This intimate portrait by his former personal assistant and confidante reveals the man behind the legendary filmmakerfor the first time.
Stanley Kubrick, the director of a string of timeless movies from Lolita and Dr. Strangelove to A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and others, has always been depicted by the media as the Howard Hughes of filmmakers, a weird artist obsessed with his work and privacy to the point of madness. But who was he really? Emilio D'Alessandro lets us see. A former Formula Ford driver who was a minicab chauffeur in London during the Swinging Sixties, he took a job driving a giant phallus through the city that became his introduction to the director. Honest, reliable, and ready to take on any task, Emilio found his way into Kubrick's neurotic, obsessive heart. He became his personal assistant, his right-hand man and confidant, working for him from A Clockwork Orange until Kubrick's death in 1999.
Emilio was the silent guy in the room when the script for The Shining was discussed. He still has the coat Jack Nicholson used in the movie. He was an extra on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's last movie. He knew all the actors and producers Kubrick worked with; he observed firsthand Kubrick's working methods down to the smallest detail. Making no claim of expertise in cinematography but with plenty of anecdotes, he offers a completely fresh perspective on the artist and a warm, affecting portrait of a generous, kind, caring man who was a perfectionist in work and life.
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About the Author
Emilio D'Alessandro left Italy at eighteen to become a racecar driver but turned to driving a minicab after the economic crisis in the late sixties ended his career. He worked closely with Stanley Kubrick for thirty years while raising a family with his wife, Janette. After Kubrick's death, he returned to his native land. He lives in Cassino, Italy.
Filippo Ulivieri was born in 1977. He is a writer and teacher of film theory. The leading expert on Stanley Kubrick in Italy, he has published articles on the director's life and films in several newspapers and magazines, and created the site ArchivioKubrick. He lives in Tuscany and Plymouth, UK.
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Stanley Kubrick and Me
Thirty Years at His Side
By Emilio DAlessandro, Filippo Ulivieri, Simon Marsh
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2012 il Saggiatore S.p.A.
All rights reserved.
Good Morning, I'm Stanley Kubrick
In the hawk films office, an enormous white phallus reflected the light from the ceiling. To one side stood two young men, staring at it motionlessly.
It was half-past nine in the evening. Outside it was raining. I was cold and wanted to go home. I'd been driving around London for more than eighteen hours, only to find that the last urgent delivery I had to make was a big porcelain phallus.
"Hey!" I said, startling them. "Give me a hand with this thing, will you?" We took it out to the Minx, but as we feared it wouldn't fit in the trunk. We put it on the front seat. The end protruded from the front window. "I don't suppose you have a blanket, do you?"
From the Associated British Pictures Studios at Borehamwood, I drove towards Thamesmead, a modern area on the right bank of the Thames. The black ice slowed me down, and it took me more than an hour and a half to reach my destination. Nobody else in the company had accepted the delivery. They all said it was too risky in such bad weather. But my training as a race-car driver had prepared me to deal with any road conditions. "Steady, not greedy," as my mentor used to say.
The bundle beside me bounced up and down as if it were alive. What damn film could it be for?
When I arrived, another two young men were waiting for me. They opened the car door, removed the contraption, and told me to wait: I was going to have to return it. Off they went, carrying it like a baby in arms, and then they brought it back to me without saying a word. I was bewildered. Not only by the peculiar load, but also by the excessive suspiciousness surrounding the entire episode. I got in the car and drove back to Janette's house. When I met my boss, Tony, at midnight, I confirmed the two weeks' holiday I'd asked for and wished him Merry Christmas: 1970 was drawing to a close, and I hadn't had a day off for nearly two years.
My holiday at my parents' home in Sant' Angelo passed quickly. When I returned to England, there was a note waiting for me on the desk at Mac's Minicabs. It said that Hawk Films had phoned every day since I left, asking specifically for Emilio D'Alessandro to make new deliveries. At the end of the note it said: ASK FOR MR. HARLAN.
Mac's Minicabs had practically rescued me. After losing my job because of the strikes in the sixties, I'd spent weeks on end in the unemployment office waiting for something to happen. I had faith that all those jobs I'd done during my ten years in England would count for something. That writing gardener, orderly in a clinic, assistant cook in a hospital, mechanic, factory worker, petrol pump attendant, and racing driver on a piece of paper would make a good impression on a potential employer. Instead, every evening I trudged home demoralized. My wife and I had tried just about everything. We had even rented out the house and moved down to my brother's place in Wales, but it hadn't made any difference. After six months, there was just five pounds left in our savings account, not even enough to do the shopping. If I didn't find a job within a week, I wouldn't be able to feed my children or pay the mortgage: the house would be repossessed.
Mac's Minicabs, Drive when You want, Earn as much as you want, Working the hours you want! That's what the ad said. I'd spent the last small change in my pocket at the newsagent's on a cheap job magazine for the hopeless. The other ads weren't any better, and at least this one had something to do with my greatest passion: cars. I had nothing to lose, so I phoned and made an appointment the same day at their offices in Borehamwood.
The Minicabs manager, Tony McDonagh, showed me in and explained that the job was for a private taxi driver without fixed working hours. Borehamwood and nearby Elstree were home to the British National Studios, the film studios of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and EMI Films, nicknamed the British Hollywood. Mac's Minicabs had an exclusive contract with some of the companies there and provided transport for managers, executives, and actors. The minicab company got the customers, and at the end of the week the drivers handed over a percentage of the takings. The more I worked, the more I would earn. "Twenty-four hours a day, if you like," said Tony. I didn't need to have any special licenses or documents, just a normal driver's license. My references as a Formula Ford driver had caught Tony's eye. He immediately handed me a contract and offered me the job.
"At a higher weekly commission rate we rent limousines if you want to deal with important customers," he said as he took me to their parking lot.
"No," I said immediately, knowing that I couldn't afford to give them a higher percentage, "I'll use my own car," and I winked at the run-down Ford Capri I'd bought in Cardiff.
It was a Friday, the weekend was just around the corner, and people were getting ready to spend the evening in restaurants, pubs, or cinemas. Tony gave me the address of my first customer; I invited them to get into the Capri and took them to their destination. In addition to the fare, I got a ten-shilling tip. By the end of the evening, I realized I'd earned what for me was an unbelievable amount of money.
I went home, went upstairs, and found Janette already in bed. I undressed quietly so as not to wake her, but without turning over she whispered, "What's the time? How did it go?" "Fine," I answered, moving closer and putting my arms around her. "It went really well. You can sleep peacefully now, really."
Tony's exclusive contracts included legal and production paperwork, so some days I transported envelopes full of contracts, checks, and production documents. I waited in luxurious center-city waiting rooms for the signed documents to be returned to me. Hawk Films was probably one of these companies, though I can't say I really remembered all their names.
Jan Harlan, a slim, well-dressed man with thick brown hair and a mustache, invited me in and asked me to take Maria, his wife, and the children to the airport. During the next few days he kept asking for me and left Tony a list of jobs for me to do. The deliveries were all subject to the maximum discretion. It wasn't easy to understand what Hawk Films actually did — shooting film or shooting people — but I wasn't worried. I needed the work. Once, I did manage to see something different from the usual to-ing and fro-ing: the front door of a white house out in the sticks beyond Well End had been left ajar, and I caught a glimpse of nearly a dozen cats chasing each other and rolling playfully on a brown carpet. Almost immediately a member of the crew hurriedly shut the door.
Hawk Films specifically requested that each job be completed on time, without failure. There was always a deadline, a delivery time. I had to respect this and was allowed at the very most fifteen minutes' leeway. After my meeting with Mr. Harlan, I didn't have any direct contact with them: each morning, the secretary at Mac's Minicabs gave me a list of the tasks that had been dictated to her over the phone. Every time I went back to the office, there were more jobs to do. One day, though, someone from the Hawk Films office called and asked to speak to me personally.
"Are you interested in working in the movies?"
"The movies? No, I drive cars," I replied, without really having understood the question.
"Very well," was the reply. Not another word.
"I'm interested in working," I said, in an attempt to fill the awkward silence. "Twenty-four hours a day if necessary."
"Exactly, that's just what we're looking for. Someone who doesn't stick to the timetable!" said the voice with a laugh. "How would you like to work for us? And I mean just for us?"
A few days earlier, John Wayne had asked me exactly the same thing. Sitting there on the backseat of the Hillman Minx, just like he was on the screen. With his thin lips and slot-like eyes, he looked at me silently from the cinemascope of the rearview mirror. After days of unfaltering silence on the road between Shepperton Studios and Pinewood, John Wayne finally opened his mouth and asked me to work just for him. The offer did make me think: acting in films meant that he would be constantly on the move, from one set to another, especially in the Mexican deserts where they filmed westerns ... There was the risk that it wouldn't turn out to be a steady job, and a steady job was what Hawk Films, with their permanent base in London, were offering me. I glanced at him in the mirror and without turning around said no, that I wouldn't accept. Dozens of times I'd seen him shoot the bad guy point-blank, but inside the Minx he just said, "I understand," and looked away.
"That's fine by me," I answered the voice on the phone, "but I still have a contract with the minicab company."
"We'll take care of all that," said the voice. "We'll reach an agreement with them about your contract."
And that was it. In spring 1971 I started working for Hawk Films, from six in the morning until dinnertime. Of course, there were breaks and time to relax, but whenever the phone rang I had to be ready straightaway. It was hard work, but I felt good. I was about to turn thirty, and I had a steady job again.
One day a couple of months later, Mr. Harlan sent me to Abbots Mead, a house beyond the outskirts of northeast London. It was halfway along Barnet Lane, a tree-lined road that ran alongside the parish of Elstree and Borehamwood.
There was a closed metal gate with no bell. I tried pushing it, and it opened slowly. I parked the car in the gravel courtyard under the branches of two large trees. I rang the bell, and a rather tall lady with a big smile opened the front door. She introduced herself as Kay, a secretary.
"Are you Emilio?" she asked. "Do you know who you're working for?"
"Yes, for Hawk Films."
"There's someone who would like to meet you. He'll be here in a moment."
A few minutes later, two golden retrievers came through one of the doors in the corridor followed by a brisk-looking man of about forty.
"Good morning," he said, holding out his hand.
"Good morning," I replied. We shook hands. He was slightly taller than me and had an impressive, curly black beard. He looked like Fidel Castro.
"I'm Stanley Kubrick," he said, looking me in the eye.
There was a moment of silence. Maybe I was expected to say something. I didn't say anything, apart from: "And I'm Emilio D'Alessandro."
Without letting go of my hand, he took a press clipping from his pocket.
"Is this you?"
It was an old article from 1968 describing my career as a Formula Ford driver.
"Yes, it's about me," I answered.
"Do you drive like that on the roads, too?"
"No, you must be joking! Only when I was on the circuit."
"Do you respect the speed limit and road signs?" Was it a trick question?
"Of course," I replied, "I have to respect the highway code. Any infraction would be reported on my racing driver's license, too. I would lose points, and my score affects my rating. I even have to be careful where I park."
A smile appeared through his beard. "I have a Mercedes 280 SEL automatic. Do you think you can handle it without a problem?"
"It's a car that does half the work for you. I think I can manage the rest."
"Let's try, then. Why don't we have a night out with my family at the Royal Opera House and you drive us?"
He took his leave and went back into his room, followed by the dogs. Before he closed the door, I caught a glimpse of a cat yawning and stretching on the desk. I smiled.
The secretary explained to me that this man, Stanley Kubrick, was a famous American film director who had been living in England for some years. I had never heard of him. Those days I never went to the cinema. I didn't have time. I'd driven a great many actors, actresses, and producers, but that's as far as my knowledge of the world of film went: handshakes and tips. I only ever got to see actors in the flesh.
"Are you pleased that you've met him?" asked the secretary.
"Well," I blurted out, trying to think of something polite to say, "I'm pleased that he's an honest and respected person. That means he'll treat me well, too."
That evening, when I returned to Abbots Mead to take Mr. Kubrick and his friendly, smiling wife, Christiane, to the Royal Opera House, I apologized for not having recognized him. Cars, not cameras, were my world. I wouldn't even know how to hold a camera. His wife laughed out loud at what I said, and he told me that it wasn't in the least bit important.
Two hours later, after the performance, Mr. Kubrick asked me if I wouldn't mind taking an extra passenger. He moved aside to let a young, very elegant lady get in. He introduced her to me as Gwyneth Jones, adding, "She is a famous opera singer." Understandably, he probably imagined that I had never heard of her before.
"We need to stop at a restaurant, if you don't mind waiting for us while we have something to eat. It's the Mumtaz. Do you know where it is?"
"Halfway down Park Road. I've been there before."
"What's the food like?"
"Actually, I meant that I've taken clients there. I've never been inside, but from the outside, I'd say it looks like a good place."
"Okay ... but don't you need a map?" he added. "My chauffeur always has a map in his hand."
"If you don't know the streets of London after two years as a taxi driver, you'd do well to emigrate!"
The next day Mr. Kubrick asked me to take him to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square to renew his passport. Then we went to Wardour Street, to the London offices of Warner Bros., the American company that financed his films. I was about to get into the Mercedes again, but Mr. Kubrick stopped me: "Do you mind if we go in yours?" Before I had time to reply that the Minx was a just a supermini and nowhere near as comfortable as the Mercedes, he was already on the backseat.
Kubrick looked around in silence while I drove. After a few minutes, he said, "It's a nice car. Is it new?"
"No, I bought it secondhand. It's at least three years old. It's got a fair amount of miles on the clock."
"It looks new; it's in better condition than my Mercedes. Do you look after it yourself?"
"Yes, but it doesn't take much — just a damp cloth now and then to get rid of the dust."
"The Mercedes isn't this clean when it comes back from the carwash. Does everything work?
"So far ..."
There was another long silence.
"Why do you drive so carefully?"
He expected a Formula Ford driver to be more aggressive — all screeching tires and whizzing around corners. I explained that this had been one of the most important lessons I'd learned at the Brands Hatch Motor Racing Club course: if you take a corner too fast, when you steer the car you risk skidding. "Imagine that you've got a glass full of water in the middle of the hood," Tony Lanfranchi told us. "When you turn the corner, the water can tilt, but not so much that it spills. If you get water on the hood, you've made a mistake."
It was Tony who had taught me everything I knew about car racing — he was a wonderful driver. He knew how to corner instinctively and had tried to teach me to do it. "Get the front wheels on the edge of the curb and then forget about the bend, think about the next one so that you can be sure to arrive there with the shortest possible trajectory. You need to anticipate — your brain needs to be one curve ahead of your body." And then he'd said, "Learn to feel the way the car vibrates if your tires are losing their grip. Anticipate there as well. Like the way a doctor finds an illness before it becomes apparent, you have to understand that you're skidding even before you actually skid."
Was I disturbing Kubrick by talking so much? My enthusiasm and nostalgia had carried me away. However, in the rearview mirror I could see that he was listening carefully and looked interested, so I added that Tony had also been an advisor on John Frankenheimer's film Grand Prix. He'd also driven all the single-seater cars, going flat out to give the director the most spectacular shots possible.
"What's that noise when you brake?" he asked. He'd noticed a squeaking sound coming from the wheels.
I enjoyed answering questions like this, because I could never talk about cars to Janette. She got bored immediately.
"It must be a stone stuck between the brake disk and the cover."
I stopped at the first lay-by, got out, and gave the wheel a gentle kick.
"Is it dangerous?"
"No, don't worry."
The next time I braked, the wheel didn't make a sound. "How did you know that?" "It's happened before. It does that sometimes."
He didn't say anything else until we pulled up in front of the embassy. He asked me to park in a road nearby and wait. I waited for him for nearly three hours, and when he came back to the car he was rather annoyed. "A complete waste of time!" he grumbled. "Can you go and get my documents next time? I'll give you a signed proxy."
When we arrived at Abbots Mead, the courtyard was swarming with busy secretaries and assistants. Kubrick showed me to a shed on the left side of the courtyard and stopped in front of two Volvos — a 146 "bought recently," and a yellow 240 "that only Christiane uses." He pointed to a Ford van and a Volkswagen minibus parked a little farther down the shed. These both belonged to Hawk Films and were used to get to the set or transport materials or equipment. A Volkswagen pickup with a tarpaulin covering the trailer served the same purpose.
Excerpted from Stanley Kubrick and Me by Emilio DAlessandro, Filippo Ulivieri, Simon Marsh. Copyright © 2012 il Saggiatore S.p.A.. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Good Morning, I'm Stanley Kubrick 1
2 Either You Care or You Don't 22
3 The Barry Lyndon Adventure 35
4 Open House 66
5 Driving Lessons 83
6 The Shining 95
7 390 Keys to 129 Doors 132
8 Stanley 152
9 Demolition Man: Full Metal Jacket 171
10 Tough Decisions 189
11 Kubrick 212
12 Pit Stop 236
13 A Fleeting Good-bye 256
14 Personal Chemistry 272
15 Eyes Wide Shut 292
16 Ask Emilio 318
17 Back to Italy 336
Afterword: Emilio Will Pick You Up at the Station 343
Appendix: Appreciations 350
Index of Names 355