Celebrating the life of a “splendid raconteur,” in the words of director John Landis, BAFTA/LA toasted the 100th birthday of multihyphenate Ronald Neame, who died in June, on Saturday at the DGA.
Speaker after speaker recalled anecdotes told by Neame, who had been the last surviving founding member of BAFTA. J. Arthur Rank, whom he called Uncle Arthur, sent Neame to L.A. to learn this new photography called Technicolor after World War II.
When he got to L.A., Fox gave him an office and offered a secretary, said Arnold Schwartzman at the private reception before the unspooling of docu “Ronald Neame – A Life in Film.” Would he prefer a blonde or a brunette? Neame mischievously answered he’d prefer a redhead and lo and behold a redhead appeared the next day.
Neame told Landis about how he’d been fired from MGM during production of “The Seventh Sin.” He and his wife had decided to drown their sorrows in a few stiff ones (an awful lot of the stories seemed to revolve around alcohol) when Neame got a call from George Cukor. The two had never talked before, but Cukor assured Neame, “This won’t be the end of your career and remember I’m the guy they fired from ‘Gone With the Wind.'”
There were stories about other setbacks. Ernest Borgnine recalled how the day before shooting was to start on “The Poseidon Adventure,” the new head of Fox told producer Irwin Allen the project was being killed. After a couple of drinks, Allen and Neame returned to the unidentified head of the studio and asked him to reconsider. Told the movie would be OK’d if they could put $6 million on his desk by the next day, they did just that. “The investors laughed all the way to the bank,” Borgnine said. And as the movie went on to do blockbuster biz, the studio head was yanked from his post.
Neame could be gracious in accepting when he was wrong too. Editor Anne Coates remembered a disagreement during the cutting of “Tunes of Glory.” The director told her to edit it her way and his and after seeing both cuts, “He said mine was better.”
Helmer William Friedkin said Neame wasn’t above taking advice. During the shooting of “The Horse’s Mouth,” Alec Guinness seemed depressed. When Neame asked why, the actor told him he didn’t feel appreciated. “I tell you every day you’re the greatest,” Neame said.
“That’s not enough, you need to tell me many times during the day,” was the response.