|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 12, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
When you were in 'Always Another Dawn', what sort of a role did you play?
Well, he was a young man from a farming background, not all that far from Sydney. We shot it around Camden somewhere and we did go to a real farm. But he was sort of obsessed by the fact that his father had been a sort of a naval hero in World War I, so when World War II started, he had a passion about joining the navy. And Queenie Ashton played my mother and I know there were some lovely scenes when I had to sort of tell her that I was going to join the navy and away I went. And, in fact, in the story I do rather gallantly go down with the ship firing a lone gun away at the Japanese ship over the horizon somewhere and Guy Doleman, who played the best friend, my best friend, turned up at the farm right at the end to explain what had happened and everything. So it was a nice story, written by Zelma Roberts...
How old you were you when you played this?
Ah, I did the film when I was - 1947 - when I was 24.
Did you have a love interest?
Yes, Betty McDowall, she was 'the girlfriend'. Very - one of our very good actresses in Sydney at the time - theatre and radio. I don't think Betty had done much film. Very few people had had a chance to do any films in those days. And she was lovely, yeah, yeah. I used to think that my love scene with Julia Blake in 'Innocence' was my first big love scene but then I - the archives have got a clip me of me actually kissing Betty McDowall. So, yeah.
Did you - you were in - very, very much in the mould of the handsome movie actor at the time. Was there any chance of all of that going to your head?
No, I didn't know. I was more concerned about my all [sic] bad angles. My Adam's apple used to stick out too far and I was always trying to tuck the chin down and, you know, the cameraman would say, "Lift your chin". "Oh, they might see me Adam's apple." And I had a scar - well I've still got a scar under my nose that happened when I was born - and I always thought my eyes were too little and they were close together. You know, and all those things. I had made the mistake of sneaking in, sort of illegally - and see, to see the rushes once after we first started shooting 'Always Another Dawn'. And Guy Doleman and I decided we'd go and try and sneak in the back of the hall.
Why - why didn't you normally watch them?
Well, the director didn't want us to. Turned out he was absolutely right. And I saw a big close-up of me and went, "Ooh, yuck", and I was horrified. Of course what I'd forgotten about is that when you first see yourself on a screen, you're looking at the wrong way round. You only know yourself from the mirror image which is washing your face or combing your hair or whatever and the version up on the screen is what you're really like. And it's a shock. And I never quite got over that and I still don't go to see rushes if I can help it, yeah.
What does it do to you if you do go to see rushes?
Well, when I was doing the films with Margaret Rutherford, rushes used to be at a quarter to two and a couple of times I made the mistake of seeing them and I, I was so self-conscious for the afternoon shoot that I decided not to go to see any more rushes, particularly lunch-time rushes. Evening rushes, say at six o'clock or six thirty, you could at least have a few beers or something and get over it then muck yourself up the next day. But what I did like to hear, was to hang - do, was to hang around outside the rushes theatrette and have the crew and everybody else coming out saying, "Oh you should have been there, they were great. Lovely scene between you and Margaret". So you went on the set in the afternoon in a rosy glow of false optimism.
Now, you had your first love scene in 'Always Another Dawn' on the movies. What was happening with your love life in real life? Had you met any girls at all at this stage of your life?
Well, Audrey and I were very, very devoted. She was waiting for me to come back from the air force...
How did you meet her? Can we go right back to - let's go back to when you first got interested in girls.
Oh. One of my school friends introduced me to a friend of his that I think, when we were about fifteen or sixteen - and a very nice gal too. And I was a little bit interested but I was, I was a bit nervous about girls. You know, I wasn't too sure. All these strange reactions you got if you saw a pretty girl. I thought, and I hadn't read enough books about all that, so. But - I didn't feel anything - but at the end of one school year, I think it was my final school year, a great friend of Mum's had a daughter, Patricia. And Patricia said to me one day, "You must meet Audrey Wilson". I said, "Who's Audrey Wilson?" She said, "Oh she's the Captain of the Claremont College" - where my mother went to. And she said, "I'll bring her along one day". So my mother used to put on a, a Christmas party every year and you had to get in by bringing a toy for the Sun Newspaper Toy Fund. So Patty Adams - her surname was - brought, said, "I'm bringing Audrey Wilson". And I remember, can still remember, opening the front door in Coogee and seeing this breathtaking gal alongside Patty, Patty Adams.
And in they came and I was gone from that moment on. There are shots of her up there as she was at about that age and I think my judgement was right. She was fabulous and very quiet and very reserved. Born in Scotland, came out when she was about three or four or something. Then when I started to go to work, I found out what tram Audrey took to go to work. She was going to a business college. Didn't go to university. And I used to contrive to catch the tram she caught and then would get into her compartment and that wasn't very popular because then I'd offer to pay her fare, the four pence to, into the city from Coogee. She got on a couple of stops up the road in Randwick. And I used to get some rather stern looks and embarrassment. Anyhow, after, it was hard work getting, getting sort of to know her. And then I found her mother was very strict indeed. But slowly we, you know, got together and I was potty about her from the time I first saw her. And then when I went away in the air force we were, "Will you wait for me?" "Oh yeah, of course."
So we had the understanding and I bought an engagement ring in Cairo and I was going to smuggle it in when I got back from the Middle East and one of the boys on the squadron was a bit of a jewellery expert and he said, "Oh you've bought one with a flaw in it". So I went back and bought another one. And he said, "No, that's a good one". So I kept them both and I gave me Mum the one with the flaw. And Mum loved it anyway, didn't matter if it had a flaw. And, but - and Audrey had the engagement ring so we got engaged. But then the war was still on and her mother was very worried that we were going to think about getting married too soon because you a couldn't find a flat unless you were terrible rich and bribed somebody. I didn't have a proper job and, you know, all that.
I'd just gone back to my announcing job at 2CH but that wasn't really, you know, a job with prospects and I'd gone back there for just a few months while waiting for the result of the screen test I did which got me the lead in 'Always Another Dawn'. And then when I got into films I thought that was beyond the pale, you know, never get a proper job at all. But Audrey's mother was - and also in fairness to her, she'd lost her husband who was chief engineer of the Manunda, on the hospital ship and he - the ship was badly damaged in the Darwin raid. But they recovered and he wasn't wounded himself and he'd been highly decorated in the First World War in one of the Scottish army regiments. And, anyhow, he sadly got ill and died not long after the war, from an illness of some kind. So now Audrey's mother was on her own with her only daughter who wanted to marry this ne'er do well, some actor. And, and so she was making it difficult for us and eventually she took Audrey to America where she had, Mrs Wilson, had cousins in Detroit, whom I've met. Lovely family. Part of the Scottish family. Some had gone to America and some had gone to Australia.
And I thought, well that's it. America's full of glamorous men and taller than I am and Audrey will fall for them and so I thought it was all over. But after about a year or so, they came back and I felt just the same.
During the war, when you were flying and in danger, did you think about her a lot?
Ooh yeah. Oh yeah, we had a, we had an interesting little correspondence scheme. We used to - I used to write - we decided we would write personal letters to each other, telling each other how we felt, and impersonal letters. And the code was if I addressed it to Miss Audrey Wilson, Astolene Hall, Judge Street, Randwick, that was personal. But if it was Miss A.M. Wilson, her Mum could read it. Oh yeah, we went to Cairo and we went to the pictures and all that sort of stuff. They were the safe letters.
Do you remember the homecoming?
Very much, yeah, yeah. And I've got a photograph to prove it which I didn't know had been taken. It was taken by a press photographer. We landed in Melbourne and had to get off the ship in Melbourne and then go up by train to Sydney, our particular batch. Now very experienced, lucky survivors. Flight lieutenants and all what not. And we got to the station and there was Mum, Dad, my little brother, Pat - now up there - and Audrey. And I kissed her and it was, it was lovely, you know. And years and years later, well after the war, there was an article in a women's magazine about how to treat your man when he comes out of the services.
And there was a photograph of two people kissing, you couldn't quite see their faces, and the woman's hand was there on the shoulder and had a glove on it and a little bracelet on. And I recognised the bracelet. I'd bought it in Bethlehem, a little filigree thing. And I raced into the newspaper office, "Can I see the original photograph?" And then I saw the full print, they'd only used this tiny little bit of it, just the, almost just the two faces. So close together you couldn't read the faces properly. And there was Mum, Mum there, Dad there and my little brother now towering over us. And in the background another photographer called Scotty Polkinghorne whom I had - I didn't know who he was - but I could see him standing there with his camera trying to take an opportunity shot of all these greetings. And years later I was working with Scotty Polkinghorn in radio and I've got the print somewhere. I've got a few copies of it now. And the full picture's great. So I remember the homecoming terribly well largely through that photograph. But the fact that we were all together was fantastic, of course.
You got a job back with 2CH and you were also doing the film, how did you coordinate the radio and the film career?
Well, getting the job back wasn't hard in radio because under the wartime regulations they had to give - if you were on the permanent staff anywhere, they had to give you your job back. Even if it meant they had four hundred of you, they still had to give you your job back. So before I'd heard the result of the screen test I did, I'd gone back to being an announcer with 2CH while I waited to see if they really wanted me. It might have even been before I did the real screen test for the role. And so there was I, you know, back in a nice secure job at six pounds a week. A bit less than they'd promised me. Because the year before, when I was - I had a fairly long batch of leave I was due, sort of five or six weeks, because I'd been overseas for a long time - and to fill in the time and 2CH was keen to use it for publicity, they invited me back to do some temporary announcing while I was waiting for an air force posting - which was the one that made me a flying instructor.
So I had done some announcing work for them, now as a senior announcer, not a cadet announcer. And I think they paid me eight pounds a week. And the shock to the system was they only paid me six pounds a week. Might have been six pounds ten - but when I went officially back to work under the terms of the wartime regulations. And then as soon as I was offered the film lead at twenty pounds a week, I, the money wasn't a consideration, it was just the fact that I got the thing, but then I thought, "Ooh and I get three times me wages too", which was great. I raced off and they were, I'm sure they were pleased because they had a lot of chaps coming back from the services so I was sort of out of the way a bit.
But did you get involved in the post-war radio boom of radio drama?
Yes, I did eventually, yeah. I loved doing films so what I didn't want to do was to get tied up in a long run radio serial because that was a heck of a problem for radio producers if you - and theatre people had the same thing. You kow, a lot of fine actors like John Alden and people like that who were often doing tours, even Peter Finch was in danger of being away doing theatre tours. And then Peter did a very clever thing, he started, he formed a theatre company in Sydney and took plays around to factories, short plays to interest people in the theatre, and then put on a season of plays that, those three one act plays at the Conservatorium in Sydney. And that was a marvellous theatre breakthrough. It's where Laurence Olivier discovered Peter Finch. One report said Peter Finch was discovered acting in a factory by Laurence Olivier. Now, what they neglected to say it was a wonderful theatre company going around giving performances in factories and Olivier and - who was out doing a tour, this was now well after the war, probably about 1948 - there's a photograph somewhere of Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier in the factory watching Finchy doing one of, one of the great plays he was doing.
The McCreadie brothers who made 'Always Another Dawn' - you said that after that was over they were already planning their next one, 'Into the Straight'. Did they have a part for you in that?
Yes, yes, technically I played the lead in that. I was the ne'er do well son who was - should have been studying medicine at university and had gambling problems but came good in the end and actually got his degree and became a doctor. And we shot it in Scone. Forget the name of the stud, but one of the famous stud farms. St Aubins it was called. St Aubins. AUBINS as I remember. And there was a famous racehorse there called Magnificent which was, had sired a lot of great horses. And we had access to all of that which was terrific. And we improvised and did, I remember Bren Brown, the assistant cameraman, and I went to see a film called 'The Homestretch' made by 20th Century Fox which Maureen O'Hara and Cornel Wilde, and it was about racing and we saw all these amazing shots that they would have done with cranes and all sorts of things and we had to improvise and Tom McCreadie had a rather smart American car with a - a Roadster I think they called them - and the top came down, you see.
And they did brilliant stuff. Bren Brown and Harry Malcolm on the camera team, Harry as senior cameraman, with a tripod and a camera in the back of his car. And wonderful shots of the horses and the - because they staged races for them. Tom McCreadie had a great friend who was a former jockey and was now a businessman friend and he went back into the saddle to do some of the scenes. And there were some remarkable shots. At least as good as 'The Homestretch' except 'The Homestretch' was in technicolour and we were in black and white.
What did you do in between the two movies?
Oh, well I tried to do a lot more radio. Guesting roles. I got the lead in 'Great Expectations' for the Lux Radio Theatre and we used the screenplay, the John Mills film. And one of the good writers, radio writers, adapted that screenplay into an excellent radio play. And, as a result of an audition, which I think John Saul conducted, I got the lead as Pip in 'Great Expectations'. And then I remember I got the acting honours of the week in the famous 'Listener-In'. And I went, the following week I did an audition for Macquarie and failed with a note saying, "dull voice, no light and shade, must do better", or something. And I kept failing the Macquarie audition but I'd once played the lead in 'Great Expectations'. But, which meant also that I did get some guest roles in shows.
But, again because I knew I was going to be doing 'Into the Straight', down the track, and I was already working with Alec [Alex] Ezard as a sort of assistant editor. Alec [Alex] was editing 'Always Another Dawn' and they put me under contract for 'Into the Straight'. And then I did some work on the screenplay of 'Into the Straight' and they gave me a secretary, Pauline Phillips. And the director, Tom McCreadie, loved a very detailed shooting script for his screenplays and I had to learn how to do that for him. It's not a method I would recommend because they're not very flexible and we found, once we started shooting, Tom wouldn't use all the shots that - I think there was only one scene where he stuck to my shooting pattern. But it was good training to have to put it all down and learn how to it.
So you mean a full shooting script in which you described every shot?
That's right, yes.
Well, that would have stretched you a bit?
It did and it made me work very closely with Alec [Alex] Ezard because I'd say "Can we go from a wide shot to the this shot to that shot?" "Yeah but be careful, don't go that way, go this way." And Harry Malcolm, who's the director of photography. "Can you really do this and do that?" And he'd say, "No, careful. If we get hold of a zoom lens we could but we may be not be able to get one. We may have turret lenses." "Oh righto." And all those sorts of little things which were great.
Normally the director would think this through.
Why was he getting you to do it?
It may be have been a bit of a test for me too or to keep me occupied. I mean, when he, they offered me this contract for a second movie with a retainer of ten pounds a week, it might have even been more, which was pretty healthy salary, you know for a, if you're working in an office for ten pounds a week, ooh you know, be good. And I didn't really have to do anything for it but I wanted to do something. And that's when Tom McCreadie invited me to work with Alec [Alex] Ezard as an assistant editor. Now, first, I was practically just sweeping the off-cuts and things off the floor, throwing them out. Then Alec had me assembling short ends and things like that. And then he really taught me how to do it and that was fantastic.
So you've - at the end of that time, you could have edited a film yourself?
Probably could have, yes. Chips Rafferty, some years later, was going to take advantage of it with his company. He was going to get me to direct every second film they made and when people, years later when I went to Hollywood and we came back after having been offered a contract over there, the plan was for me to direct every second movie of Chips' company. And had Tom and Alec McCreadie kept going with their more modest ambitions, I might have been directing. In fact I was a sort of an assistant, unofficial assistant director on 'Into the Straight'. We didn't have a first assistant for that film. I filled that role. Which was tricky because I was rather proud of the script that I'd achieved and if Tom McCreadie changed it, I used to query it a bit and I don't think he liked that very much.
But he was a good bloke, Tom, and he did what he should have done. Just, you know, he should have flown a bit more by the seat of his pants and not used the wide shot if it wasn't appropriate. You know, that I'd scripted. And of course it made the script very thick too, very heavy. But that period, it was sort of like having an intense period in how to make movies from early 1947 to well into late 1948. Which was a terrific experience and hands on experience too, you know.
When did Audrey's mother feel that you were reliable enough to get married?
She didn't and she didn't come to the wedding. No. No we had the wedding reception at home in Mum's place in Coogee.
When was that?
So, you waited a bit?
Oh, we couldn't find a flat and you didn't get married unless you could find a flat. And you had to have somewhere. And by then Audrey, it was tough for her because she loved the thought of flying. Her mother wouldn't let her join the air force. She wanted to join the air force when I did. Well, she was too young. She had to wait a year or so because she was about eighteen months younger than I. And then we discovered that Audrey's mother had actually been in the Royal Air Force Women's Division in World War I. So, but anyhow no. Not only that but she was an only child and she would have been on her own, etcetera, etcetera.
But eventually Audrey got into Trans Australia Airlines as an air hostess as they were then properly called. Cabin attendant now or what the official term is. And she loved it. It was back in the days of smaller aircraft, harder work and it was very selective and she got in. Now I'm concerned because, although Audrey's mother didn't approve of us getting married, I was in, I wanted to, I was very keen. And Audrey was sort of accepting the idea and she put up with, I think when she was based in Melbourne for quite a while so she was, Ina, her mother, couldn't, you know, wasn't able to lecture her quite so much. And eventually after a film we did about Captain Thunderbolt, Hans Adlerstein who was one of the production people on the, at the film company, he and his wife had found a house and he said, "You're looking for a flat, you can have our flat in Killara".
Which was a small, self-contained flat built under a house owned by a lovely German couple, Pitschs. And I remember ringing Audrey from Sydney saying, "Darl, we can get married. I've got a flat". And I remember that little pause that said, "Oh good". Because she was loving flying. The thing was the moment she resigned to get married, the moment she indicated she was going to get married, she had to resign. You weren't allowed to fly and be married under those post-war regulations. So, the pause was, "Oh dear, yes I'll get married but now I've got to lose this wonderful job". And had she been allowed to fly it would have been fantastic for her. But she gallantly gave up this job she loved and we went into the flat in Killara, as I remember.
What film did you do after 'After [sic] the Straight'... 'Into the Straight'?
I got a small part in 'Eureka Stockade'. So small that it was cut out and I think I caught a glimpse of myself in the crowd scene leading up to that scene. That was 1948. It was either just before or just after we shot 'Into the Straight' and 'Eureka Stockade' was made by the great Ealing Studios, Ealing Company that had made 'Forty Thousand Horsemen'. And Harry Watt was directing, a very distinguished director, and it was sort of flattering to be asked to do it but disappointed [sic] that I didn't survive in the film. I remember the scene was a chap who couldn't read, one of the miners and Peter Lalor, or Lawler [the character was Lalor], played by Chips Rafferty, read the letter that he'd got from home to him. And I remember Chips was standing on a slight rise and I was standing, and Chips was six foot six, and I'm about five foot seven and a half or eight if I stand up very straight, and I was looking up at this huge, so it may have looked a bit ridiculous. But, also, it was probably a bit of padding that they could get rid of easily. But in their kindness, Ealing the following year invited me to play one of the strong supporting roles in 'Bitter Springs' and so that was great.
Was it on 'Eureka Stockade' that you met Chips?
Yes, although I had met him in the air force he reminded me. And we once worked out that we'd both been extras, I as a schoolboy extra, he - Chips was fourteen years older than me - and he was an extra in a film called 'Come Up Smiling' in 1938 and Owen Weingott and I had been unpaid extras on that. Chips I think probably got paid. But that was his first job in front of the cameras, purely as an extra. Next time I met him was at Narromine when Corporal John Goffage - Chips Rafferty, his real name was John Goffage - turned up to help us. He was working with amenities or whatever it was called, helping us to put on the odd show and, you know, morale boosting stuff. And he always said he remembered coming to Narromine and had been chatting to me about it and me saying, "I've done radio". And I must have taken part in the show. And by the time I came back, he was Squadron Leader John Goffage, he had quite a good job, a very good job, and was nearly badly wounded in an air raid in New Guinea at one stage. But [cough] my first meeting with him properly as actors together was in 'Eureka Stockade' when he read the letter to me.
And the next thing was 'Bitter Springs'. What's your memory of working on 'Bitter Springs'?
Oh, I loved that. A, I worked with Gordon Jackson who was already a rising star in England. Scottish actor, lovely bloke. And he'd been in 'Eureka Stockade'. So he was back in Australia the following year for 'Bitter Springs'. Nonnie Peifer, who, or she became Nonnie Piper, she played my sister in 'Into the Straight', she was playing my sister in 'Bitter Springs'. A very fine actress called Jean Blue was playing the mother and Chips was playing the father. He objected to that a bit because he was only fourteen years older than me but it didn't matter. And we had Henry Murdoch, Aboriginal actor, and Clyde Combo, the other Aboriginal actor, and we worked with the Ooldea tribal people who came and joined us for many, many weeks and we worked together with them, which was fantastic.
Was that your first encounter with Aboriginal people?
I think it must have been, yeah.
And what did you feel about that?
Oh, I loved them, yeah. We all did. A huge bond. Clyde taught me how to crack a stock whip and Henry taught me - they both taught me how to ride reasonably well. They were good actors, very, very reliable. They'd done, not only movies, they'd done documentaries and things, you know, so they had quite a lot of experience. But they were also working horsemen too. They'd go back to Queensland and do their proper jobs, and highly respected. Henry and I used to love talking about our youths. And we worked out that we'd had, although Henry wasn't full-blood, Clyde was full-blood, but Clyde's father and Henry's father had once tied for the Buck Jump Championship of Australia in 1919. I remember those figures, I was always very impressed by all that. But Henry and I worked out that we'd had exactly the same influences on us. I forget what part of Queensland he came from. The same movies they used to go to see. And we used to play cowboys and Indians. He used to play cowboys and Indians but the advantage he had over us was that they played with real horses. And I said, "How'd you get them?" He said, "Oh, we'd just go into a paddock and hop on one". And, he was, yeah, he was great, Henry. And...
Tell me this, did they get paid the same as you?
They, yeah, there was a bit of a discrepancy and Chips and I had to go to bat. We found that Henry and Clyde had actually, technically been paid a bit less than the award rate. As far as the tribal people, there was certain regulations which I think people have talked about a lot over the years. But they were very, very heavily protected, the tribal people. By - and even our crew, the tribal people had - weren't allowed to handle much money themselves. Enough to buy cigarettes and everything. The powers that be, rightly or wrongly, were frightened they might get ripped off.
So, they husbanded their money and made sure it was theirs. Then occasionally they'd be allowed to go into town. Towards the end of our time at Quorn, in South Australia, they were allowed to go in with their saved up pocket money from their allowance - this is the tribal people - and buy what they wanted in town. Now the crew blokes were so concerned that they might get a bit ripped off here and there, that they elected representatives from the crew to go with them to make sure they paid the right price and got what they wanted. Now these were tribal, fully tribal people who would normally wear no clothing of any kind and they came back sometimes looking like English gents and things. And there was a lovely - one fine dancer called Peter, not sure what his tribal name was but we did get used to the fact that we gave them names. There was Sunny Jim and, except for Kawarri who was the tribal elder. And, I mean Peter looked magnificent. He had a - and they had wonderful taste in clothing.
We also seemed to be very conscious of that in the post-war years. Do you wear those trousers with a tweed jacket or that? And I remember Peter coming back and he had a knitted tie, which was very fashionable. A pale blue knitted tie on and a big beard and no shoes, of course, because shoes were a bit uncomfortable for them. And beaut trousers, lovely jacket and shirt. And a bit later that day I remember seeing him without a tie and he made me understand through our limited language communication that he'd been told by one of his mates, that if you had a beard, you didn't wear a tie. Then I explained to him, no, no, no, some of the top professors in universities had beards and also wore ties. So he was very pleased about that and the tie went back on.
Tell me, with this progression of doing more films, were you getting to be a better actor?
I don't think so. I, strangely, I, I wasn't too ambitious, except that I thought, if I'm going to be any good in this, I'd better in Hollywood by the time I'm thirty. And I was in my late twenties. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine or something. And suddenly, I was suddenly whipped over to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats' when I was twenty-nine and eleven months or something and I thought, what a stupid ambition. However, I started to learn a lot there. I'd learnt a lot from Scotty Ehrenberg with his classes. I learnt a great deal from Owen, Owen Weingott in the early days and then later Guy Doleman and this passion about naturalism and reality.
But how to really go about it, I didn't learn that much until I worked with John Saul a lot. He had, he was a great Stanislavski student. He and his wife, Georgie Sterling. And we studied together. We used to go down to John's place, Rod Taylor and Ken Wayne and Audrey and I used to go down to John's place on a Saturday night and we'd talk all night probably until the sun came up, about all the acting theories. And I reckon in that period I was getting better and I had had this quick trip to Hollywood. Not quick, a trip to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats'. I'd got to know Richard Burton very well and watched the way he worked. Now, he was a very inexperienced film actor. He'd only done one major film. He was an experienced radio actor from Cardiff so - and he had a bit of a theatre background. Not all that much, I think it was the Young Vic or something. And I'd done a bit of theatre. But I loved the confidence with which he worked.
And I used to go round to all the other films in production at Fox. I had permission to visit any set I wanted to. And I used to watch the actors at work and the thing that impressed me about the American actors was that they were so confident and secure in front of a camera. I'd also worked with, before I went to Hollywood, with Peter Lawford and Richard Boone and Maureen O'Hara on the 'Kangaroo' movie and I found that very daunting because I had some wonderful scenes to do. One very emotional scene and I was very daunted by having to do it. It was a scene with Maureen O'Hara and Chips Rafferty and I think Letty Craydon was in it somewhere. I had to confess to stealing some cattle because of the drought and all that. And I remember the care with which they rehearsed it.
But I didn't feel I'd improved all that much as an actor except under Johnny Saul's influence particularly. When you start, he got me thinking much more deeply. I think the, one of the problems with looking for the naturalism, I think superficially there was a naturalism, but I don't think it had all that much depth to it. John Saul's influence created a much stronger feeling for the depth of a role.
'Kangaroo' was an American film. Was that the first American film you were in?
I suppose it was, yes.
Were their methods different from the English and the Australians?
Not so much from the English but certainly, I think, from the Australian. Alec [Alex] Ezard and I often used to talk because Alec [Alex] insisted on working on it but he had to be, he was a third assistant make-up artist or something and he had been a fine make-up artist before he became a film editor. When we talked years and years later as to what we learnt from the Americans, and it was technicolour too, so we expected to see all the things you saw in Fan Magazine. Huge cameras and all that sort of thing, great lights even outside. Yes, they did use quite a lot of light but they brought out a very modest sized camera without a blimp. Fox had developed a blimpless camera that was like an ordinary newsreel camera. And a great cinematographer called Charlie Clarke, Charles Clarke, came out in charge of that and with very simple gear they created wonderful stuff.
The other big thing that Alec [Alex] Ezard reminded us that we learnt, was the use of wedges. Timber wedges about that long, going from nothing to about that deep. We used to use wood blocks to prop up say a dolly track. And that was difficult because they were square or oblong or something. And when we talked about what we'd learnt, the main thing was, Alec [Alex] always said, the use of wedges. Which is the simplest thing you could think of and that clever idea of just putting wedges under it. They had to fit the space you wanted them to reinforce. I also loved the way they rehearsed. I also loved the respect from one department to another. And if the cameraman said, "I want to shoot this way", that's the way you shot. If the microphone operator wanted the boom there for the sound department, nobody said, "Couldn't you put it over there?" They said, "Right, OK". They had tremendous respect for each other's skills and I kind of liked that.
What did you like about their rehearsal technique?
Oh, it's just that we did it over and over. When people ask me, you know, "How do you do that?" I say, "Well you do it exactly the same way you'd do it exactly the same way you'd do your local amateur theatre production around the corner. You rehearse it until it's right and you don't shoot until it's right." I don't remember ever being asked to do a take that I wasn't ready for and I liked that. Sometimes with insecure directors, you can be asked to do something in case it gets exciting during the take. Most of the American directors of that period, I'm sure, rehearsed until it was dead right. And I when I went round the studios, the other sound stages, when I was in Hollywood, that's the way they all worked. And I'd sometimes come in at the beginning of a, of a scene just as they were about to shoot it. And you'd assume that it was about the umpteenth take because it was perfect. Often you'd find out it was take one. But they'd rehearsed it until it it was ready to go.
[end of tape]