As the co-producer (with Alain Bernheim) of Billy Wilder’s last film, “Buddy, Buddy,” I would like to add a thought to the flood of memories about the single most sophisticated and decent man to have graced the Hollywood scene in my 50 years of occupying it.
The last time I spoke to him, some months ago, he told me that he had received a phone call from Germany asking him to come to Berlin to receive an award. He said wryly, “I told them to send me a Volkswagen instead.”
In the 20 years since we worked together on the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau starrer, I had repeatedly urged him to go back to work, offering him the writing and directing job on my Miramax remake of “Bell, Book and Candle,” but he just said, “I’m working on my own screenplay.” When I visited him, he would mysteriously say, “It’s in the drawer.”
But I knew that he would never again get behind a camera, for he was sorely disappointed with the critical reception to our film, which was thrown into release beside 22 other pictures by MGM at Christmas time and disappeared by New Year’s.
During its production, knowing that the third act was slightly flawed, we would gently offer suggestions to which he would owlishly reply, with a twinkle of his eye and a toss of his cigar, “I will take all of your recommendations under advisement before I discard them.”
Yet, some time later, during our weekly luncheon at the Grill, he sadly remarked, “I think I should have listened.”
I can truly say that the year spent filming with him on a daily basis was the single best working and personal experience of my life. The clinging aroma of his Cuban cigar in the car driving to a location, the witty daylong asides, the gentle way he welcomed my mother when she visited the set, the daily shopping expedition to Honolulu’s Alo Moana Shopping Mall while waiting for the weather to change (he bought stuff voraciously, all of which went to a warehouse).
This was a man with an essential kindness in his heart which he unsuccessfully tried to conceal with an ironic humor, but his acts of charity both financial and emotional were legend.
Last night, I finally opened the bottle of 1991 Chateau Y’Quiem which he had given me on a recent birthday, raised a glass in silent tribute to a great man. We shall not see his like again!