|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.
After you'd worked with McCreadies, what was the next move for you really?
Well, I suppose the next proper job offer came when I was asked to play Chips Rafferty's son in 'Bitter Springs' in 1949. And that was very pleasing because, although I'd played that tiny part for, in 'Eureka Stockade', I thought it would have made no, you know, had, made no impression at all. But they called me in. I don't, I'm not even sure that I had to screen test. I think they just offered me the part and that was good. And also too, we broke the drought in South Australia. We went to Quorn to shoot in that area which was, then, in those days, one of the driest parts of Australia, probably still is, and rain was not predicted it seemed for a long time but it did start to rain and we were there for many months instead of many weeks. And Ralph Smart, the director, had a pretty tough time, just trying to cope with the weather. And eventually Leslie Norman came out from England as associate producer and we hurried up a bit and we eventually caught up some of the schedule but we were way behind. But the more behind we were, the more I loved it, because I loved working on the thing. I loved working with the Aborigines particularly. The Ooldea people. And I just loved it. It was a great experience.
Was 'Kangaroo' the next one after that?
Yes it was, that's right. And that came up probably because of 'Bitter Springs'. Yeah.
And what was it like for you and how did the Australians generally feel about these big Hollywood stars like Maureen O'Hara and Peter Lawford? Were you a bit awe struck?
We were terribly curious as to what it would be like and Chips was alright because he'd already worked in England. I think he had a Rank contract for a while so, and he'd worked in, I think, one or two movies over there so he wasn't too daunted by it. We were terribly impressed by how down to earth they were. It was a tricky period for Americans because the McCarthy thing was starting up in America and, you know, the anti-communist campaigns conducted by McCarthy and a few careers being destroyed. I was appointed Equity deputy by the head office in Sydney and Richard Boone and Peter Lawford were young and slightly rebellious actors in those days. Very good, very professional. And I was terribly impressed, without any negotiation, we found the Americans were paying the Aborigines very, very well indeed. The Ooldea people were invited back.
The Americans hired a lot of extremely knowledgeable experts on Aboriginal culture. Often white people like Monckton, C.P. [possibly C.A.W.] Monckton I think had written some books on it. And we all knew, those of us who'd worked on 'Bitter Springs', that they knew nearly as much about filmmaking as anybody, even though they didn't speak much English, because they'd got used to the routine on 'Bitter Springs'. And when the Americans realised that it was great, it was plain sailing.
So there was never any tension between any members of the crew? Of the American crew and, say, someone like Harry?
No, no. I, I found that the only tension sometimes was between one of the horse experts who'd better be nameless, a white man who did a bit of stunt work. And he was helping to round up a lot of cattle, well I suppose it was his job, for one of the scenes with cattle approaching a waterhole. And Henry Murdoch was sitting near me on a horse watching and this man said something along the lines of, "Come on Henry, you black so and so, come and give us a hand". And Henry walked slowly down to where the horses were and this chap was on a horse, and he, Henry said, "Get off your horse, Frank". And he got off his horse and Henry thumped him and knocked him down and there were general cheers all round. Particularly from the Americans. And that was the only trouble we had that I remember.
And Henry of course objected to being called whatever it was he was called and we all applauded that. It was great. And, I had a feeling Henry may have done it once or twice before to other people in other parts of Australia. But he had no compunction at all, just went up and so calmly said, "Get off your horse", and then, whack. But that was the only trouble I remember. I do remember the Americans were just as respectful of our skills as we were of theirs.
Did they all join Equity?
All the American actors except Maureen O'Hara. She wouldn't join because she was a bit nervous about the, what was happening politically back in the United States and she'd heard that our secretary was or had leanings towards the Communist philosophy. And she said, "Nobody's game really to join anything where that might be the case now" - in case McCarthy got a bit inquisitive and upset. And eventually Equity, Australian Equity, was very good. They said, alright, we can understand that because we, although we didn't know how tough it was in Australia, that there were some indications that it might be starting to develop that way. We all knew that a lot of very fine American artists had been, you know, in trouble with the un-American Activities Committee. So the Equity compromise was that if Maureen had to do any shots in Sydney she would join Equity and she agreed to that. But while she was working in South Australia, legally she was outside the jurisdiction of head office in Sydney and she didn't have to join.
Mind you, Boone and Lawford used to say, "Come on, strike the show. Make her join". And I said, "No come on, we've got conditions here we're only dreaming about in Australia, particularly for the Aborigines and people like that". And they used to send me up a bit but it was very good natured and we got through quite comfortably and Maureen didn't have to do any shooting at all in Sydney so the show went through quite comfortably. Unfortunately, despite the skill level on the film, it wasn't the world's greatest movie. But you can see indications of what it could have been. Milestone, Lewis Milestone, lovely man to work with. Famous for that great war film, 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. When he got to Australia he realised that we should be making a much more important film and he arranged for Harry Kleiner, a very respected New York writer, to come out to join him to try to upgrade the script from what was a really, a fairly standard big western but in Australia. And we didn't quite get there I don't think. But the intentions were good.
Was there any of that McCarthy atmosphere around the acting profession here?
Yeah, I - one started to be aware it. It was quiet and subtle and I used to get a bit worried because I was known to be a fairly square, loyalist person who'd been an officer in the air force and all that. And sometimes, you know, you'd meet somebody and think, "Is he just curious or does he have a secret line somewhere?" You'd find yourself occasionally being asked slightly tricky questions about your mates. And...
Oh, "Joe Blow, has he ever talked about politics and things?" "Oh, no I don't think so." "Well, I mean does he go to Equity meetings?" "Well, well I suppose so, yeah, well we all do." And I found myself saying, "No, just a good bloke, he's a fair dinkum Aussie" and so and so and so and so. No, I can't remember ever having any reservations about anybody at all. Except, there was one bloke who I met somewhere who was a bit snarly about something and, you know, and very quiet and reserved and I wasn't too sure whether - but we were all being slightly affected by the propaganda and, and that there were these secret societies, not secret societies, you know, little groups of people. But eventually somebody tipped me off and said, "You know, anytime you're asked about this, you say good things about somebody, they'll start to be suspicious of you, you know". I said, "That's going silly if it gets to that, you know".
I think it could have been and it may well have been behind the scenes until the Petrov affair and I was always rather impressed that when the findings came out of the Petrov affair, I think it said that that well-known journalist had actually written an article that was published in Moscow for which he was paid a bottle of brandy. And I thought, that doesn't sound like a very dangerous situation to me.
When did you do 'Captain Thunderbolt'?
'Captain Thunderbolt'? 1950. I think it was just after we did, it was - no '51. I think it was just after we did 'Kangaroo'.
And that was with the director Cec Holmes who was quite well known for his left views.
Well, yeah, I, I suppose looking back the fact that we treated the Thunderbolt story very sympathetically from the Thunderbolt point of view, as people quite openly do about the Ned Kelly story now. I found it, I found it very interesting. I, that we just treated him like a bloke and we shot it where Thunderbolt operated. In fact there is a scene in the film near his actual gravestone in the town just outside, oh, golly, where we? Anyway, it's easily - Uralla I think it is, URALLA, in New South Wales. And there were two views. You could get into an argument in the town by saying, "I believe Thunderbolt was shot there". "No, he didn't, my great-grandfather helped him escape." So you'd say, "I believe Thunderbolt escaped". "No, he didn't, my great-grandfather helped shoot him."
And we took the view that some of the research showed that his friend, Alan Blake - Thunderbolt's name was Fred Ward - that Alan Blake and Fred Ward operated together and our, it may have been a movie touch by Cec Holmes, but they both rode white horses and they both dressed the same. So that if they got into trouble they could split up and the authorities wouldn't know which one to chase. And there was a shoot out at the end of the film and we took the view that the guy I played was the one who was shot and buried as Thunderbolt, Alan Blake. And there's a nice scene with Grant Taylor and Rosemary Miller standing by the actual Fred Ward gravestone right at the end of the film. I suppose it was controversial for a while there and I think we weren't terribly sympathetic to the authorities.
I remember Harp McGuire, an American actor playing the beastly warder, getting us when we were breaking up the rocks with our chains on and things like that. But, yes, Cecil also many years later did some, I thought, very, very interesting things. I met him when I came home from overseas and he asked me to look at some footage that he'd shot, or had shot or had made to be shot or what do I mean? Arrived at the situation. So that the shooting could take place of this film. He'd taken cameras up to some parts of Australia where there were tribal groups still living very away from any white influences. And somehow or other taught them how to operate a camera and somehow or other explained what the camera did and then left the camera with them and suggested they play with it. And he - I wonder if the footage still exists? It would be fascinating to see. Because it was them trying to tell their story with some equipment that they'd never seen before.
And there was some, I remember being terribly impressed by some of it. It didn't really hang together as a proper production but it was a very, sort of worthy experiment. And only somebody like Cec would have probably thought of doing that.
And from 'Captain Thunderbolt', from your own point of view, did you get to do on that anything that you weren't used to or did it extend you in any way?
No, I don't think so. By then I was slightly over over-confident on a horse because of the training by Henry Murdoch and Clyde Combo. We did get to gallop a bit which was good fun. We did, as I say, operate, shoot the film in the general area where he had operated so there was a strange feeling of history about it all. There was a famous rock up there called Thunderbolt's Rock and the locals said, "Oh you must use the rock". What was it for? Well, he used to climb up on the rock and he could see stagecoaches and things coming from vast distances. So we went out to check it and it was covered with advertising signs. Fred's Café, coffee threepence or something. And all hand painted on. And we said, "Well we can't really use it. It's been wrecked". "Well, couldn't you cover it with hessian?", somebody suggested. But no, we had to find another sort of Thunderbolt's Rock. But, no, it was just, I found it a beaut experience, you know. Working, and, you know, a part of slightly controversial Aussie history in that there was that view and that view, you know.
And you did some pretty wild riding too, didn't you?
Well, I suppose we did, yeah. I didn't, I used to worry if I had to ride with Chips when we were doing 'Bitter Springs' because Chips was very courageous and he wasn't, he was alright, he could handle a horse and he had done a lot of riding and had done a bit of jackarooing I think in the Depression years. But, I remember Ralph Smart saying, "Oh, go up the top of the hill Chips and Bud you can go with him". This was on horseback. "And then on action, Chips you can gallop down and Bud you go." Up? What? And galloping down a hill. And Chips would say, "Yeah, right". And I would, and somehow we managed to do it. But I wasn't doing that sort of stuff with any great confidence. Thunderbolt, as I remember, we did a lot of sort of fairly fast safe riding, you know, behind a camera truck or something and usually on, you know, if it was smooth enough for the camera, it would be alright for us too, so, yeah.
You - Chips got some of his own films going didn't he? And you were involved with those.
Yes. When we, or before we went to Hollywood, Chips made a film called 'Phantom Stockman' starring Bob Tudawali, or as Ernie Dingo says, "You've got to call him Toodawally". I said, "No, I knew him as Bob Tudawali". He was full-blood and a tribal man who did 'Jedda' and things like that. Lovely guy. And Bob starred in the film with, I think, Max Osbiston, Guy Doleman I think was in it. And Chips made that for very, very little money and the story was that he and Lee Robinson, his director and colleague in the venture, worked for no money at all, tried to pay people the proper rates and probably did. And when we were summoned to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats', Chips waited on there until they flew over the first proper print of the film.
And he took it round the world like a travelling salesman under his arm and sold it outright to various outlets and countries and things. Including places like India and Pakistan. And he came back with the film actually in profit. Not a big profit but in profit. So he was able to raise - I think they made that for something like ten thousand pounds - and he was able to raise I think either twenty-five or thirty thousand, I think it was about twenty-five thousand pounds to make 'King of the Coral Sea' which we did when got back from Hollywood. And that was a very well organised film. Set against the pearling industry in Thursday Island. I had a bit to do with the storyline on that.
So to pay me they brought my wife, Audrey, along for the trip which was great. And she didn't have to do anything except be in a crowd scene once, I think. And - but, yeah, that was great and it was - his plan at the time was, knowing I had done a bit of directing, that they were doing to try and make two pictures a year at about that same cost. At about twenty-five, thirty thousand pounds. And Lee Robinson would direct the main one and I'd direct the second one. And I was thrilled to bits about that. But because of the success of 'Phantom Stockman' and then 'King of the Coral Sea', they were talked into doing a big production, sort of French co-production called 'Walk Into Paradise' and I don't think that worked quite as well. So the other plan that I loved the thought of, didn't really ever happen.
You said that you contributed to the storyline of 'King of the Coral Sea'. In what capacity?
Well, when we were doing 'Desert Rats' around the pool in Hollywood, we talked a lot about this project of the pearling film, the pearl shell film, the Thursday Island one, Coral Sea. Chips' idea, he'd talk about his idea for it, and it was a very straight up and down story. The old and the new. He was the manager of the pearling company, I was going to play the owner, the absentee owner. Lived in Sydney, lush life, raced cars and did all sorts of things and suddenly took it into my head to go up to Thursday Island to see how they were running the business. But because of some work I'd done in the navy during the war, I was an expert in underwater work and wanted to introduce the aqualung into the system up there and brought the gear up.
And it became a bit of a clash of the old and the new and the absentee owner, all that stuff. Mixed up with a bit of stuff that we thought was a bit far-fetched in those days, immigration and illegal immigrants and things and that stream was fed in. But when they started to do, when we got back from America, and we were discussing the story proper and we were, we almost had the shoot date in mind and the script was being refined, I went into discuss it with them and I thought they'd overloaded a good, simple, straight story with too much detail and too many subplots. And I remember going home to Audrey and, and we had a flat in the Cross, and I said, "They're mucking up a beaut, simple idea".
And I typed an angry letter to Chips and posted it on Sunday, that Sunday and, in those days, if you posted on Sunday in Sydney they got it in the city office next morning, early. So about half past eight the phone rang on the Monday morning and Chips said, "Got your letter". I thought, "Ooh, here it comes". He said, "No, you're right. We want to buy it from you". I said, "What do you mean? It's your idea". All I'd done was re, you know, tell them what we had originally talked about. He said, "No, come on in and discuss it". So he said, "No, you're absolutely right". He said, "We did get too this and too that". And I said, "But it's your story and all I'm doing is presenting your story back to you as this is what we discussed around the swimming pool". "No, no, no, we'll pay you for it. How much do you want?" I said, "Well, I don't know". I said, "What's the full board in Thursday Island?" It was about seven quid a week I think, seven guineas a week. I said, "What's the airfare up to...", we had to fly to Cairns and then go by boat, I think, from Cairns. And whatever it was.
And I said, "Good, well you can pay all Audrey's expenses and she'll come with me for the trip". "Yeah, OK. Is that all?" I said, "Yeah. Also you can have five quid a week back." I'd beaten him up from fifty pounds a week to fifty-five pounds a week in the ordinary negotiation for the role. So I said, "You can have five quid a week back". So, we had this fantastic honeymoon. It was really great. Including two weeks on Green Island where we did all the underwater stuff linking up with Noel Monkman's scientific unit and they were all geared up to do underwater scientific stuff and we did all the underwater stuff there. It was a wonderful, great experience that.
Did your early swimming years in Coogee come in handy?
Ah, yes, yes. And Chips was a good swimmer too. Yeah. Oh, we could both swim pretty well. But Chips did things - we did things underwater that had never been done before. They'd written in a scene, almost the inevitable scene in an underwater movie. The man in the helmet gets caught and the air line is fouled and the water's going to rise up in the helmet because the divers on Thursday Island in those days - I don't what they do now - they used to wear a big, old-fashioned diving helmet sitting on their shoulders but without a diving suit so that the air bubble was what they breathed and the air bubble kept water out. And they used to wear, I think, a flannel shirt, a grey flannel shirt, it was like a uniform. And herringbone tweed trousers and sandshoes and that's all they wore. And Chips did that when he was doing the underwater stuff.
Now they'd scripted, it became known as 'the Ipie's failed' scene, because it was the pipe's failed, meaning the air, but there was a typing error and pipe was spelt IPIE instead of PIPE. And so that became 'the Ipie failed' scene. And the scene was me coming down gallantly with the aqualung to see what was wrong, and seeing that he was trapped, and the water was filling up and I took the mouthpiece out of the aqualung and put it up under the collar of the thing. Now, until we did it, we didn't know whether it'd work. And, Lee Robinson, who couldn't swim at all but was there with an aqualung on, while we were doing it, very courageous. He said to Chips, "How are we going to fake the water rising in the helmet?" And Chips said, "Turn the bloody air off". But we were thirty feet down doing that scene. We had to swim down thirty feet which is not a long way but there's a lot of water above you.
And Chips and I didn't know, and they had to, on cue, had to turn off the air and you see the water rising above the helmet, above his face and he's doing this struggling acting. And I swim in and I put it in and that huge mass of bubbles and Chips' face appears and the water, it worked. And he's got this wonderful grin on his face, the most realistic bit of acting you've ever seen because it worked. Then we had to do another bit which had not been done before either. Taking down another helmet and he changed helmets. So the next bit of the scene, they had to turn the air off so the helmet was full of water, I bring in another helmet that is working. He takes off the helmet that is full of water and puts on, thirty feet down, the helmet and the air bubble, boom and that all worked.
But trying to struggle across with that helmet, which was so heavy, those big metal helmets, even though it was full of air or air was flowing, bubbling around it, was hard work. And there was Chipsie, holding his breath with the camera crew, you know, everybody had aqualungs on and, you know, breathing gear. And Noel Monkman with his camera and tripod and I always remember the pencil hanging upwards on a string that he had to make notes. So that was remarkable stuff, you know.
Would stars do that sort of thing these days?
Well, they'd say Tom Cruise does. I always get a big cynical of when I read that actors do their own stunts, because I don't know of any insurance company in the world that would let a famous star do anything really dangerous. It would be terrible silly to do that.
Were you ever in danger up there on that swimming shoot?
Yes, once. I had my life saved once by Salapata Sagigi, not once, I reckon they saved me six times. And we were up at Thursday Island. We were doing the surface scenes where I dived in to help him. Now we had the aqualung, we had the lead belt and I had all the gear. One thing we couldn't get was compressed air for the air bottle. We had to do it and we had to anchor the lugger in what turned out to be a very vicious tide race and we didn't realise that at the time. And because I had to dive in and then appear to dive down deeper, you know, but with no air in the thing and heavy gear I was a little bit worried. Just before, we were going to try a rehearsal and Salapata Sagigi, who was a Badu Islander, marvellous guy, he was playing the head diver and the helmsman of the boat and everything, beaut bloke. He said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, whoa, whoa, whoa".
And he got into a dinghy and went, it seemed to me, about thirty yards or metres behind the boat. Then, "OK". So I did it and as I surfaced I realised that we were anchored in this tide race and I was being swept by the tide and this huge black arm, bang, grabbed me as I went past. So, yeah, "Ok, that'll work", and all this normal rehearsal stuff and then they pulled in the dinghy and I got out of the dinghy. And I remember we did three rehearsals and three takes and at the end of the day I said to Sagigi, "What would have happened if you'd missed me?" He said, "Well you might have got to Darwin if the sharks hadn't got you".
And we laughed a lot and I reckon, looking back, because of the day, and we didn't know, the tide race was something like, oh, ten, twelve knots or something outrageous like that. I couldn't have swum it and the lugger was an anchor so by the time they'd have got the boat, you know, if I had got swept away or if he had missed me, even if I'd been able to get rid of the gear and float a bit, it would have been very dangerous indeed. But he was the only one who recognised the danger Sagigi. And, yeah.
What did you think of Chips as an actor?
Ah, good, yeah. It was good old Chipsie, you know, reliable, learns his lines and all that and anyway he's a star. There was a bit of that until he came to England once. He, I think it was after his wife died he wrote to me and said, "Look, things are a bit...", no, it was before she died. That's right. He came over because he wanted to do a bit of work in England where he had worked before in films and things. The film industry had changed. One of my writer mates on the medical series I was doing in England for many years had met Chips with Audrey and I once. And he said, I said, "Chips would love to come over". He said, "Oh, if we could get Chips that would be fantastic". So they wrote a role for him into this medical series. And it was a different producer, I'd left by then, I was doing some freelancing. I'd done some movies and was waiting and I thought maybe getting a job in Australia in the theatre. So I was freelancing and, but all my mates were still doing the show.
And they wrote this marvellous role of an Aussie journalist who was getting towards the end of his career and had gone to London as a freelance to try to follow a test match series and write freelance articles and got ill and suddenly was frustrated, he was in hospital. Now a lot of things happened. Chips' wife died unexpectedly in Sydney. By the time Chips found out it was too late to get - by the time they contacted him and let him know she'd had a heart attack or something. And she hadn't been discovered for two or three days. Awful shock for Chris [sic], for Chipsie.
And he insisted on doing the contract because he said, Quentin would have liked, wanted him to. He couldn't get back in time because of various medical things with, had to get the burial organised quickly and everything, and he insisted on completing the role and another producer bought a play, a television play for him to do when he realised he wasn't having to hurry back for the funeral. And he played an Irishman in a very posh 'Play of the Week' thing on tellie. And the producer of the medical series said, he said, "We all knew that Chips was a good actor", he said, "We didn't know he was a great actor". Now the English thought he was a great actor. Now, you'd be laughed out of court in Australia.
Well there was always the feeling that he could only play Chips. But could he do an Irish accent ...?
Oh yeah, he did a very convincing Irish accent. What he wouldn't do, he was a man of great principle, perhaps unwisely. We joined the club, you had to sound posh, sound posh, to make sure you get the part. Or, yes, I played my, you know, my version of the English accent when I played Pip in 'Great Expectations'. Well that was reasonable, he was an Englishman. But Chips, for run of the mill stuff, didn't know why we had to put on posh accents for the run of the mill radio serials so he wouldn't do it. And he only ever did one radio serial and that was lined up by Peter Finch who shared Chips' view and respected him for it. But Finchy was a very, very versatile actor indeed and a highly distinguished actor long before he went to England. And, but he teed up the series, and I think it was called 'The Sundowner' and Chips played a guy who was a sundowner wandering around Australia. Narrated the story and there was some beaut stuff done and he was excellent in it.
How did you get your job in 'The Desert Rats'?
Totally out of the blue. I'd played the role with 20th Century Fox in 'Kangaroo'. I'd in 1952, we finished 'Kangaroo' the first half of '51. In '52 a very fine radio producer in Sydney called Grace Gibson, she had an American base, she was born in America but had been living in Australia for many years, was married and had settled, but a very good and successful radio production company doing a lot of very good series. And I was pretty well employed by her and sometimes did some directing for her and she had some fine actors like John Saul and Johnny Meillon and all the guys and some marvellous women's roles and things came up that she was very good about. And suddenly decided she wanted to make a television movie in 1952, four years before tellie started in Australia. So she decided that the storyline wouldn't be bad if we had an American ex-GI who stayed in Australia. We thought it was lay down misère for a fine actor called Alan White who was really a big radio star.
And Ken Hall directed a sort of test thing for Whitey playing a test scene which was sent to some of Grace's friends in America to see if they could tee up a deal. And we were, you know, obviously all very new to the thought of television. And they sent back, "Yes, it's a great idea but you've got to screen test the lead", and they sent out a director who was Francis D. Lyon who was an Academy Award film editor. He got the Academy Award for editing a boxing film called 'Body and Soul' with John Garfield. And this was - Pete was his nickname - he, it was his first venture into directing and he came out, we had to screen test, about ten or twelve of us including some real Americans who were settled in Australia and radio actors, very good ones. People like Harp McGuire and Paul McNaughton and people. And all the tests had to go back to America and I got the gig. And I felt very upset for Alan because he was the lay down misère, Alan must get it. Anyhow he didn't mind. That's show business. And we shot it in Sydney.
And that was one of the reasons I was invited to Hollywood. Because when they decided at the last minute they needed an Aussie actor for the young lieutenant in 'The Desert Rats', Fox had lost my address and didn't how to contact me. Somebody knew that Grace Gibson lived in Sydney and was an American and, and they rang, Grace rang me about ten minutes before I went on air as assistant compere on a big national show, 'Colgate Palmolive Strike It Rich', I think it was called.
Radio. And there was Grace at the end of the phone at the radio theatre saying, "Bud, can you be in Hollywood on Saturday?" And this was Wednesday, Wednesday night. And somehow or other everybody cooperated and I recorded something [like] thirty-four quarter hour radio eps in two days. All the producers hating me of course because what a disruption. Got on a plane on Saturday morning and I was in Hollywood the following day. It was an overnight trip in those days as I remember. And I didn't have a deal or anything. Just a return ticket by Fox. And they kept the casting department open on a Sunday afternoon.
Billy Gordon was the casting director and I was whizzed from the airport out to him. We'd been delayed in San Francisco because of smog. I had Richard Boone introduce me to an agent called Sam Weisbord who was a very important agent in later years. And he hadn't, I hadn't contacted him but he'd heard I was coming but didn't know when. An arrival agent was there to meet me and I eventually signed with him which was probably unwise. But I had to do my own deal with Billy Gordon who started - and I remember Michael Pate was over there. Michael was there to meet me too and Michael waited outside with another Aussie friend who lived in Hollywood. And I think I got one of the lowest rates of pay on the whole thing because I stupidly said, when Billy Gordon said, "Now you've probably heard that we pay huge salaries in Hollywood?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "Well, we don't". And then promptly started to prove it.
And I said, heard myself actually say, "Look it's such a wonderful opportunity, it's worth me paying you". So he must have, and his wife, I remember his wife, very sweet, she was sitting there because 20th Century Fox absolutely empty except for Billy Gordon and his wife and me and Mike Pate sitting outside. And poor Mike, when I walked outside he said, "Get in the car, just get in the car". He said, "Oh boy", and he gave me a lecture on, you know.
But you were in a very powerful position.
I know. Oh, I met an agent years later in London, he said, "My God", he said, "No actors ever, you have a return ticket and no deal, of course you're going to", you know. And I assumed it was a fairly small part. No, I was in the first shot. We went out and first of all we were on location in Borrego Springs in California. I was in the first shot and didn't have a day off or a scene off for about six days. So it was, there was more shot than actually finished up in the film but it was great experience. It still was, it was really wonderful experience.
What was so good about it?
Oh, working with Burton who was hot, the new guy and a beaut bloke. Fabulous guy. And nothing like the image people have got of him now, you know, lots of booze. We had, enjoyed a beer after work. I discovered he was actually in the air force so we had that in common. He was a navigator in Mosquito aircraft. He was younger than I and he was on a squadron that was about to go into action when the war ended so he didn't have any active service against the enemy. And he'd been a radio actor about the same time I'd been a radio actor in Sydney, he was a radio actor in Cardiff. And he'd had one big break doing 'My Cousin Rachel', I think it was, with Olivia de Havilland the year before. And he was the hot actor and then he did 'The Robe' shortly after and all that.
But he was terribly down to earth and a beaut bloke and he would take us around and meet people. One night he said, we had to come back later to, Richard was going to have to give a presentation speech to Robert Wise, the director. Fabulous director who was also newish, he was starting out and getting a few good breaks. And we had about three or four hours off because that wasn't going to take place until about eleven o'clock at night after they'd finished shooting some scenes. It was at the end of production and I remember him saying, "Oh we'll go out and call on Jimmy and Jean". I said, "Oh yeah, OK, who are they?" He said, "Oh, Jimmy [sic] Granger. Oh, Stewart Granger". "Oh right." [coughs]
So we drove up into the hills and suddenly we were four actors sitting down, having a meal and chatting, laughing, swearing a bit as I remember and two of their friends called in, Michael Wilding and Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth was about to have their first child and she looked about fourteen. She was probably seventeen or eighteen or something and very pregnant and very beautiful. And it was a really stunning night and that gave me a wonderfully down to earth look at the actors and they were just like we were in Sydney. Could have been Johnny Saul and Rod Taylor and Audrey and I at Johnny's place talking acting. And I was very impressed by the fact that Stewart Granger was the only one in America I met who knew that Jimmy Carruthers had won the world bantamweight boxing championship which had happened that year and we were all very proud that we at last had a world champion boxer. And he knew that. He was a keen boxing student.
Jean Simmons had done 'Blue Lagoon', I think by that time so she knew a bit about Australia. Michael Wilding's parents had toured Australia. Elizabeth Taylor was the only one who didn't know about it but she had other things on her mind like their first baby. And I loved that sort of really down to earth thing. A bunch of actors together. Could have been a bunch of factory workers or something. You know, and it was, nobody was being movie stars. It was great.
[end of tape]