who robs the bank."
Why didn't you like to play lovers?
Well, most of the girls were kind of cold-blooded in those days. And then there was only the three-second kiss ... they didn't want to get their hair mussed. I'd take them by the hair and kiss 'em anyway. You know, I played John Wilkes Booth inBirth of a Nation. I almost played him again once, too, when I met Hitler. I went to the opera one night years later when I was in Germany, and Hitler was sitting in the box, right up there, just as Lincoln was sitting in the box when I played John Wilkes Booth. If I had a gun or something, I could have walked around and pumped him full of lead. What the hell is one life compared to twenty million?
Then I directed a lot of one-and two-reelers, and played in them too. It was tough making pictures in those days. You had to be rough in those days to get along. I remember Griffith would ask me to go out and find a certain type for him, you know, a nice motherly woman. We had a couple of character actors, but they were always being used for other pictures. They'd shoot four or five pictures at a time, you know, on this big stage. So I'd drop by some shops that sold women's clothes or something, and look around and see a nice-faced elderly woman and talk her into coming down to the studio. Some of them stayed and made out pretty good. A couple of the women became pretty good character actors. Once, Griffith asked me to get him a minister. So I scouted around and saw this big, tall man walking down the street, and I said, "Would you like to work in moving pictures?" He said, "Sir, I am a minister of the gospel." So I picked the right guy, but he didn't take the job.
Had you watched a lot of movies when you were young?
All they had where I lived was nickelodeon places. And even when we were making pictures, we never saw them. In fact, the negative used to be sent to New York to be printed and edited there. We didn't print any rushes [in California]. They didn't have facilities for making a positive print.
How could you tell if you were making a good motion picture?
You'd hear from New York. [laughs] Not only that, but when you saw this picture with the new titles in it, you were flabbergasted. "Geez, I didn't play the scene that way."
Do you mean they edited the films in New York?
Yeah ... they fooled around with it and stuff.
When did you begin to see rushes?
Griffith brought a fellow out who was connected with the laboratory in New York, and they built a laboratory over where CBS or NBC is now, in North Hollywood. Then we began to see the rushes.
Can you sum up what you learned from D. W. Griffith?
It was altogether different in those days, because there was no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes, and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a "run-to-the-rescue." That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.
The greatest thing that he taught me? All the time that I was with him, as his assistant and as an actor, I never saw the man carry a piece of paper. Everything came from here. [points to forehead] Never looking up a scene ... "What is this, what is that?" Never. I'm the same way. The minute I read the script the night before, I may glance at it once in the morning and that's it.
Excerpted from Film Crazy by Patrick McGilligan. Copyright © 2000 Patrick McGilligan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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