As Oscar approaches its 80th anniversary, it’s worth remembering that much of the storied history of cinema is alive and well just a short drive up the 101 freeway. Sharon Knolle visited the residences run by the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif., to talk with retired industry pros about their experiences working on Oscar-nominated films, and about the way Hollywood used to operate before multinational corporations ruled the biz.
After a career spent in repertory theater, Charles Jarrott made the jump to directing television and then got offered his first feature film, 1969’s “Anne of the Thousand Days.”
“I was quite surprised — nevertheless, I took it,” he laughs. “One of the things I had done (for TV) was called ‘The Young Elizabeth.’ It was a very filmic version, and Hal Wallis was excited about it, and it was on the strength of that that he gave me the film. Everybody in television in those days wanted to be in film, but it was very hard. They didn’t cross over like they do now.”
But the transition didn’t make Jarrott nervous. “I think one of the things that helped me in feature film was that if you’ve done live TV, you can do anything. It teaches you the most enormous discipline. It also teaches you to put the whole picture into your head and edit it yourself in your head, so when you shoot, you shoot fairly economically.”
As for working with Richard Burton, Jarrott recalls, “You don’t direct Burton, you suggest something to Burton, but he’s got his own way that he wants to do it, and if you feel that it’s very wrong, you go up and say, ‘I think maybe you can do it another way.’ ”
In fact, his set was so calm that Alec Guinness, dressed as Charles I, wandered in from another shoot and asked if he could sit for 10 minutes because his set — with co-star Richard Harris — was so disruptive. Jarrott had other visitors, in the form of Oona Chaplin and her children, and was later dismayed to hear that Charlie Chaplin himself had been wandering about in the hallway, too shy to come in.
“Anne” was nominated for 10 Oscars (it won a Golden Globe), but Jarrott didn’t attend the ceremony as he was busy working on his next film, “Mary, Queen of Scots,” starring Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave. “That was interesting, with the two premier actresses of England in the same piece.”
Jarrott praises Redgrave as “a terrific artist,” saying, “She’s got a million ideas. The only thing you have to try to do is avoid the more bizarre suggestions,” adding that for Mary, she wanted to play the entire role with a French accent, as Mary had lived in France for much of her life. At the producer’s insistence, the idea was dropped. “Any good actor, you can give them a good reason, they will accept it. It’s only people who are very insecure who sometimes fight.”