Skip to main content

Full text of "Recollections of Nunnally Johnson oral history transcript"

See other formats


ir^tiB s 


^OAdvaaii'i'^ ^oAavaaiii^ 















^CAavaani^'^ •^'OAavaaiH'^^ ^riijoNvsoi^"^ %a3AiNn]WV^ "^OAavaan^ 







^^^t•llBRARYO<^ ^;^lllBRARYQf^ 


^ojnvDJO'i^ '^.sojnvjjo^ ^fiiHNvsoi^'^ 

'% .^OfCALiFOft)^ 

CP 3^ 


(5' .-WW -^ 

,'.avaaii# ^OAavaaii-^- ^TiuoNvsoi^ "^/saaAiNfl 3V\v 


•^(JAavaaiH^ ^<?Aavaaii#- 




%[ a 

^5 ^M-Ii I 





>^i i 



^V\EUNIVERy/A .>;lOSANCflfj> 


"^/saaAiNft-^ftv^ %0Jifv3jo^ 






^OAHvaaii^^ ^OAavaan^- 






^.OFCAllFOff/iA ^. 







mi i 





■^Aa^AINil 3WV 




^ - V 


'^aojnvjjo^ -^tfOJiivjjo^ "^-Tji^wsoi^ 









:,moA. ^^^ 




>&Aavaaii-5'v^ ^OAavaaiiiV^ 






2_ _ C3 



^OAavaaii-^ -^GAbvaaii^ <rji33Nvsoi^ 



<fJl]DNVSOF^ "^/ia]AINn]WV 








, -< 




§' .^^ 


o ^ 




:i»Kvsoi^^ %a3AiNn]WV ^OAavaan-i^ ^OAavaanis^ ^-rjijDNVsoi^ 


, -< 





^ ^<!/OJnVDJO't^ 



<ril3DNVS01^ "^^/SaJAINilJViV 



















Aj^fUNIVER^/A .v:lOSANCElfj> 







^<!/ojnvDJo'>^ <rjiHNVsoi^'^ %a]MN(i]WV^ ^''miwdjo' 








>0Aavaan-^>i^ ^OAavaaiii^"^ 








'^TOllVJJO'f^ ^.iOJinOJO^ 



^^tllBRARYQ^ ^tllBRARYO/^ 

'^<!/ojnv3jo>' ^<!/ojnvjjo>' 




^Aav«all■l^^'^ '&Aav);aiii^'^ 









^(^Aavaaii-i^"^ ^OAavaani^^ 



Interviewed by Tom Stempel 


Copyright © I969 
The Regents of the University of California 


This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publication, are reserved to" the 
University Library of the University of California at 
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the v/ritten permission of the 
University Librarian of the University of California at 
Los Angeles. 

This interview was completed under a grant (I95S-I969) 
from the National Endownent for the Humanities and the 
American Film Institute to the UCLA Department of Thea- 
ter Arts for a project entitled, AW ORAL HISTORY 0? THE 
MOTION PICTURE IN AivERICA, directed by Professor Howard 
Suber, UCLA Department of Theater Arts. The UCLA Oral 
History Program provided technical advice to this pro- 
ject but was not involved in the respondent selection, 
research preparation, interviewing, or the editing and 
transcript preparation. The Program's editorial office 
received the final m.anuscripts and assumed responsibility 
for their processing and transferal to the University 
Library. In most cases the original tape recordings and 
the edited transcript of the interviev/s completed by the 
project are deposited i2:i the University Archives, UCLA. 
Records relating to the project have been tur.oed over 
to the Oral History Program. 



Biographical Statement. . . 
Interview History o . . ■> . 



TAPE NUlvIBER: II, Side One 


TAPE NUlffiER: III, Side One 




' IV 


TAPE NUl'fflER: 
Appendix I: 
Appendix II: 

V, Side Two 

VI, Side One 

VI, Side Tv;o 

VII, Side One 

VII, Side Two 

VIII, Side One 
VIII, Side Two 
Script Excerpt 


October 9, I968). . 
October I6, I968) . , 
October 30, 1958) . 
October 30, I968) . 
November 6, I968). 
November 13, I968) . 
November 21, 1968) . 
November 27, I968) . 

December 11, 1968) . 
December I6, I968) . 
January 8, 19^9) • • 
January 15, 1969). 
January 22, I969) . 
January 29, 1969) • 
February 5, 1969). 

. .1 
. .42 

. .73 

. 106 

. 124 




. 356 
. 384 
. 420 

. 449 
. 482 
. 488 




Nunnally Johnson was born December 5th, 1897, 
in Columbus, Georgia, the son of an employee of the 
railroad. After graduation from high school, Johnson 
went to work on local Georgia newspapers. In I916 he 
Joined the Army and was commissioned a second lieute- 
nant without ever having left the country, one month 
before the end of World V/ar I. After the war, Johnson 
went to New York v/here he worked on the New York "Tribune" 
and the Brooklyn "Daily Eagle." In 1923 Johnson started 
writing short stories which were published in The Smart 
Set (edited by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan) and 
The Saturday Evening Post . In 1926 Herman Mankiewicz 
brought Johnson to Hollywood to work as a writer at 
Paramount studios, but Johnson returned to newspaper 
work in New York, where the following year he wrote 
scenes for a film done in New York, For the Love of Mike . 

In 1930 Johnson gave up newspaper work altogether 
and wrote short stories for magazines. In 1932 Johnson 
went back to Hollywood, where he again went to work for 
Paramount. In 1933 John?;on was signed by Darryl F. 
Zanuck as a writer for Zanuck's new Twentieth Century 
pictures, thus beginning Johnson's long and productive 
relationship with Zanuck. When Zanuck combined Twentieth 


Century pictures with the Fox corporation In 1935, 
he asked Johnson to serve as associate producer on 
several pictures other than those he himself wrote. 
Johnson agreed, but soon found that he was unable 
to tell other writers how to write. Johnson went back 
to serving as producer or associate producer on only 
those pictures which he wrote himself. Among Johnson's 
best pictures of this period are: House of Rothschild 
(193^); Prisoner of Shark Island (1936); Jesse James 
(1939); Rose of Washi ngto n Square (1939); Chad Hanna 
(19^0); and The Grapes of Wrath (19^0) 

In 19^3 Johnson left Twentieth Century-Fox to 
Join William Goetz and Leo Spitz In forming International 
pictures which in 19^6 was merged with Universal pictures 
to make Universal-International. During these years 
Johnson wrote Casanova Brown (19^^), The Woman in the 
Window (19^4), and The Senator was Indiscreet (19^7). 
Johnson returned to Twentieth Century-Fox in 19^9 and 
wrote and produced The Gunfighter (1950), The Desert Fox 
(1951), and Kow to Marry a Millionaire (1953). In 1953 
Johnson started to direct films as well as write and 
produce them. Among the films he directed were Night 
People (195^), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), 
The Three Faces of Eve (1957), and The Man Who Understood 
Women .(1959). After directing eight pictures, Johnson 

returned to v;rltlng only with such scripts as The 

World of Henry Orient (196^1) and The Dirty Dozen (I967). 

Nunnally Johnson is one of the most respected 
and admired screenwriters in the American film industry, 
because of his skill and craftmanship in an area that 
is not noted for either. He has consistently written 
good scripts for over thirty years and been involved 
with some of the most successful (both artistically 
and financially) films to have come out of the American 
film industry. Curiously enough, Johnson has never 
won the highest honor of the industry, the Academy 
Award, which puts him in the same category with such 
other "losers" as Gary Grant, Greta Garbo, D.W. Griffith, 
and Charles Chaplin. 



INTERVIEWER: Thomas R. Stempel, Interviewer-Editor, 
Consultant for the Oral History of Motion Pictures 
in America Project. Age, 27. B.A. in Drama, Yale. 
At the time of the interview, Mr. Stempel was work- 
ing towards a Master of Fine Arts degree in screen- 
writing at UCLA. 


Place: Mr. Johnson's home at 1011 Ridgedale , Los 
Angeles, California. 

Dates: Prom October 9, 1968 through February 5, 

Time of day and length of sessions: The sessions 
were usually held on Wednesday evenings at 8:00 
o'clock, and were two hours in length. Each 
session consisted of one and a half hours of re- 
cording, although one session had three hours of 
recording and one had only one hour. The fifteen 
sessions in this manuscript represent a total of 
23+ hours of recording time. 

Persons present during the interviews: Mr. Johnson 
and Mr. Stempel, and at one session, Mr. Rae Lind- 
quist. There were occasional interruptions by 
Mr. Johnson's wife, two of Mr. Johnson's daughters, 
Mr. Johnson's grandson, and Mr. Johnson's dog. 

CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW: The only outline used by the 
interviewer during the interview was a chronological 
list of Mr. Johnson's film credits compiled from 
the Film Daily Yearbook (see Filmography, Appendix 
II). On two or three occasions the interviewer 
prepared in written form (for his own use only) a 
series of questions about the films to be discussed. 
But for the other sessions questions were not in 
written form. Mr. Johnson used no notes or out- 
lines. The interview was conducted under grants 
from the American Film Institute and the National 
Endowment for the Humanities. 


EDITING: Mr. Stempel edited the material twice. 
In the first edited version, material from a 
verbatim transcript of the tapes was not changed 
except by the introduction of material and 
corrections in syntax. At Mr. Johnson's request 
Mr, Stempel edited the material again, removing 
repititlons and rearranging portions for chrono- 
logy. Mr. Johnson did not review the manuscript 
In its entlerty but accepted Mr. Stempel 's editing 
as sufficient for preparing the transcript as a 
research document, 

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES: The interviewer read the 
material in a clipping file on Mr. Johnson at the 
Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and 
Sciences, 9038 Melrose, Los Angeles, California. 
In addition the Interviewer also read the following: 

Short stories written by Mr. Johnson and 

published in The Saturday Evening Post . 

"Hero" — MarchTT, 1925 

"Lovelorn"- -March 28, 1925 

"Hearse Horses" — April 11, 1925 

"Laughing Death"— April 25, 1925 

"Death of an Infinitive Sp liter" — September 5, 1925 

"Pagliaccl Blues"— June 22, 1929 

"Victim of the War" — December 21, 1929 

"Mile. Irene the Great "--October 5, 1929 

"Away from It All" — February 15, 1930 

"Buglar's Bride"— April 12, 1939 

"One Meets Such Interesting People" — November 30, 1929 

Novels and books adapted by Mr. Johnson into 
films . 

The Gra pe s of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

Tobacco Road by Ersklne Caldwell 

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck 

Burled Alive by Arnold Bennett 

The Three Faces of Eve by Corbett H. Thigpen, M.D. 

and Hervey M. Cleckly, M.D. 
The Colors of the Day by Romaln Gary 


The lntervlev7er also read or saw the following 
plays which were adapted by Mr. Johnson into films: 

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell and Jack 

Take Her, She's Mine by Henry and Phoebe Ephron 
Scuba Duba by Bruce Jay Friedman 

And the follovfing screenplays written by Mr. Johnson: 

Thanks a Million 
Jesse James 
The Grapes of Wrath 
Tobacco Road 

The following books were refered to by the inter- 
viewer in preparation for the interviews : 

The Rise of the American Film by Lewis Jacobs 

I Lost it at the Movies by Pauline Kael 

Fritz Lang in America by Peter Bogdanovich 

John Ford by Peter Bogdanovich 

A Child o f the Century by Ben Hecht 

A Pictorial History of the Movies by Deems Taylor, 

Marcelene Peterson, and Bryant Hale 
Novels into Film by George Bluestone 

The films of Mr. Johnson seen by the interviewer 
prior to the interview are denoted in the Filmo- 
graphy (Appendix II) by an asterisk (*). Special 
acknowledgement should be given in this regard to 
Mr. Ralph Williams. 



Stempel: It is a matter of record that you v;ere born on 
the fifth of December, I897, in Columbus, Georgia. Do you 
want to start out with a fev; details about your childhood 
and v;hat it was like? 

Johnson: Well, I guess one of the truest things I ever heard, 
which v;ou1g apply to my childhood, was what Dv;ight Eisenhower 
said. He said, "I suppose we v;ere poor, but we didn't know 
it." You know it's a very true thing. My father didn't 
make much money. In this small town, there was nobody in 
my family that had ever had anything to do with writing. My 
fathei' v.'as a coppersmith, at the railroad, Central of Georgia. 
I can't think of how I ever got around to the idea of v/riting, 
except that I wanted to be a newspaperman. I think that 
must have come up. That seemed to be v;ithin the possibilities 
of my life. But I wanted to be a nevjspaperraan because I saw 
a picture of Richard Harding Davis in his war correspondent's 
outfit, and that looked to me like the kind of life I'd like 
to lead. A lot of kids are influenced by what they read. One 
thing was, I would have liked to have gone to Yale, because of 
Prank Merriwell. And I know many boys who thought they — Jed 
Harris — he went to Yale because he read Frank Merriwell. Right 
now, Jed can give you the line-up of the Merriwell team at Yale 

or at that little prep school they v;ent to before they got to 
Yale. I've alv/ays been for Yale ever since, against Harvard. 
Just like in England I'd be for Cambridge against Oxford. 
Somehow there's that kind of thing. That's the right kind 
of guy. In this town you'd be for UCLA and not for SC, for 
some reason. I don't knov; why these things are so. 

Stempel: I notice there are a lot of Jokes on Harvard in 
several of your films. 

Johnson: Oh, there were one or tv;o. I remember, well, Frank 
Mankiev/icz, his sister, Joanna, fell in love v;ith a fellov/ 
in Nov; York, and everybody v;as against this guy. Joanna 
wanted to marry him. This was twenty years ago. Frank said, 
"Now look, the only person marrying this guy is Joanna. She's 
the only one to be pleased. I'll go to Nev; York, talk to this 
fellov;, make him understand that the family [is] prepared to 
like him," and so on. He v;ent to New York, and he talked to 
this guy, and he said, "In five mintues I v;anted to pop him 
right in the nose. I found, you might say, the late George 
Applebaum," He said, "He was a snobbish Jewish guy. Now in 
New York he was for the Yankees." [laughter] If he was out 
here on the Coast, he would be for SC. Clearly the man wasn't 
right. So he Joined the rest of the family in opposing this 
guy. Anyway, I wanted to be a nev;spaperman. I suppose I did. 
I wrote little things for the paper. I was a baseball nut 
even then. I remember v;riting a little piece about the base- 


ball season. This must have been around 1908 or '9, something 
like that. 

Stempel: When you v;ere still in school? 

Johnson: Yes, sure. I'd [v;rite] about the big leagues. I 
never had seen a big league game, but I read about them. I 
read the Sporting Nev/s, Delivering papers I'd read every box 
s core. You knov;. Three I League, Appalachian League, V/estern 
League. I wrote a little piece and the paper printed it. 
"By Master Nunnally Johnson." I suppose seeing my name in 
print — you know, you're hooked. It's Just like a fellow making 
a public speech. He gets his first laugh and he's a goner; 
from then on, he's going to be trying for it. But anyway, when 
I [was] in high school, I was the editor of the little school 
paper. It was a monthly. And, [I] wrote a few things for it. 
Then when I got out of high school, a friend of mine got me 
a Job on the Columbus Enquirer-Sun . That was the morning paper 
there. Until a couple of years before I'd been delivering it, 
in early morning. I was a reporter there for about six months. 
My pay was ten dollars a week. The paper was really in a bad 
way, and they finally couldn't afford me, and they had to drop 
me. But, I'd learned a little bit by then, but not much. 
Is this the kind of thing you want? 

Stempel: Yes. Then you went from Columbus to Savannah, I 

Johnson: Actually I went to Cleveland. I don't know, some 

fellov; told me he could get me a Job in Cleveland. This v/as 
pure madness. I must have been, what are you when you get 
out of high school? Seventeen or eighteen. But no experience. 
I went to Cleveland. I couldn't get a job. They would have 
been out of their minds to hire me. I finally got a job in 
a steel mill there, as a kind of a checker. I was so ignorant 
of how to live away from my home that I got a furnished room 
somewhere in Cleveland; I have no idea where it was, except 
that I had to get up about five o'clock in the morning to get 
a streetcai* to go out to this steel mill, v;hich must have been 
15 miles out. So I didn't get any breakfast, and there was no 
place I could find to get anything to eat at lunch. All 
those other fellov/s brought lunches. So I starved through 
that part of the day, and I got nothing to eat until around 
7 or 8 in the evening, v;hen I took a streetcar back into town. 
It looked like I was going to starve to death there. And then 
a fellov'/ wired me that there was a job in Savannah. I don't 
know hovj this came about. So I went to Savannah. I worked on 
the Savannah... I can't remember whether it was the Press or 
the News. It was the afternoon paper. That was very good. I 
liked it there. I lived at the YMCA, which was to me like 
batching it, man about tovm. 

I'd been there about six months v/hen they started to 
get the National Guard to go down to repel Pancho Villa. 
Naturally I rallied to the colors. I had some idea that I 

vras going to wear those Hussar uniforms that I'd seen on 
this outfit [laughter] called the Georgia Hussars, and they 
were real Austrian, well, long buttons up here, and the 
helmets that made your head ache, and long jack boots. I'd 
never been on a horse. I Joined this outfit, and they didn't 
give me any such uniform as that. I looked like kind of a 
clown soldier. You know, nothing fit me. The hat didn't 
fit me, the clothes didn't fit me. They had those spiral 
leggings, which were constantly trailing behind me. It was 
awful. But I spent nearly three years in that outfit, in 
various camps, then dovm at Fort Bliss, in Texas. Then v;hen • 
World V/ar One started, we were being trained back in Georgia 
to go overseas, [and I] never did get out. Eventually I went 
to an Officers' Training camp in Louisville, Kentucky, Camp 
Taylor. The Army then was probably like the Army now, because, 
it was a tv/elve v/eek course, and I'd finished about eight 
weeks [of] this dreadful hard course, when they called me in 
and scolded me because I wouldn't be twenty-one by the time I 
was graduated from this thing. Therefore I couldn't hold a 
commission. Nov; their solution for this problem was that I 
should go over and over and over this Goddamned course until I 
came to be twenty-one. A fearful ordeal it v;as , but Just about 
that time Congress passed a law that extended the age of the 
draft from 17 to 35, or something like that, but it also said 
anybody who v;as qualified to be in the Army was qualified to 

hold a commission. So I Jumped right back up at the top 
of the class and got my commission. I got it on October the 
11th, November 11th was Armistice Day, the end of the V^ar, 
and on December the 11th I was out of the Army. Very fast 

I was a Lieutenant in an artillery battery. I'd been 
in the cavalry all along, I was always in the cavalry down 
on the border of course. But my commission was in the field 
artillery, and the battery clerk v/as a man named Steese, and 
I learned he was the assistant night city editor of the Nev; 
York Tribune . You never saw a Lieutenant suck up to a Corporal 
[Stempel laughs] the v;ay I sucked up to this Corporal because 
I wanted a Job. He v;as very nice. I got out before him, and 
he sent a note to the Tribune , this was before it was merged 
with the Herald , and I went to New York and the fellow put 
me on at the Tribune . God, I was so green. I was so ignorant, 
but I stuck around there for a fev; months, until the soldiers 
began coming back from overseas, the reporters, you knov/. 

Stempel: The real ones. 

Johnson: The real ones. Christ, they were hiring women, you 
know, to cover courts at that time. Then I got bounced. Well, 
that must have been 1919 I guess. I spent the next ten years 
on newspapers in New York. I was on, from the Tribune I went 

to the Brooklyn Dally Eagle . I was there for six years. Three 
years of it I v;as doing a column, called "One Word After Another." 
And then, I had turned up a child poet, a little girl named 
Nathalia Crane, and she v;as a marvel. And... 

Stempel: This was in your column? 

Johnson: Yes. She'd sent me some stuff. She was eleven years 
old, and these verses were so charming, childish. They caused 
quite a sensation. My editor, for some reason, decided this 
child was a fake, that somebody was writing her stuff. He 
decided William Rose Benet, Edwin Markham, Faith Baldwin, and 
a couple of others were writing stuff and this kid was signing 
it. By now the kid had one volume of verse. What was it called? 
I think it v;as called I *m in Love VJith the Janitor's Boy. At 
any rate, that v;as it. This editor went to work as if he were 
exposing the Mafia. V/hile on the front page he was exposing 
this kid, my column, v/hich v;as on the back page of the first 
section, I was promoting her, and denying everything he said 
and describing him in rather rude terms. [laughter] I don't 
want to work for anybody that I didn't like, so I quit. 

Stempel: V/hich paper v:as this on? 

Johnson: This was the Brooklyn Daily Eagle . Well, this girl 
was a genuine. . .Did you ever hear her name? 

Stempel: No, I don't think I have. 


Johnson: V/ell, the only article I ever had in the American 
Mercury v;hen [H. L.] Mencken and [George Jean] Nathan were 
editing it was an account of this kid called "Nathalia at 
Eleven," "Nathalia at Ten," whatever the hell it was. Well 
by then I went over to the Herald Tribune . Now that was 
uptown and it had been merged. I worked for them for about 
a year, and then went on the New York Evening Post and wrote 
a column down there, "The Roving Reporter." By then I'd been 
v;riting short stories. 

Stempel: Hov; did you start writing short stories? 

Johnson: I'll tell you. I was courting a girl, who had 
written some short stories for The Smart Set. I was v/ritlng 
a column, my sentences parsed and all that sort of thing, so 
she urged me to v;rite a story. I v;rote one and she took it 
over to Nathan and they bought it. I wrote four or five 
more before The Smart Set folded up and Nathan and Mencken 
opened up the American Mercur y. Then I moved on to The 
Saturday Evening Post and I was writing short stories there. 
You want all this stuff? 

Stempel: Yes I want all this stuff. Now according to the 
Pete Martin article [in The Saturday Evening Post ^ November 2 
and 9, 19^6], in the twenties at one point you went out to 
Hollywood, for what they called "The Paramount Fresh Air Fund 
for Reporters." How did you get Involved In that? 

Johnson: That was Mankiev;icz' Fresh Air Fund for Newspapermen. 

Sterapel: Which Mankiewicz was this? 

Johnson: This was Herman Mankiewicz. This was Frank's father. 
Aid Herman v;as a brother of Joe. He became my closest friend. 
I think [he v/as] a brilliant man, and sU h an extraordinary 
fellow. Nov/, for instance, Mank wrote an original screenplay, 
which he took to Orson Welles, called Citizen Kane . And, 
Welles was crazy about it, and it went into production. And 
then Mank told me, V/elles was a very young fellow at the time, 
you know. 

Stempel: Twenty-five, I think. 

Johnson: Was It that? Well, the more he began thinking of 
"produced by, directed by, starred in", the more he thought 
there was a certain flaw there. [Stempel laughs] There was 
one flav7, screenplay by. Now he had maSe a contribution to 
it, so the natural screenplay credit v;as by, Orson Welles and 
Herman J. Mankiewicz. But that Herman J. Mankiewicz, ah. 
Mank went to Ben [Hecht]. Ben v;as out there by then, and 
he said, "Orson has offered me ten thousand dollars to take 
my name off." 

Stempel : Off Citizen Kane . 

Johnson: Off Citizen Kane. That's correct. Mank always 

needed money. So, Ben gave him typical Hecht advice. 



said, "Take the ten thousand dollars and double cross the son 
of a bitch." [Stempel laughs] So Mank did that. He took 
the ten thousand dollars, and then when they tried to take 
his name off, he appealed to the Guild, or something I suppose. 
Anyv/ay, his name's — 

Stempel: His name's still on it. 

Johnson: still on it, you knov;. But Mank v;as kind of 
paying off social obligations and everything else, because 
he'd left the Nev; York Times and had come out to Paramount, 
and he v/as kind of in charge of getting fresh blood , nev; 
writers, and he'd got several fellows out: [Oliver H. P.] 
Garrett, who v;as a star reporter on the VJorld and v;ho turned 
out to be a top screenwriter; and I think he got Dudley Nichols, 
who was a top writer; and Jim McGuiness. In the course of 
time he brought me out, but nothing happened then. I vjas out 
here for six weeks. Then I went back to [New York], 

Stempel: What did you do during the six weeks? 

Johnson: I did almost nothing. A fellow took me in his office 
and he said, "Look, here are our stars: Richard Dix, Adolphe 
Menjou, Richard Arlen. Now we want you to do this: pick out 
one of the stars and do a story for him. I may have tried 
a story. I don't know. My memory fails me as what I did. It 
seemed to me the six weeks passed, and I can't even remember 
how mu di I was getting, whether it was $150 a week or $300 a 
week, something like that. At any rate, it was more than I got 


in Nev; York, but I was able to keep my job in New York, which 
was writing this column, and I did it from out here, so I 
didn't lose ground. I was making a little extra dough. But 
the way I got out here was not very glamorous. When it got 
around to 1932, I had quit the paper, the New York Even ing Post, 
to go off on my own and free-lance. 

Stempel: As a magazine writer. Before we get around to that, 
I understand you also worked on a picture called Love 0_* Mike 
with Frank Capra in New York. 

Johnson: Oh yes, yes, yes. 

Stempel: That v:as right after the six weeks at Paramount? 
Or a year later? 

Johnson: I can't remember any sequence like that, but Leland 
Hayward v;as the producer, I think, and Frank Capra, who'd been 
directing. . . 

Stempel: Harry Langdon. 

Johnson: Harry Langdon. He wanted to do a feature. They 
got Claudette Colbert, who vms playing in The Barker or some- 
thing like that, and Ben Lyon. [Johnson chuckles] V/hen this 
picture came out, I snapped back to newspaper work, Claudette 
snapped back to the stage, and Prank Capra snapped back to 
whatever he'd been doing before. It was such a real nothing. 

Stempel: What exactly did you do on it? 



Johnson: I wrote scenes. Capra vjould tell n;e , he had a kind 
of a casual way of doing things, he'd say, "They find this 
baby, and leave it on the doorstep." I don't know what the 
hell the thing was about now. He would give i:ie a kind of a 
rougii outline of what he wanted, and I would write it, take 
a hack at it, anyway. It just wasn't anything much. It was 
a kind of an Abie ' s Irish Rose affair. 

Stenpel: Was this a silent picture or was this after talkies 
had come in? 

Johnson: This v;as a silent picture, I'm sure it was. You 
knov/, I never heard of it. It completely passed out of my 
consciousness. A year or so later, I was driving from Paris 
down to the south of France, for some reason, I don't knowr 
how that came about, and I stayed overnight at Lyons. My 
wife and I v/ere taking a stroll after dinner. In front of 
a movie theater, [there was] this poster, and on it was the 
title of the picture Ces C-osses , a French expression for his 
goslings, his kids, and I recognized Claudette's picture on 
this thing, and I looked at it and thought "My God, this must 
be the picture I work'ed on," because I recognized all the names 
on the thing. I don't know whether my name v;as on it or not. 
I can't remember. But that was really my first introduction 
to the miovies, and it seemed to me it was just nothing because 
it never had any bearing [on my career] or it didn't teach me 
anything at all. It was just something that happened to me 


and that v;as the end of it. 

V/ell, as I say, in 1932, I'd left the [Hew York ] Eveninc 
Post, and this is one of those decisions that you have to make 
v,'hen you're on the payroll, and you have an opportunity but 
it's a garable. Nov; about tv/o years ago I had dinner v.'ith 
Paul Gallico. How Paul was on the D aily Mev/s [v.'hen I v;as at 
the Post] . He vras Sports Editor. V/e got to talking about 
leaving nevrspaper vrork for free-lance v;riting and I said, 
"Did you have that horrible agony in trying to make a decision?'' 
I think I was getting about $135 or ^'"-1^0 a v;eek on the _Post , 
and I got it steady. It v/as there. I figured if I could sell 
one short story a month, I'd be all right. VJell Paul v/as 
making more than I v;as , Paul was more important and he had 
a better job. I think he told me he was making $200 a v.'eek. 
He had the same decision to make. My God. You know, "Do I 
dare?" Pull loose. He did it. And I did it. 

Then we got around to 1932, and The Sa turday E vening Post , 
v/hlch was my, was reduced from 210 pages to 102 pages. 
All those ads contracted for during boom days were over. In- 
stead of there being ten or twelve short stories in The Satu rday 
Evening Post , there were four. How that's what hit my market, 
because that was pretty fast company in those days. Everybody , 
v;rote short stories. I mean, there would be Furgoshiemer , 
Sam Hellman, Fitzgerald, Tarkington. I mean there was a classy 
field. And, my stories kept coming back. All of a sudden, 
I v/as down to no dough and not much chance. You know, I'd 


v.Tite a short story, and I had enourh experience to knov;, 
well, this is o.k., this vrlll sell. And it came back. I 
felt like a pitcher v/ho was cutting the corner of the plate, 
and they were callins them balls. I didn't know what to do. 
That was v/hen I talked to my a-jent about getting m.e a job... 
anywhere. Hollyv/ood sounded the poshest kind of job I could 
get. Put I'd known a fellow named Merritt Ilulbert, w^ho was 
an editor of The Saturday Even ing Post , and I'd worked with 
hiin a great deal, and he'd become story editor at Paramount. 
When they engaged me, it v;as a little humbling, because, you 
know, [when] Garrett v/ent out, [w'hen] Dudley went out, you 
heard tliese stories: they were put on the T;;entieth Century 
Limited with a drav/ing room, fruit and liquor, they were 
transferred in Chicago in a limousine to the Chief, and then 
they were met at San Bernardino by a lim.ouslne. I loolced 
for this, but all they said was if I showed up at Paramount o 
a certain Ilonday morning, I could go to work.. They wouldn't 
even pay my way out. I borrowed money from two agents, and I 
showed up at Paramount. And I remember when I got in there, 
getting off the train, [my] previous wife, I'm not married 
to that wife now, said, "Are you nervous?" I said, "No, not 
in the least." "V/hy aren't you?" I said, "I've been looking 
at pictures, and I wasn't impressed by the dialogue," and I 
said, "I think I can do better." 

So I went to work at Paramount. I think I was there for 
about a year. I worked with an old fellow named V/ally Young 



on a picture called pedtlme Story. 

Steiiipel; This uas the Maurice Chevalier picture. 

Johnson: Uith Chevalier. Then another one I did v;as called 
Mama Lov es Fapa . 

Stenpel: That v;as v/ith [Charles] Ruggles and Mary Eoland. 

Johnson: Mary Boland, yes. That v/as the beglnnin-; of that 
teaninr together. They had a lot of pictures after that. 
But, nov; I had gone out there, and I \ias being paid 03 00 a 
week, but at the end of the year they let me go. Then for 
some reason,, which I never understood, [Darryl F.] Zanuck, v;ho 
v/as either leaving Warner Drothers or had just left, he told 
the agent lie v;anted me to go to work for him. I don't know 
v;hy this was, because I could hardly have impressed him in 
any way because I h^adn't done enough. Anyway, he wanted me 
to come and I v.'ent to v;ork at Tv;cntieth Century. I started 

Stempel: Could v.'e come bad: a little to the time at Paramount? 
How did you woi'k at Paramount? V/ith V/ally Young? 

Johnson: Well, V/ally was content to let me do the v:riting. 
He was a wonderful old guy. And I say old, he miust have been 
in his sixties. He was a nephew of Brigham Young. He was a 
real veteran there. His name had been on some big pictures. 
He'd sit and we'd talk over the situation and he'd say, '".-.'ell 
I think tliat would make a very good scene there," and he'd say. 


"You v;ant to try it?" I'd say, "Yep," and I'd try it. Now 
there was a fellov.', our producer, named Barnie Glazer, Benjamin 
F. Glazer, and he was the inspiration for the Screen i/riter's 
Guild, because he put his name on everything. 

Stempel: As the author? 

Johnson: As a co-author. I reraember on that first picture, 
it was V/aldernar Young, Ilunnally Johnson, and Benjamin F.' Glazer. 
This happened so often, it made the vjriters sore, and their 
fii'st organization v.'as to keep these Goddamned producers from 
putting their name on anything they chose to sign. VJell, 
anyway, on the second one, llama Loves Papa , Arthur Kober 
v;as assigned to me. They had all kinds of odd categories then, 
Arthiur v/as called a continuity man, and 1 v;as the dialogue man. 
Which 1 found out only m.eant that he every now and then v;rote 
"Cut." [laughter] Or something like that. And, "Fade in" 
or "Fade out" or something like that. What else did you want 
to kno'v about tiiat? They did things in a queer way there. 

Stempel: Yes, this is v;hat I'm interested in, what this queer 
way v/as that they did things. 

Johnson: V'ell, one tim.e there was a producer there named Harold 
Hurley, I think his name was. No'.; Hurley made B-pictures, 
smaller pictures, and one day Hulbert, the friend of mine, the 
story editor, told me to report to Hurley's office. I went 
to Hurley's office and there was a man I met, Henry Hathaway, 
a director, Joe Mankiewicz, who was a young fellow that Herman 


had cot out there. He'd also £;ot his sister out there too. 
[Johnson chuckles] She v/as movVAuq. They -./ere outnumbering 
the manacer.ent, [Stenipel laughs] tlie ;iankiev;iczs '.;ere. 

This v.'as Hurley's idea, it v.-as the nuttiest th.ine I'd 
heard of then, and it still is. He assi^-ned each of the 
characters to one of us v^riters. I don't knov,- hov; the hell he 
expected a story to come out of this. I've talked about it 
to Joe since. I had a sailor , a sailor ;;ith a parrot, and 
I v;as to think up funny triincs for this sailor and thiis parrot 
to do, in connection. Joe had some other kind of character, 
and v/e uere all to put them together. There v.-as about five 
of us, five v/riters. I don't think anything ever came of that 
idiotic idea. 

Stempel: V.'hat did you do, just think up f.unny things for 
the character to do and then go into conference? 

Johnson: Yes. 

Stempel: V.'ith everybody else? 

Johnson: VJe had a rough idea of what the story was, which 
escapes me nov; and escaped ne about tv/enty minutes later, I 
think. [Stempel laughs] Because, if I were to say to you 
now, "Look, you have a character with a sailor with a parrot 
and this all takes place in 1875 and they're on a ship and 
they're on their way to South America. ilow get me some good 
stuff." h'ow that's about as good as, about as accurate, as 
the whole thing was. I went back to lay office, what the hell 


could I do v/ith a sailor v/lth a parrot? 

Sternpel: Sounds like you're very rather lucky. You really 
had tv/o characters, the sailor and the parrot. You could 
v;rite dialo-^ue between them. 

Johnson: Of course I padded this a bit. I made this a 
talking parrot , and so on. 

Sternpel: Vmat other v/eird projects v/ere you Involved in at 

Johnson: None really. I was so inexperienced. I knew so little. 
I v;orked like hell. And I think on the iiole they were quite 
pleased with it. But I had been assigned to this fellow 
hurley J I ve:i\enhcr , and I ^ot appendicitis and v;as taken to 
the hospital to have my appendix out. Now I v;as so conscientious 
that I be^an thinking , "Oh my God, they're paying me and I'm 
doing nothing.'' I didn't knov/ what moving picture people did 
v;ith money in those days, you know. I was three hundred 
bucks a week. I'd been in there [at the hospital] about ten 
days, and my friend Merritt JIulbert came over to see me, and 
in a kind of burst of nobility I said, "Merritt, I would 
like you to understand that if you suspended me during this 
time I will understand it." He was rather embarrassed. Finally 
he said, "I wouldn't tell you before because you've been 
quite ill. The minute the ambulance rolled out. Hurley 
chopped you off the payroll." [laughter] V/ell, for awiiile 
there was a guv that I really hated, one of the few times 

In my life I hated anybody. I hated Harold. I remember, a 
fev; years later I knew he was out of v/ork, and he happened to 
be in a barber's chair next to me. I didn't knov/ who this 
fellow was until they took the towel off his face. And it 
v/as flurley. So I said, "V/hat are you doing now harold?" 
It v/as mean, but I couldn't help it. Anyway, I v;as out of 
Param.ount then. I never v.-ent back. 

Stenpel: At one point alon^; in here you also v/orked on a 
picture called Kid Mil lions for Samuel Goldv.-yn, I believe. 
Or v/as this all together after you'd left Paramount? 

Johnson: It was after I left Paramount. I think the first 
thinr I did for Zanuck v;as called Mouli n Roug e . 

Stempel; Mo ulin iiquge, witi; Franch.ot Tone. 

Johnson: And it was a rev/rite of another picture. Zanuck 
was a nut on rewriting and redoing tilings. At Fox there 
was something called, I think, the Coney Island plot. It 
must have, [been used for] four or five pictures. That was 
the one, you know, "V.'hat do you, I mean, you going to break 
up the act?" 

Stempel: Oh, that picture. Yes. 

Johnson: That picture. Always. Jack Oakie and Ty Power 
and the two girls, you know. I'loulin Rouge, and m.y first 
contact with what was the a ctress . I w^ent on the set one 
day. A fellow named Sidney Lanfield was directing it. He 
was a remnant from t'ne silent days. I happened to be 


standing there, afraid they v/ere going to throvf mo off 
[the sot], and "iiss Constance Bennett was talking to Lanfiold 
about some of the dialogue. She'd v/anted this altered or 
something like that, and I remem.ber hearing Lanfield say, 
"But Connie, that's the way the writer wrote it." I then 
heard her say, "The hell with the writer." [laughter] And 
I moved off the set. I wasn't going to stand around there 
and have the finger pointed at ne . 

Stempel: You say you have no idea how Zanuck suddenly decided 
that he v^antcd [you], 

Johnson: No, I don't k.nov;. I don't knov/ hov; ny naxie [cajne 
up], but he made two or three efforts, and I don't suppose 
I would have asl:ed him even if I'd thought about it even 
though I v/orked for him for t'wenty odd years. So I don't 
knov; what brought him around to me. 

Then the next picture he gave me v;as called The House of 
Rothschild . He talked to me about it for a'while and I said, 
"Are you sure you k.nov; what I do?" He said, "What do you 
mean?" "This is a dramatic story," I said, "All my characters 
are liable to fall in flour barrels and things like that. 
I v/rlte kind of low comedy." He said, "Go ahead. Go ahead. 
Do it." I went ahead and did it. This was the first dramatic 
picture I'd ever v:ritten. 

Stempel: I was reading in part of George Arliss' autobiography, 
and he said that he had been carrying the play around for 


The House of Rothschild for a nun;ber of years, and he kept 
pestering Zanuck at V/arners to do it. Did you follow the 
play at all or was this just sonethinr; that, you used for 
a general basis for House of Rothschild ? 

Johnson: Ho. He may have had a play, I don't remember nov;. 
I didn't use any play. There was a book about the Rothschilds, 
The House of Rothschild , I think, it v/as called, v;hich is^ 
v;hat Zanuck handed me. They may have discussed it previously. 

I remember that Ilr. Arliss v/as an imposing person to 
everybody in the movies. I mean, it v/as like the King of 
England v;as v/orking around v/ith you. It was, "Mr. Arliss 
this," "Mr. Arliss that." He v/as a gentle, nice man. 
But Zanuck said he v/as going to play the father of the five 
Rothschild boys. 

Stempel: That's Mayer Rothschild. 

Johnson: Yes. Then, after a period of years he was to play 
the oldest one that lived in London. Zanuck had been talking 
to him one day, and he was talking to me about it, he said, 
"You know," he said, "The old man, I've been waiting for him 
to say this, but he said," now he was only playing two 
parts in the picture so far, "So he [said] 'Mayer Rothschild 
was a very good friend of Disraeli's.'" [Johnson chuck.les] 
Well I could see it coming. [Stemnol laughs] He was going 
to play Disraeli again, play three parts in the picture. But 
Zanucl: dissuaded him. 


Johnson: And then he put me on another picture, with Mr. 
Arliss, Cardinal Richelieu . This was from that old play by 

Stempel: Before we get into Cardinal Richelieu , could we 
go back to The House of Rothschild and some of the problems 
you hiad in making this change from comedy to draiaa? 

Johnson: V/ell, [Johnson chuckles] I remeiabered not to have 
then fall in flour barrels. Did you ever see it? 

Stempel: I haven't seen it, no. It was one of the ones 
I v/anted to see but couldn't get ahold of. 

Johnson: VJell, I know it exists as a print because in London 
there's a restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs . That's their ton 
restaurant, and it's housed in tlie Rothschild mansion, right 
off Picadilly. And about every two years they have an 
anniversary there, and they run the film. 

Stempel: The next time I'm in London, I will check it out. 

Johnson: They run The House of Rothschild because the 
only people who've seen it apparently are people who eat 
at Les A in London. ''V/hy, for God's sake I saw The House of 
Rothschild at Les Ambassadeurs the other night." 

Stemoel: I was reading some of the reviews of the time of it. 


and they mention that the Battle of V/aterloo plays a big 
part in the story, but it's not shov;n. The v/hiole thin£^ is 
done in the Stock Exchange [at London]. V/as this because 
you couldn't afford to do a battle scene, or [because] you 
felt it v;as more dramatic this v/ay? 

Johnson: It was more dramatic this v;ay . I don't knov; [if] 
the question ever came up, but there v;as so much more dram.a 
in the v;hole story of the rlothschilds . After all, it v;as 
only the result of the battle tiiat was pertinent to this 
story. 1 believe it ",vas the first. Do you rem.ember what 
year it was, '33, '3^? 

Stempel; It v.'ould be '33, I believe. 

Johnson: It was the first picture — 

Stempel: March of '3^ was its release date, I think. 

Johnson: ...that took up this anti-Semitic question. 

Stempel: This was a question I was going to ask you about. 
This was the first sound picture that I could recall [that 
dealt with it]. I couldn't recall any silent films that 
specifically dealt with it. I was going to ask if there were 
problems in this. 

Johnson: This was brought up, yes. Because I remember one 
sequence, and I can't remember how it came about. What's trie 


name of the v/onderful old fellov/ that plays Frankenstein's 

Stempel: Boris Karloff. 

Johnson: Boris Karloff. He v/as the heavy in the picture, and 
I v;rote for hin as savage an anti-Semitic speech as I could 
think of. Needless to say, Tlr. Arliss ansv;ered him and topped 
him. Tl-iat v;as the dramatic arrangement of the thing. I 
remember talking to Zanuck about it and he said, "You knovr, 
Joe Schenck read the script the other night," and Joe didn't 
read many scripts. Zanuck said, "You knov/, people think I'm 
Jev;ish simply because I got a nam.e like Zanuck. And Joe 
[had] said, 'Lool:, that anti-Semitic speech of Karloff s. 
I'm a little vrorried about that.'" Darryl had started to 
tell [hin] something, but he [Schencl:] said, "Oh no, not like 
that. I'm afraid people viill cheer." [laughter] It v;as 
that. . .sensitive at that time. But that v/as Joe's humour, 
anyv;ay. V/hat comment that I can remember was that it v;as so 
pro-Semitic that many Jev;s were m.ade uncomfortable by it. 
They thought it was too sweet. They were all too T'olly Gold- 
berg or something like that. I couldn't have much sense of 
balance about it. I didn't know, and I can't remember. I 
haven't seen it since it was released. Loretta [Young] was 
in it. 

Stempel: In r,owis Jacobs' book The Rise of the American Film , 
at one point he's talking about the depression and the effect 


of the depression of films, and he says that the films 
treated baaikers either not at all or in very glowing terms. 
Pie mentions The House of Rothschild as being almost a eulogy 
to the goodness of bankers. Did anybody viho was making the 
film have this in mind v;hen they v/ere doing it? 

Johnson: God, no. I've heard it described as a little bit 
too sympathetic for Jev?s. It may have made some of them quite 
uncomfortable because it v;as so favorable to them and the 
gentiles v;ere the heavies. There was more a feeling of 
catering to a Jewish audience, but even that's not true. 
The House of Rothschild is an amazing thing today, that family 
and its grov/th from those five sloppy, slimy, little boys in 
Frankfurt, to being controlling bankers of the world, or among 
the controlling bankers of the v/orld. It's dramatic, for 
God's sake, A fellow called me in Mev? York a couple of years 
ago, and he said he bought a book. The Rothschilds , and he 
v/ants to make it into a musical. He wanted to make it then, 
still wants to make it, and is going to make it, he says. I 
said, "I did this story once." He said, "I know. I thought 
that's why you might be interested in it." I said, "Offhand, 
I can't think how I would be because it doesn't correspond to 
anything that I think a musical comedy ought to be. Persecution 
of Jews at that time and the conniving that went on and all of 
that stuff." I said, "How can you get a musical comedy out of it?" 
I read this new book, and ho said, "I was thinking only of the 


five boys in Frankfurt." I gues he thoucht of them as five 
Eddie Cantors or soraething like [Sterapel laughs] That's 
as near as I could get to it. At any rate, I don't see how 
he's going to do it. lie's been tv/o or three years trying 
to get somebody to do the thing , but I couldn't go into a 
thing like that. 

A fellow called me the other day , and v/anted rue to do 
a script of Good Might , Sv/eet Prince , about John Barryniore . 
Nov/ this Is kind of in the family because.... 

Stempel: The book was by Gene Fowler, v/asn't it? 

Johnson: Yes, and his son is my son-in-lav/. In the first 
place, I don't think there's anything in an actor's life, or 
a writer's, that's very interesting except to other actors or 
other writers. Then he told me what he had in mind. He 
v;anted it to end with Barrymore sailing off in his yacht, into 
the sunset, with Dolores, his bride. This was the fade-out. 
I could hardly believe him. I said, "Well there's no drama 
in Barrymore 's life until he began to crack up. Any drama 
that you do with it, so far as I'm concerned, is the crackup 
of an extremely brilliant, celebrated, talented artist, and 
you have automatically lopped off all of that. The first part 
of it is nothing but a kind of a rascally actor. You can say 
he was a great Hamlet. What can you do? You can't show him 
being a great Hamlet. Even if you've got a Peter C Toole I'm 


not sure that I could describe it. It's like describing the 
greatest painter on earth and then shov? you a chromo or some- 
thing that he did [chuckles] or saying iie v/as the greatest 
violinist on earth and the guy comes out and plays like Joe 
Venutl or soraething like that. It's just hard to do. But 
no, the only tirae tliere v.'as any reference to bankers vfas 
v;hen Zanuck felt uneasy about G rapes of ^_at]-i. After all, 
one of the biggest of the bankers, V/lnthi'oo Aldrich,, v/as 
Chairiaan of the Board of Fox, part of the Rockefeller clan 
and one of the top men of that contemporary establishment. 
I don't think anybody here ever gets that deeply into any 
kind of cause. Sorae guy puts on something lll:e I_f He Poll ers , 
Let n_in Go and uses every cliche ever heard of. That malces 
som.e sort of sensational picture, but that has notliing to do 
with the movies' backing of social reform.s or opposing it or 
doing anything of consequence or importance. No, however 
this fellow v/ho wrote that book interpreted it, it just wasn't 
true. I never heard of it.^ 

Stempel: I just wondered. I hadn't seen any other reference 
to this, and this was the first time I'd corae across it. It 
occurred to me, George Arliss says in one of his autobiographies 
that he was trying to get Zanuck to do this play he was carrying 
around about the Rothschilds for some time and Zanuck finally 
agreed to do it. I wondered if perhaps Zanuck agreed to do 
it at that time, when he had just cone to Twentietli Century, 


to prove to the bankers that his ne\; corapany v;as a reliable 
company. Do you think there v;as anythinc; in that? 

Johnson: V/lthout havlnc Zanuck's oath for it, you can take 
my vjord for It Zanuck uouldn't have listened to anything like 
that if he hadn't have thought it would rn.ake a dramatic 
picture on a subject, v/hich at that time, '33, v/hich v/as the 
beginning of the Hitler thing. This was tlie beginning of the 
German anti-Jewish thing. It was an electric subject. I 
never heard that Arliss brought it to hin, but it could have 
very well been. I have no reason to doubt it. The book that 
I used seemed to be up to that tim.e the definitive book by 
a fellow named ?ulop-.wuller, som.ething like that. No, there 
ii.'ere no girmaicks in it. 

Stempel: You mentioned Joe Schenck. Did you know any of the 
details of the setting up of the Tv/entioth Century Corporation? 

Johnson: Only what v;as generally knew. 1 mean, Darryl [Zanuck] 
left V/arner Brothers, pulled out of there, and he got together 
with Joe [Schenck] , and L. B. Player got his son-in-law. Bill 
Goetz, into it, and I think, they would split it three ways. 
They were quite successful with Twentieth Century. They 
didn't own anything, they just rented space on the Goldwyn 
lot. [Johnson chuckles] They rented typewriters, they 
rented everything. They didn't own a chair, I don't think, 
■over there. They made, I don't know how many pictures, maybe 


two or three years of pictures. 

Stempel: They became Tv/entieth Century-Fox in '35 and they'd 
done about iC or 20 pictures. 

Johnson: Had they? Well, let me see v:hat I did. I did 

Stempel: V/ell, this went out under Twentieth Century-Fox. 

Johnson: Thanks A Mi llion did? Yes, I guess it did. 

Stempel: Because that was one I was able to see over at 
Tv;entleth Century-Fox, but they didn't have the ones that were 
just Tv/entieth Century, which were released this time through 
United Artists, That would have been House of H othscnila , 
M oulin Rouge , and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Again . 

Johnson: Ah yes. Bulldog Drummond . Yes. 

Stempel: I mentioned Kid Millions for Goldv;yn. V/hen did you 
do that? 

Johnson: I think I had six weeks off, according to my contract, 
and Goldv-yn asked to borrow me for an Eddie Cantor picture. 
Darryl was very nice about it. He said, "The man's got six^ 
weeks off. You want to hire him during that time, you hire 
him." But Goldwyn of course wanted to borrow me on what I 
v/as getting from Twentieth Century. I didn't care very much 
about doing this because I wanted a vacation so I asked what I 


thoucht was a prodigious sum, and he paid it, though I 
didn't finish the picture. V.'hat v:as it, Scandals ? 

Sternpel: Kid il illlons . 

Johnson: I worked on Roman Scandals for him at one time too. 
I don't reneMber hov; this thine [came about]. I think he 
loaned me for that. I i,;orI:ed vrith Arthur Sheekiiian and... 

Stempel: Mat Perrin. 

Johnson: Mat Perrin, yeah. 

Stempel: What did you do, just come in and do the first 
draft of somethinc? 

Johnson: A£;ain, I did all the v.-ritin^,. I'm always insistent 
on that. At least it fell to me for Mat and Arthur v;ere ^ood 
in thinkinc up funny stuff and cars and scenes, particularly 
for Cantor. I put them dovm in the foria on the paper and tried 
to keep the scenes sliort and give everybody a fair shake. 
You kno'.:, [Johnson cliuckles] it v/as hit and miss kind of thin^. 
I don't kno'/: v/ho the director v/as nov/, but he... 

Stempel: Roy Del Ruth on Kid Millions . 

Johnson: Oh yes, I knew Roy because he'd directed Bulldog 
Drummond Strikes Back or Strikes Agai n, whatever it was. I 
knew him very v;ell and liked }iim. 

Stemoel: How much contact did you have v;ith Gold-.,-yn liimself 


on those tvjo? 

Johnson: Oh, constant. He kept very close to it, and would 
read the stuff and his comraents v/ere all pretty good. He's 
an instinctive man about pictures. As if he had some kind 
of OeiEer counter in his head and thinks, v/eH, in a v/ay, like 
Zanuck. I alv;ays thought Zanuck had a Geiger counter in 
his head. Darryl was a great editor. He'd read a script 
and the minute it got dull, or didn't move, or went off the 
track, tick_-tick-ticl:, he said, "It stopped. How where did 
this start?" And he'd go bade, two pages, three pages, and 
then he'd figure v/here the movemiont stopped, or the movement 
v:ent 'wrong. So v/hen you came in to talk to him, he had exactly 
v;here it wasn't moving right. VJell, Holdvfyn had some of 
that, but Goldwyn left a good deal of it to directors. Darryl 
was not like that. Darryl' s idea v;as to get a script and 
call in the director. Then the director was not only permitted 
but expected to make suggestions, make his contribution, but 
it all had to-be on paper before he went out on the set. And 
Darryl had to O.K. it. There was none of this the-director- 
takes-charge while Zanuck was making a picture. The director 
never took charge. Zanuck was in charge. I know another 
one I did over there. The Man Who Broke the Bank at i"!onte 
Carlo with a director named Steve Roberts, who'd been working 
at Paramount where the director was kind of king. I remember 
sitting with Zanuck and Steve. Steve in his airy fashion said, 
"I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll read the script over the 


weekend and kick it around." You'd have thought he had 
insulted Darryl's mother. He said, "What do you mean, kick 
it around?" Steve was so startled. Darryl said, "Don't 
kick anything around. Nov; if you've got some suggestions, 
I'll be very happy to listen to them. But don't kick things 
around here." Steve never had been spoken to like that, you 
know, at Paramount. V;ell, Darryl didn't let anybody... he was 
a gutty guy. 

Stempel: Had Zanuck started his legendary story conferences 
when you went to v;ork — 

Johnson: Yes, yeah. 

Stempel: ...for him at IVentiethi Century? 

Johnson: Yes, I remember when I first went there and all 
these Goddamned story conferences would start around nine or 
ten at night. I remember one night, and there was about seven 
or eight fellov;s in there, the director, and v/hat's their 
names, Griffith... 

Stempel: Raymond Griffith? 

Johnson: Raymond Griffith. He had two associate producers, 
and they v/ere so nervous about each other. Bill Goetz and 
[Griffith], that they had their names on all the pictures, 
both of them, so one wouldn't get ahead of the other or some- 
thing like that. Anyway, Darryl drove me home one night, he 


lived in Beverly Hills then and I lived out here [Bel-Air], and 
I said, "Look, most of those guys there, I knovj v;hat they're 
doing. I know why you have them there, and their usefulness. 
V/hat about that fellow Green?" I recognized his name as an 
old-time director. Darryl laughed. He said, "You notice 
every now and then I'd say to Al, 'What do you think of that, 
Al?' And Al would answer. Darryl said, "I'm Just trying to 
find out if it was clear to Al. If it's clear to Al, it'll 
be clear to everybody in the United States." [laughter] So 
you might say he was a testing fellow, to find out if everything 
was clear. But these conferences v;ould go on. They Mere very 
good. I mean nothing was too small to escape him. I remember 
on Cardinal Richelieu once, I had asked Darryl to hire a friend 
of mine named Cam.eron Rogers, v;ho v;as an authority on that 
period. I'd met him abroad and he had written a life of Cyrano, 
the real poet. He knew the French court, I think it was Louis 
Eighteenth. He knew it the way [V/alter] V/inchell knew Broadway, 
you know, and [when] he talked about Richelieu, he'd refer to 
him as DuPlessis, which was his family name. He'd say, "You 
know, all of the DuPlessis were really cracked, most of them." 
He said, "Now his sister, in middle age became obsessed with 
the idea that she had a glass ass. [chuckles] And she, took 
to her bed because she was afraid if she got up she would 
shatter." [Stempel laughs] He was a very scholarly guy. Cam 
was and is, and I remember at one of these story conferences. 


Cam v;ould just sit there looking p.opeyed. It was v;hat Darryl 
was doing with history. Cam said, "If you don't mind my 
saying so, Mr. Zanuck, I can't Imagine any scholar accepting 
such-and-such a thing." Christ, I think Darryl was going to 
put the Battle of Waterloo in there or something like that 
because it fit. [chuckles] Darryl thought about it for a few 
minutes and then he said, "Aw the hell with you. Nine out 
of ten people is going to think he's Rasputin anyway." [laughter] 

Stempel: In Arliss' autobiography he talks about Maude Howell, 
who was given the title of Associate Director of [his films]. 
It sounded like she rewrote the scripts for him. 

Johnson: No she didn't. She was quite nice, and I think 
she was very useful, but she was a trial to a director because 
Mr. Arliss would turn to her rather than to the director as 
to whether this take was satisfactory or not. I alv;ays got 
along with her very well. She didn't do any rewriting. 

Stempel: She just sounded from the vjay he described what she 
did that she would have been a trial to the v;riters. 

Johnson: No, I never found her so, but I know that the fellow 
who was directing House of Rothschild , what's his name? 

Stempel: You've got me right offhand. 

Johnson: Anyway, I know it was tiresome for him. When this 
second picture, Richelieu , was in production, now this may 


have been v;hat you're thinking of. They were in production, 
and I heard that Mr. Arliss was rewriting things. Now it may 
have been Maude. But anyway, I didn't care for this, and I'd 
heard enough of these things to be satisfied that it was true, 
that they were altering the script and so on. I went in to 
Zanuck and I said, "Look, before we go any further, I want my 
name removed from this picture." Zanuck like all producers 
Jumped to the conclusion that I had heard it wasn't going good. 
[Stempel chuckles] I said, "No, that's not true at all. I 
don't know how it's going." I said, "I'm told that Mr. Arliss 
is rewriting stuff on the backs of menus and things, and I 
don't want to get credit if it's so good and I don't want to 
get blamed if it's so bad. I'd just as soon withdraw." He 
said, "All right, I understand. I've never been able to get 
a writer to work twice with Mr. Arliss." [chuckles] "I've 
never been able to get a director to work tv;lce with him, 
because Mr. Arliss is, what do you call him, he wasn't arrogant, 
he Just had his v;ay." He'd look over to Maude Howell and the 
director just had to accept this secondary role he was playing, 
I remember one time, this director, I can't think of his name 
now, told me Arliss was in his cardinal's outfit with all 
sorts of trinkets on him, and he had just exited from a room 
and now the scene was he was entering the other room, you know. 
He turned to Maude and said, "Do you remember what I was doing 
when I went through that door?" And she says, "Yes sir, you 


were playing v;lth your balls." [laughter] He had two little 
balls here [as part of his costume], [laughter] I knov; he 
mentioned me in one little autobiography of his. He had a most 
graceful thing to say. He said something about the script 
by Nunnally Johnson "For whom I have great respect which I 
fear is not reciprocated." 

Johnson: Going on like that which was such a gracious kind 
of thing to say when I had said in effect^ screw him, you know. 

Stempel: That was the one [of Arliss' autobiographies] that I 
read, he had described the difficulties on the script and 
mentioned that new v;riters had come in. 

Johnson: He made the difficulties, because Zanuck would beg 
him to leave it alone. Zanikk had his trials, too, because 
Mr. Arliss, when they sent him the script, v/as in Paris, and 
Arliss was a thrifty fellow. He didn't waste much money on 
cables. I remember Darryl would send him one of his interminable 
cables. Darryl would dictate 500 words, you know, sending 
this to Arliss reminding him of their association and "Please 
be guided by me" and "Do accept this as a — I'm convinced it 
could — " all that kind of stuff, and wait for an answer. And 
about two weeks later you'd get a postcard [laughter] saying, 
"Having a wonderful time here." It would drive Darryl crazy 
because he couldn't get any o.k. from the fellow. 

Stempel: We mentioned story conferences with Zanuck. Was 
there anything equivalent to this at Paramount when you worked 



Johnson: Yes there v.^as. Yes, with Glazer. But I was just 
popeyed watching there, I didn't participate in any as much as 
I did v;hen I began working with Zanuck, Yes, it was not on 
such a scale as Zanuck' s, but Glazer would have V/ally Young 
and myself in and the director or who else and we'd discuss 
the thing. 

Glazer was a kind of a guy that would think up a scene 
[to be played] in a barber chair and insist on it getting 
in there, because if it got in there, then he would sell Para- 
mount the piece of property he had that embodied this barber 
chair thing. Oh, he v/as a real schemer. [chuckles] Then 
he could get $25,000 for that piece of property he had. I 
remember V/ally and I kept writing this barber chair scene out. 
[laughter] Drive him nuts, you knov/. [laughter] And he 
couldn't come right out, he didn't know we knev;, and he'd 
say, "Well, you knov;, I really miss that, that barber chair 
scene. I thought it was — " and then he'd tell how good it 
was, and we knev; it v;as going to get in there eventually, he 
was the producer. [Stempel laughs] But we were taking it 
out Just because we would frighten him. He wouldn't be 
able to collect that $25,000, Justifying it by one scene in 
the picture. 

Zanuck was the master of the story conference, and I 
never realized how good he v;as until I worked with some other 
people. I knew that he was a definite collaborator, contributor 


to every picture that he ever had anything to do with. 

[The machine was turned off here, then Johnson 

continued to talk about Glazer as the inspiration 

for the Screen VJriter's Guild. So the machine 
was turned back on.] 

...the Screen Writer's Guild. 

Stempel: You mentioned that, because he Insisted on putting 
his name on. . . 

Johnson : John Ford told me once that I was the inspiration for 
the Screen Director's Guild, because once when I wrote a 
picture at International, I think it was called Casanova Brown 
and both Time and Life , saluting the new company, which was rarer 
than it is now, had some stuff about me, and they quoted a 
line I'd said about one director. I said his principal use 
is to see that the actors don't go home before six. Well, 
both magazines put it down that I said [it] as a generality 
about directors, which put me in a bad spot because I was 
working with very good directors and they were very good friends 
of mine and I wouldn't dream of saying such a thing, you know. 
It was just one man that I [mentioned]. 

Stempel: About v;hom were you saying it? 

Johnson: It was a fellow named Stuart Heisler. He directed 
Along Came Jones. He wasn't very good, I didn't think. At any 
rate. Ford said, "God, that's what got the directors together, 


this kind of comment on their usefulness." A very good friend 
of mine is Mervyn LeRoy. I'm vjith him every day, you know. 
Well, at one of the first meetings of this Guild, Mervyn got 
up and proposed the resolution to this Guild that no member 
of it would v;ork v;lth me again. [chuckles] It v;as seconded 
by Edmund Gouldlng. A couple of years later, Eddie directed 
two or three pictures for me. 

Stempel: O.K. Let's go back to 193^ again. V/hat about 
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Again ? I notice in the reviews they 
say that you did a very Interesting thing in combining mystery 
v;ith a subplot of comedy, the Charles Butterworth-Una Merkie 
[subplot]. Bulldog Drummond is dragging him out of bed on 
his v/edding night and this sort of thing. How did you happen 
to come to put these tvro elements together? 

Johnson: Well, it's hard to say. Bulldog Drummond simply 
fascinated me as a character. And I remember I Just loved 
the first Bulldog Drummond picture. [Ronald] Colman had 
played it, and I was talking to Zanuck about it one day, 
telling him how much I liked it, and he said, "Jesus, let's 
make another one, and get Ronnie to play it." 

I had an opening: Drummond walking along the street in 
a fog, naturally, London, got to be a fog, goes into a house 
to ask the way, door is open, he pushes it in, [Johnson chuckles] 
one of these haunted house things, and he finds a dead man. 
He goes out to call a cop. The cops come, and they go back in 


there, there's no dead man. You knov;, it's a woman saying, 
"I beg your pardon?" There's a hand over the side of the 
sofa, I remember, and Drummond goes around to look at it and 
there's a drunk fellov; there. He's lying on the seat. He 
said, "Why, there v;as a man here, he v;as dead, I sav; him." 
Anyv;ay, I think it started like that, we just moved on, v;hy 
there should be a dead man, I suppose \ie pinched "The Missing 
Room." You knov; the old story. [Alexander] Wolcott used to 
tell it every tv;o years. There's a girl who takes a room in 
a hotel, she goes out shopping, she comes back, they don't 
know her, no room here, Where's her mother, there 'd been nobody 
here, she thinks she's going crazy. V/ell, it turns out that 
the mother had the plague or something like that, and the 
Exposition is going to start next week, and in order to prevent 
any scandal they hurriedly took the mother away, redecorated 
the room, you know, and there was the mystery. I think we 
pinched that. We pinched almost anything we could think of, 
I suppose, at that time. 

Stempel: Yeah, it seems to me that "missing room" plot has 
been used for a number of pictures. 

Johnson: Well, it was all in such good humour, that picture 
was. Bulldog Drummond . Hard to take anything too seriously 
with the thing. Butterworth was such a beautiful comedian. 
Didn't strike anybody as English, but that didn't matter a 
g"eat deal. 


Stempel: Yeah, In 1935, you did a picture called Baby Face 
Harrington that had a re-teaming [of Butterworth and Merkle], 
Did this come directly out of the Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back ' 

Johnson: Well, Charlie v;as a good friend of mine. And 
Charlie was at Metro, and Charlie Lederer got this idea, and 
he and Butterv/orth and I got together. They made some cheapie 
little picture. And the story wasn't good. Charlie wasn't 
very good. The whole thing v;as just a mistake. They didn't 
spend but about $l8 on it. And it was Just a disaster. 
Fortunately a very small, quiet disaster. That's the kind — 
If you've got to have a disaster, have a small one. 




Stempel: One question that I V7as going to ask you last v^eek 
[was] V7hat sort of writing habits that you picked up as a 
newspaperman and as a short story writer helped you when you 
got "into writing movies? Did you pick up [working] habits that 
were useful to you? 

Johnson: No. I've thought of this often. Dramatic writing 
is directly opposite of journalism, or nev;spaper vrork, because 
nev;spaper work is v;ho, v/hat, where, why, when. Everything 
you v^rite is always constructed so that they can cut off 
anywhere, [and the] story up to that point v;ill be correct. 
Dramatic v/ritlng is exactly the opposite. You don't tell the 
point until they can't stand it any longer. You milk it. 
You have to use some judgment about this because the people 
presently are going to say, "The hell with it unless you tell 
me soon." It's like this in newspaper work. [Indicated a 
downward slope] Down. In dramatic writing it's up. [Indica- 
ted an upward slope] The short stories were very good training 
because a novel doesn't have to have a form, really. You 
have a story to tell, and it can be a saga, of families, of 
generations, anything like that. [A novel] can wander off the 
subject, come back to it, and these things off the subject 
are very pertinent, but not necessary. With short story 
writing it has to be a poem. The kind of short story writing 


I did, anyv^/ay, was: you tell the situation, you develop 
it as v;ell as you can, and then you have a solution at the 
end. That is the pattern. And that's the pattern of the 
movies, that you open up, as they say, v;ith a long shot into 
the characters, set up the situation, build it up, and then 
at the end you have some sort of resolution. Nov; that's the 
standard v;ay and you have to learn the standard v;ay before 
you can experiment and make variations on it. Nov; you can 
do a story like a picture that I haven't seen that that fellovr 
Finney vjas in, recently, what the hell v:as the name of it? 

Stempel: Charlie Bubbles ? 

Johnson; Uhm-hm. I read this report of it. They had no 
solution, you see, and in the end he gets in a balloon, as 
I remember it, and the balloon just sails out of sight, and 
I don't think the people were dissatisified with that, but 
It was not the standard form v;hich I used when I was writing 
short stories, and v;hich ordinarily I use in pictures, as 
much as I can. My feeling is at the end of a picture the 
audience ought to have some resolution in its own mind. 

Stempel: Let's go back to 1935 and Thanks A Million . This 
was a picture I did get a chance to see over at Fox, except 
that the print they had was missing about the last five minutes 
or so. [Johnson chuckles] It ended right after Dick Powell 
had announced to the crowd that he was really a phony and he 


v:as going to sing anyv^ay. Did he get elected, or what 
happened? [Dick Powell played a crooner vfho got talked 
into running for Governor], 

Johnson: I can't remember [Stempel chuckles] anything like 
that. I remember doing this thing. It was cast first [before 
it v;as written], and we thought we'd get Lawrence Tibbett 
and we v;ound up with Dick Powell. [chuckles] That's the way 
these things go. VJe did go after Fred Allen, and that's when 
I first met Fred and he became a very good friend of mine, as 
did Dick. I was very fond of him, too. I guess that was the 
last picture we did at T^ventieth Century. I don't remember 
very much about it except that the expression became kind of 
common, "Thanks a Million," and so on and I think it was 
successful. I suppose so because in those days it looked like 
almost everything vras successful. Hard to make a picture 
that didn't make money. I mean there was a period like that. 
Later it became a little tougher. But right up through 193^, 
a man had to v/ork pretty hard not to make money on a picture. 

Stempel: Yes, I was wondering about one thing. I saw in 
some pre-release publicity for Thanks A Million that it was 
based on a story by Melville Grossman, which was one of Zanuck's 
pseudonyms. But there wasn't any reference to this in any 
of the credits I found for the picture or on the screen 
credits. Did he actually write a story or did he just say. 


"Let's do a picture about this?" 

Johnson: I can't remember that. I remember Melville Grossman 
was one of his names, or the name he used when he was. . .Zanuck, 
you see, [Johnson chuckles] Darryl always thought of himself 
as a writer, when he could hardly spell "cat." [chuckles] 
For years he spoke in terms of a v/riter. He v;as such an 
energetic fellov;, with so many ideas. I don't knov;, he may 
have given me an outline or something. He v/as quite capable 
of starting at two o'clock in the morning and dictating some 
sort of outline of a story, roughly, and handing it to a 
writer or a producer the next day. And I suppose that's what 
he did v;ith that one. There vms some politician who was 
singing, maybe that Southern fellov;. 

Stempel: There's a reference in the picture to a jazz band 
leader v;ho vfas elected Lieutenant Governor in Washington. 
It said in the Motion Picture Herald article that this is 
what the story was based on. 

Johnson: That's right, that was it. I remember now. I can't 
remember what his name was, but I remember there was such a 
fellow and he did become Lieutenant Governor up there, but 
how it grew from that I can't remember, except that you Just 
keep pushing on until you've gotten 1^5 pages, [chuckles] and 
hope to God they added up at the end. 

Stempel: You mentioned Fred Allen. I was going to ask about 


this because the part seems v;rltten exactly for him. 

Johnson: Just v/onderful, 

Stempel: It looked as though the part was written for him and 
almost enlarged as it went along. 

Johnson: It was. It was. If I remember correctly, I rewrote 
the character when we got Fred to try to do as much as I could 
toward keeping it in his vernacular, or v;hatever you want to 
call it. He brought out here v/ith him, because he was so 
nervous, a fellow named Harry Tugend, v/ho's still out here. 
I told Zanuck that he'd brought him out, and Darryl said, "If 
you can use him, put him on." So I put him on. I don't know 
that Harry did anything on that, but he did other pictures, 
aad stayed out here. He v;as very close to Fred. 

I used to go see Fred in Nev; York. Fred [Johnson chuckles] 
was the damndest man. He lived in a hotel at the corner of 
57th Street and 7th Avenue, I think. Fred had been living 
in this rather third-rate hotel, but he and Portland [Allen's 
wife] had been living in a two -room, bedroom-sitting room, 
affair at that time for about fifteen years, and I give you 
my word, he hadn't altered one thing in that room. He hadn't 
hung a picture. You know, [Johnson chuckles] those pictures 
that they hang in hotel rooms, they were all there. Two or 
three years later I went to see him, not a thing had changed. 


He Just had no feeling about making himself comfortable or making 
this apartment a home. He just didn't want to acquire anything. 
He didn't v^ant to own anything. You know, he just let it lay 
Just like it was. He was still living there when he died. 
He took a walk, and if I remember correctly, he had a heart 
attack and stumbled into an old apartment house across the 
street from Carnegie Hall and died there in this foyer or 
vestibule or whatever it was, a building v/here Anita Loos 
had been living for 172 years or something like that. My 
God he was a v/onderful guy. 

Stempel: In '35, you became a producer for the first time. 
Iithink the first picture you got a producer credit for was 
The Nlan Who Broke the B ank at Monte Carlo . What difference 
did this make? 

Johnson: Not a great deal, except that in addition to a picture 
that I v;as v;rlting, I became responsible for other pictures. 
I would look for stories and Zanuck would look for stories, 
and I'd have tv/o or three or four pictures going and v;rlters 
working. I was thinking about it the other day. This was a 
complete fiasco because I cannot tell people how to v;rlte. 
That was what Zanuck could do, but I could not tell these 
people v;hat I wanted. I could tell them that I was unsatisfied 
with it, but I was an Incurable writer. I wanted to do it 
myself. I remember, after maybe three or four or five pictures. 


I went into Zanuck one day and I said, "Look, I think I'd 
better quit." He said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I can't 
produce. I've got a script on my desk right nov/ and I physically 
cannot open that thing. And I knov: it's not good. And I don't 
know what to do about it, because I cannot tell this fellow 
exactly vjhat to do, and I can't do them all by myself. It's 
unfair to the v;riter, and I can't do all that v;ork." He said, 
"V/hy can't you be like Ray Griffith?" I said, "How do you mean?" 
He says, "Ray doesn't know a Goddamn thing about v;hat this 
script's doing. He just looks at it and says 'Not right'." 
[Johnson imitates Griffith's voice] Griffith had no voice. 
"•Not right'. And the writer doesn't knov;. 'Try again,' 
and so the guy goes on trying." Zanuck said, "I'll bet that 
Ray outlives both of us." V/ell, he didn't. But Zanuck said, 
"He's certainly not going to worry himself to death about this 
thing." He said, "I know I worry like hell. I think that 
I'm, Christ, ruining the company, you know, with this, and 
I can't do nothing about it, Just hope to God." Zanuck said, 
"You really want to quit?" I said, "I do." He said, "Well, 
why don't you take a vacation?" Well I felt like it, so I 
went down to Miami Beach, which was the only place I had ever 
been homesick for. I lived in Miami Beach a long time before 
the big buildup, and there was nothing down there then. I 
built a home dovm there, and I stayed down there about a month. 
And then Darryl called me and he said, "Look, would it be 
all right if you Just produce pictures you write yourself?" 


I said, "I daresay I could do that. That just consisted of 
picking the story, casting, and going through all of the routine 
of production." And so I came back. After that I never 
tried to produce pictures v^ith anybody else. I was just 
incapable, that's all. I v;as a v/riter, not only primarily, 
but solely, and so that v/as all right after that. I did my 
work pretty fast. I might have done tv;o pictures a year, 
maybe five in tv;o years, or something like that, and Darryl 
was satisfied with that and so that's the way I worked on 
forever v;ith him. 

Stempel: Why did you allow yourself to become a producer 
in the first place back in 1935? 

Johnson: Zanuck v;as making more pictures there you see. 
He'd moved over to Fox [in a merger of the Twentieth Century 
Corporation and Fox Studios], and he just couldn't do everything 
with Bill Goetz and Raymond Griffith. He had to name somebody 
else associate producer, and he named me and a couple of other 
fellows v;hom I can't remember now to be associate producers 
on pictures, hoping that we would take the responsibility 
for the pictures. For God's sake, they made 35 or AO pictures 
at that time. But I just couldn't do it. I suppose I took 
it because he asked me to and if he'd asked me to jump off 
the bridge I'd have done it. I mean I had such regard for 
him and of course being a producer sounded as if I had more 


control. I didn't really have a great deal more control, 
because Darryl at that time was [in charge of everything], 
even the hairdresser going to work on the leading lady, he 
had to o.k. it, and so on. It's just like when I finally 
directed, I became a writer-director-producer and this wasn't 
very good because if the picture flopped, who am I going to 
blame it on? Can't blame it on the cutter, you knov; [chuckles] 
and I came to a conclusion, I'm not facetious, that a man 
ought not to be all three of those things. There ought to 
be one more fellov;, he's either the producer, or the director, 
I had to be the v/riter, but there ought to be somebody else 
so that you didn't have the vjhole responsibility. At least 
I can't take that responsibility. Other guys can, but I have 
never felt that confident or that arrogant about v/hat I'm doing. 
So I alv/ays made a point that there was somebody else, not 
Just me alone in the thing. You know, few people know it, but 
Bing Crosby would never be a solo star. He had it in his 
contract. He had to co-star. Even v;hen he was at the top of 
his fame, he would never take on the responsibility of being 
the sole star of a picture. That was very smart of him, but 
very few actors are that smart, or are willing to share. 
Some of them don't need to, but Bing felt that he had to. Now 
I became a director, you might say almost in the autumn of 
my life, because I had to do a picture called Night People . 
Now I had done a picture called Th£ Mudlark in London, and 
Jean Negulesco directed it. I was the prodiicer and the writer. 


My position during these several months v;as to me uncomfortable. 
I can't lean over a director's shoulder and I didn't v;ant to. 
I could generally occupy my time v;ritlng another script, 
which I v/as doing. I v;as v;ritlng The Desert Fox . I don't 
knov: v;hat a producer does if he only has one picture. Christ, 
he can leave and go on a trip around the v/orld ordinarily, 
because he's not needed. He's certainly not needed in the 
writing of the thing. I'm surprised that more producers 
don't go crazy. Just do nothing. But when we decided to do 
this picture in Berlin, it suddenly occurred to me. I was 
dovm visiting Zanuck in Palm Springs, and I said, "Look, 
would you object if I directed this picture?" He said, 
"Why do you want to direct it?" I said, "Well, because I 
don't v/ant to stand around on one foot and then the other 
foot, because I'll have to be over there." He said, "V/ell, 
I think so. It's all right with me, but you'll have to get 
an o.k. from [Gregory] Peck. Peck's a big star, and he's got 
a right to an o.k. on the director, and he certainly has a right 
to say, 'Well, I don't want a man who's never directed before.'" 
Greg was in London, so I went over to see him. He had already 
accepted the commitment. I said, "Look, would you object 
to my directing this picture?" Greg looked a little surprised 
and he said, "Well, you wouldn't be the first writer that 
turned director." I said, "No." Several had done it. Huston 
had done it. Two or three others I couldn't think of. He 


said, "No, it's all right v;ith me." I had done a previous 
picture with him, Th_e G unfl ghter, of which I was the producer 
and writer. There's no [writer] credit I don't think on that. 

Stempel: There isn't. 

Johnson: No, but that was the way things were. So I became 
a director just so I v/ouldn't have to sit in my hotel room 
all day. I really v;asn't very anxious about the matter. I 
never had any great feeling about it. I was talking to Greg 
the other night, and I said, "I don't knov; v/hether you remember 
it or not, but, I remember a moment which tickles the hell 
out of me every time I think about it." Now Greg and I v;ere 
quite good friends. And we went to Berlin and the fii-st scene 
which I would direct v;as on the roof of a building in Berlin. 
There were about six people in this scene, including Greg. 
When v;e got it to the shape where v;e thought we'd have a take, 
and I was Just about to say, "Well, uh, let's go," I looked 
over to Greg, he was off-camera, and he was looking at me and 
I thought to myself, "I know v/hat this guy's thinking. He's 
saying to himself, 'Have I made a bloddy. Goddamned fool of 
myself? [laughter] This is it. This is the moment. Have 
I comraitted myself to a guy who may not know what the hell 
he's doing the next minute?'" When we looked at each other, 
we both realized what each other was thinking and bust out 
laughing. [laughter] Then we were off, and it worked out all 


right, or v/ell enough. But then came a time v;hen I decided 
to give up directing, and I remember that moment. I was 
directing a picture that I v;as making in Italy, and v^e v;ere on 
location in Sicily. It was about two o'clock in the morning. 
My God, it v/as cold. There v;as only one actor, Joe Gotten. 
We were out in an open field and there v/as an enormous rock 
there. And he, Joe, was supposed to be a radio reporter 
creeping across the field, getting near a battle, got the 
sound of battle [Johnson chuckles]. After he'd gone through 
it, I vjas shaking v;ith cold, and it was slippery, and I said, 
"All right, let's put the camera here." And Just then I 
said to myself, "V/hat the fuck am I doing here? Two o'clock 
in the morning. In Sicily. At the age of sixty. On a 
slippery rock. On a cold night. Saying, 'Put the camera 
here.' [laughter] Look, this is the end of it. From now 
on, let somebody else say, 'Put the camera here.' I'm going 
to be at home in bed. [laughter] To hell with the night." 
And so, at the end of that picture, I said, "That's all for 
directing. I will resume my role as writer." I was telling 
this to Groucho Marx one night. Groucho said, "It happened 
to me." He said, "V/e were making a picture called A Night in 
Casablanca . This was the final day of shooting. We were on 
a very short budget. We had to finish up that night. It was 
about midnight. And here I was, hanging by my knees, upside 
dovm. [Johnson chuckles] I said exactly the same thing. 


'What the hell. I'm sixty-tv/o years old. I've got enough 
money. V/hat the hell am I doing, hanging by my legs at tvjo 
o'clock in the morning, or one, or tv/elve o'clock, v;hatever 
the hell it v/as . That's all. That's all, brother. From now 
on, the rest of you Marx boys can go on, but include me out. 
I mean, I'm through v;ith that kind of stuff.'" 

Stempel: V/hy didn't you become a director earlier? When you 
became a producer, for example, in '35? 

Johnson: I never had any particular urge to do it. I wasn't 
sure I knev; enough. I realized later I didn't have to knov; 
enough, actually. A fellow was talking to me the other day, 
he has a television series started, and he said, "My God, the 
fellow that directed the first episode. Everything was just 
exactly different. You know, instead of a fellow doing a 
double take, he fell on the floor. I mean he did a big thing. 
I can't stop the man. I can't do it. Once that the director 
takes over, you're helpless. I Just cringed at what was going 
on." I said, "V/ell why don't you direct it yourself?" He 
said, "I don't know enough. I don't know all about those 
lenses." I said, "What the hell do I know about a lens?" 
I said, "Some directors do, but that's nothing to me. My 
business, as a director, was to direct people, to make them 
move and say the lines right and try to get some feeling of 
reality. I did it this way. V/hen we'd gO into a new set. 


I'd go to the cameraman, and I'd say, 'Now let's get the 
cutter. Bring the cutter here.' So I said, 'Now I'm going 
to direct this scene, however long it is, without any regard 
to the camera or anything else. I'm going to try to make 
these people express v/hat I wrote. Now you look at it, and 
figure out how many set-ups you'll needi'" On nearly all of 
my pictures, my daughter, Marjorie Fovjler, v/as the cutter. 
So I'd direct the people in the scene as if there v;ere no 
fourth v;all. VJhen it seemed to be moving all right, I'd go 
to the cameraman and the cutter who v/ere standing there v;atching. 
I said, |2^ov; what do you think?" And the cameraman v;ould 
say something like, "Look, can you make this guy walk down 
stage instead of across?" I said, "Yeah, that won't make 
any difference." He said, "Then v;e can save a set-up there." 
I'd say, "O.K., we'll do it that way once." Did it. Looked 
all right. Felt all right. And I'd say to Marjorie, "Now, 
what do you figure?" She'd say, "Well, we can cut it very 
well in seven set-ups." I said, "All right, but don't come 
to me tomorrow and say, 'I can't get the guy out of the room.'" 
[Stempel chuckles] I said, "Watch it. Now we'll do it that 
way. We can break it up, and we can add close-ups where you, 
the cutter, or the cameraman feels that it would be good to 
have a close-up or an over-the-shoulder shot or any other 
set-up." So I was telling this fellow, "Forget all of that 
stuff about the lens. The fellow will tell you, 'I'm going to 


use a C.8 lens.' What the hell do I knov; what it is, that's 
his business. He v;ants to look good. 'Either you do it 
right, that's all. You knovi v/hat I want.' And I got along 
like that." I'm a better writer than I was a director by any 
manner of means. I was v;hat you might call a run-of-the-mill 
director. I got the stuff, but nobody was going to say, "This 
is Lubitsch doing it," and I never cared very much really. 
To be a director you have to be dedicated, more than I am. I 
wasn't dedicated to that kind of thing. I never spent all 
night [Johnson chuckles] thinking of how to do this or that. 
I generally came on the set v;ithout knowing vfhat vias going to 
happen and v;ent at it. I don't knov; that I, or the picture, 
suffered in any v;ay by that, but nobody ever gave me an Oscar 
for it . 

Stempel: Maybe I'm too much influenced by the auteur theory 
that the director is the main creative force. But did you 
ever feel that you really — 

Johnson: He's not the main creative force. It's a thing 

that I've been after for years, and I have a theory about that. 

I think that the director became [so important], I don't say 

this is 100 percent true, but for the most part, during the 

early years that I was out here^ when pictures were written 

about by newspaper writers, you know, reviewers. I was convinced 

then and I'm still convinced that they created the importance 


of the director out of a sort of resentment against the v/rlter 
who they thought was probably getting a great deal more money 
than he should and they weren't getting it and they attributed 
a certain mystique to the director. I watched it so long and 
BO often about directors. So far as I was concerned they 
deserved little more credit, say, than the engineer who brings 
the Twentieth Century Limited from Chicago to New York. There's 
very little he can do except stay on the track, you knov;, and 
come into New York. I mean, he didn't create the track. He 
had no choice about v;hich way he v;as going. I think for the 
most part that v;as true of directors, but they carried on and 
after all, they v;ere the ones standing up in the middle from 
the time they wore leggings and carried megaphones and were 
shov;y people. They v;eren't slow to capitalize on this image . 
that was coming up, but I saw so many directors that hardly 
knew Indoors from out being given credit for it. Nov; this was 
also helped by the fact that in Europe long before here, the 
director was not only the czar, but the king of the thing. He 
was Herr Doktor , you know. I thought, I still think for the 
most part that the director, unless he participates in the 
creation of a picture, the script, and so on, is much overrated. 
I'll make exceptions. Exceptions like this: you'll never be 
able to tell from one or two pictures, or three pictures, but 
when Hitchcock is responsible for fifteen, twenty pictures 
and they have the same quality, the same characteristics, 


Hitchcock did It and he is entitled to that. A DeMille. was 
entitled to it, v/hether you like his stuff or not. He was the 
one that created it and he was the one that was entitled to 
whatever praise or blame that was attached to it. 

I saw so much high-toned writing about pictures that I 
had done, I mean about the director. I remember one in Vanity 
Fair , I think it was, when it was an important magazine', about 
a picture I'd written The Prisoner of Shark Island . John 
Ford directed it. This v;oman v;ho wrote the revlev;, and she v;as 
quite a v^ell-knovm critic, pointed out the characteristic 
John Ford treatment of this story. Though John, a good director, 
was entitled to credit for many, many parts of it, this v;oman 
chose four points v;hlch I happened to knov; all about. One v/as 
a big cut, vfhich v:as to her an example of Ford's elliptical 
directing, vjhlch I knew v;as a cut that Zanuck had made with 
Ford screaming like a banshee against it. 

Stempel: Which cut v;as this? 

Johnson: I can't remember that. I remembered at the time 
there vjere four of them which John had nothing whatever to do 

Stempel; What were the other three? 

Johnson: Oh, it's so long ago. I Just remember it was one 

of those things that stuck in my mind of the nonsense of writing 

about something you don't know about. Writers wrote like, for 


the peasants. They could write anything they wanted about 
the direction and the peasants accept it. Nobody knew different, 
except the people who were on the picture. And Just two of 
them had any voice, but nothing comparable to a critic's voice, 
so it was stated, and it went on. Time and again in those days 
it was a little bitter with me, being a pro-writer fellow, 
spotting these things, you know, this is a typical so-and-so's 
touch. V/ell, he threv-; a cup at a v:oman and it hit some other 
fellow, but it was written in the script, you know [Johnson 
laughs]. These things went on so long until I got tired or 
bored with thinking about it. It didn't matter much any more. 
Nothing to be done about it and you can't fight city hall. 
By this time, the role of the director had become supreme. 
VJell, I could understand that there v/as an economic basis for 
this dismissal of the v;riter. But also in those days every 
picture had [Johnson chuckles] any number of writers credited 
on the thing and how the hell can you say, "This is a wonderful 
script by Joe Doe, and Joe so-and-so, and so-and-so"? It got 
ridiculous, and they said in effect, "The hell with it. There's 
only one director. There's eight writers on the thing, and we 
haven't got the time or the ability or the opportunity to 
find out who was responsible for this script." And that went 
on, It still goes on a great deal, but in those days, the 
mid-30 's, in this town there were only three writers who con- 
sistently had solo credits: one was Dudley Nichols, one was 


Bob Rlskln, and one was myself. Others had "added dialogue 
by" and they had "from an idea by." They had all kinds of 
nutty credits on films. But I remember at one time Dudley 
was talking to me about it. He said, "You knov;, v/e're the 
only ones, v/ith Bob, v;ho have the right to put our names up 
there like a playv/right, because we did the whole thing." 
We did. There were so many collaborators— they alv:ays thought 
that three lousy writers would equal one good writer. They 
often do that now. [Johnson chuckles] The Screen Director's 
Guild managed to get into their contracts that the last credit 
before the picture should be the director. They raised bloody 
hell here recently, because the Screen Writer's Guild got a 
contract that you couldn't put over the film, "Howard Hav;ks's" 
such-and-such-a-thlng. They screamed because the Screen V/riter's 
Guild had outsmarted them. W. C. Fields used to say, "There's 
no music like the squeal of a sucker that's been taken." 
[chuckles] I don't know v/hether that will stand up or not. 
Some directors, or course, are entitled to that, but one out 
of fifteen. The rest of them follow the script and they can't 
teach actors to act and four out of five have no ear. Four 
out of five do not know v;hen an actor is reading that line 
right or not. And the actors are never sure of it, I wouldn't 
say never, that's nonsense, but you don't have to know. I 
know that Gary Cooper, as big a star as we had, Gary's idea 
was if he came to the period of a sentence without blowing it. 


that was it. He really had no more than that and I finally 
got some proof of this belief. Jean Negulesco directed two 
or three pictures for me, and I was very fond of him. I 
thought he was, artistically, a very good man, but actors 
came to me and said, "He doesn't tell us. He doesn't say 
anything. We keep doing it." Even in England, with The 
Mudlark , v/here we had Alec Guiness playing Disraeli, the wardrobe 
woman, who was a very good friend of Guineas', came to me and 
said, "Alec doesn't like to say anything, but he is very 
distressed. He's very unhappy about Jean." I said, "Why?" 
She said, "He doesn't tell me anything." I might have been in 
exactly the same position as Jean, viho stood in such av/e of this 
superb actor that he didn't have the guts to say anything to 
him. I knew Jean, and that that was Jean's fault and if you 
had a good, understanding actor, the line v/ould be read right. 
But, Guiness, like almost any actor, would read it what he 
thinks right, but if you turn to him later and say, "Look, 
don't throv; that line away so much. Let's do another one, and 
punch it just a little more," he's happy. Somebody's paying 
attention. Anyway, we were going to do a picture called How 
To Marry A Millionaire . Well, I knew Jean, but as I say, 
he'd leave it to a dialogue director to go over the lines and 
that's not good enough. So I made a deal with him. I never 
heard of anybody making a deal like this and I don't know if 
anybody else would have permitted it. I said, "Hey Jean, would 


you let me rehearse the actors and their lines before each 
scene?" He said, "I'd be delighted." So that's the v/ay we 
did the picture: he'd break on one set and he'd call me 
and he'd say, "Look, we're moving into the apartment. You 
want to come over and rehearse these people?" So I'd go 
over. There v/as Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, 
Bill Pov;ell, and David V/ayne. Each time I'd go over the 
scene v;ith them and let them read it first, and then I would 
read it. Although I'm not an actor, at least I knew v;here 
the emphasis v;ent, and I could give them something of the 
tempo. The actors were pleased as hell, Jean v/as pleased, 
and the picture turned out about five times as good as anything 
Jean had done before, simply because somebody had taken the 
trouble. Betty Grable was quite capable of delivering a 
line very well. She's a very good comedienne. I didn't know 
what Bacall could do because I'd never seen her play comedy, 
but she could play it first rate. And Marilyn, I didn't 
know what to look for there [chuckles]. 

They, especially the old-time directors. Just couldn't 
take the words seriously. I had a cameraman, Charlie Clarke, 
he was clowning, but he'd come over to me and say, "All right 
now Chief, where do the actors say the titles?" [laughter] 
Such a wonderful throwback, you know. "All right, let's see 
where they say the titles." I looked at a picture last night, 
Barbarella, a very tiresome picture. But that director, oh. 


Stempel: Vadira. 

Johnson: Vadim. He clearly has no ear. The v;ay these people 
v;ere talking, they lost fifty percent simply by not reading 
lines right. I could see that, I could feel it. I remember 
[Samuel] Goldwyn said once, "If a director doesn't lose more 
than five or ten percent of the script, I think he's doing good. 
Soixie directors can add five percent or ten percent; those are 
the great ones. But the others are just fellov;s v/ho make the 
run v;ith a capful of marbles and only lose a few on the v;ay." 
I suppose I got to be a kind of nuisance about the thing, but 
it did seem to me not exactly a fraud, but just a bad business, 
giving them all the credit for a thing that v;as done sometimes 
by actors, most of the time by v/riters, rarely by directors. 

Stempel : I did v;ant to talk about Prisone r of Shark Island . 
Hov; did it come to be decided that you v;ould do a film about 
Dr. Mudd? 

Johnson: I remember the genesis of that one very v;ell. Zany,ck 
called me in one morning and he had a clipping out of Time and 
I can't remember v;hat this v;as— the death of Dr. Mudd? It 
couldn't have been that. He wouldn't have lived that long. 
Anyway, it was about that long, and it had something to do 
with Dr. Mudd who had served for a long period in the Dry 
Tortugas. He was a prisoner after the assassination of Lincoln. 
Zanuck said, "Does this sound like a picture to you?" And I 


said, "It might." I had never heard of him. [chuckles] I 
knew that there was a conspiracy and I knew that Mrs. Surat 
had been hanged and I knew this, that, and the other about it. 
Zanuck said, "VJell, why don't you look into it and see if we 
can get something?" So there was a book by Lloyd Lewis called 
Myths After Lincoln v;hich I had read some years ago. It was 
a very interesting book and among his stories was about 
vfhatever became of John V/ilkes Booth, whether he was actually 
killed in that barn, a number of stories like that. It led 
on [chuckles] and I finally got from VJashington the transcript 
of the trial of these people. It became a fascinating story 
and evidently some of them v;ere hanged, four or five, I forget 
hov; many. Although Mudd was a Southern sympathizer and had 
been at Mrs. Surat 's boarding house on one or tv;o occasions, 
it was far from certain that he had had any part in this. From 
what research I could do, I came to the conclusion that we 
were just as justified in saying that he was innocent. So 
I went to v/ork on the story on the basis that Mudd was a man 
who was accidentally brought into this thing and the trial v;as 
in effect saying like a Scottish verdict, not proven, but. 
Just for the hell of it, we'll give him six years for being 
around there. It was true that he had been the only doctor 
down there [at the prison] v;hen some kind of epidemic broke 
out, and he was finally released. [chuckles] 

I remember shortly after that my secretary came in and 


said, "Mr. Johnson, there's a woman who just called from the 
bus station. She says she is little baby Mudd." [chuckles] 
What the hell does she mean by that? V/ell, Dr. Mudd, who was 
V/arner Baxter and Gloria Stewart, Mrs. Mudd, there was a baby 
there, or a child, or something. Now this child had grown 
up and v;as now a daffy old woman [chuckles] and she'd come 
out here. She v;as down at the bus station and said she was 
coming directly out. I said, "What the hell am I gonna do 
about that?" When she came out, I said, "I'll Just turn you 
over to the Legal Department," and I left the studio. She 
hung around for avjhile, and I think they gave her some money. 
Just one of those things. My God, when I did Jesse James , 
Jesse James' relatives cropped up all over the middle west 
and the funny thing about it is most of 'em worked in banks. 

Stempel: How appropriate. 

Johnson: Jesse James' baby, v/hich we had been so tender about, 
who was now an old man in Kansas City, chained in the attic 
or something, a nut, senile. V/ell, he'd been paid off. But 
there was a young woman about 23 or 2^1, a relative. She was 
the most aggressive of the descendants, and she showed up 
out there at the studio. She didn't want any money, but she 
wanted to be an actress. She had an unfortunate voice, let's 
put it like that. It was real hillbilly, and bad, and I asked 


Darryl, [chuckles] "Now vfhat are v:e going to do with this 
crov;bar?" He said, "V/e'll send her to acting school." 
[chuckles] We had an acting school on the lot there so we 
sent this young woman to acting school for about ten or twelve 
weeks, and I think maybe somebody made a deal in which she 
was supposed to have a part in it. It was just impossible. 
But we made it. We put her in a train that Jesse held up. 
[chuckles] She was one of the passengers [chuckles], perfectly 
happy. You know, point the gun at her. [Johnson indicates 
her acting scared], 

Stempel: On Prisoner of Shark Island, v/here did you get the 
opening sequence about Lincoln asking that "Dixie" be played? 
Is that a true story? 

Johnson: Well, it's true in the sense that that was in Lloyd 
Lewis' book. I didn't make it up, I mean. It v;as so beautifully 
dramatic. John [Ford] did a good Job on that picture, very 
good job. He did a lousy job on Tobacco Road . I thought I 
knew Tobacco Road and Tobacco Road people backv/ards and forwards. 
At least I knew something about them, and I could follow 
their reasoning, and I think it was written that way. And 
they called John in to direct it, and I remember sitting in 
the projection room with him, and you know he was such an 
arrogant bastard, and they were testing some guy. Dude was 
the name of this fellow, and in this test, he was screeching 


and raging. I was a bit nervous about John too, he was an 
angry man, all the time, and I said, "Look, are you going to 
play this fellow that way?" He said, "Who's being tested here, 
the director or the actor?" I said, "For God's sake, I can 
makea comment, can't I?" I could, but a lot of good it did. 

Stempel: That was one I did see over at Fox also, and the way 
Dude was played really offended me. You know... 

Johnson: V/ell, he was, he was, he acted demented about it... 

Stempel: Yes . , , 

Johnson: And he wasn't demented. I didn't know all about it 
but I remember this. John really had no feeling of humor. 
He had a feeling for wild comedy in which Ward Bond v;ould hit 
John Wayne, and they'd all hit each other with flour barrels, 
that kind of stuff, you knov:. But anything softer than that, 
he Just didn't understand that. He didn't v;ant to do it. 

He was an arrogant director, and he humiliated actors and 
he humiliated them out of this dreadful frustration of his 
that he was not responsible for the words. He had some strange 
delusion that the words weren't dovm there until his eyes went 
over the paper like some Goddamned chemical. He just brought 
them out. They were from his mind which gave him all kinds 
of legends whereby he'd say, "You think the picture's too long? 
All right, we'll take 15 pages and throw 'em out." Well, this 


has always tickled a lot of people except It wasn't true. 
[chuckles] It couldn't be done. And you knew it bothered 
him, but it did you no good because he was in charge. And 
he scared people, he intimidated people, and. he intimidated 
everybody but Zanuck. 

I remember when we started doing this picture, Prisoner 
of Shark Island, Baxter kept using one of the phoniest 
Southern accents I'd ever heard. I went to John and I said, 
"Look, can't you tell Warner to speak normally? Southerners 
don't know they've got an accent to begin v/ith, and they 
don't know it until they hear somebody mocking it, and then 
they get their backs up." John said, "Well, I've spoken to 
him about that," but Baxter had an ego about equal to Ford's, 
and he kept on using the accent. It was very bad. Zanuck 
spoke to me one day at the rushes. I said, "What do you think 
of his accent?" He said, "I think it's God awful. I don't 
know what he's doing it for." I said, "I've spoken to Ford 
a couple of times, but I don't know whether Ford can't 
get him to do anything or what." Zanuck said, "Come on, let's 
walk on down to the set and talk to him about it." We went 
down there. Ford was such a frightening thing at that time. 
He had been at RKO [chuckles] and there were two fellows who 
produced all his pictures and they tossed coins to see who 
would look at the rushes. You know, the loser looked at the 
rushes. [chuckles] They were scared they'd have to say some- 


thing to him. Anyway, we got dovm to the sot, and Darryl 
called Ford over and we went dovm to the end of the stage, and 
Darryl said, "Look, what about this accent that Baxter's using?" 
Ford said, "V/ell what about it?" Darryl said, "VJell, I think 
it's bad, I think it's giving a bad effect. Have you spoken 
to hira about it?" Then John said, "Yes." Darryl said, "V/ell 
can't you do anything with hira about it?" Ford said, "Now 
if you're not satisfied with the way it..." I never saw 
anything like it. Zanuck said, "Are you threatening me? Are 
you threatening me you'll walk off this set?" Ford said, "V/ell, 
I was gonna see v;hich..." And Darryl said, "Don't ever threaten 
me. I throw fellas off this set. They don't quit on me." 
I never saw a thing like this. I was embarrassed. [chuckles] 
I thought Zanuck v;as gonna punch him in the nose. Ford had 
him outweighed by ^0 or 50 pounds. I was glad to get away 
from there. I just didn't want to witness this sort of thing. 
Not that John didn't survive it. It happened that a few months 
later I got on John's boat, and around there were Gene Markey 
and two or three other boatmen. I Just came up for some reason, 
and I remember there' d been much discussion about v;hether 
there would be some, ah, explosions, between Zanuck and Ford 
if they came into conflict. I remember Markey said, "How'd 
you get along with Darryl?" Ford couldn't have realized that 
the only person who was a witness happened to be sitting there. 
He said to Gene, "Oh, well, we had a little meeting. We had 


a little discussion. There's been no trouble since." Then 
he looked up, and I v/as listening, and he said, "You v/ere 
there, Nunnally." And I said, "I remeraber," [chuckles] but 
it v;as such bad luck for him, I made no point of the Goddamned 
thing, but it v;as a funny situation. 

Stempel: Another thing that interested me in Prisone r of Shark 
Island is that you had a character in the doctor's v;ife that 
seems to shov; up quite often in your movies: the loving v;ife 
who is completely devoted to her husband. I noticed that this 
was a character that shows up again and again in your pictures 
and shows up quite strongly in that one because the v;ife 
tries to get him out of the prison and everything like that. 
What in particular attracts you to this character? 

Johnson: I don't think it's attraction, it was lack of 
imagination. Standard equipment is called for in that situation. 
I didn't have the inspiration to give her any other character. 
I didn't know that any other character would be any better. 
After all, it was his story, and if he'd had any wife with 
any strength or any particular individuality, the story might 
not have gone the same way. Stock figure that's all. I could 
do her better. There was one fellow in there, John Cavradine, 
that John Ford loathed because Cavradine had an ego which was 
about three times John Ford's, and Ford could not put him down 
in any way, even though Cavradine was a minor player. I 


remember one time. Ford v;as alv/ays surrounded by an avfful 
lot of his group, apple polishers, Irish, and John would 
chew on his handkerchief and tell some corny joke, and they'd 
all roll on the ground laughing. Ford would look up and there 
v^as Cavradine looking at him kind of curious, and this time 
he walked over and patted John Ford on the buttocks and 
said, "All right, John," and walked off the set. Ford just 
trembled, he couldn't get anything on Cavradine. [lots of 
laughing] But he'd always ask for Cavradine because Cavradine 
was a good character player. He knew he had something going 
for him v;ith Cavradine. 

Stempel: It's interesting you should mention Cavradine, because 
something struck me about the Cavradine character, and also 
the character of the Secretary of VJar earlier [in the picture]. 
This is something I've also noticed in nearly all your pictures, 
that you make even a character like the villain Cavradine is 
supposed to be, in a sense sympathetic, because you're giving 
him a very good motivation. He's very bothered by the death 
of Lincoln and it makes him much more acceptable and much 
more human as a character. The same way with the Secretary 
of War. You emphasize in his speech that he's trying to 
protect the nation. I wonder if this was something you did 

Johnson: Yes, you bet. It's the difference between melodrama 


and drama. In melodrama they are black or white, but I don't 
think I've ever v/ritten a heavy, I've tried not to, that I 
didn't try to project it from his point of view, that he was 
right from his position. And even in Roiamel, even the Nazis, 
I think you get a better story than if he's not just a villain. 
He ought to have some position that he's genuine, sincere, or 
whatever you want to call it, from his point of view. It 
may be entirely wrong from my point of view and the point of 
view of the audience, but you've got a better character if 
he has some reasonable basis or something like that. It 
always ought to be done like that. You just can't let them be 
Mack Svrain [chuckles] or something like that. He's got to 
have some reason for what he's doing or else it's pure melodrama, 

Stempel: Som.e other time I vfant to get into the various Nazis 
that you've done on film. 




Stempel: You mentioned that you, Dudley Nichols, and Robert 
Rlskin \iere the only three writers in the 30 's who had your 
name all alone on credits for pictures as "written by." 

Johnson: That may not be strictly true, maybe Sonya Leveim 
had sole credit. It's possible, but we were the three con- 
sistent ones. 

Stempel: This is the general question I v/anted to get into. 
Why were you three and any of the others the ones that did? 
Aside from the fact that you v;ere all good v;riters, v/hat in 
each of your cases enabled you to be in that position? V/hy 
weren't there other vfriters v;ho were also in that position? 

Johnson: I think there v;ere other writers, but in those days, 
producers weren't exactly [in favor of] committee v;riting but 
they felt a little better if there were more than one writer. 
The town was full of teams. You know, sometimes that works 
all right, like [Russell] Grouse and Howard Lindsay in New 
York, and Billy V/ilder and Charlie Brackett here. Often 
writers coming in from New York felt rather above the mechanical 
form of a script. They Just wouldn't bother with it and it 
was a simple thing, cutting, wiping, iris in and iris out. 


They could run you crazy v;lth those things. I v/orked on the 
first two pictures v/lth VJally Young, Arthur Kober, Arthur 
Sheekman, Nat Perrin, I think there v/ere a number, until I 
got v;ith Zanuck and then he Just didn't say anything about it. 
Yes he did. He put a fellov; with me named [Henry] Lehrman, 
a v;onderful fellow who came out of Keystone and claimed to 
have devised Charlie Chaplin's little tramp outfit. I knov/ 
he worked close to Chaplin for many, many years, and he kind 
of lives in history. But one of Zanuck' s sharp remarks to 
him is famous. After v;e ran a picture one night and Henry 
Lehrman said, "Darryl," and Darryl said, "Goddamnit, don't 
say yes until I finish." This was Henry Lehrman, and he 
worked v;ith mie . Then he sav: I v;asn't doing anything with him, 
since he was an aging fellow and he was just on the payroll. 
But after that I went on The House of Rothschild alone. 
From then on, I never worked with anybody that I can think 
of. I've rewritten peoples' stuff, but I've never worked 
with anybody. I never felt very well of companionate writing, 
and I just didn't see how it would work, though it worked 
for some people. George Kaufman worked with half a dozen 
or a dozen and did very well in it. Thank God, I didn't 
have to do it, and nobody can tell me to. I think it was 
probably true of Dudley, and Riskin, he made almost his whole 
career with Frank Capra and I have no doubt that Capra did 
work with him as a director does with a writer. I'd say 


Capra was a nice fellov:. I worked V7ith him, you knov;, in 
that For Love O'Hike . Zanuck was, you might say, happy 
as a lark with me. He saw he had to get out 30 or ^10 pictures 
a year and he delegated authority in a way, but he kept a 
tight rein on everybody. One of the producers was always 
coming in with a writer, and Zanuck would have to go over 
this and work with him for av:hile and so on. To be able to 
make 30 pictures, he must have about 90 sets of people engaged 
in this script or that script. So, better or worse, he liked 
me, because he'd hand me the stuff, and he didn't have to see 
me again for 10 or 12 weeks. He didn't have to bother about 
that at all. Not that I v;as going to bring him a perfect 
script, because I wasn't. But, it was easier to pick up a 
script which he had found from out of my experience wouldn't 
be a disaster. It v/ould have the form or shape and it may 
have many faults, but one session, you knov;, and maybe a 
second session later, [v/ould take care of it] and so that 
became our v;ay of v;orking. 

I became almost like a contractor, in this sense. Kenny 
Hyman called me v;hen I was in New York. He sent me a book 
called The Dirty Dozen, and wanted me to do the script for it. 
I read it and I thought it was good exciting stuff, and I said, 
"V/ell I'd like to but I won't be back to London for at least 
another month." I was working on a play. He said, "You 
know I like to work very close to the writer." I said, "You 


might as well drop me, because I don't want to work close to 
you." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Look Kenny, 
you're a good friend of mine. As far as I'm concerned, you've 
given me a job, and the arrangement of the Job is that in 
20 vfeeks, I'm to hand you a script. That's what the contract 
says. It doesn't say I'm an employee, I'm a contractor. I 
found out through working with Zanuck, that I can make more 
speed, more time [this way]. If I finish this thing, then 
we can go to work on it, or you can go to work on it all you 
want, but if I have to stop every tv;o or three weeks for you 
to examine things, or talk about things, Christ, I could be 
^0 v;eeks doing this because I could get upset and say 'Christ, 
I've got to rev;rite this nov/,' and start, over and all that kind 
of stuff." Kenny didn't understand that at first. He never 
had worked with anybody like that. I said, "Suppose vie drop 
it, because that's the only v;ay I can do it." Then his father, 
Eliot, whom I knew, called me and said, "What is this routine 
with you and Kenny?" I explained it to him, and he understood 
at once. He said, "All right forget it, I'll tell Kenny and 
you work exactly the way you've always worked. Wouldn't dream 
of asking you to work differently." So, that's the way I've 
done since. 

On The Frontiersman , I never saw Jack Warner after we 
first talked it over and he gave very explicit directions. 
He said, "I'd like a big two-a-day western." Next time I saw 


him was about eight months later, v/hen I handed him the script. 
Then v;e did revisions and so on. Same v;ay with Scuba Dub a . 
Just don't ask me about it because I get upset while I'm 
v/rlting. Once I've written "Fade-out", "The End", I'm no 
longer upset about the thing. I can look at it very objectively, 
and I'd like for you to like it, but I can understand that 
I've gone v/rong in this instance, that I could have done better 
here. Then I v/ant people to look at it and make their 
comments. Zanuck used to do that v;ith a script. He had the 
darndest collection of people to send it to, because he put 
on the payroll over there people v;ho contributed to his life. 
For instance, he had a fellow named Aidan Roark. Nov?, Aidan 
Roark v;as either a nine or ten goal man in polo. You don't 
get any higher. He v;as possibly one of the four or five best 
polo players in the world. Darryl put him on over there in 
some capacity, I don't know v;hat exactly. He had an office. 
And I'd get comments from him. He'd read the script and it 
was like he'd managed to pick up some of the vocabulary, and 
I remember one I treasured. He said, "This is a rapid machine- 
gun-paced comedy that seems to drag a little." Zanuck showed 
it to me. He was laughing at it, and I said, "That's the first 
time I've ever seen a U-turn in a sentence." [Stempel laughs] 
Here's a fellow goes both ways. Zanuck had Mike Romanoff over 
there on the payroll and Mike was put in the fan mail department, 
and he put the Romanoff crest on his door. Mike said, "Apparently 


all they send me is the mall that comes from people v/antlng 
to knovf the anatomical dimensions of our actors." Must 
be a lot of fun in there. Darryl took care of an av;ful lot 
of people like that. 

Stempel: I asked you about your becoming a producer, and you 
mentioned that a good reason for this was because the Tv/entieth 
Century Corporation became Twentieth Century-Fox and Zanuck 
had to do more pictures and therefore, put you in charge. What 
other changes in the v;ay you v;orked or in your life came 
about because of this change from Twentieth Century Corporation 
to Tvjentieth Century-Fox, and hov: was this different from 
working at Paramount? 

Johnson: At Paramount, I really was a bit lost around there, 
and I didn't know very much. When I went to work with Zanuck 
at Twentieth Century, Zanuck seemed to regard me as a writer 
and not as a part of a team that was going to do something. 
That was very good. Becoming a producer must have been about 
•35, and on my head were four or five scripts being done by 
different people and I just was no good at that. 

Stempel: Was this the big change for you when Twentieth 
Century became Twentieth Century-Fox? 

Johnson: Yes. I know that I put up with this Job [producer], 
for maybe a year or two years, and then I decided life wasn't 


worth it. I just couldn't do It. 

Stempel: I had a fev/ questions about some of the pictures 
that you v:ere on just as producer. One of the first of them 
was The Road to Glory, v;hlch I understand was an adaptation 
of a French film that Zanuck had bought and he used the flying 
scenes out of the French picture. He had an American script 
done, and V/llliam Faulkner worked on this. How did Faulkner 
happen to come v;ork at Tv/entieth Century-Fox? 

Johnson: That v;as the v;ay pictures vrere done. Fox had bought 
a picture vjhlch v;as a big hit abroad, called VJooden Crosses , 
Croix du Bols , and it had some extraordinary battle not flying, 
battle scenes. The legend v;as that seven or eight men were 
killed in the making of this picture and I could well believe 
it. Those Goddamn French probably didn't tell them v;here the 
bombs were. I v:as put to work on this patchwork affair, to 
see if I couldn't work out an American script that could 
utilize these battle scenes and some dramatic stuff that didn't 
have speech in it. There was a lot of that. He engaged 
Howard Haviks to direct it and Howard is a weird fellow, and 
very canny. He did the right thing. He would always try to 
get Charlie McArthur and Ben Hecht to do this script. Well, 
he couldn't have done better. He wanted to protect himself. 
I don't know how he came into Faulkner, but at this time I 
was producing and I was producing this picture. Theoretically 


not writing it. I don't think Faulkner gave a damn about 
any of this stuff. He came out to make a fev? thousand dollars 
a week. I don't suppose he made a great deal from his books 
at that time. I said, "Can I get a screonv/riter with him?" 
Darryl said, "Yes," and I said, "I suppose I'll get Joel 
Sayre." Well, that was fine. Joel had written scripts and 
so I put them together to work on this. This resulted in 
Just two being drunk instead of one. Bill was real classy 
bottle man, and Joel v:as not far behind him and I don't suppose 
there v;ere ^0 lines that Bill wrote that v;e could use, and I 
don't think he cared much. Sayre v;rote a good deal of it, 
and I think I rev;rote most of it, mainly because they v;ere 
writing interminable scenes and it had to be edited, had to 
be brought back dovm. 

Funny thing about it vms after this picture came out, 
we viere sued in one of the most peculiar v:ays . A young 
fellow, from Jackson, Tennessee, who had been driving a milk 
wagon and as far as anybody knev/ had never written anything, 
brought suit against Twentieth Century-Fox for some elaborate 
sum. These suits were constantly being brought, I suppose 
still are, and you settled, $5000, $10,000, it's not worth 
it to fight it. This young fellow, whose name I can't 
remember, had joined the army and naturally he was a hero. 
He looked the part. There was this young American warrior 
and a big corporation was trying to screw him out of some 


money. On the face of it you would have said that the script 
being v;rltten by V/illiara Faulkner, Joel Sayre, ?nd myself, 
another old-timer , viouldn't have to fall back on something 
from a boy from Jackson, Tennessee, but for some reason. Fox 
decided to fight it, or else they v/ouldn't settle. It became 
clear v;hat had happened. In those days companies would give 
out copies of the script to some fan magazines, v/hlch v;ould 
sort of dramatize the thing. The boy had gotten a copy of 
this, and copied out some of the dialogue, and sent it to Pox 
and they sent it back, because they don't open unsolicited 
stuff. And he claimed that they had opened it, and pinched 
his dialogue. For one thing, he had about six lines of 
dialogue in succession, word for word. Now, that's not 
chance. T;';o lines, yes, three lines, maybe, but you can't 
go six, chance doesn't go that far. Anyway, he fought this 
thing. They came out here and took depositions and I was 
on the chair all day, day and a half. Zanuck had to leave 
the studio and come over to fight this Goddamn thing. By 
then we'd all scattered and so the lav;yer and the young soldier 
went down to Oxford, Mississippi, v:here they had to wait 
three days, until Bill sobered up, to get his deposition. 
Then they went to Philadelphia, where Joel was on a newspaper, 
and I had no doubt that they had to wait a day or two for Joel. 
The outcome of the thing was something perfectly extraordinary: 
when the thing was all laid in front of the Judge, the judge 


not only threw the case out, but he recommended to the Bar 
Association that they disbar this lawyer. The Judge thought 
that the lawyer had really nudged this boy into it and they 
were going to collect a lot of dough. That was Road to Glory. 
I think it came around like this. The book Paths of Glory 
had come out by Humphrey Cobb, and I read it, and I wanted to 
Co 3t very much, but we were even more timorous in those 
days then we became afterward. It was a v;onderful story. 
This general sacrificing hundreds and thousands of people 
so he could get his star. Zanuck said, "No, can't do that," 
because every country at that time vrould say they'd not only 
bar your picture, but bar the pictures by all American companies, 
you knov;, threats like that, v/hich successfully stopped 
anything that they didn't v;ant . But the picture had Frederic 
March and Lionel Barrymore, and old Greg Ratoft. I didn't think 
it was much except the battle scenes. 

Stempel: Another picture you also produced v;as one called 
The Country Doctor , Vfhich was supposedly about the doctor who 
had delivered the Dionne Quintuplets, and I gather from reading 
the reviews at the time that the business with the Dionne 
Quintuplets only occurs in the last part of the picture and 
most of the picture deals with the Doctor's efforts to set 
up a clinic. Was this actually the story of the doctor, or was 
this sort of made up to go into a picture to capitalize...? 


Johnson: I can't i^emernber what the source of that sort of 
story was. It was an immensely successful story and I think 
Henry King directed it, and Henry was very ingenious. He 
went to Ontario or wherever it was and took a lot of pictures, 
shots of the babies. I can't remember the genesis of this 
story. The doctor was a very nice man, and a true country 
doctor, delivery with a satchel. He was like out of a cartoon. 
He was so good at it and Jean Herscholt, he v;as very good and 
it was a very successful picture, full of real corn, but it 
did have right at the nugget, a scene. This was one time 
when there v;as a comedy scene that the people knevr in advance 
what v.'as going to happen. V/hen Herscholt brought out that 
first baby, and John Qualen, Papa Dionne, asked Herscholt, 
"Another one?", the audience rolled with this, because they 
knew it in advance and you had to watch Qualen and he'd 
almost faint. The v;hole thing v/as one of the most v/onderful 
sequences of comedy I've ever seen. So successful it Goddamn 
near threv/ Qualen out of business. He told me some years later 
he had come out here as a dramatic actor, but this picture 
was an immense hit and John Qualen as Papa Dionne, everybody 
knew him. The next picture he was in, he was playing a French 
soldier, some heroic role, and v;hen he walked on the screen 
everybody said, "Papa Dionne, hi Papa Dionne." John said, 
"Well, I had hard times getting a part, because who wants 
somebody yelling 'Papa Dionne' in the middle of a story?" 


I liked that. 

That v;as a time v;hen actually v;e v/ere creating stories, 
from little things, from an incident like that, or Doctor 
Mudd, Prisoner of Shark Island . We were looking everyv/here 
for sources, and then we managed to make a dramatic arrangement 
of the thing. That was the way movies were always done, for 
the most part, until 15-20 years ago, and vie began on plays, 
adapting books, and from then on, when they tried to find 
original screen plays [for the Academy Awards] every year, they 
could hardly find enough to nominate five. They Just aren't 
there. Nobody does it, or very few people do it. They feel 
safer v:ith something that has already been tested somewhere 
else. By then, v;e were buying books for characters and 
we were actually buying the vjork and effort and the talent and 
the man has already done a good deal of the work for you. 
After that, it became sort of a cabinet maker's Job, to cut 
it and edit it, and make it into a movie. 

Stempel: Another one that you worked on at the time that 
sounded like it got its origins in this sort of creation of 
a story to fit a situation was a picture called Love Under 
Fire , which was about Don Ameche chasing Loretta Young through 
Spain at the time of the Civil V;ar. It sounded like the whole 
thing was Just created to take advantage of the background 
of the Spanish Civil V/ar. 


Johnson: Well, that's a picture, I think my name is on it 
as a producer, but I've never seen it. This was about the 
time I left on vacation. 

Stempel: This vjas '37, I think. 

Johnson: That must have been it. I don't even knov; who directed 
it. I was in such despair about the whole business, and 
so many people had tampered with it that I had no interest 
in it, I've never seen The Dirty Dozen , because they tampered 
with that. Like somebody telling the prospective father 
that there's a little question, so after that the father is 
not as excited as he might be. (TAPE OFF v;hile Johnson got 
cigarettes) . 

Stempel: One other picture that I do v;ant to talk about 
was the Shirley Temple picture that started out to be called 
The Bov^ery Princess . I kept looking for credits for a picture 
called The Bowery Princess and I couldn't find any. Then I 
discovered that the name was changed to Dimples by reading 
a book about Shirley Temple, and it said in there that the 
title was changed, because Twentieth Century-Fox got mail 
saying that you can't put Shirley Temple in anything that has 
to do with Bowery. V/as this the reason? 

Johnson: I don't know. There was another story that was all 
cooked up — I can't remember any source — but all 1 can remember 


is that I thought I v;ould like to use Shirley as Little Eva. 
I don't know hov; I got around to Uncle Tom's Cabin in connection 
with this thing, but she did play Little Eva and we put her 
on wires I think, and took her on to heaven. That's about 
all I can remember about the thing, except Frank Morgan v;as 
in it, a dear and wonderful comedian. I remember how flab- 
bergasted actors were when they worked with Shirley. They 
thought they were coming in on some little girl v;ho moved like 
an automaton or something, and they came on a little girl v;ho 
was so professional. I remember sitting v;ith Frank once — 
he'd never seen Stepin Fetchit, and Stepin Fetchit was in this 
picture— I don't knov; in what capacity, but he came in, "Yassa" — 
you had that kind of stuff you know. Frank said, "Good God, 
that's my style." He v;as going to sue him. After v;orking 
a fev; scenes v;ith Shirley, he said to me, "This is unbelievable. 
I reached about the edge in that last scene. Her back was 
to the camera and I was saying my lines," and Frank had a 
way of hesitating v;hich often was forget fulness, "She prompted 
me. I never heard a thing like that in my life." She knew 
his lines. 

She was, I thought, a darling little girl, and by then 
was living the most extraordinary life. I got to know her 
mother and father pretty well. They lived in a little frame 
house in Santa Monica. They were completely unaware of the 
enormous celebrity that this child had become. They finally 


had to move v;hen people began arriving In cars at their little 
house all day. They'd walk right up on the porch. Hundreds 
of people during the day. Looking in the v/indow. Shirley 
would go dovm to play on the beach v;hen she v;as six or seven 
with a shovel and a bucket, and start playing in the sand or 
something. She'd ge having a fine time digging a cave or 
something like that, and she'd look up and she was surrounded 
by other children, grovm people v;ho'd recognized her. She had 
to pick up the shovel — nobody played v;ith her— and go home, 
Afterv/ard, they bought a house v.'ith some kind of wall 
around it and one side of it v;as a back road. Norman Tavrog, 
the director, said, "You knov; my wife and I vjere driving 
along, cutting across through this back road, and saw vfhat 
you see many times: two little kids with a lemonade stand. 
Not many people travel this road, but there they v/ere — a 
pitcher of lemonade and a little sign "5<t a glass." Norman 
says, "That looks like Shirley Temple, so I turned around and 
went back and sure enough she was there selling lemonade 
with another little girl— just like any other kid." They 
didn't know. Harry Brand, out at Fox publicity, said, "Mrs. 
Temple came to m.e one day and said, 'Mr. Brand, we're going 
to take Shirley to Honolulu for a vacation--the three of us 
are going' — another one too, a boy — and she said, 'Wonder if 
you know anybody there. You might give a letter of introduction 


so somebody may shov/ us the sights.'" Harry said he thought 
she v;as kidding him, and he said, "VJell, I'll tell you, don't 
worry about it. I'll cable some people so that you'll be 
met, and you'll have somebody take care of you." They sailed 
and arrived in Honolulu. Honolulu had given its children a 
half day holiday to see Shirley Temple, There v;ere 100,000 
people waiting to greet this little girl coming off the boat. 
They didn't have the faintest idea of anything like that. 
That was hov; ignorant they were. Mr. Temple v;as a teller 
in a bank and he got promoted. They gave him a better desk, 
because people came to do business with Shirley Temple's 
father. Then one day he took me aside. He said, "I got two 
letters from women v/anting me to father a child for them." 
He was a big, dumpy man. I said, "That's good, but don't be 
unfaithful to her." 

Stempel: I wanted to ask you about another picture that you 
were on called Nancy Steele is Missing . In the Saturday 
Evening Post [July 15, 1939] story on Louella Parsons that 
you helped on, you mentioned that the Parsons radio shov: had 
done a dramatization of Nancy Steele is Missing . When people 
were asked coming into the theater at one of the showings 
the next day, something like 8? out of 100 said that they had 
heard about this on the radio. How did you go about getting 
a show done on the Parsons Show? 


Johnson: V/ell, I wouldn't have known — I don't even remember 
that. Publicity arranged it—that's how. Nancy Steele is 
Missing was interesting to me because there was another picture 
I was sort of half-assed producing, I'd written it. Zanuck 
called me in and he said, "Have you ever heard of a director 
named Dr. Otto Ludwig Preminger?" I said, "Yes, I have 
heard of him. He directed a very successful courtroom play 
in New York." He said, "We've signed him and will it be all 
right with you if he directed? He's never directed any pictures." 
I saidj "I have no objection." I don't know if it would have 
done any good if I had had, you know. Then he v;as Dr. Preminger. 
He v;ent to v/ork on it. I liked him very much. Still do. 
At the end of about a vreek, Darryl called me in and said, "How 
do you think this picture's going?" I said, "I think it's 
doing all right — it seems all right to me. The stuff is 
coming out." He said, "Don't you think it's a little slow?" 
I said, "No, I don't. I don't find that." He said, "Well, 
I do. I think he's directing very slow, and I think it is 
not only slow action in the scenes, but he is taking too long. 
What would you say to replacing him?" I said, "Now listen 
Darryl, I don't fire people. I can hardly hire them, that's 
.not in my contract." He laughed and said, "All right, I'll 
look out for it." So Otto was bounced — this was his first job 
out here. Not only was he bounced, but I brought him back 
as an actor in a picture called The Pied Piper . I participated 
in two of his introductions to Hollywood. First as a director 


then as an actor. I think Darryl was really probably right. 
I like Otto, there's nobody v;ho's such a promoter or that 
kind of producer. I really don't think he's a very good 
director. He never makes people real to me. 

Stempel: I always get the feeling he makes better publicity 
than he does pictures. 

Johnson: He does. But there are a lot of those and in the 
course of time these people v;ill break. However, I sometime 
think that the v;ay to get ahead in this business is to lose 
millions, not just a hundred thousand. John Huston — it looked 
for awhile he v;as going to break all of Hollywood. One 
picture after another that he did and they v;ere calamitous — 
Roots of Heaven , B arbarian and the Geisha . And he was really 
utterly indifferent. Utterly. He brought back this Barbarian 
and the Geisha , and I remember Buddy Adler saying, "John's 
got his picture. I'm going to look at his picture this 
afternoon." Anticipating. Oh, poor naive fellow. I saw 
him later in the evening and asked, "How was it?" His eyes 
were glazed. It was awful. It took eleven days of shooting 
here on the lot after John left to get stuff fitted together 
so It made some sense. You know, he got real sloppy stuff. 
This fellow, Blake Edwards, he's going to break every company 
before he finishes. Otto—he's put a dent in every company 
he's worked for, and you know, you get trampled in the crush 
to get him. 


Stempel: O.K. It appears from your credits that the first 
thing you worked on after you came back from Miami was Jesse 
James . 

Johnson: Ah, that was my baby. 

Stempel : Yeah, I have a great feeling for Jesse James. I 
loved the picture. It's the reason I got interested in the 
movies in the first place, because I went to see a revival 
of it when I v;as about four or five years old. I liked it 
so much and a couple of months later the theater v;here it had 
played had three big attractions on Saturday, and the third 
attraction v;as something called Jesse James R ides A^ain, and 
I v;ent to see that, because I loved Jesse James so much 
and I figured this was more of the same. I v;ent to see it 
and it turned out to be one of these Goddamned Republic 
serials and of course I was only five or six, and I had to 
keep going back week after week. If I hadn't liked Jesse 
James in the first place, I wouldn't be here. Anyway, how 
did you decide to do the picture? 

Johnson: That to me is interesting, because when I was a 
kid in Coliimbus, Georgia, there was something called the Jewel 
Kelly Stock Company—this was real '10, '20, '30 stuff. It 
had plays called At_ the Point of the Sword, Her Majesty's 
Jewels , Sunse t Mine , and this fellow Jewel Kelly, a real 
pot-bellied middle-aged fellow who owned the company, and his 


wife, and they played Jess e James, and they kept playing it. 
This is literally true. V/e'd gone, tv:o or three boys, ten 
cents for a matinee— we knev/ this thing line for line. When 
that scene v;here Jesse is there and the dirty little cov;ard 
Ford came in, v.'e knev; he vias going to— this dirty bastard — 
he was going to get Jesse. He said, "Say Jesse, that motto 
is a little crooked." It was a motto "God Love our Home," or 
something like that. He said, "Yeah." Then he went to get a 
kitchen chair and we were shouting, "Don't do it Jesse." 
This is real. And Ford said, "Don't that gun belt make you 
hot Jesse?" And Jesse, a bright fellow, said, "Yes it is 
pretty warm." Takes it off, hangs it on something. We all 
yelled and yelled. Jesse climbed up on that chair to straighten 
that motto, and that dirty little cov/ard nailed him. He 
turned around, looked for a soft place to fall, and he hit 
the ground. I thought to myself, "By God, anybody that arouses 
that much excitem.ent, that much sympathy" — because we all 
talked about those outlaws in those days like you talk about 
ball players. We always said that Dick Tracy was really the 
best. No question. He was the Ty Cobb of outlaws. And 
Jesse and Frank vjere good. The Dalton boys. We had a whole 
line-up of them. I told Darryl this. At that time Darryl 
paid more attention to New York than he did subsequently. He 
may have seen it himself when he was a kid. Anyway, New York, 
for two years— those smart guys — "Forget it, Darryl, forget it. 


forget it. Let's not conunlt suicide." Finally I said, 
"Look, why the hell do you have to listen to these guys — 
they ain't got no crystal ball." Zanuck said, "Let's go 
ahead." V/e put Tyrone Pov:er in it, then Henry Fonda. We 
made it, and I suppose up until then it v/as just about the 
most exceptional picture that Fox had made. It v/as beautifully 
done. Another Henry King production, directing, but I loved 
that picture. It really brought it out. And then all of 
these relatives of Jesse James began shov;ing up. 

Stempel: I was over at the Academy Library last v/eek reading 
a copy of the script they have there, and they have a bunch 
of m.aterial that they collected at the time. One of the 
sheets has historical research by somebody and the second name 
is Jo Francis James. I wondered from v;hat you said the last 
time, if this was one of the relatives that showed up. 

Johnson: No, I think she was the one who also v/anted to be 
an actress. 

Stempel: You told about that putting her on the train thing. 
Another thing they had on one of these sheets was on the 
credit thing. They had a letter from somebody named Jason 
Joy, I think, saying that added on to the credit thing should 
be the name of Hal Long for a 10^ contribution to the original 
story. Now, what the hell could that possibly be? 


Johnson: You bring up a name that I don't think I'd remember 
from that day to this. He vms quite a young fellovf, and I 
think he was a junior v^riter, and I think Darryl asked me 
to take him along or something like that. I can't remember 
what he did. I just remember that he was in some way connected 
with it. Hal Long, I don't think he could have been more 
than 21 or 22. Something like that and it's the only connection, 
but there was a lot of these junior writers. The day I came 
to V/arner Brothers [in the 60 's] I had to deal with Curtis 
Kenyon, Hyman's right hand man, fortunately a very smart guy. 
V/hen I met Curtis first, he v;as a junior writer around there 
[Fox], trying to get a little credit, like Hal. I think that, 
for the records in the Guild or the Academy, they alv/ays put 
dovm everybody v;ho said "Hello." I mean that they didn't 
give them, credit on the screen, but they did have a record 
that they did make some sort of contribution to it. 

Stempel: Yes. That's what this was. Sort of a notation 
that his name should be dovm. 

Johnson: Maybe Darryl wanted it dovm, or maybe he deserved 
it. I can't remember very much about it. 

Stempel: I noticed in reading the script — there were a number 
of things I noticed about the picture — they had it on TV two 
or three months ago — 


Johnson: Did they really? 

Stempel: ...and they had it fairly complete, because It was 
fairly late at night. One thing I noticed about the picture 
is that there is no mention of Jesse's background in Quantrill's 
Raiders. I noticed in the screenplay there is a reference. 
There is a scene v;here I guess the Governor of Missouri has 
a long speech that I don't ever remember being in the film 
that mentions Jesse James' being in the Civil V/ar on the 
side of the South. But I noticed in the film there is no 
mention of this at all. No reference to it. 

Johnson: I remember this. We may have shot some of this. 
I knov; that a part of the script was cut at the beginning. 

Stempel: Yes, there v;as a parade sequence in the script that 
I don't ever remember being in the picture. 

Johnson: Probably wasn't. It v;as one of those things. In 
so many scripts stuff is cut. 

Stempel: To get back to this business about not mentioning 
this stuff about the Civil War, I noticed they also had a 
couple of sheets of comments from Women's Clubs and nearly 
all of them said the same thing, that the movie was historical 
recreation but it glorified Jesse James too much. I wondered 
how much of this was done deliberately? To make Jesse James 


a hei-'o? Obviously, he v;as a hero to you from the early show, 
but how much of this did you consciously do in the writing? 

Johnson: You know if it's going to be played by Ty Power or 
Henry Fonda, you're not going to turn out to be Boris Karloff. 
He was an outlaw, and I guess we depended on the admiration 
of the daring. I remember he rode a horse through a v;lndow 
and rode through the store. I didn't know if they could ever 
do that, but they could and did. They had a big windov; made 
out of candy. You don't have to go back any farther than 
Bonnie and Clyde which I saw in Boston, and I sat in the balcony. 
And V7hen Bonnie and Clyde v/ould get away from the cops or 
whoever it v;as (clapping) they v;ere cheering, which is what 
they want. Those two didn't have as much going for them as 
Frank and Jesse, Ty Power, Hank Fonda— finest boys alive you 
know. You knew they were provoked into this thing, justified, 
whatever they did. That was a very successful picture. They 
wanted me to make a second one about Frank James, and the thing 
which I had to resist a half a dozen times was to make sequels, 
but I always thought I was right. I knew if a picture was 
successful enough to warrant making a sequel, that the sequel 
was not going to be better than the first one. They wanted me 
to go on with Dr. Christian, from The Country Doctor , and they 
subsequently made several pictures with Jean Herscholt in them 
but I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it with Frank James though 


there v;as enough material there for it. They did make it, 
and of all people to direct it, got Fritz Lang, v;earing a 
western hat and a monocle. 

Stempel: I v/as going to ask if they had asked you to do this, 
because last fall one of the local channels had a special 
Jesse and Frank James morning, and the ran your Jesse James 
and The Retur n of Frank James right after it, 

Johnson: I think that was a pretty good picture. 

Stempel: It's a good picture. It's Just really Just a 
straight revenge tale: Fonda riding across the desert and he 
catches up v;lth John Carradine, and they end up shooting it 
out in a barn or something like that. It's a good standard 
Western thing. But that's it. I noticed in reading the screen- 
play over in the Academy Library for Jesse James, that you 
will be talking for example about Villi V/right, the Marshall, 
and you said, "Will Wright, a Spencer Tracy type." V/ere you 
angling at that point v;hen you v;ere writing the screenplay 
to get Spencer Tracy to do that? 

Johnson: Yes, I am sure I was, and it was a mistake, and it 
shouldn't be done, because you offer it to another actor and 
he sees that. In this case Randy Scott played it. Actors 
don't turn it down for that reason, but it's an unnecessary — 
not an offense, but indelicacy. I did that a few times earlier 


In my life and hope that they'd get the actor, but I realized 
it was a mistake and I never did it again. If I wanted, I'd 
tell Darryl, because he had to "OK" all those big top fellows- 
big money — but I remember Darryl saying once, "Tracy will 
never be a star." Darryl was not infallible. I said, "Why 
do you think so? He's a great actor." He said, "Yeah, but 
Edna Ferber told m.e why he'd never be a star" — now there's a 
fine authority— "he's a dry actor." V/ell, I realized what 
she meant. He didn't have the juice of a standard leading man. 
She v/as fallible too. He v;as a great star, a great actor. 

Stempel: I v;as v:ondering in watching Jesse James on TV where 
you got a lot of the story material that you used. For example, 
there is a v/hole sequence in which Jesse surrenders to V/ill 
Wright and he comes in and then discovers he has been double- 
crossed and Frank comes in and get him out. If I recall the 
books v;e had around the house on Jesse James, Jesse was never 
in jail. Where do you get this kind of material? 

Johnson: Well, I'll tell you. I pinched that. I pinched it 
like this. I tried to get a play called The Purple Mask and 
it had some of the best melodramatic situations in there and 
the two fellows who wrote the play. Frenchmen, were up in the 
front lines somewhere. Couldn't even get to 'em, but they 
had written it before then and they had. one scene there where 
the Purple Mask is on stage and he said, "I am leaving here 


at 11 o'clock." Oh, what a situation. The heavy. Lord Somebody, 
vjas driven crazy by that casual threat. "It's not 11 yet." 
Well, you couldn't beat It. And presently the man v;ho Is 
going to rescue him v/as brought in. He had been captured. 
I used this same thing, and brought Frank in and the posse. 
The posse turned out to be members of their gang. And 
took him out. He said at 11 o'clock, "Good-by." You just 
can't give up that stuff. You've got to do a little pinching 
now and then. 

Stempel: Speaking of pinching and borrowing, I sav; Jesse Jame s 
on TV about a v;eek or so after I saw Along Came Jones , v:hich 
you did later. At the beginning of Jesse James after Brian 
Donlevy has killed their mother and James goes in to call him 
out and he says, "I want to see all your hands." Everybody 
puts their hands up on the bar, and it's a fine, exciting 
moment. But I noticed you borrowed from yourself on that 
and used it in a very comic way in Along Came Jones . At 
one point Cooper walks in and everybody thinks he's the villain — 

Johnson: Yes, I remember that. 

Stempel: . . .Gunslinger, and everybody puts his hands on the 
bar. And yet I noticed in the screenplay over in the Academy 
Library it Just says that Jesse comes in and he says, "Let 
me see your hands," or whatever the lines are and there was 
no note in there that everybody put their hands on the bar. 


Is this something that you talked out v:ith Henry King? 

Johnson: It may have been, it may have been. I don't remember. 
People have pinched things so constantly. I remember one time 
Leo McCarey made John Ford very cross because Leo said about 
some picture John had done, "John, you're slipping." John 
said, "V/hy?" Leo said, "You didn't let that bartender take 
that mirror dovm off the v/all before those fellov/s started 
shooting." [laughter] John had not hardly made a picture 
with all that shoot-up in a saloon v/ithout at the last minute 
the bartender coming in and taking a picture off the wall and 
then they began the shooting. Ford would alv;ays get cross 
when people caught his tricks. 

Stempel: You mentioned the riding the horse through the 
windov/. There are a couple of other stunts in Jesse James 
with horses. I remember one at the beginning of the picture, 
the first train robbery v;hen Jesse is riding along and he 
Jumps on the train from the horse. That's one thing I remember 
from the very first time I saw the movie. And the other one 
from late in the picture is v;here they — 

Johnson: Jump off the cliff? 

Stempel: Jump off the cliff, yeah. 

Johnson: That vras wonderful. 

Stempel: Did you talk this out with the people who did the 


stunts beforehand, before you even put it in the script or 
did you just v;rlte it in? 

Johnson: I wrote It in. The nice thing about being a v/riter 
is, you write it and say, "Let this son of a bitch v;ork it 
out himself v;hen he gets there." But Henry liked that sort 
cf challenge and with the horse thing he did a very clever 
thing. He built a little trough and he shot from below 
on that cliff. This horse v;asn't about to jump over any cliff 
if he could help it, but he v;ould ride him up on this little 
trough V7hich v;as like a seesavj, and he could ride up to this 
thing and go dovm like this. The horse could do nothing but 
jump. There was nothin' left to do. So that's the way he 
got those horses off there. Fortunately, neither the men 
nor the horses were hurt or anything like that. But the SPCA 
always was around, you know, to see that you didn't v;ire trip 
these horses up and break their legs and things like that. With 
some of those second unit men, they'd break l8 horses' legs to 
get something exciting on the screen. Henry did a good job 
on that. Henry did a good job on The Gunfighter , too. Then 
he Just disappeared. Old directors just don't get... nobody 
sends for 'em anymore. I've seen a half a dozen around you 
knov; . 

Stempel: That's too bad. I've always thought that Henry 
King was underrated as a director, because he did Jesse James 


and The Gunflghter and he did 12^ O'clock High and. . . 

Johnson; Yes he did l£ O'clock Mgh, yeah. High Noon , that 
was Zinneman v;asn*t It? 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: Henry v;as..,I remember v;hen Henry v/as one of the 
big star leading men v;hen I was young. There really was 
nothing very inspiring about Henry. I mean he could be very 
cruel. Directors are very cruel. They can be v;hen you put 
them in places of authority. I told you v/hat [Henry] Hathaway 
said to me v;hen I was going to direct, didn't I? 

Stempel: No. . 

Johnson: I was going to direct Night Peo ple and I saw Henry 
at a party and Henry had directed The Desert Fox for me about 
Rommel. I liked him very much but he was a bastard on the 
set. Cruel, mean to the actors, to the people on the set, 
a lot of them, and he said, "What's this I hear about you going 
to direct this picture?" I said, "Yes, I'm going to have a go 
at it." He said, "You'll be no good, you know." And I said, 
"Maybe not. You may be quite right." He said, "You know why?" 
I said, "No, v;hat do you think?" He said, "Because you're 
not a bastard." And I said, "Oh, come, Henry." He said, 
"Look at the big directors, all of them bastards, John Ford, 

10 3 

George Stevens, Fritz Lang, V/lllie V/yler." He named a half 
a dozen fellows, and he v;anted me to say, "And you." And 
I wouldn't say it, though. [laugh] He v;as very smart about 
this. He had a theory but I didn't agree v;lth him. He said, 
"You don't like a row. You won't make a fuss. You'll compro- 
mise." I said, "I don't think I compromise on big things, but 
after they get going on the set, it's quite likely I couldn't 
win anyway. The director's doing it, you know." He said, 
"But suppose you make one compromise a day. The picture takes 
36 days to shoot. You've made 36 com.promlses in an hour and 
half's entertainment picture." He said, "You think that don't 
matter?" I said, "I don't think it matters enough and besides, 
I'm not that dedicated. I'm not going to spend my life arguing 
with people v;hen I don't think it makes that much difference." 

Fritz Lang did a picture for me, V/oman in the Window, 
and I'd heard him bav;l out a fine old actor, embarrassing 
to have him shout at this old Englishman. And everybody 
around there hated his guts. He called me at the end of the 
day, he said, "Look, we're going to have a little party on 
the set, closing out, you know, 5 o'clock, something like that." 
I said, "If I were you, I wouldn't go to it." He said, "V/hat 
do you mean?" I said, "Somebody is going to drop something 
on your head, Fritz. You know, the picture's over. You won't 
be the boss." And nobody did, they do forget it. Henry 
Hathaway was like that. I remember when I got to London to do 


Mudlark , Henry v/as the last American director v/ho had had a 
big company going there, and he had Just left a trail of hate. 
Jean Negulesco and I had to v/alk in there v/ith all of the 
English crev7 thinking "that son of a bitch" and here's some- 
thing which v;as so funny [about Henry Hathav;ay then]. At the 
end of the picture he addressed the v/hole crew. He said, 
"We've been together ^0 days, and v;e've had our rows. We've 
had our fights. V/e've v;orked together. There have been 
differences, but I'd like to say this. You are the lousiest 
crew I ever had in my life." That night the producer said, 
"V/e've got to do some retakes." [laughter] I thought, "Oh, 
my God. Poor Henry, they'll drop something on him sure as hell." 
And it v/ould have served him right. 

Stempel: Another thing I v/as going to ask about Jesse James . 
I wonder if you knev; that Fonda v/as going to do the character 
of Frank, how much v;ere you influenced in writing the 
character by what Fonda had done before? The reason I ask 
this is it seems to me that there is sort of a continuum in 
Fonda's characterizations in You Only Live Once and Frank 
James and on through The Grapes of Wrath. I wonder if you 
had been influenced at all by this? 

Johnson: I'm not sure I knew that Henry was going to do it. 
I may have, I can't remember. I may have gone over it. 
Because I know how Henry works. I know his kind of delivery. 


I did several pictures with him and God, I have an admiration 
for that man. But at that time there v;as an air of second 
man about Henry. He v;asn't Nuraero Uno, you knov/. Nov; he is. 
I Just sav; a reviev; the other day of The F ront Page v/hich 
they had put on v/ith that repertory company out at Mineola. 
And Henry doesn't play either Hildy Johnson or the managing 
editor. He plays one of the reporters. And the reviev; said 
in spite of this Henry is the one you look at. 

Stempel: That's v;hat the Ncv; Yorker said, too. 

Johnson: Yes, that's v;here I read it. And Henry achieved 
that, he reached that. 





Stempel: I read somevihere, and I can't remember where offhand, 
that during the filming of Jesse James , Ty Pov;er and Henry 
Fonda didn't get along too vjell. V/as this true, or was this 

Johnson: It must have been gossip. It must have been. They 
were good friends and quite close, Ty was a much less temper- 
mental man than Henry. Let Henry get a fev-; snorts in him, and 
he can be very cantankerous, but that's not often. It wasn't 
often. No, I can't remember any contention v;ith or among 
actors. It seems to me they have, for the most part, very 
good manners. This isn't true of actresses. They can really 
be very difficult but actors, for the most part, they are 
very decent, gentlemanly people, I have always found them 
so. Of course now, as Henry [Hathaway] said, I'm not an 
agressive fellow and v;hen I viev; myself as a director, it is 
more or less that of a man who is watching and being helpful 
to the actor because by the time they've arrived at this state, 
all I figure that they need is a vrord of commendation, or 
saying, "Easier, try it again, don't play too hard," and you 
get the effects. The only one I ever had any contention with 
was Greg [Peck] who is still a very good friend, but we did 
have a little disnute now and then. I had a couple of disputes 


with Ava Gardner but then she v;as full of schnapps at the time. 
I was doing this picture [ Angel V/ore Red ] in Rome and she was 
supposed to shov; up on the set for shooting about 10 o'clock 
at night. Big set. Well, it took a long time to light it and 
there v/as a couple of run-throughs v/ith the same camera set-up. 
Ava was to run through, and later Dirk Bogarde, same lighting, 
and Ava was so late. I said, "V/hat the hell, let's let Dirk 
do his run-through. Christ, I mean, one rehearsal will be 
enough for that," and he rehearsed. Ava arrived loaded and 
was so mad. I didn't see her. She just came into the other 
end of the stage. I was viay up from this, vihere the camera 
was and it was reported to me that she had told "them all to 
go fuck themselves and disappeared. And those Italians, 
they v;ere convinced around that time that anybody from Holly- 
wood knevj all the ansv/ers. I didn't knov; any. Ha, ha. The 
production fellov; came to me and said, "You must go get her 
back." I said, "No, I'm not going to go get her back. I'm 
not an actress sitter. If she shows up on this set that's my 
business when she's here. I have^no intention of going to 
Ava's house and have her throw something at me." He said, 
"When an actress does a thing like that, v;hat do you do in 
Hollywood?" I said, "I'll tell you what I'd do in Hollywood. 
I'd take it." [laughter] You can't physically force somebody 
to do something. But they had this young child. They knew 


that I could do something Marilyn. I couldn't do anything 
with Marilyn. Actresses are just very difficult, rauch more 
difficult than actors, it's been my experience. My experience 
is very limited. I directed seven or eight pictures, no more 
than that. Those I directed they v;ere alv/ays on good terms. 

Stempel: One of the reasons I asked about Fonda in the case 
of Jesse James is that it seems like he's almost making an 
effort to steal the picture from Pov/er. I noticed that 
several of the revlev;s on Jesse James at the time said that 
Fonda almost walks off with the picture, I wonder if this 
was a reaction on his part. You mentioned that he was con- 
sidered as sort of Number Tv;o. 

Johnson: He was Avis. [laughter] No, I don't think so. 
Actors can do a lot of things on the stage, but they can't do 
very much in the movies. You know, what the hell, you got a 
camera. You put it around where you want it and if an actor 
takes a picture, as they say, or does something like that, it's 
because actually his performance was more striking. It wasn't 
anything that he was able to do himself. He can't move upstage 
or dovmstage. He can do it on the stage, but he can't do it 
on a movie set. He's got to stay where those lines are, 
those marks, or else he won't get his kisser in the camera 
at all. He knows that. I remember somebody told me a wonderful 
story about Leslie Howard who was in a play where a man, an 


actor, constantly upstaged him. Hov;ard told him, "Please," 
and the actor v;ould apologize, but the next night again 
he vjould stroll upstage so that Hovjard turned his back like 
that, Hovjard did something so cute. He bought in a toy 
store one of those little rubber balls that v/hen you mash it, 
a red tongue sticks out. You've seen those things. [laughter] 
Hov/ard v;as standing like this and the guy v;as up there acting, 
Hov;ard just pressed this ball, the tongue stuck out, and the 
audience roared. [laughter] The other fellov; couldn't figure 
out v;hat happened. Hov/ard v/asn't making a move. [laughter] 
He v;asn't saying anything. The actor tried to find out what 
it v;as but every time he did it, he got nothing but bad laughs 
so he pretty soon learned not to upstage an old-timer like that. 
Bogey used to say, "I could kill a man's scene any time I v;anted 
to. Give me a drink. I've got my drink in my hand." Put 
it there like. .. [Johnson puts drink on the very edge of the 
table]. He said, "I'd like to see the son of a bitch take 
then." [laughter] The camera is v;hat makes movie directing 
a much simpler matter than directing on the stage because 
directing on the stage you have got to maneuver your people 
In addition to everything else so that the audience's eyes 
go to the person you v;ant their eyes to go to. That calls for 
some Ingenuity, some thought, but not on a movie set because 
your eye goes to exactly v;hat the director wants your eye to 
go to. He cuts to you. [laughs] I don't think there's any 


way things like catching flies, all that kind of stuff. It 
Just doesn't exist around, and I never found anybody v;ho 
tried to do it. They used to say Jack Oakie would do it and 
Jack Oakie could stop anybody because they'd say, "Jack, 
don't do that, v;ill you?" And Jack'd say, "Of course not," 
and then freeze. And the audience v;atched him. He did 
It without a movement. 

Stempel: It seemed to me that this was v;hat Fonda v;as doing 
to a certain extent as Frank James. He v;as playing it very 
quietly, almost too quietly so that he v;as in a sense doing 
what Oakie did, standing still. 

Johnson: I v/asn't aware of it. And I don't think it v;ould 
be deliberate. Hank is tempermental and Hank has a very, very 
strong sense of his stardom. You know v;hat happened in Two 
for the Seesaw, on the stage. If you ever read that book 
by [William] Gibson. 

Stempel: Seesav/ Log , yes. 

Johnson: Yes. Gibson v;ent backstage the first night and said, 
"Are you happy tonight?" Hank said, "I v/as never more miserable 
in my life. [laughter] At the end of six months, I'm out." 
Henry Just found himself in the wrong part. 

Stempel: One thing I noticed in reading the script of Jesse 
James is that the movie ends with Henry Hull as Major Cobb 


giving this eulogy for Jesse and in the script there v;as a 
scene that apparently takes place later in v;hich Zee is riding 
off v;ith V/ill and they go past the grave. The little boy 
says something about, "V?as this the man the major v;as talking 
about, v/as it somebody we knev;?" And Zee says, "Yes," and 
this sort of thing. V/as this filmed and cut? 

'O ' 

Johnson: I can't remember. 

Stempel: I v:as just vionderlng why it was decided to end up 
with this speech of the major's v;hlch is really a very 
interesting speech because you knovr it says, "V/ell v-;e all 
knew he v.'as bad, but geez he v;as so exciting to be around," 
this sort of thing. I wondered why it was decided to end 
up v;ith that speech. 

Johnson: I really can't remember. Things do get cut and 
sometimes ten years later you say, "V/hy the fuck did I cut 
that scene? I was being so cold, I was being ruthless." 
Still ten years later, 15 years later, you have a good scene 
that should have been left in there but at that time you 
thought so. 

Stempel: I noticed in some of the stories on the production 
of Jesse James that it mentioned that a lot of it was done 
on location in Missouri. V/hy was it decided to go all the 
way to Missouri instead of shooting it out here? 


Johnson: I think that that v;as Henry King. Henry flew his 

ovm plane and vrould go looking for locations and he v/anted 

to do it around the Mississippi v/here it took place. It had 

to be done somewhere and I guess it v;asn't much more expensive 

to take it there. Maybe he could get some railroad trains 

doxv'n there that he couldn't get out here. You take things 

like The Frontiersman . I don't know v;here the hell they're going 

to shoot it. There's the Ohio River Valley. I know the 

river, long years ago, but those location men seem to be able 

to find something all the time to use. 

Stempel: I just v;ondered if there was a particular reason 
for going to the general area where Jesse had lived. 

Johnson: VJell, let's say that Henry v;as ahead of his time, 
because these days they do that all the time. 

Stempel: I think it helps the picture enormously. 

Johnson: Yes. 

Stempel: I think it did especially in Jesse James in the 
opening scenes where Brian Donlevy is going around to the 
farmhouses. I remember these little farmhouses on their 
green farms. It just seemed to me very accurate. 

Johnson: Well, it was right to do it and possibly it was 
also cheaper. Even with the location. 


Stempel: One other thing. After the escape, v/hen Frank 
comes in and gets Jesse out, they're riding along and to 
throvj the posse off the trail, they pull some money out of 
the saddlebags and throv; it back. V/here did this come from? 

Johnson: Either I thought of it or I remembered it. I 
can't .... 

Stempel: Or stole it from someplace? 

Johnson: I can't remember vfhere that came from. 

Stempel: Was this the sort of idea that v;ould be knocked 
around in these story conferences v;ith Zanuck? 

Johnson: No, no. I didn't have story conferences like that 
then. As I say, I v/rote the v;hole thing. A story conference 
then might bring some suggestions but I remember very fevf. 
I mean it finally got to Darryl and myself and the director, 
if he was on it, and maybe Getz, somebody like that, but there 
was no longer that confrontation of 18 people which they had 
when I first went there. I don't know how they did with 
other writers, other producers, I only know that's the way 
it was with me. 

Stempel: A picture that came out just after Jesse James 
was one called Wife, Husband , and Friend and I didn't get to 
see this and now I kind of wish I had, because I got to digging 


up the plots of your various pictures.... 

Johnson: I did that picture twice. 

Stempel: That's what I discovered. 

Johnson: The plot twice. [laughs] I just loved it, that 
story by Jim Caine. 

Stempel: VJas it a short story or.... 

Johnson: No, it v;as a novel. It v;as something like Love in 
A Flat , or some such thing as that. I did it first v/ith VJarner 
Baxter and Loretta Young and it didn't go. God, Darryl v/as 
full of those silly titles: Husband , Wife, and Secreta ry, 
Husband , V/i f e , and Friend . Lay it on the line, that kind of 
stuff, and that was one of them. And years later, I wanted 
to do it . I thought, "Goddamn it, this is a good one, a 
very funny story," and I did it with Paul Douglas and flopped 
again. But then it had another silly title. This was given 
to us by Skouras, this mastermind. He said, "I've got the 
perfect title. Everybody's Doing It ," or Everybod y Does It, 
whatever it was. 

Stempel: [ Everybody ] Does It. 

Johnson: In his beastly old Greek fashion, he was convinced 
that that was a real winking title, you know. For some reason, 


nobody thought it was as funny. I noticed a picture that must 
have played this morning [on television] called Chad Hanna. 

Stempel: Yeah, I sav? that this morning. 

Johnson: This is a standing joke in my family. 

Stempel: The whole movie? 

Johnson: Yes, somebody will say, "I would like you to meet 
my father, the man who gave you Chad Hanna ." I don't know 
what the hell this is about. At that time the fellow who 
wrote Farmer Takes a \1± f e was a very big v;riter. He v:rote 
up in New York stuff. 

Stempel: Walter Edmonds? 

Johnson: Walter Edmonds, yeah. 

Stempel: Drums Along the Mohawk? 

Johnson: Yeah... He had quite a run then. I liked most of 
my pictures or I v;ouldn't have done them. Some of them 
didn't come out the way I hoped. Like I told you. Tobacco 
Road was not the same thing. Nov; Roxie Hart was an exceptional 
picture. It didn't come out the v/ay I v;anted it. It v;as 
directed much too broad for me and too corny, but for the 
most part, I have an affection for most of these pictures, 
even when they weren't successful. But I have all of my 


stuff bound. Maybe it lacks three or four. Sometimes I 
look back at them and take a glance at them but nobody v;ants 
to see them. You have no idea how little your family v;ants 
to see v;hat you've done. They're nice to me, they give me 
credit for Chad Hanna . 

Stempel: Did they all gather around the television set this 
morning and v;atch it? 

Johnson: No, no. 

Stempel: I noticed that v;hen Rose of VJashington Square was 
on a couple of weeks ago right at the beginning of the picture 
the usual disclaimer about all the characters in this are 
purely fictional, instead of being in little print at the 
bottom of the screen v;as full screen. This, I gather, \i3iS 
because it v/as based on the Fanny Brice story. 

Johnson: I don't think that it was unusually large type on 
the picture. They probably did this for the television 

Stempel: No, I think it was part of the regular credits of 
the film. You know, it was against the same background, 
the same kind of type, too. 

Johnson: May have been. That was my period in newspaper 
work and I had a lot of fun doing it. V/e paid off to every- 
body. They all came in. Fanny [Brice] came in, gave her 


$60,000 to heal injuries of his reputation and price, cheap 
son of a bitch. There's another story v;e just cooked up. 
We had nothing to go there. I mean beyond a kind of an old 
nev/s story. I don't know hov; it came ah. out , I don't knov/ 
whether Darryl suggested it or I suggested it but it gave me 
an opportunity to hear a lot of old-time songs that I liked. 
It gave me an opportunity to have Al Jolson in the picture 
and he had been my idol for years. He comes out and he does 
this picture, sings every song that I can think of that I 
liked and the picture v;as quite successful but about seven 
years later out comes The Jolson Story v;ith the same Goddamn 
songs. Aid it was a block buster, you knov;. 

Stempel ; I mentioned v/hen we talked about Thanks A Million , 
the Fred Allen part in that seemed to be enlarged as the 
picture v;ent along. It seemed to me that the Jolson part 
of the story in Rose of V/ashington Square had been sort of 
grafted on to the Fanny Brice-Nick Arnstein thing? 

Johnson: May have been. 

Stempel: ...and sort of built up to include Jolson and all 
the songs you like to hear him sing. 

Johnson: Well, you have to fatten the story. V/e didn't think 
we could just play it straight but we had Alice Faye, a 
beautiful singer, but she couldn't sing everything so we get 


somebody like Jolson v/ho fitted right in and was very happy 
to get the v7ork. Not that he needed money because he was 
rich but because he wanted to work like anybody wants to 

Stempel: Jolson, in one of the first musical numbers that 
he does, includes the line, "V/ait a minute, you ain't heard 
nothing yet." V/as this included because this was a regular 
part of his act, which 1 gather is why it got in The Jazz 
Singer, or did you make a special effort to get this in there 
because it had been used in The Jazz Singer ? 

Johnson: No. I'd been watching Jolson from the time I went 
to Nev7 York, which v;as in 19l8, and I think he was playing 
in Big Boy or Bombo or something like that at the Winter 
Garden. For some reason, v:hen I sav/ a shov/ that I liked, 
I forgot about looking for any others. I kept going back 
to that shov; and I must have seen Jolson half a dozen times, 
always in the peanut gallery. V/ent there for 75({; at the 
top. Jolson v;as a great one. The top one. 

Nobody ever seems to knov; what Jolson' s natural voice 
was. His conversational talk. V/hen he talked to me, he 
always had this phony Negro accent, you know, v;hich he used 
on the stage but it wasn't natural. I thought, "V/ell he's 
clovmlng with me you know." I've asked other people, "V/hat 
did Jolson talk like? Did he ever have a serious line?" 


By God to the end of his days he v/as competitive as hell. 
The last time I sav; him It was at the Hlllcrest and I sat at 
a round table v/lth all the comics and I remember Bill Perlberg, 
the producer, who had come back from Nev; York v;here he had 
seen a young singer called Frank Sinatra at Copacabanna. 
Perlberg was raving about this guy. Jolson listened and 
turned to his manager of his, Nat Dolfman and said, "Have 
you heard him?" Nat said, "Yeah." Al said, "Should I worry?" 
Sixty some odd, you knov;. 

The most unappreciated fellov; in the making of a picture 
by the man v;ho v/rote the original material is the v/rlter of 
the screenplay. No matter v;hat happens he doesn't like it. 
I must have done a hundred pictures and I don't suppose there's 
ten men or maybe five v/ho remained a friend or indicated in 
any way that they forgave me or cared for it. One of them 
was Steinbeck v/ho is still a very good friend — I did tvio 
pictures of his things — but John's idea v;as this, and this 
ought to be all authors' idea. I was talking to him about 
Grapes of V.'rath and he said, "Look, it doesn't matter. You 
can make a good picture out of and I hope you do but my 
statement remains right here. In the book, that's all." 
I remember we bought Moon is Down which v;as on the stage in New 
York, ana I went there to have a drink and I said, "Look, 
have you got any suggestions?" He said, "Yeah, tamper with 


it." You know that's the warmest thing I'd ever heard. 
He recognized that in a different medium you have to make 
alterations and as he always said, "Anytime I've had anything 
to do with the picture it's flopped. I try to write a screen- 
play^-nothing, to hell with it. I write the books. Every- 
thing I have had nothing to do with it, you know. East of Eden, 
Mice and Men , Grapes of Wrath , Moon is Down , all of them, 
okay." John never bothered me. John gives me the feeling 
of a great man. I know it isn't fashionable to think of him 
as either a great man or a great writer but v/hether he is 
a great v;riter or not you vjon't know for a long time. I 
do think of him as a great man. 

Stempel: I suppose v;e're at the point chronologically v/here 
we're going to have to get into The Grapes of Wrath. There's 
a book called Novels Into Film by George Bluestone that 
contains a large section on The Grapes of Wrath, and I gather 
he talked to you about it, at least he quotes you in a couple 
of places. He mentioned in the beginning of this particular 
chapter that Steinbeck got his introduction to [Pare] Lorentz, 
the documentary filmmaker, through you. Were you instrumental 
then in getting him the book of Grapes of Wrath to Twentieth 
Century-Fox in the first place? 

Johnson: I can't remember. I Just don't know how it came 
about. Lord knov:s, there was an avjful lot of talk around 


about v:hether it should be done or not. I couldn't understand 
that but Zanuck said there 'd alv/ays be a lot of argument here. 
Winthrop Aldrich, v;ho v;as one of the Rockefeller people, at 
that time v/as Chairman of the Board. I guess these days 
you v;ould say it v/as anti-establishment. I wasn't much avjare 
of the establishment and though I'm sure Zanuck v;as, he 
didn't seem to give a darari, 

Stempel: At one point in a nev:s story that came out about 
the time the movie Grapes of VJrath came out, Zanuck mentioned 
that he sav; Winthrop Aldrich in Nev; York and mentioned that 
he v:as thinking about doing the book. He mentioned this 
with some trepidation because he didn't knov; hov/ Aldrich 
v;ould react and Aldrich said, "Well I read it the other night 
and I Just couldn't put it dovm," and Zanuck knev/ that it 
was all right. Have you ever heard this story? 

Johnson: I'm sure that's true because the movies have alv;ays 
been filmed v/ith fear of ghosts. They've ducked and dodged 
things. I don't think anybody v;ould have objected to it. 
I suppose if we had done that picture, say the way the picture. 
Salt of the Earth , which was an outright far left, perhaps 
communistic picture, a picture with a slant, definite party 
line slant, I suppose they would have had the right to object 
to it but Zanuck had no such idea. He certainly never said 
anything to me about it and I had no such idea. To me it was 


a wonderful story of people driven out by an act of nature, 
you might say. In the Middle West and out here. Though 
there was always, you knov;, those mutters In the columns. 
They're going to hit this one with that kind of stuff. After 
all Zanuck is a Republican. He always had been. I'm a 
Southern V/hlte Methodist. I have very little to do with 
politics so there was never any feeling of a picture v/hich 
was aiming to do anything more than to show the plight of 
some very unfortunate people. We tried not to pull any 
punches and the only place I can think of v;here it could 
even be suggested was the thing about strikes. And Carradine 
got killed, didn't he? 

Stempel: Yeah, he gets beat up and killed, I think. 

Johnson: But nothing beyond that. I remember saying to 
John Steinbeck afterv;ards, "V/hat's going to become of these 
people?" He alv;ays said that they're going to be in control 
of California. That is a very interesting thing to me. 
A boy I know wrote a very interesting story in a magazine 
about a year ago and it v/as this. This v;as Tom Joad 25 
years later. Beautifully done. Tom had gone into the Army 
and he had been a good crap player, good gambler and he managed 
to come out four of five thousand ahead. So he went back to 
California. Ma and Rosasharon were still there, and they 
bought themselves a little house and they went into the business 


of selling some kind of southern hamburgers or something 
like that. This thing began to make money, and they bought 
a nicer house and they v^ere selling and going good. I can't 
remember all of it but the last part of it v^as that a colored 
family was moving into the neighborhood and the end of the 
story was that Tom Joad and all of these Birchers or v;hatever 
the hell they v;ere v;ere going out prepared to repel the 
Invasion. God, I don't know v;hether John ever heard that 
or not, 

Stempel: Possibly quite true. Zanuck of course when he was 
at VJarner Brothers specialized in doing films on, I think he 
called it stories ripped from the headlines or something 
like that. Then of course you did The House of Rothschild 
for the Twentieth Century Corporation. There doesn't seem. 
to be any more problem, problem in quotes, problem pictures 
until Grapes of Wrath. I just wondered v;hy, if you knew, 
why did Zanuck decide to go back? Or did he just see this 
book as too good of a story to pass up or what? I Just 
wondered if there was any reason. 

Johnson: I can't think of any. V/hat excites you v;hen you're 
reading the paper — with a man like him — always alert, he was 
dedicated then to pictures, and I guess he just didn't see 





Stempel: We got started on Grapes of Wrath. I have a few 
more questions on that. Several people who write about the 
film and the book say that it appears that the book went on 
the screen fairly easily, that it was almost like it was 
v.'ritten as a screenplay. It does look like it was a fairly 
simple job, compared to doing a lot of other books, because 
the basic form is pretty good. V/as it as easy as it looked, 
or v;as it harder? 

Johnson: No. That v/as one of those things like, you knov/, 
write a long editorial, you haven't got time to write a short 
one. It's that sort of thing. It was far from an easy technical 
Job, I guess that's the v/ay you v/ould describe it because a 
short story has a form and a moving picture has a form. For 
the most part, they have a structure. A novel doesn't 
necessarily have a form. It rarely has a form and there's no 
need for it to have a form. The great value of the novel 
is that you can v;ander anywhere that seems to you pertinent 
to the story that you v/ant to tell. In Grapes of Wrath, 
look what Steinbeck did. He had those intermediate chapters 
about a turtle crossing the road, or this, that, and the other. 
It v;as a piece of magnificent journalism, really. John went 


out vjith these people, and he learned about them because he's 
a man of great receptiveness about people and their behavior 
and their speech. Like Norman Mailer in Armies of the Night » 
great journalism, it told you more than the best Journalists 
tell you in a newspaper. John chose to tell it in fiction 
form, but let me tell you that it was not an easy job. Let 
me put it like this. It'd be about ten times easier for me 
now than it vms then. For this reasons because of all my 
experience V'jlth books of all kinds, I have learned to look 
for the backbone, the skeleton, what this fellov; was setting 
out to tell, so that actually he could have told it in a night 
letter. Almost. He wanted to tell, in this case, what an 
act of nature did to a great segment of helpless people and 
how they reacted. Not only that, because that would just 
be a tract, but he created human beings. Ma and Pa and Grampa 
and Preacher and Rosasharon. They all became human beings 
involved in this act of nature that threw them out of their 
homes and filled them full of hope and drove them west to 
the land of Canaan and what they found there. That's a 
tremendously impressive thing to think of, but I had to read 
the book two or three times before it all became clear to me, 
like an X-ray photograph. You know, the bones became visible. 
Not the other stuff. So, there it was then. I can compare it, 
say, to Dirty Dozen . This was a sprawling book, took on 
many different people, all about their lives, their backgrounds. 


all that sort of stuff. It wasn't on as high a level of 
literature as Grapes of Wrath, but nevertheless the fellov; 
had gone at It conscientiously and thoroughly, but to do it 
was about one-fifth as hard as doing The Grapes of Wrath, 
which was more or less the same problem that faced the screen- 
v;riter. It didn't take me long at all to figure out that 
this v/as about twelve mei;, who v/ere given a certain job. But 
it v;asn't anything that presented a nev; v;ay of doing anything. 
It was just get the dramatic structure of it and if people 
thought that it came out nicely and neatly as if it had been 
laid out in the book, that's really a very great compliment 
for the mechanic, because all they've got to do to find out 
whether that was true or not is read the book again. Think 
of looking at these two or three hundred thousand v/ords and 
seeing them. How do you start fade in? V/ho do I look at 
first? V/hat is the situation? How quickly can I get to the 
action? To that extent, it v:as a hard job mechanically for 
a writer who had a conscientious approach. It wasn't hard 
because the material was genuine, solid, had quality and it 
had meaning. Now that wasn't true, say, of Chad Hanna . 
[chuckles] Chad Hanna may have had its little merits in this 
way or the other, but I simply wasn't dealing with stuff 
[of the same quality]. The Dirty Dozen didn't have the merit, 
the quality, the material, the substance. But then rarely 
do I get a chance, or do many fellows get a diance at a book 


that seems to me to have so much genuine quality to It, and 

Stempel: One thing I noticed In comparing the book, the 
screenplay, and the movie Is that you did take some interesting 
pieces of material out of the Interchapters, like most of the 
flashback of Muley telling about the tractor coming over the 
hill. To me one of the most beautiful scenes in the film is 
the one in the hamburger stand vjhere, in the book it's just 
an unnamed family that comes in and gets the candy for the 
kids, and [in the film] you turned it into the Joads. This 
again was a process of selection of material. Hov; did you 
corns to decide to take some of this material from the inter- 
mediate chapters? 

Johnson: VJell, it's all mine. I can use any part of it I want. 
And I tell you this, I never looked at that picture, I never 
looked at the rushes of that scene [in the hamburger stand] 
without crying. Every time. I read the script about a 
year ago, in Nev; York. Some actress wanted a scene and asked 
.me vfould I pick one out of that. I read it, that part of it, 
visualized it, and cried again. But I cry only at happy 
things. I've found that they can tear each other to pieces, 
you know, they can rend babies limb from limb, they can 
saw peoples' heads off, I don't cry, but If somebody does 
something wonderful, especially unexpectedly vionderful, I 


weep like a baby. Can't help it. In that scene, that struggle, 
if I remember it correctly, of that v;oman clerk, making up 
her mind to let those kids have that for a penny. I cried at 
that, and then v/hen the triick driver came and said, "That 
candy v;asn't no penny," I'll cry nov; if you don't look out, 
and v;hen they left her a dollar, I think it v/as, by then I'm 
Ov'erflovjing. Then when she looked after them and says, 
"Truck drivers." The whole thing to me v;as so moving. I 
looked at that picture [of mine] Phone Call From A Stranger 
about tv;o or three months ago, I cut in on it, I didn't knov; 
it was on [on television]. There were tv;o or three things 
there. Sam.e thing. V/hen Bette Davis was in that iron lung, 
deserted, I understood why that fellow that deserted her. V/hat 
could he do, was he going to be burdened v;ith a paralyzed 
woman? When he went over the hill, I was quite sympathetic 
with him, but there she was, lying there looking in that little 
mirror and when Keenan V/ynn leaned over and said, "Hiya 
beautiful." Weep every time. 

Stempel: The big change that everybody v/ho writes about the 
film notices is of course in the rearrangement of the latter 
part of it, putting the government camp episode at the end. 
How did you come to decide to make this shift? 

Johnson: I really can't remember that, except that it seemed 
to me dramatically right. I don't know, the last time I 
saw that picture, vjhich must have been 15 or 20 years ago, I 


thought, "This Is the most relentlessly depressing thing I 
ever loolced at." I knov/ I didn't feel it as strongly v/hen 
I was v;rlting it or when I sav/ it, but I must have sensed, for 
God's sake, let's don't have everybody either indifferent 
or cold or cruel. I suppose that v/hen v;e came to that camp, 
I suppose that I'd taken an audience to the point where if 
I'd gone 24 inches further- they would have been ready to get 
up and say, "The hell with all this, he's just needlessly 
harrov.'ing us. Show something human." That's as near as I 
can get to it. I only knew that they had to wind up still 
moving on. That led me to v:rite a little piece for some 
magazine, like the Reporter . One of those things I had much 
better to do but did this Instead, making the point that it's 
very easy to detect an epic: an epic is in v;hich people move 
west. It's based entirely on — 

[Johnson v;as interrupted by his v/ife, telling him Alistair 
Cooke v;ould like to talk to him on the phone for a minute. 
Johnson talked to him for a bit, then returned and the tape 
recorder was started again.] 

Stempel: You were talking about all epics being a trek west. 

Johnsorl : Alv;ays v;est. I never heard of an epic eastbound, 
northbound, southbound. And you could tell the men from the 
covmrds because the cowards stopped around the Mississippi 
and headed back east. [chuckles] You know. The heroes were 


those that kept moving west. It still strikes me that it v;as 
true for many years in pictures. 

Stempel: Well this is very Interesting because the time 
before last that I sav; Grapes of Wrath v/as last spring in a 
class at UCLA and one of the most interesting reactions that 
the students gave to any point in the film is v;hen the Joad 
family decides that they're going to go to California and they 
talk about California as though it's the promised land. There 
was sort of half a snicker that anybody v:ould believe that 
California v;as the promised land and at the same time they 
really believed it too. It was a very strange reaction. 

Johnson: V/ell, that's contemporary reaction, but you've got 
to take it as it v/as at that time if you're going to deal with 
It. A poor person says, "Boy, if I had a hundred dollars." 
Now that may make a good many people laugh, but to that person 
who has only tV'/o dollars, a hundred dollars is an awful lot of 

Stempel: Yeah, well this was v;hat struck me is that in spite 
of the laughter and the snickering, there was still a feeling 
of belief in California as the Golden Dream. That was one of 
the things that interested me about Jesse James is that Jesse 
and Zee decide at one point, well, they're going to go to 
California. The myth of the glorious VJest again. 


Johnson: V/ell, I guess it was Golgonda at one time. Now they 
hardly think of it that way, but there was a time. Look what 
happened to all those soldiers in V/orld War II. Three quarters 
of them passing through here on their way to the South Pacific 
decided to come back here and live. California hasn't looked 
the same to those people, to us, or to Californians as to 
a more sophisticated crov.-d. It doesn't look the way it does 
to people who have been in dusty places, and don't have the 
particular kind of comforts or lush life, even if it's artificial, 
that they have now. They don't know that the difference 
betv;een the west coast, southern California and the east coast 
is that if there's anything growing in southern California, 
a man had to do it. In the East, the whole eastern seaboard, 
if there's a bare patch of ground, a man had to bare it. 
[Stempel laughs] You know, it's the difference in the thing. 
It looks good, but it's all man-made out here. And God did 
it on the Atlantic seaboard. 

Stempel: One thing I have to ask you about Grapes of Wrath. 
At UCLA in the Theater Arts Library they have a copy of the 
shooting script of Grapes of Wrath. I think it's Gregg Toland's 
[Toland photographed the film] copy. It's very interesting: 
there's the government camp episode, and Tom's farewell to 
Ma, and the next page is a little blue page that says, "The 
ending of the picture has not been decided upon and you vjill 


be given it v;hen the film is in production." You mentioned 

before in talking about Zanuck that he alv.'ays insisted that 

a script v;as ready to go before they shot it. V/hat happened 
in this particular case? 

Johnson: I can't remember, but it sounds like a phony to me. 
It may have been part of some publicity thing. I didn't 
remember any such a thing existed. Christ, it wasn't a 
Hitchcock picture. It v;asn't whether boy gets girl or girl 
gets boy or not. Almost from the middle of the picture I 
knev; my terminal scene v/as something like, I think the old 
man said, "I've lost hold Ma, and I ain't the man, v;hat's going 
to become of us?" And she says something like, "V/e'll go on 
forever Pa. We're the people." I knew I v/as going to use 
that at the end because that's all you could do. Once you 
found that line, you said, "Nothing can top this," nothing 
is more beautifully understated than that kind of noble fact, 
you knov/. But as for there being any secrecy about the end 
of it, I don't remember any such thing as that. [Johnson's 
copy of the screenplay supports his version. The final scene 
is printed on v;hite paper, indicating it was in his original 
draft. Revised scenes were printed on blue pages. See 
Appendix I. 

Mrs. Johnson, v;ho played Rosasharon in the film, seemed 
to think that the secrecy about the ending was a trick on 
John Ford's part, v;ho was trying to convince Zanuck to use a 


different ending, perhaps the ending of the book, In which 
Rosasharon nurses an old derelict v/ith the milk from her 
breast, Mrs. Johnson said the cast never received printed 
scripts but v:orked from mimeographed sides of dialogue.] 

I'll tell you a very interesting thing. They had a big 
premiere in Nev/ York, in a little jex-iel box of a theatre, 
probably called the Coronet, some elegant name like that. 
Everybody came from dinner, because it started about 9:30, 
God, they v;ere, you knov;, caviar dribbling down their chins, 
loaded with champagne, Goddarandest collection of people you 
ever sav;. I sat upstairs where the press was. \Jhen the 
picture finally ended, I think the audience dovmstairs was 
asleep, full of food and drink and belching and that kind of 
thing. I v;as just in despair. I thought, "This [premiere] 
Is just one of the v;orst calamities I have ever seen." I 
found Zanuck at the party afterwards and I was about half- 
crocked by then. I said, "Did you ever see anything as bad?" 
He said, "You really thinlc so?" I said, "V/hat else can you 
tell? Here's a v;hole Goddamned theatre full of people. 
Nothing. [Johnson claps once or tv/ice, v:eakly] Up, and out." 
But there v;as applause, big applause, from the balcony from 
the newspaper reviev;ers. I remember I got a note from Ford 
In his most nasty vein, saying something to the general effect: 
"Dear Nunnally. I understand that you were so dissatisfied, 
or disgusted, or v/hatever, with the picture that you walked out 


Couldn't stand it. I'd like to say this to you, "It v;as the 

nastiest thing. I v/rote to him and I said, "John, I did 

walk out. I came back but I did v/alk out, but let me explain." 

And I explained this preparation that Fox had done, such an 

improper sort of introduction for such a presentation. I 

said, "All the Warner Brothers, who had nothing to do V7ith 

it, v;ere belching and sleeping and so on." And I said, "All 

of that applause that v/as reported to you," he v;as out here 

on the Coast, I said, "That came from critics, from reviewers." 

I said, "If you read the reviews, you knov; I'm not misleading 

you." VJhich was the truth. Then John v7rote me and apologized. 

He said, "From other sources I've heard that you're exactly 

right, absolutely accurate, and that son of a bitch Zanuck and 

that son of a bitch Fox." He denounced them for the kind of 

audience they had invited for a picture v/hich couldn't do 

anything but bore and depress a lot of rich people v;ho didn't 

give a fuck about v^hat was going on in the world. That v;as 

the way it opened in New York. Subsequently it did very well, 

I believe. Nobody ever tells you over there unless your 

picture flops, in which case the v/ord comes to you instantaneously. 

If it goes big, they say, "Hm, hm, can't tell yet." [laughter] 

Stempel: I did want to talk a little bit about that final 
scene. Ma's speech is from a point earlier in the book. I 
noticed in going over the book again that part of Pa's speech 
is, but the one particular line that I found the most moving 


line in the v;hole scene was not in the book. Pa says, "You're 
v/hat's kept us going, Ma." It's the beginning of his little 
speech and I think this is v;hat makes Ma's final speech work 
as well as it does. 

Johnson: Feeding her. 

Stempel : Yes, feeding her. 

Johnson: You must remember I can't remember detail, but I 
remember this. As I say, I wasn't as experienced in screen- 
writing then as I am now, and also I wasn't sure how much I 
could tamper with a book of quality, very well knovn, all that 
sort of thing, and so once I talked it over with Pare Lorentz. 
Pare was a very good friend of mine and as a matter of fact 
I think he introduced me to Steinbeck. He had been a critic, 
and a damned good one, the first of the good ones, and I told 
him, "Look. I have two or three things, particularly about 
the end of the book, the end of the picture. I don't like to 
consult Steinbeck, because for one thing, he'll say, 'Look, 
that's your job.' But on the other hand, I'd hate to do 
something which would seem to him to violate what he v/as trying 
to say in his story." I must have told Lorentz, maybe, roughly 
what I had in mind. I'm not sure about that. But Lorentz 
was one of those fellov/s that's sure about everything. Pare 
had very few doubts. He said in effect, "Look. If it doesn't 


violate the book, do whatever you want to that you think 's 
best. I'll promise you that John won't object, because he 
knows enough to know that this is another medium." This relieved 
me a great deal, because I put great faith in what Lorentz 
said, because he had a much broader, more intelligent view 
of that sort of thing than I did. I didn't hesitate, after 
that, to switch things around, or switch speeches around. I 
couldn't do it all, but I had to preserve the things that I 
thought v;ere pertinent and important. I did v;hat I thought 
v;as most effective for the medium, for the picture, and hoped 
to God that it would satisfy Steinbeck. As it turned out, 
it did, or so he said. And I believe him — at least he speaks 
to me. [chuckles] I still see him, very fond of him. [This 
was done before Steinbeck's death]. 

No, you have to do that. I'm doing Scuba Duba , to talk 
on another level. It is sprav<fling, in a rather small area, 
and it has almost no structure as storytelling is known or 
practiced, but it is full of funny stuff. After I v;orked on 
it awhile, I realized you could put it around anyv/here you 
wanted. It was so loose, if you found a good funny scene 
or a speech on page 82 and it sounded like it fitted on page 
32, it didn't alter it all. It Just wasn't that tight a 
structure, so I had no hesitation in sv/itching it around 
because Scuba Duba is really a brilliantly written comedy. 
It's as original, say, as the humor of Evelyn Vfaugh, except 


this is New York Jev/lsh and V/augh was English elegance. 
But Just as original, just as fresh. The screenwriter's 
duty, his loyalty, is not to the book. Whenever I work on 
these things, my eye is on the audience, not on the author. 
If afterwards, he chooses not to like it, but the audience 
did, all I can say is, "Well, there it is. That's my business. 
Pleasing an audience. Not pleasing an author." 

Stempel: Have you ever had a case vfhere you pleased the 
author and not the audience? 

Johnson: Well, I had a lot of cases where I didn't please 
the audience. [chuckles] I had very fev;, I'm sure, v/here 
I pleased the author. As a generality, I rarely heard from 
the author, ever. Either good or bad. I got one extremely 
nice letter, you see, I mean they're so fev; I can isolate them, 
from Sloan Wilson v;ho wrote The lAan in the Gray Flannel Suit . 
After he saw the picture, he vrrote me a very nice letter, and 
I stood there shaking. [laughter] So rare that anything like 
that had been done. If I were to sit here all night, I 
couldn't name six writers whose books I've adapted that have 
ever said a word to me, one way or the other about the thing. 
I know that Erskine Caldwell loathed Tobacco R oad , and said 
so, many times, to many people, but then so did I, but there 
was nothing to be done about it. They don't say anything. 
This fellow [E. M.] Nathanson, v;ho wrote Dirty D ozen , I never 


heard from him. I don't know v/hen I could go back and find 
anybody else, except John Steinbeck. John vms pleased. He 
was pleased v;ith The Moon is Down. Maybe he's too pleased, 
I don't knov7, 

Stempel: Looking back on it now, how do you think that 
The Grapes of VJrath affected your career? 

Johnson: I suppose it got me more consideration, but I don't 
know how you could say materially, because by then I was 
pretty well established as a screenwriter, and I had never 
specialized in anything. I write Grapes of Wrath and the next 
thing I do was some broad comedy. It's always been like that. 
I like it that v;ay. It certainly gives me more opportunity. 
They don't have to say, "V/ell, this is about V/orld V/ar One. 
Johnson, good for V/orld War One." I knev; a fellow that was 
very good on air stuff. Can't think of his name right nov;, 
but he wrote a half a dozen. That vjas his specialty and he 
did it very well. But there isn't always enough of one type 
of storytelling. This came about, of course, through House 
of Rothschild , because until Zanuck gave me that it never 
occurred to me to write a dramatic story. I think I wrote 
Thanks A Million right after House of Rothschild , something 
like that, and before that I'd v:ritten Moulin Ro uge , a silly 
comedy about tvjin sisters or something. At any rate, it at 
least gave me a broader field of activity, so that I didn't 


have to v;ait until something came along that I had a specialty 
for. I thought Grapes of VJrath v.'ould probably win the Oscar 
that year and I v/as quite disappointed that it didn't. 

Stempel: For v;riting, you mean? 

Johnson: Yes, because I guess that's as near as I ever came 
to it. This av/ard from the critics, [Johnson picks up plaque 
by his chair] Nev; York critics. It's so Goddamned heavy we 
haven't found a v;all that x-;e're sure it would hang on. [Stempel 
laughs] VJondering vrhat to do with it. But The Philadelphia 
Story v;on it that year. That did disappoint me because I 
did think that The Grapes of Wrath had more significance 
and had as much quality as Philadelphia St ory , as good as it 
was. On the other hand, I'm alvmys pleased v;hen a comedy 
wins, because with critical circles, comedy alv;ays has to be 
three times as good as anything else and then it may not get 
it. I mean, they'd rather give it to Jezebel v;ith Bette Davis, 
Nobody's going to give The Odd Couple the Oscar, though I'm 
sure, v;ithin its area, it'll probably be the best picture of 
the year for what it set out to do. Not many comedies get 
it and I was delighted. I only v;ished it had been some other 
year, that's all. [laughter] 

Stempel: Are there any other stories about Grapes of Wrath , 
before we leave it, that you can recall? Anything interesting 


concerning the picture that... 

Johnson: One very interesting thing. My wife v;as in it, you 
know. [Mrs. Johnson played Rosasharon] 

Stempel: VJell yes, I remembered that. 

Johnson: That v;ould have had an importance to me V;hether 
the picture v;ould have had any other importance or not. I 
thought she did a nice job. And it v/as interesting v;orlcing 
v;ith Ford but that's almost a formality. I'd already done one 
with him. Prisoner of Shark Island v;as before that. 

Stempel: At v;hat point in Gr apes of W_rath did Ford come on 
the picture? I notice in this book [on Ford] by Peter 
Bogdanovich, Bogdanovich asks him about Grapes of VJrath and 
he says, "VJell, I did it because Zanuck had gotten a good 
script for it," so it sounds like he came onto the picture 
rather late, after the script v;as already done. 

Johnson: He did. As I say, that \vas alv/ays the vmy it was 
with Zanuck. If John made any contribution to the storytelling, 
I can't remember it now. I don't doubt that he did, but they 
weren't major. He read It and he seemed to be absolutely 
delighted and pleased with it. I don't think John ever claimed 
anything that wasn't his, but John has been the beneficiary 
of more gifts by critics [Stempel laughs] than any man I know 


of. He's av/are of it, or he was aware of it when he was 

The first time I met him, at some gathering, it seems 
to me about a half a dozen people or something like that, and 
I had done a script called The Man VJho Broke the Bank at Monte 
Carlo . I had handed it in. I didn't know it had been offered 
to Ford. I didn't know v;ho it had been offered to, but some- 
body began talking, chatting there about directorial touches, 
v;hich v/as a favorite cliche of critics v;ho hadn't the faintest 
idea v;hat they vjere talking about. 

Stempel: Still is. 

Johnson: I guess so, because they don't know vmo [did v;hat]. 
I go to a picture, and I knov: the director and I don't knov; 
who did this or did that. It's just impossible. Critics 
three thousand miles away have no difficulty. Anyway, John 
v;ent on talking and he said he'd read a script he liked very 
much, but he said, "I'll tell you a thing that would be 
attributed to the director." V/ithout looking at me, complete 
deadpan, he described a scene I had written and I only remember 
that it had something to do with a wagon v/heel passing over 
a flov/er. I recognized it, and then he looked at me and 
grinned. He said, "Don't you think that's true, Mr. Johnson?" 
[laughter] I said, "I don't know who it's going to be 


attributed to, but I wrote it." He said, "I knov; it." 
[laughter] So he was quite avrare of that. I think John got 
actors to do more than they ordinarily v:ere able to do. I 
never read about his admission about some of his work until 
I read the Director's Guild magazine [September, 1968] v/hich 
came out this month or last month, and there v/as a kind of 
an Interviev? vrith Burt Kennedy. It v^as very interesting 
because John there, levelling with Kennedy, v;as absolutely 
contradicting his v:hole attitude on the set. I remember 
he talked about some actor coming in and put a coat dovm, or 
something like that. He took thirty takes and then he 
discovered the actor didn't know v;hat he'd done on the other 
side of the door. Remember that? 

Stempel: Yes. [Ford said he chewed out the actor for not 
reading the script]. 

Johnson: On the set, and this was consistent, there was 
always one time during the picture that John would stand up 
and throw the script on the floor with a big show of rage 
and say, "Some Goddamned actor has been reading the script." 
It was that part of him that just couldn't allow the fact that 
somebody else had written it. Nowadays he doesn't mind saying 
so. But he carried that to such lengths. He was so brutal. 
He was making a picture called The Long Gray Line with 


Ty Power, another Mick, and probably a good friend of his. 
Ty told me this. Ty v/as a fellov/ growing older in the picture. 
I didn't see it. Like any actor, fiddling around with his 
part, props, et_ cetera , he made some suggestion to John. It 
seemed to me as innocent a thing as it seemed to Ty . Ty 
said to him, "John, look, v;hat would you think if, now that 
I've reached this age, I smoked a corn cob pipe?" I don't 
knov; v/hether that v;as it, but it was close. Ty said, "Ford 
called the assistant, 'Now everybody sit down.'" Ty didn't 
knov; v;hat the hell he v;as talking about." He said, 'Nov: 
that we have silence, I would like to hear some more from 
this thinking actor.'" This v:as a humiliating thing, you 
knov;, but John had to prove to himself, or prove to the cast, 
prove to everybody, that everything came from him. 

He directed Helen Hayes in Arrov;smith . Helen said, "John 
loathed the stage. He loathed stage actors the minute they 
got off the train. The movies v;ere the only thing that existed, 
and he never overlooked an opportunity to make some sneering, 
snarling remark." And one day, Helen said he denounced her, 
or bawled her out so cruelly, in front of the v;hole company. 
Helen said, "I Just walked away. I walked to the other end 
of the stage and I sat down and I Just started to cry. On the 
stage I'd never been spoken to like this. I'd never had to 
undergo such a humiliating experience." Presently Ford 


wandered on dov;n there to her, and he said, "Aw now honey, don't 
take it so hard. I didn't mean anything by it." In his 
way, he v;as apologetic, and Helen said, "Never in my life 
had I v:anted to shov/ more dignity, to ansv;er properly." 
She said, "I heard myself saying, 'I'm sorry, but I am not 
used to being spoken to like that.' [chuckles] 'What did 
I say?'" John laughed and she laughed. "How in God's name 
could I have balled up a sentence like that?" 

Stempel: A picture that you v;ere listed on the credits as 
producer in 19^0, I happened to see on TV a couple of months 
ago and enjoyed very much. It v;as called I_ V^as An Adve ntur ess . 
It had Zorina, Richard Greene, Peter Lorre, Eric von Stroheim, 
and everybody looked like they were having an absolutely 
marvelous time. Do you remember anything about it? 

Johnson: I remember the title. I never saw it, I can only 
assume it was one of those pictures that appeared while I 
went away to quit. I really can't remember one thing about 
it. If somebody had asked me, I would have said, "No, I 
never made such a picture." I can't remember it. 

Stempel: It's kind of an off-beat little thing. I was 
interested, it was directed by Gregory Ratof f and you were 
associated with him in various ways on various pictures. 
What was he like as a writer, director, an actor? How'd 


you get along v;ith him? 

Johnson: Oh, I Just adored him. I think he's very good, 
except he v;as so extravagant, and I didn't think the actors 
could ever get any real shadings or anything like because Greg 
directed everybody like himself. [Stempel laughs] A company 
full of Ratoffs, make and female, v;as a little hard. He 
directed Husband , Vfi f e , and Friend, didn't he? 

Stempel: Yes, he did. He also directed Rose pf V/ashington 
S quare . 

Johnson: Yes, that's right. And The Man V/h o Broke the Bank 
at Monte Carlo v;as based on an idea by Gregory Ratoff . Nov: 
I don't knov/ v;ho paid off who on that one, but [Stempel 
chuckles] he must have ov/ed Zanuck $20,000, so Darryl bought 
a story for $20,000. 

Greg v;as a brilliant fellow and I was very fond of him. 
He v;as an incurable gambler and I remember asking Zanuck once, 
"What kind of a gambler is Greg?" V/ell now, the giant, the 
Dimaggio, of gamblers in this town was Joe Schenck. The 
wisehelmers would say he's got the heart of a lion. They 
meant it, because it took the heart of a lion to lay a hundred 
thousand dollars on the table. Darryl said, "V/ell, I'll 
tell you the way gambling is and the way gamblers are." He 
said, "One time, at Monte Carlo, we, Greg, Joe, and I were 
going." I think they were going to play chemin de fer, and 


Darryl said to Ratoff, "Now look, we're going to follow Joe. 
Do what Joe does." And Greg said, "Absolutely." So here 
these three set, alongside each other, putting their money on 
another draw of the card or whatever, and Darryl said, "Now 
this is the differences in gamblers. At the end of the thing, 
Joe had won tremendous lot of money, I had won a little, and 
Greg had lost." [chuckles] It was the way they gambled and 
how much each time. Neither Darryl nor Greg had the guts 
to go along with Joe or they'd have v;on big sums too. Greg 
[Johnson chuckles] might eventually have made a big fortune, 
because Greg bought the first James Bond story, Casin o Royale . 
He tried to get people to make it, tried to get the dough, 
couldn't get it, still owned it when he died. The James Bond 
thing came along. It became that tremendous thing that it 
did, and Casino Royale v;as still in Greg's estate, and that's 
where Charlie Feldman got it and managed to make one of the 
worst pictures in the history of the cinema, v;hich also made 
about as much money. [laughter] V/ell, you see hov^; things go. 

Stempel: Everything evens out. That brings us around then 
to Chad H anna . I was reading some of your short stories in 
The Saturday Evening Post and there are several mentions of 
circuses in them. Have you always had an interest in the circus? 
Is this how you got interested in doing Chad Hanna in the 
first place? 


Johnson: I don't know v;hether that v/as It, but my mother 
was a circus bug. I remember, as a kid, v?hen either Ringling 
Brothers or Barnum and Bailey, they v/ere separate then, or 
Gentry Brothers, v;ould come to my town. They alv/ays arrived 
about four or five o'clock in the morning. My mother got 
me up, and my brother came along, and v;e vient dovm to the 
commons, v;hich v;as a big fairground kind of place. VJe v/ere 
there all morning, v;atching them put up the tent. We hurried 
home, and v;e v/ent to see the parade. They alv/ays had a parade. 
We v/ent home, got our mid-day meal, then v/e went to the 
afternoon show, and that was the big day of the year. I 
remember, years later, I covered the circus every year in 
Madison Square Garden. It v;as a cinch of an assignment. 
All you had to do was get one story a day, those human interest 
stories. The press agent for Barnum and Bailey's was a fellow 
named Dexter Fellows, a wonderful old man v/ho became a very 
good friend of mine, and I remember one of the stories I 
had done was an interview with Lillian Lietzel. Now, Lillian 
Lietzel was a little woman, couldn't have weighed much more 
than a hundred five, ten pounds, and she was the star attraction. 
She was drawn up to the top of the tent by one arm. The ring 
stopped when this went on, and then she began swinging. She 
did a hundred giant swings there. I remember, when I was 
talking to her, she had a pride that very few women have. She 
said, "Look," and she showed me a callous that wide [Johnson 


indicates about three inches] around both v;rlsts. She said, 
"I can do it with either arm." This callous v;as like on a 
longshoreman's thumb. There was no feeling in it at all. 
It was scar tissue, and, my God, she was proud of this. 
Anyway, I remember one time when the circus hit Columbus 
again and Dexter Fellows was thoughtful enough to look up 
my mother and called on her and gave her four box tickets. 
To my mother it v;as like being honored by the King or the 
Queen, and afterwards Fellows took her backstage to meet 
Lillian Lietzel. Mother lived all of her life in Columbus, 
Georgia, and meeting Lillian Lietzel was like meeting Schirra, 
who Just came baick from around the world. But it had nothing 
to do v;ith that particuler picture. I just liked that little 
story. I can't remember much about it nov;. I nearly lost 
my wife, because she tested for the part that Linda Darnell 
got. Linda got it, and I v;as producing it, so you can imagine 
the coldness around the house when that came along. But I 
really didn't have very much to do with that, because they 
were aiming Linda for stardom. They weren't going to sidetrack 
her for anything. I don't remember very much about that 
picture, except that I thought it was a nice little picture. 
Fonda was in it, v/asn't he? 

Stempel: Yeah. Fonda played Chad Hanna. V/hen I was doing 
research, I came across several reviev;s of the picture, and 


nearly all of them seemed sort of negative, that it was too 

rambling, that it v/asn't very dramatic. I vjatched TV a v/eek 

ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know. Maybe 

they cut all the rambling parts out of it for television. 

I knov; they must have cut something out, because it v/as squeezed 

into an hour and a half or two hours time slot, but it v;as 

very charming, 

Johnson: I don't remember very much about it. I just knov; 
that it had kind of little title, Chad Hanna , that kind of 
thing. Zanuck kind of shared in this little inside joke, 
you knovj, "the man viho gave you Chad Hann a" kind of stuff, 
and he sent me a note he had received from Carson Kanin 
years after the picture. I didn't knov; Gar, and he said, 
"I see you're remaking some pictures. I would recommend you 
remake Chad Hann a and call it The Smallest Show on Earth ." 
[chuckles] That tickled Zanuck, tickled me. You know, it's 
the old story. It hurts too much to laugh, and you're too 
old to cry. 

Stempel: We'll go on then to Tobacco Road the following year, 
in '^1. I saw over in the Academy Library in one of their 
files a publicity release from '41 that said that Zanuck was 
Interested in doing a film of the play fairly early, and he 
sent you to New York to see the play and you almost couldn't 


get tickets because they announced that It v;as going to close. 
Of course after that it v/ent on to be a big hit. Did this 
actually happen or v/as this something...? 

Johnson: I believe so, something like that. The thing v:as 
that the thing got to be a hit on the basis of it being something 
dirty. The only thing I can think of that [Johnson chuckles] 
vjas dirty [v;as in the opening], I remember the old man came 
out as the curtain opened. He came out yavming and he'd 
clearly slept in his underv/ear. He v;alks around and stood 
with his back to the audience, yavming and scratching. Presently 
the audeince became aware he v/as pissing. [laughter] There 
was nothing said. He made no further point of it, but it was 
so natural. 

I was impressed by the play because I think that at 
that time Caldv/ell vms about as good a writer as v;e had in 
this country, for his regional stuff. I sav; once that Bill 
Faulkner named him number one, and things like God's Little 
Acre and Journeyman v;ere superb regional stories. There 
again was a form of humor, like, I was saying, Bruce Jay 
Friedman. It was that original, and I thought this was, let's 
say, a caricature, but a good caricature, the kind that, Al 
Freuh used to do. Remember him? He did it on the dramatic 
page of The New Yorker . He and Al Hirschfeld, the greatest 
we've ever had, but it was that kind of thing. It was funny. 


but it was real. I thought it v;as a great piece of regional 
comedy and there v/as something absolutely unparalleled 
anywhere else in the spectacle of those Goddamned crackers 
ruining that car. [chuckles] There was an essence of a people 
that nobody else had ever caught. You could be careless 
and trashy and indifferent, but all these people hopping 
in that car and they'd knock off a fender and they viouldn't 
care and they didn't put any water in the radiator. They Just 
drove it until it v;as nothing, not the slightest effort to 
do anything about it or save it or spare it or its value. 
There was piece of characterization that you don't run across 
often. I think that the opening line of Preacher in Journeyman 
[is as good]. You ever read it? 

Stempel: No. I haven't read that. 

Johnson [chuckling]: The Goddamndest rascal ever heard of 
comes into a village in Georgia. He's a hustler and he carries 
on a camp meeting. What the hell, they've got nothing to do, 
they gather, they sing these songs. Meantime, he's boffing 
all the wives. He has crooked dice. He has marked cards. 
By the time he leaves, he has really taken this town apart, 
and the last thing is the big Come-to-Jesus meeting and you 
begin to realize v/hat it is. They're having orgasms. They're 
saying, "Come through sister." "Come." And the town whore 


is Clarice, and she's on the floor and they're all begging 
her to come to Jesus. Finally she comes through and I mean 
it was like that triple somersault that v;inds up, an acrobatic 
act. "Glory to God." [chuckles] Glory to God. Now this 
whore hadn't come in yeai-s. But his dialogue v/hen he stops 
at the first house, fellow sitting on the porch, with his 
wife, wearing a skimpy little dress. Preacher conies up and 
sits down, and they invite him in to eat. The Preacher lets 
the wife go in the door first. As she goes in, he gives her 
a little pat on the ass, and the husband says, "V/ell, I tell 
you, Preacher. I don't know, I don't know if I like that." 
And he turns to him and says, so nicely, "Sir, I'm. a man of 
God but I do love my poontang." [laughter] Anybody that 
writes a line like that, I'm his man, you know. [laughter] 

Stempel: One thing I did want to ask about. I don't think 
we're going to have time to go in as much detail tonight, 
but one short question I wanted to ask you about. I noticed 
in the film [of Tobacco Road ] there is a sort of a prologue, 
a shot of the mansion house and they mention that this is the 
end of the glorious south, it's "all, all gone with the wind," 
and later on Jeeter has a line, "Remind me to think about that 
tomorrow," about getting money from Sister Bessie, which 
is very much like Scarlet's, "I'll think about that tomorrow" 
line. Was there really a conscious effort to take a jab at 


Gone With The V'lnd at that time, or did that just sort of 
come out? 

Johnson: I don't even knov; if it came after, v:as it after 
Gone With The Wind? 

Stempel: It v;as '^ll, I think. It v;ould have been about 
the time that Gone With Tho_ Wind v;as in release. 

Johnson: No, no, because that vas in the play. I remember 
nov;. That v;as in the play. No, it v;as a hell of a lot nearer 
the south than Gone VJith The Wind , I can tell you that. 
[Stempel laughs] 

Sterapel: I noticed in an interview v;lth you in the Nev; York 
Times book section about 19^0 v/hen you V7ere just starting 
to work on Tobacco Road , you said that you v:ere having 
difficulty getting ahold of the characters, that you couldn't 
really understand at that time what had made the play so 
popular. Did you have trouble getting the characters in that? 

Johnson: No, I can't remember that I did. I think I was a 
little puzzled because I think the popularity was based on 
something which didn't exactly elude me, but v;hich I didn't 
think justified it. People thought they were going to see 
something dirty. They're going to horse around, or it's 
going to look like incest or it was going to be close to it 

15 'I 

or intimations of it and all that sort of thing. The fellow 
who wrote it. Jack Kirkland, I knew Jack v;hen he was a 
newspaperman. There was a man v/ho never knew what he'd written. 
He v/rote a classic of this regional comedy, but it never really 
dawned on him. I would say that from the fact that from 
then on, he did nothing but plays vrhich v;ere deliberately 
dirty. It v^asn't as if he had found an area of life which 
v;as unusual, had its ovm color and all that kind of stuff. 
He only v;rote tv/o or three more, but you sav; v;hat it v^as. He 
thought it v;as something dirty or nearly dirty. "I'll have 
to get that again." You know, like all those people who 
rewrote Abie's Irish Ro_se_. [chuckles] For years after that, 
there v/ere more Goddamned Jev;ish-Irish romances going on. 
Everybody thinking it's going to have another five year 
run. It must have broken a hundred angels. [chuckles] 
It v/as a one-set play and a Jewish actor and an Irish actress. 
They do get like that . 

It was a sore disappointment to me. I couldn't do any- 
thing about it. Ford was much too powerful for me, and it 
was Just as if I were talking to him in Greek. To him a low, 
illiterate cracker and a low, illiterate Irishman were identical 
They reacted the same way. Since he didn't know anything about 
crackers, except me, [Johnson chuckles] and he did know about 
Irish, he simply changed them all into Irishmen. The whole 


thing v;as a calamity, and Caldwell blamed me, though I think 
If he'd have been a little more thoughtful, he would have 
read the script and found at least I was pretty faithful to 
the play, but he never did. I insisted that the script was 
better than the picture simply because of the way Ford directed 
these people. You send the thing in red and it comes out 
green. You knov; the same picture. That v/as a disappointment, 
because I thought that v;as an awfully good story. 

The only thing that came out of that was for some 
reason a line that I said that got quoted a lot. Some v/oman 
at some dinner party asked me if that vras the kind of place 
In Georgia I came from. Tobacco Road. I don't think she meant 
to be anything more than kind of clumsily funny, and my 
ansv/er v;as kind of automatically clumsy. [chuckles] I said, 
"Oh no. V/here I came from, we referred to those people as 
the country club set." There are sometimes lines that are 
so quotable and for some reason they are quoted over and over 
and over again. It seemed to me that Bennett Cerf must have 
reprinted it forty times, as if he'd neverheard it before. 
In those days I subscribed to a clipping bureau and every 
time he reprinted it, and another column would do it, I'd 
get twenty-five columns, you know, at ten cents apiece with 
this same Joke. I must have had 500, 600 clippings if I'd 
have saved them with this same Goddamned joke in it. At the 
same time Caldwell was getting it. He said, "You're costing 


me all of my royalties for saying a thing like that." 
[laughter] I was disappointed in that one. That v/as one of 
my big disappointments because I had high hopes for that. 

Stempel: You mentioned that you thought you were faithful 
to the play. Hov; much did you go back to the book in doing 
it? I noticed in comparing the book and the play and the film 
that there are some things that are much closer to the book 
than they are to the play. 

Johnson: As I say, I alv;ays try to be faithful to the audience, 
but v;hen I'm doing a play, it has already been faithful to an 
audience, and I don't tamper v;ith it as much because it's 
been arranged somev/hat. There were things that Kirkland 
either had overlooked or hadn't thought viell of or didn't fit 
in with his pattern that fit in with mine. I don't think 
I went back to the book except I read the book and I'd mark 
something I'd remember, "I hope I can use this," and find a 
place for it. Just as in this Scuba Duba , nov; I have the 
script of the play. It's been published by Simon and Shuster 
In hard cover. V;hen I was in New York, talking to Friedman, 
I was afraid that the book looked a little skimpy. I couldn't 
judge very well and I said, "Did you leave out any scenes? 
Have you got any stuff you didn't use? Stuff is always cut." 
He said, "Look, I have a script." I think it was about the 


third script. "And It's got everything in it . It's fat 
enough to run four hours." I said, "Will you let me have 
that?" He said, "Sure." He gave it to me, and while I'm 
sticking to the script of the play as it v/as published, I 
have the great good luck to be able to pluck stuff out of 
this fat script, which is loaded vjith funny stuff that they 
Just didn't have room enough, or time enough for on the stage. 
It Just so happens that this is his first play. He's very 
loquacious. He'll say the Joke three different times, and 
sometimes that's funny because each one of them is a little 
brilliant gem. But it often happens that one of those lines, 
wham, is better than scattering it over three. You Just 
kind of squash the laugh and so a good part of my Job v:as 
editing out things which I knev/ were funny, but one line in 
a picture is funnier. Did you see The Odd Couple ? 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: V/ell, there's one line there that I think is one 
of the most beautifully delivered lines. Matthau is talking 
about that note. He said, "I told you, don't leave notes on 
my pillov?." He said, "It took me three hours to work it out 
that F. U. meant Felix Unger." [Stempel chuckles] Beautifully 
delivered. VJell now, Friedman could have written that line, 
but he would have added two more lines to it, each one funny. 


and probably each as good as the other, but it scatters the 
stuff. The three funny lines together, aren't nearly as 
good as one funny line. P. U. meant Felix linger; you can't 
beat that, you knov;. 




[Before the intervlev; began, Mr. Johnson said he had agreed 
to direct the film Scuba Dub a , for which he has just finished 
the screenplay. He said, "They needed somebody really avant 
garde and naturally they thought of Johnson."] 

Stempel: You mentioned in talking about Tobacco Road that 
you had problems v:ith Ford because he v/asn't doing it the 
way you thought it should be done. You said that he was 
"too povrerful" for you. V/ere you saying this in the sense 
that he v:as too povrerful around the studio, politically, or 
was he just too pov/erful a personality? 

Johnson: No, no, no. Once the picture is on the set and 
the director's in charge, it doesn't matter whether it's 
Ford or anybody else. It's out of your hands. There's 
nothing you can do about it any more. You can say, "Look, 
this is going too far," or this or that, but you have no 
control. The producer has no control, the v;riter has no 
control. It's in the hands of the director. You can't change 
things like that. You just have to trust to luck, trust to 
your judgment. In Tobacco Road , you might object to the 
way the character is directed. You can't do it, what do you 
do, you see the rushes the next day, it's done. Beyond that. 


the director has one v/ay of directing a picture. There's no 
v;ay of altering it. I've tried it, or I've seen it happen, 
time and again, and if he understands he'll do it right. 
Unfortunately, if he doesn't understand, nothing you say 
will ever make any alteration in the thing. That doesn't 
happen often. I remember once I v/as doing a picture. In 
this picture, Gary Coope:- vjas the leading man, the other 
fellov; was playing the heavy and they had a scene. When I 
looked at the rushes, which vms alv/ays afterward, I said, 
"V/hy did you do this in that particular way, as if they hated 
each other?" He said, "V/ell, I'd like to make a contribution 
to the picture." I said, "Naturally, but if it's contrary 
to the spirit of the picture, v;hy do you think that's a 
contribution?" He said, "John Ford makes a contribution." 
I said, "Yes, he does, but the contribution is generally in 
the spirit of the picture." VJhat it amounts to is once they 
get started, there's nothing you can do. You just sit back 
and hope for the best. Zanuck said to me once, "Before you 
begin to beef, take a look at it and think about it. Is his 
alteration better than yours?" Well, it didn't occur to me 
that that could be possible. [chuckles] But I saw what he 
meant. It was true. He might be doing a better scene than 
I'd written, but I know v;hat that scene looks like v:hen I 
wrote it. Somerset Maugham explained why he gave up play- 
writing. He said, "The director has too much authority. In 

16 1 

addition, remember this. The only time that scene will be 
perfect to you is v/hen you v;rote it. After that, v;hen it 
gets on the stage, it may be better, it may be v/orse, but it 
v:on't be the scene you wrote." But by that time Maugham had 
so much dough it didn't matter. 

Stempel: You mentioned talking to Zanuck about this. I 
take it then you didn't have much recourse to Zanuck. You 
couldn't go to him and complain or didn't it do any good? 

Johnson: I could complain, but that's v;hat he said, "Look, 
on the set the director has 90 percent of control. You may 
be able to persuade him to do this or that, but only within 
10 percent. The rest of it, he's going to do it." We were 
talking about this tonight, Dorris [Johnson's v-zife] and I. 
If a man makes, let's say, a gross error in the first 15 
percent of the picture, he's liable to make eighteen gross 
errors. Correcting that one error does very little good. 
He made that error because that was the way he felt, and if 
he thinks that way, he'll make other errors which you think 
are gross. There's no way of stopping that. That's for 
the writer to. A fellow gave me a script to read today 
and I read it, and I saw things that I thought were wrong. 
I knew the book. You know, the girl was harsh v;hen she 
shouldn't have been. VJell, v/hat are we going to do? Or what 
could I do, because I'm just not a producer. How can you 
tell a writer, "Look, the girl's first line is, 'Take you hands 


off of me, you son of a bitch' and she's fifteen years old." 
I said, "If a man can vrrite that, he's going to write some 
very bad stuff from nov; on, because that isn't the v;ay the 
girl v;as in the book," and I knov: he did it only for shock 
appeal. He didn't have the patience to have that girl say, 
"How do you do sir." And later she's mean or tough. 

Stempel: This gets us something into another thing you 
mentioned. You said that you felt your loyalty was to the 
audience and not to the author of the original material. 
Could you go into that a little more, or could you think of 
some examples that you came across? 

Johnson: Yes. Yes, I can go into it, for the reason that 
you have to shift from the book. You read the book, get what 
the man is driving at, what he tried to set down, because an 
author of a book can wander around and do this, that, or the 
other or use elaborate means. As they used to say in the old 
days, it was very simple to pick out the hero from the heavy 
because v;hen the hero came on, and there v;as a dog there, 
he patted him on the head. That's the hero. Another character 
came on and the dog came up and he kicked him. That's the 
heavy. Very simple way of doing these things. But that's 
too simple these days. The best example I know of the 
transition of a sympathetic character into a heavy was in that 
picture. All About Eve . Anne Baxter, v;hen she came on, was a 


darling. She v/as young, she was anxious, she v/as ambitious, 
but before the end of the picture, she v;as a real bitch. 
That's the vjay a picture ought to do it, that's v;hat every 
story ought to do. Somebody ought to be different from begin- 
ning, from the beginning of the picture, the beginning of a 
story. Something should have happened during that thing so 
e.t the end of the thing, some sort of transition should 
have taken place. 

Stempel: Speaking of books that got translated into films, 
do you happen to .know, right off hand, if John Ford had read 
the book of Grapes of VJrath and the play or the book of 
Tobacc o Road? I know, on Grapes of Wrath ^ in one interview 
he said that he had read the book and in another said he hadn't 
read the book. Had he at all? 

Johnson: I have no idea. John didn't read much, but he may 
very well have read this. But if he hadn't read it, it wouldn't 
mean anything, because his business is to put on the screen 
the story he gets out of the script. I've seen people like, 
say, Greg Peck, a very earnest man. I did a picture with 
him. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit , and he had ^^50 notes 
in the book, v;hich he wanted to know v;hy each note wasn't 
in the script. I suppose I tried to explain. I thought there 
was reason for it, but there's really no reason for the director 
to read it. I've always said that there's no mystique in 


directing. It is critics who give them that mystique. I 
read the other day that Mike Nichols probably v;rote the most 
part of The Gr aduate . Nov; I've heard Nichols deny this, and 
I'm sure he's an honest man. He has no more reason to deny 
that than I would have to say that I made up this v;hen I 
didn't. Twice I heard Nichols say, "Look, v;e followed the 
book. We followed the script, and I offered very little 
to add to this story, even the dialogue." He's very honest 
about it. But this idea that there's a mystique about 
direction. . .as I say and have said so many years, there is 
no such thing. I remember one time talking to a critic on 
the New York Telegram. I suppose I'd had a fev; drinks, and 
I said, "I don't knov; why you put in your reviev/s v.'hat the 
director did v;hen you really don't knov;. I think they do 
it to impress the peasants. They don't know any different." 
At the next table was Gar Kanin, a first-rate director, 
first-rate writer too. I invited him over and said, "Look, 
I want to ask you something. Do you think that a critic 
can tell anything about the contribution of a director v;hen 
he looks at the picture?" Gar said, "He hasn't a prayer, 
but the only way he can tell is if he sees four or five or 
six or seven pictures in v;hich certain characteristics appear, 
then he has a right to say, 'These are the things that the 
director contributed to the picture.'" I think that's very 
true. But from one picture, there's no way of telling. 


Stempel: You mentioned that John Ford often got credited 
with things that the v/riters had put in. In the three 
pictures that you v/rote that he directed, did he ever get 
credited for anything that you had written Into the script 
that you can recall? 

Johnson: No, nothing in particular. The arrangement, the 
cutting, I've seen credited to him, and it v:asn't true. I 
knev7 v;ho had done it. It v;asn't John's fault. It was the 
critics' fault. They pretend to knovi more than they knovj. 
It's just Impossible for them to know. I did a picture once 
with Dan Dailey, and there v/as a little doll on the mantle- 
piece and as he v/alked by, he did something v;hlch ordinarily 
you v;ouldn't permit in those days. He picked up the little 
skirt and looked under it and walked on. Now I was directing 
the picture. I didn't do this. Dan did it, and it got a 
whopping laugh, it v/as such a ridiculous thing to look up 
under a doll's skirt. But no critic could tell that. But 
sometimes I think I get terribly boring on this subject of 
credit to directors. I know directors who'll have a girl 
sitting there on that chair, by that lamp, shoot from here, 
move up two feet, three feet, you know, and presently he's 
got more film. You say, "V/ell, was it worth it? Did he add 
anything by doing that?" But actors never know, or rarely 
know. One who does know, or is tough enough, is Frank Sinatra. 


Tell Frank to do this, eight feet away, move up three feet, 
Frank'll say, "Fuck it. You're not going to get any better 
performance from me than I did then." Some like this have 
that power, and he was right, really. Or shooting through 
wagon wheels, that kind of thing. I suppose it's because 
I directed that I find nothing mysterious about it. It's 
written on the paper. An actor knovfs hov: to act, or if he 
doesn't, I can't tell him because it's much too late for that. 
ki actor will knov; sometimes v;hen it's nonsense. You don't 
have to be too smart. I remember once asking Ava Gardner. 
I said, "V/hat about directors, what has this director got?" 
She said, "V'ell, Christ, he shoots ^5 different angles, you 
know, moves around, drives me nuts." But if they haven't 
got that, they haven't got anything. That's one of the reasons 
why, v/hen I first came to Hollywood, the director directed, 
the writer wrote, the actor acted, and the cutter cut it. And 
the producer had a role v;hich was recognized. But look at 
it now. They have eliminated the producer. The producer is 
almost nothing to them, only two or three or four or five 
producers are worth going anywhere near. It's the director- 
producer, or the writer-producer. They put those things together 
to do the thing and the producer only has one decision to make. 
This is most important decision in the v;hole business: let's 
make the picture. After that, he is almost without use, 
because the casting may be done. He may make a suggestion. 


He may have a hell of a good idea about v/ho is to play this 
part or that part. My God, I don't know hov; a producer fills 
his day or hov: he fills two hours. He has nothing to do. 
He comes dov/n, followed by five fellows, and they look at the 
rushes. If there is something flagrantly wrong, he can 
detect it, I suppose. But for the most part, he says, "Ah, 
very good," and v/alks out, you knov/, vjhich leads me to believe 
he didn't knov.' v/hether it was very good or not very good 
because he hadn't seen it put together. 

Stempel: Hov; is this different from v;hat the producer did 
when you first came to Hollywood? You said then that he really 
had a role. What did he do then? 

Johnson: He did five, six, or seven pictures at once. You 

know, Zanuck did forty. In those days, there was the matter 

of getting your script, cast, budget, all that sort of nonsense, 

and he worked on that, and if he had enough pictures, that kept 

him occupied. Right now. Jack V/arner hired me to do a script. 

For six months Jack Warner didn't have to do a Goddamned 

thing, nothing. He didn't have to make any decisions. He 

couldn't cast it because he didn't have a script. V/hen 

he finally got it, he made two or three foolish suggestions. 

The first one I remember. Somebody in the script yawned, 

and he put a note by it, "Never let anybody yawn in a picture." 

It was his idea that if somebody on the screen yawned, every- 


body in the audience v;ould start yavmlng. This isn't very 
helpful, to tell you the truth. But these days, a producer 
does one picture. You know only v/hen a producer is a good 
producer the way Gar Kanin said about a director. If Sam 
Spiegel makes African Queen, On the VJaterfront , Suddenly L ast 
Summer , if he does three pictures, four pictures in a row. 
Bridge on the Rive r Kwai, you've got a right to say, "Spiegel 
is a good producer." He's picked subjects, and he's stuck 
to them. Joe Mankiev;icz told me once that Sam sent him the 
script of The Bridg e on the River Kwai , and he said he read 
It and he told Sam he didn't v;ant to do it. Sam took it 
next to Kazan, and Joe said, "I called up Kazan," and I seid, 
"Look, Spiegel is coming to you v;ith a script. I Just v/ant 
to prepare you." Kazan didn't like it. Because they both 
liked Spiegel, they invited him to lunch to argue v;ith him 
against committing suicide with this script. Sam listened 
with his customary politeness, dismissed them, went off, 
finally got the English fellow... 

Stempel: David Lean. 

Johnson: David Lean. And made the picture. Sam, in other 
words, was about three times as smart as Mankiev;icz and Kazan. 
Huston also had turned it down. Joe told me there must have 
been five directors that turned this thing down, before Sam 
finally got hold of Lean and made a hell of a picture. I 
think Sam is a find producer, one of the best, but he only had 


to do one thing: "Let's make the picture." V/ell, he had to 
do tv/o, second, get somebody to write it. It v;as the same 
way, until he retired or stopped, v;ith Goldv/yn. Goldwyn had 
that kind of stubborn, tough, taste. The result vms that he 
made many good pictures. I had been, for a long time, writer, 
director, producer, all on the same picture, and I suppose 
this v/as vanity on my part because it v;as a terrible mistake. 
There should be somebody else, you knov;. There should be a 
producer. Sol Siegel, first rate, Zanuck. There v/eren't 
many of them that could read a script and say, "This is not 
right here or this is not right here or I think v;e can do 
better there." But, my God, how do you get a v;riter to v/rite 
it right? I couldn't do it. As I say, this fellow that gave 
me this script today to read, a story I knew very well, and 
it wasn't the way I would have written it, but that didn't 
mean it was the wrong, that this fellow's version wasn't 
better than mine. It's unfair to ask a man who knew how to 
write, vfho knew how he would have written the picture, to 
read somebody else's version because he's not going to like 
It. He can't help it, I could never be a producer again. I 
said I could never be a director again. These particular 
circumstances [are different] in this picture [Scuba Duba] 
where I know exactly what to do. I'm sure I do. Could be 
some other fellow could do it better. But I know it'll come 
close to V7hat I want if I do it. 


Stempel: Speaking of directors, you mentioned in one of the 
other talks that vie had, that you didn't think that VJellman 
directed Roxie Hart the v;ay you v;ould have done it. 

Johnson: No, Wellman did it, not tougher, but I thought 
cornier than I would have done it, 

Stempel: In v;hat way? 

Johnson: VJell, simple things. She had to be chewing gum 
all the time, because Bill felt that that showed [her character]. 
I felt that v;as too simple, too easy. I'd rather have had 
Roxie v/ithout chev/ing gum. Those little things, those details. 
The result was if V/ellman let Ginger chev; gum all the time, 
he's going to do ^5 other things that I vfouldn't have done. 

Stempel: Can you remember any of the others? 

Johnson: No, but I mean just as a generality. I can't 
remember it nov;, but if that v;as his idea, I should have 
known there was nothing I could do about it. I should have 
known that she v;as liable to say, "Gee V/hiz," or you know, 
she's liable to come out with a line [that's not right] or 
you're going to see Adolphe Menjou rumple his hair when at a 
time that I didn't think that a first class lawyer would go 
to all of these melodramatics . I thought it would be Just 
as good a picture, I think it would be a better picture, if 


that sort of thing wasn't done. But there it was. After 

you look at the rushes the next day, you see Menjou v;alklng 

up and dovm and rumpling his hair and making himself look 

kind of ridiculous, it's too late to do anything about it. 

I'm not the kind of producer that says, "Shoot this over and 

tell that son of a bitch not to rumple his hair." God, hov; 

can you tell, because most pictures are seen the day after 

they're shot and by then it is generally too late to do it the 

way it ought to be done. Now a director, if he's a serious directoi 

he's got to make them act like serious people. One time, I 

remember Heyv:ood Broun was V'/riting about a fellov; named Ed 

McNamara, v;ho was once a cop in Patterson, New Jersey. He 

was in this play, and Broun said, "McNamara played a cop as 

if he had been looking at cops, not at other actors playing 

cops." It's trying to be real. 

Stempel: Was it these problems with, or reactions to. Ford 
and v;ellman on Tobacco Road and Roxie Hart that led you to 
try directing on Pied Piper ? I understand that you started 
out to do part of it or co-direct it. 

Johnson: Actually, I said I'd co-direct it with Irving Pichel 
because I thought Irving could be a good director, but Zanuck 
had so many reservations about him. Actually, Pichel was 
four times as good a director as I could be, but I could only 
persuade Zanuck to let Irving do it if I said I would co-direct 


it. I don't knov; v.'hat he thought Irving v;as going to do. 
Irving v;as a good actor, and I've alvrays thought that actors 

hould make the best directors. They're very few of them 
ever. Writers become directors, but I think as a practical 
thing the actor should be able to direct. I v;as pleased to 
see v;hat Paul Nevman did v/ith Rachel , Rachel . No, once v/e 
got into Pled Piper , I never had anything to do v/ith it any 
more. I saw he was doing it all right. And I didn't like all 
those dreadful children. [chuckles] You know, let Irving 
have them. 

Irving v/as an extremely sensitive man, and I used to go 
out on the set to talk to him. All the time he v/as there, 
he was picking up things off the floor. It v:as a mannerism. 
Maybe a psychiatrist could tell v;hat it v;as , but Irving would 
go around picking matches and cigarette butts and all that 
sort of thing. I suppose he had ^5 different psychiatric 
problems. In addition to everything else, he had Parkinson's 
disease, and I didn't know anything about Parkinson's disease 
at the time. I remember I said, "V/hat is this? Is this a 
nerve thing? V/hat do the doctors say about it?" "Oh," he says, 
"I know very well v;hat it is. I'm an ex-actor. I'm torn 
between wanting to autograph and hating to sign a check." 

Christ, it's been so long since I worked with a director. 
I guess Hathaway must have been the last one I had anything to 


do v/lth. After that I directed rny own pictures. Then I did 
three pictures with Koster. One v;as Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation , 
one v/as Tak e Her , She ' s Mine , and then one I asked him to take 
my name off of. I Just v;ouldn't have anything to do with it. 
Henry was an old-fashioned fellow, and If it hadn't have 
been for the fact that Jlmmie Stewart vms the leading man in 
the pictures, he would have expired much earlier than he did. 
I'm afraid he's through novf, you know. But I've seen him, 
and there's nothing sadder than these old directors v/ho 
disappear and don't get jobs. In the old days, a fellow 
wrote a script, they hired a director. Nov;, quite often, 
unless they can get somebody like V/illle V/yler or Billy 
Wilder or somebody like that, the writer directs it. This 
all goes to prove, to me anyway, that the old-time directors, 
were a real collection of frauds. 

Stempel: Who would you include in that? 

Johnson : Oh, I couldn't possibly name people like that. It's 
unfair to them, because it's only my feeling about them and 
there might be a dozen other reasons why they're in the Old 
Actor's Home or v;hy they're not... I talked to a director, 
dead now, named Al Hall. Al for a long time, all the way back 
from silents, was, let's say, a reasonably successful director. 
But Christ, he really was not very good. I remember talking 
to him once, and he said, "You know Nunnally, recently I've 
counted up 23 pictures that I could have directed, but wasn't 


even asked to direct." I thoucht, "God, this Is one of the 
saddest things." He wasn't asked to direct them because he 
wasn't very good. Besides, they were demanding more of the 
director, and the director was doing more. All over Europe, 
and this has always been the case, the director was the God. 
He wasn't actually the God here, but he was Number One Man. 
I don't know much about foreign directors. I can't even think 
of their names, but I'm sure they must be contributing in 
the sense of thinking of the idea, thinking of the way to 
do it. In the old days when they took a script, they v;ould 
always say one line. The script might have been perfect, but 
a director would aD.ways say, "V/ell, I'll do v;hat I can with 
it." Brilliant. But I know directors, I hate to think of 
them. They come up to me sometime to talk, and I know what 
the talk is about. "Think of me to direct a picture." Nine 
times out of ten, I have no control over it v/hatever. Some- 
body else is producing it. I've no right to name a director. 
Those old-timers are fading away, all that majesty they 
had back in the tv:enties, thirties, and early forties doesn't 
exist any longer. Besides, a thing came along called television, 
and bright young guys began directing in television, and moved 
from that to pictures. 

Stempel; In Pied Piper how did you come to get Otto Preminger 
to play the German officer? 


Johnson : V/ell, no problem there. Preminger had been playing 
on the stage. The last thing I'd seen him in was Ma rgin for 
Error . He v;as right for this part and I asked would he play 
it and he said yes. Simple as that. V/hich reminds me of 
another George Kaufman story. Margin for Er ror was a play 
by Clare Luce and it was about the German consul in Nevj York 
being guarded by a Jewish cop, very funny idea. It opened 
in Philadelphia and, it didn't go very v/ell. Clare Luce ran 
into George Kaufman in Nev; York and asked George v;ould he go 
dovm and take a look at the play and see if he could make 
some suggestions. For what reasons I don't know, George 
either didn't like Clare or v;as busy, or whatever, and he told 
her he was sorry he couldn't do it. She said, "George, after 
all, it's for your people." George said, "Clare. All the 
Jews need is for you to take us up." [Stempel laughs] 

Stempel: This is one thing that struck me about The Pied Piper 
was the fact that the problem with the Nazis and the Jews 
was a basic plot point at the end with Premlnger's niece 
[Preminger played a Nazi who in the end persuades Monty V/ooley 
to take his Jewish niece out of German-occupied France], and 
I was kind of amazed to see that in a picture at that time. 
Did you have any trouble getting that into the film? Did you 
get any reaction to it? 

Johnson : I don't even remember that. Naw, I couldn't have 


had any trouble or I'd have remembered it. It v;as just 
a small part he had. That was one picture I did entirely 
from the synopsis, Most of the time you read a book but I 
read this synopsis, about fourteen or fifteen pages, something 
like that, and I worked the v;hole thing out from that. I 
don't think I read the book until after the picture was out. 
And I think [Nevil] Shute [the author of the book] probably 
recognized that, [laughter] because it wasn't the kind of 
people he had in mind at the time. I said, "But your interest 
must be in v;hat the audience thinks, not what the author thinks." 

Paul Gallico, I remember, wrote a nice little story, it 
v/asn't deMaupassant , which v;as made into a picture. I 
rememiber Judy Garland played in it, nice picture, and the 
script v;as written by Robert Nathan. Afterwards, after this 
picture came out, Paul wrote a letter, published somewhere, 
I don't know where, shov;ing his indignation at what had been 
done, the violation of his story. I remember he said Nathan 
had been to his house for dinner, and he said, "It would have 
been better if I had poisoned him." [laughter] I thought 
to myself, "Oh my God. Shakespeare might have had the right 
to say that, but not Paul Gallico." When you sell a story 
to the movies, or hope to sell the story to the movies, grab 
the dough and run and don't spend any of your time trying to 
figure out if all of those little nuances you had are in the 


picture or not. John Steinbeck said, "You don't disturb my 
story. It remains." Milly [Lewis] Milestone, an extremely 
intelligent, cultivated man, good director, understanding, 
he understood people and he understood actors. Milly's around 
here somewhere. Nobody vmnts him. What can you say, there's 
a fellow named Burt Kennedy, there's a fellov; named Jev^ison, 
there's all of these new fellows, also good, also coming up. 
They'll cut my throat. Me, at seventy directing a picture. 
You know, they'll say, "V/hat the hell is this?" But I tell 
you, it's like the playv;right v;ho had to pay $^5 for his seat 
that first night. He sat dovm and he said, "This better be 
bad." [chuckles] 

Stempel : Speaking of playwrights and theatre , the next film 
you did after The Pied Piper was called Life Begins at 8 : 30 , 
was based on the story by Emlyn VJillians. This one is one 
I haven't seen. I don't knov/ very much about it. Is there 
anything particular you remember about it? 

Johnson: It seems there I was doing Monty Wooley pictures and 
that was one. My God, I had forgotten that was by Emlyn V/illiams, 
and the reason I say that is, that a year or so ago, I sat for 
a long time with Emlyn V/illiams in London. It never occurred 
to me. There was no mention of it. So, I suppose it's Just 
another proof that the author doesn't care for the screenwriter. 
[laughter] But, God, it never occurred to me. Gee, a nice 


nan, too. Better be a nice man. But that v.'as one of those 
pictures v.'hlch was kind of carved to fit Monty. Who the 
hell played It on the stage? I know Jessica Tandy played the 
girl on the stage, the woman. God, I should have said some- 
thing. VJe got along famously. 

Stempel: You and V/illiams? 

Johnson: Yes. You know, it v?as a very pleasant thing. He's 
done so much good stuff, and I admired it so much, but if he'd 
have said something about Life Begins at 8 : 30 , I wouldn't 
have knov/n vjhat he v/as talking about. [Stem.pel chuckles] I 
really wouldn't have. I guess 1 v;as just looking around for 
something that had a part for Monty and that came up and v;e 
did it. Let's see, I did three pictures v/ith Monty, I think, 
tow or three. The Pied Piper . 

Stempel: Life Begins at_ 8 : 30 and then Holy Mat rimony , which 
v;as based en the Arnold Bennett book. 

Johnson: Holy Matrimony , yes. Yeah. Holy Matrimony was 
the best of them, but it was such a good story. 

Stempel: Had you known the book from a long time previous 
to v;hen you did the picture? 

Johnson: I don't know how long, maybe a couple of years. I 
remember I was in London and I picked it up Buried Alive , I 



Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: I read it and sometime subsequently, I brought it 
up to Zanuck and he said, "O.K., go ahead." God, it's a 
wonderful, wonderful story. I Just had a disastrous experience 
with it in New York. [Johnson worked on a stage musical based 
on the material called Darling of the Day ] 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: It had been played on radio by Alfred Lunt . 

Stempel: This vjas in the forties? I mean, before you did the 

JohnsorT : No, no, afterv/ards. Sometime during the fifties, and 
I'm sure it must have been in radio. Then I got Vincent 
Price [for the New York musical]. They got him, and he may 
not be an old queen, but he'll do. He camps all over the 
stage, and it just v/ouldn't have occurred to him that an 
actor can play a part, outside of those thrillers he makes, 
and not be loved. Ninety-nine out of 100 actors want to be 
loved. They've just killed their mothers, fathers, three 
children, but they want to be loved. [chuckles] 

I talked to him about it beforehand. He looked so good 
for the part, and I said, "Have you heard of Beecham, the 


conductor?" He says, "Oh, yes, yes, yes." I said, "Try to 
think of yourself as Beecham. Beechani is a very cultivated 
man, a very aristocratic man, egotistic, acrid, a little nasty, 
play it that way." "V/onderful," he says, and then he v/ent out 
and played it like Zasu Pitts. [laughter] And you couldn't 
stop him. He wanted to be loved. There was a line in there 
which fit in the character, some rather bitter line. It 
would come out, and ho v/ould practically wipe his nose on his 
sleeve to shov/ he vjas V/ill Rogers, you know, "Never saw a 
man I didn't like." The result vms the most horrible thing 
anybody ever looked at. 

Stempel: That v/as certainly rather different from the v;ay 
Monty V;ooley played him in the film, but the thing that struck 
me about the film v;as the enormous warmth between Monty V/ooley 
and Gracie Fields vjithout it ever becoming overly sentimental. 
Monty Wooley was still Monty VJooley, but there were marvelous 
little things in it. I have no idea v;hether these were in 
the screenplay or in the direction or the actors added them, 
but I remember there was one scene where Gracie Fields brings 
him his tea and almost automatically she puts exactly how many 
lumps of sugar he wants in it and stirs it for him, and you 
get a marvelous sense of the relationship between these two 

Johnson: If you've got two middle-aged people, you can't go 


very much in physical stuff. This v/as Grade's first straight 
part. Such a great v;oman and so natural. Very fev; people 
can play natural, and she could do it. I remember talking 
to her once and saying, "It's really so nice v;hat I'm looking 
at every morning." She said, "Are you kidding me?" "No, 
of course I'm not kidding you." She said, "But I'm just talking, 
I'm just talking like I do always." I said, "V/ell that's 
what makes it so nice." She said, "Nov? I think of practically 
dismantling myself on the stage trying to get people to pay 
attention to me [chud-cles]. It's hard to think of just talking 
and having people listen to it." She'd never done anything like 
that before, and never tried it afterward, I don't think. 

Stempel: Hov; did it come to happen that you did three pictures 
with Monty V/ooley all in a rov; like that? Uovi was he to work 

Johnson: I guess I got the rhythm of his delivery. Monty 
wasn't much of an actor. Monty was entirely dependent on 
lines. You give him the right lines, they were good. He 
became rather obsessed with the idea that he was the character 
he played, and off-screen he would try to be Monty Wooley, 
but it wasn't very good. I guess I fell into a rhythm that 
he liked and could do, and I liked it too, so we stuck with 
it. Monty got to be such a lush that it wasn't safe to go 
with him any more. He was a poor old queen and he was much 


more intellectual and literary than he v;as an actor in any viay. 
He began hitting that bottle so hard, people just had to give 
him up. I didn't v;ant to make a life of writing Monty V/ooley 
stories. I suppose sorae other story came up that I liked and 
v;e agreed to do it and that v;as the end of Monty for me. 
V/as Holy Matrimon y the last one I did with him? 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: What'd I do after that? 

Stempel: Then you went independent, but before Holy MatrJmony 
you did The Moon is Down . 

Johnson. : Oh yes . 

Stempel: V/hich v/as back with Steinbeck again. You mentioned 
that this was a play. Did you work in your adaptation more 
from the play than from the book? 

Johnson: No. John in those days would write a play and then 
he'd v;rite the book. 

Stempel : This is what struck me about the book is it seems 
to be structured almost perfectly as a play. There are eight 
chapters that make beautiful scenes. 

Johnson: Mice and Men is the same way. He'd write a play and 


then he'd just add a fev; paragraphs in betv;een, he said, she 
said, that kind of thing, and brought it out as a novel. 
He did that tv/o or three times. In The Moon is Down, I 
liked it as a play. God, there's seme wonderful stuff in 
there. He'd never been in Norway and I asked him, "How the 
hell did you get all this stuff?" He said, "Newspaper 
clippings." He read all this stuff in newspapers, and it had 
the ring of truth ahout it and I suppose truth is good in 
any country at any time. It was a good time to do it because 
Norway was occupied at that time and the war was still 
going on. 

A funny thing. Dorris said to me, "You know, a psychiatrist 
is going to get after you soon." I said, "For v/hat? Among 
other things." She said, "Do you realize that the last three 
pictures you have done, the murder has been committed with 
a pair of scissors?" "No, is that true?" She said, "Yes. 
In The Moon is Down, I killed a German v;ith a pair of scissors. 
In The V/oman in the Window , I think Eddie Robinson kills with 
a pair of scissors." And a third one. There v;ere three of 
them. In succession, and I was never aware of it. The cir- 
cumstances came up. That's why they won't let me have scissors, 

Stempel: I noticed in reading the notes on the copy of the 
paperback version of The Moon is Down that the sympathetic 
character of the German colonel was rather controversial at 


the time. Did this cause you any problems? 

Johnson: No. It v;as played by Cedric Hardv/icke and I talked 
to him about it for av/hile when I saw he vms to play it, 
and I think that Hardwicke put it right. He said, "I suppose 
It's like a Jesuit v.'ho doesn't really believe in the Church." 
I said, "That would do it. He was a soldier. He did his 
Job. But he didin't believe in what he was doing." I had the 
same situation in Rommel and I never thought of it in those 
terms. Rommel was simply a gentleman soldier. He didn't 
believe v;hat was going on back in Berlin, but I imagine he 
Just shrugged and said, "It's not my business. My business 
is to fight these Goddam.ned English here in the desert." 

Stempel: Do you feel that you were as successful v/ith the 
colonel in The Moon is Down as you were with Rommel? 

Johnson: Oh, within the limits, yes. The colonel was not the 
main part. Rommel was Shakespearean material. That was and 
will be material for some genuine drama. A man of his eminence 
torn betv;een his duty and his country and his reward of course 
was they killed him. 

Stempel: This is sort of a technical question about The Moon 
Is Down. In Deems Taylor's A Pictorial History of the Movies , 
they have a still from the Ford thing, How Green V/as My Valley , 


and it has a caption under the picture. It says, "V/artime 
econony note; you'll see the same set with snow in The Moon 
is Down." 

Johnson: That's true. 

Sternpel: And I noticed at the end of The M_qon l_s Down, the 
whole tovm is blown up. Did you really blow up this set that 
had been hanging around for a number of years? Or, hovj did 
you happen to come to use this set for The Moon is Down? 

Johnson : It fit so perfectly, because in both cases they 
were mines. Whether they blev/ up the whole set or not, I 
don't remember. Generally not. In those days they made 
miniatures and built them, blew them up. They maJce miniatures 
nov"7, but not the v;ay they did then. I don't remember much 
about Moon is Down , except that there v;ere two or three things 
that I remember critics saying. I remember one of the papers, 
probably The New York Times , kind of sneered at the idea of 
the hostages singing, "A Mighty Fortress," which is the Nor- 
wegian, Lutheran hymn, when they were to be shot. I don't 
remember whether this was in the book or not. It may have 
been in the book. At any rate, it certainly struck me, poor 
people who were going to be killed, lined up, tied to posts, 
you can't have them weeping and lamenting and fainting. Some 
may, but it struck me then, you look to, particularly these 


people, a religious thing, "A Mighty Portress is Our God." 

The Times dismissed this as a piece of corn. Subsequently, 

I saw two different stories in which that was the case 
during the vmr. 

Stempel: Nev/s stories? 

Johnson: News stories, yes, in which hostages, or people 
waiting for their death, sang, and they sang religious 
songs. Hell of a lot of satisfaction that did me, though. 

Stempel: You said you remembered a couple of things about 
The Moon is Down. V/hat else? 

Johnson: Well, one war, my v:lfe v.'as in it. One was an actor, 
v;ho's name I cannot think of. He was actually a German, but 
he became Dutch overnight. Van Eyck. 

Stempel: Peter Van Eyck. Yes. 

Johnson: Peter Van Eyck. Liked him very much. My God, he 
turned up in Berlin v/hen I v;as doing Night People and I used 
him in that. As always, he was awfully good. I remember 
the things that John said in the book. One v;as, that's 
almost like Czechoslova]<:ia today, "the flies have captured 
the flypaper." There's something so graphic about that, so 




[Mr. Johnson said before the interviev/ began that this would 
have to be a short session since he v.'anted to v;atch John 
Ford's film Cheyenne Autumn on television at nine.] 

Stempel: We said v;e were going to talk about some of your 
drinking buddies [Johnson laughs], particularly Herman 
Mankiewicz. Everybody that writes about Herman Mankiewicz, 
and everything that you and your wife have said was that he 
was a very witty fellow, very sharp and yet, I was looking 
up this afternoon at the films he did, and he did several 
that were very good — Dinner at Eight , The Royal Family , and 
of course Citizen Kane — but he didn't seem to do that many. 
Why v;asn't he able to get more into his v/ork? 

Johnson: Well, I'll tell you. I'll tell you the way he, 
[Johnson chuckles] explained some of it. There vias a comedian 
named Ted Healy. He v;as an Irishman that had been playing 
in Shubert shov;s and vaudeville for twenty-five or thirty 
years. Very funny man. I remember Healy said [Johnson chuckles] 
that v;hen he died, he v;anted the undertaker to lay him out in 
the coffin so v;hen people came in, he v;ould be like this. 
[Johnson indicates a man lying down with a finger to his 
lips saying, "Shhh." Laughter]. Anyway, he drank with Mank 


v;hen Mank was at Paramount. They'd go across the street 
to Lucy's [a restaurant across the street from Paramount] and 
knock it off. But Mank said, "I never felt that v.'e were really 
in sync though we got along very well. Then one afternoon 
we were having a few." Healy looked at him for a minute, 
completely illuminated. He said, "I've got it." Mank says, 
■=VJhat?" "I cannot be happy with a fellow until I've got him 
pegged. Now I've got you pegged." Mank says, "V/ell what is 
It?" He says, "You're an Irish bum." Perfect description 
of Mank, He was Jewish, but he was an Irish bum. 

Mank was witty, but his wit took a much more elaborate 
form than v;isecracks. He could improvise in a v;ay that just 
held you spellbound. It is really shameful of me to even 
try to quote some of these things that he said. He'd tell 
about such and such a producer. And Mank vzould claim that 
this producer had sent for him once. The producer said, 
"Nov; look, we've got an av;fully good beginning for this 
story. This is it. We open in an office building. V/all Street. 
Beautiful office. Clearly an old banking firm and this man 
gets out at five o'clock, gets in his chauffered car v;aiting 
for him, and drives up to an apartment on Park Avenue. He 
goes in this apartment on Park Avenue, dismisses the limousine. 
He comes back dovm, white tie and tails, gets in another 
limousine. They go v/ay up in the Bronx to a dark street full 
of black warehouses. He goes and pushes a button, doors open. 


He goes in, the doors close, and a Hindu bov;s deeply to him 
and says, "Master," and he leads him into an enormous chamber 
lighted by great flambeaus, draped with velvet. There, ten 
or fifteen Nubians bow to him, and he says, "Is the sacrifice 
ready?" They say, "Yes, Sahib." He goes into a retiring 
chamber v/here he changes into royal raiment of an Arabian 
character. He's anointed with oil, ointments and so on, and 
he moves on further into this great hall, like a temple. It 
is filled v/ith all these oriental characters and he is bov;ed 
down to as a god, and he goes up in a pulpit. He looks dov/n 
and he says, "Bring the sacrifice." They go out and they 
bring back a Circassian slave, blond, wearing lace. He says, 
•Kneel,' and she kneels." Mank said, "Then the fellow stopped." 
Mank said, "What else?" He said, "Now look. All I want 
from you is this. V/hat the hell is this son of a bitch up 
to?" [Stempel laughs] You know. It v:as a little work of 
art of, you knov;. I was talking to Joe the other day. I 
said, "God, two people need to be biographed , one George 
Kaufman, and one was Herman." George had many more achievements 
and distinctions than Herman did, but Herman lived a life 
that you could hardly write down, the things he did. Mank 
was forever broke because he was playing cards and apparently 
he couldn't play much better than a seven-year-old child, 
but he insisted on playing with people like B. P. Shulberg 


and people who bet thousands and thousands and thousands. 
So he v;as continually flat broke, and Shulberg, who was the 
head of the studio, had only one thing to do, tell Mank to 
vrrite some kind of story that he'd buy for thirty thousand 
dollars for Pararaount and Mank would pay him the thirty 
thousand dollars he owed him for gambling debts. Somebody 
once said to Mank, "How's Sarah?" [Mank's wife] He said, 
"Who?" He says, "Sarah." "Oh my God," Mank said, "She's 
referred to so often as poor Sarah, I didn't recognize it 
at first." [Stempel laughs] Somebody once said, "Is it 
true that you gave her a bum check for three hundred dollars?" 
Mank said^ "Yes. My God, it v;as Friday afternoon and I 
didn't want to spoil her weekend." [laughter] Brilliant. 

Stempel: You said that Manklewicz did the original screenplay 
for Kane, then took it to Orson V.'elles. How did he get the 
idea about doing a film about Hearst? 

Johnson: That I don't know. You stand looking at it for 
awhile and you say, "Well why didn't somebody do it before 
this?", once the idea came up. I think he did Pride of the 
Yankees , too. 

Stempel: Yes, he did. 

Johnson: Mank was a good film writer, but let's say he wasn't 


dedicated to his art. [Johnson chuckles] His vihole idea v.'as 
to see how long he could make a Job last. He had very little 
pride, even the most ordinary pride. I hired him on pictures 
a couple of times, but he just wasn't dependable. He was just 
unreliable. Nothing came out of it. 

I remember once. He and I had lunch every Saturday at 
Romanoff's there for a couple of years, our weekly Saturday 
lunch. He pays one Saturday, I pay the next. Then Mank had 
a long period v;hen, as v;e say, he was "available." I picked 
up the check. For seven or eight months v;e continued having 
lunch, and occasionally he'd pick it up, but not much. I 
wouldn't let him. Then he called me up and said, "Look, I 
am the host today. Can v;e have lunch at Lucy's?" I said, 
"Sure." I v.'ent down there, "Who is it? What are you going 
to do?" He said, "Well, Hecht got Ben Bogeaus," who was a 
producer who just died about a month or so ago, a fellov; 
that didn't know anything about movies at all, "to hire me to 
do a script for Hedy Lamarr." He said, "V/e're going to talk 
it over this afternoon." We had lunch. The son of a bitch 
drank nine double martinis. I should be the last person on 
earth to caution a man about drinking, but I finally had to 
say something. "Look Mank, if you go to have a story conference 
or aomething with Bogeaus, don't you think you ought to ease 
off here?" "Oh, no, no, no," he says, "Perfectly all right." 


About '1:30, I v;as back at-Pox studio, and the phone rang. 
He said, "You remember that nonsense about employment?" 
[chuckles] I said, "Yeah." "All over." "What happened?" 
He said, "Bogeaus turned out to be nervous in front of a man 
who's had a fcvi drinks." All I could think of, Mank looked 
like one of Capone's worst henchmen and v/hen he v;ent in there, 
Hecht told me later, Bogeaus v;as absolutely v/hite with terror. 
Mank began barging around the room and falling over the desk, 
and Kiss Lamarr screamed and ran. Bogeaus sent the secretary 
in and told Mr. Mankiev:icz the whole deal was off. An Irish 
bum. ■ 

Groucho was telling m.e, "VJhen v;e first v;ent out to 
Paramount and made those first pictures, Mank v/as producer. 
For some reason v;e got to talking about our favorite actresses, 
or women. Mank had conceived a tremendous liking for Barbara 
Stanwyck, who had Just come out, young, charming, beautiful, 
very easy to talk to, witty. Mank said, 'VJell, Barbara 
Stanv/yck is my favorite. My God. I could just sit and dream 
of being married to her, having a little cottage out in the 
hills, vines around the door. I'd come home from the office, 
tired, weary, and I'd be met by Barbara, walking through 
the door, holding an apple pie that she had cooked herself. 
And no drawers.'" [chuckles] 

People didn't like him much. It was easy to understand. 


I don't think Dorris could abide him. Oh, he v;as kind of a 
gross belcher, you knov?, but it was hard for me to resist 

Stempel: What about Joseph Mankiev;icz? According to the 
credits, you worked v;ith him on a picture called Keys of the 
Kingdom [in 19'1^]. This was after you'd become independent, 
but it v/as done for Fox. Did you go back to Fox or v/as this 
a thing that you'd done before you left or...? 

Johnsor? • No, no. I did it. Joe is a good friend too, but 
Joe's alv/ays been contentious. He had all of the ambition 
that Herman didn't have. Joe is a bright man. I had finished 
this script. Keys o_f_ the Kingdom , when I left Fox to go to 
International, and Zanuck was very cross v;ith me at the time, 
because he had some idea I had leagued myself with Bill Goetz 
and they'd had aome feud. I hadn't. I hadn't talked to 
Bill Goetz for six months. Anyway, he turned this script over 
to Joe who had just came over to Fox from Metro at the time I 
left there, A couple of months later I got a call from the 
Fox story department or legal department and they said that 
Joe had submitted the script and on it was his name, sole credit, 
"Screenplay by Joseph Mankiewicz." They said, "Since you 
worked on it, and I can tell you there isn't a great deal of 
difference in these two scripts, what's your answer to this?" 


I answered, "If there's any controversy or contention about 
the matter, turn it over to the arbitration committee at the 
[Screen V/riters'] Guild. V/hatever they said, it suits me." 
They came back v;ith the co-credit "By Nunnally Johnson and 
Joseph L. Manklev;lcz." I think it was the first time that 
I'd ever had co-credit. Since I first got here, I wouldn't 
accept co-credit. If I didn't get solo credit, on those two 
or three occasions when the matter ever came up, I either 
wlthdrev; or told them I v;ouldn't permit the other fellov;'s 
name on it, if I felt I v;as quite in the right on the thing. 
V/e didn't collaborate because, Christ, I never sav; it. In 
this case, I'm rather sure that Joe v/as entitled to co-credit 
on there, because I knovi hov; good he is and I knov; he v/ould 
have contributed, but this fellow Heller keeps getting his 
name tied up to things Aldrich is doing and I think that that 
was unfair, really, but I'm never one disposed to make any 
great issue of the thing. It's all over. Joe and I were, 
were and are, very good friends. I remember he came to 
me when T-lank died and asked me to deliver a eulogy at his 
funeral. As I say, I am not a man to speak on my feet. I 
never have been. I've done it three times in my life. All 
three were eulogies at Jewish funerals: Leo Spitz, who I 
was devoted to, Leonard Goldstein, another good friend, and 
Herman Mankiewicz. Joe knew I was Mank's best friend and I 


delivered this stumbling affair, vihile, Joe told me, he v/as 
fighting off a free-lance Rabbi [Stempel laughs]. He said, 
"You should have seen the son of a bitch. He was trying to 
get in there, saying that a real Rabbi should handle this 
ceremony." I had been reluctant to do it because Sarah, 
the v;idow, is very Orthodox. I told her, "Sarah, v;hy do you 
even ask this? VJhy don't you have Herman buried in the rites 
of the church, your church, your feelings?" "No," she said, 
"Herman v/ouldn't have tolerated it. He wouldn't have anything 
to do vfith it, so I want you to do it and I want, if you can 
say sucli a thing, the kind of ceremony Herman v;ould have 
approved of." 

Stempel: I v;ant to ask you about some of the people you 
worked v;ith at Fox, Harry Brand is a person whose name 

keeps popping up in various things that I read. V/hat was he 

Johnson : He was and is a rather strange and almost unparalleled 
humorous man and he's kind of honorary press chief over there 
now. Bob Goldstein says all he does is v:alk around in a 
heavy overcoat, no matter what the v.-eather is. [Stempel 
laughs] Hottest day of the year, Harry comes wearing a big 
heavy overcoat, but he has this dry humor. He called up 
Goldstein in New York once when Bob was there for Universal. 


He says, "Bob, I'd like your advice. VJe're in quite a situation 
out here." Bob says, "V.'hat's that, Harry?" He said, "V/e 
have eleven pictures in production here and only ten vice- 
presidents. The question is, shall v:e cancel one of the 
pictures or make another vice-president?" [laughter] I 
remember once Charlton Heston v;as being sought for a picture, 
and he said, "There's a bit of a gap here about the price." 
What v;as that big spectacle picture that he did in Rome? 

Sterapel: Ben -Hur? 

Johnson" • Ben-Hur. "He's asking off of Ben - Hur and v/e 're 
offering off The Wreck of the Mary Deare ." The Wreck of the 
Mary Deare v;as his picture too, but it had earned about 
eight dollars and a quarter. Harry said, "We haven't been 
able to get together." [laughter] I think Harry must know 
where more bodies are buried. He knov;s more secrets than 
anybody in this tov;n, and they are all safe with him. He 
covered up for this person and that person. 

I remember I got in an accident. I'd been drinking, 
in the car, and I was pulled in for this. I called Harry, 
and he said, "I'll take care of it." I was taken into some 
kind of a traffic court. My lav/yer turned up. Jerry Geisler! 
Ke in there for a Goddamned little traffic violation, in 
walks the most important lawyer in Los Angeles. Harry said. 


"This vnMl send your fine up a little bit, [Stempel laughs] 
but 1 think it's safer to do it this v;ay. Besides, you don't 
knov; it, but you v;ill presently get a bill for uniforms for 
the judge's son's baseball team." [chuckles] I said, "I'll 
be very happy to pay for it." 

Stempel: I also v.'anted to talk a little about the role that 
agents played in your life, particularly Johnny Hyde. I 
knov; in that Pete r4artin article you're quoted as saying, 
"People v;ho like Shakespeare shouldn't complain at the money 
I'm getting because Shakespeare didn't have Johnny Hyde for 
an agent." V/hat did he do for you v;hile you \ieve under contract 
to Fox? 

Johnson: For av;hile, it looked as if there was nothing to 
be done, because I'd sign a two-year contract or a three- 
year contract at that time, and they had nothing to do for 
three years. At the end of three years, it alv;ays seemed to 
me three men about four foot eight would come around: Abe 
Lastfogel, Johnny Hyde, and another little short fellow. 
These three little short-legged men would run back and forth 
between m.y office and Darryl's office and then they'd said, 
"It's all set. Three years. Four years." Whatever the hell 
It was. Johnny was, beyond being an agent, he'd become a good 
friend, and he was a very far-sighted fellow. Johnny decided, 


"You're not going to get any more dough here and it's all 
salary, so I think we ought to look around for another sort 
of set-up in which you will participate in the company and 
in the production of the pictures." It turned out at that 
time that Leo Spitz, v;ho was a very well-knovm and very wealthy 
lav^yer, and Bill Goetz, v;ho had pulled out of Twentieth 
Century-Fox, v;ere organizing International. Johnny viorked me 
into that, so that I became a part of the production organization, 
He was very smart with all these maneuvers v/hich I didn't 
understand and didn't care very much about. He kind of 
handled everything for me so that I could get a little more 
money that I could keep. The philosophy of the United States 
government is entirely against talent, I put it in this 
sense. Say there'd be a company making a picture there, and 
I would ovm forty-nine percent of it, say, and Bill Goetz 
and Leo Spitz v/ould ovm fifty-one percent of the thing 
because they put up the dough. My conti'-ibution v:as my 
participation in the making of the picture, v;riting, and 
production. When the time came around to cash in, that capital 
gain affair was a breeze for them, because the philosophy 
of the government is that they invested money. It v/as pointed 
out that they felt that I had invested the equivalent of 
forty-nine percent in my ability to make pictures. The govern- 
ment just laughed at that. For me, it v:as income. But 


nevertheless, I did better than I v;ould have done otherv/lse. 
That happens to be the v;ay the government looks at things. 
Still is. They v;on't let you get away v/ith investment of 
talent. Money talks. Money's the only thing that'll be 
recognized as a genuine investment. 

Johnny Hyde brought around Marilyn Monroe to me, tv.'o 
or three times. Johnny was a little fellov;, but he had an 
eye for beauty, and he was trying to get anybody to hire 
Marilyn. I daresay I might have hired her if I'd had any 
picture v;ith a part small enough to Justify a girl v/ho had 
no experience. I just never had one. Then I must say, 
he died like a brave hero, because Johnny had a heart attack, 
and the doctor told Johnny by leading a quieter life that he 
had a life probability of a good many years, but leading a 
proper life meant not sleeping v;ith Marilyn Monroe. Johnny 
died like a man. He wouldn't give that up, V^ent about a 
year later, took him off. I'd see her sometime at lunch 
with him. She never said anything. I can't remember her 
saying a word. And I wasn't bowled over by her beauty, either. 
I thought, "She's another one of Johnny's little girl friends." 

Then Burt Allenberg, who had had an agency of his own, 
moved into V/illiam Morris as some kind of partner, and he was 
my agent for ahout ten years. Burt was a loyal, practically 
fearless man, V/hen I say fearless, when you're talking about 


an agent, I mean that no studio intimidated him. Most agents 
v;ill give you a trimming as a kind of a survival. They're 
not going to offend an outfit that could employ one hundred 
of your clients, I never sav; Burt ever give an inch and I v:as 
far from a big client of his. Big clients are the actors 
who get tremendous suras, that kind of thing. I outlived him, 
and I had Marvin Josephson, and I have great respect for him 
too. As a matter of fact, I'm a bit in a minority about agents 
because they've benefited me and none of those three has ever 
been anything but, fair and honest so far as I ever knev;, and 
proper as the most proper businessman or statesman could be. 
I remember Burt going up against Hov/ard Hughes. This v;as 
because Hughes, vrho v;as then running RKO had some kind of 
contract or made some deal with Jean Simmons. Burt v/as rather 
a proper man, and v;hen he met Jeannie Simmons, there was no 
contract with Hughes, This v;as just a figment of this ego- 
maniacal man [Hughes], and he Just thought with the power of 
his attorneys, he was determined that she should do certain 
pictures. Burt v;as at his home and there were tvjo lawyers there 
from Howard Hughes, Burt knew Jeannie only slightly. At 
that time she was only about seventeen years old, eighteen years. 
She started out here very young. But said he was arguing 
with these two fellows. He thought it vjas very stupid to 
try to compel an actress to v;ork for him if she not only felt 


that she wasn't obliged to but didn't v;ant to. He said, 

"Jeannie spoke for the first time. She'd been sitting over 

on the side there. In this English voice, she said, 'He 

wants to fuck me.' I Just didn't knovj v/hat to say," he said, 

Stempel: It's about nine o'clock. 

Johnson: Oh is it? 

Stempel: Maybe v;e'd better stop and go say rude things about 
John Ford. 

Johnson: All right, 

[So Johnson and Stempel vmtched the first hour and a half 
of Cheyenne A utumn , Johnson had wanted to see it because he 
had recently finished a script about Indians, The Frontiersman , 
and v;anted to see how Ford had handled the problem. After 
an hour and a half, he decided it didn't make any sense and 
he could not learn anything from it, so he stopped watching,] 




Stempel: In the last intei^viev?, you said you had alv;ays 
asked for solo credit and you didn't like to have co-credit 
on a screenplay. If you couldn't have solo credit you'd 
ask to have your name taken off. VJhy did you come to feel 
this v/ay? V/as this sheer ego on your part, or did you get a 
better financial deal on the next screenplay you v/rote? 

Johnson: I thought I could get a better financial deal on 
the thing. It began that v/ay, anyv;ay. I worked v;ith Arthur 
Kober and Kober did some of the technical v;ork and I found 
out Kober v;as getting more than I was. This struck me as 
being unfair, just to knovf a fev: little technical things that 
you could learn in a half hour. So the next time I came up 
for a Job, I asked for twice v;hat I was getting, on the grounds 
that I was doing both jobs. And they v;ere idiots. They gave 
it to me. I don't mean they v;ere idiots for giving it to me. 
They were idiots for not knowing that one man could have done 
it anyway. By then, anybody could have picked up these 
"fade out," "fade in," "iris in," "wipe." I'm sure my first 
script was almost unintelligible to anybody because I used them 
all. [chuckles] I v;as going to let them know that I knew 
that whole business. I saw too many teams around here. Nearly 
everybody was a team or member of a team. There was only three 


v;ho were consistent in v;orking alone, Riskin and Nichols 
and myself. I'd see these teams and if they had a flop, 
or had, say, more than one flop, they v;ere separated. I 
didn't v;ant to be dependent on anybody. I couldn't understand 
being dependent on anybody any more than I could stand a 
collaboration on a short story or a collaboration in a book. 
You do it yourself. I thought it should be done that vmy, 
and I managed to make it stick. I got the money, $600, but 
the triumph v;as more that I v;as entrusted v;ith the whole thing. 
I didn't have to depend on somebody for what seemed to me 
a childish bit of collaboration. The first fellov; I v/orked 
v:ith, V/ally Young, I can't remember he ever v/rote a v;ord . 
He worked v/ith a collaborator the way George Kaufman vjorked 
with a collaborator. George v;ould write some of the stuff. 
I collaborated with George once. I'd write it. He'd go over 
it, make a fev; changes, hand it back to me. V/hen he and Moss 
Hart, or Marc Connelly, he collaborated v;ith so many different 
people, they v;ere genuine collaborators, and of course the 
best of them was Russell Grouse and Howard Lindsay, and they 
did work wonderfully together. Howard was a great technician, 
and Grouse was very good with ideas. That was a very fortunate 
collaboration. But I Just didn't want to be in any position 
where I was suddenly out because the fellow with me hadn't 
provided. If I failed, I'd fail by myself, and if it was 
successful, I wanted it my success, not somebody else's. God 


knov/s, I examined every filrn I looked at, as I do today, more 
these days than ever, for what I can learn. I am less interested 
in, or it takes more to interest me in a picture than it did 
in the past. I go to see a picture like The Odd Couple, and 
I should go back to see it again because I was laughing so 
hard and I enjoyed it so much, I forgot the fact that I was 
also a student there, studying this thing. V/e went in there 
and looked at . . . 

Stempel: Cheyenne Autumn . 

Johnson: Cheyenne Autumn . Nothing you could learn from a 
thing like that. It v;as pure trash to me, just great crowds 
of people riding across the screen. I looked at as many 
pictures as I could, especially pictures by mien like Lubitsch. 
I examined every frame because Lubitsch, to me, was the real 
top of sophisticated picture-making. I looked at a little 
piece of one the other night, and I v/as so delighted. This 
was Heaven Can V/ait . You see a man come striding down the 
hall. It had Don Ameche in it and, you know he's going into 
his wife, or girl or whatever it v;as, the v/ay he strode 
dovm the hall, everything prepared. He v;ent in that door. 
Nov; the ordinary screenwriter v;ould have gone inside v;ith him 
and had that scene, that row. The camera remained on that 
door and Ameche strode out, slammed the door, v.'ent on back, 
what the hell happened? He kept you in suspense, went dov;n 


and talked to somebody, and then v;ent back. There's more 
walking and slamming of doors in Lubltsch pictures, you knov;. 
[chuckles] To look at it in front of an audience, they laughed 
like hell. They liked that little bit of mystery v;hich he 
gave to comedy situations. And I listened to v;hat people 
told me about screenv;riting, guys that I felt were smart. 

Stempel : Such as? 

Johnson: One fellow told me, "You should have economy. And 
there may be a couple of ways of putting it: One, that you've 
got to pay for every v;ord you make that actor use. [Johnson 
chuckles] You be Goddamned sure not to get loquacious." 
Another fellow v/ould say, "A good scene ought to be exaniined 
and put down as carefully as you put dov/n a night letter." 
Telegraph. "You do better with a straight v/ire, ten words, 
but you don't go crazy simply because you have fifty v;ords 
that night, you knov;? You can tell more." Those things 
stuck to me. The producer [of Scuba Duba ] out here, [Ivor] 
Balding, said, "Bruce Friedman was here. He wants to read 
your script of Scuba Duba ." I said, "I'm quite willing. 
Perfectly all right with me. I think it's a mistake on his 
part, but if he vvrants to read it, go right ahead." I had tried 
to stick as close as I could to it. He told me today, "You 
know Bruce read the script. He said, 'You know, it's much 


harder to read your lines after they've been rev/orded by 
somebody else than I had ever expected.'" I said, "Tell 
him this doesn't surprise me. I v;ouldn't even let Mark 
Tvmin f u dc around v;lth my stuff." [chudvles] It is just 
that thing that any v;riter does. He doesn't v/ant anybody 
messing around v;ith it. I thought he v:as much too loquacious 
and the most I did v/as edit, but he missed every one of those 
lines, you knov/. He felt very bad. I said, "Tell him that 
I'm terribly sorry, but I'm simply not surprised. Nobody 
speaks to me after adapting his stuff." Tv/o or three people. 
It no longer bothers me, and I no longer give it a thought. 
I just knov;, when I take over a play or a book to make a 
screenplay, the guy v/ho v;rote it is not going to like it. 
Ernie Lehman did the screenplay for Who * s Afraid of Virginia 
y/oolf ? and Lehman did exactly v;hat he should have done. 
Nothing. That was the play. He had respect for it. VJasn't 
only respect for it, but it v;as effective and could be just 
as effective on the screen as it v:as on the stage. The 
legend here is that [Johnson chuckles] Ernie only contributed 
27 words, and it says "Screenplay by Ernie Lehman." Albee 
said, "Twenty-seven words, all bad." [chuckles] Small thanks 
But Albee hasn't had much opportunity to be so arrogant 
recently. [Stempel laughs] 

Stempel: V/e were about historically up to the time you 
left Fox. You mentioned that Johnny Hyde had figured out 


that you could make more money being independent. V.'as this 
the only reason or were there more reasons than that? 

Johnson: I don't know ;vhether you could make a distinction 
between more money .. .bee cuse I went in to talk to Zanuck 
about it, and Zanuck was very stuffy at first, because he 
thought I had in some way allied myself with Bill Goetz, 
which I hadn't. I think he finally accepted that, there 
hadn't been any plotting or anything like that. He said, 
"V/hy don't you stay here?" They had offered me a prodigious 
contract. It v/as $5000 a week, for five years, 52 v;eeks a 
year, six v;eeks off a year, paid vacation. In other v;ords, 
I suppose it v;as Just about the largest contract ever offered 
a writer over a long period of time. He said, "Isn't that 
enough?" I said, "Yes, I'm not complaining. I vmsn't com.- 
plaining about that, but I would be getting as far as I can 
get with Twentieth Century-Fox. There's nothing beyond this 
that I can think of." 

Stempel: In terms of money? 

Johnson: In terms of almost anything, money, independence 
with my pictures. I said, "I remember when you left V/arner 
.Brothers. They said you left because V/arners wouldn't restore 
the pay cut during that crisis that happened around then." 
He said, "Yeah." I said, "Was that the only reason?" Zanuck 


laughed. . He said, "Well to tell you the truth, I knev; I 
never v;ould see Zanuck-V/arner Brothers over that studio." 
I said, "That's more or less the way it is V7ith me. You 
do want to do a little better in some way, a little change. 
I don't v/ant to go on here for another ten years and be 
p esented with a fitted v/eekend case, you knovj, for loyalty 
to the firm. I feel that there v/ill be maybe more excite- 
ment, maybe more stimulation in going with a company v/hich 
I'm a part of. That's a part of it, too." I think he accepted 
it, though I think for a long time he v;ondered about Goetz 
and me. He didn't need to. I stayed av/ay five years with 
International. After International merged v;ith Universal, 
I left. I think I sold my company out, v;hich I think v/as 
the original plan that Johnny Hyde had in mind. I vjas 
available for a job, and L. B. Mayer sent for me. I v;ent 
over and had lunch with him. He v;as a transparent rascal. 
He talked about my coming over there, giving me a list of 
this "firmament of stars" he had. I was polite, but I 
told him I didn't think so. He said, "What are you going to 
do?" I said, "Fox has asked me to come back there. For 
the same money." He said, "V/hy do you want to go back 
there? V/hat have they got?" I had the rashness, the bravery, 
the truth, to say, "They got Zanuck." I took it for granted 
he must have sense enough to know that he didn't make pictures. 
He hired people to make pictures. I said, "I feel that Zanuck 


is, v;hen I'm v;orklng on a picture, he's part of me, he's a 
part of It." He said, "We're going to have somebody here 
soon." What he meant v/as Dore Schary. [chuckles] Dore 
Schary was going to get him out of his Job. [laughter] 
I thanked him very much. I told him I was immensely flattered 
by his offer, but I did feel more at home if I went back 
to Fox. I knew where the vjater cooler v/as. I knew vihere 
to go to sharpen the pencils. You don't have to learn 
forty-two different things. I know v.'ho to call if I wanted 
a car for this, or if I wanted this or that. So I went back 
to work v/ith Zanuck. 

Stempel: Nov; when you left in '^3 then, it v/asn't because 
you had any major disagreement. You didn't come to a falling- 
out v;ith him. There v;asn't anything like this involved? 

Johnson: No. Zanuck sulked like a child, but thatfe all it 
was. Zanuck didn't v/ant to let anybody go that was of use 
to him, and he Just couldn't get it into his mind at first 
that I was leaving v;ithout some kind of a clear reason, that 
something had happened that made me mad. They had offered 
me everything. It v;as Just for the same reason that, when I 
was in Rome ten years ago, som.ebody offered to buy my house 
here in Beverly Hills. I thought about it for awhile and I 
thought, "It isn't that I don't want to live and die in 
Hollywood, but, have I got the guts? Or am I willing to take 


the chance, to cut myself off from this sure thing and try 
another thing." I didn't know hov; successful it v;ould be, 
but I wanted to put myself to that test. Same test when I 
left the nev;spaper, to work independently as a short story 
writer. Could I do it? Did I have the nerve, or the courage? 
I vjent back and v/orked v;lth Zanuck on exactly the same terms, 
in exactly the same relationship, good, and, if he'd have 
stayed on, I probably v/ould have stayed there the rest of 
my life. V/ell, he v;as the one that left then in 1956, 
left it in charge of other people. I didn't mind leaving 
Buddy Adler because that was leaving a nothing. I never 
worked for anybody in v/hom I had the faith I had in Zanuck. 
I was absolutely right. I never kne\>; him and I never v/orked 
for him, but perhaps Thalberg Inspired this same faith in 
people who worked for him. A fellovi v/as telling me the other 
day, "You worked for Thalberg, and you come back from a 
sneak previev;, and Thalberg v/ould begin playing you v;ith 
questions about everything. Suppose you're driving back with 
him in the car. 'Do you think that came through?' 'Do you 
think that was clear?' 'Did you think that was effective?' 
If the director, or the writer, or one of the men v;hom he 
regarded, said, 'I didn't think the girl should have got up 
and walked out of the room. I think that gave a very bad 
impression. I don't think she would have done it,' he said. 


'All right. Rewrite the scene the way you thing it should be 
done.' Or he said, 'Tell me.' The fellow would say, 'If 
she stayed there, argued the point with him, and the man 
left the room, it would be more effective.' He said, 'All 
right. Bring the people back. We'll shoot it that way.'" 
Now this could be a small thing, but his sole aim was to 
make a picture that was good and effective. You do that at 
Columbia, Harry Cohn would say, "VJhat do you think?" You 
say, "I think the girl shouldn't have left the room." 
"Fuck you. [laughter] The guy leaves the room, she's left, 
what do you think I'm going to do, bring back that whole 
company to keep this girl in the room and run the — are you 
out of your mind?" It's the difference betv/een their approach 
to pictures. Zanuck wasn't like Thalberg in that sense. I 
never heard him do a thing like that. I've heard him say, 
"The end is not good. It's not good at all," but he didn't 
let it go at that. V/e'd get back to the studio at one or 
one-thirty in the morning, maybe we'd been to Pomona. The 
day v:asn't over. We v;ent in and sat down, and there 'd be 
an hour of preliminary discussion about either one scene, if 
that v;as it, the end, say, and he'd pace up and down and chev; 
on that cigar. Finally he'd say, "You're right. You're right. 
That son of a bitch ought to stay in there. Bring me something 
back. We'll do it again." Thalberg did it quick; Darryl 


thought it over a lone time. I never heard him talk about 
what it v/ould cost, because I know we'd be working on a 
picture, say, it's going to cost, those days, a million, a 
million and a half, and to do this extra thing v;ould cost 
maybe five thousand, ten thousand dollars, and nov; those 
v/ere big figures to me at the time, to me nov;, but they 
v;eren't to Darryl. They v/ere little figures. You know, 
like ten more dollars, ten dollars '11 make that difference, 
let's spend it. I v;asn't used to v/orking at a level like 
that, I was doing good to think of three thousand dollars, 
you knov;. Then even he'd get discouraged sometimes. I 
remember once he said, "I vfas in Palo Alto the other night, 
and I went into the theatre there because they were playing, 
I don't knov/, All This and Heaven Too, or whatever the hell 
the picture might have been." He said, "I looked at it. 
I couldn't get over the fact that at one point, looking at 
the rushes, there was a close shot of Gene Tierney, v/hich I 
didn't think was very good. I didn't think that it did her 
Justice. I didn't think it vms up to quality, so wherever 
she v;as , I called Miss Tierney back, the director, the 
cameraman, so the close shot of Miss Tierney v/as remade, ten 
thousand dollars." He said, "You should have seen it when 
I looked at, in that theatre in Palo Alto. It looked as 
if a fellow had walked on it." He said, "I realized I spent 


ten thous.and dollars. V/e took all the time trying to make 
it good, beautiful, perfect. It gets out and some careless 
projectionist, he drops it on the floor, or he v/alks on it, 
or something crumples so he cuts that out and sticks it 
together, you knovj, and nobody omplained. Nobody writes 
in and says, 'Hov; dare you.'" 

Stempel: Can you think of any examples on yourovm pictures 
vxhere you came back from previews and he decided to change 

Johnson: No I can't, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't 
done. It's just that that v;as a detail that v;as so commonplace, 
reshooting stuff, that no particular instance comes to my 

Stempel: There's a story about Zanuck that said after the 
first previev; of Grapes of VJrath , v;hich apparently didn't go 
very well, he cam.e back and v;as holding one of these sessions. 
He lit this cigar and smoked it down to v;here it v;as almost 
nonexistent and he turned to everybody involved and said, 
"If I don't know more than those people out in the theatre 
then I don't deserve to be running this studio. We'll send 
the picture out as it is." V/as this the case or was this a 
legend that grev; up? 

Johnson: No, my memory is that, in essence, was v;hat it was. 


that they didn't respond exactly as he looked for them to 
respond. But he thought it v/as right that v;ay. He v/as 
willing to consider vrhat he had observed, but he would 
think, "That's one audience. That audience; what was it: 
Friday night, full of kids, they don't give a Goddamii about 
Oakies or things like that. The v;rong audience. And v;ho the 
hell booked it? [chuckles] You knov;, in a college town, for 
Friday night? Tell him if he ever does that again, don't 
come back." As I remember it, that v;as more or less what he 
said. There may have been some cutting and trimming. I 
don't knov7. There generally v;as. Not reshots, unless they 
were to bridge something. He'd say, "VJhen Ma leaves Tom. 
You v.'atch Tom go off dovrn the road, you cut to her v/atching 
him, then you cut back to him, disappearing over the hill. 
Why shouldn't v;e fade out on Ma's face as she v/atches him 
go. I think it tells as much as seeing him go." Things like 
that, dissolve from that to the next sequence, v:hatever it 
might be. He v;as alv/ays cutting and trimming like that. 

Stempel: In the Pete Martin article about you, it quoted a 
memo that you wrote to the girls v;ho were working for you, 
and the memo said som.ething or other about the Cannonball 
Unit, indicating your production unit. Did you have a unit 
as such, a group of people v;ho v.'orked V7lth you all the time? 

Johnson: I had an assistant and I had a couple of secretaries 


This was .clovming, just plain clowning. I'd get a little note 
from Harry Brand saying, "Dear Nunnally, I don't know whether 
you realize it or not, but we are 3^12 interoffice memos 
behind this same date last year. If there's anything you 
can do about this, you will oblige us." Just inside joking. 
Or he said, "RKO, as of May 1st, is 572 interoffice memos 
ahead of us. Do what you can, will you?" And I'd write a 
memo, "Dear Harry, this is an interoffice memo. Please file 
under 'I!" [Stempel laughs] Just little jokes. It vfas 
clovming of Babbitry. "Let's all get together and make this 
a banner year." 

Stempel: Did you feel when you left Fox and became independent 
in ''13, that you v;ere going to be able to make better pictures 
as an independent? 

Johnson: No, I never had any feeling like that. I hope I 
made better pictures because I knev; more about it. I should 
learn more. It's like v/riting anything. You hope that by 
this time next year you'll be writing better. I have never 
been an ambitious screenwriter in the sense that I wanted 
to do The Ten Commandments or anything like that. The subject 
bored me. I'd rather write The V/oman in the V/indow , which 
was an interesting, action thing. It was just my taste. I 
suppose that's why, in my catalogue of pictures, there aren't 
very many big ones. I've always picked stories that interested 
me and I'm afraid miy taste is not epic, never has been. It's 


alv/ays been conedy, or drama, melodrama mostly. It's the 

subject matter. I never have looked for size. I don't 

know that I could do It, and it never gave me a second's 

disturbance because I didn't care much. VJhen I went to 

International, I think the first two pictures I did v/ere 
Dark M irror , which v/as a melodrama in vfhich Olivia deHavilland 
played tv;o parts. 

Stempel: The twin sisters. That was at Universal. V/hen 
you went there. 

Johnson: Yes. Was it Universal? 

Stempel: Yes. C asanova Brown and Woman in the Window and 
Along Came Jones v;ere at International. 

Johnson: I think the first one I did there at International 
then was Casanova Brown. That was because I'd always liked 
a story called Mooncalf , v/hich I'd seen on the stage years 
before. It didn't promise to have any great size. It Just 
promised to be something I'd like to write, I'd like to work 
on. Woman in the Window , wasn't that at... 

Stempel: That was at International. 

Johnson: International. That struck m.e as first rate 
material for me, not for an epic or anything. I Just had 


never had any impulse to do that sort of thing. 

Stempel: I wasn't thinking so much of size, but I was 
thinking more of a drive toward creating great film art, 
if I can throw that pompous phrase in. 

Johnson: No, I just like to make successful pictures. 
When I say successful picr-ures, I mean this: given m.y choice 
between a wonderful press and a wonderful box office success, 
I'll take a box office success any day, having been in Mev; 
York in those earlier days and seeing that there wasn't one 
good critic on a newspaper. God, the critic v;as the publisher's 
niece. [chuckles] 

I remember going to Harold Ross v/hen T he Nev/ York er 
started. I was on a paper. I said, "Well, being film critic, 
'or movie reviev/er, that might be an easy Job. Make a fev; 
bucks extra." Ross had a man there named Mosier. He was 
pretty good, but tougher, more demanding, I thought, than 
pictures should have. After all, pictures v/eren't Shakespeare, 
pictures v;ere mass entertainment. But that was The New Yorker' s 
position in those days, very high toned. I'd heard that 
Mosier v;as leaving and I asked him about the job, and Ross 
said, "Oh for God's sake. Reviewing movies is for women and 
fairies." [chuckles] I quickly had to withdraw, because 
obviously I vjasn't one and I didn't v/ant him to think I was 
the other. [laughter] I told this to Thurber when he was 


v/rlting that book about Ross. Thurber vms a little gutless. 
He changed it, that the movies were for vromen and fairies, 
which was hardly the same thing. If it cost so most, the 
critic gave it four stars, or five if they had it, and it 
v/as a meaningless estimation of pictures, not v.'orth reading 
and worth only what it could do for you at the box office. 
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don't know which, they 
still have very little effect. The critics on the nev/spaper, 
stage critics, they can kill a play, like that. There's 
just no question about it. All the reviewers in Nev/ York 
can rap a picture that the people v;ant to see and you might 
think they were just yelling down a v;ell. Feans nothing. 
People read them. I don't read them. I haven't read a 
review of a picture of mine in years, fifteen years. 

Stempel: Not even out of curiosity? 

Johnson: Not even if they're good. I just say, "Is it good 
or bad?" I don't read it. I never read anything that a 
reviewer v/rote that was helpful for me or told me anything 
about my picture, so I never bother to read them. They 
either make me feel bad. I just gave it up. There are 
reviewers, though, that stimulate me. Not that that is what 
their intention was. There have been considerable people 
examining movies in the last five or ten years. And I don't 
mean Arthur Schlesinger Jr. [Stempel nearly falls out of 


his chair laughing] There are people v;ho have a viev; of 
what's possible. I can read Pauline Kael, or I can read 
some stuff of Judith Crist, just as I can read Kenneth 
Tynan, and it v/ill make me a little ashamed of myself for 
not having the high aspirations that they have for pictures. 
I don't mean their commenting on my pictures. In that sense 
they have affected me, but I sav/ in those early days that 
even v/hen they praised a picture, they didn't knov; v;hat they 
were talking about half the time. They v;ere hipped at that 
time on what a director did. I knev? better, and I not only 
knew better, but I knew they didn't knov; at all, because, 
as I say, nobody could tell v/hether the cutter did it, or 
the actor did it, or the director did it, or if it was in 
the script. The critic never hesitated for one second to 
impress the peasant i-y with his knowledge of what v;as going 
on up there. I'd like to know v;hether the reviews are good 
or bad. I hope that it'll do something for the picture at 
the box office, even though I don't believe it ever does. 
I don't believe people pay much attention to it at all. I 
have come to the conclusion at times, that everybody in the 
United States, or maybe in the vrhole world, knows whether 
they want to see a picture or not just as you write "fade 
in." [Stempel laughs] Som.ehow, v;hen you write "fade in," and 
you don't even know v;hat's going to be the first scene, 
there's some kind of magic that people say they want to see 


this picture, or they do not v;ant to see this picture. 
This is Just one of those hallucinations you can get, not 
through drugs, but just vfatchlng. I knev; that v;hen v;hocver 
wrote Valley of the Dolls v/rote "fade in," that that picture 
was going to make a v/hopping lot of money no matter hov/ bad 
it vjas, and I'm told it v;as very bad. 

Stempel: It vms. 

Johnson: And it v;as a v/hopping big success. VJell, I'm getting 
off the subject, you knov.'. 

Stempel: O.K., v;e'll get back on then. I take it then that 
you've thought of yourself more as a craftsman than as an 

Johnson: Absolutely. An artist to me is the one v;ho does 
It by himself, alone. Nobody helped him. Vmat I'm doing, 
and have done, and have never thought of myself any different, 
is, I developed, facility is too much of a word, but an 
ability, say, to convert a piece of property, as we call 
stories, from its original form into a moving picture form. 
I generally say when I do it well, I'm like a first-rate 
cabinetmaker. I am able not to create a chair, but to take 
the material and form it into a usable chair, or sideboard, 
or whatever. Of course the characters are not mine. The 
plot's not mine. The material is, more often than not, 
somebody else's. I have been able to work it into an acceptable 


form. Sometimes it turns out good; sometimes I v;as mistaken 
and it didn't turn out so good. There v/as only one man hit 
.300 in the American League this last year, and my batting 
average is like that. You never hit 1.000. You hit .300, 
.350 you're doing all right. It's that kind of business. 
That's the kind of job I do. 

Stempel: V/hy do you think your ovm batting average is so 

Johnson: I'll sv;itch your question a bit, and say this. You 
and I could nam.e directors viho are very good v/ithin the 
possibilities of direction, but they v;ere either fortunate 
enough or they had the pov/er to get a good story, to get a 
story that had great promise. I think in my case, I'm 
different from that, because only a fev; times have I ever had 
any big and successful properties to do. Grapes of V/rath 
was one. Man in the Gray Flannel Suit , which v;as hardly 
on the same level, but nevertheless v;as an enormously 
successful book. My taste has been such that it's kept up 
a pretty good standard, above average. The Dirty Dozen 
wasn't a best-seller. It might have peeped up number ten 
once, that sort of thing. The other day I was asked if I 
would do The Salt zberg Connection by Helen Kaclnnes. I saw 
in New York it's number one on the fiction list. That's 
extraordinary for a mystery story. It just shows what the 


rest of them must be. I said no. It's not really big, in 
term.s of Grapes of VJrath or the v/ay Man in the Gray Flannel 
Suit went on for a year on the best-seller list, that kind 
of thing. But I said no for tv;o reasons. One is 1 can't read 
Helen Maclnnes. She's the murkiest v;riter. Another thing 
is that it's a mystery and I v^as very much impressed v/ith 
v.'hat Hitchcock said, that mysteries are not good movie material. 
Mysteries are cerebral. He does thrillers. Somebody's 
trying to kill somebody. Somebody's life's in jeopardy. It 
v;ould bore the hell out of me to try to work out vfhat this 
woman is vrriting about some papers that the Germans had hidden 
20 years ago or 25 years ago. It didn't tempt me in the least. 
I'd much rather have something in which you're not trying 
to solve a mystery, but you have the action, because movies 
are good on the basis of action, unless it's something like 
Valley of the Dolls which has another form of attractiveness 
for a movie audience or a reading audience. I never knov; 
what promise one of these things has for being big hits. My 
feeling is that if you make an entertaining picture, the odds 
are that it will do business. That's all I ask of it. Scuba 
Dub a is really a revolutionary picture. It isn't big, and 
it may be quite a gamble, but it's entertaining. The material 
to me is wonderful, but I'm sure we'll have actors who'll 
say, "Ah, naw, not me. I'm not going to get up there and 


say, 'That Goddamned spade scuba diver.' I say that and the 
next time I see Sidney Poitier, he'll cut me." [chuckles] 

Stempel: The first picture you did for International then 
was Casa nova Brov /n. You mentioned that you'd liked the play 

Johnson: Yeah. It v/as a play by Floyd Dell, Mooncalf , but 
as often, I altered it a great deal, v/ithout changing the 
basic situation. Just as a fellov; becomes engaged to a girl, 
he gets v;ord that he is Just become a father of a baby. I 
forget hov/- it came about, but I stuck to that situation and 
then I had to figure out some way to get by the Hayes Office, 
and [Johnson chuckles] still keep that situation. I guess 
it vias done because it v/as released. 

Stempel: In the original play, had he fathered this child 

Johnson: Yes. 

Stempel: And you didn't think you could use this in the 

Johnson: I can't remember. I only remember that it was. 
In those days, a very delicate matter, and I can hardly 
remember the plot more than that. The most I can remember 
about the whole thing was one gag I used, which was I think 


the best I ever had. ITiat v;as v/hen Gary set the house on 
fire. The difference between the gag that I did and the gag 
that I might have done if I hadn't been as experienced and as 
experimental as I was, v/as that I didn't make him put out the 
fire so that just some of the curtains were burned. The fire 
started, vre just dissolved to the frame of the house. The 
whole Goddamned house had burned down. In other words, 
from a little gag it became an enormous one. It was a pleasure 
working with Cooper. I did two pictures with him, I believe. 
Along Came Jones . 

Stempel: That burning house gag, seemed incredibly elaborate. 
Did you actually burn a house? 

Johnson: No. We Just dissolved from the flames, v/ith every- 
body shouting and running around, shov;ing that the fire v;as 
spreading, and then just dissolved to a fevi remaining posts, 
and then cut to poor Gary, looking at what he'd done simply 
because the Goddamned v/oman didn't have an ash tray. 

Stempel: Maybe it was just this house gag, but the v;hole 
production seemed, not elaborate, not a big production, not 
the Ten Commandments sort of thing, but a good production. 
Did you have any difficulty at all getting money to do this 
kind of thing, since you were independent for the first time? 

Johnson: No. Money comes from the banks and, by then, the 


people v;ho are go.lng to make the picture are the collateral.. 
In other words, Leo Spitz, who was head of the organization, 
was a man held in the highest respect. He v;as an honest and 
capable man. Bill Goetz had this long record at Fox, and 
I must say it was not based on a rock foundation. And there 
were two or three other picture makers like myself, who had 
had successes, and banks have to make money. They finance it. 
I guess somebody guaranteed the end money, or, I don't under- 
stand these things, got the distribution accepted so that 
they're pretty v;ell assured of getting the cost back, anyway. 
No, there was no difficulty about getting money. There v;ere 
tvfo times that I -was with outfits that had nothing in tlie 
way of assets except the creative talent. Think of Fox Films, 
v;ith the biggest lot, the nev;est lot, greatest wealth. Zanuck 
told me once, "Can you imagine this? They had the tv;o biggest 
stars in the v;hole business, VJill Rogers and Shirley Temple, 
and at the end of the year they had made one-half of one per- 
cent on their investment. Now how the hell?" They didn't 
have picture makers. And the Twentieth Century Corporation 
was over there v;lth som.e rented typevfriters , rented stage 
space. I don't think we owned one thing. I don't think 
Tv;entieth Century ov/ned anything. You could have sold its 
entire tangible assets for $10,000, but they made pictures that 
were successful, and it made sense to them, however they do 
these mergers, swapping stock or doing v/hatever they do, to 


merge so that the creative talent had all of the stages, 
all that kind of stuff. The same thing happened, in the same 
offices, v/ith International pictures. Goetz and Spitz and 
myself, being the three principle people, v;ent straight back 
to Goldv/yn's lot, rented exactly the same offices [chuckles], 
same chairs, same typev/riters , and made some successful 
pictures. Meanv.'hile, Universal, v/ith that enormous plant over 
there vras making pictures and losing dough, so it made sense 
to them. I may add that I got none of that dough, [Johnson 
laughs] because the government don't recognize the contri- 
bution of anything but money. In both cases, a merger was 
made by one outfit which had all the property and another 
outfit which had v;hat, to simplify the thing, v;e'll call the 
brains, the moving pictures brains. In both cases that was 
the deal that was made and, in both cases, successful. Up 
to a point. T\';entieth Century-Fox is still successful, and 
they're not preparing to merge v;ith anybody. Universal, you 
knovf, got swallowed up by MCA and TV and things like that, 
and they're kind of a sharecropper's place. You vrant to make a 
picture, go over there and make it, rent the stages, and give 
them a percentage of the crop. Goldwyn's the same way now. 
He doesn't make any pictures. Everything's just rented out. 
It happens to be a part of the business I don't know a damn 
thing about. 


Stempel: The picture you did at International then was Woman 
in the Wi ndovf . How did you get on to this story? 

Johnson: I don't knov/ vjho handed me the book. It was called 
Once Off Guard, which wasn't a very good title, but I liked 
it and it had a kind of peculiar sneak preview. I wanted it 
to be a story told because in the end, the leading man dies, 
you know. I wanted a story to be told, I forget how, because 
I didn't care much about that dream idea, but Goetz was very 
insistent on it. And I deferred to him in this case, because 
I had to allov; that if you made a picture in those days with 
the leading man, a sympathetic fellow, dying, innocent, it 
would leave an audience resentful. I deferred to it, but 
we took it out som.ev/here. It vjas one of towns, another one 
of those Friday nights full of noisy kids, noisy young men, 
ready to hoot, talk back to the screen. In about five minutes, 
wham, it got them. Absolute silence. The story hooked them. 
And then, the dream v;as revealed by a v/onderful piece of 
direction by Fritz Lang. Eddie Robinson had taken some pills 
to kill himself. And, oh boy, the phone v;as ringing to say, 
"We've got the murderer." Eddie kept looking at the phone. 
It kept ringing, ringing, ringing, and you know if he picked 
up the phone, he might still save himself, regurgitate or 
whatever it v/as. You vrere seeing a beautiful melodramatic 
situation. VJhat Fritz did vias this: he took the camera and 


brought it closer and closer and closer. He didn't vjant to 
cut to Eddie's face, Meanv:hile, under Eddie, about three 
guys. The camera got close enough, they jerked his breakav;ay 
clothes off of him. He v/as in a dressing govm or something 
like that because he'd gone to sleep in his club and nov; he 
was in his home, so he v;as v/earing an entire different wardrobe, 
Fritz didn't want to cut and he got this idea which was Just 
v;onderful. Took the camera right un to Eddie as Eddie vras 
doing a slov: die. When it was up, he didn't have any sound 
on, Fritz said, "Grab his clothes off. Grab it. Grab it. 
Grab." And off camera, bing, bing, bing, and underneath he 
had the clothes he'd gone to sleep in and, and so, vjithout 
cutting, he moved back. Just a couple of feet, or something 
like that, and what Fritz called melodramatically the hand 
of God [chuckles] moved in like this and touched him on the 
shoulder. As he looked up, he pulled the camera back and there 
was one of the club attendants, saying, "It's eleven o'clock," 
or something like that. This was the minute 1 really feared. 
I think a dream is a cheat. Well, that audience, which had 
been really spellbound, as much as I've ever seen anybody in 
a picture, a sound went up from then. I can't describe it. 
I could only say, "They're going to throw things at the screen. 
They've been taken." There's a kind of a squeal that used to 
go up for Frank Sinatra at the Paramount. Kind of yells and 
hoots. But, I thought, "Oh my God, 1 guess we're gone. 


They'll hoot us out of any theatre." Eddie got up in the film, 
and he said, "Thank you, Jeeves," shook himself. He had 
a long vmlk, out of the reading room or this library, and he 
got his coat and hat, which v;as handed to him by Dan Duryca, 
who had been the villain in the picture. He met I don't knov/ 
who else, maybe the 

Stempel: The doorman was that man that he killed originally. 

Johnson: Yes, that's right. And Eddie played it so beautifully 
that you accented the fact that he had had a dream and that 
it had embodied people that he knew. He v;alked and by then 
the audience was laughing. They accepted the fact that they'd 
been taken, because it vfas all in such good humor by then. 
Then he started off, then he remembered that it started with 
that picture. He walked back and looked at that picture in 
the v/ondow and some woman said. "Excuse me, but have you a 
match?" He said, "Good God no," and ran. This com.edy end 
really saved it, because I hate dream pictures unless you let 
them knov; in the beginning. I think it's a cheat otherwise. 
I didn't want to do it that way but, there it was. 

Stempel: Yeah, I'll have to admit I felt that way when I 
saw it on TV. The picture had built so beautifully up until 
that time that I really felt cheated at the dream. 

Johnson: It was a cheat. And the fact that it did good 


business v/as on the basis of the fact that it was, up to 
that point, a real grabber. But then, there's a saying in 
the theatre, maybe in the movies, if you've still got them 
three-quarters of the v/ay, you've got them all the v;ay. 
Nobody's going to cop out at the end of the thing. 

Stempel: There's a nev; book about Fritz Lang in America. 
It's a series of intervievjs v/ith him, and the question that 
the intervievrer asked him about VJoman in the V/indovr v;as 
the dream ending. Lang said that he v/anted to do it this 
way, that, v/hether he v;as conscious of it of not he v;as 
copying The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari . VJas he big for this 
dream ending too? 

Johnson: I really can't remember. He may have been. If 
I had had my preference, it v;ould be an out-and-out story- 
telling. A man told the story and I would have found a v;ay 
of ending it so the audience v/ouldn't have felt cheated. I 
must admit it's open to question which was the better way 
or which v;as the worse. Perhaps a way better than either 
of them could have been found. I don't know. I don't 
remember how Fritz stood on it. It was a long time ago, you 
know. I don't know what else I did at that company. 

Stempel: Along Came Jones . 

Johnson: Oh, yes. 


Stempel: I did have another question about Woman in the 
V/indov.' . I noticed there are a large number of very interesting 
touches of comedy: Robinson going through a toll booth, 
trying to get away and he drops the dime and they have to look 
for it; and the little nev/sreel of the Boy Scout saying v;ith 
the reward money for finding the body he's going to send his 
brother to Harvard and he's going to go to a good school. 
But I got the feeling that Fritz Lang v;asn't really interested 
in those and that he didn't play them that v;ell. Did he or 
v;as this. . . ? 

Johnson: I hardly knov; what to say about Fritz as a director. 
His record is too formidable, you knov/, to dismiss him, v/hich 
I wouldn't be trying to do, but he offered various suggestions 
that I thought were so corny that I thought he must be laughing, 
He wasn't. He's a humorless man, but v;e had one scene 
where Eddie v;lth the body in the back of his car came to a 
red light suddenly and stopped and there v;as a motorcycle 
cop. Fritz, somewhere in his past, had heard that story of 
the man who v;ent to call on J. P. Morgan, Sr. , and was advised 
not to look at Morgan's nose because Morgan had a fat, ugly, 
pitted nose, and he was very sensitive about it. An old, old 
story In which the man is so bent on not calling attention 
that he lost track of things, and he said, "V/ell, I'll tell 
you this Mr. Nose." [chuckles] Well, it was an old story. 

2 32 

and Fritz said, "Wouldn't it be funny if the cop cane in and 
looked in there and said something or other and Eddie ansv;ered 
in the same v;ay, like "Yes, I'm a murderer." I said, "Let's 
don't do that. I mean, you want to do it, you can try it, 
but I don't think you'll like it. It's a very, very familiar 
story and you just don't put it in here v;hen you're trying 
to make people follov? a thing." 

Directors, as I say, are alv/ays trying to contribute. 
I remember once, at Fox, I'd written The Pied Piper ; Monty 
V/ooley and a lot of kids making their v/ay across France 
ahead of the German army or whatever the hell it was. They 
slept one night in a barn, and -they gave it to a director, 
what the hell was his name? 

Stempel: Vlas this Pichel? 

Johnson: No, it wasn't Pichel. No, it was a fellow before 
we brought in Pichel. It was an old-timer and he came in to 
see me about it and talked about it. I seemed obsessed 
about directors, but I found so many Goddamned silly things 
going on. You know, a director would come and say, "You know 
what I'm going to do in the fight?" I'd say, "What?" "I'm 
going to get a seltzer bottle." I'd say, "Oh shit." He 
was proud he'd made a contribution. But in this particular 
case, the director came in, talked to me, he liked the script, 
everything. He said, "You know, I've got quite an idea. You 


knov; that night that V/ooley and the kids sleep in the barn?" 
I said, "Yeah." He said, "We'll have Wooley be a pipe smoker, 
and," he didn't tell me hov; he v;as going to do this, but he 
was going to do it, nevertheless, "as they v:ake up that morning 
and he gets his pipe out and fills it and lights it, he's 
filled it full of manure." I said, "Wait here." This is 
God's truth. I said, "V/ait a minute, will you?" I vjent down 
the hall to Zanuck's office and I told Zanuck. I said, "This 
is the first idea that this man has offered the script, the 
only idea so far. I'd like it made clear that if there's 
any shit in this picture, I'm going to put it in." [laughter] 
Zanuck laughed and said, "All right, tell him vre'll talk 
about it later. [chuckles] I v;ent back and told him that 
Zanuck wanted to talk to him. V/e'll let Zanuck get out of 
this, not me. We got him off, but you get these things. 
You say, "How many of these crappy things go into pictures 
by these old-time directors, pinching dirty stories or slipping 
in stuff like that and calling it directorial touches?" 

Stempel: Yes, but I got the feeling in Woman in the Window 
that you and Lang were close together, or feeling the same way, 
about the dramatic scenes, but when there were these things 
in the script that were funny that he didn't really feel them. 

Johnson: He's not good at that. Until this day, I didn't 
think the boy read the line right. I didn't want it made a 


stand-up, one-line radio joke. I v/anted the fellov; to say 
it in all seriousness. If the people got it as a funny line, 
all right. I didn't want to try too hard, because it was 
too reachy, and I didn't want that. As I say, the directors, 
in the old days, many of them day, don't knov; where to 
put the emphasis. They don't knov; the v;ord. Some do. Not 
many. These are tiny little things that offend me, but I 
don't think offend an audience. Some picture Henry Koster 
v;as directing, one of the kids said something like, "I don't 
v;ant to put all that guck on my hair," a line like that. 
"Guck" v/as a word that I'd got from one of my kids. "Guck" 
v;as ncv; to Koster and it was a comic v;ord. So it came out, 
"I don't want to put all of that guck on my hair." V/ell, it 
wasn't going to make or break a picture to do it, but it 
v;ould have been more natural if that kid had used it as a 
part of that kid's vocabulary v;ithout making a big point of 
it. Stage directors are good at them. They realize the 
value of v/ords, a great many of them., but the old-time movie 
directors who continued on into talkies, just so you finish 
the sentence is about all they ask of you. V/hich is v;hy I've 
always said it makes me sick that a critic, viho doesn't under- 
stand Italian, or Czech, or German, has no hesitation in 
reviewing this thing. I say, "Hov; the hell do I knovj 
whether that actor emphasized the right v.'ord, or stressed the 

2 35 

right v/ord?" Neither does this fellov;. You cannot revlev; 
things like that. I remember once v;hen Max Beerbohm covered 
the opening of Duse in London. He v;rote one of his beautiful, 
drily Ironic reviews, mainly of the critics and his envy of 
their facility with Italian. [chuckles] "How much I must 
have missed. I was right there about her use of her hands, 
because the critic said that 'she uses her hands like poetry.' 
V/ell, as far as I'm concerned, he doesn't know what else to 
say." But I've never heard of any critic of the movies 
[admit he doesn't know], Chinese, Japanese, anything else. 


2 36 


Stempel: O.K. VJe got about up to Along Came Jones in 19'>5. 
I noticed that this v.'as based on a book by Alan LeMay. VJas 
the book as humorous as the movie v/as or v;as it just a 
sti^aight v;e stern? 

Johnson: It v/as more or less a straight v;estern. I chose 
to clov/n it some, and [Gary] Cooper liked it that v/ay. I 
told him v;hat I v;as going to do. I did that for Cooper's 
ov/n company. This is all a kind of a bookkeeping arrangement 
at International. And Cooper v;as the... 

Stempel: Producer. 

Johnson: ...producer. Well, old Coop wasn't going to do 
much producing. [laughter] 

Stempel: I v;as going to ask about that. 

Johnson: But he sat in. One day the designer brought in 
about fifteen costume changes for Loretta Young, who v;as the 
leading lady. Sitting there was the director, and myself, 
because actually I was doing what producing there was because 
Cooper viasn't around like that and didn't expect to be and 
this was all Just in name. But he felt he ought to say 

2 37 

something. Nov: this vms a girl v/ho lived in a broken dovm 
farmhouse, a real sv/aybacked affair, and I said to the 
designer, "Hov; much you figure these changes?" He gave 
some figure like $175 a piece. Cooper said, "VJhy don't we 
send her dov;n to Sears Roebuck to pick out the kind of 
stuff a farm girl v/ould be v/earing then?" He was waiting 
there, he had to o.k. all these dravrings , formality. I 
said, "V/ould you like to tell Loretta?" [laughter] He 
said, "O.K., o.k., o.k," and that was the last producing 
effort he made. 

In the middle of the picture, the production manager 
came to me one day and said, "V/e're running behind on money 
and on time." I said, "Don't show it to m.e because you 
know I don't understand that." He said, "Every day we're a 
little more in the red." I said, "VJhy do you think that is?" 
He said, "Cooper. He's, he's not prepared v;hen he comes 
in. He doesn't get his lines the night before. He's learning 
them on the set. He's not a fast study. V/e get a lot of 
takes." I said, "V/hy don't you tell him?" The production 
manager, "Well, uh..." and I saw what he meant. What he was 
saying was, "You tell him. He's the star, he's the producer. 
Tell him." I didn't want to, but I said, "All right, I'll 
tell him." Though I didn't know how because I was as uneasy 
about this as he was, but I finally went out to Cooper's 


dressing room I reminded him that he v;as the producer of the 
company and he said, "Yeah." I said, "Do you knov; vje are 
running behind, running in the red? All on account of one 
actor." [chuckles] Very innocently. He tried to think of 
who it was, I was sure he was thinking of any of the others. 
I said, "He's not ready with his stuff and he's having to 
have more takes." He said, "VJho is he?" I said, ''You," and 
I walked on out. I'd never stay and argue v;ith a star 
about this matter. Now he never got mad, but I didn't know 
him too well. It's awful hard to go to a big star like that, 
and he was my boss too, and say, "You're screv/ing things up." 
After that he picked up and he realized it then. He v/as a 
nice man. 

I didn't like the v;ay the thing was directed. As I 
say, that's the only man [Stuart Heisler] that I ever had 
any, v;ell, one of the tv;o or three directors I ever had any 
genuine antipathy for. This fellow simply v;as trying to 
contribute. He's the fellov;, I told you, v;ho said , "V/ell, 
John Ford contributes." V/ell he v;asn't John Ford, but he 
v;as imitating John Ford. But he v;as im.itating him in the 
wrong place. John Ford might have Ward Bond and John V/ayne 
throv; things at each other but this guy's liable to have 
Loretta and Cooper throv/ing things at each other, on the 
grounds that "It went good there." He did some awful... 
I thought it v;as a badly directed picture, but Gary v;as so 


good. It v:as a successful picture, a money picture. Cooper 
told me a couple of years later, "You knov?, the morning after 
that picture opened, [Cecil B.] deMille called me and said, 
'You have just done the most foolish thing you have ever done 
in your life. And I don't knovf how you could have done it 
because you m.ay have committed professional suicide,'" or 
some such nonsense like that. Cooper said, "VJhat do you mean?" 
"Well," he said, "Your image to the public is a competent 
fighter, horseman," and I mean every time he pulls his gun 
in this thing, it either v/ent off and shot his horse or fell 
on the ground and vient off or something like -that you knov;. 
DeMille said, "You've made yourself a clovm. They'll never 
take you again." So much for deMille's opinion. [chuckles] 

Stempel: I mentioned when we talked about Casanova Brown that 
it seemed like a fairly elaborate production. Along Came 
Jones seemed like a much less elaborate, almost a cheap 
production. V/as there any reason for this? 

Johnson: No, except that most outdoor pictures where you 
don't have great armies of men [are not expensive]. ITnis 
thing I've written for Jack V/arner, v;hich he v;ants to make the 
production in it a big elaborate thing, will cost hardly 
anything. What can you do? A few farmhouses, a little 
fort in the v;est in 1790. There v;ere sets In Casanova 
Brov.'n and I suppose v/e shot Along Came Jones in that same 


saloon that everybody got shot in on the lot. Every star in 
the business has died in there or killed somebody there, one 
time or another. God, the things you had to do to keep it 
from looking like it, another sign up there, put some little 
scroll vjork around here, three steps instead of tv/o steps, 
anything. But outdoor pictures are by their very nature 
cheaper to do. There's nothing left to put up and shov; them. 

Stempel: The one thing that particularly bothered me v.'as 
Loretta Young's farm vrhich seemed to be done on a sound 

Johnson: It probably v;as. I can't remember. Rut we did 
that sort of thing more than v;e do nov;. Nov; you're so used 
to going out and setting a thing up in the open, in the place 
where you have plenty of air and space and it looks like it. 
At that time, you had a big cyclorama for the sky and it 
was largely, done on a stage. They thought it v;as cheaper. 
These days pictures Just cost a great deal more, but anybody 
that puts out a picture these days and it looks like the 
outdoors vms made on a stage, it's noticed at once, and the 
V7hole thing is regarded as on the cheanie side. It v/asn't 
then. Or I don't think it was. There was no effort to 
make it cheaper, any more than there's an effort to make 
any picture as cheap as you can without destroying your 
feeling of v/hatever the setting is. The different designers 


and the different producers say, "Av; the hell with it. Go 
to the Sacraraento River, but do this other stuff inside." 
By coraparison with nov/ they v/ere all cheap. You make picture 
nov; like Hud, that the picture v/ith Paul Nev;man. All made 
out in the tov/n. You got the feeling of it. That vms v/hat 
made it, gave it the feeling of reality. In those days 
they v;ould have shot most of it in a stage. 

Stempel: You mentioned deMille's opinion of Cooper killing 
his image. I v;ondered if this occurred to you when you v;ere 
writing the screenplay, that you were making fun of the 
cov;boy myth, because you say you changed it from a serious 
book to a funny screenplay. V/ere you at all vjorried about 

Johnson: Oh no. I think deMille's idea was stupid. I think 
actors can do other things. Gary had played in other comedies, 
played in many comedies. I guess he may not have played 
an outdoorsman in a comedy thing. Cooper never thought of it, 
never gave any concern, or shov;ed any concern for it. As a 
matter of fact, v;hat deT'llle said meant nothing. Cooper told 
it to me simply as a matter of amusement. 

Stempel: It seem.ed to me in v;atchlng the picture that, especially 
in the beginning parts of it. Cooper was kind of forcing his 
characterization more than he usually did. Usually he was very 


easygoing but he seemed there to bo almost self-consciously 
a counti'y bumpkin type. VJas this the fault of the director? 

Johnson: I believe so, yes. He v/as supposed to be a kind 
of lazy, easygoing fellov/. He didn't have to be Stepin' 
Petchit, but before the director got through with him he vras 
liable to make him that. As I say, once it gets in the hands 
of the director, there's very little you can do. You just 
hope to God that if he alters it, he alters it for the better. 
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. In this case I 
don't think he altered it for the better. But it's such an 
old plot. It vras called the ?Iottentot plot and it came from 
an old farce on Broadvray called T he Hottent ot that V/illie 
Collier Sr. played in. For some reason Collier arrived at 
some estate in Kentucky and he presented himself, because he 
was trying to get av;ay or something, as a famous jockey. He 
was getting av;ay with it fine, I mean, everybody v/as enter- 
taining him, and all that kind of stuff. Then the Hottentot 
was the horse, the favorite for the Derby, and the jockey 
broke his leg the day before. Collier was immediately called 
on to ride the Hottentot. The plot had been done so many 
times. Eddie Cantor would come in and they mistook him for 
a toreador and presently he had to fight a bull. This was 
another variation of it. Somebody mistook him for Bad Bill 
somebody or other, and he had to go through with it. 


I remember v;e did go out on location there for some stuff, 
out in one of these ranches. It v/as one of those ranches 
where there's about five v;esterns being shot at once all 
over the place, out in the [San Fernando] Valley. I remember. 
Cooper v;as a cov;hand. He v;asn't a cov;boy, but Just a kind 
of mounted equivalent of a farmhand, really. They'd made 
three vresterns v/hile vie vieve setting up for the fii-c;t scene 
[laughter]. There were guys out there, all quick stuff, and 
there v;as a fellow named V/ild Bill something, 

Stempel: Wild Bill Elliot? 

Johnson: I believe that vms his name, V/ild Bill Elliot. 
He rode over one day to pay a social call. He came over on 
one of those horses v/here the rump was in kind of checkerboard. 
Maybe they had a hairdresser fix him up. And he had a saddle 
with five hundred pounds of silver on it, oh, he v;as something. 
He didn't dismount. His horse pranced around. He kept 
goosing him v/ith his spurs and things like that. Gary went 
out and talked to him. "Hiya partner." "Nice horse." So 
and so and so, that kind of stuff, you knov;. And I v/atched 
these two: Wild Bill Elliot, getting five hundred dollars 
for his stint and dressed up as If some contemiporary daVincl 
had dressed him and Cooper, one of the top stars, dressed 
like a member of the crev;. He came back over to me, he hung 


his head and he said, "They give him tv/o pistols." [laughter] 

He sang some old cov.'boy song, I remember he sang about 
ten verses in various parts and I said, "Think you ought 
to put that on a record?" "Ohj" he said, "I'm already 
arranging it." He said, "I think I'll get Crosby to be on 
the other side of it." [laughter] 

Stempel: VJhen you v;ere at International, was there anybody 
v;ho v;as your supervisor in the same way that Zanuck vjas v;hen 
you v/ere at Fox? You mentioned, the last time we talked, 
that VJilliam Goetz, for example, decided on the dream sequence 
business for W oman in the Windovj . Did he perform some of the 
same function that Zanuck had at Fox? 

Johnson: Almost none, no. I mean. Bill v/asn't a picture 
maker in that sense. He fancied himself for making up titles. 
Seems to me a rather hollow distinction, but he named both of 
those pictures, Casanova Brovm and Along Came Jones . They 
were all right. No, he didn't get into contents of the 
script as they called it. I guess he just wanted to see them 
keep moving and come out happy at the end. That v/as the 
extent of his production supervision. I relied on myself 
or the two of them, Leo Spitz and Bill Goetz. I don't mean 
that they didn't function, but they didn't make the kind of 
contribution that Zanuck did. They just didn't operate like 
Zanuck. But then, who did? The few producers there did it 


all themselves. Vie v/ere really producing then. Under Zanuck 
you v;ere co-producing, or, what did they call it? 

Stempel: Associate Producer? 

Johnson: Associate Producer, or something like that. And 
you really were that. But, from International, on into 
Universal-International, I vias on my ov;n. Nobody functioned 
like that in either place. I must say, I didn't care much 
for it either. 

Stempel: For v/orking alone? 

Johnson: Oh, I valued Zanuck, and I didn't have that valuable 

help. That man v/ho v;as in his ovm v;ay sensitive to drama 

and comedy and could save ire making errors, that sort of thing. 

.1 remember once, Joe Mankiev/icz and I v;ere talking 
together. This was after Joe left Fox and he was telling 
me, "I went out of there v/ith four Oscars." Tv;o years in 
succession he won directing and v;riting. He said, "I thought 
to myself, 'Boy, hov/ they are going to come running to me.'" 
He said, "You sav/ hov; they came running to me." His first 
completely independent production v;as The Quiet American . 
He said, "The stars I attracted v;ere Michael Redgrave and 
Audie Murphy. Those were my blockbusters that I had for 
pictures. When I did get tv/o good ones, Ava Gardner and Bogie, 
in something called The Barefoot Contess a, that failed too." 


He said, "I think you and I are Just not producers, v;hat \-je 
call a producer. Spiegel is. Sol Spiegel is. Zanuck is. 
Goldv/yn is. But there's a different talent involved. You 
can make fun of these fellov/s in any v;ay you v;ant to, but 
look at their track records. That's v/hat counts in the end. 
Look at my record," he said. "From novi on, I'm going to be 
a iilred man." I thinl: he only faltered once. He picked out 
Volpone and he made some kind of a picture out of Volp one 
with Rex Harrison, another flop. No, they try to get me 
to produce nov;, but it's a chore I don't feel I have any 
talent for and it's just too much. I won't do it. 

Stempel: Exactly v;hat sort of talent does it require to be 
a producer like Zanuck or Spiegel? 

Johnson: The first thing is to have the money to go. The 
second thing is to have the judgment and the guts to make a 
selection of a book or a play, v/hatever the form might be, 
to make into a picture. Zanuck can go into it, five million, 
six million, seven million. - If I v;ere Independent and even 
if I could get a backing, it would scare the living hell out 
of me to be responsible for the investment of that much 
money in some picture that I v;as making or I had selected 
myself. I'm no gambler, and never have gambled, never gambled 
a nickel in my Ij. fe on anything. It's not in my nature 

2 '17 

to do it. John Huston v;lll gamble, but he gambles v/ith other 
people's money. He'll break them all. [chuckles] The pro- 
ducer has the one all-important decision: make this picture. 
Then I guess to market it, to sell it, to get the best terms. 
Somebody like, in the case of an individual, [David 0.] 
Selznick. He v/as to me the best. 

Stempel: At selling a picture? 

Johnson: At the v;hole business of production. He loved it. 
He loved the maneuvering and negotiating v;ith actors. He 
loved the sv/apping of this and that vfith other studios to 
get the players he v;anted. He liked to have his hand in 
everything that v;as being done, and he v;as fearless about it. 
Would I try to tell Loretta hov/ to make up? I wouldn't 
dream of it, you know, unless she got too fantastic about a 
thing. But those fellows, that's the joy of life to them. 
They're the ones that should do it. God, look at ex-producers 
around this tovm. They had a bit of luck, two or three years, 
and are nov; either looking for jobs. Or like the late Walter 
Wanger. Walter loved it. He would like to travel back and 
forth three times a vieek to Nev; York, to look at a test that 
could have been brought out here, or to travel to Dubuque 
and open the picture, be interviev/ed , go on television, 
help sell it. God, he goes to jail, comes out, makes it a 
picture about it. [chuckles] I go to jail and the next 


thing you know I'd be dov;n on Central Avenue, picking up 

spikes in the gutter. But even V/alter made a big mistake. 

He built a million dollar set outdoors in London [for Cleopatra ] . 

Nobody couldn't tell him that you couldn't shoot there in 

London, unless you v;anted a cloudy picture. [V/anger, in his 

book, My Life V/ith Cleop atra , Bantam Books, says that he 

didn't v;ant to film in England, but Skouras insisted on it 

to take advantage of the Ejdy Plan, v;hich gives British 

tax money films made in England.] It didn't look like 

sunny Italy, that vms one thing. Mo, I'm back writing and 

now trying to make up my mind whether to direct this picture 

[ Scuba D ub a ] or not. V/hether I v/ant to or v;hether I feel 

strong enough to or v;hether it's that important to me or 

whether to go on and write another script. 

Stempel: Kow v;as it then tha.t it vfas decided to take 
International into Universal [in 19'15-^fC]? 

Johnson: For the same reason that Fox took Twentieth Century. 

Stempel; Did Universal seek out International? 

Johnson: Yeah. Nate J. Blumberg [President of Universal], 
a good friend of Leo Spitz, I suppose he came to Leo and said, 
in effect, "I haven't been able to get any good producers 
or make any good pictures. You've had a succession of money- 


makers. Hov; about joining up? V/e'll make it v/orth your 
v;hile, and you take over the combination." That v;as v;hat 
Fox did to Tv:entieth Century. "Tne next thing I knew, it 
v;as called Universal-International and v/e were over in the 
Valley. It went on just the sar.e v/ith me. I got a better 
office. That's about the only change I could see in it. 

Stempel: And you v/eren't renting your typevrriters any more? 

Johnson: Aw by then v.'e ov;ned our ovm second-hand typevrriters. 
[chuckles] They were ours. 

Stempel: The first picture you did there v.'as The Dark rirror 
[in 19^6]. Hov; did you come to this material? 

Johnson: I can't remember. Often Goetz v/ould propose 
something. They'd send you around all these synopses. I 
guess it came through that. I must have thought there v;as 
something in a girl [Olivia deHavilland] playing tv/o parts. 
It v;as a lively sort of thing, or I thought so. Even over 
there, vrhen I vms practically put on my own for pictures, 
stories, two I picked v;ere, let's say, disappointing. One 
v;as called Mr. Peabody and the r-^ermaid [19^8], and I knew that 
might tough just from the special effects, but I thought it 
was a funny idea, but it v;as too much of a fantasy, and it 
didn't go. Then I v/as convinced I had something real good 
in The Senator VJas Indiscreet [19't7]. I still think that was 


good. I don't think the Mermaid vms good, but The Senator 
Mas Indiscreet had stuff that still delights me. It had a 
curious experience. It came at a time v/hen everybody that 
didn't wrap the flag around himself was a Commie. No matter 
v;hat you said about anybody in the government, you v;ere a 
Commie. Ttie shrillest one of course was Hedda Hopper. Louella 
hadn't even heard of Communism, but Hedda v;as saving the 
country, and that was just about the time they begot that 
Duke V'ayne-VJard Bond outfit that passed on everybody. Look, 
the v/hole record in show business v;as full of clovming 
about the government. My God, I mean, V/ill Rogers, if he'd 
been operating around that time, Hedda Hopper v/ould have had 
him shot, second day. Of Thee !_ Sing couldn't have been put 
on. It didn't make any more sense. This [ Senator V/as Indiscreet ] 
was just about a fellov; that figured he had no talent doing 
anything else but be President of the United States. That 
was really the only thing he thought he could do pretty well. 
It v;as unpatriotic. It began by making people uncomfortable, 
I guess, as if they were seeing a picture made in Russia, to 
lampoon us. 

A curious thing happened with Life . I v/asn't present 
at Goetz's house, but he ran it at his house one night and 
Clare Luce vjas there. Right in the middle of it. Bill said 
she said, "Don't tell me an American made this picture." 
Bill never takes anything seriously. He kidded her, but she 


wouldn't accept it as kidding. This vjas subversive. Nov: 
Life had given it a spread, three pages, or something like 
that, v;hlch was at that time, very good for you. The only 
time that Life ever contradicted itself was a couple of 
v;eeks later. It had in the back a double column thing 
called "On Second Thought," and it went on to say that vrhat 
it had described as laughs v;ere more or less horse laughs. 
I remember that v;as one of the expressions that v/as used. 
It went on to echo Mrs. Luce's feeling that this v;as hardly 
a one-hundred-percent American picture. There v;ere at least 
half a dozen organizations, like American Legion Posts or 
Conventions or things like that, that condemned the picture 
before it vi8.s released, before they'd seen it, as being sub- 
versive and all that sort of thing. It died. Now it's been 
on television many times since and people have told me hov; 
funny it v;as. That v;as a case v:here I ignored Leo Spitz, 
maybe Bill too. I can't remember nov;, but I remember Leo 
said, "People v/on't go to a political picture. Politics are 
not very good movie pictures." My argument was, it alv/ays is, 
that laughs overcome everything. But, I think it doesn't 
always overcorae everything and there are other aspects of a 
picture. In this case, politics at the wrong time and used 
in the v;rong v;ay v;ere death to it. I'm having the same argu- 
ment now viith Scuba Duba and I didn't anticipate it. One 


actor turned it dovm. He liked the script, liked the part, 
but was scared to death of the racial thing, v;hich is used 
as comedy. It makes me a little apprehensive. Others may 
do that. I don't know. It never occurred to me that that 
v;ould be a problem that had to be solved. I'm still arguing 
that if it's funny enough it'll go, but I could be v;rong 
again. But in this case [ Scuba Dub a ] , I didn't see the shov; 
and buy it and pick it out. They bought it and they bought 
it with great enthusiasm. When I say they, I mean V/arner 
Brothers-Seven Arts. If there's a mistake made, there's 
a mistake made not only by me, but by the company Itself, 

Stempel: In the case of S enator Was Indisc ree t , did you have 
any indication when you were v:riting the film and v/hen you 
v;ere making the film that you v;ere going to run into this 

Johnson: Never. I thought there v;ere so kooky senators 
and kooky people around [chucl:les], it v/ould v:ork. My God, 
there v;as one certifiable lunatic in the Senate at the tim.e. 
A fellov; from Tennessee, from Memphis. He v;as the boss there, 
but a V/ashlngton nev;spaperman told, "This man is really a 
lunatic. He'll stand up in Senate, forget v;here he is, v;on't 
realize it, begin talking, I don't knov;, about potato soup 
or something and that exclusive club protects him." They can 


go in there and get falling dov;n drunk and the Senate protects 
their members. There v;as one guy, not in the Senate but in 
the House J that one time v;as vjading around in a fountain in 
Nev7 York, like that fountain in front of the Pla^.a Hotel, 
with his pants pulled up. He was still a member of the 
House of Representatives. They finally had to throw the net 
over him and take liim av;ay , but the House of Representatives 
didn't do anything about it. He vms a fellov; member. No, 
nothing like that occurred to me. It just seemed to me too 
idiotic to think of. The only thing that I thought was that 
Leo v/as wrong when he thought that all political pictures 
were doomed. That is should be opposed as something subversive 
never occurred to me ever. 

Stempel: Now on that picture it lists, on the credits, you 
as producer, and George S. Kaufman as director, and Charlie 
MacArthur as writer. Did you all stay exclusively v;ithin 
those three functions or did you all do everything on that? 

Johnson: No. It was a collaboration, mostly between Charlie 
and myself, but of course with help from Geroge. I v/as glad 
to get George to come out and direct a picture. He hadn't 
directed anything out here since Marx Brothers. He read the 
script and he was pleased vn*.th it and he thought he could do 
it. [Johnson chuckles] But he certainly didn't think miuch 

1 1 


of the art of the director out here. I asked him once, 
"You find it difficult directing a picture after the stage?" 
He said, "The only problem is staying av;ake." [Stempel 
laughs] George couldn't stand those long waits while they 
V7ere relighting sets and this and that, you know. 

Stempel: Exactly how did you and MacArthur work at v/riting? 

Johnson: 1 asked Ben [Hecht] once, "Hov; the hell did you 
ever get Charlie to stop altering things?" He said, "I 
just vjatched for an opportunity and v;hen he got enough pages, 
I took It out of the typewriter, went off and fixed it myself." 
Charlie would, he vras a man v;ho sparkled vrith ideas, but, 
my God, v;e v/ould have been forever. He said, "Why don't we 
change them to rabbits?" He came in one morning and said, 
"Why don't v;e make it a lady senator?" My God, rewrite this 
whole bloody thing. No doubt it would have been good as 
a lady senator, but. Like alv:ays, I v/rote the final draft. 
I Just can't get over that. This is always the way with me, 
and that's why writers, authors, or playv/rights don't care 
much for the screenv/riter. 

Stempel: In one book on the movies, it mentioned that a 
group of theatre owners in the Midwest came out against The 
Senator Was Indiscreet , presumably for the same reason. 

Johnson: I guess so. I don't remember. I know that the 

1 1 


v;ave against it began before a print had left the studio. It 
was I suppose the, what we now call, maybe we called it 
then, the "rightists." I was utterly unconscious of them, 
of v;hat possible feelings they might have about it. I didn't 
knov; that a Senator vias sacrosanct. God, they say enough 
about them v/hen they're running against each other. [laughter] 
I felt that we might have oome fun v/ith this fellow, and I 
v/as v;rong. 

S.tempel: Did you come in for any personal difficulties 
because of the film? 

Johnson: No. A personal difficulty is if you make tv:o 
pictures in succession that are unsuccessful. [chuckles] 
You might call that personal. Even that I v;as protected 
against by the brass, the people that kept the books and all 
that kind of thing. I suddenly v;as av/are I v/asn't even 
employed there. My company v;as gone or sold or bankrupt or 
v:hatever the hell it v;as, I don't know. I'hey said I v;as 
available for employment elsev^here. No hard feelings. 
They'd made a lot on other pictures, but I think that v;as the 
end of my connection v;ith Universal-International. I don't 
think I did anything else. I think I v;as scheduled to do one 
more and they called that off. I don't even remember if 
we'd selected a story or not. 


Stempel: Do you think this v;as the result of the difficulties 
with The Senator V/as Indiscreet or more the fact that you 
just had two pictures v;hlch were not...? 

Johnson: I don't think either one of them really had very 
much to do with it. It may have been that other pictures 
failed, or that the merger hadn't v/orked out the v;ay they 
thought it v;ould. V/hen you get up into swapping stock and 
that kind of thing, I'm lost. I wasn't the only one. Bill 
Dozier v;as let out. He had a company there then. There were 
others. No I think it v;as something internal that I never 
knev; anything about, like I don't knov/ v/hat's going on at 
V/arner Brothers nov/, you knov/. Somebody tells me it vjants 
to merge v;lth something or somebody v;ants to buy it or sell 
it. It has very little to do v/ith me, and I never knov/ 
anything about it until after it's done, because it rarely 
affects me personally. No, I think I could have been afforded 
two failures. I remember Zanuck saying once when they had, 
they signed Joe V.a.nkle\-iicz that Joe Schenck kept trying to 
get hj.m to bounce Joe. I think Joe had five flops in succession 
so Zanuck said. Then he came through v;ith Letter to Three 
Wives and the next one v/as All About Eve , and it made Zanuck 
kind of pleased that he had held firm because he was convinced 
that Joe had the stuff and v.'ould come through. That may 
have been truer in those days than it is today, where you 
get one flop and they run like rabbits, but in those days they 

2 57 

v;ere making a lot of pictures and you v/ere under contract. 
Besides, in those days a man like Zanuck took responsibility 
for these pictures. I never had one v;ord of reproach from 
Zanuck the entire time I v;as there and I may have had flops. 
But never once did he ever say, "V/hat'd I tell you," or any- 
thing like that. If he committed himself to a picture for 
me or anybody else to make, he committed himself to it. He 
wanted to share, and he v;ould share in the blame. He made 
damn sure that he shared in, say, the success of Grapes 
of Wrath , or something like that. But never a reproach. 
When I suddenly found I was out of Universal-International, 
I V7as invited over by L. B. Mayer, although I'd already 
talked to Fox v.'ho v/anted me back on the sam.e terms I had 
when I left. I only v/ent over to see Mayer because he v;as 
Mayer and you just didn't say no to a luncheon invitation. 
I v;ent over there and we had lunch, just the tv;o of us in a 
room, and he wanted me to come there and named these stars 
and so on. I told him that I v;as inclined to go back to Fox 
where I v;as familiar with things and I had worked v;ith Zanuck 
before and it had been satisfactory and so on. So I just 
picked up at Fox just as if I'd never left there. 

Stempel: Before we get back to Fox, I had one or two more 

questions about some of the pictures at Universal-International, 

I saw The Dark Mirror on television av;hlle back and I was 

amazed at what must have been the trick photography in the 


scenes vrith both of the tvrlns. 

Johnson: VJell, you've come to the v/rong vrindov; for that. 
[Johnson chuckles] 

Stempel: I just v/ondered if you knew anything about hov; they 
were done because it's some of the best I've ever seen of 
that kind of thing. 

Johnson: Irving Pichel directed it, didn't he? 

Stempel: No, Pichel directed Peabody and the Mermaid . Robert 

Johnson: Oh, Siodmak, yes. I don't knov;. I really don't. 
Of course, I suppose I could have sat dovm at the time and 
worked it out that they viere using a double v/ith her back 
to the camera, but it was such a mysterious sort of thing, 
and I felt that most people was bewildered by it as I was. 
I said to Siodmak, "How'd you do that?" "Aw," he says, "a 
travelling matte." I said, "Oh yeah." I hadn't the faintest 
idea v;hat a travelling matte was. I still to this day don't 
knov;, but if somebody puts up some question to me about some 
problem like this, I say, "Can't v;e do it with a travelling 
matte?" "V/hy let's see, can we." [laughter] Let them work 
that out. 

Stempel: I noticed the Pete Martin story which came out in 


the Saturday Evening Post about the time you v;ere doing Dark 
Mirror had a picture of you going over the lines with Olivia 
deHavilland. Did you v;ork at all with her and with the actors 
in films? 

Johnson: No, that v;as just a posed picture. But 1 tell you 
one actor, the only actor I've ever known to do that, and that 
was Bill Po'well in Peabody and the r-'ermaid . Bill v;as a little 
professorial in a v;ay, and I liked him very much, a very nice 
man, a gentleman, a good actor. I said to him once, "You 
know Bill, I have never yet talked to an actor speaking of 
how he became an actor that he didn't reply in v/hat was 
really a slight apology. You know the French have a saying 
that an actress is a little more than a v/oman, an actor a 
little less than a man. You ask so and so, 'My goodness,' he 
says, 'I just happened to be on the set.' Or 'A fellow saw 
me somevmere.' You always knov; he never did make a move." 
Bill said, "You are nov/ t Iking to a fellovr v;ho never wanted 
to be anything else but an actor and v;ho said so from the 
time I could pronounce the v;ord." He came from somewhere up 
in Nev; York state, and he told about going to Rochester 
and seeing stage plays v;hen he v/as 13, 1^, 15 years old. 
"I v;anted to be one. I don't apologize. I'm proud of it." 

He v;ould do this. He'd come in in this rather prim 
fashion. He said, "Nov; Nunnally, hov/-v;ould you like this 


done? I v/ould like to go over the scenes vflth you." Even 
though I wasn't directing. He v;as conscientious. I said, 
"You don't expect me to read this script, do you? I'ra not 
an actor. I cfm't read." He said, "Yes, I do," and we would. 
We'd begin v;ith the first line, and he said, "I'll interpret 
your reading. Don't worry about that." Though I can't 
read very v;ell, certainly not in an actor's sense, he caught 
the tone that I hoped to have in the lines and would read it 
properly, "Something like that?" I said, "That's it exactly." 
In the tv/o pictures I made v/ith him, in both cases, v/e ' d 
set in the office for a v/hole afternoon, three, four, or 
five hours. No line v^as too small or too unimportant. He 
said, "I've just got to knov; hov; you meant in because that's 
a part of the mosaic." You don't catch m.any of them doing 
that. No, at that time Olivia had a dramatic coach — the 
v;ay Marilyn Monroe had one — and sometimes they become just 
obsessed by this coach. This interferes with the director. 
The coach that Olivia had is an extremely nice woman. I 
can't think of her professional name, but she's Mrs. George 
Seaton. There vfere all kind of ruckuses going on, because 
Olivia is a very tough-minded girl and she took this dramatic 
coach's readings and sometimes they v;ere in conflict with vfhat 
the director had wanted. But I never had anything to do 
with her. She became a very good friend. 


Stempel: One of the things that bothered me about Peabody 
and the Mermaid v;as that it seemed av.'fully slov; paced. 

Johnson: It probably v;as. It just didn't come out right. 
I built up too long. It took too long to get to the mermaid 
and then I guess the mermaid itself v/as absolutely unacceptable 
by the audience, or it could have been acceptable if it had 
been v;ritten in another v;ay. There v;as a picture came out 
about the same time, made by some English com.pany, and it 
used almost the same plot. I still think it v/as a theft, 
but I think it v/as quite successful, though it was a real 
cheap affair. The v/riter evidently handled the subject in 
a way that v;as much more gratifying to the audience than the 
way I handled it. I guess mine v/as half-v/ay between realism 
and fantasy, and it just didn't jell. It didn't work together. 
My God, the trouble v;e had making that tail. [chuckles] 
Thousands and thousands of dollars, fitting that poor little 
girl v;ith it. Then v;e v/ent dovm to Florida, Crystal Springs. 
There was an opportunity to shoot under v;ater. Fortunately 
this girl Ann Blyth, was a first-rate sv/immer. She didn't 
have to learn to swim. She v/as v/hat you might call a tournament 
class swimmer to begin with. 

Stempel: V/as Peabody and the Mermaid the picture that was 
the biggest disappointment to you, of all you've made? If 
it wasn't, which one v;as? 


Johnson: God, that's hard to say, I had nore reason to be 
disappointed in The Senator Vfas Indiscreet than in any other 
that I can remember because I think it v;as genuine comedy. 
Scene after scene seemed to me v/as valid, and Bill played it 
so v/ell. You knov/, they tried to make him Czar of Basketball, 
ariyv/here they could find anything for him. to do. I suppose 
that I had more hope for that, I hoped that v/ould be a real 
success and it vfas a real flop. Others have been. I couldn't 
understand v;hy. I can understand why The Man V/h o Understood 
Women v;as because of the casting. Maybe the casting, or 
maybe again the mixture of tragedy and broad comedy didn't 
work. Not in my hands, anyv/ay. Sometimes it can be done 
and sometimes it just leaves an audience confused. They 
don't know v/hether to laugh or, "Am I supposed to sympathize 
with this fellow? Or with this girl?" Oh Men Oh Vfomen was 
another one I thought was going to be a successful picture 
because it seemed to me to have v;onderful stuff. On the stage, 
it v;as very, very funny. But it didn't add up to anything 
in a picture, not in my picture, 

Stempel: Was there any picture that may have done well at 
the box office but you v;ere disappointed in as a picture? 
Aside from the question of just pure money? 

Johnson: V/ell, it's hard to think of all those things. I 


v;as terribly disappointed In Roxle Hart as a picture because 
it v/asn't directed the vmy I thought it should be. Tobacco 
Road v?as another, but Toba-cco Road v/asn't a success v;hereas 
Roxle Hart v/as. There may have been others, but I can't 
think of them offhand. You had a hope for all of them. One 
of my kids asked me, "Daddy, v;hy don't you v;rlte an Oscar- 
v/innlng picture?" I said, "V/hat the hell do you think I 
do every time I start 'Fade in'?" [chuckles] I'm aiming for 
it, just something happens. 

Stempel: To skip back for a minute to the Red scare and the 
House investigation of the movie Industry, did this affect 
you in any other v/ay aside from the difficulties vfith The 
Senato r Was Indiscreet ? 

Johnson: Mo. Mo, I've never been political. I have sympathies 
which v/ould be called liberal. I think this v/as because I v;as 
a newspaperman at a particular time. I started in nevfspaper 
work in Nev; York in the tv.'enties. I felt I v;as without 
prejudice and I must not color a story. I must not let any 
of my ov/n feelings creep into a story. That isn't the best 
way, I don't think now, it's to be done, because, for one 
thing, it is almost humanly impossible, but I became that 
v;ay. I'd be working on the Mew York Herald - Tribune , the 
house organ of the Republican Party. I v;as a born Democrat, 


if I'd been, but I wouldn't shade my story for 
Republicans' angle or a Democratic angle. But it became a 
part of me that I was an observer rather than a participajnt , 
regardless of my personal feelings. Since I'm not a joiner — 
I never joined anything — I belong to Guilds, I belonged to 
a club once, the Players — it didn't bother me. 

I was frank to say that I thought people v;ere very foolish 
in those days. You weren't here. You couldn't believe that 
they'd start a ?Iolmby Hills Nasturtium Club, and nasturtium 
lovers v;ould become members of it, and one month later 
somebody proposed a resolution regarding the Civil VJar in 
Spain, and nine out of ten of these nasturtium lovers hadn't 
the faintest idea of who v;as fighting v;ho. They certainly 
wasn't as av/are of it as the leftists v/ere, and the next 
thing you knov:, on the list of subversive organizations v;as 
the Holmby Hills Nasturtium Club. This is hardly an exaggera- 
tion of what went on. This wasn't a thing that alarm.ed or 
frightened me or made me stand back. If I'd have had a 
nasturtium fetish, I v;ouldn't have joined them, because I 
Just don't like gatherings. I don't like groups, and as it 
happened, I had no particular hobbies or any kind of special 
interests which made me join any organization like that. But 
I sav; so many things happen, so many outrageous things that 
went on, that made m.e ashamed of the whole Industry. You 


couldn't do anything about it. You couldn't even get an 
explanation from anybot3y. Suppose somebody v/anted, oh, 
Lee J. Cobb. They found a reason v;hy you should get, 1 
don't know, some other bald-headed follov;. Among actors it's 
impossible. "You see, he v/asn't right for the part. There 
v;ere three others you could get v;ho are better." Much too 
slippery. No way he could pin you dovm. Also there v;ere so 
many incompetent actors who shouldn't have had jobs who were 
proud that they were turned dov/n because they were Corrmunists . 
God, if they'd have been in the Republican Cabinet, they 
still v/eren't entitled to the job. It v;as just impossible 
to dravf a line anyv;here, but you knev; it v;as there, and it 
was a tough thing to take. Think of John Huston, having to 
go out and debase himself to an oaf like V/ard Bond and promise 
never to be a bad boy again, and V/ard Bond viould say, "All 
right then, v;e clear you, but we've got our eye on you." 
This v;as just one of the most humiliating things. Some actors 
wouldn't do it. Some writers wouldn't do it. Harry Kurnitz, 
a very good writer, just left. He left because he would 
not go to this Ku Klux Klan and ask them for permission to 
write, even though Harry v.'as about as apolitical as I v;as. 
I had a director, Irving Pichel, who'd been out of work, 
both as an actor, as a director, and you know what his crime 
was? There was a strike here, one of those strikes around the 


studio, I forget what it was, but there v;as a fund being 
raised for the v/ives and children and Irving, vrho was almost 
Christ-like in his sympathy for the unfortunate, he made a 
contribution of more than he could afford. Boy, no more 
v;ork for him. He finally v;ent crawling out to Duke V/ayne and 
Ward Bond and a number of them. Gary v/asn't far from it, 
and Jimmie Stewart, a very good friend of mine, but neither 
Stewart nor Cooper v/ere as loquacious as Wayne and V/ard Bond, 
There v;ere a number of them. Mostly Irish. [chuckles] 
V/ell, it never affected me at all. Nothing cam.e up in the 
matter of selecting a story as to v/hether it had any political 
bearing. I can't remember one ever coming up or that I 
ever thought about it, any more than I'd thought about it 
before. I just hoped tliat it would make a good picture. 




Stempel: VJe got up to the point v/hcre you returned to Fox 
because you liked v;orl:lng v/ith Zanuck and you knev; vjhere the 
water cooler was. The first picture you did there v.'as 
Everybody Does It [in 19^9], which was remake of Wi_fe_, Plusband 
and F riend . V/as this part of your deal for going back to 
Twentieth Century-Fox? Did you say, "I'll come back if you'll 
let me remake this one"? 

Johnson: Oh no, no. I guess they just didn't have anything 
right that minute. Zanuck had alv;ays liked the story and he 
thouglit it hadn't been done right the first time, so he v;as 
agreeable. I couldn't have done it v:ithout his giving m.e 
the green light. I thought then and I think nov; that it is 
a good story, but I'd be out of my mind if I tried to press 
it any further. [laughter] And they'd be out of their minds 
if they thought they'd be going to make it again and flop. 
There are some things you get a little obsessed with. 
I had what I thought was a comedy line that I wrote in a 
picture once. It v;as at a party or something and a man says 
to a very pretty girl, "May I take you home?" And she says, 
"Yes, vJhere do you live?" And, everybody alv/ays laughed at 
it [v;hen I told it to them]. It got cut out, so I stuck it 


in another picture, and it didn't get a laugh. [Johnson 
chuckles] I got it in a third picture. Actually it 
appeared tv/ice. The third tine nobody laughed, so I had to 
admit defeat. This may be funny to somebody I'm talking 
to, but it certainly isn't funny to an audience, so I had 
to give up on that little piece of business, I was convinced 
that that was a very funny story of the husband v/ho outsang 
the wife, but I was in a minority on that. I v;as the Judge 
Brandeis of that report. [chuckles] That [ Everybody Does It ] 
was directed by Eddie Goulding, and Eddie was one of the 
directors v;ho had resolved "I v;ill never v7ork with Hunnally 
Johnson" at the time I v;as misquoted. I asked him then, 
"How about this Eddie?" "Dead drunk, chum." [Stempel chuckles] 
"Dead drunk." He vias a delightful man and he had an eccentricity 
about shooting that sticks v;ith me and I have done it myself 
most of the time. He would not let anybody walk off the 
frame [of the picture]. He always declared that was cheap 
picture making. That v/as Gower Street [a street in Holly- 
wood where the small companies have their studios]. If 
somebody was leaving the room, he panned him to the door, 
or cut to somebody who v/as still there. Seemed to be some 
kind of a superstition with him. Nobody said, "Good bye" 
and walked off the frame then. I do think it makes for 
more graceful use of the scene, but it's so petty that I 
don't think anybody v;ould bother very much about it any more. 


or notice, but In none of his pictures, he ever had anybody 
walk off the frame. But there again It, It flopped. So 
let's forget that. 

Sternpel: O.K. , v/e ' 11 go on to Three Came Home [1950] . As 
I was reading In the clipping file on you, I came across 
several items that said that the picture got very good reviews 
and the reviev;s I've seen of it v;ere very good, and I'll 
have to admit I had never heard of it. And I wondered about 
this, maybe you have a theory on this, maybe you don't. Why 
is it that some pictures are successful and popular when they 
come out and then they just get forgotten and other pictures 
are successful, or sometimes not successful, and they grow, 
and people see them again and again and again? 

Johnson: V/ell, I have no theory about that. I only know that, 
when you finish a picture, there is some staff in New York 
who sits down and writes two reports, one report is how v/ell 
they sold it, if the picture is a success. The other is a 
report v/hy this picture should never have been made. In 
this case, I thought the report was unjustified. They said 
that Claudette Colbert v;as completely dead and ended and she 
was the only name in it and that was the report on that. It's 
hard to believe that, but stranger things have happened. I 
don't knov;. She never worked very much after that. Not that 
she cared. She v;ent to New York, I think, and v/orked on the 


stage from then on. But, here again v/as a true story which ■ 
had appeared in the Atlantic Monthly I believe. A very 
dramatic story, though God knows who brought it to me. The 
source of the stories you rarely remember. All of sudden 
you've got it and it either came through Zanuck or some kind 
of headquartei's and if you liked it, they assigned it to 
you. If you didn't, they tried it v;ith somebody else. 
But, the vioman who v;rote it didn't like it. She thought it 
was maudlin, over dramatized. I v/as sorry for that, but there 
again, as I say, the author doesn't speak to the screenwriter 
any more . _ 

Stempel: It's odd that she should say that it v/as over 
dramatized. This is one of the pictures I sav; at Fox, and it 
v/as almost under dramatized. You mentioned when v;e talked 
before about feeling that your obligation was to the audience, 
and I wondered about it in this particular case, since this 
v/as a true story, I never read the book or the story, but you 
seemed to keep the story in pretty much of an episodic form, 
and not give it a tight dramatic structure. VJas there any 
reason for staying with this episodic form, I mean other 
than that it v/as a true story? 

Johnson: V/ell yes, only that I felt that as long as it was 
a true story that whatever strength it would have v/ould be 
to tell it, I'm going to coin an expression now, tell it 


like it is. 

Stempel: That's good. Can I remember that expression and 
use it? 

Johnson: Yes. Yes. But with all of incidents and all 
the developments, I was very careful not to cook up anything 
more exciting because I didn't think I could be more exciting. 
I just thought the arrival of the Jans and their rather 
peaceful arrival, they just walked ashore and the mayor 
meet them and gave in, there was no fighting through the 
streets kind of thing, the way they brought all of the 
people to the Governor's house, that all struck me when 
I read the book, as having, to me, such a new viev; of a 
Japanese invasion. V/hen I'd v/ritten stories involving 
wars or soldiers, I've done my best to portray the enemy 
soldiers exactly as I portrayed the American soldiers because 
my guess is that soldiers are all alike. There are very 
few professional armies. They're all civilians in uniform, 
and they vary the way civilians do. It seemed wrong to me 
to make them all sound like Preminger, you knov; [chuckles], 
on the other side. I did that [made the soldiers alike] in 
Moon is Down and in Rommel. I always tried to make these 
soldiers behave more or less alike, except they represented 
diffei'ent beliefs and different causes v;hich had brought 

2 72 

them in conflict. I just think it's a mistake to make them 
the bad guys and the good guys in a war. You can do that 
in a western, because you just suspend belief there and enjoy 
this conflict betv/een the v;hite hats and the black hats, but 
in any war story it's unfair. I think that the v/oman v;ho 
wrote it didn't question the accuracy of our dramatization. 
I think she v;as mainly disturbed by the end, v;hich v.'as when 
she rejoins her husband [after being separated in Japanese 
prison camps], and the fact that they fell dovm on the grourid, 
or something like that, v/hen they met and wept. V/hether it 
happened exactly that v/ay or not, I don't remember. I could 
feel it that v/ay. I could feel that my wife would run at 
me in some kind of wild fashion if I arrived after being in 
a Japanese prison camp, crippled. It may have been an error, 
which it v?as to her — she's English, I suppose she felt that 
they should go forward and shake hands — but I felt it v/as 
justified in the circumstances. 

Stempel: I found the ending very striking. I wondered at 
the tim.e if you v;ere at all influenced by, or if you'd seen, 
a documentary that came out of France called Le Retour , 
which is about people being repatriated after the V/ar? I 
found the ending very similar in tone to this documentary. 

Johnson: VJoll, I'm glad to hear you say it. No, I can't 


remember seeing it, but there are some thj.ngs that you can 
imagine, you have to imagine, and might sound at 
som.e other time, but at the time, that's the v;ay I felt 
about it. I've done it at other times. I could just have 
to imagine v;hat v?ould happen. All v;riters are vjriting about 
them.selves, you knov/, in different make-ups or at different 
ages, even the females I think. That ain't hard for Albee, 
but [chuckles], but I don't mind. 

Stempel: I v;as somewhat amazed by Sessue Hayakav;a's performance 
in that [Three Came Home ] as the Japanese officer, because 
I think in many ways it's a much more interesting performance 
than the one he did later in Bridre on the River Kvfai. 

Johnson: God, I didn't even knov: he v;as alive when they 
brought his name into me. I remembered him long ago in 
silent pictures as The Cheat . I think he v/as a Jap dropout, 
[chuckles] I think he was hiding out or something, because 
it seems to me I can remember he had been in some other 
countries before he came here. 

At the end of the picture he gave a Japanese dinner. 
He was the host for the cast and director in a Japanese 
restaurant here. It v/as all pleasant enough. I can't 
stand Japanese food, but that had nothing to do with it. At 
the end of it, he stood up and he v/as still the star, he was 

2 7^1 

in command. He made a very graceful little speech and then, 
by v/ay of rewarding us, he said he would recite "The Vampire." 
I just couldn't accept that anybody would be that corny, so 
when he began "A fool there was, and he made his prayer," 
I was prepared to join in the laughs at a little bit of 
clovming that he was doing. Then I realized this wasn't 
clov/ning. You know, it was like DeV/olf Hopper reciting 
"Casey at the Bat," this was his trademark, this was his 
great performance, and he recited the v.'hole bloody thing, 
and v;c cheered him. 

Stempel: Three Came Home v;as directed by Jean Megulesco, 
and it seemed to me that his direction v;as av;fully uneven. 
Certain scenes, like v;here the Australian prisoners of v;ar 
come up to the fence outside the v/omen's barracks, that are 
very, very v;ell done. Then it seems there are others that 
are rather sloppy. Did it appear this way to you? 

Johnson: VJell, it may have at the time. As I say, you can't 
do very much about those things. You accept the director 
and, unless he's outrageously bad, you have to go along with 
him. If he sav: it that v;ay, that was the v;ay it turned out. 
I didn't remember at the time. Jean was a very uneven director. 
He had great sensitiveness to music, to color, to painting, 
to decor, to the setting of the scene and the movement of 

2 7^1 

in command. He made a very graceful little speech and then, 
by v;ay of rev/arding us, he said he would recite "The Vampire." 
I just couldn't accept that anybody v/ould be that corny, so 
when he began "A fool there was, and he made his prayer," 
I was prepared to join in the laughs at a little bit of 
clowning that he was doing. Then I realized this wasn't 
clov/ning. You know, it was like DeV/olf Hopper reciting 
"Casey at the Bat," this was his trademark, this was his 
great performance, and he recited the whole bloody thing, 
and v;c cheered him. 

Stempel: Three Came Home v/as directed by Jean Megulesco, 
and it seemed to me that his direction was av/fully uneven. 
Certain scenes, like v/here the Australian prisoners of war 
come up to the fence outside the v/omen's barracks, that are 
very, very v;ell done. Then it seems there are others that 
are rather sloppy. Did it appear this v;ay to you? 

Johnson: VJell, it may have at the time. As I say, you can't 
do very much about those things. You accept the director 
and, unless he's outrageously bad, you have to go along with 
him. If he sav/ it that v;ay , that v;as the way it turned out. 
I didn't remember at the time. Jean was a very uneven director. 
He had great sensitiveness to music, to color, to painting, 
to decor, to the setting of the scene and the movement of 


the characters, but he never gave the actors one v;ord of 
direction. The result v;as every actor v.'as , in effect, on 
his own, and that v/as his chief fault. Nov; sometimes it 
happened that they all fell into the same synch, you might 
say, and it v/orked all right, like Thre e Coins in the Fountain. 
Three kinds of ordinary actresses, giving the same kind of 
ordinary performances, so there v/as nothing uneven about it. 
It may have shov/ed itself there [in Three Came Home ]. I 
didn't remember that. 

Stempel: Bill Bovvers said that he got the idea for The 
Gun fighter X'.'hen he talked to Jack Demnsey one night in his 
restaurant, and Dcmosey said that everybody v/anted to take a 
poke at him since he v;a3 the Champ. Bowers said that he 
ov7ed a screenplay to Fox and so he decided to put this in 
a western form. When did you come in on The Gun fighter ? 

Johnson: As I remember it. Bill brought it to me — I knev; 
Bill pretty well, good writer — and I think he had been writing 
it v/ith a fellov,' named Andre deToth. 

Stempel: That's the credit: story by Bov;ers and Andre deToth. 

Johnson: Yes. I guess they separated and what Bill brought 
to mo Vi'as about 6o pages, about half the length of a script. 
Bill vjanted to sell right away, because, as always. Bill 

needed the dough. I asked Fox to buy it, and the bought it. 


and I expanded it, really not altering the structure or the 
story that Bov;ers had v/ritten, but injecting scenes here 
and there that I thought v/ould make it a little stronger and 
also make it long enough to shoot. I didn't knov; anything 
about deToth until his name appeared on the screen, [chuckles] 
and then Bill told m.e that deToth had been a party to it in 
some V7ay. But I regretted that I couldn't have any credit 
on it, because I thought it vms a first-rate story. Turned 
out to be a very good picture, and also not too successful. 
This v;as alv/ays blamed on me by Skouras, v:ho for a couple of 
years afterv;ards v;ould introduce me to somebody as the man who 
put a moustache on Gregory Peck. [laughter] Now I really 
hadn't put the moustache on hiia. Henry King [the director] 
had done it. He was perfectly justified. Henry was trying 
to get a feeling of Remington in the character, the look of 
him. First I knew of the moustache v/as when I sav; the first 
day's rushes, and I thought it was fine. I told Skouras, 
"It looked perfectly right." He said, "That moustache cost 
us a million dollars." [chuckles] r4oustache. That was pure 
idiocy. It really gets more cirtical praise than almost 
any picture I ever did except Grapes of Wrath . It v;as a 
tough one like Dwight, what's his name? 

Stempel: Macdonald? 

2 77 

Johnson: Yes, vrho several times printed that it v;as the best 
western he'd ever seen. Ihough I feel responsible in large 
part for it, I'm on it only as a producer and not as a 
writer at all, although I think I wrote about half of it. 

Stempel: Also listed on the credit for the screenplay is 
somebody named William Sellers. 

Johnson: V/illiam Sellers? 

Stempel: V/illiam Sellers. Yeah, the credits on it were, 
"Story by Bov/ers and Andre deToth," and "Screenplay by Bowers 
and William Sellers." 

Johnson: 'Well, he's an unknov/n to me nov;. I don't knov;, I 
never heard of him, and 1 don't knov/ anything, can't remember 
anything about him at all, because certianly nobody ever 
v;rote anything on it after Bill handed it to me. I don't 
knov: v/hat's become of Bill either. 

Stempel: He just finished a picture for United Artists 
called Support Your Local Sheriff . The reason I knov: so many 
stories about him and The Gun fighter is that my professor of 
screenvfrlting is a good friend of his and had him in for a 
class one day. VJe got to read his screenplay for Sunnort Your 
Local S heriff , and it's very, very funny. 

Johnson: He's a very funny fellov/. 


Stempel: I haven't seen the picture yet, but if it's as 
funny as the script, then it's very funny. [It is---Stempel] 

Johnson: He v;rites very funny dlalocue. 

Stempel: He not only v;rote this picture but produced it 
also. On The Gun fighter , one of the things that everybody 
mentions v;ho v/rites about the picture is the authenticity 
of it: Peck's moustache, his hat, the saloon v/here a lot 
of it takes place. You mentioned that Henry King was trying 
for the effect. 

Johnson: The Frederick Remington effect. 

Stempel: The Remington paintings. Was this all King's idea? 

Johnson: Yes. This vms Henry's approach to the picture. 
There v;as one thing about Henry. No matter v:hat subject or 
what period you mentioned, he's an authority on it, [Johnson 
chuckles] and there's no arguing with him about it. I 
remember there he could be a mean guy, a tyrant. He vralked 
into this bar room and there v/ere a few bar tov;els hanging, 
and he said, in effect, "Who's responsible for this?" He 
went down the line snatching each one of these towels off, 
saying, "Bar tovrels didn't come in until I87I." [chuckles] Well, 
he happened to be saying this in front of the only man who 
knev/ he was lying, which was me. I didn't know he v;as lying 


because I never studied the history of bar towels. It just 
happened that the night before I'd been looking through an 
album of old pictures, like a collection of Brady photographs 
and had seen a picture of General Grant in a saloon and 
there were bar towels there. [Stempel laughs] But naturally 
I didn't say anything. There was nothing [to be gained by 
it]. It seemed to me a small point and ?Ienry had gained a 
small victory. It made him happy. I didn't care v;hether there 
were [bar tov/els]. If v/e'd be doing a picture of the Crusades, 
he'd come up with the same outright, flat statements and 
nobody would dispute a director as authoritative as Henry, 
The v/hole atmosphere v;as entirely Henry's, because as I 
remember it, v;hen it comes to designs for sets and all that 
sort of thing, he's an old-tlm.e interior decorator. He v;ants 
his period right and gets it right. He was responsible for 

Stempel: On this question of Peck's moustache, I think the 
way Bowers tells the story it was Zanuck v/ho v;as in Europe 
when the picture v;as being made and came back and looked at 
the picture. Supposedly Zanuck said, "The picture's going 
to be a flop because Peck has the moustache." 

Johnson: I never heard it from Zanuck, but I must have heard 
It a dozen times from Skouras. Zanuck must have told Skouras 


that, but Zanuck never said any thine to me about it, and I 
think it's nonsense anyv;ay. 

Stempel: I think maybe v;hat they might have meant v/as that 
because it v;as so authentic, people didn't accept it the way 
they accepted all the o her v;esterns. 

Johnson: I have no idea. I don't think he picture lost 
money. I just don't think it made much money. It wasn't 
a calamity. 

Stempel: Bowers said that v;hen it first came out and did 
not make much money, nobody ever mentioned it to him, but, 
I think he mentioned being in Paris sometime much later, 
and being introduced to somebody and being introduced as the 
man who wrote The Gunfighter . They said, "Ah ha, you're the 
man that v;rote The Gun fighter ," and they really lionized him 
because of it. He discovered that the picture had developed 
a reputation over the years, v/hich it certainly has. 

Johnson: Yes, it has. I don't knov; how much that v;as 
reflected in the box office over the years. In those days 
anyv;ay, you got it in the first six months or something like 
that, or you didn't get it. 

Stempel: In the various essays that have been v/ritten about 
The Gun fighter , they always point out that this picture is 


a nev/ look at the myth of the gunflghter. I wondered, v/hen 
you and Bov/ers v;ere doing the picture, if you v;ere av;are of 
this, that you v;ere changing the myth of the rom.antic gun- 
fighter in making him old and worn out and tired. I v;ondered 
if people v;ho make movies that make this sort of change are 
av;are of the. . . ? 

Johnson: No. Mo, I don't believe so. I believe that is 
some interpretation that is given afterv/ards. The one line 
in it that Bill v/rote which summed up the v;hole thing to me, 
when I v;as working on it, was when he vias talking to his old 
friend, and he said, "I knovf I've been at it, living this life 
for so many years, and I haven't even got a good watch." 
You knov:, a line something like that, and that's beautiful 
writing, to sum up the v/hole thing in a trivial little illustra- 
tion like that. It's only afterwards that people find 
significance in v;hat the writer thought of only as a very good 
story to tell. If he v/as brilliant enough to have changed 
the course or altered it in any way, it v;as not consciously. 
You knov; it alv:ays surprises and puzzles and amuses me in 
finding a review for Time , say, telling how the director 
"bores his camera right into the vitals of the changing 
social order," and all kind of interpretations like that, 
which is so much cran. Maybe it did to that critic but I 
rather doubt it did to the writer or even the director in 


the thing J v/ho is doinc his best to tell a story as v/cll as 
he knew hov; to tell it, and I doubt if he spent much tine 
thinking of hov/ he v/as going to bore the lenses of his camera 
into the vitals of, [Stemncl chuckles] you knov/, 1968 itself. 
That is something that makes critics very happy to be so 

Stempel: The next picture after Tne Gun fighter [in 1950] 
then v;as the one that v/as on T.V. last night. The I'ludlark 
[1950], v/hich we've talked a little bit about before. V/hy 
did Zanuck decide to send you to England to do the picture? 
It seems to me that most of it v;as interiors that could Just 
have easily have been done here. 

Johnson: Viell, you're v/rong there. It's funny that this guy 
that v;rote this book had never been in England. [He v/as] 
named Bonnet, and he wrote it in the South Pacific while he 
was a soldier v/ith information sent to him by his wife. She 
got it out of guide books, and histories of Windsor Castle. 
There was an episode v;hich Lytton Strachey had in his Victoria 
about the boy Jones. Actually the boy Jones v;as about sixteen 
or seventeen. I don't remember very much about it except 
it is a historical incident, and this fellov; Bonnet dramatized 
It. I went over there to try to make arrangements to shoot 
there v;here the thing took place. I lost all along the line 


because Windsor Castle is a residence of the Royal Family, 
and I was not allov;ed to shoot in it. They v/ouldn't even 
allow us to shoot in Windsor Great Park which is dovm towards 
the river, and we had to build everything, very costly. 

•The chief librarian at Windsor Castle read the book and 
read the script, though this v;as only a matter of interest 
on his part. He was fascinated by the book. He said, "I 
don't see how the man could have done it. You say he never 
even came here?" I said, "No. He said he'd never been in 
England," and he said, "VJell, everything he's got, even the 
description of the carpeting and the furniture, the throne 
room, everything is exact." In the end v/e had to build all 
of those things. V/e got in none of the places v;e ' d hoped to 
get into. VJindsor Castle, about three quarters of it, is 
almost a public museum. You can go there. Anybody. Thousands 
go there every day, but, I suppose like at the White House, 
there's one door you don't go through, and beyond that door 
are the common rooms, the living rooms, the bedrooms, the 
residence of the Royal Family. This librarian v;alked me 
through some of the halls because the Royal Family wasn't in 
residence at the time. It v;as a strange change from all 
these marble floors and all of this medieval decor, to go 
into something that v/as like the Ritz, bright, soft, deep 
carpets, a comfortable place. 

That [picture] v:as what led me to directing, because 


v;hlle I v;as there I had almost nothing to do, but I did v^hat 
I've done before, started another script and v;orked on it 
there. The script v/as The Desert Fox , because I remember 
meeting James Mason in such a funny v/ay. I had dinner with 
him last night. He became a very good friend, and I'm very 
fond of him. But v/e v/ere at v/hatever this studio was shooting 
this Mudlark and across an alley about as wide as this room, 
on the next stage James was in a picture v;lth Ava Gardner 
called Pandora and the Flying Dutchman . James v;anted to play 
Rommel. He'd heard I v;as writing this thing. Mow we had the 
same agency, V/illiam Morris, but this proper Englishman, 
instead of crossing the alley and saying, "VJhich one is 
Johnson?" he corrimunicated v/ith the V/illiam Morris office, 
here in Hollywood, to express an interest and to say that he 
would appreciate a talk v/ith me about it. So I thought, 
"Well, I must go through channels too." The fellov; in the 
William Morris office conveyed this to me, but I wasn't 
going to cross any alley if he vjouldn't. I just thought it 
was funny. I cabled back and said, "Tell Mr. Mason I'd be 
very happy to talk to him about it, if he'll just be good 
enough to give me a ring, or even easier, v;alk across the 
alley." They conveyed this to James, and so he came out and 
v;e said, "Hello." [laughter] \le got to talking about it. 
I couldn't say yes, because I wasn't in that kind of authority. 


and besides the script vms nov/here near done. V/as that 
picture after Mudlark ? 

Stempel: V/ell, there v;as one in there called The Lon,?; Dark 
Hall that v;as done in England. Did you v;rite the script 
for this v/hile you v;ere in England? 

Johnson: No, I v;rote that while I was at Universal and then 
sold it to somebody, just sold the v.'hole thing, and he sold 
it to Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, v;ho made the picture. 
I never sav; it. I don't knov; anything about it. 

Stempel: It's a rather interesting picture. It vms on T.V. 
a number of v;eeks ago. 

Johnson: Was it really? 

Stempel: They had somebody else v:ho did som.e additional 
scenes and dialogue. 


Johnson: It was based on a very famous murder case in England, 
called the Cam.den Tov;n murder. I follov/ed the book that we 
bought. I think it was called One More Unfortunate . I think 
that was the name of it, and he dramatized this thing. I 
mean he made a fiction thriller out of it, and I did this 
screenplay. I had a very fortunate break, because at the 
end, he had to be saved in some v;ay from being executed for 
a murder that he didn't commit, and the House of Commons 


saved me. They passed a bill suspending all death penalties 

for a matter of six month, or a year, something like that, 

so that v;as like the Marines arriving as far as I v;as concerned, 

you knovf. I v;as able to get this chap out of the gallov;s 

until I could figure out hov; to get him back in a happy 


The one thing that tickled me about that v;as that I saw 
Harrison and Lilli Palmer in London. We gave a party for 
Irene Dunne, and invited them and I v/as talking to Lilli 
Palmer. She's an extremely bright and very, very tough 
woman. She's quite intelligent, and she v;as talking about 
the script and one scene she questioned. The scene where 
the man came back to his wife and confessed v;hat he'd done. 
I was defending it as best I could, and she said, "Perhaps 
I should remind you that I am a better authority on the 
confessions of a husband than you are." Nov; this v/as in 
reference to the suicide of an actress here because she'd 
had an unfortunate love affair with Rex Harrison. I can't 
remember the name of that girl. She v;as pretty well known. 
Harrison, because it v;as coming out in the papers all the time 
anyv/ay , had to confess to Lilli that he had been having an 
affair with her. Carole Landis was her name, and she stuck 
her head in a oven and killed herself. When Miss Palmer cited 
her justification for criticizing a confession scene, I 
deferred to her. [chuckles] But I never sav; the picture. 

2 87 

As I say about all of them, I liked the story very much, but 
that's the v;ay things went. 

Stempel: You mentioned a party for Irene Dunne. How did it 
happen that Irene Dunne played Queen Victoria in The Mudlark ? 

Johnson: I don't knov; who else v;as ever considered for the 
part. I can't remember. I only knovf that when agents 
brought Irene's name around, I thought they must be joking 
because I couldn't think of anybody further removed from the 
image of Victoria than Irene Dunne. V/hi]e I v;as stalling 
around, trying to figure out somebody else, I suggested that 
it might be better if she tested for the part. I might as 
well have belched in her face at the idea of testing for any- 
thing. A star of her magnitude didn't test, and she didn't. 
I talked to the make-up man, and he said he thought he could 
do something. V/ell, they alv/ays think they can do something, 
and very often they can. He did make a rubber mask for her. 
It alv;ays looked to me like a rubber mask, maybe that v;as 
because I knev; it. I guess she got, in the English reviev;s, 
either B or B minus, you might say. They didn't really lace 
her or us the v/ay I thought they might. As a matter of fact, 
the picture was chosen for the Royal, whatever ^/-ou call it 
over there, the Royal Film, Annual Royal Film thing. But 
she carried it off. She was so v/onderful. She's such a 
wonderful v;oman, and she has such natural dignity. It was 


remarkable v;hen she'd vjalk on the set — it took her about 
tv;o hours to get into that make-up and she arrived on the set 
like a queen. It v.'as really a tribute to her that all of 
these, this English crew half-accepted it. They calD.ed her 
"M'am." V/hen she passed they bov/ed, and they gave her every 
sort of deference they would to a real queen arriving on the 
set, for she v/as all right to them. She did get by with it. 
So far as acting is concerned she did it perfectly. It was 
just the fact that they thought we might have found somebody 
who more nearly suggested Queen Victoria than this beautiful 
Miss Irene Dunne. But I think that Negulcsco directed that 
one, too. That v;as the time when Guiness finally complained 
that he was getting no direction. 

Stempel: Yeah, you mentioned that. Hov; did you come to 
pick Guiness for Disraeli? 

Johnson: Because I sav; a photograph of him and I had it 
enlarged. Negulesco and I v;ere talking [of him] because he 
was playing in The Cocktail Party in Nev; York at the time, 
and he v.'as being described as the greatest actor on the English 
stage. We vient to Nev/ York to see him and he was and is 
superb. But the make-up man took a piece of transparent 
papei', traced Guiness' face and then added the Disraeli hair 
and certain facial contours. Actually he was nearer the image 


of Disraeli than George Arliss vias . 

Stempel: This I had to ask about. It seemed like his 
perforiiiance and his looks v;ere influenced by Arliss' Disraeli. 
Maybe they were all influenced by Disraeli originally. VJas 
he influenced at all by Arliss' performance? 

Johnson: I don't think so. Guiness is an extremely cultivated 
man, and we didn't give Guiness certain things, certain very 
Jev/ish characteristics of his hair that Disraeli had. I 
remember after v;e savj The Cocktai l Party , v/e met him after- 
viards at 21, and talked to him. He'd read the script, and 
he said yes at once. He had always v/anted to play Disraeli. 
I think all actors would like to play Disraeli, all except 
extremely fat ones, and maybe some of them v;ould too. It's 
such a showy part. Just think of it: half-Satan, half-Don 
Juan, man of so many talents, he could v/rite novels, flatter 
a queen, dig the Suez Canal, present her with India. You 
can't beat that. That's better than VJyatt Earp. [laughter] 

Stempel: You did give him a very long speech there near 
the end of the film. V/here did that speech to the House of 
Commons come from? Is this in the book or v;as this a speech 
that Disraeli had made? 

Johnson: I wrote it, but I think it was an editing of the 
speech in the book. If I remember correctly, the speech in 


the book was a v/hole chapter and I daresay, it was either 
Disraeli's speech or it v/as a paraphrase of it. It was a 
wonderful shot, because Jean put his camera vfay at the back 
of this House of Comnons and moved slowly up. I think that 
speech ran about seven or eight minutes. He did it perfectly 
in rehearsal, and the v/hole stage burst into applause, 
because it v/as such a magnificent performance. Then I think 
there v;as only one take, only one was necessary, and it v;as 
done exactly the same v/ay , except that at one point Guiness 
paused, looked right and left, as if he v/as so emotionally 
moved by v/hat he was having to say that for a moment ho v;as 
silent. I v;as telling him when v/e sav; the rushes hov/ v/onderful 
it was, vfhich it v/as, and 1 said, "V/hat suggested to you that 
emotional pause there?" He said, "I forgot my lines." [laughter] 
Vfhereas another actor v/ould have had every reason to say, "I'm 
sorry, start over again," or "Flub," or something, he turned 
it into an additional advantage of the speech. I don't think 
anybody on earth would ever suspect it that the v/as trying 
to remember what came next. He had just reached a point 
where v/ords failed him for a moment. They did fail him for 
a moment. It v/as such a joy and a pleasure to knov/ this man. 
I see him from time to time. V/hen I was in Rome, he came 
dov/n Christmas of '59. He and his v/ife came out to see us, 
and I congratulated him on his knighthood. He'd just made 
knighthood. He said, "VJell, it just doubled the price on 


everything." [chuckles] You knov/, facetious. He told rue a 
story v;hich I thought v;as very furmy. He's a very devout 
Catholic. I think he was converted Catholic, I don't knovr, 
but he's very devout. V/hilo he was here in America, he had 
received some kind of honorary degree, I believe it was, 
from something like Boston College, v/hich is a Catholic college, 
He had met sevei-al of the boys at some party and one of them 
he v;as taken v/ith. The boy seemed such an eager young man 
v/ho wanted to be an actor, and the Guinesses had him for 
dinner and he enchanted them, but he v;as a very poor boy. 
So Alec did something extremely gracious and rather expensive. 
He told the boy that they were going to spend Christmas in the 
Holy City and invited him to be their guest. ?Ie had come 
and Alec v/as telling Dorris and me about it. I said, "Well, 
v;here is he? Why didn't you bring hin? VJe ' d have been 
delighted to have him." He said, "He's the dullest young man 
I have ever seen." He said, "VJe've been living through hell. 
All we found that was engaging in just a brief talk, he's 
like a burden on our shoulders. V/e have to look out for him, 
take care. He's helpless, not responsive." That's a pretty 
sad story I must say to go to all that trouble to be so nice 
and find yourself burdened v;ith a kind of oaf, which apparently 
was v;hat he v;as. 




Stempel: This may be an impossible question, but I v/anted 
to ask it anyway. V/hen you v;ere talking about The Gunfif^hter , 
you mentioned that when you got the script, it v/as about 60 
pages and that you didn't change the story or the story 
structure, but you added scenes. How did you go about adding 
scenes to bring a script up to feature length? 

Johnson: Well, that wouldn't be hard. Instead of doing it 
in one step, you make it three steps. If he's being chased, 
they overtalce him, and he holds them off again and gets 
away. I can't remember exactly the v/ay it was, but all that 
I did v/as more or less indicated in the structure of the 
story. The structure of the story v;as this v;eary gunfighter 
v/ho'd found no rev;ard in being the number one gun is finally 
gunned dovm by a young fellow. Instead of his letting them 
string him up or arresting him or whatever it v;as , I think he 
said, "Perhaps it vrould be better to let him learn what it 
is to be the number one. He's the nev; champ. He's won that 
honor and that danger. The v;orst punishment I can think of 
is v/hat he's won for himself." I can't remember the details. 
Maybe some of it was v;ith the scenes v:ith his v;ife. I may 
have done something like that. None of it v/as concocted 
outside of the line of the story as Bill and deToth had done 


it. I daresay they v;ould have gone on and done that themselves. 
Tiiere wasn't much difference. If you know where you start 
and you knov; v;hcre you're going to end, you can either m.ake 
fifty pages or a hundred and fifty pages, depending on hov; 
much dramatic progression you insert to travel exactly to the 
same point, v;hich is what I guess I did then. I never had 
to do it in any other script, but then I don't remember 
ever having bought a script in any shape like that. It v/as 
always a book handed to me or a play or in the case of The 
Prisoner of Shark I s 1 an d , just the delayed exoneration of 
Dr. Mudd fifty years after he v;as dead v/hich revived the 
v/hole story, and then you begin doing your research. 

Stempel: We v/ere up to Tne Desert Fox [1951], and you've 
mentioned this at several other points in our interviews. 
Was The Desert Fox the most difficult thing you ever did? 
Just from v:hat you've said before it sounded like maybe it 

Johnson: No. Mo. The most difficult thing I ever did v;as 
The Frontiersman v/hich is still sitting over there at Warner 
Brothers while they decide v/hether they're going to make it 
or not. The main difficulty vilth Tne Desert Fox was hov; to 
tell this story, how to use this material in some kind of 
coherent fashion v/ithout seeming to even subconsciously favor 
one of our enemies such a short time after the v;ar. In this 


partj-cular case, Zanuck handed me a story in some magazine, 
Atlantic oi' Harper' s , about the plot. It v/as called the June 
20th plot, where they tried to blov; up Hitler. It was Incldently 
In there about Rorumel's partlclnatlon In it, vrhich v;as reallv 
not active, but v/as more sympathetic to the thing. ?Ie talked 
it over v/ith VonRunstadt. I v/ent to a lot of trouble to 
make sure of my facts. I didn't have to do that about Dr. 
Mudd because there were no live issues about him, but in 
this case I v;ent to England and I talked to British soldiers 
and officers. I went to Germany and I talked to Frau Rommel 
and their son, and I satisfied myself that I knew something 
about the v;hole life of Rommel. In other vjords, my conscience 
was clear about dealing v:lth him. It v;asn't that I had to 
take sides in the thing. It v;as the tragedy of a man v;ho 
found himself so completely alienated from his boss, Hitler, 
and then to be made to commit suicide v;ith the promise of 
honors, a fine funeral, and welfare for his widow, and his 
children. All cold-blooded. The other [course of action] 
v;as that he would be court-martialed, publicly, and the in- 
timation v;a5 that there v;ould be an av;ful lot of stuff in 
there that nobody would have had any opportunity to contest, 
because they v/ouldn't give him an opportunity to do it. He 
v;as a traitor. That material is just so good, still so good. 
It v/as on a very high level, and I don't even pretend that 
I got anyv;here near the level that it deserved. Vfe had some 



difficulty castinc it. I told you hov; Mason has asked for 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: And Zanuck liked Mason for it, though Mason at 
that tine v;as about at the bottom of his career. He'd come 
over at the top. 

[Momentary interruption as Johnson's daughter 
Christie and her son Alex say good-bye to Johnson.] 
As so often happens you get this ex - catherda word from New 
York, "Mason is through. Can't have Mason." Zanuck called 
them, or cabled them, or something, and said, "V/e're tired 
of pointing out people that are right for the part that you 
dismiss. Nov; either you give us somebody v/ho's right for 
the part and acceptable according to your standards or vfe ' re 
going ahead with Mason." They couldn't ansvrer that so we 
went ahead v/ith Mason and it resurrected Mason's career, 
though I think it would have been resurrected eventually 
anyv;ay , because he's much too good to disappear. 

At any rate, it caused me more, let's say soul-searching 
than anything else I ever had to do. I hadn't the faintest 
idea how it would be received in Germany or here, but for 
the first and only time I've ever heard, vfhen it opened in 
Germany, the theatres ran it twenty-four hours a day, around 
the clock, and Zanuck kept sending me these cables about this 


evidently unprecedented reception to a picture, and an 
American picture. The P'.nglish had the sane reaction because 
at one time the English headquarters in Africa, had to issue 
a statement. This is officially in existence, and I used it, 
I believe, saying officers must remind their soldiers that 
Field Marshal Rommel is not a magician, or not something so 
exceptional that he is not to be regarded as an enemy. It's 
a hel]. of a v;ay for you [chuckles] to have to send your soldiers 
into battle and say, "Nov/ look, don't take care of the enem.y 
gnceral, try to shoot him." It, technically, v/as to introduce 
a thing v;hich I can't remember had been done before, but it 
became so common after that. It becam.e kind of cliche, and 
that was a sequence before the titles. And it was an excellent 
sequence. You saw it? 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: This was when the sub landed the men and a fellow 
named Keyes led this raiding party and failed to get him. 
Then the titles. But I remember when it v/as opened, at the 
end of this first sequence, v/hen they hit the titles, there 
was a tremendous hand because it had created such suspense 
vjithout their even knowing v.'hat they v;ere doing. Then it 
began again. The fact was, I had two beginnings, and I 
couldn't use both in the noriaal telling of the story and both 
were very good. Both were almost necessary to my way of telling 

29 7 

story. But the raid didn't fit In anyv/here else. I wanted 
also a kind of a half narration by Desmond Young, so I used 
Young's capture and his meeting v;ith Rommel. That [before 
the credit sequence] v;as regarded as an innovatioti, v/hether 
it was or not. It surely must have been used some time 
before, but this was probably the most conspicuous use of It. 
It got so for awhile after that you're liable to see half the 
picture before you fouxid out what the title v;as . [chuckles] 

Stempel: Still true today, 

Johnson: The thing that sticks in my craw to this day v;as 
the New York Tjnes established a "party line," you might say, 
that this v;as the celebration of a Nazi. I knev-; about five 
times as much about it as they did because they hadn't done 
the research I'd done, and I knew he v;as not a Nazi. Bosley 
Crowther, an omniscient fellov;, explained how Rommel was a 
street rowdy and a hoodlum and so on. Exactly the opposite 
was true. He was more of a bookish soldier. He v;as literary 
enough to have v;ritten a textbook, or handbook. I must say 
that Crov/ther's reviev; outraged me because he v/ouldn't let 
me answer it. I'm sure it became the paper's party line on 
that particular picture for the time being, because I knev; . 
that they had had certain features planned for it and they 
cancelled them. Crov/ther I'd known since he had been a 
press agent for Fox, and he was handling The Moon is Down when 

29 B 

it opened in New Yor'k and Mrs. Johnson played the lead in 
that picture, and he v/as, you knov; hov? press agents arc, 
escorting her everywhere, and that kind of stuff. I liked 
him and he was a nice guy, except he's pretty stuffy. Once 
or tv;ice I kidded him in little letters about the thing. 
I must say, this v/as about as mild a feud as could be called 
a feud because there v;as just no relation between us. He 
■never let it affect any reviev; of any other picture of mine. 
But he v;as av/are of it and I was aware of it. Then my 
daughter, Christie, went to school at the George School in 
Pennsylvania, a co-od prep school, and so did Crowther's son, 
and they vjere in the sajne class. They became quite friendly 
through this kidding, you know, as to whether they should 
speak to each other or not in viev; of the fact that their 
fathers had some animosity toward each other. [chuckles] But 
I sav; Crowther last year some time. They present the Critics' 
Circle thing, like that [Johnson points to Critics' Circle 
plaque for Grapes of Wrath] to pictures each year, and writers, 
and he asked me to present the plaque to the fellows who'd 
v;on it in the Critics' Circle, the boys v;ho wrote Bonnie and 
Clyde , v/hich Crowther had loathed. [laughter] VJhen he got 
up to announce this at a big affair at Sardi's, he was really 
very amusing in his little introduction, because everybody 
knew he didn't like the picture and resented this honor. He 
was very good-natured about it. But, there was nothing very 


much I could say to him. He's very amiable. He's very nice. 
He told me, "I thought for awhile v;e v;ere going to be closer 
than ever." I said, "Why?" He said, "Bill wanted to marry 
Christie, v;as very serious." VJell, I'd never heard that from 
Christie. I thought that' d be a hell of a thing. I could 
say, "V/ell, I have nothing against critics. Some of my best 
friends... I wouldn't v;ant my daughter to marry one." [laughter] 
Or something like that. I had a little exchange ^'flth him on 
a review of a picture called. Guide for a Married Fan , v/hich 
was written by a friend of mine, Frank Tarloff. Crov/ther's 
review v;as praise from beginning to end. He thought it v;as 
very funny, he thought it v/as fresh, he had nothing but good 
words to say for it. He never mentioned the v/riter, and I 
wrote to him. I said, "Dear Bosley, I've Just read this reviev/. 
Nov;, I can't imagine a drama critic writing such a complimentary 
review about a play and never mentioning the man v/ho vjrote 
the play," He v;rote back one of those me a culna , I'm-sorry, 
kind of things. Right after that, out came The Dirty Dozen , 
which he objected to on the grounds of violence, unnecessary 
violence, and two other pictures. One was For So Many Dollars , 
some one of those v;esterns made In Italy. 

Stempel: Fistf ul of Dollars ? 

Johnson: Yes, something like that. And it takes very little 
for a critic to see a cycle, or to discover a trend. VJell, 


he had three pictures there and it Vfas a trend. Of course, 
like the gallant fellov; he is, he drew his sword to stop this 
sort of thing. But now, he mentioned my name in every one 
of them. He said, "Such box office biz as The Dirty Dozen 
by Nunnally Johnson and Heller," from there on I was getting 
mentioned more times in the New York Time s than I had in 
years, and I dropped him a note. 1 just said, "You don't have 
to go too far with this thing. Just once vrill be enough. 

Stempel: You mentioned the second introduction in Tlie Desert 
Fox , the opening scene v;ith Desmond Young. Did you put this 
in because of the research that you had found of hov; the 
British had felt about Rommel? 

Johnson: No. I think I put it in because there was a lot of 
bridging to be done in this thing. I alv;ays think there's 
going to be more narration than I find I have to, but I did 
think this gave a certain touch of authenticity. This v/as 
a book that v;as on the best seller list and Young v/as PRO for 
the British Army in Africa. I thought it helped to say that 
this is, in a sense, documentary. I don't pretend that I'm 
doing this completely as a documentary, but at least I'm 
fortified by a man who supports the position I take and the 
attitude I take. VJhich I v;as. I believed every v;ord he 
said. Incidentally, did you see that play either on radio or 
on the stage, which was a dramatization of Quent Reynolds' 
suit against VJestbr-ook Pegler? 


Stempel: Quest ion of Li bel ? No, I haven't seen it. 

Johnson: Well, VJestbrook Peglcr had said that Reynolds v/as a 
coward and he ycllov; and all kind of thing like that. And' 
among the v;itnesses they brought in to testify on Reynolds' 
character and bravery and his behavior, was Desmond Young, 
who'd been with been in the desert v/ith Quent and had been 
in London. It such a demented column that Pegler wrote that 
you could hardly understand a balanced man writing such a 
thing. It v;as so easily denied and proved. Like saying 
black is v;hite and expect people to accept it. But Young 
guided me and I vranted him in there because I wanted him to 
express this true incident, vfhich v;as v.'here Young refused 
to do something, such-and-such a thing, and he said, "I'm 
a prisoner of v:ar and you can only command me to do this." 
Rommel came over and said, "What's the fuss?" Young told 
him what it v:as, and he said, "You're perfectly right," and 
he told the Germans, "You can't do that." Mow that was a, 
I don't like to use the word winning, introduction of our 
hero, you might say, but it did present him in a very unusual 
situation. This made it clear that we felt that v/e are 
dealing v/ith a fair man, a professional soldier, and that 
we didn't want him confused with Preminger, as they always 
did confuse Germans vjith Preminger, and I suppose rightly. 

Stempel: I notice that Desmond Young played himself, but 


the voice you ur,ed for him v/as , I believe, Michael Rennie's. 
V/asn't Desmond Young's voice good enough? 

Johnson [chuckling]: I'd forgotten that. I guess so. I 
guess Desmond's a v;riter. It v;ould be just like me. His 
voice v;ould crack, and you would not be able to understand 
it, and it didn't sound like he looked. It's often the case. 
If they tried to put me up in front of there nov/, I v/ouldn't 
be speaking there the v;ay I'm talking to you or the v/ay I 
talk to a friend. I'd sound like some pipsqueak or som.e thing 
like that and I suppose that v;as the v;ay it was with Young. 
I used to see Young all the time after the War. He died 
about tv;o years ago. Oh, dear man. He v;as so eager and 
anxious and he helped me so much in getting to these generals, 
I also pointed out to Crov/ther that the British General 
Staff had been invited to a sho'wing of the picture and they 
had nothing but praise for it. Not v;hether it v;as a good 
picture or not, but the truth, the accuracy of as much of it 
as they knev; about. 

Young got me an interview with Field Marshal Auchenlecht 
and Auchenlecht came over to my flat in Grosvenor Square. 
Sometime during the day, I sav; Skouras and he asked me what 
I v;as doing and I told him. I told him I v;as seeing Auchen- 
lecht. Any kind of name of shiny celebrity Just put Skouras 
off his balance. So he said, "May I come over? I would 


like to meet him." I said I'd be delighted. I had no choice. 
He cam.e over and he imjriediate ly took over the conversation. 
Auchenlecht was about as big as a middle linebacker. He must 
have weighed two hundred and twenty-five or forty pounds, all 
muscle, v;ore a bowler absolutely horizontal, and very clipped. 
Came in and sat down. Then Skouras began telling him hov; 
ho saved the VJar by sending Greek ships full of food or some- 
thing. I v;as so embarrassed. There's noticing I could do. 
I couldn't stop him. And he went on and on and on. Auchen- 
lecht, like a character in a picture, had come in and sat 
dov;n and I'd tried to take his hat and said, "No, no, not 
at all," and he put it dovm beside his chair. I guess he 
thought, "V/ell, I v;ant to be ready to leave here." Maybe 
he had some premonition. There v/as a half an hour of con- 
tinuous talk by Skouras. I could only get in a v;ord or two 
to get some kind of expression from Auchenlecht on his viev/ 
of Rommel as a soldier. Suddenly, in the middle of v/hat Skouras 
was saying, he just reached over and got his bovjler and put 
it on and said, "Good day," and ran out of the thing. He 
didn't even v;ait for the elevator. He ran all the way down 
three flights of stairs. [chuckles] But I v;as greatly 
satisfied, if you can ever find out such a thing, going to 
Frau Rommel's home, a modest place. She had a small pension. 
As she explained to me, "You knov;, they really aren't very 
liberal v/ith a general who lost." [chuckles] She shov/ed me 


his scrapbook of snapshots. He v;as a great man for a camera. 
And she brought out his Field Marshal's baton. All very 
interesting, and such a real housefrau. This v/oFian isn't 
acting. This is an extremely nice, peasant v;oman who has 
improved herself to her limit of her possibilities. And 
quite frank vjith me about everything. She shovred me a couple 
of honors, medals he'd received. They viere studded with . diamonds , 
v;hich v/as a very graceful v:ay of rev;arding a soldier v/ithout 
handing him a check. Our highest honor is the Congressional 
Medal of Honor and that's just a ribbon around your neck. 
And the medal, and it is an honor. But they added to the 
honor, and she told me the Paissians did too, by making a 
piece of value, almost like a pension. One of these had 
eighteen or tv;enty diamonds in it and the other had about 
thirteen or fourteen, something like that. I said, "I'm 
happy to see that you haven't had to dispose of any of them 
yet." She said, "Very fortunate." She took me upstairs and 
showed me v/here Rommel had come in, because these tv;o men 
were downstairs talking and she v;as terrified. She knev; 
something v:as v/rong. He came up and he shut the door and 
told her, "Now you'll have to be very brave about this." 
Then he told her very simply what the choice was that had 
been given to him. He said, "I'll see Manfried outside. 
Good-bye darling." He went out and got in the car with 

these tv;o fellov/s. His body v;as found, and it was reported 


he had comnitted suicide. He nay have. They gave him the 
poison and v/aited there until he died, and then they took 
his body to a hospital or something like that. But it v.'as 
a very interesting picture, very interesting assignment. 

Stempel: In one of the scenes betvjeen a doctor that Sir 
Cedric Ilardvvicke played and Rommel, Kardvjicke brings up this 
plot against Hitler. Romnel suggests that perhaps the people 
involved are Communists and Hardv/icke reels off a list of 
names and says, "Are these m.en Communists?" Did you have 
this scene in there for any particular political reason? 

Johnson: Yes. The particular reason v;as that the men v/ho 
v:anted to get rid of Hitler v;ere Germans, not of any Communist 
leaning. Von P.iuistadt, who was the number one general, 
constantly referred to Hitler as "The Corporal," and men 
who just had ccm.plete contempt for him.. They didn't have to 
be Communists. I v/anted it clear, if 1 could make it so, 
that these were Germans v;ho did not approve, who in fact 
disapproved of him so much that they v;anted to blov; him to 
death. I was told several times efforts were made to kill 
him. One fellov; had somehov; padded him.self Vv'ith explosives 
and he v;as going to run up and embrace the Furher and push 
the button while they v/ere embraced, taking both of them 
out of circulation. There v;ere plenty of Germans v;ho didn't 

approve of Hitler and didn't back him in his idiotic and 


barbarous projects. Yes, I v/anted to make that very clear, 
that don't think tha4; this was just Communists, because people 
are inclined to dismiss a Comjaunist opposition. It's quite 
a different thing from an opposition by men v;ho v;ere devoted 
to Germany, not to any other ideology or nation. 

Stempel: Do you think the reception that the picture had 
in Germany was due at all to the almost reverence that the 
Germans feel for their army? 

Johnson; Mo, I think it was for Rommel himself. I read last 
v;eok that the Germans have launched som.e big v/arship, and it 
v.'as named Rommel. Until now they still have this great 
reverence for him. In spite of the stories they put out 
that he v;as a traitor and so on and so on. No, he v/as a 
great hero. He v;as almost as much of a hero to the English 
as he is to the Germans. Extraordinary thing. 

Stempel: We'll go on then. The next picture you did then was 
Phone Call From a Stranger . VJhich of the three stories in 
there did you like best, or did you like any one of them best? 

Johnson: I don't know that I liked any of them best. Megulesco's 
wife. Dusty, read that story in a magazine in a beauty parlor 
and handed it to Negulesco v;ho handed it to me. V/e thought 
that v;as a very interesting story, v;hich it vras , but the three 
stories, I don't think that they were the ones that were in 


the magazine story. I knov; one of them, in which Shelly 

V/inters v;as in, that was a complete dreimatization of a 

story I knev; of some friends. You know, the mother of the 

Stempel: Shov; business mother? 

Johnson: Yes, The second one was about the boy, something 
about his father — 

Stempel: VJho v;as running avray, yes. 

Johnson: Yes. Yes, but I guess I liked the third one best 
because sometimes there's just one second in a scene or a 
picture, or one sentence in a book or a story that gets 
you. This one v;as v/hen Bette Davis lay in that lung, deserted, 
and Keenan VJynn's face comes in the picture and he says, 
"Hello beautiful." Every time I looked at it I cried. I 
actually vmnted the lights to stay down for a minute or tv;o 
before they v;ent on because I sat there v/ceping like a 
schoolgirl every time about the thing, I had a hell of a 
time with her, though. 

Stempel: With Bette Davis? 

Johnson: Yes. Now she had volunteered to do the part 
because v;e had her husband, Gary Merrill, who's a very good 
actor and a very nice guy and she v/anted to help him. She 


volunteered to play the part. After the first tv/o day's 
rushes, I talked to Negulesco and said, "Is Bette doing 
something with her voice? It seeras to me that it's not 
normal, not the v/ay I think of it. Has she added some 
gimmick?" He said he didn't knov; and v/hat's more, he was 
afraid to ask her because she's a formidable v;oman. He 
said, "Why don't you speak to her about it?" I said, "Of 
course," turning pale as I said it. So I v;ent out on the 
set that evening at six o'clock v/hen they broke. I v/as 
sitting there in a chair in a rather large empty space, and 
she and Merrill came kind of skipping along from the set and 
Bette said something like, "Well, you do look depressed," 
or "You don't look as if things are going very good v;ith you." 
I said, "They're not." She says, "Vfhat to you mean?" I 
said, "May I have a v/ord or two v;ith you?" I v/ent in her 
dressing room. I'm not much at dealing v/ith actors like this. 
I don't like to deal vrith stars in the sense of criticizing 
what they're doing, but I did feel that her voice was being 
used in some peculiar fashion, v;hich didn't seem right to me. 
I explained as well as I could what I thought and she was 
livid. There was never an angrier vjoman, and she scared the 
hell out of me. She said, "You certainly don't expect me 
to use the same voice or manner of Margo Campion," I v;as a 
bit hysterical by then, so I said, "Oh, no. No. No," not 
knov/ing v;ho the hell this v;as . She went on talking about this. 


and I kept thinking v;hilo she v;as talking, "VJho the hell is 
Margo Campion? Is it somebody out of Shakespeare that I've 
forgotten? GodI" I said this is the last thing I'll ever 
v/ant of Bette. Tiiis v;ent on and I would be absolutely ig- 
norant of v/hat she v/as talking about and afraid to be caught, 
you knov:. I came hone and I v;as telling Dcrris about this 
and she said, "VJait a minute. VJasn't that the name of the 
v;oman in All About Eve ?" I said, "Oh, hov/ can a man be so 
stupid. Of course she'd be talking about her last big hit 
part. God." At least that was cleared up. But the next 
day, she didn't shov/ up. Gary came over and said, "Jesus, 
she is really burning." I said, "\7ell, I didn't mean to 
affront her. I asked her, I thought, in the most professional 
way. I think she could have ansv;ered, 'Ho, I'm not. This 
is my natural voice, even if in the circumstances it doesn't 
•sound so to you.' Instead of v/hich I made her angry and I'm 
very, very sorry." He said, "I tried to explain such a thing 
to her, but she screamed so that she's lost her voice." 
So v;e sent a doctor out to see her and she had lost her voice. 
It was down to nothing. Gary, who took a rather detached 
view of the whole thing, said, "Well it at least saves her 
from bawling me out for k.nowing you or knov/ing the company, 
or anything else." VJell, she was out about four days. 
Fortunately, when she came back, it was the part after she 
had got sick, so she was now hoarse and had a rather lo'v 


coiitralto, and it fitted in, thank God, v;ith the fact that 
the v;oman was suffering. She finished the picture, but on 
condition that I not come on the set, and I happily gave 
this condition. I didn't ever want to see her again. I 
talked to her later. A year or so later she v;anted to play 
in My_ Cousin Rachel . The first I knew of this, she invited 
me to a clambake. [chuckles] She then sent Gary to me to 
explain to me that the invitation had not been extended for 
the purpose of softening me about this part in V^ Cousin Rachel . 
I told Gary, "Of course not. I mean, Bette Davis doesn't 
have to resort to any such devices for me or anybody else. 
She's too true a star," v/hich v;as the perfect truth. I 
just didn't think that she v;as right for the part. But a 
difficult lady. 

Stempel: You mentioned the Shelly VJinters shovj business 
story. I found that the most interesting of the three and 
I was interested in the vfay you have the story of the marriage 
betv;cen the shovj girl and the son told in tv;o or three different 
ways so that we get tv;o or three different viev;s of it. 
Maybe this again is a question that can't be ansvjered, but 
I wondered v.'hy you haven't done more of that in your movies. 
You mentioned, v/hen vfe v;ere talking about VJoman in the V/indow , 
that you'd wanted it narrated, and I noticed in a lot of your 
short stories, especially the later ones, that they're all 
told in the first person. It's always one person's view of 
this, and this seeras to me a very interesting idea for a movie 


and I think it's what makes this particular segment of Phono 
Call From a Stranger so interesting. I wondered v;hy you 
hadn't done it more. 

Johnson: VJell, I guess the circumstances haven't come up. 
If I remember correctly, the girl had gone to New York and 
had found nothing, and when Gary Herrill came back and listened 
to this bitch, he couldn't resist the temptation to punish 
her and to give an account of a reception in New York and an 
audition and a success and everything that v;ould be in 
some way a revenge on this v/oman, the old dame. I hoped it 
v/as clear. I guess it v;as , because it had this effect on 
her. It left her vjith egg on her face, and then I had the 
son follov; him out and say, "I want to thank you for giving 
her such a beautiful end." He realized that it v/as a com- 
plete fiction, but it was convenient there, and it v;as effective, 
I don't think you can repeat anything unless certain circum- 
stances com>e together to give you an excuse for doing it. 
There vms a good reason for it in this case. I think people 
were somehow pleased that this bitchy old dame v;as the victim 
of a v;ell-meant lie. I haven't come up against that again 
since then. I wouldn't hesitate to use it again. 

Things v;ill come up again. In Jesse James I remember 
there was a sequence in which Jesse and Frank v/ere being 
chased by the black hats, the posse, and they began dropping 


money and these noble possemen hopped off their horses to 
pick up the money. V/ell, I have a story nov; of failed to me, 
v;hich I'll probably do. It's a V/orld V.'ar Two story about 
some fellov/s v;ho have found a German treasure and they have 
copped it. They're being pursued, this is not on horses, 
but in Jeeps and troop carriers and they begin throwing out 
[laughter] tiaras and stuff like that. Same thing fiappens. 
Well I'm sure t?iis fellow can't have remembered that. Tliat 
picture v/as thirty years ago, but the same device occurred to 
him in v/riting the story, and I'll use it again, you knov;. 
[chuckles] . 

Stempel: One interesting technical thing that they did in 
Phone Call From A Stranger is that, particularly in that 
shov;girl episode, v/hen they went into the flashbacks, they 
VJent from positive film to a negative thing and then into a 
positive in the flashback. How did this...? 

Johnson: That was Ncgulesco's idea. It Just came to him as 
a way of transition. Quite good. Now I got an av:ard for 
that Phone Call From A Stranger at the Venice Film Festival. 
■That's it over there on that lamp, for the screenplay of 
Phone Call From A Stranger . This is the v.'ay things happened 
in those things. I read in the paper that the av/ard for 
screenplay at the Festival had been to Phone C a 3 ], ^rom A 
Stranger. I didn't even know it ivas in the Festival. It 


v;asn't good enough to represent a country. I thought, "That's 
nice anyway," and I vialted. Where Is It? Then I called 
somebody. It v;as dov/n there in Venice. Havinp; made the 
av;ard, and I viasn't there, everybody seemed to think, well, 
put it in a closet. [laugh.ter] I said, "V/ait a minute. 
If I get an av/ard like that, v/hy can't I get it?" I guess 
some Fox representative over there v;rote me and said that 
they said that the next time some fellow was coning to 
Hollyviood that could afford the luggage [Stempel laughs], 
they'd send it to me. It must have been about eight months 
later. I had forgotten all about this thing, at least I 
gave up any idea of getting. I thought, "They'll send me 
a piece of paper or som.e thing like that." It v/as brought 
in from some agency, v;rapped up in some brovm paper, and I 
opened it up. As I say, some agent had been nice enough to 
say, "Look, you got that Goddanui thing, why don't you send 
it to Johnson? I'll take it to him." Thiat's the v;ay I got 
that av/ard, [chuckles] by a man that managed to have about 
five pounds extra luggage allowance. 

Stempel: The next film you did v/as another episodic film called 
VJe ' re Not Marrie d. Vfas this also a collection of stories 
that you substituted stories at will in? 

Johnson: Largely, yes. One of them, for instance, the one 
that Ginger Pogers and Pred Allen v/ere in I bought from ^red 
A]len. Fred and Tallulah Bankhoad had used it as a sketch 


on radio, that brealcfast program. The one v/ith Marilyn, 
that just car'.c- to rne out of her figure. [chuckles] I guess 
I just heard of a contest which I don't knov/ v;hether it 
exists any longer called the Mrs. America contest. 

Stempel: Yes, it still does. 

Johnson: And it'd be nice if she'd won the Mrs. America 
contest, which you could very v/ell believe v;ith her figure, 
but vjhat she'd irmediately do was go out and won the Miss 
America contest. I know we had a lot of girls around there 
and I remember talking to one viho v/as a kind of professional 
bathing beauty entrant. I said to her, "You never can tell 
about these things. You've been in a number of these things. 
Miss Long Beach, you knov/. Miss Azuza, and this, that, and 
the other. How do you think Marilyn V7ould fare in beauty 
contests [if she were] named Judy Clutz or something like 
that?" She said, "I don't care v;hat they call her, she'd 
v;ln all of them." Nice to think that our eye for a figure 
has a little accuracy to it. 

I thought that she ^^ras , I don't knov/, the most obtuse 
woman. I just couldn't get to her, or feel that I had 
established any kind of communication v;ith her at all. 
There v;asn't much opportunity. I didn't tall: to her much. 
I thought it would be nice, after she won the Miss America 
contest, to get married again to David VJayne. By then they 
had a babv. I v;ent out on the set one day. Eddie Goulding 


was directing it. There she v;as v;ith this baby in her arms 
and you knov; you can only use a baby tv;o minutes or something 
like that. She v/as stnading there getting married and this 
baby v;as crying like hell, and Marilyn didn't even look dovm 
at the baby. I said to Eddie, "Nov; look, don't you think that 
that's a little unbelievable. Unless she's a complete idiot 
a mother would look at her crying baby or v/ould have some 
consideration." Eddie, v;ho agreed with everything, said, 
"Quite true. Stop. Wait a minute." He vfent over and reminded 
her that this v;as her baby, and that the baby v/as crying and 
perhaps it v;ould be just as good to try to comfort the baby 
during the thing. "My God," I said, "V/hat kind of v;oman is 
this that couldn't see in Just natural terms that a crying 
baby would call for some attention." Little things like 
that, I must say, m.ade me dislike her. 

Stempel: Hov; did you happen to come to pick her for the part? 

Johnson: Well, she was there. She'd played a bit in All 
About Eve , I think. She'd played a bit in two or three 
pictures. And she fitted in very v/ell with this situation, 
this little comedy. At that time they hadn't really given her 
an opportunity to go the distance, 1 don't think. I don't 
think she could have played a lead in a picture and then 
done this, so I take it it v;as one of those kind of trial 
runs that she did before they finally gave her a lead which 


vvent the v;hole v;ay. Somehov; I felt at times viith some of 
those people I picked there, like the time v/hen Harold Ross 
was editor of the New Yorker and hired Ralph Ingersoll, v;ho 
subsequently became one of the big men at Life and edited PM . 
Anyv/ay , v;hile Ross was talking to him, Ross didn't like him 
because Ingersoll v/as an extremely but aggressive man. He 
made Ross uncomfortable and I don't think Ross v/anteJ him 
around, but Ross, going around and clutching his head and 
doing this and that, and he v/as a kind of an active conversa- 
tionalist, turned some ink over and some of it dripped on 
Ingersoll' s trousers. Harold by then vjas so distracted by 
the vrhole thing, he said, "All right, all right, you got the 
job. You got the job." Just because he got ink on his 
trousers. As he walked out, Ingersoll told it later, he 
said he heard Ross say, "Jesus Christ, I'll hire anybody." 
[laughter] VJhich wasn't much of a compliment, but somehov; 
I think I had [the same attitude]. I remember this little 
girl v;ho's a big hit in Las Vegas now, has her own shov;. 

Stempel: Mitzi Gaynor. 

Johnson; Mitzi Gaynor. She v;as in one of them. I thought, 
"I'ly God, I mean this little no-talent dancer," and I said 
O.K. to her. There v;ere five or six of these episodes and 
it got to the point where I'd hire anybody. 

Stempel: I wondered about that Fred Allen episode. A lot 
of it sounded like Allen's ov/n experience v;ith radio, in 


readins radio commercials. 

Johnson: It v;as. I Just boun;ht the whole thing from him 
and cut it dov/n a little, edited it a little bit. The only 
thins I contributed to it was a thing that I thought and I 
still think it was very nice. Because these people had to get 
up about five o'cloc!: in the morning, and I pictured them 
as being groggy with sleep, but going through the regular 
morning ablutions half-asleep. I had them score it v/ith 
Tales of the Vienna VJoods and had Eddie rehearse them so it 
was like a ballet, with their eyes straight ahead, half- 
shut, they'd miss each other in this way. Alvrays it looked 
as if they \ie.rc going to run into each other and just missing, 
so it made a nice little introduction as to the state of 
their minds by the time they got dovm and went to v;ork on 
this breakfast chat. 

Stempel: I don't knov; if you're av/are of it, but that same 
opening v;as used for a picture a number of years later called, 
I think. The Hip;h_ Cost of Loving , with this sam.e business 
about a couple getting up and just missing each other. 

Johnson: Well, it didn't... 

Stempel: Every v/riter is borrowing from every other v:riter. 

Johnson: Yes. It v;ouldn't be hard to imagine. Isn't it 
v;hat Noel Cov;ard said, "You pinch from one, that's plagiarism. 


You pinch from fifty and that's research." [laughter] 

Stempel: The next picture then v/as Ply Cousin Rac hel v/ith 
Burton frora the du T'aurier story. 

Johnson: I guess the most interesting part of that v;as the 
fact that I got Burton to come over here. I'd been in Eng].and 
and I remember looking at Paul Scofield and tv/o or three 
others. The picture vias still six months off, and then 
Betty Bogart, Miss Bacall, told me about this fellov; Burton 
v;ho v;as at that tine acting at the Stratford in the Royal 
Shakespeare Theatre. She and Bogle had met him through an 
old actor v.'ho died--he v;as a drunk all the time — he was a 
v;onderful old actor-anyv.'ay , Burton had done a picture and 
I got it. It looked like it v;as a very small cheap picture. 
At that time George Cukor v;as going to direct it and George 
went over there and talked to him and he thought he was very 
good. He did a few scenes with him over there that v;e could 
use, riding a horse, and some things like that, I remember. 
Zanuck cabled George to sign him for the part, and he came 
over, but by then Cukor had got off the picture. He had 
objected to so many proposals for the leading lady to play 
Rachel. One he v/anted, I remember, vias Greta Garbo, and, as 
far as I was concerned, Greta Garbo could play aiiy part in 
it. She said she v/ould see me. She read the script, and I 
v;ent to New York and I got her on the phone, and I asked her 


could I come around and talk to her. She had already decided 
not to do it. At I had the privilege of tall'.ing to 
her for awhile. She v/as saying, "Ho, I don't look like the 
actress I was any more. There v;ould be difficulty photo- 
graphing me. And my arm.s , upper arms, are flabby." She vjent 
on v;ith all this stuff, and 1 tried to reassure her as much 
as I could and slie v;a.s very polite, very sv;eet, very nice, 
but in the end she said no. She simply said, "I haven't got 
the courage. I like the part, but I've alv;ays said that 
I wouldn't get back into pictures and I v/on't." 

When I came back vie got into some difference over 
Olivia deKavilland. George said, v;ith a kind of aloofness, 
"Oh no, no, no, I can see through her." I figured, vfell, 
maybe he can. Finally he said, "Perhaps you'd rather have 
somebody else direct the picture?" I thought, "VJell, this 
is a sign from heaven. A dove has lighted on my head and 
brought me the news." I said, "I had rather have somebody 
else, George." He said, "All right. I withdraw, without 
reproaches and v:ithout ill feeling," v/hich was true. Henry 
Koster came in to do it, and Burton v;as just a revelation to 
me. He was a revelation as a man. Burton came over. We'd 
alreadj/ signed him, and he came into my office v;ith his agent, 
We sat there talking. He v;as a scuffy looking fellow, and 
after vre ' d got a little chumjny, he said, "Hov; do you get a 
dame in Mew York?" I said, "To tell you the truth, I don't 


knovz." I said, "That doesn't mean that the dames are not 
there. I knov; there are call girls, I think you could get 
them, but I've never had occasion to do that, so I v/ouldn't 
knov;. If somebody asked me in Nev; York, 'Hov/ do I get 
ahold of a hooker tonight?' I wouldn't know v;hat to say." 
He said, "V/ell I nearly v;ent crazy." I said, "Hov/ long v;ere 
you there?" He said, "Three days." [Stemnel laughs] I 
said, "Jesus M. Christ, you knovj, what kind of man is 
this?" [laughter] He v;as v:onderful in the picture, and he's 
the kind of man you look at and you know this is quality, 
this is a real fellow v;lth passion. I don't mean horny, 
I mean passion is v;hat he's doing. It was inescapable. If 
he opened a door, if he turned a knob, it v/asn't like Conrad 
Nagel turning a knob. He turned the knob v/ith his whole 

I was on the set one day and I sav; him. He had to 
climb up a v;all to a balcony, and he had a line going up 
to it, vrhlle climbing. The footholds were there and the 
handholds in the vines. He couldn't miss, but he couldn't 
get the line to satisfy himself while climbing. Koster said, 
"If it's too difficult, say it when you get up — " "No, no, 
no," he said. He felt as an actor he ought to be able to, 
you know, the old story: on foot, on horseback, or flat 
on my ass, I'm still an actor. To him, an actor should 
be able to say the line no matter v/hat the hell he's doing. 


He v;ent a take, started up, got about half v/ay, about six 
feet, dropped to the floor, and ran a~alnst the wall and 
with his hands like this [beating the wall], I thought he 
was going to beat his head against the v/all. My first thought 
was, "My God, there vras a snake in there and it bit him." 
I v;ent over there, veri' anxious. I said, "V/hat is it?" He 
says, "V/hy the hell can't I say that line?" You knov;, I, 
vfas very much relieved. I thought vie might have a dead actor 
there that had been bitten by a fer-de-lance in the thing. 
But, as a man, Olivia told me afterv;ards, "The first time 
he grabbed me on that staircase," there was some scene in 
which he embraced her, "there v/as no stage kiss." She said, 
"-He had his tongue down my mouth right there in front of 
the camera." He was smart enough to have his face angled off 
from the camera, but I think it absolutely startled the hell 
out of Olivia, who wasn't easily startled. She didn't 
expect this kind of attack in front of the camera. But he 
was so good. But the picture, I think, taught me a lesson, 
V/hen the boolc came out, and Daphne du Maurier was at that 
time a big seller. This book. v;as a real big, popular book. 
It wound up v;ith a question mark. What v/as it? Did he kill 
her? Or did she kill herself? 

Stempel: He let her die, I think. 

Johnson: Yes, something like that. V/as he guilty or not 


guilty, and I decided to follov; the book in the sense that 
this had, in the v;ay those things do, caused chatter. People 
began talking about it, and someone would say, "I'm sure he 
let her die. I'm sure that's v/hat it vfas meant." I put it 
in the picture. I'm sure that killed it, because movie 
audiences, I don't think, want to go home, at least at that 
stage, v/ith questions. They v'ant everything tied up very 
neatly at the end. They don't v;ant to go home and argue with 
their husband about whether he killed her or didn't kill her 
or lot her die or didn't let her die. They want to know 
exactly v/hat happened. Again, in the old Lou Holtz line, 
you've paid your money and you're entitled to knov; v/hat 's 
going on up there. It v;as true, because I vjould never do 
a thing like that again and rely on peeking interest of 
curiosity or discussion. 

Stempel: Do you think this is still true about audiences 

Johnson: Mo. Mo. Because I don't think they not only don't 
knov; v;hat the end of the picture is, but a lot of them don't 
knov; what the beginning of the picture is. [Stempel chuckles] 
No, I mean that. You knov/ it's true. This is a period v/here 
absolute clarity is either camp or old-fashioned or it's 
square, oven if it's successful. The more successful it is, 
the more contemptible it is. So many pictures are immensely 


successful. Last Year at Marienbad v;as one of the most 
notable examples. Nov: I knov/ that people didn't knov/ v/hat 
that meant. They had their ovin interpretations, but it did 
what I had hoped v;ould be done v;ith that dinky little end. 
People v/ent to see Las t Year at Marienbad as if it were a 
challenge to their intelligence or to their perception. But 
nobody v/as going to be challenged by Hy_ Cousin Rachel . These 
days the old form of storytelling is not obligatory. As a 
matter of fact, the more obscure it is, the more likely it's 
going to cause talk, controversy, box office, and all that 
sort of thing. But never from then on did I ever have any- 
thing to do like that, and v/ouldn't, wouldn't do it regardless. 
I guess I couldn't. I couldn't. I want to knov; hov; things 
turn out myself. I don't want to go off and sit around like 
Harold Pinter and they say, "What does it mean?" and he says, 
"What do you think it means?" This kind of banter is something 
that I have no taste for. It hasn't hurt him, and there are 
reasons for his popularity, such as it is. It's much less 
than his celebrity. Even this The Man in the_ Glass Booth . 
That winds up with a question mark. And it suffered from 
that in England, where it wasn't as big a hit as the revlev/s 
would have led you to expect. Or is it in New York, v;here 
outside of certain intellectuals and certain people v/ho like 
to be challenged or v;ho don't mind speculating on the meaning, 
they just go and say, "I don't know what it means. 1 don't 
knov; whether he was a Jcv; or not a Jew and," as Mr. Darj.ington, 


the old critic on too Daily Telegraph in London said, "V/ell, 
alas, I a'n not interested enoup;h to speculate." 





Stempel: We v/ere about up to 1952 and '53 and I v;as going 
to ask you about the introduction of CinemaScone at T\'/entieth 
Century-Fox. How did you first hoar about it and v;hat v/as 
your reaction to it? 

Johnson: I don't remember very much about hearing about it 
except that it seemed to me a new gimmick of some kind. 
Critics, as usual, denounced it as if God had ordained a 
screen to be square and that a picture couldn't be shown 
what some of them referred to as a mail slot machine, as if 
all of the great painters on earth had been given jobs to 
fill that space \-ilth a painting. There's no law saying a 
painting has got to be that square. There's no law that a 
picture shouldn't be in any dimension that v;ould fit a 
screen or fit a theatre. They said, "Hov/ are you going to 
get people on it? There are going to be spaces there. 
They're going to have to put vases of flowers on the side to 
fill up the space," as if you couldn't move your camera in and 
all that sort of thing. 

The first CinemaScone picture that came out was The Robe , 
but actually the first CinemaScope picture produced, was How 
To Marry A Millionaire . We both started it and finished it 
before The Robe, but they held it up because the title The 


Robe had sorac sort of majestic sound to it, and you had to 
open up this nev/ glimpse of wonderland v;ith an epic. Nobody 
seemed to have too much difficulty with it after they got 
used to it. After that they began making them in all shapes 
and sizes, and if it vras a bad picture, it was still a 
bad picture. You could make it round and it would be a bad 
picture. It certainly had eliminated that phony business 
of staging everybody standing in a line, so they'd all 
be looking into the audience. They still, in television 
I know, six people sit at a table for dinner and they all sit 
on the same side of the table. [laughter] The director is 
Just too idiotic, or doesn't have the time to put them where 
they v/ould be around the table and cut back and forth. But 
you see six people crowded around, see the profiles of tv/o, 
and four here. 

Yeah, it v/as a good thing. I think it saved Fox and 
it probably saved a good deal of the moving picture industry. 
It certainly made a mint for Skouras because he made some 
sort of condition that these pictures had to be shov/n on 
Cinemascope equipment, v/hich every theatre had to have. Well, 
that sounds pretty suspicious to me. [chuckles] Unless there 
was a brother-in-lav; v;ho just happened to make that kind 
of equipment. At any rate it made the company prosperous 

Of course I had fun with Hovr To T-'arry A Millionaire 


because it v;as a little trouble gettinp; It together. I think 

I used tv;o plays. Vie owned a play over there called The Greeks 

Had A_ V/ord For It , and then there was another play vjhich I 

heard about and had read a long time ago and v;e bought it 

because 1 wanted that idea of a man being got with the measles 

while he was off on a love tryst and then vie bought a title 

from a girl named Doris Lilly, v;ho had written a bouk 

called How To Meet A Millionaire . That might have been 

all right for her, but we wanted them to marry, so we put 

that title on it which was really a wonderful title for that 

kind of picture. First off, Marilyn Monroe v/as just automatically 

cast in it for some reason, I don't remember what, and Petty 

Grable, highly satisfactory to me, and Lauren Bacall, and 

there vfas where I had my trouble because I said I wanted 

to test her. She and Bogie were very good friends of ours, 

and she hit the ceiling. "Test? Are you out of your frigging 

mind?" I said, "Yes, look honey, I've never seen you play 

comedy. You wouldn't want to look bad up there, viould you?" 

Then she v/ent back to Bogie and Bogie said, "Look, I v/as in 

so-and-so-and-so, hovi many plays on Broadway. I must have 

read for every one. Reading for a play is like testing for 

a picture. Nothing v;rong about it." She said, "Is Marilyn 

Monroe going to test?" I said, "No." "Betty Grable?" I 

said, "No, but Betty Grable is a comedienne. I knov;. I've 

seen her." Then Bogie, he as good as punched her into it. 


but I knev;, even as she started testing, that v/e v/ere going 
to give her the part, because the truth is she was a comedienne 
even al]. during those serious pictures. She had no more 
dramatic talent than my left foot. Her talent Is in butch 
comedy. She cooled off after than and was very happy she 
took it. Very good in it she vms , too. 

I did a couple of pictures v/lth Betty Grable and she's 
a funny v;oman. Sometime vihen I'd come on the set, she'd 
say, "Oh God, Nunnally, I do hope you knov; v;hat you're doing." 
[laughter] This was a little disconcerting at first because 
I didn't, or rarely did. She'd sung vilth bands, you know, 
and she was in that svn'.nglng group and she had her own way 
of illustrating what she had to say. She v;as talking to 
somebody else, about some girl and said, "Oh, she was"-I'll 
use sv/inger, which v;asn't the v/ord, but that was v;hat she 
meant-"she v;as a real swinger for awhile, but these days 
she's a very Mona Freeman." [Stempel chuckles] V.^ho v;as a 
prissy little actress. Betty v;as alv.'ays popular v;ith every- 
body, really, because she was real, no side to her, very funny, 
and I remember once coming back from a location in bus with _ 
the camera crev; and three or four others, and they'd been 
reading that morning how Betty was in some kind of income 
tax trouble. The paper said that she was .''^BOjOOO in the hole, 
and there v/as no possibility of any of these members in this 
bus ever falling into the same sort of situation, but they all 


had real sympathy for Betty. They began one of those discussions 
as to the trouble big money could bring people, and one of 
.them said something that I thought v/as one of the profoundcst 
ti'uths I'd ever hoar. He said, "You knov/ v/hen the trouble 
starts? It starts the day your v;lfe persuades you to hire 
a maid." It was the God's truth. Up to that point, 
everything v;as under controlj but v/hen you got to the point 
where you had enough dough, or your v;lfe felt you had enough 
dough, to get a maid or a cook In the house, from then on, 
it's going to get complicated. 

Stempel: When you v;ere putting the stories together for the 
screenplay, did you knov; that it was going to be done in 

Johnson: No, I wrote it just as I would any other. The 
other night, I ivas Introduced to an actor named Kevin McCarthy 
in a restaurant. He v/as brought over by some girl I knev.'. 
He said, "I've been v;antlng to meet you ever since CinemaScope 
came in." I said, "VJhy?" He said, "Because somebody told 
me that when they asked you, 'How do you think you would 
adapt yourself to this v;lde screen?' that I had said, 'Very 
simple, I'll just put the paper in sideways.'" [Stempel 
laughs] I hadn't remembered that, but that v;as what it 
amounted to. A scene is a scene. 

Stempel: Did you knov; v/hen you were v/rlting it that it was 
going to be in CinemaScope? 


Johnson: I believe so, yes. They had been talking about it 
around there. They may have told me and I didn't pay any 
attention to it, because your business is to get the story 
dov/n on paper. After that they can make their dimensions, 
but it v.'oudn't have altered anything in the v;rlting. It 
v/as an immense success, thank God. One gag in it has been 
copied or pinched so many times since and I didn't pinch it. 
Did you ever see the picture? 

Stempel: Yes, I've seen it a couple of times. 

Johnson: I had v;orked out a short story once about a mad man 
going to have a tryst v;ith a married v;oman. They v;ere going 
to meet, if it had been here, at Disneyland, but they v/eren't 
going to be seen together getting there, so he approaches 
Disneyland by v;ay of San Francisco, [chuckles] and she goes 
dovm to San Diego and comes up. Very, very cunning people 
and as they v/allced in, they are the one millionth couple to 
enter the thing. I remembered that, and I put it in there for 
the George VJashington Bridge, v/hen they finally came back. 
I've seen used several times since then. 

Stempel: I noticed there were several scenes that seeraed to 
be put in take advantage of CinemaScope, like the mirror 
that had about six dffferent reflections. 

Johnson: Yeah, that was very ingenious. 


Stempel: VJas that Megulesco again? 

Johnson: That was either Negulesco or the cameraman, I don't 
remember v;hich. I v/ouldn't know v;hich, but that was making 
good use of these new dimensions. That v;as the picture where 
I rehearsed them al]. . 

Stempel: Yes, you told us about that. 

Johnson: Before we went into the thing. I v;as very pleased 
about that too, because I got the readings that I intended, 
had hoped for, and I knew old Jean v;ould never take the time. 
He just thought actors and actresses said the lines and that 
v/as it. I can't thj.nk of anything else very much about How 
To M arry A r-'il lion aire except that Doris Lilly did something 
that v;as very funny to me. It vfas nothing for anybody to 
take exception to, but she retroactively renamed her book, 
so she v/as billed as "the author of How To Marry A Millionaire . " 
On second thought, you might say. [chuckles] The title she 

Stempel: I noticed you did one thing v;ith the Betty Grable 
character that seems consistent V'lith some of your other work. 
She's always getting the meanings of words v/rong, or misunder- 
standing. V/hen Fred Clark says he's going to take her to 
his lodge up in Maine, she thinks it's a lodge like the Elks. 
I noticed this v/as something that cropped up in your short 


stories, this kind of vford play. 

Johnson: That, 's just another form of malapropism. I remember 
in one sliort story, this girl says to some man, "I'd like 
a soviet." He says, "V/hat?" "A soviet," she says, "You 
know, a napkin." Your ear Just catches those things. I 
Just spent nearly all day going through a file of letters. 
Somebody's publishing letters of Frank Sullivan, and the 
editor asked me to let him have some. I had a file of them 
from over tv/enty-five years, but the beginning of our corres- 
pondence v;as based on this ear for names. A fellov/ named 
Stanley VJalker, a friend of ours, at one time the city editor 
of the Herald-Tribun e v/hen I was there, and Prank, v;ho v/as on 
the World vihen I v/as on the Evening Post , v;e all had this 
Interest in peculiar names. Hyacinth Ringrose . Pheobe B. 
Beebe. [chuckles] You'd catch them in all kinds of papers 
if you're looking for them, and our eyes never failed. You 
read the obituary column in the Times of London and find the 
death of Sir Richard Bastard. I daresay it was called Bastard 
or Bastard, but it was spelled B-a-s-t-a-r-d, in the old- 
fashioned way. Of course he became a member of our club. Vie 
put him in the records with a kind of a black border. To 
think of some of the hell this fellow had had to endure 
from birth, from the time anybody knew v;hat the word meant. 
My God, I remembered he v;as 57 years old and I thought. 


"Fifty-seven j'ears of bavins to say, 'Bastard.' 'Your nane 
sir?' 'Bastard.'" God. [chucl:lcs] 

Stempel: The follov;ing year then you turned to directinp; in 
the case of Night Peonle . Did your v;ork vn'.th the actors 
on llovi To Marry A Millionaire give you confidence that you 
could direct actors? 

Johnson: Yes. That v/asn't my next picture, though, I don't 
think. My Cou.sin Rachel came in there... 

Stempel: No, Cousin Rachel vias before. It v;as in '52. 

Johnson: Oh, yes, that's right. Yes. The picture was 
N ight People . Tnat took me to Berlin to direct this picture. 
I really didn't have much apprehension about it. I'd been 
v;atchlng it so long and I had such good people. I knev; v;hat 
they should do, and I had a good cam.eraman, a good cutter. 

As a matter of fact. Peck's a genuinely nice man. He's 
stubborn. He's very opinionated, and sometimes I thought 
he v/as rather slov;-v,'itted. He isn't really, but he has to 
be convinced of the necessity of this or that before he'll 
do it. It can become pretty exasperating because it takes 
up time, but he helped me in so many v;ays, by making suggestions 
as to, say, alteration in the movement of the people. He 
never imposed any of his any ideas. Like this: there's 
one scene where he had to belt this girl, and I v/as just 

33'i; to trust to God he'd knov; hov; to hit her, or miss her. 
He was an old-timer by then. He knew that it to be 
shot on his back, a thinp, that hadn't occurred to ne , so 
that v;hen he vient like that, it wasn't so obvious that he 
was missing her and some fellov; on the side v/as slapping 
his hands. But I was surrounded by assistants viho spoke 
English and German and I enjoyed making it, though. We 
v;orked about tv;o vjeeks in Berlin and then we went dovm to 
Munich to finish it up in a studio there. But it made certain 
people quite nervous because this v/as 1953. 

Stempel: Fifty-four, '53 filming, yes. 

Johnson: Yes, and it didn't seem long enough after the v;ar 
to a number of those people. The v/all wasn't there yet 
but all those gates that said, "You are nov: leaving American 
sectors." You could see these Volpos, tliese Russian police 
watching. I remember one scene I had, had this girl in a 
telephone booth, and vie had a portable telephone booth 
naturally. It was to be on the long mall that leads up to 
the Brandenburg Gate. On top of the Brandenburg Gate was 
the hammer and sickle flag, and I v;anted to shoot past her 
to get the Brandenburg Gate and the hammer and sickle. I 
said to the cameraman, "You pick out a place." I suppose 
v;e v;ere about 75 yrads from the Brandenburg Gate. On this side 
of the Brandenburg Gate, in the American sector, is a Russian 


war memorial v/hich Is guarded by Russians. I mean they just 

patrol back and forth, it's understood. Pretty soon, the top 

of that Brandenburg Gate v;as crowded v/ith Russians v;ith 

binoculars trying to make out v/hat the hell these daffy 

people v/ere doing moving a telephone booth back and forth. 

"Take it over there, nav;, nav:, over there." They couldn't 

figure out v.'hat the hell kind of American trap this might 

be. [chuckles] Then v/e'd have these big, flaming lights 

that lighted up the great apartment houses. I must say I 

was myself a little nervous around there because I didn't 

knov: v;hat would upset the Russians. It v;as a much more delicate 

situation than it is nov:, and even now you knov; it isn't so 


There vras a guy from Time over there I'd met, a repoi'ter, 
and he offered to drive me over through the Russian sector. 
I said, "Was it safe?" I v;as as nervous as a cat. He said, 
"Oh yes. I've only been stopped once." That was enough for 
me, but I couldn't have overlooked that opportunity because 
it wasn't easy to get over there then. So we took a drive 
around there and he v/ould always get going the wrong way up 
a one-way street. I said, "Goddamned daffy reporter v/ho 
couldn't find his way around." But they v;ere all quite 
polite. Nothing v/rong happened. 

Stempol: One thing that struck me very strongly about the 


picture vfjis , especially in the opening scenes, the sense of 
working together that you get betv;een Peck for the Army 
and Casey Adams playing the State Department man, especially 
as you establish the office routines, the ease v;ith which 
everybody vjorks v;ith one another. Do you think this came 
because of tl^e good people you had v;orking v/ith you or v;as 
this because of your years of experience before that that 
you v/ere able to get this on your first picture? 

Johnson: No. Well I talked to both the Army and, v/hatever 
it v/as , it may have been the State Department, man, and I 
savj the v;ay they vrcrlced together. They just happened to have 
on different uniforms, but I mean it was the same mission. 
It was authentic because that v/as the v:ay they v/ere v/orking. 
I said, "I'm not going to O.K. anything that gets us in 
trouble." They're all playing it very cosy over there at 
that time. Then Greg v;ould get a little uneasy because I 
had him said, "Look., they v/ant to p].ay dirty, I can play 
dirty too." This doesn't sound like an American hero. Peck 
wasn't used to that and he v/orried about tvro or three little 
lines like that, but I v;as talking to soldiers there. That 
v;as it. They said, "If that son of a bitch stirs it up, I'll 
bust him right in the nose." The character Broderick 
Crawford played was shocked to find that Greg v/as upset by 
the death of his Russian opposite number. They had played 


cards together sometine and thincc lil:e t?iat. This fellov; 
told me that was absolutely true, and Greg did very v;ell 
in that scene. He said, "Look, it was nothing personal. He 
was a nice guy. He v;as just doing his job the way I'm 
doing my job. And those bastards took his wife and children." 
He made it very real and gave quite another vicvr. But 
then, as I say, I found it in Rominel. VJhen one of those.. 
German generals told me one night about how he'd spent the 
previous evening, he and another German general, v;ith a couple 
of English generals going over their desert campaigns, "By 
God, if I'd have been 2H hours earlier, I'd have got you." 
They'd laugh and go on, just members of v;hat Winston Churchill 
called tlie "the labor union of generals." Apparently it 
always tui-ns out if there's a surrender, some people might 
be shot or im.prlsoned, but the generals were treated pretty 
well and brought in for tea. 

Stempel: That v;as a particular reference that I v/anted to 
ask about, this whole question of the viewpoint of the picture. 
Pauline ?vael in !_ Lost It At the Hovies has a long niece on 
Nigh t People and she complains that the picture presents the 
American political vievmoint that all the Cominies are dirty 
bastards and that it is very one-sided. I was struck when 
"I sav; the picture recently on television that she seems to 
miss this v;hole element of, you. mentioned Peck's line about 


the Russian colonel and I noticed this strikingly. He has one 
line wliere he says, "They're all cannibals on the other side," 
and almost in the same breath he says, talking about the Russian 
colonel, "He's my best friend," or v;as a very good friend. 
V/as this an effort on your part — you mentioned that you'd 
done this on Rommel — in finding the other guy's point of 
view, in trying to understand the character here? 

Johnson: V/ell, I think I told you before v/hen I've done 
pictures which involve conflicting forces, I have tried to 
imagine all of them doing exactly v;hat Americans v;ould do, 
and I remember once I v;as very much impressed by something 
that LuGVfig Bemmelmans once said. He said, "There are 
no bad people, just bad governments." I think there's a 
great deal of truth in that, that people in general are about 
the same. There are so many bastards, and there are so many 
cowards, and there so many brutes, and there are so many 
decent guys. Any time I've ever done a picture, I've tried 
to make that the basis of my using the enemy. The last thing 
I want is to do a picture in which they are all Preminger or 
Peter Lorre. You have to accept that there are decent 
people here and they believe as much in what they're doing 
as v;e believe in v;hat v:e are doing. We've got bastards to 
equal any bastards the Germans ever had, and I think we can 
put our bastards up against the Jap bastards. I used that in 



Three Came Home , v/hen in so many pictures, say John VJayne 
pictures, all of them are sons of bitches on the other side 
and mean and low and dep;raded and that's why he's been a 
top money-maker [chuckles] for nineteen years and I haven't 
been, but it's just a sense of I think vihat is reality. I 
think it's fair and I think it's v;rons to all Indians 
beinc^ ready to throv/ babies against a brick v/all. You've 
got to assume a certain amount of humanity on the other side. 
Every picture that I've had, and I think I can point out 
incidents after incidents. Peter Van Eyck played something 
in that in Night People I remember, and I'd had Peter in The 
Moon is Dov/n . 

Stempel: Yes, he v/as the Lieutenant in The Moon is Down. 

Johnson: Yes, very lonely fellov;. He was the one Dorris 

Stempel: VJith the scissors, yes. I remember that. 

Johnson: One of my three murders with scissors, v/hen I had 
my scissors streak. 

Stempel: I noticed one comment that you made about 'flight 
People that got quoted a lot in the magazines and the newspapers 
at the time was that you referred to it as "Dick Tracy in 
Berlin." 1 vjondered if you v;ere trying to get the filpi labeled 
as a straight cops-and-robbers thing to avoid any com.plications 
from people in this country v;ho might say that because you 


•are presenting Peck as saying, "This Russian colonel v;as a 
good friend," that you v;ere in any way, to use the old 
horrible phrase, "soft on Communism"? 

Johnson: No. Mo, I said that in a probably thoughtless, 
facetious moment. Vie had an avjful bad title. It hurt 
tlie picture terrible, and God, a:'^ter I sav; it open, I thought, 
"Christ, the title should have been The Man V/ith the Pistols ," 
because the II. P. 's, vfhich he ivas , have crossed pistols, and 
I certainly couldn't say The M . P . ' s , or people v/ould have 
thrown things at the screen. [chuckles] M.P.'s v;ere so 
generally disliked. I v;anted to keep it out of any kind of 
propaganda or anything or anti-Communist. I wanted it to be 
known as an action picture. That v:as what I meant. He v;as 
a cop. That's what he v/as , and he had a job. They did that 
many times, grabbed somebody. They're still doing it. 
Prince [Sihanouk] in Cambodia or down there, you know, grabbed 
fellows, gave them 'white suits, brought them to tea at his 
palace, shook hands with them, and sv/apped them for eleven 
trucks, or something like that. It v;as that kind of thing. 
"I'll make a deal vrlth you. You let me get that boy back," 
and they said, "V/e want this woman and this man." Then 
It made him mad because they crossed him in some way, or the 
I'/oman committed suicide in some way or the man did. I v;anted 
it to be just exactly lilre a good strong con, coning v/ith the 
Mafia, say. It wasn't anything to do v.-ith politics v/ith 


him. He just had to go up against the syndicate, and he 
would use any v/eapon he had to. They were prepared to knee 
him. He v/as prepared to knee then. I didn't want to present 
the Americans either as too much heroes, but on the same 
time, I didn't v;ant to present them to be still fighting 
like Gentleman Jim Corbett, that kind of thing, v;hen fellows 
were fighting out of a crouch and blasting each othe)- before 
they got up off the carpet. I v;anted them to use the same 
kind of methods. We v;ere prepared to be just as dirty. 
I still feel that way about v/arfare. 1 think that anybody 
who believes that we can win a v;ar with one hand of chivalry 
tied behind us is not very realistic. We have to do v;hat 
they do. 

Stempel: There's a rather interesting line in the picture. 
At one point Peck is chasing after somebody or other, or 
trying to find somebody or other, and he says, "I think I 
may be going up a dark alley on this, just like Mickey Spillane." 
This seems to be almost undercutting this idea of the straight 
cops-and-robbers approach, almost pointing up the difference. 
Or on the other hand, were you trying to emphasize that it 
was just cops-and-robbers there? 

Johnson: No, I didn't. The soldiers at that time read 
Mickey Spillane and his name was something. I don't knov/ 
why. I just threvf it in there that he just felt that he was 


taking a risk that v;as really pretty Goddamned tough but he 
had to do it, and he hoped he'd be as good as Ilickey Snlllane 
nad kill eighteen people vjhile he did it, if it v/as necessary. 

Stempe]_: Hov/ did you happen to come to pick Buddy Ebsen as 
Peck's aide? 

Johnson: Well, I've knov;n Buddy so long. I've knovm him 
since he and Velna v/ere dancers in the Follies and Velma, 
his sister, was once m.arried to Bobby Dolan, a friend of mine. 
I'd seen him in something. He's an enormous guy. I thought 
hov/ good it v/ould be to have a fellovr as big as Peck, and to 
use his kind of vernacular to keep a little lightness going 
along. He'd get that l:ind of half-assed German. "Thank you 
very Danke Shoen, sir." Those G.I.'s had all that kind of 
stuff. I thought he was very good. I thought he v/as Just a 
big, dumb sergeant, ready to fight anything, and he v;as a 
good kind of companion for Peck. 

That girl, Anita BJorl:, v/as regarded as the best actress 
in Sv/eden at that tim.e. I'd seen her play in the picture 
Miss Julie and I thought there she v/as the most beautiful 
and dainty girl I'd seen in a long time. VJhen I found out 
she could speak English, I got her. She' was very good. Except 
she had no tits. [chuckles] This is almost unheard of in 
the movies, v/here everybody grov/s them the size of v/atermelons . 
The wardrobe v/oman came to me and said, "I don't knov/ v/hat 


to do, Mr. JohnBon, she's got a chest like a boy." I said, 
"You get some cotton, and don't you make hez-" look lik.e a boy, 
because I don't want Peck hugging a boy in this picture." 
[Stempel laughs] Though I would have been ahead of my time, 
[chuckles] She v/as such a nice woman. 

Stempel: V/hat about Broderlck Crawford? Hov; was he to work 

Johnson: Brod had a v;eakness for the bottle, but I just love 
him. He's such a good actor, really, but once he gave up. 
Some night scene v;as on location, he finally came to me and 
said, "Nunnally, Just can't make it." "O.K., v;e'll try it 
another night." Otherwise, he's a nice, good, helpful fellov;. 
I knev; his mother, Helen Broderick. They [the crew] k.ind of 
pi'otected me. They often do this, I don't knov; v;hy, about 
things going on. Somebody said that Brod had gotten in a 
couple of fights in saloons at night, either in Munich or 
Berlin, I forget which. I wouldn't hear about it until long 

Stempel: After Nir:ht Peonle , there was a thing in one of 
the papers that the next picture you were going to do was an 
adaptation of The Man \-Jho .lever ',7 as , a.nd yet this v;as eventually 
done by somebody else. Hov/ com.e you left the project? 

Johnson: Yes, vfell I, but one thing more about that Pauline 


Kael thins is that I never savr it and she said '.-.'hat? She 
said it v.'as anti-Communist propaganda or something like that? 

Stempel: Yes, it's in a section in 1_ L ost It At The '■^ovies . 
As a matter of fact I v;as goins to bring it tonight and then 
I forgot. It's a section called "Morality Plays Right and Left," 
and she talks about Sa] t of the Earth as Communist propaganda. 
She talks about Ilight People as anti-Communist propaganda, 
and she says that in Night Peonle the anti-Communism is throvm 
in to be fashionable, because it's the latest thing. She 
quotes the "Dick Tracy in Berlin" line, saying that this is 
just the modern approach, to give a nevj sheen to the old 
cops-and-robbers story. 

Johnson: I'm av/fully surprised because that v/as the thing I 
was trying to guard against. It's Just like S c ub a Dub a . I 
have absolutely no prejudice one vray or tlie other or in the 
picture. The script that was given to me by Bruce Jay Friedman 
is almost an objective viev;, and it uses race for com.edy, 
but I thought that I wasn't anti-Communist in the thing. 
I'm anti-Comnunist actually, but I was trying to bend over 
backvfard not to make it ideology against ideology or any 
such thing as that. This vras an isolated incident, for me, 
and it v;ould have been handled by the Russians exactly the 
way v/e handled it in the story. And I did my best to make 
that clear. I'm surnrised that she didn't sense that. 


Stempel: This v/as v;hat struck rne . I read the arti.cle and 
then I saw the novie again on TV and it seems like she's 
missed this whole clement. I mentioned the lines that Peck 
has almost together of "They're cannibals," v;hich she 
quotes, and then she ignores his line about the Russian colonel 
being his good friend, and it seems that she misses it. I 
think if she v;ere picking out a picture to point up as obvious 
anti-Communist propaganda, that that's one of vrorst ones she 
could pick. You could go to something like ny_ Son John , for 
example, or The Iron Curtain or The Red Danube or something 
like that that is really, or some of the John V'ayne pictures. 
Big Jim McLain that is much, much, v/orse. But anyway, that's 
the v;ay she sav/ it. But The Man V/ho Never Has . 

Johnson: V'ell The Man Vfho Never Vfas vras a first-rate story, 
but when I got it I found that I could tell it all in about 
30 minutes. [chuckles] I didn't know any vjay of padding 
It and still keeping that same wonderful device and then I 
decided to try something v/hich you might call a triptych? 
Base it on the submarine, v;hose name I forget, call it the 
Nautilus. It had been engaged in three dramatic episodes, the 
same submarine. It took, uh, v;hat was that tall, skinny 
general, Vfayne? 

Stempel: V/ainwright? 

Johnson: V/hat v/as his name, no. He was in Italy. He was 


a commander in Italy. Subsequently he became head of Citadel 

Stempel: Oh, Fark Clark. 

Johnson: Pfark Clark. VJayne v;as his real first name, that's 
why soldiers called him V/ayne. It took him to North Africa 
to deal with tliat French general, French admiral who v/as 
dovm there in charge of the French, I guess it was Algeria, 
to make a deal for the Americans to come ashore without 
opposition from the French. That v;as v;hen Clark v/as conferring 
in this peasant's cottage with the general v/ho v;as subsequently 
assassinated, and somebody blev; the v/histle on them and I 
remember Wayne lost his pants getting back in the submarine. 
Anyv/ay, it v;as a hell of an adventure story. Somebody of 
some consequence had to go dovm to talk to this French 

Then there was another episode when Giroux, the French 
general with one arm who hated deOaulle's guts and they 
vjouldn't shake hands v/hen they met down at Casablanca when 
Roosevelt and Churchill were dovm there. VJell this Goddamned 
one-armed man v/as one of the damnedest men ever heard of, and 
he escaped from a prison dov/n a several hundred foot v;all 
and we'd sent this submarine, this v;as around the I'editerranean, 
to rescue him, for him to come aboard to go Gibraltar and 
was to take charge of the French forces, but deGaullc beat 


him to it. Anyv/ay I made the thin^ out of those three 
episodes. There vias a kind of a feclinp; against episodic 
stuff. I don't kno'j if anybody ever said anything to me about 
it. It v;as just turned over to somebody else in England 
to do it all on this one thing, the man v;ho never v;as . But 
I did the script and it exists somev;hero, but they decided 
that v;asn't the v;ay they v/anted to do it. 

Stempel: The next picture you did then was Black VJidov; , a 
mystery story. Kov; come you ended up v/ith Peggy Garner in 
the lead? 

Johnson: V/ell, it was much to my regret. I'd had a little 
girl in there. . .Maggie , some Irish name. 

Stempel: Maggie McNamara? 

Johnson: Maggie McNamara. And she fell ill, or something. 
We were going to start shooting in Mew York, and she had 
to v/ithdrav;. Peggy Ann Garner I'd knov/n because she was in 
Pied Piper . She via.3 a tiresome little girl. Tiresome 

My best piece of luck v;as I failed to get Tallulah 
Bankhead for the lead. I knew Tallulah slightly. I sent 
her the script. She was indignant, and she called, collect, 
and said, "I may not be an actress, but I am a star," and 
she v;cnt on and on. I'd heard she was difficult to deal with. 


contentious, and a headache. She must have talked for about 
twenty, tv/onty-five minutes, and I began thinking to myself, 
"If at the end of this she says yes, I'll cut my throat." 
[Stempel chuckles] I could just see mysel<", day after day, 
arguing v;ith Tallulah about every bloody detail in the thing. 
Finally v/hen she said, "1 couldn't possibly-" I said, "I'm 
terribly sorry Tallulah," and hung up [chuckles]. God, vfhat 
a v7o;nan. I got Ginger [Rogers], and I'd had Ginger in Roxie 
Hart and I knev; Ginger very v;ell and loved her, and that poor 
little girl. Gene Tierney. She had been given the brush by 
Aly Kahn, that vms his name, vjasn't it, Aga ?'ahn's son? 

Stempel: Yes, Aly Kahn. 

Johnson: Aly Kahn, yes. And she v;as really shattered by 
this, and I'd sit and talk to her and I'd see she hadn't 
heard a word I said, and tears v/ould begin rolling dovm her 
cheeks. I sav; her the other day, for the first time in a 
long time. She was always very nervous, but she v;as a nice 
woman. She every now and then v;as liable to get you in a 
little trouble or something. One time she was at a party 
I v;as at, this v;as some time before, and she v;as married to 
Igor, you knov;, the designer... 

Stempel: Cassini? 

Johnson: Cassini. I said, "Hov/'s Igor?", and she said. 

3 '1 9 

"He's at Foi^t Riley." He v;as in the Army. I said, "That's 
a cavalry camp, isn't it?" She said, "Yes." I said, "My 
God, I didn't even know they had cavalry any more." This 
seemed to me as harmless a conversation as a man could make, 
especially as I had spent three years in the cavalry. I 
v;as probably the only one there that knev.- that Ft. Riley v;as 
a cavalry place. Then she left, and David Selznick, v/ho v/as 
giving the party, came to ne and said, "VJhat did you do to 
Gene?" I said, "Nothing." He said, "She began crying. I 
found her upstairs crying. She said she v;as going to leave 
and she said that you implied that her husband was a cov/ard." 
I said, "Vfell I didn't." She thought that I had meant that 
he had Joined the cavalr-y because it v/asn't going to be used 
In combat. That hadn't occurred to ne at all. I knev; they 
v/eren't using cavalry. I didn't think they were. They might 
be In some places. Hov; the hell did I knov/, I v;asn't over 
there. She left, and I said, "I'm afraid she's nuts because 
I didn't say a word." 

About two weeks later at some other party, I vfas having 
a drink at the bar with a fellow and a guy in uniform came 
up. He said, "Mr. Johnson?" I said, "How are you Lieutenant?" 
He was a Lieutenant in the... it was Igor Cassini. He said, 
"May I see you for a minute?" I thought, "Oh my God. He's 
going to hit me, I'm going to hit him. And there's going 
to be a nastv scene." He took me aside. I can't remember his 



words, but the spirit of it was this: "You and I are men of 
the v/orld. VJe understand such matters. Women don't alv;ays 
comprehend, and I must apologize to you on Gene's behalf for 
having caused you discorifort . " VJell I never heard of any 
such thing, such Old VJorld manners and such a reverse. I 
said, "Well, I v/as only sorry I distressed her. I said I 
thought it vjas fine you were in the cavalry because I've bee 
in the cavlary and we old cavalrymen stick together." I 
sav/ her the other day, over on the lot. She looked quite 
pretty, though she's been through a hell of a lot. 

Stempel: The reason that I asked about Peggy Garner is that 
the rest of the cast seemed so high-powered — Ginger Rogers, 
Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, George Raft — that it seemed to me 
as I was watching the picture that they almost overwhelmed 
her and that with all these other people running around being 
witty and sparkling and all that, I couldn't really get that 
interested in her, and 1 couldn't believe that they were all 
making such a big fuss about her. 

Johnson: VJell, I've forgotten the plot of the thJng, but 
Maggie McKamara, did you ever see her? 

Stempel: Yes, in Moon is Blue and Three Coins in the Fountai n, 

Johnson: Yes, and somehow you just wanted to hug her. She 
was just like a child, you know. As a matter of fact, when I 


v:ent to her apartment in Mev; York, she vjas going to shov; me 
some of the clothes to v/ear, and she v;ent in the closet and 
brought out some clothes. I svjear to God, I thought they 
were doll's clothes. I thought she v/as playing som.o kind 
of joke on me. They looked about that big, a jacket and a 
skirt hung together. I v;as going to bust out laughing and it 
turned out it v;as her clothes. They fit her. [chuckles] 
She was so little. She must have v/eighed about 85 pounds 
and I think it v?ould have been better v/ith her. I don't think 
it hurt it a great deal except I disliked this girl, ;>7hat's 
her name, v;ith the three names? 

Stempel: Peggy Ann Garner. 

Johnson: Peggy Ann Garner, vfho was pretending she v/as 
practically slumming. I think she'd played in a couple of 
plays on Proadv;ay and, she was rather aloof tov.'ard the Holly- 
v/ood contingent. I knev; her, and I'd known her mother who 
had brought her around for Pied Piner , k.ind of trashy people, 
and she just irked me somehov;. I couldn't stand her. It 
was just a thriller, wasn't any great harm done in the thing, 
a thriller that I liked, because I like thrillers. 

Stempel: How did you come upon the device in the flashbacks 
of noting the girl's rise, not in society, but among the 
theatre people, by the business of shov;ing the street signs: 


she starts out dovm on 9th Street, and then goes to 2Hh and 
^5th and so on like that. How did this coin.e about? 

Johnson: Well, was it v/here she lived? 

Stempel: Yeah, where she lived or at one point s'ne went 
to a theatre on ^5th Street or something like that, but 
in the flashbacks you indicated her, her sort of rise to, 
not eminence, but... 

Johnson: Stardom? 

Stempel: Not exactly stardom, because she v;as a v/riter 
rather than an actress, but just getting along vn'.th all 
■ these rich and fam.ous people in the theatre. 

Johnson: I can't even remember it. If I did it, I got it 
out of my ov/n mother in Columbus, Georgia. \'Ie lived on 5th 
Street, and my father didn't make much money, made very little 
in fact, but my mother v/as a very canny v;oman with a buck. 
She bought colored houses and rented them, and 1 think that's 
the way we got some of them. The next thing I knew v;e were 
living on 7th Street, then v;e v;ere on 10th Street, and v;hen 
I was in the Army, she moved between 13th and I'lth, v/hich v/as 
about as high up socially as it v.'as ever possible for us to 
get. It has alv/ays amused me, this progression of streets 
showing the progress that v;as being made. --> 


Stempel: I noticed v;hen George Raft, as the police officer, 
asked Van Heflin where he v/as when the murder v;as corrimitted, 
and Heflin says that he had gone to see a movie, and the 
movie he'd gone to see vjas called Girl in the Window, and 
I nearly fell o'.it of my chair laughing because of course 
the plot of Black Widov; is som.ewhat similar to V/oman in the 
VJindow . V/ere you having a little joke here? 

Johnson: Yes, I guess so. I'd forgot that. Give my own 
picture a plug, I guess. 

Stempel: Speaking of Gene Tierney, it struck me also in 
vmtching Black ■.■Jidow that you have again a character, I 
think I mentioned this once before, this character of the 
wife vjho stands by her husband through thick and thin. I 
think I mentioned this V7hen v;e talked about Prisoner of Shark 
Island . I'm never sure we really got an ansvjer for why this 
character k.eeps shovjing up in your films. 

Johnson: Oh, I think you'd find that in all films where the 
husband Is a victim of injustice. Oh, bound to, you can't 
have a woman that... there v;as one play in New York that v/as 
based on an actuality in Paris in v;hich some member of the 
government in Paris v;as charged v;ith some crime, and I cannot 
think of v;hether it v/as a murder, over a v;oman, or getting 
dope. I remember this v.'ife stood by her husband. She helped 


him be exonerated. She impressed the jury vrith her love and 
devotion and understanding and at the end of the play, when 
he v;as exonerated and everybody v:a3 cheering, she turned to 
him and in effect said, "I never v;ant to see you alive 
again," and walked out. Very good, dramatic thing, but that 
v.'as a violation of all dramatic arrangement. [chuckles] 
The wife that don't stick by the husband is just not in 
existence. In those days, anyway. 

Stempel: VJell, all right, let me put the question another 
way. I noticed in a remarlcable number of your pictures, 
the hero is married. It's odd, because we alv/ays think of 
Hollywood pictures as boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-glrl, 
boy-gets-girl for the final fade-out. A remarkable number of 
your heroes are already married or they get married very 
early in the picture. Even in Jesse James , he gets married 
early. And, of course, there are all these v/ives standing 
by their husbands. Hov; come you have so many married men in 
your pictures? 

Johnson: VJell, I'll tell you. I guess it goes back to my 
choice of the picture or the story and it has som.ething to 
do v/ith my taste and my awareness of my inadequacy of telling 
a purely romantic story. I feel no confidence in it, and 
love scenes are almost beyond me. I can have a love scene 
betv;een a husband and a wife and I've done it time and time 


again. To mc , it's the truest l:ind of love I can feel, I 

can understand. I think it is the best kind. But picking 

up the handlierchief and meetinr; lier and sv/inging through 

the vfheat field and all that kind of stuff — it just isn't 

In me, and part of that result is that my pictures are masculine 

pictures. I guess it is the man that interested ne , his 

dramatic problems and situation, and it's hard for me to 

think of a picture in v/hich the star or the principal star 

v/asn't a man. }\o\i To Ilarry A !"^illionaire v;as a gaggy comedy 

vjith three girls, but there vras no romance in the sense that , 

there's romance in A_ Place in the Sun , or something like that. 

It's a part of ray taste in v;hat to v;rite and my av;areness 

of my limitations which make me avoid things v;hich I'm afraid 

I will do very badly. T'hat's v;hy many actresses say, "VJell 

v;hy don't you v/rite a piece for me to star in?" I say, "I 

v;lll." Naturally I say tiiat . "I'd love to," v;hich I v;ould, 

but I don't think I'd do it v;ell. So, some sixth sense, or 

however many there are, sixth sense has generally protected 

me against going up against subject matter vdiere I v/ould 

fall on my face, or I feel I would. Gosh, from the very 

beginning, they are married people, not Cardinal Richelieu 

[chuckles], but short of him... They did anyv/ay. The '''an in 

the Gray Flannel Suit to me v;as the closest to a love story 

I ever v/rote, and it v;as a man and his v;ife. And that's 

just not for me, that kind of stuff. I can make enough boners 

doing stuff I think I can do without going out looking for 

trouble, you knov;. [chucl'les] 




Stempel: I had one more question about Black Widow. It 
seemed to me that George Raft read his lines very v/oodenly. 
Of course he's never been Icnovm as being a great actor. Hov; 
did you v;ork vn'.th him as a director in that? 

Johnson: Yes, he learns his lines very v/ell. As you say, 
he's not an actor in particular. He v/as a personality that 
was very v;ell fitted for that period. If you'll remember, 
he felt very pleased v/ith himself this time because he played 
a cop. He was on the law side. He's a nice guy to be v;ith. 
There v;as ofily thing that interested me much about him. He 
told me he had steak and potatoes for dinner every night of 
his life. [Johnson chuckles] VJell, v;hat a v;ell-adjusted man. 
[Stempel laughs] There's no need of handing him the menu. 
Think of this, seven nights a v/eek, 3^5 days a year, steak 
and potatoes. deorge is v/ell on, because, I don't knov/ v;hen 
that was. 

Stempel: '5^. 

Johnson: '5^? VJell, I was to him and I said I was 
a grandfather. He said, "Within a year, I'll very probably 
be a great-grandfather." "Are you kidding?" because George 


is not that old. He said, "Yes. I Just heard that my 
granddaughter v/as married last year, so it's quite possible 
that I'll be a great-grandfather." I said, "V/ell, I v/on't 
tell anybody. It's all right." 

Stempel: The next picture you did v;as called, finally. How 
^2. §£ Very , Ve r y Popular . I noticed in looking at the reviev^s 
on it that it's based on a play by Hov/ard Lindsay, v/hich 
in turn is based on a play by tv;o fellov;s v;hich is based on 
a novel. Hov/ much of these did you read? Did you just read 
the Lindsay play? Or did you even read that? 

Johnson: I don't remember reading any of them. I must have. 
Wait a minute nov,'. I think it was a play called She Loves 
Me Not , and, I'm speculating now, which v/as based on a book 
by Edward Hope . 

Stempel: Yes. 

Johnson: I remembered the play. I remember Miriam Hopkins 
was a girl concealed in a dormitory, and Buz [Burgess] Meredith, 
that's where he really got his start. He really gave a 
performance. It v;as very funny. Anyway, that was ati all-around 
calamity, because... 

Stempel: The picture, you mean? 

Johnson: Yeah, the whole business. I wrote it for Marilyn 


Monroe and Betty Grablc, and it was submitted to Marilyn 
just when she broke off with ^ox. She thoucht she should 
have some more money, or vfhatever It v.'as. Anyway, they v;eren't 
spealclng. She sent the script back. I have no idea whether 
she read it or not. They just said she returned it and said 
she's not goinf^ to do anyth-ing until her contract v;as rewritten, 
At that time that made her owe Fox a picture at the sm.all 
price she was getting and really that was the picture she 
v;as going to make for Fox v/hich I v;rote at the end. But 
they decided to do it anyv/ay, with a girl named Sheree North 
they handed mo me. I didn't knov; anything about her. She'd 
been on the stage in New York in a musical comedy and I said, 
"I'm terribly sorry but I v/asn't in Nev; York when this play 
went on. Exactly what did you do?" She said, "V'iggle." 
[laughter] Apparently she was very sexy in some, must have 
been dreadful, sexy dance. They signed her for that reason, 
and they put her in this picture. I began reconstructing this 
story from She Loves Me Not , and there v;as some other play. 
I can't thinl: of the name of it, but it v.'as written by a 
friend of mine named Plarland Thompson, and the idea of that 
play vias som.ething about hypnotizing a girl. Anyway, it v;as 
a mess, and Sheree, nice little woman, but unbelievably 
untalented. Untalented in the sense that she couldn't do 
this. [Johnson looks from left to right] You knov;, she had 
to do this. [Johnson looks left, looks down, looks up to 


the riEl:it] }Ier eyes v;ould 50 dovm like this. I'd say, 
"Nov; look, v;hen you turn from him to her, can't you just 
look?" She says, "Isn't that vihat I'm doing?" I said, 
"No, this is v;hat you're doing." VJlth that kind of talent, 
it v;as hard to get anything out of her. [Stempel: In ' 
fairness to Miss North, she later developed into a very 
accomplished actress], Betty was good as always, but its 
only distinction, if you v;ant to call it that, is that I'm 
convinced that Billy VJilder pinched trie plot. 

Stempel: For Some Like It Hot . I vms going to ask about 

Johnson: Oddly enough, Billy did that to tv/o of my pictures. 
He pinched the plot. Ke improved it, and he made a much 
better picture than I might ever have made, even v;ith Marilyn, 
But it was the tv;o girls [or guys disguised as girls in 
Some Like It Hot ] who sav; a murder and had to get av;ay from 
it. Years later, Billy saw Night Peonle and talked to me 
about it a long time. He v/as an admirer of it. He admired 
It so much that when he made a picture called... 

Stempel: One , Two, Three . 

Johnson: One , Two , Three , he used that plot, sv/apping one 
prisoner for another in Berlin. I don't much like to think 
of How To Be_ Very , Very Popular because it brought fame and 
fortune to nobody. It vras just a lousy mistake on every- 


body's part. 

Stempel; You knov; for certain that V/ilder took this particular 
plot, that he took it from this picture, or is this just 
a guess on your part? 

Johnson: I can't accuse a man of doing a thing like. I just 
looked at one picture and looked at another. There v;as more 
of a connection in One , Two, Three and Might People because 
he v;ent out of his v/ay to talk, to me v/hen I got back from 
that picture, after it v;as shovm. He v/ent out of his v;ay 
to talk to me about it, and liked it so extravagantly, v/hich 
pleased me a great deal, that I was really amused v;hen I 
sav7 One , _1Vo, Three , v;hich 1 liked, too. No, people do 
that sort of thing. There's a picture coming out over at 
Warner Brothers nov;. I forget the last title of it, the 
previous title was Sudden Death . Some fellov; v;as telling 
me he savi it, and he said, "It ought to be good, it's Strangers 
on a Train by Hitchcock." I knevf it v/as about golf. Sudden 
Death , I said, "You mean the fellov;'s a golf player Instead 
of a tennis player?" He said, "That's it. That was the 
twist." [laughter] 1 suppose they own the story. Hitchcock 
made it there. You have to be very careful these days, you're 
liable to see [any old picture]. There v;as one guy at Warner 
Brothers in the old days, who made a career of it. He'd go 
and see The Good Earth. The next morning he'd call a writer 


in and say, "Take a look at this picture, no pel Earth, and see 
if we can't mak.e it in Kansas." [lauchter] Suddenly the 
next thing you kne\;, there 'd be something, Sunbonnet Ivate , 
and it was The Good Earth, but it all took, place in Kansas. 
But he v.'as very happy to admit it. He certainly never made 
any bones about it. 

Stempel: O.K., your next one after Very , "'^ery Popul ar v;as 
one of your biggest hits, financially. It v;as The Man in the 
Gray Flannel Suit , and this vias the last time you worlced 
toge trier directly with Zanuck, or the last picture produced 
by him that — 

Johnson: Yes, that's right. 

Stempel: — you v;orked on. Maybe vje can sort of stop 
here and take a loo!: back. V/e have mentioned Zanuck a 
number of times. I v;onder if you could, in a sense, define 
ivhat your relationship was v;ith Zanuck. I mean, it's very 
easy to say, well, he was the producer and you were the 
v;riter or the writer and director in this case. Exactly 
how did this work? 

Johnson: It v/as a very close professional relationship. It 
was never a close personal relationship. He v/anted to hire 
me v;hen I first came out here, for some reason, I still don't 


know. When I ended my year at Paramount, he signed me the 
next day. I never have knovm v;hy he made this particular 
effort because I couldn't think of his reading The S aturday 
Evening Post , God bless its soul. He put me on a picture 
called I-louli n Rouge , which v/as a remake of some picture, and 
then on House of Rothschild , vfhich 1 tried to dissuade him 
from doing, but he pressed, "Go ahead. Let's see what's 
going to happen." 

Stempel: Did you try to dissuade him from making House of 
Rothschild , or just from using you as the writer on it? 

Johnson: I couldn't believe he meant me. I said, "Are you 
sure you? Have you got me pegged? I v;rite nothing but 
comedy. Never have written anything but pretty broad comedy, 
too." He said, "I knov; v;hat you've done. You go ahead and 
do it." I vrent ahead and did it. From then on, he paid me 
the compliment of assigning me either to comedy or drama, 
so that I have work.ed almost equally in those tv;o areas. 
But it finally became alm.ost machine-like. I'd get a call 
and he'd say, "How soon will you be through vixth that script?" 
I'd say, "Well, a couple more vreeks, I guess," or something 
like that. He'd say, "Come in and see me." And I'd go in 
and see him, and he'd have something slse. He'd have this 
clipping out of Time about Rr. Mudd, or it v/ould be Rommel, 
or it v;ou.ld be the Dionne quintuplets. He'd say, "Let me 
know vrhat you think," I'd figure out v;hcther I thought I 


could do it or not, or v;hether it v/as not mine. I told him, 
either way, and he accepted it, either v/ay. If 1 liked it 
and thought I could do it, he'd say, "Fine, get at it just 
as soon as you clean up. You're on your ovm." Thereafter, 
I rarely saw him until the script was ended. I sent him, 
like everybody else, a weekly report saying, "I'm on page 
28," or like that. Or, if the next vreek I hadn't 
been able to get through a certain difficult part, I'd say, 
"I'm on page 29," and there v;as never any reproach, never 
any comment. He knew I wasn't loafing. He took it for granted 
that eventually it would be finished. 

When it v;as finished, vfhen the copies of the script was 
mimeographed, he sent copies to, I don't knov/, half a dozen, 
maybe eight, I don't know how many, of the people who advised 
him and casting and so on. Then he'd call me, and the director, 
if there v/as a director assigned to it. He called m.e in 
first, if there viere parts he v/asn't satisfied v/ith, or he 
v;asn't satisfied with the whole thing, or whatever it was. 
We'd sit there and he had an immense povrer of concentration. 
Nothing in the v;hole worle existed except that script at that 
moment, and there v/as no putting o<^f "this there, v/e'll 
get to that later." He couldn't pass that mark until he 
got it straightened out. Eventually, after I'd done a number 
of scripts for him and he showed he had some trust in me, 
he would get to a point and he would begin to improvise. As 
often as not, his improvisation was nothing to my liking. 


I wasn't goirif, to say that to him, but I'd say, "Will you 
let me v;ork on that a little lonf^er?" He'd say, "O.K." 
Nov/ I'd work on that part because if he felt it v.'as wrong 
in the original script, it must have been wrong. I went 
along the lines that there's not one right thing and one v/rong 
thing, there's twenty right things and tv.'enty v;rong things. 
So, v;hen I came back in v/iti; the revised version, and I'd 
altered that^ rev/ritten that particular part of the script, 
it didn't matter to him whether I'd follov/ed anything he'd 
suggested or not. He never made another mention of it. 
I don't even know if he remembered. But if it fit and felt 
right, it v/ent. 

V/orking for him. became almost automatic. He v;as very 
appreciative. Another thing v;as that not once did I ever 
hear a word of reproach v/hen a picture failed. He took it 
all on himself that the studio did it, and that we'd blown 
one. But he never blamed me for the things v/hich I suppose. 
I could have been blamed for and another fellow would have. 
At the same time, I remember v/hen I v/as in Berlin and he got 
the first rushes of Nigh t People back, he called me to tell 
me how much he liked them, how good it v/as , and how wonderful 
it was going. I said, "I can scarcely all that credit 
because I've got a couple of guys here v/ith me v/ho have really 
nursed me along and protected m.e against a hell o^ a lot of 
mistakes that I might have made." He said, "T'he credit, so 
far as I am concerned, goes to the man that lieads the company." 


He v;as a great editor of a script. He v/as inclined 
to the cornball stuff, some of which can v/ork very v/ell. 
I've got nothing against cornball stuff, you know, if it's 
v;ell enough done to be effective. I cry at cornball stuff. 
He was the far and av/ay the most valuable man I've ever been 
associated v;ith in the business. One of the very few who 
really made contributions and vjas a collaborator, and I 
suppose for every one of those corny kind of suggestions, 
he had three or four very good suggestions. He knev/ what 
action v;as, and as I say, he had some sort of Geiger counter 
in his head v;hen he v;as reading one of these scripts, any 
script. Suddenly it v;ould begin clicking, and that meant 
he vias losing interest, so he didn't finish reading the script. 
He began turning back pages to see v;here the boredom might 
have started. Then he'd begin to make a note that that v/as 
vrhat we had to talk, about. As you can see, I have the greatest 
admiration possible for him and gratitude. VJe wound up in 
a rov; or tv;o. We had two rows. One of them v;as when I 
left Fox and went to International Pictures. 

Stempel: This was in '^3. 

Johnson: Yes. But I think that was a part of his feud at 
the time with Bill Goetz. I vfas going into business v.'ith 
Bill Goetz, and it occurred to him that maybe Goetz and I 
had been plotting while he v;as away defending his country 
on the barricades. 


Stempcl: In the Signal Corps. [chuckles] 

Johnson: Yeah. I never discussed Darryl v/ith Goetz at any 
time beyond just v/hat might happen in any conversation. 
So far as plotting, or v;orking v:ith Goetz, it never even 
occurred to me. I didn't think Goetz had any talent. I 
wasn't particularly fond of him. And if somebody had told 
me. then, "You are goinp; to v/ork, you'll be a partner vilth 
Bill Goetz," I v/ould say, "You must be out of your mind. 
Couldn't possibly happen." He v;as really the beneficiary of 
all kinds of luck. God. Zanuck virtually accused me, he 
did accuse me, of plotting vrith Bill, and I denied it. I said, 
"I v/ouldn't do a thing like that, Darryl, and I v;ouldn't, 
I couldn't, I didn't. I hadn't even seen Goetz for six 
months v;hen this thing came up." Goetz left there before I 
did. I said, "I didn't even know he v/as leaving, and I had 
no intention of leaving." V/ell, he v;as mollified. I wasn't 
at all sure he believed me, but he vms polite about it. He 
couldn't resist one final needle. Now, as I said, he sent 
copies of script out to the people that might make suggestions 
for the revisions. \'/hen I was leaving him, he said, "You 
know, this last script of yours. Keys of the Kingdom , has 
quite a few major criticisms about it." He picked it up. 
Well, there alv/ays are, somev;here. This particular one there 
wasn't a one. [chuckles] "Aw v/ell," he said, "They're around 
here somevfhere." [laughter] He was in there fighting to 
the last. V/hen I left, I v;as away about five years, but 


as soon as I left Universal-International, he sent for me, 
and vie v/ent right bade to v;ork, just exactly as v.'c had before. 

Stempel: You mentioned that you had tv/o rov;s v;ith Zanuck and 
one v.'as v/hen you left. V/hat \-ias the other one? 

Johnson: The other one v;as much more serious. But they had 
a case... it was about the tine, I'd finished a script here 
for one called. Take Her, She 's nine , with Jimmie Stewart. 
I'd finished it and the fellow in charge of the studio, 
[Pete] Levathes, had accepted it officially. I'd gone 
through all the steps, revisions, script accepted, and he 
told me in Paris that he vmnted it rewritten. 

Stempel: Zanuck told you this? 

Johnson: Yes; now Zanuck had just come back, this v;as — 

Stempel: '62. 

Johnson: Yes, and he v;as living in Paris at the time and 

I v/as living in London. He sent for me and I v;ent over there 

and he said, "This 'will have to be rev;ritten." I pointed out 

to him that I had fulfilled my contract, that it had been 

accepted by the head of the studio at the time that I 

finished it, and that, if I had to revfrite it, I would expect 

another contract. He said, "It's not accepted until I 

accept it." I said, "That isn't in the contract. The contract 


was with Fox studios and Levathes v:as the head of the studio 
and, quite aside from the fact that I don't thin!-: the vmy 
you want it done is the best v;ay, Darryl, I can't do that 
without sorae pay for a job that you point out nay take me 
six or v/if;;;ht v/eeks. Unreasonable." He said, "I can't pay 
you until you do it." Oh, I had a word vfith my attorney 
about this. And my attorney had a word with Fox's attorney 
and my attorney said, "You've read the contract. Has he ful- 
filled it?" The other fellow said, "Hm-hm." He said, 
"VJe'll sue you for this." He said, "I understand you v;ill." 
My attorney said, "And v/e'll win." He said, "Yes, but tliat 
won't be until next year. Right novf, v;e'll sv:ap a losing 
suit next year to paying out all this money right novj." 
This v;as during the making of Cleopatra and they v;ere pouring 
all their money into that picture. These tv.'o attorneys were 
quite viell acquainted. Herman Tyre said they had a pile of 
contracts that high. Koegel said, "They're all going to 
sue, because v;e ' re not paying any of them. We're not paying 
another nickel. V/e can't. VJe haven't got it." They went 
to work on most of them to settle. Some of them they settled 
fifty cents on the dollar, some as little as ten cents on 
the dollar I was told. I told Norman Tyre, "Let's wait, and 
sue theni, because admittedly this is unfair. They admit it 
and the facts vfill show it." I said, "Levathes had the authority 
to approve the final script." Zanuck called me again. Again 


I v.'ent over to Paius. Nov; he knev; there v/as coinp; to be 
a tax chanse, v;hich v/ould not be to my advantage. Everybody 
knev; it. Instead of all of the money you earned v?hile you 
were over there being yours or taxed betvjeen the tv.-o countries 
or something, I forget, only 35 thousand dollars would be 
exempt. Ke said, "Tell you what I '13. do. You contract for 
anotlier picture and I'll pay you for both." I thought, 
"V/hy, that's a good deal." So I said, "All right." It 
didn't turn out to be a good deal because I couldn't finish 
the second and l:e knev; it. I could not finish it in time, 
by the end of the fiscal year, or v;hatever the hell it v;as, 
so I had a lot of income tax trouble on that one. Though 
I must say he did his best to help me in that. 

I had a third rov; v;ith him, I'd written a script of 
my daughter's boolc. The World of Henry Orient , and my agent 
cabled me that United Artists v;anted it, but they hadn't 
come to a deal. They v/erc still negotiating, and they asked 
me to come to Hollyv;ood. Again I was in London, So I came 
to Hollyv;ood, and Kenry Koster, a director I knev;, v;anted 
to read the script. He was a very good friend of mine and 
I said, "You can read it, Henry, but it's bespok.e." I 
said, "It's in process of negotiation and you can read it 
if you v/ish, but it's not submitted to you as a picture." 
"O.K." He read it that night and became enaniored v;ith it, 
so enamored with it that he cam.e in early the next morning 
and took it to Dick Zanuck, v;ho had just started there [at 


Fox], and begged Dick to buy it. Did: called me in, and I 
said, "I'm a little surprised by this because I told ?vOster 
that the script v/asn't offered for sale to anybody. I 
can't cross up my agent, vfho was vforking on v;hat sounds like 
a very good deal." I said, "I can't think of but one way 
that there would be any justification for my selling it to 
you. If you v/ere to call my agent and made him a sufficient 
offer, definite, to buy it this minute, he would be justified 
in selling it, because United Artists v;as taking weeks to 
think about it and offer it to their producers and so on." 
I said, "I think that that v/ould not be unfair." Dick v;anted 
this thing. It v;ould have been I think his ovm first project. 
So he kept calling his father. I didn't do anything. He 
kept calling Darryl and the day had really passed when you 
heard that "Darryl' s interested in it," and everything 
stopped. I remember very v;ell that eleven days passed and 
Dick still hadn't gotten his father to read the script. 
Darryl just kept putting it off and saying, "Well, I'll get 
to it." Being held up indefinitely. After about eleven days, 
my agent called and said, "We're on. The deal has been made. 
Agreed on price and terns and all this. Very good." 

Stempel: With United Artists. 

Johnson: V/ith United Artists. It v;as turned over to George 
Roy Hill and Jerry Kellman, who were in partnership at the 


time. It never occurred to me at the time that I was 
either doing anything vrrong. As a matter of fact, I 
didn't have anything to do v;ith it. I leave all that stuff 
to the agents. Happy v;ith this sale, I remember I v;cnt 
down to Jamaica. I was vjorking on another script, and I got 
about a three or four page cablegram from Darryl, beginning 
by recounting our lives together, the things he'd done for 
me, v;hat I ov?ed him as a friend and an associate, and then 
denouncing me for double-crossing the stuiio, offering it to 
the studio and then selling it to somebody else during the 
negotiations, and insisting that I call off that deal with 
United Artists and give the script to Fox. It was very 
eloquent, but I didn't have a studio back of me paying 
for thousand-word cablegrams, so I cabled him briefly 
[Stempel chuckles], saying, "You've been misinformed. I 
distinctly told Dick that I wasn't offering it to him, that 
this v/as being negotiated for another company and there's 
nothing I can do about it. In any case, I had nothing to do 
v/ith it personally because I didn't even know the name of 
the company," which I didn't, "v/here they were negotiating." 
Darryl doesn't give up Back came another long telegram, 
longer than the first one. This vras from Paris, Dick's in 
Nev/ York, I'm in Jamaica, and again I had to insist that his 
information 'was quite wrong and so on. I think that that 
really put a period on our professional relationship because 
we've never had any since. Pic v/as v/rong, and I think he knov; 


it, because I knov/ Dick very v;ell. ?vOster told me, it v;as 
Henry who, no matter hov; you say hello, he's almost cryin.o;, 
he's that kind of fellov;, "Hollo IJunnally. Did: hasn't been 
able to get Darryl to read it. I can't get Darryl to read 
it." This v;ent on like this, and so in the end he stopped 
this v/asting the company's money v;lth cables to me. 

I've seen him a cour)le of times since, just in gatherings, 
but he never called me back for any more vrork, never has. 
That doesn't stop me foom ny ^ v/ell, fondness for him, and 
my gratitude, because he V7as a real education, and since I 
v;ent to him the second year I v/as there, it v/as like entering 
the second grade with him, and I v;as learning all the time, 
Ke taught me. 

Stempel: Do you think he learned anything from you? 

Johnson: [Johnson chuckles] I doubt it. I didn't realize 
hov;, really, hov; personal it was until a year or so later. 
I came back, through Hew York v;hen I v/as doing a picture for 
Fox, for Dick, and v;hile I v/as in Mew York, I called him. 
The ansv/er I got, I can't even reraember what it was, told me 
clearly that it v/ould be Just as v/ell for me not to look to 
come -to see him. So I accepted this. Outside of running 
into him in a restaurant, I haven't had anything to say to 
him since. 

Stempel: To go bade to one thing you said, you said that 


after you got done v;ith the script, when you were working 
for Zanuck, you gave it to him. V/as this the first draft 
of the script or did you do several drafts to get it the 
way you wanted before you gave it to him? 

Johnson: I had finished it [ Take Her , She's Kine ] , the third 
draft, which was what was called for. I don't remember who 
the producer was, aside from Levathes, vrho was the head of 
the studio. I had been given what they say in nev;spaper v;ork, 
"good night." Darryl's complaint, he vjas very international 
of course at the moment, he said, "This story is much too 
American. VJhy can't that last third of it be in Paris?" 
I said, "I guess it could be, but I don't think it's right 
that way, I mean it's..." He said, "These people over there, 
they v/on't knov; v;hat it's about." College girl story, you 
know. I argued v/ith him a bit, but he v;as insistent on 
this International flavor, getting the good shots of Paris, 
which are certainly no novelty but I would grant would be 
good pictorially. That's how I got the tv/o picture contract. 
Ke said, "If you'll rewrite this, and make the last third 
in France, I'll pay you for it and one more picture." 
That was the deal, I remember now. So I went back and finished 
up a very lousy third act, all taken on the back lot and the 
French didn't understand that any more than the Americans 
either, by that time. But he insisted on it. 

Stempcl: Yeah. I was thinking of earlier v;hen you were 


v/orking v;ith hD.n in the thirties and forties. You ncntionerl 
that you gave him the script and he sent it around and got 
various comments on it. V/hich draft of the script v;as it? 

Johnson: First draft. 

Stempel: Just the first draft? 

Johnson: Just the first draft. He had these notes, these 
critiques, by the story editor and a fev; others, qualified 
people, except Aldan, but people vfno had no axe to grind 
or anything. They v;ere v;orth listening to. This was the 
original draft, the original first draft, and he'd sit v;ith 
me and v/e ' d tal:e up each point that was made in these notes. 
He'd said, "This is from so-and-so. Puck it." [laughter] 
That shov;ed v;hat he felt. Another one he'd say, "Nov? look 
it. There's a pretty good point he makes here. The girl 
is so-and-so in one scene and not so-and-so in another 
scene and I'm not sure v;hat side she's on." Something like 
that, V.'C ' d examine the script to satisfy ourselves whether 
it v;as right or wrong, and sometimes he'd say, "V/ell, I 
don't believe what this fellow says. I had no confusion 
about it, so forget it." Or he'd say, "He's got a good 
point here. 'low that I loolc back at it, it seemed that v:ay 
to me too. Mow v;hat can v;e do to reconcile these differences?" 
We'd sit there and talk until vie found the most economical way, 
in writing and storytelling and so on, to straighten it out 


so it v/ould be clear and effective. Then after he'd go through 
all those, and his ov/n notes, that's when he'd say, "VJell, that's 
all. Hov; Ions will it take you?" I said, "Oh, tv/o v/eeks , 
three i;-;eeks." "O.K." Then I'd bring him back the first 
revised script, and he'd say, "V/ell, this looks pretty good. 
I like the ;;ay ;/ou straightened out so-and-so, and could 
;<;■>.:■ gtr't a little stronger ending?" Nov/ it v;as Just betv;een 
me find him, and we'd discuss tvjo or three endings until we 
found something that loolced like it might fade out properly 
and satisfactorily. Then after the second revised script, 
he would discuss it and say, "I haven't got but tv;o notes 
here. One, I don't think that the fellov; ought to v\fear a 
beard," or scraet'ning. He had sonie tiny thing like that. 
"And one, the guy's a little too harsh v;ith the vjoman, I 
don't think he v/ould be that harsh with her." I said, "All 
right, that's easily fixed." He said, "All right. Do 
those. Send it to mimeograph and ;ve'll go to v/ork." Nov; that 
happened script after script after script, the same routine, 
and so that v/as the v;ay we viorked together. You can imagine 
how it V7as when I went to the next studio and I had to send 
me script in to Bill Goetz, who v;as Just a laughing boy, 
and Leo Spitz, v;ho v/as a darling man, but completely a lav;yer. 
There v.'as no picture maker involved in the thing. I had to 
try to work it out. I might hand it to some other fellov/. 
When vie got a director, I used to use him because I always 
feel I need help. I always feel I can do with it, because I 


can overlook sonethinp; or forget somethinp; or get my characters, 

not mixed up, but not behaving the way they should, and not 

be aware of it. The director v/ould serve the way Zanuck 

did. He'd edit it. Hathav:ay, or Pichel, any of those guys 

I v;orked with, they'd do the same thing, though not v;ith 

the thoroughness that Darryl did. Things that they felt were 

not right, we'd work on together and straighten it out. 

Prom the time I left him, I v/as on my ovm, you mig'nt say, 

and I must say I never liked it, never have liked it. There 

were so fev; people like Zanuck, none, so it v/as Hobson's 

choice. I had to take what came out at the end. 

Stempel: O.K., let's go bad: to The Man in the Gray "^"lanne l 
Sui t . One of the complaints that critics had on it, and I 
felt this v;ay in v/atching it, too, is that it's a very, very 
talky film, that ther-e's not a great deal of action. Is 
this one of the reasons why there's an effort to get the 
flashbacks of the v;ar sequences in it? 

Johnson; Mo, that v;asn't one of the efforts. I mean, that 
vjasn't the reason. The reason v;as it was damned essential. 
Skouras v;anted to cut the vfhole Italiaui thing out. It'd 
have been more talky then, because it v/ouldn't have even 
had that action in it. It might have been cut better, or 
shorter, but I had faith in it, t'nough I admit that it was 
too long. I live in dread of that, but that was my worst 
error in determining the length of a picture. That's one of 


the reasons why all of my scripts, or nearly all of then, are 
short. It scares people. They say, "V/ait a minute. This 
script is only 120 pases lone." I say, "One of the reasons 
for that is, since I'm goinc to direct it, I don't have 
to put dovm in the script every thiing I v/ould have to put 
down if some other fellov; v/as goinp to direct it, because I 
know v/hat I'm going to do. If it was destined for Gome 
other director, I would have to v.'rite a good deal more and 
you would have ten more pages, or t\/enty more pages." If 
you want to count it by minutes, I guess that was the longest 
picture I ever made, but I don't knov/ v/}iether you remember 
v;hen the book, came out, it vjas a tremendous success. It v;as 
• a vjonderful title at that particular time, and it v/as about 
a soldier and his transgressions while he was lonely in a war. 
This all appealed to me as being understandable a.nd dra.matic. 
I can't even remember what the reviev/s were. I can only tell 
__ you that somebody said that Peck v;as vrooden, because all 
revlev/s of all Peck pictures have said Peck v;as v/ooden. 
[laughter] I don't agree with that. I think, that that's 
something that is easy to say and it's glib, it's flip. 
Peck's a good actor. 

Stempel: You mentioned in one of the previous interviews 
that, I think you were tallcing about Tha Man in the Gray 
Flannel Suit , that Peck had come in with a series of notes in 
the book, 'wondering why these things v/eren't in the script. 


Johnson: VJell, he did. Scared me to death. He had a cony 
of the bool: and you knov/ how sorae times you get a book from 
the library and on the side it says, "Hov; true!" [chuckles] 
Things like that? Well, Greg had all kinds of notes and 
little pieces of paper sticking out of the book. Most of 
them v;erc minor, but you have to listen to them. VJe settled 
it. Just another one of tnc occupational hazards. 

Stempel: Were there any suggestions that he had that led 
to any rewriting? 

Johnson: Oh, I'm sure there v;ere. He's a stubborn nan, 
and I think he's afraid of comedy. I remember there v:a3 a 
scene in there v/hich v;as a rather facetious one betv/een 
husband and v;ife. As I say, I'm not the best in the v;orld 
at love scenes. Actors have no objection to placing ^the blame, 
and Greg said, "I think it's too v;," v:hich vms a favorite 
v;ord at the tim.e . I could have said, "You mean you can't 
say it. You mean you can't play that. Jack liemmon or Gary 
Grant wouldn't have any difficulty with it." But you have to 
deal with the man you've got. I think I cut the scene out, 
or something like that. Or rewrote it. I knov; it took a 
hell of a long time to do, 

I had Jennifer Jones, and s"ne was a problem in her way. 
Being married to David [Selznick] v;ou].d have made her 
neurotic. He [Sel/nick] kept writing me those long notes. 


V/asn't his picture. He v/asn't connected v/ith the studio. 
He couldn't v/rlte a ten vford telegram. That v;ould be just 
physically impossible. I'd get a page and a half, single- 
spaced, about the cameraman. I quickly solved that one, 
I just sent him an ansv;cr: "Dear David: I have passed your 
note on to Darryl," and ].eft it at that. He sent me three 
or four of these, and then he sav; he v/asn't getting anyv;here 
and I refused to take responsibility for anything that he 
had to suggest, because I v;asn't about to ask Darryl to fire 
a cameraman that David Selznick didn't like and hire another 
that he did. I knev; Darryl v/ould just tear them up. Then 
one day, she did a scene v/hich I thought v/as first-rate, really 
first-rate. I sent a note to David and said, ''In case your 
v;ife is too modest to tell you this, I think the scene she 
did today v/as absolutely superb, and she couldn't have been 
better. Please do not answer this." [Stemnel laughs] 

Sttmpel: And did he any.vay? 

Johnson: No. IIo, he had humor. He knew I didn't v/ant to 
hear any more from him. It v/as hard to deal v/ith her, I'd 
try to talk to her, but I couldn't tell from sitting looking 
at her whether she was hearing what I was saying or not. Her 
eyes were rather out of focus, or she was looking at something. 
V/e were shooting dov/n on Long Island in a house that we'd 
rented, and the scene was that Jennifer, after a fight with 


GreCj runs out of the house. 

Stempel: Out into the yard, yeah. 

Johnson: Out into the yard. Greg chases her, catches her, 
and they fall on the ground and he kisses her, or something. 
Anyv;ay, I set the canera and found the spot, and I said, "Now 
he sliould overtake you right here, right in front of the 
camera." They went into the house and I called "Action," 
and she came out like an impala. God, she's a big, leggy girl, 
you knov/, and Greg has a gimp anyway, so she forgot all about 
that spot and v/as leading him by about eight lengths, [Stempol 
laughs] v.'hen she passed it. I said, "Cut.'' I said, "You 
must have forgotten, honey, 'we've got to get you in the camera." 
She said, "V/ell, I thought I v;as supposed to be real." I 
said, "Yeah, but real up to a point. VJe've got to photograph 
it." She said, "All right." So she came out and I gave her 
a shorter lead this time, so Greg could overtak.e her. And 
they had this struggle, standing, and then fell, and it v/as 
all very good. It v/as real. V.'hen 1 cut, I said, "That's 
it. V/e'll print that one." She hightailed it for her 
dressing room and Greg came over to me and there v;ere nail 
marks on his cheek and he v.'as boiling. He said, "Look at 
this." By that time, eight doctors and nine m.ake-up men 
V7ere surrounding him. He said, "I don't call that acting. 
I call that personal. Can't you get her to do the scene 


right?" I said, "I don't knov;. You worked v/ith her in Due 1 
in the Sun. I thought you'd knov/ how to cope with this 
particular kind of thing." Then I had to take a close shot. 
I thought, "Christ, 1 can chiclcen out, but Goddammit," and 
I had to call her back to fall into the shot and get it as 
they fell on the ground, or v;hatever it v;as . This time, 
she butted him. You never sav; a madder actor. He said, 
"Have we got to do it again?" 1 said, "Well if we do it 
again, you vjear your cup, [laughter] because I don't knov/ 
v/hat's going to happen." By this time she v/as standing over 
against a tree. I guess this v/as before we took, the close 
shot. V/hat do you say to a woman v;ho is fighting savagely 
v/hen they're supposed to be make-believe? She listened to me, 
looking past me, and suddenly v/alked on back to her dressing 
room. She didn't ansv/er or anything else. I really didn't 
understand that. Sometimes she'd do a beautiful scene and 
the next time it v/ould be... One time she did a kind of an 
emotional scene, and much to everybody's astonishment, she 
suddenly made a gesture and knocked everything off of the 
dressing table. This wasn't rehearsed, but it looked all 
right and it v/asn't out of character in this scene, so I 
said, "That's fine. That's very good," v/hich it was. 
She v/as a hard woman to understand, and it didn't surprise 
me. Betty Grable said, "Ah, that Jennifer Jones. She 
thinks that doing Icneebends all day makes you an actress," 


because she ;:a3 a nut on athletic condition, and at home she 
v.'ould v/ork on pulleys up and dov/n this uay all day. God, 
if she'd have kept at it, she could have licked ■luhammed All. 

Stenpel: The one scene that alv/ays sticlcs in ny mind from 
that picture is not even a scene, but the sliot of Peck and I 
think, it's Arthur O'Connell and Henry Danniell walking dov;n 
the corridor, and they're all wearing identical gray flannel 
suits and they're all marching in step and every time I've 
seen that picture it always gets a sort of a jolly little 
chuclclo from the audience. Hov; did this piece of business 
cone about, or do you even remember? 

Johnson: Just alriost inevitable, I mean, to shovr the 
similarity of all these people and the uniformity of their 
habits ond so on. The scene that got me in the picture — 
as I say, I'm an easy crier — was one line by Lee Cobb. That 
was v;hen Greg and Jennifer v;ent to him to him, the justice of 
the peace, or something lilce that. 

Stempel: Local judge. 

Johnson.: Yes, and explained they wanted to adopt this child. 
He listens to them in disbelief at first, and as he realizes 
V7hat she's doing, his face changes and when they're leaving, 
he says, "I'll drav; up the papers Mr... Greg," and then he 


turns to her and he said soinethinp; like, "It's an hono>" to 
have net you, r-lrs . So-and-so." Every time he said that, I 
damned near v/anted to cry, because it v;as such a touching 
little moment of tribute to the behavior of this woman. 

EMD OF il;tep.a/ie\; 13 



Sterapel: We were about up to Oh Men, Oh Wornen [1957]. This 
-y be Just a typographical error in the Pil. DaiJ^ Yearbook 
because this the only place I saw it, but they ,ave Chodorov credit for being both the author of the original 
play and the screenplay. How this is not the v;ay it i = 
the scripts at the Acadeniy Librarv. 

-s on 

Johnson: Mo. no h^ rinrin'-t- a^ i-\ 

o, no he didn t do the screenplay. He had nothing 

to do vatli it. 

Stempel: 1 just wondered. Did you stray very much from the 

play in doing the screenplay? 

Johnson: I iraagine so. This was a little confined, and I 
thought the play was much funnier than the picture, in spite 
of the fact that David Hi ven was in it. On the stage, I 
thought Tony Randall and Anne Jackson were better. I think 
I had Ginger Rogers. 

Stempel: And Dan Dailey. 

Johnson: And Dan Dailey. Dan was wonderful, but I don't kn 
very few people liked it. I did, but then I liked most of 
them, but it wasn't a successful picture. And I didn't 




Chodorov, v;hom I knew slightly, until about a year ago. He 
spoke to me, but that's just about It. But I'm used to that. 
Didn't matter. 

Stempel: V/hy do you think the picture was not as successful 
as the play? 

Johnson: Generally it's the substance. I think the material 
didn't sound interesting to a great mass of people, and 
Niven is not a great drav; and neither v;as Ginger by that time. 
It had a lot of funny scenes in it, but it just didn't add 
up to something that people v/anted to see, that's all. I 
can't explain it any better v/ay. I always put it in the 
same category 'with The .-Ian Who Und erstood ''/omen . The material 
interested mo, but it didn't interest anybody else. It v;as 
more or less like that. I did something that I liked, but 
It turned out that mine was a minority report, that's all. 

Stempel: Oh Men , Oh Vfomen , I believe, v:as Tony Randall's 
first film. 

Johnson: Yes. 

Stempel: Did he have any difficulty in moving over from 
stage and of course television? 

Johnson: No, no. 

Stempel: How v/as he to v/ork with? 

Johnson.: He was just vronderful. He's a real comedian, and 


I thi.nk his entrance in that picture — did you see it? 

Stenpel: I sav; it many years a^o v;hen it first caine out. I 
don't reracmber anything about it. 

Johnson: He v/as a man going to a psychiatrist's office, 
and v;hen he entered In that corridor, his nervousness, the 
v/hole horror, the kind of shame of having to go to see a 
psychiatrist. he felt that he was almost advertising himself 
as a nut. People got it like that. And just his hesitation 
to put his hand en the knob. Ke hadn't been on the screen 
t\vo minutes .before they v;ere roaring at hipi and he hadn't 
said any tiling. After trying to explain to the doctor v;hy 
he v;as there, before he v/ont into the cnnsultation room, 
he v/as one of those guys that, before he went bad:, he 
straightened something on the table. My God, one of these 
neat guys. Ke had to have things square. If the thing had 
been here, he [Johnson set a bool: on the table crooked, then 
straightened it], or if the picture v/as a little off, he'd 
stop and straighten it. 1 remember Life had a lay-out on 
him that he v;as the best comedian to come into the movies 
In ten years, but he just never has shown that particular thing 
that makes a man a star. He's given more good, beautiful 
small performances. You know. Pock Hudson and Doris Day 
bringing them in and Tony provides v/hatever comedy there is 
in the vrhole thing. Like some poeple say of James !Tason. 
He's provided more pleasure in more bad pictures [laughter] 


than any other man in the business. Just right in the middle 
of it. Mason, very quietly v;ill be better than anybody 
else on the screen. Tony does that. He constantly does 
that. I think he's jotting a little too much nov;. He 
pushes a bit. I wanted him for Scuba Dub a because I knev; he 
would cive just a wonderfully funny performance. They 
considered it for a while, then they told me, "Yes. Talk 
to him." I couldn't get him on the phone, so I v/irod him 
to call me. Of course, vdth their usual v/ay. Just before 
he called and I had no way to stop him, they said, "On 
second thought, don't offer him the part." Tony calls and 
I have to sit there prattling like a baby because 1 don't 
call Tony Randall just socially all the tim.e to IJevf York. 
I'm sure he realized at once v;hat a kind of a spot I was in, 
and he took very v;ell. I think that the reason they had 
second thoughts v;as that Tony is still what they call a second 
banana. He's not a top banana and they v/ere afraid of him 
heading the picture. They're rather go vfith an unknov/n, 
actually, than with a man who has always been second, the 
leading lady's brother, or something like that. But Tony 
v;as a pleasure and it v/as a pleasure always to work v/lth David. 

Stempel: You also had two other people in that that I think 
are often underrated as actors, Dan Dal ley and Barbara Rush. 

Johnson: Yes, I thought Barbara was good. There are a lot 


of people cooclj but chance simply doesn't p;lve them that one 
break, that one part v/here they can really shine. They'll 
go along giving good performances. In Barbara's case, 
she hasn't had too many chances, and she isn't a top actress, 
really, but she's so appealing and she's so pr-etty. Dan 
Dai ley, he surprised me in this thing, I hear he's av;fully 
good in Plaza Suite . He's a good performer. 

Stempel: Your next one after that was Three Faces of Eve , 
and I noticed in looking over the book that there's a great 
deal of v/ritten material in the form of medical reports 
and biographies or au.tobiographies that Eve v/rote of herself 
and stories she v/i'otc about herself. Did this provide any 
difficulty for you in adapting it? 

Johnson: I suppose it did. I suppose I had to v/ork out 
some pattern to get this almost unbelievable story into any 
form at all. Unfortunately, a year or so before, some woman 
had v;ritten a novel based on this case, and it had been made 
into a picture. Eleanor Parker played it. 

Stempel: Lizzi e. 

Johnson: Anyv;ay , that hurt us v/hen the picture came out. 
It was really so strange, I needed somebody to try to give 
a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on the thing 
to try to persuade people that I was telling almost a 


documentary story. I got Alistair Cooke to introduce it. 

At that time he was big on Omnibus , and he's so good at 

that thing. He v/as careful enough to read the book and satisfy 

himself that he wasn't lending his name to some joke. 

The funny part of that v;as that I wanted Orson VJelles 
for the doctor, the one that Lee Cobb played. I sent the 
script to Vi'elles and VJelles said yes, good, he liked it. 
Then he vfithdrev;, because he got a chance to direct a picture 
and he'd rather direct than act. But he said this. He said, 
"I'll guarantee you that v/hoever plays this part v/ill get 
a [Academy Avjard] nomination." He was that smart. IIov: this 
part v;as offered to practically every star, likely or unlik'ely, 
in this tov/n. Doris Day. I vfent as far as Jennifer Jones. 
June Allyson. I can't remember all of them, but it must 
have been eight or nine and they had various reasons [for 
turning it dov;n]. Most of their reasons v:ere that they were 
in analysis, all of our leading ladies, and they v;ere afraid 
that this v/ould in some way conflict. 

Then I got the idea that Judy Garland [could do it], 
I still believe that she could have given a vronderful per- 

Novf I had film of the real v;oman. These tv;o doctors, 
in Augusta, Georgia, had made one. It v;as Just as I said. 
A man came in v;ith his wife and said, "Lock." The fellow who 
did most of the treatment. Dr. Thigpen, said, "I looked it 


up, and I didn't find but one paragraph in all of the v:orI:s 
that I studied that had to do with split personality." He 
said, "As a matter of fact, it's a matter of semantics 
in some cases. Is it one personality split into several 
parts, or is it several personalities, or v;hat form of 
psychosis is this? I hadn't the least idea how to treat 
her." Thicpen's not a Freudian, in the sense that he doesn't 
talk it out. He goes to, I think he calls it an organic 
psychiatrist. ?Ie'll use drugs. He'll use any kind of 
medicine. He came out here and talked to me about her. 
Then I talked to her on the phone once. I v;anted her to 
appear to give this assurance of her story, but she wouldn't. 
I said, "I can shoot your bad:. I think your very presence 
would be useful." She'd read the script, and she liked it, 
though it didn't cone anywhere near the things that had 
happened to her in these changes. But I had this film of 
■r^ Thlgpen, or Cleclcley, one of these two doctors, talking 
to her. Thev v;ent to Atlanta, vjhere the nearest little 
studio v;as where they could get this kind of stuff. He v;ould 
sit there at the table with her and talk to her. He v/ould 
call on Eve, Miss Black or Miss VJhite, and she'd change, 
right there in front of you. She became that other person. 
It ^^:as so complicated that when she signed a contract vrith 
the Hearst organization for her story, they had to draw three 
. sets of contracts. [laughter] They didn't want to take any 
chances, so she sv;itched and signed in three different 


up, and I didn't find but one pai^asranh in all of the v:ori:s 
that I studied that had to do v;ith split personality." He 
said, "As a matter of fact, it's a matter of semantics 
in some cases. Is it one personality split into several 
parts, or is it several personalities, or v;hat form of 
psychosis is this? I hadn't the least idea how to treat 
her." Thicpen's not a Freudian, in the sense that he doesn't 
talk it out. He goes to, I think he calls it an organic 
psychiatrist. He'll use drugs. He'll use any kind of 
medicine. He came out here and talked to me about her. 
Then I talked to her on the phone once. I v;anted her to 
appear to give this assurance of her story, but she v;ouldn't. 
I said, "I can shoot your back. I think your very presence 
would be useful." She'd read the script, and she liked it, 
though it didn't cone anyv/here near the things that had 
happened to her in these changes. But I had this film of 
- Thigpen, or Cleckley, one of these two doctors, talking 
to her. They v;ent to Atlanta, v/here the nearest little 
studio v/as where they could get this kind of stuff. He v;ould 
sit there at the table with her and talk to her. He 'would 
call on Eve, Miss Black or Miss White, and she'd change, 
right there in front of you. She became that other person. 
It was so complicated that when she signed a contract v/ith 
the Hearst organization for her story, they had to draw three 
. sets of contracts. [laughter] They didn't want to take any 
chances, so she s'witched and signed in three different 


places, and the handwritings v;ere different. VJhere I had her 
change at one time v;hen she was in a bar, actually, she v/as 
in a bedroom v:ith a sailor. This poor sailor had thought 
he brought in a real tart, and while he ^'jas preparing himself, 
v/hatever it v:as made her change, she changed back to Eve 
V/hite, and v/hen he turned around, he had Little ?'iss Goodie 
Tv;o Shoes there, [laughter] v;ho v/as so terrified that it kind 
of terrified him too. He v;as no villain. He vras just probably 
some country boy picked up a girl in a bar, and she ran out. 
The v/hole thing v;as absolutely fascinating, the stuff that 
those doctors told me. Thigpen said, "I could look from my 
v;lndov; on the second floor. V/hen she got out of her car, 
I could tell by her v;alk. v/hich one of these personalities v;as 
arriving." Of these characters. Eve VJhite v/as the rather 
prim one, if I can put it that way. Eve Black v/as the raffish 
girl. The progression v/as. Eve Black knew about Eve V.'hite, 
but Eve VJhite did not know about the second characterization. 
And then the third one, she knev/ about Eve Black and she 
knev/ about Eve VJhite, but the other tv/o didn't knov/ about her. 
To shov/ hov/ smart Eve Black v;as , Thigpen was telling how 
he had argued v/ith Eve Black to behave herself on the grounds 
that Eve VJhite 's husband was talking about divorcing her. 
Now she'd talk about Eve VJhite as another person altogether, 
and she gave him her v/ord that she wouldn't go down and pick 
up soldiers in Augusta on Green Street. But she didn't keep 
her word. She was a liar. She got into a jeep with a 


soldier, and the jeep stopped at a red light, just behind 
a car in front. It didn't stop quite enouch. It bumped 
the car. Nov; in this car in fi-ont by pure chance v;ere a 
couple of FBI men. They got out and came and found nothing 
wrong. The soldier had his papers, and they didn't make 
any fuss, but the thing v;as that Eve Black reverted to Eve 
V/hite in her terror that she v;as going to be caught. Tliere 
was in existence at this tine Jane, the third of the girls, 
and this v/as all told to Cleckley, or to Thigpen, by Jane. 
He said the next time the girl came to his office, he talked 
to her as Eve Black. He said, "VJhy did you break your v/ord 
to me?" She said, "I didn't break my v;ord." He said, "You 
did. You v;ere in a car v;ith a soldier, and you ran into 
another car." She said, "Did the FBI tell you that?" He 
said, "No, it had nothing to do v;ith the FBI." She thought 
for a m.inute, and then she said, "There's still another 
character, isn't there?" She vias sharp enough to know that 
Eve VJhite wouldn't tell. So v;hat? The explanation, by 
Sherlo_c_k Holmes deduction, must be that there was a third 
character nov;. This upset her very much. Eve V/hite knev; 
that she v/as in some form demented. She knev; she v;as psychotic, 
and she knev; that she v;as afraid that eventually she'd be 
put away. She'd known it a long time because she didn't know 
where those clothes came from that she bought and had charged 
to her husband. She'd never bought them. She had no memory 
of it. Doing that script v;as simply a matter of trying to 


get sorie form that v/ould convince sonebocly that thj.s v;asn't 
simply fiction. 

Stempel: I gather though from vfhat you said that you did 
change incidents around from the v?ay they v;ere. 

Johnson: I probably did. There v;as a hundred different 
incidents to choose from and there's only so many you could 
use and so many that fit into the pattern of a screenplay. 
Subsequently, she changed again and again. The end of the 
screenplay indica.ted that she had found some stability 
v;ith some fellov;, but actually Thigpen told me that she 
vjould disappear and he'd get a phone call from her, somev/here 
in "Mississippi or Louisiana, and she'd lost track, but, in 
the v/ay of progression, she still recognized each one of 
these personalitites . Then he lost sight of her. He doesn't 
know vrhere she went or v/hat became of her. He said, "She 
v/asn't cured. She v/asn't stable, and possibly never viould 
be." He said, "I couldn't... I did what I could, but it was 
very little." And so, this poor woman is wandering around nov/ 
in who knows v;hat guise. At any rate, it was a wonderful 
story to v7ork on. 

But as I say, I thought of Judy Garland. Judy read the 
script and she couldn't make out whether it was some kind 
of comedy, or some kind of put-on. She couldn't make out 
what the hell it was. So I went up to Las Vegas with the 
film. She v;as playing up there in one of those hotels. I 

39 'I 

thinl: it must have been about three o'clock In the morningj 
after she finished her final shov;. VJe set up a screen and 
shov;ed the film of the real woman stuff to her. She got it 
like that. She got so excited, v/hen it finished, she said, 
"You've got to swear that I play this part. V/e ' ve got to 
cut our wrists and raingle our blood." I said, "That's 
what I'm up here for. V/rist cutting." [chuckles] I came 
back so pleased, and that v;as the last v;ord I heard from 
her. I telephoned. She v/ouldn't come to the phone. I 
wjred her. She v/ouldn't ansv/er it. I never heard another 
vrord from her. I can guess v:hat happened. She v/as married 
then to Sid Luft, and Luft was her manager then and getting 
big money in these night clubs, so Luft didn't see any cut 
for himself in a picture. He just abruptly cut it off. 

Then somebody told me to look at a girl in a TV thing 
with Dick Pov;ell. It vias Joanne Woodward, and I thought 
she was just v;onderful. h'ov; we v/ere dovm a v/ay , lost stars. 
We were v;ay away from stars. Plere's a girl, I think she'd 
made one picture. Anyv;ay, I sent her the script — she v;as 
in New Yorlc--and she came out, eager to do it. She said, 
"Would you want me to do it with a Southern accent?" I said, 
"Over my dead body." I said, "If there's anything I loathe, 
it's a phony Southern accent, and I can detect it." Then she 
began talking to me. She said, "It's not phony, I'm from 
Thom.asville , Georgia." [laughter] Her father -was Superin- 
tendent of Schools in Thomasville. I said, "Yes, that'll be 


useful, then." I just didn't want a phony accent. She gave 
a very good perfornance, first-rate performance. She managed 
to make those three personalities quite distinct and yet 
believable, and she got an Oscar for it. 

Stempel: I noticed in the early scenes in Three Face s of Eve 
on most of the transformations from one to the other, you 
cut av/ay during the transformations, but you don't do that 
in the final one v/her-e she goes from Eve V/hite to Eve Black 
to Jane. VJas this deliberate on your part or v/as this Just 
the v;ay the picture happened to be cut? 

Johns o:"i: I can't remember that. As a matter of fact, I 
didn't want any trickery about it. I wanted to do it just 
exactly like I'd seen in the film, that the doctor made. In 
that, she'd sit there in this drab way and the doctors 'd say, 
"I'd like to talk to Eve Black." There 'd be a kind of a 
pause and then she'd get v;iggling. It vmsn't a flagrant 
thing to indicate to you that she vjas an abandoned creature. 
It v;as just^conversion from one posture to another posture. 
I had seen the way it happened and that was the way I directed 
it, the v/ay I wanted her to do it. If it v/as cut away, I 
didn't remember it was. I'm surprised to hear it, as a matter 
of fact, because I wanted it to be seen because. I remember 
when, in the film that the doctor made, when he called Eve 
Black to talk to her, he said, "Why is Eve White so gloomy, 
so melancholy?" Eve Black said, "You know, I think it's 


because you didn't let her v;ear that red dress. She v;as 
av;fully anxious to v;ear that red dross." I don't knov; why 
he had nade any such request, but she was still unhappy, 
so Eve Black said, about what she was wearing. She got up 
and she said, "I think this dress is very nice," and she 
tvn'.rled around in a kind of a gawky pirouette, "Do you like 
it?" He said he thought it was very nice. She said, "I 
don't see v/hy she made such a fuss about it." He got a 
little bewildered, thinking this v/as all one person v/ho v;as 

Stempcl: Because this 'was Joanne V/oodv/ard's first major 
role, did this present any problems to you as the director 
of the film? 

Johnson: No, she could have almost directed herself. She's 
very, very k.novfledgeable . She had an av;ful lot of mannerisms, 
mannei'-isms that really I think was what stopped her career, 
or made it drop dov/n. She has a habit of pointing at som.e- 
body vrhen she's addresses them. Very good, you've seen 
people do it. "1 kno'w v/hat you mean." It v;as a certain kind 
of reality about this. She'd studied at the Actor's Studio, 
and she knew v/hat reality v/as. I remember once she had to 
fall, and I thought that, when slie fell, she didn't fall in 
a position that seemed right, or natural, to me. But she 
insisted on it, because she said, "That's the way I fell." 
I v/as learning things too from the school, that an awkward 
fall v;as the right one to use, even though it didn't conform 


to my idea of vihat it should have been and v;hat I would have 
thought ordinarily would have been an effective closer shot. 
You can't teach an actor anything on the [sound] stage once 
they get started anyv;ay. You have to use what you've got. 
And she had it. Easy to vjork viith, nice, gay, but then 
v;hen I sav/ her in a couple more pictures, and all of those 
same mannerisms v/ere coming out. I seem to have a strong 
objection to that kind of thing. I think v/hen anybody sees 
Kim Stanley for the first time, you're absolutely enchanted. 
You go to see her the second time, "Hm, well what is it? 
She hasn't got tlie magic she had in that first film." I 
heard somebody describe her as she "over underacts." [laughter] 

Stempel: There seems to be a v;hole school of that among 
American actresses. I think that's also true of Sandy Dennis 
and Estelle Parsons and Ceraldine Page. 

Johnson: Sandy Dennis, there's another one. Sandy Dennis, 
the first time I sav/ her in Any 'Jednesday on the stage, she's 
got that kind of epileptic delivery. [laughter] Something 
happens to her face, she uses this strange spasm. I sav: 
her in Chekov's The Three Sistei-s on the stage in London, 
and she has that mannerism of starting a sentence and starting 
It again. "I was going...! was going to this town." That 
.teacher at the Actor's Studio, Strasberg, had directed it, 
and taken it over there to what th.ey call the kind of 
V/orld Carnival of Dramatic Entries. His award v;as the booby 

39 P> 

prize. You could understand it because there was Kim Stanley, 
believe it or not, v;ei,";hing 190 pounds, IQO pounds, that little 
VJoman. She had doctors on stace and at her hotel. There 
was Sandy Dennis, grimacing at everything and doing her part 
twice, you might say. [laughter] George Scott, George 
disappeared every nov/ and then because v/hon he goes on a 
di-unk, it's not one of these casual things that you have a 
hangover in the morning. There ain't any moi^ning. It's 
teree or four days la.ter vihen they find him. He's quite a 
big fellov/, and v/hen he had to embrace Kim Stanley, it was 
like the old time iletropolitan Opera House, v^hen Schumann- 
Heinck weighed ^122 pounds and had to embrace Caruso v;ho only 
weighed 512. [laughter] It vras awkward. It was ridiculous. 
The only one who measured up to any kind of quality of acting 
was a girl named Man Martin, who vras an actress. Of course, 
she v;as a little nutty too, but at least it didn't show on 
the stage. [chuckles] 

Stempel: In comparison to everybody else. 

Johnson: Yes, but oh, they slaughtered it in the reviews. 

I didn't think it was as bad as the papers said, but it's 

very easy for the London papers to be anti-American. They love 

the excuse, they love the opportunity. For the most 

part they're quite right because there are about ten good 

actors in London to every one in this country. 


Stempel: One f,ood actor v;ho v/as in Three F aces of p:ve and 
I wanted to mention him before, because he's done several 
pictures v/ith you, is David Wayne. lie played th.e husband 
and I thought he was extremely zood in that. 

Johnson: He's good. He was a Itttle too corny for me, but 
as I say, you can't stop these things. He was better in two 
other pictures. He was in How to 'Tarry A Millionaire , but 
he v;as a little Uncle Josh at the Fair kind of, in Three Face: 
of Eve , a kind of stock company performance. 

Stempel: Did the fact that Joanne V/oodv.'ard v/on an Academy 
Award for Three Faces of Eve affect your career at all? 

Johnson: Maw. No. I v;as primarily a -writer anyviay, and 
I V7as naturally pleased that her performance got the Av;ard. 
It didn't do me any harm. I might have ruined her, but I 
didn't, and so to that extent I was very pleased, but I 
never had any great ambitions as a director. Directors 
have to liave more dedication to their art than I have. 
I Just can't get that v/orked up. 

Stempel: For me one of the most strilcing scenes in Three 
Faces of Eve is the one v;here we discover what she had to 
do that lias made her this way, and you bring the camera 
back so that it finally exposes that the grandmother that 
everybodv v/ants her to kiss is dead. I noticed this is one 


of several scenes in several of tlie movies that you've 
directed where you've staged business and particularly 
business v/ith the camera movement extremely v;ell. I 
mentioned the travelling shot in ".an in the Gray Flannel p ui t 
v;ith the three guys in the identical suits, and there v.'as 
a. thing in Night People v/here they arrest the old couple vn'.th 
Peck and Broderlck Cravfford in the foreground and the action 
takes place in the background. Do you think the years you've 
spent on the sets v?here other people directed and the years 
you've spent vrriting helped you in getting the ability to 
stage these scenes so that they v/ork so smoothly and so 

Johnson: VJell, nov; lock. V/hen a man writes the script, he 
directs it at the same time. When I v/rite a script and 
send over to somebody else, it's not going to be exactly 
what I had in mind. It may be better. It often is. But that 
vrhole picture v:as directed while I v;as v/riting the thing. 

Stempel: Three Faces of Eve . 

Johnson: Yes. I am relying on a faulty memory, but I 
wanted to bring on the screen something of the horror of 
the child, what the child was frightened of, and you could 
only do that by showing the fright of the child and then 
showing the child had a right to be understandably frightened 
at tills thing. Mo, v/hatever the pictures I've directed, I 



should get the v;hole blaine or credit for it, because I had 
the opportunity to do what I felt should be done. If I 
write a script and another fellow directs it, it's not 
possible for him to do exactly v/hat I had in mind. He may 
think this is not the best way to do it. He may have 
another idea. 

Stempel: The next picture you did then was The I Ian V/h o 
Understood V/omen , and I got to v/onderlng about this. You've 
said on several occasions that you think of yourself primarily 
as a storyteller, as a craftsman, and I vrondered if you 
v/eren't trying to do more in that picture than just tell a 

Johnson: VJell, I can think of only two things that might 
not been done by nine out of ten directors or v;riters. 
One was, I wanted to see if great tragedy couldn't properly 
mix, or be used v/ith broad comedy. It can be done, but I 
couldn't do it, or I didn't do it. The other was, unlike 
most standard pictures at that time, that the v/ife who has gone 
off v.'ith another man doesn't necessarily become lost, or that 
it isn't obligatory on a husband's part to say, "Go. Leave 
me." I wanted him to be just as much in love with his wife 
v:hen she came back. But then that v/as what I did with 
Bette Davis and Keenan VJynn. 

Stempel: Phone Call From a Stranger , yes. 


Johnson: Yes. I just think of that as something both 

draraatic and reasonable. Now I don't want this to get to 

my wife and have her say, "Look, you give me a license to 

go out of here for a few days," [chuckles] but I do think 

and have always thought that infidelity in certain circumstances 

Is not the final horror that can befall a man or a v/oman. 

It isn't very often used e.'j it befalls a v:oman because, 

both in life and pictures, she forgives transgressions. But 

not often in pictures, or at that time, v;as it permitted to 

befall a husband, and that I vjanted to show. That picture, 

for all of my real admiration and affection for Kcnry Fonda, 

v;as just not for him. It v;as supposed to be Orson Welles, 

and v;ritten v;ith Orson in mind, and the studio v;ouldn't 

even think of letting Orson play the lead. That v;as at the 

lev; point of his career, or one of the lov; points, anyv/ay. 

It v.'as said, politely, but in effect, "Forget it," V.'hen 

Henry read the script and asked to play it, begged to play 

It, I just couldn't resist it, though I didn't think he was 

the man to do it. Ke just didn't have all the formation 

of body and mind. After all. Hank Fonda is old Hank Fonda. 

The fluctuation of behavior that v;as necessary in The Man 

Who Understood Women, ycu could accept that from V/ellos. 

He deserved it. [Stcmnel laughs] It would be all right 

with him. He was an eccentric, you I:new by looking at him 

and if you hadn't, v;hcn he walks out with tv/o or three 

Oscars and salutes with some double talk Latin, you would 


have had then, but v.'hen Henry did that they knov; that's ^ood 
old henry, true blue, you knov; it. I renenber still, some- 
times you remember these things very bitterly, there was a 
review in Time and during the running of this picture apparently 
in the projection room, they quoted some woman as saying, 
"How did they trap Hank into this one?" How, it's too late. 
You can't go back and say, "Hank wasn't trapped into this. 
Hank asked for it. He begged for it." But, well, that's 
v/hat happened. \lln a fev;, lose a few. 

Stempel: I rather think that that's one of Fonda's most 
remarkable performances. This is a picture I sav; over at 
Fox. recently and I really chinl: he gets this quality of an 
actor playing an actor playing an actor so on ad infinitum 
very, very v/ell, but I can see why audiences used to Fonda 
as young Abe Lincoln might not go for it. Feeling he vjas 
wrong for the part, ho'.: did you direct him? 

Johnson: VJell, as I v;ould have directed VJelles. As I v/ouln 
have directed anybody who played the part. You could say 
the material I was working v;ith v/as not the right material. 
Another effect v;ould have been gotten, if it had been Uelles. 
Then I tried to get them to get Alfred Drake, 'who v/as at 
one time a superb actor. He had all of the grandeur and 
those rolling r's. It was so funny. I. think, one of the 
most v/onderful lines ever delivered v;as in Kismet , a musical 
comedy he did. He v;as , I think Harrun Ar Rashid, a very 


Intellectual sultan, and he meets Omar Khayyam. There's an 
introduction, and Drake said, "Omar Khayyam?" Fellov/ says, 
"Yes." He said, "The moving finger v/rites, and havlns v;rit," 
v;ith the greatest contempt I ever heard. [laughter] He 
didn't have to do anything but turn avjay, "God, how could a 
sane man v/rite such nonsense." [laughter] That v/as true 
delivery of a line. But they v;ouldn't think of him either 
because he V7as never in movies. 

Stempel: I noticed the big change you made from the boolc, 
was that in the bock, it's Ann, the girl, v/ho marries strictly 
as a business proposition and in the movie it the 
man, Willie Bauche, vrhc m.arries strictly as a business 
proposition. V/hy did you make this change? 

Johnson: [Johnson chuclcles] I'd have to go back to Brcv;ning, 
"V/hen I v/rote that, only God and Browning knev; what I meant 
and now only God knov;s." I can't remember v/hat the hell 
it was or why it 'was. Poor Remain Gary, yes. He still speaks 
to me. I can put him dovm as one of the two or three. He 
had bad luck. He's a good v;riter, extraordinary writer, but 
then he had Roots of Heaven , which was regarded both critically 
and at the box office as a disaster. I was a minority there. 
I thought it was a wonderful picture. I thought the theme 
was right, good, impressive, and so on. He couldn't be 
satisfied until he directed his own picture, and so he 



directed one. You've heard of it. 

Stempel: Birds in Peru, yes. 

Johnson: Yes, and apparently it could hardly have been 
worse. I don't knov;, I haven't seen it. People tell ne 
it's a real indulgence. 

Sterapel: VJhat is it about Gary's v/riting that attracts 
people to make novies out of his books, movies that don't 
turn out. Roots of Heaven . . . 

Johnson: Yes, there was another. 

Stempel: Lady L, a couple of years ago that Pete Ustinov 

Johnson: Tv;o more. Lady L v;as because, I think they 
runled in the script. The whole thing of the book v;as a 
magnificently black com.edy idea, because you find out at 
the end of the thing that she has bricked this fellov; up in 
a crypt. He'd been there for fifty years, dead. In the 
picture, he'd just been turned into a chauffeur. Vie 11, 
there's a lot of difference, you might say, [chuckles] in 
that disposition of a lover. V.'ho played it, Sophia Loren. 

Stempel: Sophia Loren and Paul Newman. 

Johnson: She v;as very, very good. I don't know v;hether 
they had it in the picture or not, but I remember one scene 
in the book when she was an old lady. All these people had 


gathered, her son, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 
Goddamned room v/as crov/ded, and she said, "Just think, if 
I'd said no, this room would be empty." [chucliles] Remarkable 

Stempel: Yeah, but v;hat is it about Gary's v;ork that people 
keep vranting to turn them into movies? 

Johnson: VJell, they're dramatic and they're never ordinary 
or usual in the material he uses. He never finds out that 
he v/rites v;ell about dogs and keeps v;riting about dogs all 
his life. He has a v/ide and varied sort of choice of material, 
and usually, I don't knov; about Birds in Peru , but usually 
. they are on a very high level of thouglit and philosophy. 
I suppose they just tempt people to do it. 

Stempel: I noticed that this was one thing that book. Colors 
of the Day , that The I'an V/ho Understoo d Women is based on, 
is full of. The French Major is sitting around v/ith his 
friend and philosophizing all up one page and dovm the other, 
and the one character that you eliminated was Ann's father, 
and I wondered why this was. Maybe this is a question that 
God only knows also. 

Johnson: Yes, I've forgotten. He has one character he told 
me he's used in every book.. It seems to me some sort of 
Major Something, military ex-guards' officer sort of thing, 
and we had an old actor I remember played him, very stuffy. 

'10 7 

vn'.th a stiff collar, old Tory type, walkinc stick. For 
some reason, like a good luck piece, no raatter where ho 
places his story, Africa, Peru, this old guy tui-ns up, if 
only for a fev; mintues or a fev; remarks. You knou, like 

Stempel: I noticed in looking over the reviev;s for The_ r-lan 
Who Understood VJomen that the length of the picture in the 
revievfs v;as given as 133 rainutcs, and the print I saw over 
at Pox v;as only about I05 minutes. VJas it cut after it was 
finisiied? It must have been. Were you avfarc of this or 
involved v;ith it in any way? 

Johnson: rio, if it vms 135 minutes, I can tell you right now 
it was far too long. I cut, I thini:, sometimes too quickly. 
Just because I'm showing off, you knovi. Having v;ritten it, 
I'm fearful that I'm going to keep something simply because 
I v;rote it. "ost of the, time that's quite right. The only 
scene I can think of that I regret having cut v/as one in 
that picture, and it was a discussion between, betv;een Fonda 
and Myron ricCormick, getting the data on this girl he's just 
seen rehearsing on the stage. I think it was a very funny 
and very characteristic scene. Yet, very bravely I said, 
"Something's got to go. Talce this out." To this day I'm 
sorry I said that. If it's going to be bad, let it be bad 
another ten minutes. 


McCornick, ho's dead nov;, poor guy, but that vras a nan 
that could drink more than almost anybody I've ever k.novni 
in my life and not shov; it. This is a little off the subject. 

Stempel: Tliat's all right. One drinking story. 

Johnson: VJell, they were casting South Pacific on the stage, 
and an agent had a vaudeville act called the Slate Brothers, 
and the Slate Brothers hadn't had an engagement for maybe a 
year, Tney v/ere really dov;n. The agent came to one of them 
and said, "Look, I got you some tiling." He said, "V/hat is 
it?" "Understudy for Myron TicCormick in South Pacific ." 
This fellov/ Slate said, "Are you kidding me? Vie ' ve been top 
billed in this vaudeville all our lives. I play an under- 
study?" The agent said, "Nov; v/ait a minute. This wcCormick 
is not going to last three months. He hits this bottle beyond 
anything you've ever seen. A quart of gin, nothing for 
him, per day. Nov; you do v/hat I tell you. You become 
Myron McCormick's understudy and you'll be playing the part 
tv;o months from nov;." I think the play ran about four years. 
McCormick, drinking like a fish, never missed a performance. 
Everybody else in the performance, Enzio Pinza v;a3 out, 
Mary v;as out. And Slate v;as getting desperate and v;anted to 
make sure, so he helped McCormick drink. [laughter] He 
would take him cut and almost siphon booze into him. The 
result vjas that Slate broke down, [laughter] and r'!cCormick 
V70und up still in the play at the final performance. 


Stempel: O.K., v/e'll get back to business here. V.'hen vfc 
were talking about the editing of The Man VJho Understood VJomen , 
there are a couple of scenes in there v/here it seems that you 
cut from one angle to another angle that is very sinilar. A 
couple of the cuts look rather jerky because of this. V/as 
this caused by any particular technical proble.Tis that you 
had, any scenes that you didn't get, or you had two takes 
that you vjanted to use both of them, or something like that? 

Johnson: Must have been, must have been. My practice v/as 
to get the cutter and the cameraman there v;hile 1 rehearsed 
the scene. I told you this. Then I'd go bad: to them and 
I'd say, "Mov; hov; m.any set-ups cover this?" I'm sure it 
v;as covered coi-rectly, but sometimes v/hen you cut a line, or 
cut two lines, or make some cut, you can get an av;l;v;ard 
cut there, and that must have been v;hat that v:as . My dau^ghter 
was the cutter on that picture. She cut, I think, most of 
my pictures. She would be overvihelmed v;ith shame to hear 
such a thing as that, [Johnson chuckles] because she regards 
herself as an expert, v/hich she certainly is. 

Stempel: VJell, this may be one of the reasons why I noticed 
it. I think there were two of them that I made notes on, 
and I think one of the reasons I noticed it is because it 
vjas so strange. I'd never seen it in your pictures before. 

Johnson: It must have something absolutely necessary or 

'I in 

v;here v;o just had to accept a bad cut in order to c^t alone 
with it. 

Stemnel: One other thing I noticed and I think you nay have 
ansv/ered it a couple of v/eeks ago. We v/ere talking about 
the fact that the heroes of your raovies arc narricd, and you 
said that you feel you can v/rite scenes better betv^een man 
and v/ife than between lovers. It secned to me that this 
happened in this picture. The scenes between Fonda and 
Caron seemed to me to play m.uch better than the scenes betv;een 
Caron and the French Major. Did you feel this also? 

Johnson: V/ell, I alv/ays feel it. I always feel a little 
uncomfortable. I think, that there's a certain grace of mind 
for romantic scenes that I lack. I can't think of v;hat 
to have them say. It's just something that I can't handle 
very well, and I'd just as soon avoid them if possible. 
Most of my pictures have been men's pictures, and I suppose 
most of them have been about married people. Perhaps that's 

Stempel: The next one you did very definitely wasn't about 
married people. It was called The Angel I Jo re Hed_. How did 
you get involved in a deal to make a picture in Italy? 

Johnson: That was the story of nothing but misfortune. I 
was offered a lot of money with all expenses for my family and 
myself to go to Rone and do this picture. And I got Ava 


Gardner and I got Dirk Bocarde. I've read the script since, 
trying to fif.ure out why this picture v/as not even released 
In this country. 

Stempel: It v;as released in this country, 

Johnson: I never heard of it being released, 

Stempel: It v;as, I sav/ it, 

Johnson: I had no idea. I can't remenber it being released 
and being reviev/ed, on Broadv/ay, or anything like that. And 
it v;as strange because after all, Ava Gardner v;as a big star. 
Dirk v/asn't a big star then. He's a great actor, but he 
couHd hard]y be described as a great star then. But I was 
harrasscd by those Italians. Every day, the balance of 
Communists and Catholics in Italy varies, like the Stock 
Exchange. [Stempel laughs] And the head of the studio, 
Lombard! , 

Stempel: Goffredo. 

Johnson: Goffr'odo Lombardi, yes. 

Stempel: Lombardo. 

Johnson: Ke was very sensitive to this. And I was constantly 
being called about how many Communists there were, and how 
many Catholics, anti-Communists. Lord, it's something I 


never talk about. The whole thine ^^ so distressing to me, 
to go to so nuch trouble and. much expense and then, they 
wouldn't make the rushes in color. They'd give me some black 
and white things that looked lik.e people had v;alked on the 

Stempel: VJas the picture made in color? 

Johnson: VJasn't it? 

Stempel: It was released here in black and white. That may 
not have anything to do with hov; it V7as done. I don't know. 

Johnson: I can't remember. I suppose I put nearly all of 
it out of my mind, and the day I finished the photography, 
I was given a ticket to leave tovm. I never sav; the final 
cut. I've never seen the picture. I don't knov; v/hat 
happened to it. The whole thing to me is a mystery. I 
couldn't believe it v/as so bad it couldn't be released, for 
God's sake. I mean, I know enough about pictures to knovr 
that the standards, even in Italy, [Stempel laughs] ai'e not 
so that that couldn't be released. I don't knovf what happened 
to it. 

Stempel: It v/as released in this country. I sav; it once in 
New Haven, Connecticut, and I savf it once in a drive-in in 
Indiana, so it was around. 

Johnson: Maybe that's v.'hej^o they released it. 


Sterapel: Put it out to the drive-ins. 

Johnson: In drive-ins and. .. [Johnson chtickles] 

Stempel: The one thing that bothered me greatly about the 
picture v;hen I sav; it v/as that, you had Vittorio deSica in - 
a part of a General, and for sono reason or other they dubbed 
his voice. The voice they dubbed is so unlike his. I'd 
seen a number of Italian pictures in vjhich this beautiful 
voice cones out, and they dubbed some high, squeaky voice, 
and it v/as like a nail on a blackboard. 

Johnson: That v;as not me. DeSica speaks very little 
English, but he speaks phonetic English perfect. He learns 
his part phonetically. Unlike most Italians, he doesn't 
leave you v/ith three or four syllables, that you've got to 
cover up when you dub. The line is, "Here comes the king." 
V/hen an Italian gets through with it, phonetically, "Here 
comes the king-a." V/ell, there's nobody on earth can dub 
"king" without, you know--hls lips are still moving. V/e 
must have had 150 superfluous syllables left over in that 
picture, but not one should have been deSica' s, because deSica 
has spoken English in picture after picture. His little 
part wasn't more than a v;eek or something like that, but 
every line v;as right. He's a wonderful actor, charming man. 
He's an intelligent fellow, and he collects a thousand dollars 
at noon, every day, before going on the stage. He doesn't 
trust anybody. In Italy, you shoot from twelve o'clock to 


eight. That's in theory. But at noon tlioy brealc for lunch, 
so you really start at one, if you can get them back. It's 
a very loose organization. Rut deSica, at twelve o'clock 
he appears at the cashier's office and he v;ants the money, 
in lira. He doesn't v;ant one of these pieces of paper that 
says he can get it dov;n at the office. He v;ants that money 
right there and gets it. Then he's available for v;ork. 
I suppose that shouldn't surprise me, but deSica's voice v/as 
the voice, the one voice of all those Italians that was 
right, clear as a bell, perfect. I suppose that this fellov/ 
Lombardo he decided it wasn't right. I don't knov,', never 
having seen the picture. 

Stempel: Whatever voice they gave him, it was v/rong, even 
if you didn't know deSica's voice. According to the credits, 
this v;as an original screenplay. Was this based on any stories 
or. was this . . . ? 

Johnson: Yes. It vrasn't an original. It was a book called 
The Fair Bride by what is called "a Catholic writer." I 
can't think of his name now, but it was a fairly well-known 
name, and a pretty good writer, except that all of his books 
were Catholic in feeling and substance and behavior and every- 
thing else, just as a picture made by Communists would have 
all of the Communist feelings and emotions and lessons and all 
that kind of stuff. I remember I had a war corresponsent in 
there, Joe Cotten finally played him. Well I got the idea that 


maybe I could get PIeminsv;ay to play it. Because nemingv/ay 
is such a ham, or was such a hain, I thought, "V/ell, maybe, 
maybe he'd do it." I sent a fellov; to see him. He v-zas in 
Madrid, and this fellov; I sent v/ent to see Mrs. }iemingv;ay 
first to ask her, "V/ould it be -useless to ask Ernest to play 
the part?" She laughed, and she said, "I don't think it 
vjould be useless at all. I think he'll grab it." She said 
he's over at some bar. So this fellov; Edv;ards v;ent over to 
see Hemingway about playing this one-eyed war correspondent. 
I had met Hemingway back in '25, before he had written any 
of these big books. I think he'd v;ritten Torrents of Sprin g. 
I think that v;as a.bout the only one I'd ever heard of, and v;e 
used to sit around a lot, but I hadn't seen him since. Well, 
he was crocked v;hen our man found him in this saloon. It 
turned out that he had read this book, Tlie Fair Bride , probably 
because it was about Spain and the Civil VJar, a subject 
he knev; something about. Well, I'm not going to tell you how 
he described this book, v;hat it v;as full of. [laughter] 
Edwards couldn't get him off the subject. He said, "You tell 
Nunnally that book is full of shit." Edwards said, "Well, 
Nunnally's changed it quite a bit." "The fact remains," 
he said. [chuckles] This went on , and he couldn't get any 
more sense out of him. He made good sense. [chuckles] But 
he wouldn't come through so Edwards gave up. He said, "No 
use, I mean, he wouldn't want to come anywhere near anything 
connected with that book." It was so Fascist to him. 


Stempel: Was this business about Gotten 's glass eye, and the 
several glass eyes that he had, in the book? This business 
of the one with the flag? 

Johnson: Mo. There used to bo a famous cori'ospondent in 
radio, a nev/scaster named Floyd Gibbons, and he vms one-eyed. 
He broadcast at the rate of two hundred and seventy-five 
words a minute. One of those things, you know, couldn't 
understand a vjord he said. People didn't like him a great 
deal, and he was the most faraous fellow of that time, and 
they said, "He doesn't have to v;ear that patch. He just 
v/ears that for shov.'-off, like a hippie v/ith something." They 
said, "He's got three glass eyes I've seen. One is a normal 
one. One is bloodshot for hangovei's. And one has a sm.all 
American flag on it for patriotic occasions." [laughter] I 
remembered that and put some of it in there for this. That 
was the picture that stopped me from directing. That 
was the end of it as far as I v/as concerned. 

Stempel: You mentioned that about being out on location one 

Johnson: God yes. I didn't understand these people. I 
was v;orking there one night until about 2 or 3 o'clock in 
the morninf^, out in some location. It was cold. Finally 
I said to one of the assistants, "VJhen do \-ie stop?" Now 
all my life I've been used to an assistant coming up and 


saying, "T\-;o more minutes, Mr. Johnson." You knov;, there's 
a union here. So use your ovm judsment here. Nobody 
came to me. Iliis fellov; said to me, "VJell, v/hen you say 
stop." I said, "Well stop. [laughter] I v;as v.-aiting for 
somebody from the union." They said, "They v/ouldn't do a 
think that. They all get extra money." So there v;e 
wei-e. V/e vforked about four hours over tim.e. I hadn't the 
faintest idea. We v;ere all exhausted. We v/ent dovm in 
Sicily, and there v;as one scene v/here they raided a cathedral. 
The Italian in charge of the arrangements v/ith the Vatican 
got the O.K. from the Vatican to use this, except that, 
about every other day, for about tv/o v/eeks leading up to this 
time, there v/as another cablegram saying that there had been 
a roconsidercition and it v/ould be impossible to let you use 
this cathedral. I said, "My God, v/hat do we do?" He said, 
"Send them some more money. Tney deal-v/ith you jus'^-exactly 
like anybody else." So they'd sent some more lira, get more 
permission. Even to the last day. They did that three 
times, and three times we raised the ante and the Vatican 
found reasons vjhy it v;as in the best interests of the Church 
for us to use this thing. The assistant came to m.e and he 
said, "Have you ever heard of the Mafia?" I said, "Yeah." 
He said, "They've let us know that they will be in charge of 
the extras." I said, "Extras are extras to me. This is your 
problem. I don't want to get in with these fellows." VJe 
had to use six hundreds extras in the thing. They were in 


companies of a hundred. There's a nan, one of the assistants, 
over each hundred of the extras. One of the assistants 
suddenly flew like back to Rome, because he'd corae into the 
dressing room and found a rough profile of himself drav/n on 
the wall with a long slash down here [indicating the throat] 
with stitches across it. He didn't stop to ask for explanations 
[laughter] He figured they didn't want him around, so he left. 

There vms a scene there when we raided this cathedral, 
v/hich I shot from a kind of a balcony. And old Mr. Pinlay 
Currie played the Bishop and v:as surrounded by a heroic defense 
of the Church by the clergy. Mr. Currie was close to eighty, 
big fellovf. Odd thing, that is odd for a Scotsman, he v;as 
Catholic, and I said, "I'll put two or throe pretty stout 
fellows arourid you so you won't get hurt, because I don't know 
what these people are going to do when they rush six hundred 
people up there." He said, "Don't be fearful for me. I 
can take care of myself." We did put a mattress on the floor 
back of him, anyv/ay, [chuckles] because v;e knew he'd go 
down, poor old fellow. They came in, and all of these Mafias 
vxere Commimist, anti-Catholic. By this time I couldn't tell 
the actor priests from the real priests. You know, we were 
constantly ordering a real priest, "For God sake, get out 
of there, will you please, it doesn't-" and ho was a real 
priest. When those anti-Catholics, six hundred of thorn, 
came pouring down toward that altar, they weren't kidding. 
They had sticks, and they slammed against crucifixes and the 


Catholic stuff, and I vfas standing next to a monsignor vjho 
v/as [v/hlspers speedy prayers]. I said, "Look, it'll all be 
replaced. Don't v;orry about that. Your churc'n, you'll get 
your church back precisely as it vras . . . " But v;hen v;e finally 
cleared them out of there, they had done quite a bit of 
darn.age to the chui'ch. 




Stempel: V/e v;ere talking about Tlie Anr.el V/ore Red. I Vfas 
wondering if you remembered any more stories about your 
rather disasti'ous experience in Italy. 

Johnson: ;lo. As I say, they took it av;ay from me, and I 
never sav it. They didn't let me see it cut together, and 
I don't knovf vrhy that was. I couldn't feel that I'd done 
something so bad. After a]l of my years I'd at least could 
make a coherent story, but they recut it. Then something 
happened about six months later that delighted me and I v/ish 
I'd had sense enough to do it. I don't knovf v.'hether I v;ould 
have or not. But Robert Aldrich did a picture there, and 
I think it v/as called Sodom and Comorrah . They took this 
thing av/ay from him and began to recut it without his knov.'ledge 
or his being there or his approval. He v/ent to court. 
I sav; this in the paper that the court ruled that the director 
or the v;riter or whoever v;as dominantly in c;iarge v/as the final 
authority on the cutting of the picture. The Court ordered 
the compaiiy, Titanus, to keep their hands out of it, and let 
Mr. Aldrich cut it as he saw fit. This was a kind of a nominal 
victo7^y really, because that was just for Italy. On any 
kind of export or something lilce that, apparently it didn't 
apply. I think that must have been the first time a court 
ruled as to who was responsible, or could be responsible for 


the final shov/in^ of a picture. They've tried here, I knovf. 
PremlnGer tried e.nd. I think George Stevens tried to stop 
TV people frora cuttinj their pictures. And I think in both 
cases they v;ere denied any further right to arrange the picture 
as they thought it was best. I don't knov; by v/hat standards 
they do that. I think it's outrageous. It's like telling 
an editor that he v/as right to revfrite a book, or :jCiitjthing 
like that. But you knov; it's done. An editor of a newspaper 
does it. He cuts your stuff. That's why v;hen the nev/spapers 
say, "No censorship. No censorship," that's a laugh. 
Every editor is a censor. Now on the basis of the same 
standards, but neverthei.ess he edited. VJcll, the v;hole 
idea that the v/rioer — or I v;as the v/riter and the director 
for The Angol Wore Red — that I v;ould really have been supported 
by a court to cut this picture as I thought best astonished 
me, and I've never heard of anybody testing it again because 
those fellovrs are much too tricky. 

Stempel: Yeah, spealcing of their trickiness, I got the impression 
that you were under the impression when you were filming it 
that the picture v;as being shot in color, and I know that 
when I saw it it was in black and white. You remember if 
it was being shot in color, if this is what they told you? 

Johnson: No. No, I don't think they would have gone that 
far. The fact is, I just can't remember, and I never saw the 
picture. I know that the rushes were never in color, but I 


thought that was some kind of economy on their part that they 
could do black and white stuff and then later do it in color. 
I don't know. I'm not good at all about that. I can't 

Stemnel: As we were going out the door last week, we mentioned 
Gone Vfith The Wind and you indicated that you had had a chance 
to do it, or somebody approached you to do it, or v;hat was 
the story? [Johnson chuc-:les] 

Johnson: No, that wasn't a matter of my doing it. It's 
just a matter of my seriousness, I guess. You knovf, the 
book was submitted to everybody, and it vras synopsized, and 
there vi&s nothing in advance to make this such an outstanding 
property. These days, they know in advance on, but I got 
this thing and I started reading it. When I came .to the fact 
that the hero was of the name of Rhett Butler, I kind of took 
a long breath. You have to get past that, you knov/. And 
then v;hen it came that the heroine was named Scarlett O'Hara, 
honestly I just shut it up. I thought, v;hat is this, Terry 
and the Pirates? You knov/, naming people Lady lace or that 
kind of thing. I have to have some distinction so I tell 
people I turned down Gone V/ith The W_ind, but actually I 
didn't read any further. I just thought that nobody who 
named people liked that could be taken seriously, but there 
were smart people around v;ho did knov; it. I had knovm this 
girl, riargaret Mitchell, because I v;as from Columbus, Georgia, 


and I remembered that she came dov/n from. At latita once and 
did a story about me in the Sunday section of the Atlanta 
Journal or Constitution , I forget v:hich. That's all there 
v;as. I don't think that v.'hether I liked it or not liked 
v;ould have mattered one vfay or the other because I think they 
v/ere bidding on a higher level than me. 

Stempel: This is something that we mentioned once or tvn'.ce. 
It's av/ful difficult in doing research to find out the films 
that you didn't do. V/e mentioned The Man Who Never Was . 
Thei-e was an interview with you in the New York Times sometime 
during 19(^0 in whicli you said you v/ere working at that tim.c 
on The Vi sit , an adaptation of the Duerrenmatt play, and this 
you never did. Somebody else did it. How come you ended 
up not doing The Visit? 

Johnson: I read a very good reviev; of the play v/hen it 
opened in Mev: Yorl-: aiid it just struck me that this vrould 
make a good v;estern. I've read a couple of things by 
Duerrenmatt and I can only think of him as a phony v;ith 
kind of phony viev;s of life. In the case of The Vlsi_t, I 
Just thought it was as preposterous in one way as Pollyanna 
was in aj-\other. I refused to accept the fact that he put down, 
whether it v/as allegory or not, that the whole v;orld that 
he regarded in this play as venal. I just don't think that's 
possible that the whole population of a town would combine 
to kill a man for a certain amount of money. I just refuse 
to believe it and I thought also that for drama, to do what 


he did v.'as to really rob yourself of such vronderful dramatic 
situations of a man, say, who needed tliis money desperately 
because a child needed an operation for v/hich he couldn't 
pay. Or the variations of responses to this offer of this 
woman and hov; much she'd pay. There I thought v;as a wonder- 
ful opportunity to examine the reaction of a community to a 
strong temptation. I didn't care for this tovm or area 
V7here they'd put it v;hen I saw it on the stage. Where 
v;as it? I don't knov/. Small town in Czechoslovakia or 
Yugoslavia, some... 

Stem.pel: ...some mythical European country. 

Johnson: Yes. I suppose I spoke to v;hoever was head of 
the studio and he probably said to me, "vJell, if that's the 
way you v/ant to do it, you go a.head and do it." Fir-st, I 
v;ent to Paris to see Ingrid Bergman to get her to play the 
vjoman and Bill Holden to play the man in the town. Bill said 
yes, he'd play it. Ingrid and her husband unfortunately 
had dinner tiie night before with Mr. and T'rs . Skouras. Now 
Mr. Skouras was trying to get her to play in this picture and 
she told me he'd spent the v/hole dinner explaining to her 
vjhat a dreadful thing it was. [laughter] She said, "I can't 
understa:-id anybody like that." I said, "Hell, in any case, 
you would have to play a bitch. A real bitch." She expressed 
a wish to play a bitch. So many of them will think of themselves 
as daring, if they might even go on v/ithout make-up. I 
said I'd show it to her and I went back and I wrote it in 


terms of a v;estern town, like the tovm in the period of 

High Noon . Just on that border between the vrild v/est and 

the boginninc of some form of civilization. I had more characters, 

and I took out what I thought v;as extravagance and I realli' 

thought foolishness. She read it. She said some kind of 

a thing lilce, "I meant a lovable bitch." [laughter] Those 

were not exactly her 'words, but you can follovr the idea. I 

said, "1 v/anted you to come in like Saratoga Trunk. I 

thought of you in that beautiful v;ardrobe." I didn't think 

she had to be as old as Duerrenmatt hsd her. Anyway, she 

turned it do'wn, and she said she vmnted it done such-and-such 

a v;ay. I said, "I'll do it as 'well as I can, but I v:on't 

do it unless you commit yourself to play in the picture." 

She stood back at that, and her husband, 'who is a stage 

producer, said, "I don't think that's unfair. Munnally's 

done this thing twice. You tell him how you want it now. 

You can't expect him to keep trying different vjays without 

some assurance, some hope of your doing the thing." But 

she. wouldn't give in, though he urged her quite strongly. She 

said no, and then I called Skouras. I told him our talk, 

and he said, "Can you do it the way she wants it done?" 

I said, "I can do it the way she wants it done. I think I 

can," but I said, "Mow either I'm the producer of this 

picture or Ingrid is and if Ingrid's going to produce it, 

she can get her own writer and do whatever she wants, but I 

can't take orders from her." The thing kind of petered away 


then. Soraobody eventually did it, took it back into that 
kind of gloomy Graustark that she v;aG in. I think Anthony 
Quinn played in it, and it v/as a disaster, I remember. I 
felt it v;ould be because I didn't really believe it vfas a 
good play vihen I sav; it. I just don't think anybody is 
that bad, any more than I think anybody is as happy as 
Polly arm a . You can really go overboard on these things.^ 
VJell, I've done some scripts that never v;ere produced. I 
guess a lot of them. 

Stempel: Are there any ones in particular that you can 

Johnson: One in particular I remember because I spent an 
av/ful long time on it. That was The Uandering Jev: . I 
thought I had a good sizable picture. Justifying a top actor, 
what they call, I don't like to say "epic," but a big 
picture, a big picture v;hich would justify spending money for 
it. There v/as something about Skouras. The only way I can 
figure is that he is anti-Semitic, because he finds so much 
anti-Semitism that nobody else ever finds. I think that 
there's something rather Freudian in this. He didn't want 
to make The Diary of Anne Frank . George Stevens told me that 
he said to George, "I don't think we ought to make this 
picture." George said, "VJhy not?" He said, "It's anti- 
Semitic." George said something like, "vmoevcr said a thing 
like that?" He said, "E^.ernie Gimbel told me." I thought. 


"My God, who's making the pictures nov;, department store 
ov;ner3?" But I had had this script vetttd by a half a 
dozen rabbis in this tovm, men of education and enlighten- 
ment, and one of them, I remember, said, "The only person 
v;ho v/ould object to this story is someone who has never 
seen It. There are people," one friend of mine said, "that 
carry the ghetto around with them. They hear the word 
'Jevi' and immediately they're on the defensive v;lthout 
going any further into it," I thought this script had a 
kind of dramatic, or melodramatic, understanding of that 
legendary story of the vfanderlng Jev; from the time he spat 
in Christ's face, popping up all over history. I had a 
fellov;, a Jewish scholar, v;ho v/as guiding me and helping 
me, and he got a book out of it [Johnson chuckles] called 
The Wandering Jew , which v;as the legend of the v/andering Jev;. 
It had even gone up as far as Disraeli, There v;ere people 
who thought that Disraeli was the wandering Jev;. It was 
wonderful stuff, dramatic stuff, melodramatic stuff. 

Stempel: When did you do this, approxlm.ately ? 

Johnson: Fourteen, fifteen years ago. I don't remember. 
I sent it to Sam Goldwyn. I was trying to get somebody to 
do it. Sam read it and he just said, "Skouras is yellow. 
Skouras is coward. There's nothing to take exception to 
in this story." As a matter of fact, he thought it was very 
good. It just expired. It's on the shelf there now. Those 

112 8 

things happen. 

Stempel: Are there any stories t?iat you remember that you 
vjorked on that didn't v;ork out for a picture for you, but 
somebody else then got a picture out of them that v;as either 
sudcessful or not successful? 

Johnson: I can't remember any offhand. I suppose they are 
somev;here back along the way. I get kind of going through 
som.e of the papers up there I find things that 1 didn't 
remember at all. I v/rote a script. What v;as it, !^ laming 
Lanc e , Flaming . . . ? 

Stempel: Flaming Star. 

Johnson: Flaming Star , a v/estern. They said they couldn't 
make it because it '.■•■ould cost too much for a v;estern and a 
western couldn't get in as much as it v/ould cost, som^e thing 
like that. That was about the time 1 left to go abroad, and 
a year or so later, maybe tv/o or three years later, I got a 
letter from the fellov; v/ho had written the book [Clair 
Huf faker] saying that Fox v;as going to mak.e this v;ith Elvis 
Presley. It was a first-rate story about two half-brothers, 
one v;ith an Indian mother, one v;ith a white mother, and this 
writer wanted to kno'.v if I would object to his putting his 
name on the script v;ith mine. I'd alv.'ays objected to that, 
but I couldn't say no to the guy. He didn't do anything, as 
he admitted. I was wondering v;hat in God's name they would 


do v;lth Elvis Presley In this. All they did v;as put in a 

kind of a hoedovrn dance and Presley sang a song at the 

opening and then they v;ent right on into the picture. A 

coun].e of years ago, my son and I vrore sitting in Nev; York 

and he said, "There's a picture on that's by you." He mentioned 

this picture, and I said, "I never sav; it. I heard they 

v;ere going to do it." So v/e looked at it, and v;e both, liked 

it very much. It vras directed by a fellovf named Don Siegel, 

and I thought he did a rirst-rate job and also Presley did. 

He played the half-breed. But tliere was one that passed 

on to somebody else v;hen I left. 

Stempel: Chronologically, Flami ng Star [19^0] was the next 
picture in order and you've already ansv/ered all the questions 
I had about it. One picture that I did want to go back 
and mention. You may not have liad anything to do v/ith 
this one either, but your name's on it. In '57 Fox did 
a remake of Jesse James and they gave you a credit for, I 
think, "based on the original screenplay by." Did you have 
anything at all to do v;ith the remake? 

Johnson: I really didn't knov; they'd remade it. It v;as their 
right. They ovmed it. No, I had nothing to do v;ith that, 

Sttmpel: They didn't follow your original screenplay at all. 

Johnson: I didn't know anything about it. I didn't even 
knov; they'd made a remake of Je s s e Jame s . But no reason v.'hy 



Stempel: Yes, It didn't viork out too v;cll. I did want to 
ask hov; Zanuck's leaving Fox in '56 affected your vzorking 
conditions, since you had v;orked so closely v;ith him. 
VJho did you go to nov;? 

Johnson: In '5^, was it? 

Stempel: Yes, he left early in '5^. About the time Man in 
the Gray F lannel Suit came out. 

Johnson: Yes, I remember V/inchell quoting him as saying he 
vfasn't getting enough money. He said, "Nunnally Johnson v:ill 
get more for this one picture than I get for the v;hole year." 
Well, this vjas not only not true, but it didn't break my heart, 
because he ov;ned 200,000 shares of Fox stock v;hich vfas paying 
about two buclcs a share, so I v;asn't going to v;orry about his 
becoming poverty stricken about t?ie thing. Besides, I suppose 
he knev; they never would keep book.s so I'd make anything. 
Anyv;ay, I can't remember v;hat pictures I did after that. 

Stempel: Well, you did Oh :'en . Oh Women , Throe ;^aces of Eve , 
and then T'he Man V/h o Understood Women. 

Johnson: Oh yes. That was v/ith Buddy Adler. I'm afraid 
that v;as like with nobody. Adler looked like a very 
fine, intelligent man. He v/as a real facade, or maybe he'd 
have stopped m.c from making some of those pictures. I don't 
knov; hov; Zanuck ever decided to nut him in there, if he did it. 


I don't know. 

It v/as like this. I think v;hen I had v/ritten The Man 
y/ho Understood Vfonen, I'd see Adler on the street or in the 
dining room and he'd say, "I dictated my notes on the script 
this morning." The next day I'd meet him and he'd say, "I'm 
going to dictate my notts this evening." So I knev; he 
v;asn't v;riting his ovm note';. He had somebody, a v/oman, 
who v;asn't bad, but she really v/asn't very good, either, v;ho 
ivould v;rite these notes and hand them to me. I think he 
did that v;ith everybody. In other words, he v/asn't editing 
this thing. In any case, one of the notes said he didn't 
think that the fellow ought to throw the girl out, something 
like that. I read the note, and I went back and looked at 
the script to see if I had accidentally v/ritten som.ethlng 
that might be interpreted like that. It v/asn't possible. 
He v;as telling the girl he wanted her to stay v;ith him 
forever. I called Buddy, and I said, "I'd lilce to see you 
about one of your notes, v;hich is rather important." I 
went up to his office, and I said, "You say here in the 
notes that the fellow shouldn't have thrown the girl out. 
I've read this over and I don't see any hint that he was 
throwing her out. On the contrary, he was begging her to 
remain with him and wanted her to stay vjith him." He said, 
"V/el] , that was my understanding of it." I said, "All right. 
let me read this to you. Let me read the speech that you're 
talking about." He said, "All right." I read the speech, a 


speech about that long, and I said, "Is tliei^o anything in 
there about hin throv/ing the girl out?" He said, "Mo." 
"Well actually," he said, "I never read those long speeches." 
Nov; this v/as the head of the studio. He didn't have to read 
any of thein if he didn't vivjit to. It's perfectly possible 
to turn it over to somebody else v/ho is better qualified. 
Christ, Harry Conn did. You can't thinlc for one second 
that Jack Warner reads all these scripts or anything like that, 
but they at least turn the script over to somebody vrho's 
fied to pass judgment or to recopjTiend to him. v/hether it 
should be done and so on. That's vrhat I mean about Buddy-..- 
He v.'asn't very bright, and he did us all harm, vrhile he v/as 
there. I think it v/as about that time that I v;cnt abroad. 
After Buddy, I think Bob Goldstein became head of the 
studio, I v;as doing r^r. Hobbs a Va c at i on , and 
Goldstein called me up in London and v:anted me to do Cleo - 
patra . I said, "I don't think that I'm the man for that. 
Somebody else has already started on it." There 'd been 
tv;o or three scripts. I said, "I'm already at v;orI: on a 
script," but there v/as great pressure involved in Cleopatra . 
At that time VJalter V'anger v;as the producer and Rouben Tlamculian 
v/as the director arid Goldstein insisted that I should drop 
the other tiling — he v/ould arrange that — and go to v;orIc on 
Cleopatr a. And I v/ent in there. I dropped everything, and 
I v/as really going to give it the old college try. Nov/ they'd 
already spent about a million dollars on sets in England 


v/hlch they couldn't use I said I'd have a go at it if they 
v/ere serious about it, I soon sav; that Mamoul.ian didn't 
like ne. I rarely run up against that. Not that people 
don't like me, but he v/as doing a script of his ov;n on the 
side. I got into it and Manoulian vras shooting some stviff and 
tests there in London at that set they'd built. Peter Finch 
v/as in it at that tine. Anyvray, I v/ent down to the 
Dominion Theatre one night, v/hich v/as the only film theatre 
in London that had that Todd-AO, about 11 or 12 o'clock 
with VJanger to look at the stuff Ilamoulian had done. When 
I finished looking at it, I told VJanger, "I don't think 
this fellov; is ever going to shoot this picture." He said, 
"V/hy not?" I said, "He's testing fabrics." [Johnson chuckles] 
I said, "A nan is really desperate vrhen he begins testing 
fabrics. He's afraid to come to bat." I said this not only 
out of my deduction from this but because I'd alv/ays suspected 
that Mamoulian v/as a born martyr. He had to be a martyr. 
He aimed for it. He'd find a reason to get out of it. Much 
had been said in his favor v;hen ho left Porgy and Bess . 
Now Mamoulian hadn't directed but one picture in about 17 
years. He directed a picture called Silk gs , over 
at Metro, v/hich v;as not very good. But my Qod, v/hat a 
shov; he put on in directing. He was more of a shov,'-off 
than [Anatolc] Litvak, and he vras scared to death of such 
a project. I told Vv'alter, in a few days, "I'll bet you a 
pound. Just a pound, that he never starts it." About a month 


later I got an envelope from V'alter, just contained a pound 
note. That's the v;ay I heard that Ilanoulian vras off the 
picture. That's v;'nen they brought in Joe F-'iankiewicz, and 
that's v.'here they dropped me. 

Stempel: Did they drip you vihen Mamoulian left? 

Johnson: Yes. When they turned it over to Joe, They 
turned the vrhole project over to him, and they paid me vjith- 
out any dispute v/hatever, but they wanted Joe to do the 
vjhole thing. That v;as O.K. I v;as never very much at ease 
in this thing anyway. Anyv/ay, I knevr Mamoulian didn't like 
nie because he always began all of his speeches to me, 
"Nunnally, I have thio highest regard for you," so I knevr 
[chuckles] the needle would come. I was only on it for about 
a month. 

Stempel: You mentioned one that you did, Mr. Hobbs Takes a 

Johnson: Then I v/ent back and finished that. I was only on 

it for a month and then I v/ent back to Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation , 

a story that I liked and I knevf something about. Then I 

did tv/o more stories for Jimmie. The next one v;as Take Her, 

She 's Mine [19^3], I believe, and then one, I can't remember 

what the name of it via.5. 

Stempel: Finally called Dear Brigette [1965], I think. 


Johnson: Dear Brin e tte , yes. I hadn't vranted to do it. I 
didn't think there v;as enough material in it, but I. really 
allov.'ed myself to be persuaded to do it. Jimmie v/ould sign 
if I v;ould virite it, and Koster v/ould get a job if Jimmie 
V70uld sign. It all got around that, one depending on 
another. There v;as no material in there that justified 
a picture. Then they began, and Koster had some idea, v;hich 
he'd pinched from Tom Jones , of somebody addressing t'ne 
audience. So he stuck a character in there that every nov; 
and then v/allced up in front of the camera and made a fev/ 
remarks. I told Henry, "I v^on't do that Kenry. It doesn't 
fit in the picture. If you v;ant to do it, you're the 
producer on it too, so you help yourself, but I can't do it 
because if he makes rem.arks , they've got to be very funny 
to justify it. You'd better get a good gag man v;ho does 
those one-line things. I don't do that, and I couldn't do 
it." VJhen he insisted on this, I asked him to take my nar.e 
off, v/hich he did. I just didn't v/ant to have anything to 
do v;ith it. I sav; Jin.mle some time later, and he told me 
he didn't kno'7 I'd tal:en my name off of it. He was unhappy 
about the picture too, but there v/as nothing to do by then. 

Stempel: To go bac': to Mr . Hobbs Take s a Vacation , v/as this 
based on a novel or on a collection of short stories? 

Johnson: No, no. Edward Streeter v/rote it. Nov; Env/ard 
Streeter v/as vrriting In The Saturday Evening Post nhcn I 


delivered it, that's hov/ lon^ ago ho wrote. Pie v/rote a 
series of stories called "Dear ;-!aybel" and they v;ere clearly 
initations of [Ring] Lardner, "You knov; me, Al." Streeter 
even had a line that got a little circulation, "That's me 
all over. Maybe 1." I didn't care very much for them, even 
then, but he is a genuine humorist. Here he vras at this 
tirne, v;hich must have been, uhat V7,as it? 

Stempel: 'G2 for Ilobbs Takes a Vacation . That's v/hen it 
v;as released. I don't knov; v;hen you did the viriting on it. 

Johnson: Well, anyv/ay, '^2, he v/as vice-president of a bank. 
?Ie vfrote t'.vo or three boolcs, one of them father of the F-ride . 
He had genuine hunor, very good. I loved the stuff he vfi-ote. 
He v;rote aiiother one about a man who vras compelled to retire 
at 60, or something lilce that, but I vras crazy about it. — 
I liked his stuff so much. He's older than I am, and I think 
he still had another one out about a year or so ago. 

It's like the time I told you I had v;hat Dorris refers 
to as my "scissors period." Do a picture, somebody kill 
somebody -with a pair of scissors. Ifell, vrith Mr. Hobbs 
Takes a Holiday , I began what you might call my "ch-ildren 
series." There must have been four or five pictures there 
that had children in them, and I loved writing about them. 
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit had some kids I used. I 
had enough kids in my household and enough recollections to 
be of great use to me. Roxic vras looking at it on television 


not lone S-go and she said, "V/asn't that scene where none of 
the boys Vfould dance vn'.th tlie sii^lj didn't you c^t that from 
me?" I said, "Yeah." She belonged to some little dance 
school, v/hic'p. had a dance every Tuesday night or Friday night 
or something like that. I remember going to one, and they 
give a signal and all the boys v;ould run and get a girl to 
da;;ce vrith. Not one of them v;ent to Roxie, v;ho I thought 
was the prettiest girl there, and I v;as so angry. [Johnson 
chuckles] I v/anted to go over and throttle these young 
fellov/s. I piclced up all kind^ of stuff from my family. 

Stemnel: Did that business with the girl's braces in that 
movie come out of experiences 'from your family? 

Johnson; Yes, yes. At one time, she lost a boyfriend when 

she was seven years old, eight years old, something like 

that, because she removed her braces for a few days, and 

the fellow didn't want to have anything to do with her. I 

didn't know it was a status symbol, but wlien she lost her 

braces she lost him too. 

[Brief interruption while Johnson's daughter Roxle leaves 

v;ith her nephev/, Alex] 

But I liked writing about kids. 

Stempel: I noticed though in ITr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation , 

even more in ^ake Her, She's I^ine , there's a great deal of 

it that seems to become slapstick. I was thinking particularly 


in Mr. Hobb s Take s a Vacation the business v/lth the folding 
chair and I think there's a scene where Jimmie Stev:art sets 
trapped in the shov/er, or something like that. It's been 
a nuraber of years since I've the picture. This didn't bother 
me so much -in I'.r. hobbs Takes a Vacatio n but it did in Take 
Her, She's ?-line. 

Johnson: I don't remember anything like that in Mr. Hobbs 
Takes a Vacation . It's broad comedy, but I can't remember 
outright slapstick. It's broad in the sense, say, that Jimmie 
has to fix an engine that heats viater or v;hatever it v;as. But 
once it's in the director's hands, you Just have to pray to 
God he has the same notions. Mow Jimmie read this note, hov? 
to fix the hot v;ater heater. You, turn gadget B one 
to the right, two to the left, and now that kind of stuff. 
Now I wrote in the script that the machine should be simple, 
absolutely sim.ple. It's not funny for a man to be confused 
by a Rube Goldberg affair, but if the thing was a very simple 
matter, and he still can't handle, then that is a kind of 
a comedy character. Because Koster wouldn't let it go at 
that, he had to get somebody to build this Rube Goldberg thing. 

Stempel: I noticed the producer on Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation 
was Jerry VJald. Did you work at all with him on that, or 
were you simply writing in London and sending it over? 

Johnson: I don't know how Jerry got on to that thing. I had 
forgotten. I didn't have anything to do with Jerry, I remember. 


Maybe that I Just can't remember about that. The second one. 
Take Her , She* s r'ine , Pranl: McCarthy was the producer. 

Stempel: In betv/een those tv/o then must have been v;hen you 
did the screenplay for Something's Got yo Give , Marilyn 
Monroe's last picture. This v/as a renal:e of "y Favorite Uife . 
llov; did you go about rev;ritinc a film that had already been 
done successfully? 

Johnson: I didn't try to improve it. Nov; vjhen I came out 
and finished v/hatever it vras I v;as doing , say 'T;'al:e Her , She ' s 
Mine , somebody at the studio told me there that they had 
bought My_ Favorite 'Jife , '.-rhich Teo "'cCarey had directed and 
he].p9d v/rite, and vranted me to do sor^ about it. I 
didn't have an assignrient at that time, Henry [V'einstein] 
v;as the producer. George Cukor vras the director. Henry 
v;as a bright fellov/ and a nice guy, but he could be pushed 
around, shoved around, ax\6 George Cul'or is a really over- 
vrhelming man. He's very articulate. He can debate you, and 
you have to be quite strong. I don't thinlc I'd have been 
strong eiiough to go up against him.. Henry v;asn't. 

They had three scripts there, either v/hole scripts or 
half sci^ipts, that Cukor gave to me to read. I read them, 
but they v/ere so far off from v;hat I remembered of the picture, 
I said, "Let me lool: at the picture." So they ran it, the 
one v;ith Gary Grant and Irene Punne . I v;ent back arid I said, 
"I think the mistake you're making is trying to change this. 


I think Leo has utilized every situation beautifully. I 
don't think the dialogue is the best I've ever heard. As 
a matter of fact, it v/asn't very good, but it served its 
purpose. It v;as a successful conedy. Vfhat I v/ould do, I'd 
take a stenojjrapher in there and just let her tak.e dovm in 
shorthand v/hat Meat on on the screen. You've got those 
other scripts v.'hich all are trying to inprove Leo's picture 
and nobody likes it." They said, "V'hy don't you do it then?" 
I said, "I don't think you need v;hat I cost for this, but 
that's your business. I don't expect it to be very hard at 
all, because I don't expect to change it." So they turned 
it over to r.e and I nade alterations only v;here the change 
in the period called for something. The rest of it I made 
just about as it was, and they v/ere very pleased v/ith it. 

That's v;hen I had most of my experience, nearly all of 
It in fact, vjith Marilyn. It was for her and as I started 
to v:ork on it, I heard vrhat the situation was. "larilyn owed 
Fox a picture at a price that was established some years 
before. Now she v;as getting more money and she resented 
having to do this picture. But there -.'ras another thing. She 
v;as slipping a bit. The last picture or so she'd done, I 
don't know what they were, but one of them was The... 

Stempel: The Misfits and Le t ' s Make Love. 

Johnson: Yes, Let's Make Love ^''^^''^ that kind of stuff. She 
sent word, "Munnally won't write the script for me. Ke 


won't v/ant me." Henry asked her v;hy . He vms telling me this. 
She said, "Because I once turned dov/n a script he -A'rote." 
I said, "You go bad: and tell Miss Monroe that if everybody 
v;ho turned dov/n a script I wrote v;as no longer a friend of 
mine, I vrouldn't have any friends. Plenty of people have 
done that." But she v;as very v/ary, so I went over and had a 
meeting viith her in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. 
I must say it was one of the most enchanting three hours 
v;ith her. V/e drank three bottles of champagne. Vfell, I 
thought I owed it to the company. I'd remembered vfhen she'd 
gone to the opening of Hov; To Marry A Millj.onaire , she told 
me she'd never drunk spirits. That v/as the night v;hen she 
really got crocked, the first time she'd ever had anything 
to drink, except some kind of little aperitif. Anyway, 
she said, "Have you been trapped into this thing like me?'" 
I said, "No, I haven't been trapped in the least. I think 
it's a good story. It v/as a good story when it was made 
before, and I was offered a half a dozen different things 
to do and I selected this." She was so wary. She was trying 
to figure out v;hether I was in on the plot or something like 
that. I think that by the time v:e ' d finished that third 
bottle, v;e were veri' close friends and she believed everything 
I said and I believed everything she said. I told her v/hat 
I vjanted to do, since I hadn't v/ritten it then. 

I wrote it in London. I cane back here, and they 
wanted some revision, so I v;ent dovm to Encinatas. I couldn't 


write In this country because I v;as a resident abroad and 
it had something to do v;ith my tax. I could consult about 
a job, but I couldn't do actual v/orl:, and so after consulting, 
I v;cnt dov/n to Encinatas and stayed there for about a month 
or so and made the alterations. She came dovm there, and so 
did Cukor and v;e finally got something that everybody seemed 
quite pleased about, especially Marilyn. Marilyn vms like 
many actresses- — she had no confidence, in her ov;n judgment. 
Helen Hayes says the same thing. She said, "I just have to 
go by my first reaction, my impression, but if you ask me 
to try. to figure out whether it's right for me or not, I 
can't do it." Marilyn, I knov/, liked it. She thought it 
very funny and a very funny part for her, but she didn't have 
the courage to say so until she called Dean Martin, vfhom they 
wanted to get for the man. He was the old pro as far as 
she was concerned. Martin told her, in effect, "It's a first- 
rate script. I only read 50 pages and I signed. That was 
enough for me." She was so relieved, so happy about this. 
It had confirmed her own opinion, v:hich she couldn't accept 
by herself. V/hen Dean Martin said so, she was ready to go 
along with it. She was very enthusiastic by then. V/hen I 
first come there, she'd been, as I say, so wary and so 
suspicious of everybody. When I left there, she was really 
soaring, she was so happy. She saw herself doing a picture 
that was funny and would bring her back from this slipping. 
I was pleased that people liked it. I didn't like some of 
the cast they got. 


When I v/as leavins here, we had a last talk with Henry, 
George Cul:or, and Ted Strauss, v;ho v/as the story editor and 
had the best analytical mind of any of them on the thing. 
They all expressed themselves very well satisfied. Vfe all 
shook hands and I was going back to London feeling, "My God, 
it's been a very satisfying trip." Henry and I were v/alking 
b c'ck to my office, and Henry said, "George v;ants a 'writer 
on the set for just little things." I said, "What does 
he v/ant a v;riter for? He's O.K.'d the script." He said, 
"You know, sopietimes a line doesn't carry a fellov; out, or, 
you knoL'." I said, "That's v/hat George told you, isn't it?" 
He said, "Yes, oh yes." I said, "You can do v'hat you 'Wc.nt , 
but let me tell you something. You've only done one picture 
here, I believe. You give a director a writer on the script, 
no matter what he tells you, you've lost your picture. It 
V7on't be yours any more, because he vrill tell the v;riter 
v/hat to v;rite. Ho can change it in any vray he v/ants, and 
it v;ill no longer be your picture or mine. I object to it, 
but I knov; there's a limit to what I can control." The 
minute the wheels of my plane got off the ground, George 
had another writer changing stuff. Henry just simply didn't 
have the strength. When the blue pages began coming in, 
it was just like hitting Marilyn with a hammer. Not that 
these pages v;ere v;orso, they may have been better, but they 
v;ere different. And her opinion turned out again not to be 
v;orth anything. Even if Dean Martin had agreed vn'.th her, there 

^1 il l\ 

v;as Cul:or. T-lost of those young actresses always think that 
the director is God, and he was changing this-that, this-that, 
this-that. It shook her right dovm to tlie bottom, to the 
point v/here she wouldn't get out of bed. She was terrified. 
She -dreaded Cukor. He terrified her, and he loathed her. 
Ke told me GO, 

Anyway, I vms back in London, and I kept hearing about 
all the trouble that was going on, and... 

[Inter'ruption when Johnson's other daughter nhristie coraes 
in looking for lier son, Alex, and is told that Floxie has 
taken him hone.] 

First 3;ie tried to get me back. She vjent in a very devious 
way to her agent to my agent, something like that, wanting 
me to come back, and take over the direction of the picture. 
This v;as impossible. As a dii'ector I didn't have the standing 
or the talent of Cukor. For another thing, I couldn't do 
anything in this country except consult. Dorris said, "Well, 
why don't you do it? She's..." Then I said, "I don't want 
to do it." She was absolutely infatuated with me. Hot 
romantically. riot in the least. Nothing like that. It 
was Just as I had become to her somebody she relied on and 
could believe and thought could handle everything. I told 
Dorris, "I couldn't possibly do it. This girl is neurotic 
beyond description. I might go back there and they might 
be nutty enough to let me take Oeorge's place, which I don't 
think they v/ould for one second. Two weeks later, something 



v;ould happen and she v;ould cone to hate me as much as she 
hated George." I said, "There's no relying on her. I couldn't 
do a thing lil:e that. I vrouldn't try it. Much too 
dangerous." Marilyn kept retreating farther and farther 
frora reality. Then they tried to slip the pages in on vjhite 
paper, but she v;as too smart, she sav; that they vrere alterations 
Every time there v/as an alteration, it was Just slapping her 
face again for having had an opinion. Finally I read in the 
paper that Levathes, who v;as the head of the studio then, 
said he vms going to take Marilyn out of the picture, and 
I sent him a cable. I said, "If you're going to take anybody 
out of this picture, hadn't you better decide first v;ho brings 
the people in, Heorge Cukor or Marilyn Monroe? You should 
remove George because they are so antipathetic that that's 
what's causing Marilyn's disturbance." But he took Marilyn 
out and eventually called off the picture. Tha^ sold the 
thing to Doris Day's company and she made it. It vias probably 
rewritten. I don't knovf very much about it. 

The thing is, if you have such a neurotic girl, and you've 
got her with a script which she likes, which she's completely 
happy about, and she was, she was happy as a lark, you do not 
do anything to disturb her, especially since everybody else 
had O.K.'d the script, the fact it was funny, and so on. You 
do not shake the whole boat and that's what he did and just 
through this foolishness, she got worse and worse. Dorris 
sent her a cable and asked her to fly over to London and stay 


v;ith us a week or so. Maybe she'd get another point of view 
and she'd get av;ay frora the studio and so on and perhaps it 
v/ould help her. The cable that she sent back v/as something 
like this: "Tnank you so much, Dorris and Nunnally, and 
please believe me Nunnally, it v/asn't my fault," v;hich 
meant nothing to me when I got it, except the next day I 
read that she'd been taken out of the picture and the picture 
called off. Unfortunately that was the end of Marilyn. 
She never recovered. I had thought she really had been 
saved. The v^hole thing vjas quite sad for me. I had come 
to knov; this girl and found hov; vulnerable she v/as, hov? 
helpless and how lonely. She had nobody except some girl 
v;hc migh;t have described herself as a secretai'-y, but v;as 
really from the publicity department. She Just didn't knov; 
hov: to cope v/ith life at all. She v;as never proraiscuous , 
or as much as I could hear about her, I m.ean promiscuous 
in the sense that she v;as out laying any and everybody or 
many people or something like that. From the time she fell 
in love vilth Joe, I'm sure she was faithful to Joe DiMaggio. 

My conviction is she bored the hell out of everybody. 
[Johnson chuckles] She Just didn't have the intelligence, 
but she was avrare she didn't have it. That's why she'd 
have bought Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf of Books and she 
I'ias busy vfith Thomas Wolfe or vfith this v/riter or that one. 
When she married Arthur Miller, novf this is pure speculation, 
my guess is that she Just v/asn't enough for Miller. After 
you've married the sex goddess — as they say, nobody finds it 


very difficult to talk before? you get into the hay, but 
v;hat do you say aftervfards? Marilyn \ias like a child. She 
thought that a lay was the complete ansv/er to everything. 
V/hen Miller began to indicate that he v:as no longer devoted 
to her, she vient out and had an affair. In each case, she 
thought that the solution was to make the nesi jealous, and 
that v/ould v;in him back. II "wasn't true. When she died, 
she had nobody around. I v/as kind of ashamed of myself 'when 
there was some story in, I it v/as Esquire about her 
about six months later. It v;as full of quotes from, like 
Cukor. I knew he loathed her. "nothing but good about 
the dead." The only one who v/as quoted in several places 
as very critical of her, slanderous, was me. [Johnson 
chuckles] Of course it Iiad been said a long time ago before. 
I'd said v;hen I tried to talk to her. I felt as if I v;as 
trying to talk to somebody underwater. There didn't seem 
to be any real communication. Sometim.os I couldn't under- 
stand v/hether she understood v/hat I said, I remember talking 
to Olivier once after he had played v;ith her in that picture 
The Prince and the Showgirl . He v;as reported to have said, 
"Now Marilyn, v/alk over to that chair, count three and then 
sit dov;n." After the first take, he v;ent over to her and said, 
"Can't you count, either?" [chuc!:les] He v/as just outraged 
by her. He was directing the picture. He told me, "How 
could you help it? V/e ' d line up a scene in a clinch, and 
here I am in her arms, right face to face, and the fellov/ v;ho 


vrould be handling the camera v/ould say, 'Cut.,' and she tui^ned 
Immediately to Arthur Illller." You knovf, not to Olivier. 
She v;as just dov/nright rude in a kind of a stupid v/ay. But 
when she vras dead, it was sad to think that you might have 
had Clarence Darrov; explaining her the v/ay ho explained 
Leopold and Loeb , that they v/ere conditioned as children 
or in their youth to do these bad or strange or improper 

things . 




Stempel: February 5, I969. V/e v/ere about up to Take Her, 
She's Mine [I963]. I had seen the play Take Her , She' s Mine 
in Nev; Haven when it v/as trying out for New York v;ith Art 
Carney and I thought it was quite a charming and delightful 
play. I'll have to admit that when I saw the movie 1 was 
rather appalled because it seemed to me that it became very 
slapsticky and all the v/armth of the play seemed missing. I'm 
sure you didn't intend for this to happen, but I felt it did. 
Hov; did it end up this v/ay? 

Johnson: That v;asn't the script I v^rote. That wasn't the 
original script. I don't know v/hether it v/ould have been any 
better or not, but I think I told you after I finished that 
script, Zanuck decided that it v;as too American. He'd been 
living in Paris. He vms very international minded, and nobody 
in Europe v;ould understand this thing and he v/anted the last 
part of it located in Paris. I fought against it, but circum- 
stances were such that well, he v;ouldn't pay me unless I 
[chuckles] v;rote it, to put it flatly, so I rewrote the thing. 
I didn't think it was right, out there it v/as . I had no 
choice about that. I just had faith in Jimmie Stewart. I 
just felt that no matter v:hat it v/as, Jimmie could make it 
sound reasonable, sound funny. 


S: I mentioned this business of slapstick v/hen we talked 
about Mr. Hobbs Takes_ A Vacation , and it struck me even more 
in Take Her , She's Mine . I know there's some in the play, 
but for some reason or other it seemed to dominate in the 
film. I'm thinking particularly of the business of Stev/art 
at the sit-in suddenly deciding that the students have a 
point of viev; and he sits down and is dragged off by the 
police. V/ere you trying to make that broad a comedy, or again 
was this Koster? 

J: No, no. Koster v/ouldn't do anything that wasn't in the 
script, but I suppose I didn't think it v/as broad. I thought 
it v/as in the rhythm of the story. As a matter of fact, I'd 
forgotten that particular thing. I didn't think it was too 
broad. I always thought also that Jimmie v/ould say, "V/ell, 
nov: Nunally, don't do this," or something like that, but if 
he didn't feel it was too broad, I didn't. I can't remember 
the details about the thing. 

S: I can't remember the details so much either. It's just 
that this V7as the v;ay it happened to strike me at the time. 

J: I suppose we had to get a little more action into it than 
is permitted on the stage. It may have gone too far. I don't 
remember very well. 

S: The next thing you did then was The VJorld of Henry Orient 
[1964]. I got the impression when you were talking about 


the rov; you had V;-ith Zanuck about selling it that you had 
done the screenplay not on assignment, the v/ay you did most 
of them. i-ov; come you decided to take a chance and do one 
based on your daughter's book? 

J: The book had been out about three years, and it never 
occurred to me that it could be filmed, because I couldn't 
think of tv;o girls to do it. This v;as about the time I sav/ 
Hayley Mills in her first picture. I thought of Hay ley Mills 
and Patty Duke. That seemed to me to give us a possibility 
of casting it v;ith actors. I guess I v;asn't doing anything. 
I v.'asn't employed by any studio at the time. I got very 
excited and v:ent to v;ork on it, and then I had a script and _ 
a story, v;hich I gave to my agent to sell to anybody that v;as 
Interested in it. And United Artists bought it for George 
Hill. That's the first time I'd ever really gone to v;ork on 
a story on my ovm, just as a project v;hich I could sell out- 
right and have nothing more to do v;ith it. Fortunately, George 
Hill was the one who got his hands on it. I think George is 
a wonderful director. I remember I happened to be out here 
in connection v;ith something else, when they had the press 
previevf at Grauman's Chinese. I had dinner with George, and 
then George said, "I'm not going to sit next to you at this 
running, because I've made some alterations here and there 
and I don't want to be close to you." V/hen I sav; the picture, 
I v;as just delighted with it. I could not understand some 
of the dialogue. The tv;o little girls in the picture v;ere 


not actresses. They'd never acted before. They had the 
usual slovenly speech and George said, "I v/on't teach them 
speech because they'll lose that impetus v.'hlch is v/hat is 
very engaging." The only engaging thing about their performance j 
matter of fact. Anyway, v;hen v;e came out, I turned to George, 
"You don't have to be that shy. For God's sake, I think you're 
the first director v/ho ever added to and improved the stuff." 
V/hich he did. 

There v;as a funny thing. I got an opportunity v/ith that 
that picture to check on something v/hich I'd suspected a long 
time. I had a good test case here. That v/as , a Hollyv;ood 
audience versus a New York audience v;ith the same picture. 
Let me tell you that a Hollyv;ood audience is about three times 
as fast as a New York audience. Got the jokes quicker, got 
more of them, clearly a brighter, m.ore resposive audience than 
Nev/ York. It's true the New York audience v;as Music Hall, 
with only about forty per cent New Yorkers [laughter]. The 
others, I suppose, were Just looking around with their mouths 
open at the thing. But it was interesting to watch, to listen 
to lines get laughs here, nothing there, get more effect here. 
I've alv/ays thought that. 

S: To go back for a minute, you mentioned you had a screenplay 
and a story that you gave to your agent. Did you do a screen 

J: No. I bought the book from my daughter for a sum and we 


split the money over the screenplay, fifty-fifty. i.o, I just 
meant that as a kind of a packace I had. 

S: Did you work v;ith your daughter on the screenplay? 

J: No, no. She did a screenplay. I hoped she v;ould be able 
to do it, but she'd never done a screenplay. She'd never 
dramatized anything. Just the pure mechanics of a screenplay, 
you just can't do it all the first time you go at it. As I 
told her afterv;ard, if she ever did any kind of dramatization, 
that you can't be faithful to the book. She v;as &i thful to 
her book. I said, "You can't afford to do that. The person 
for you to please, to be faithful to, is an audience, because 
the audience doesn't really care anything about the book. 
They only care about v/hat they're seeing up there on the screen. 
So keep them in mind, not your book, not anybody's book." 
Maybe that's v;hy these authors never speak to me again. 
[laughs] But it's the only v/ay you can do it. 

Nora had no ambitions for movies. She liked to V'/rlte, and 
her best v;ork was short stories. She wrote some beautiful 
short stories. She v;rote three novels, tv;o of them about 
things that she knev; about . The V/orld of Henry Orient and one 
called A Ste p Beyond Innocence . She'd gone to Smith and that 
was about Smith girls. Love on the campus, and that was quite 
good. Then she wrote a third book. Love Letter in the Dead 
Letter Office , or something like that. It v/as a curious thing 
about this because she had been v/ritlng only autobiographically , 


and she got some sort of feeling that this vmsn't really 
V7riting. She must create something, a nev; setting, or a nev; 
type, and I think it turned out to be a mistake, because it 
didn't ring true anyv/here. V'ereas those little Brialy girls 
and the Smith girls, they v;ere girls she knev; and could virite 
about . 

S: You mentioned that George Roy Hill had added a number of 
things in his direction. V/hat v;ere they? 

J: Well J I'll tell you. Those runs through the park. He 
used trampolines and some kind of slov; motion, and it gave it 
a real quality of soaring childhood, released, all the v;ay 
through. He's one of these dedicated directors, one that takes 
trouble. I thought he did it beautifully, and I appreciated 


^ The picture got as good reviev,-s as I've ever had, as I've 
ever seen on a picture. In Nevf York, I think it ran for six 
or seven or eight weeks at the Music Hall v/ith big box office, 
but it didn't do so v;ell after it got out of Nev; York. It 
didn't break even. V/e've speculated on that, George and I, 
and he thinks that the title v;as very bad, though \-je didn't 
realize it then. It conveyed nothing to anybody. The World 
of Henry Orient. Wany people told me they had a tough time 
getting their children to go to see this picture. The children 
v;ere delighted v;hen they sav/ it, but there's nothing about it 
to lure them in, invite them in. I guess that's as good an 


explanation as any ce cause all of the reviev/s v;ere alvmys good. 

S: I noticed in r.cst of the revlev/s at the time that the 
scenes that the reviev:ers seemed to like the best v;ere those 
childhood romps thr-zj-c.'^ the park. I thought that v/as all 
right, out v/hat really impressed me v/ere the final scenes, 
particularly the one •.■;here Angela Lansbury comes back after 
she'o been at Peter Sellers.' Her husband is there and he 
asks her where side's been. She says at the other v/oman's 
house and heknovfs that she'j lying. I thought that this 
was beautifully virLzzen. iiow much of that v;as in the book 
or hov/ much of this did you go to because of your fondness 
for dealing v^ith marriages and man-wife relationships? 

J: None of that was in the book, really. That whole reso- 
lution of the thing v.-as really dramatized. 1 thought that that 
was the one thing that gave a little distinction to the 
picture. It carried on into drama, I thought very logically, 
a situation v;hich had been pure fun at the beginning of the 
picture. It worked very v;ell on the stage, too. [A reference 
to the 1967 musical adaptation, Henry , Sweet Henry] On the 
stage though, you have to put things up there in a kind of 
clumsy fashion, but 3eorge managed to get the same effect on 
the stage, uhe mother coming out of the apartment house. 

1 think another thing v/ent against the picture. This is 
all hindsight. Vie -.rere triumphant when vie got Peter Sellers 
to do it. But Peter Sellers in that picture was the v:ay he is 


to me In all pictures: he does a vaudeville act, and it's 
something appliqued on another story. 1 thought that that v/as 
true in Lollt a. The picture was going along with a rather 
moving story of James Mason's obsession with this young girl, 
but I think there is no controlling Sellers. He comes on and 
he's the German uncle of he alv/ays falls into some sort of 
dialect stuff, and it's brilliant stuff, but it just seems 
he's got on the wrong set to do it. ^.fter thinking about 
the picture. The V/orld of Henry Orient, the more I thouglit of 
it, the less I liked him in it. 

I had written that script hoping that Rex Harrison would 
play the part. .'his is the v/ay actors are. In London one 
night about ten o' clock, Ihe phone rang and it was Harrison. 
He said, "I've just got to tell you how thrilled I am about 
this script." ^nd I had to figure a moment what script he was 
talking about. I had no idea he had seen the script. My 
agent had handed it to him, and I hung up the phone and I said 
to Dorris, "My God, this is wonderful. Chris Mann had given 
him the script and he's reading it now, and he was so pleased 
he moved to call me right in the middle of reading it." That's 
the last 1 ever heard from him. [Laughter] Never heard from 
him again at all. About a month later, I was talking to my 
agent, Chris Mann, in London, and I said, "What became of 
Harrison?" I^e said, ";:arrison thought it rather petered out 
at the end." I said, "You mean he wasn't in the final shot." 
[laughterC He said, "Yes." I said, "If somebody had been 


thoughtful enouch to tell me this, I v;ould have looked around 
to see hov; I could have done this. The v/hole thing petered 
out because he liad disappeared about tv/o minutes before, and 
people had all gone home. They v/ere ' o going to stay there. 
nut by that time he'd gone off to do something else. You see, 
v;ith Harrison, I was thinking in terms of a comedian, not a 
comic, of a person, not a vaudeville thing, even though Sellers 
v:as funny in some of the stuff. He's always funny, but I 
didn't think he v;as funny in the right place, or funny in the 
wrong way. Sometimes, I remember Max Gordon, a producer, 
telling me about a show that he opened down in Atlantic City. 
It v;as hilarious. He said the laughter just v^ent on and on 
and on, but people weren't showing up as it went on. Max said, 
he asked his brother, who was an old burlesque comedian, to 
come and look at the play. Max said, "Look, the people are 
laughing. They're laughing all the way through. V/hat do you 
figure?" This brother says, "V/rong kind of laughs." nax 
said, "I don't know exactly v;hat he meant, i^ut I could figure. 
Wrong kind of laughs." I think that' 6 the way it oft.en is 
with Sellers. Sellers has to be In something like Detective 
Clouseau, in which everybody is a little zany. Then he fits 
into the pattern. 

S: VJere you connected with the production of The V^orld of 
Henr y Orient at all? 

J: No. I talked to George two or three times during the casting. 


but I vjas in London and this v/as shot in New York. I had 
nothing to do with it. That v;as about the last picture I did, 
wasn't it, before I...? 

S: 'The next one that came out is Dirty Dozen . . . 

J: Yeah. 

S: I seem to recall reading when that v;as in production or 
before it v;ent into production, that it was originally conceived 
as a straight old John VJayne war movie. V/as this the impression 
they gave you when they asked you to do it? VJhat did they tell 

J: l/ell, 1 don't know what you mean by that exactly. I've 
never seen the picture. I finished the script with nobody 
in mind for the thing, except that I thought of Lee Marvin, 
who had just kind of risen up at the time. They did offer it 
to V/ayne, and V/ayne wrote back a letter — I v;ish I Vi got a copy 
of it. lie wanted to change it all to the war in Viet Nam, and 
he v/anted to, well, you know V/ayne. My God, and if we would 
do all of these things and also pay him a million dollars, ..e'd 
be very happy to accomodate us. ^Idrich said, "I'm glad he's 
making these conditions because I don't like the son of a 
bitch. [Stempel laughs] and I hate to think of v/orking v/ith 
him." Ke'u v;orked with him before and they v/ere, politically, 
diametrically opposed. I don't know anything about V/ayne except 
his genera.1 reputation, but I v;ould hate to v;ork V7ith him 


because I'm sure he would be an exasperating man as he must 
have been on Gree n Berets ■ 

I never sav; the picture because I left London to go back 
to Nev/ York, and Aldrich has a kind of a writer. name is 
Heller. .lO's on nearly all of his pictures. I hadn't heard 
of him before, ^ut I've noticed since that he v/as on tv/o or 
three of his pictures since then, and on Flight of the Phoenix . 
'..'hen the picture v/as finished, ..enny Hyman turned in the 
recommendations, ..hich is all you can do, to the Screen V'riter's 
Guild for solo credit for me, ^^ecause it v;as my script with 
some little alterations here and there. Not much. I think 
this is true because people have read my script and and seen the 
picture. At any rate. Heller made application for credit on 
the thing and as I've always said, give it to the arbitration 
committee. They recommended co-credit on the thing by me and 
Heller. I didn't go to see it, ijecause it v;as like an expec- 
tant father getting intimations that he isn't the father of 
the baby, [laughter] so he doesn't look forward to the birth, 
with great excitement. That's the way I felt about those things 
I knev; if I went to see it and I found that very little alter- 
ation had been made, I'd have been sore for that, so I knew I 
couldn't v.'in, oO I skipped it. 

S: One thing I wanted to ask you about The Dirty D ozen v;as this 
question of the attitude of the picture. Steve Farber, v.riting 
in Sight and Sound, [Autumn, 1968] had a very interesting 


descT-iption of The D irty Dozen. He called it ".he most 
importantly confused movie" of 196? and he was referring to 
this question of the anti-authoritarian attitude in the picture 
because it starts out v;ith Marvin as Major Reisman saying, "Ah, 
the generals v;ho thought up all this are crazy and out of their 
minds and stupid and everything like this." Then the picture 
seems to condemn the generals' thinking on this and then it 
turns right around and m.ades Marvin a hero because he becomes 
the authority figure for the dirty dozen types. Were you 
consciously trying to condemn the generals? 

J: .,ever, .lO. I guess that v/as one of the alterations they 
put in there because I had nothing like that. I guess it was 
a far-out idea, assuming that it could ever have been done 
but I tried to make it at least as reasonable, as logical as 
I could, as the boy who v;rote the book had made it. V/hat 
other attitudes v/ere put into it, I don't know. I would never 
consciously do a script to prove some point or make some point 
like that. I'm just interested in story, and if at the end 
it adds up to something, that v/as, I don't know v;hat you'd 
call it, accidental. I mean I didn't set out to do The World 
of Henry Orien t to prove that a father could make a life v;lth 
his daughter after his v/ife had misbehaved and proved herself 
unfit. That v.'as just the v;ay it turned out. I've never had 
any such rather pretentious aims in mind. i'rom the time I 
started v/ritlng for this thing [refers to the last issue of 


Th_e Saturday Evening. Po^^> v;hich he had just finished reading], 
I was purely a storyteller, sometimes all right, sometimes not. 
1 v;as never aiming at anything beyond what I put down on paper, 
the characters and v/hat they did. 

S: You mentioned that you tried to make this story reasonable 
and maybe not having seen the picture you can't answer this, 
but in the early portions of the picture as they're training 
the dirty dozen, they have a psychiatrist and he has a couple 
of scenes vfith the men as he tries to understand their problems. 
I got the feeling, just in watching the picture, that these 
scenes had been cut down considerably. Did these scenes v/ith 
the psychiatrist in trying to explain these men play a fairly 
big part in the sci'ipt, not long scenes, but did you stress 

J: No, I don't. Here again, I can't comment on that because 
I really don't knov; what they said or did there. The only 
thing I noticed in the reviev;s that somebody poured oil or gas 
or something dov/n an air vent and set the chateau on fire? 

S: Yes, they did that. 

J: There was something, it seemed to me, pretty hideous. 
vv'hile, uod knows, my script v;as supposed to be about war, and 
you simply can't back off from it and be nice about it, it 
never occurred to me to pour gasoline dov/n on them and set them 
on fire. That would be napalm, v/ouldn't it? 


S: Did you have them shooting up the chateau, or destroying 
it, or whatever? 

J: God, I can't remember beyond using firearms and hand 
grenades. It was pretty bloody around there, ^ut that v/as one 
weapon I never thought of. I \>/on't say I wouldn't have used 
it [chuckles], I just never thought of it. '..'hen you begin 
examining a picture through the eyes of reviewers, you can get 
forty different points of view and can find more things that 
neither the writer nor the director had in mind. Maybe they're 
there, I don't know, nut... I think most of this pretense, those 
reviev;ers viho begin telling how a director "rolls his camera 
right down into the soul of the character," struck me as being 
a little untidy, [chuckles] and something he's thinking of 
him.self. There's some pretentiousness there. It's like going 
to a, an lonesco play or something like that. lonesco or 
Pinter, any of these obscure fellows, Albee, they really don't 
have to work out what they've done, L.ecause there are critics 
next morning v.'ho will tell them what they've done, because a 
critic will rather die than admit there was anything that ever 
went on a stage, that he didn't understand. Clive Barnes 
[Drama Critic of the New York Times ] , his longest reviews are 
always about the obscurest plays. V.hen he wrote about that last 
Albee, The Box and The Saying s of the Chairman Mao, nobody was 
able to figure that one out, out Barnes like a fellow who was 
going to cover every door. [laughter] He was all around the 
house. He understood it from about fifteen different directions 


S: One of the things Dirty Dozen v;as criticized for was its 
violence. I think you've ansv;ered part of this on this business 
about pourins gas dovm the airhole. 

J: It had to be violent. I don't know what is the limit, 
where violence is acceptable and is not acceptable and beyond 
reason. ^ut if you're going to do a war story and dealing vilth 
people like this, like this dirty dozen, and they've got to 
take the chateau under certain circumstances, there's going to 
be bloodshed. It had to be put dov/n on paper. I will start 
working soon on another v;ar story, and, just reading through 
various books about VJorld VJar II, the Hitler War, I read stuff 
in there so appalling that it makes Viet Nam a play war in a 
school yard. You knov/, 8,000 nien killed, this is all factual 
stuff, and the bloodshed and cruelty. My God, it's all there. 
You can't shov/ it all, uut I'll Just have to let a critic decide 
how much he feels the public is entitled to have and how much 
should be held back. 

S: I think t?ie objection in the case of The Dirty Dozen was 
that Aldrich seemed to revel in it in his direction, so perhaps 
it was unfair to bring up for you as the writer of the original 
before he got to tinkering. 

J: No, it's not unfair. Just as a generality, Aldrich is, 
let's say, a he-man director. i.e's going to be another John 
Ford, and he must be harsh and cruel and tough and all that 
kind of stuff. He does lean in that direction. I don't think 


I do ordlnai'ily , but I wouldn'u flinch from vjriting a v;ar story. 
1 do it as nearly as I can v;ithln the limits of my experience 
and imagination. If v;ar is a dreadful, dreadful thing and if 
people are going to be killed and their bones broken and their 
heads busted open, you have to go along v;ith that. The people 
who criticize it, their criticism I think was not on the grounds 
really of the brutality, uut the reason for it. They saw this 
as playing to the box office, and they sec something that is 
much more hideous, in say, VJar Game , or that same director, 
directed a picture about a battle the name of which I can't 
remember, L^ut it v;as betv/een the Sctosmen and the English, .-hich 
v;as enough to m.ake you jump back v;ith its ferocity. They didn'u 
object to that, ./hich vjas much more explicit because they thought 
that the purpose v;as more understandable or more acceptable. 
They took The Dirty Dozen ^.imply being no more than a melo- 
drama, and they didn't think that melodrama justified this much 
blood and all that sort of thing. As I say, every man has his 
own mind about that. The fact that a man is a critic never 
strikes me that his opinion is worth a great deal more than 
anybody else's if he's a reasonable intelligent fellow. ?Ie just 
simply has a typewriter and a job. The only critics that I 
think of as critics are if this man is not employed, is he still 
a critic? [laughter] I've seen too many, the minute they leave 
the paper, nobody thinks they're critics, they're just an unem- 
ployed newspaperman. George Jean Nathan, v/hether he was employed 
or not, he was a critic, because he took the profession with 


great seriousness. He devoted himself to it entirely and he 
was able and scholarly and a good v/rlter. VJalter Keri' is a 
critic. John Chapman may have been a critic. He's just a kind 
of a loquacious writer. ^.o one takes very seriously what John 
says. I wouldn't. 

r. : I want to go on to the tv;o scripts that you've done since 
then that haven't been made. You did one called The Frontiersma n, 
and you said at one point during these intei''viev/s that it v/as 
the most difficult thing you'd ever done. VJas this because it 
was an original after doing so many years of adaptations, or 
what made it so difficult? 

J: Because I didn't find a familiar pattern to follow. The 
book that I v;as given v/as not fiction. It vias just long research 
into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois in 1770, '80. It had no form as 
a form is understood in making a picture. But there v;as one 
character there, Tecumseh, v;ho had stature, had all the qualities 
of a great man, a truly great man, and so I had to fashion a 
story of the Lost Cause. Tecumseh tried to get the Indians to 
stop fighting v;ith each other and unite as an Indian nation, a 
red nation. He came very close to it and he justified such an 
examination in dramatic terms. I don't knov; v/hat will happen to ' 
this script, because the whole studio is chaos. I was engaged 
by Jack Vlarner to do this thing, and Jack Warner is nov/ tech- 
nically simply a producer on the lot, like a half a dozen others, 
lie doesn't get along very well v/ith the Hymans and so far they 


haven't even talked about it. Of course, this is a little 
frustrating for me but there's nothing I can do about the thing 
except hope that they'll get together. Tv;o other studios are 
interested in it and the tv;o other producers knov; the story and 
knov/ the script. Hy agent says that he can get V/arner Brothers 
off the hook, "If you don't want to do it, will you let liie offer 
it somevjhere else?" I'm hoping that Warner and the Hymans v/ill 
agree to that. It v/as a long one and a tough one, but I think 
it's got a good story and got some size to it. I say size, I 
mean it's not just a lot of Indians coming over a hil], , [chuckles] 
but meaning. Ihe questions there, :-.etv:een the Indians and the 
white men, v/ere not greatly different from the blacks and the 
v/hites today. There's a great many parallels v/hlch I didn't 
go out of my v/ay looking for. They're just there. 

S: I did v;hat to get into sort of a technical question as to 
how you go about building up a story? You've said that you had 
a book here that was research and the character of Tecumseh 
interested you. I want to go into detail on what you did next. 

J: In that case, I knew that the first thing I had to do was 
to establish my time, locale, and v;hat v/ere the circumstances. 
I began v/ith a narration. There was a character who had 
written a book about his daughter, and Tecumseh had fallen in 
love v/ith his duaghter, a white girl. About thirty years after 
this, this man v.'rote a book, which is in one of those museums, 
telling about this romance which fell apart. He proposed to 


her, and they got a slov/ dialogue going on there because she 
said, "I'll give you my ansv/er In a month." So he came back 
in a month and she said, "Yes, provided you v/111 give up your 
Indian vmrfare, or life, and live like a v/hite man." There 
were plenty of Indians that did that. He took a month to ansv;er 
that, and at the end of the month he gave her the answer, 
v;hich v/as that it v;as like asking a king to abdicate. Nov/ he 
wasn't like the Duke of V/indsor. He had duties and responsibili- 
ties and so on. This was all told v/ith great dignity, that he 
couldn't do it. And that vms the end of it. So I took over 
the fact that he had written this book about — 

S: The father of the daughter? 

J: Yes, thirty years afterv/ards, and I made it a man telling 
the story of Indian warfare. I began by saying, "Right after 
the Revolutionary V/ai", people were already on the move, moving 
through the Alleghenies, down into the Ohio River Valley, and 
so on, alv/ays that movemient of people v/estv/ard, and one man," 
I made this fellov; say, "one Indian stemmed the tide for a time. 
One man alone." I set out to show v;hat his man did. I had to 
pick this here, this here, this here. 

[Interruption while Johnson's daughter Christie 
and Johnson's grandson, Alex, leave.] 

That was almost like physical labor, trying to make this man's 
actions, movements, and decisions sound acceptable to an 
audience. He sends v/ord to V/illiam Henry Harrison, the governor 


there, "For every Shawnee killed, I'm going to kill ten v/hite 
men." re set out to do it, and then there v;as a kind of a 
Daniel Boone character there v/ho opposed him. [I used him] to 
tell both sides of the thing. They eventually came together 
at the end. This fellov; Kenton had met Tecumseh once. They 
v;ere both rather young men, out Tecumseh v/as already chief. 
Some v/hite men had given Kenton fifty dollars to go to Tecumseh 
and offer Tecumseh five hundred dollars for Indiana. He v/ent 
to him and Tecumseh listened to him very gravely. He said, "I'll 
tell you. Indiana's not for sale. But If you really v;ant some- 
thing, I can let you have Ohio." [laughter] Kenton told this 
on himself. He said, "1 said I thought that these men back at 
Pittsburg v/ould find that agreeable. I gave him five hundred 
dollars, and he put his mark on the paper and v/e shook hands." 
He said, "That's the last I ever heard of that five hundred 
dollars." [laughter] You alter, you adjust some things, to 
fit into the thing, out on the whole, it is substantially the 
story of these two men to the end, where Tecumseh is killed In 
battle. I don't know, maybe it'll stay on the shelf like The 
Waundering Jew, which also cost me a lot of effort and hope 
and nothing v/as ever done v;ith it. 

S: Do you start out with an outline or do you do a treatment? 

J: No, I never had done a treatment. I set out with the idea 
that the script I do is going to be the final script. Now I 
know this is not going to actually be It, but I don't let any- 


body see it or talk to me about it. I can't v;ork that vmy 
because I may make fifty alterations v/hile I';,; going along. I 
want to v;rite the whole thing, as vrell as I can, and then submit 
it to the producer. 'ihen he has the v/hole thing to look at 
and he'll understand v/hy I did this earlier, ;.hy this v/as put 
in there. Then I'm completely objective about it. I will go 
along and discuss any kind of changes and I'll object to those 
I think are not reasonable, uut I like to think that I'm flex- 
ible enough to knov;, and professional enough to know that often 
they give you good ideas so that you want to change, .-.ant to 
make alterations, Ihat v;as the toughest one, and I suppose this 
Scub a D ub a v;as pretty near the easiest. That was because I 
didn't depart very much from the stage play. I v;ouldn't v:ant 
to violate this particular kind of comedy that Bruce Jay 
writes . 

S: Before we get into Scuba Duba Duba , I v;ant to get some 
physical details as to hovi you actually write. Do you set 
yourself up to do a certain number of pages per day? 

J: No. It's nice to knov; the end of the thing. I knovj right 
now how this v/ar story I'm going to do ends. I knov; the final 
scene; I could v/rite it. Nov/ I've got to find the beginning to 
come into it. but in a case like this war story I'm doing now. 
The Fortunes of V/ar , it's some American rangers attached to 
Patton's army, v-ho are told to clear out some tovms. The v;ar is 
two vjeeks to the end, and everybody knows the thing is all over. 


They are sent to clean out a fev; tov;ns, and all of them are 
full of V7hite flags--thls is in Bavaria — and then there is some 
resistance as they corae to one little tov/n. The captain is 
puzzled because the resistance is quite strong^ but he manages 
to take it and travels up a hill and finds a cave. This is 
a cave v;here there's a great deal of treasure. There's a 
hundred million dollars in gold in this cave, and a lot of 
jewelry and all that kind of stuff. I':., thinking of saying 
this is Goerring'3, because he did do this, and they found 
caves v/here they found great amounts of gold. After a very 
complicated kind of thing in v/hich they [these six G.I.'s] 
are kicked around, decide to steal this gold. The rest of the 
story is their trying to get to the Swiss border and go over 
the border v;ith a hundred million dollars. iiome of it they 
bury away and some of it they have to give away. It's a running 
thing. I'm so experienced, you might say, you give me that 
much, and I can put it into filmable terms and figure that I 
have to tel] it in say, not more than 150 pages. I can pace 
myself how to use this I50 pages. I know that they've got to 
go through this experience, that experience, that escape, and 
this escape, finally are captured. All of this is all there, 
though it's in a short story, so I'll just have to fatten it 
up with scenes. I was telling my wife tonight, like in The 
Dirty D ozen , it's pure fiction, out it's put down as fact, as 
if some incident of the war which hadn't been told, and that's 
the way I'll have to tell it. But I'll spend a week or so 


trying to get that first page, to get some drama into the 
opening, and let people know at once where v;e are, v.hat v;e're 
doing, what kind of guys these are. I'll have to work out, 
there 'o a Captain, and a Second Lieutenant who are the chief 
characters. I'll have to v/ork them out in my mind, even if 
I have to think of them in terms of actors. VJould this be 
Frank Sinatra? The captain. I v/ouldn't v/ant it to be Lee 
Marvin again. ^ut v/ould it be this person, or that person? 
A younger guy? Those things have to be worked out before you 
can get down anything beyond just "fade in." Once you get 
through the first three or four pages, it ought to go along 
pretty fast, because you know how they're going to talk. Since 
all of the story '3 there, the thing is just to tell it enter- 
tainingly and with some sort of pace to it, movement, and to 
set up something for an audience to anticipate. Are they going 
to get away with all this dough? How are you going to justify 
it? Are these our American boys going south, liberating too 
much money? If I can get the first four or five pages, I won't 
have any more apprehensions. Right now with the beginning of 
a thing like this, I go through all kinds of dispair and "Oh, 
how, why did I get myself into this? VJhy did I? This story's 
too foolish. How can I justify it?" But I remember that I've 
gone through this time and time again. Some came out all right, 
some I didn't. You know, win a few, lose a few. 

S: If it takes you the first week or so to get these first 


page or three or four pages, how long does it take you then to 
do the rest of It? 

J: I think in this one I said, "Give me tv/enty v;eeks." Vhat ' s 
pretty near five months, and I believe I'll be able to do it 
in that. The Frontiers man v/as eight months. It took twice 
as long as I've ever been on a script. But there's more body 
to this, more fictional action and direction than there v/as in 
that other. [ The Frontiersman ] I saw a picture this afternoon 
that's been so overlooked. I v;ent the other night to see 
Bullitt . Have you seen that? 

S: Yes. 

J: I thought that was a first-rate thriller. And my daughter, 
a cutter, said, "That fellow, Peter Yates, v/ho directed it, 
directed a picture in England called Robbery . " 

S: Yes. It's a dandy. 

J: I looked at it this afternoon. I called her. I said, "V/hat 
happened about this picture? This should have caused much more..." 
She said, "Joseph Levine produced it and it came out about the 
time that The Graduate came out. Apparently they put all of 
their strength and money and everything behind The Grad uate , v;ith 
very good results." This picture suffered through lack of 
attention and that dreadful title. Robbery . They could have 
called it Royal Mail Robbery , something to give it a little more 
color. I thought it was better than Bullitt. This fellow's a 


real good director, this Peter Yates. 

S: Especially if you have a car chase in your picture. 

J: He's hard on cars, isn't he? [laughter] 

S: You say now you figure this one v/ill take you about tv;enty 
v;eeVcs. IIov? will this time be divided up? Hov/ long v/ill it 
take you to do v;hat? 

J: They are generally very flexible about that. I may finish 
it, you knovj, in ten v/eeks, tv/elve v;eeks , fifteen weeks, but 
I will just keep going if I can. This time I have a producer 
vmo vrants to v/orkd closely vfith me, and I don't want to v/ork 
closely v;ith him. It really slov/s me dovm. It impedes me. 
He's a nice fellow, but I can't get away from him. He calls 
me nearly every day and says, "What about lunch?" There's only 
one place to go to lunch there, this lousy place, and I don't 
v;ant to sit and talk to him every day. He's not very enter- 
taining. And I don't want to talk about the script because 
I don't know what I'm going to do. L'o I think maybe I'll have 
to go av;ay. .laybe go to Hawaii, or something like that, for 
a couple of weeks, or else talk to the studio about sending him 
away [laughter] for a couple of weeks and letting me get at 
it. I turn it in whenever I finish it, whenever I think I've 
done as much as I can for the first draft. Then two or three 
or four fellows there who examine scripts with some authority 
and experience, have two weeks, according to the contract, for 


"consultation on revisions." Then I'].l have four weeks to 
make these revisions that we agree on, then another tv/o weeks 
for them to examine that draft, and then another four v;ceks for 
me to do this third draft of the thing. That's the v;ay It's 
alv;ays done. Or v;lth me. ■ 

S: Physically, hov; do you v/rlte? I presume you uce a typev/rlter? 

J: Yes. I've been using a little Olivetti for ten or tv/elve 
years. I just go in and sit down at ten o'clock and pick up 
where I left off. Maybe rewrite what I did the day before. Like 
many v;i'ltcrs, you only have a limited number of hours of 
productivity, m.aybe ten to one, ten to tv;o, this is just roughly. 
You may go on in the afternoon, but it v/ould be on a kind of 
momentum and the next morning you read it over after a night, and 
you may change things, or push on further. ihat's all. You 
Just push ahead, line by line, page by page. You can stop on 
page 58 and say, "VJhy didn't I plant this earlier?" And since 
it's a loose-leaf binder, I go back and rewrite that scene, add 
or cut, and then go on, and then go back and... 

S: Do you do much of this rewriting as you go? 

J: '.jell, I don't knovi how you can say much, c^'.uppose I come 
to a place where a character comes on and I think, "That char- 
acter should have been planted somewhere earlier." I won't 
bother about it, ^ut it'll be in my mind. I know where he can 
come in. He can come in at the fort. I've got a character in 


there that is Just listed as Man, so I can go back there and 
build him up a bit, so that he doesn't Just pop up suddenly 
v;hen you need him later." 

S: Do you v/ork with any music in the background? The radio 
or the T.V. on, or do you have to have silence? 

J: uo. V.'ell, I don't have to have exactly silence, but I do 
have to keep the producer out. [laughter] Mo, I just write on 
until I get a page or a half a page or a page and a half and 
I v/ant to look at it, and m.y secretary then puts it in neat 
form. I put it in a book and then I say, "I've got eighteen 
pages nov;. Pretty good. riot bad." She Just keeps things 
neat and clean. I hate an untidy script. The poor girl has 
to rev;rite a page six, seven, eight times. Just 
changing a word or something like that, uut she's used to it. 
She VI3.S my secretary for about ten years before I v/ent abroad, 
and I v;as Just lucky enought to get her v/hen I came back here. 
She xvasn't working. I've only had tv/o secretaries in this 
country: Dorothy, v.'ith me about ten years, then Betty, v;ho v;as 
with me before I went abroad and then she went abroad with me. 
She didn't like it. So she knows what I'm up to. 

S: Let's go on to Scuba Duba then. I finally got around to 
reading the play and my first reaction to it was, "You can't 
possibly make a movie out of it," so naturally I have to ask 
you how you're going to make a movie out of it? 


J: I had to get a little more form in there. It'G hard to 
say except that I just wanted it to keep his comedy, because 
it seems to me hilarious in parts. I mainly had to edit it 
because he writes too much. He tells the thing over and over 
again. It would be better edited, but in substance it's the 
same thing. You're a little shocked when you read it first. 
I read it first and I enjoyed it. I v/ent to Nev; York and looked 
at the play. An interesting thing, sitting and looking at the 
play, I found nothing that anybody could take exception to 
for the first tv/enty or thirty minutes. I was looking for all 
kinds of eroticism, and it actually v;asn't dirty. Then the 
first shocker vras when he v;as talking to his mother on the 
phone and he saicJ:;, "My wife's run off with this God-damned 
spade scuba diver." She said, "V/hat did you say?" ne said, 
"V/ith a black phantom of the depths." Looking at the play, 
with an audience, it v^as rather a revelation, because there 
vjas a big percentage of colored people in these audiences. They 
laughed like crazy because as it's played, there's no racism 
in it at all, and the people recognized it. The man is an 
outraged, bitter cuckold, and he's not sore with him because 
he's black. As he says, "I'll use any weapon I can get my 
hands on." If the man v;as cross-eyed, or one-legged, or had 
any kind of a deformity that you v/ouldn't refer to, he would. 
"This God-damned cross-eyed son of a bitch. This snaggle- 
toothe coon bastard." He had nothing to do with race. He 
tickled me as a character because ho v;as so wonderful, whether 


he v;as a phony liberal or not. ile just had to examine himself 
going dov/n to this Plartin Luther King looking at some girl's 
ass, you knov;. 

S: Behind the tree, yes. 

J: Yes. I don't knov;. We offered it to V.'alter Matthau, v;ho 
said he v;anted to do it, and then I think that his agent told 
him not to. I think that Matthau still v/ants to do it, but 
the agent probably said to him, .;aybe they'll be some controversy 
about this. Maybe there v;on't, but v;hy should you take a 
chance? You knov;, .;hen you can go into another picture iNfith 
Jack Lemmon, and get the same amount of money. Tony Curtis 
v;ants to do it. ile's trying every v;ay to get it. I've got 
nothing else to do v;ith it nov;, but I don't think he's right 
for it. But that's up to the studio nov;. 

S: You're not going to direct it then? 

J: No. 

S: One question that I've been meaning to ask you: we've 
talked about a number of people you've v;orked v;ith. I was 
wondering v;ho are some of the people that you haven't worked 
v;ith whose v;ork you admire, ..-riters, and directors, and also 
possibly actors? 

J: That ' .s such a broad field. I'd like to work v;ith any good 
actor. It v;ould be a joy to v;ork v;ith Olivier. A joy like 


vvorking v;lth James Mason. Mason is a dream to v/ork v/ith. He ' s ' 
a good actor and is very intelligent, very flexible, and it's 
a joy to have him because he makes you look good when he does 
a good job. 

S: I just v7ondered if there v/ere any particular directors, 
for example, that you admired and that you hadn't i;ad an 
opportunity to work with? 

J: No. No, I never look at things like that. There are a 
lot of directors I din't v/ant to v7ork v/ith, as it turned out. 

S: V/hy do you think, over the years, you've been so consistently 
successful as a writer? There are some v.-rlters v/ho do one or 
two pictures that are good and then they fall off, out you've 
been doing good pictures after good pictures for years and years 
and years. V.'hy do you think you've been so successful, if I 
can use that term? 

J: -iell, it's like a batting average. A fellow hits over 
three hundred over the years, that doesn't mean he gets a hit 
every time he comes to bat. It means he gets a hit only once 
out of three times. I think it's mainly because I'm a reliable 
pro. I'm not liable to give them a masterpiece, and they don't 
look for it, but they're pretty sure they won't have to say, 
"Oh, oh. V/e'll have to get somebody else, and the money is 
wasted." I go on picture after picture where, like with The 
Dirty Dozen, there were already three scripts, which they had 


found unsatisfactory for one reason or another. I never read 
them and I don't even knov; who wrote them. But mine clicked 
with them. how I've just done these tv;o scripts, nobody 'd 
been on those before. Yes, Scuba Dub a, they had one script, 
v;ritten by a couple of fellows, I don't know their names; I 
never sav; their script. But it didn't work. A producer is 
happy when he can get his hands on a writer v;ho shows by his 
record that he nearly always comes through v;ith something you 
can shoot. That's as much as I claim. ..'ell, right now, I 
am v/atching Mervyn LeRoy trying to get a script from a book 
called Dov/nstairs at Ramsey 's , v/hich I liked at one time. He 
v/anted me to do it, but other things came up. So far he's only 
had tv/o scripts, i^ut neither one is satisfactory. ;m0w he's 
paid these guys and that money's gone dovm the drain and he's 
exactly v;here he v/as when he first got it. He's convinced that 
if I had done it , that 1 have enough savy and experience that 
odds are he ' a get a script he could use. i'iight be changed and 
anything else, out it won't be money v/asted. 1 think that's 
the main reason: I'm regular. I v/on't come up with a home 
run, but I'll get on base or something like that. Nobody's 
ever follov/ed me on a script. I can't think of any, maybe way 
back, unless in a case like Aldrich, who has you might say, his. 

S: House v;riter. 

J: House v;riter, yes, and he uses him to change things and do 
Aldrich'o own stuff. And Cukor did that v/lth one of my scripts. 


but this is because most directors, they suffer from the 
inablity to v/rite. This isn't v/hat they v;ant to do primarily — 
they want to direct — but John Ford, he simply viecps that he 
didn't put those v/ords down on paper himself. Few of them can 
write. I've kidded them, saying that directing isn't tough. 
I say, "I can name you twenty writers who have become directors, 
You can't name me one director v;ho ' s ever become a v;riter.'' 
That's not true really, because a lot of directors collaborate 
in a script to the extent, that they are writing. they're just 
not putting down exactly the vfords , but they are providing the 
drama and the situations. 

S: Perhaps the other side of the question is then, you're at 
an age nov/ v;hen most men have retired. You seem to be fairly 
well off. <.hy do you keep on v;orking and keep on v/riting? 

J: I keep threatening to retire. I rem.ember v;hen I was in 
New York talking to Yip' Harburg, and I said, "I'n thinking of 
retiring after this, if I ever get out of this play." ne said, 
"Ah, now for God's sake. '..'hat v?ould you do if you retire?" I 
said, "I'd v;rite a play." [laughter] As long as I'm func- 
tioning, it' 6 just impossible for me to think of myself sitting 
around not doing anything. I ' d go crazy. tut they'll stop 
me. [chuckles] The first time I do a script they can't put 
on or that they have to hold their noses over, I'll be retired 
all right. 

S: Then you can sit dov/n and v;rite a play. 


J: Or a- screenplay. I didn't realize I v;as getting that old 
until I got there. 

S: Well, I think this about v/raps it up. I'm sure if I v/orked 
at it, I could think of a hundred more questions. I probably 
V7ouldn't even have to v;ork at it, but vre're out of tape and 
we really have to stop talking sometime. So thank you very 





257G (Cont. 2) 


Me neither. 

It's jus' stuff I been thlnkln' 
about. Gimme your han'. Ma. 

As he climbs over the fence 

Good-by, Tom. Later - when 
It's blov;ed over - you'll come 
back? You'll try to fin' us? 


Sure. Good-by. 

Good-by, Tommy. — 

He walks av;ay . She stands looking after him. He'i 
leaving her forever - she knows It. She lifts her 
hand and waves. She tries to smile. 



He turns, waves, smiles. Kls lips form the v;ords 



Then he strides avjay Into the 


^67 1^15. 


It stands loaded in front of the Joad tent while 
Al, Pa, Uncle John, Ma, and the little fellas pile 
in the last articles in a fury of excitement. Be- 
hind, in the background, another jalopy is being 
prepared for travel with the same feverish haste. 


(ad lib) 
Get them buckets on! Somebody 
tie donw that mattress! You 
little fellas keep outa the 
way ! 


(from other 

truck, gaily) 
V/hat're y'all hurryin' so for? 
Tell me they got twenny days 
work. ! 

Yes, sir, an' we aim to git 

in all twenny of 'em. 


To shovj other Jalopies in the bacrground being 
readied for leaving- an excited, hopeful exodus 
on a new report to work. 


Ready, Ma? 

I'll get Rosasharn, 


All aboard, ever'uody! All 
aboard for Fresno! 

As Ma comes out of the tent. 


Ma supports Rosasharn tenderly. For the plumpness 
has gone from the girl and she is thin again, her 
face drav/n and unhappy, ner eyes swollen with weep- 
ing and suffering. 

261 (Cont.) 

Try to be strong, noney . Some- 
day it'll be diff'rent - some- 
day you'll have another one. 
You're still just a little girl, 

As Pa takes Rosasharn's other arm... 


Pa and Al and Uncle John help Rosasharn onto the 
truck. She lies dovm on the mattress, her face 
away from them. 

Make her easy, John. Vv'atch her. 

She'll be av:right. 

(in the 

Ready, Pa? 

(as he and Ma 
climb in the 
front seat) 
Let 'er go Gallagher! 

The truck wabbles into motion. Al races the engine 
It nearly crashes another wheezing jalopy at the 
corner. When it turns the corner... 

263 GATE 

It is a line of loaded jalopies that ride out to 
the highway. The caretaker waves and the migrants 
wave back. 

Good luck to you! Good luck, 
ever 'body ! 

Good-by, Mr. Conway! Much ob- 
lige to you for ever' thing! 

The Joad truck turns onto the highway. 

i\67 1^17. 


Al drives, ;4a is In the middle. Pa on the outside. 

Twenty days vjork, oh 

Be glad to get my han' 
on some cotton. That's 
the kin' of plckln' I 
understan' . 

Maybe. Maybe tv/enny days 
work, maybe NO days v;ork. 
We ain't got It till we 
get It. 


Whatsa matter. Ma? Gettin' 


(smiling faintly) 
No. Ain't never gonna be 
scared no more. 

(after a pause) 
I was, though. For a while 
I thought we was beat - GOOD 
an* beat. Looked like v;e 
didn't have nothin' in the 
worl' out enemies - v;asn't 
NObody frein'ly anymore. It 
made me feel bad an' scared 
too - like we was lost... 
an' nobody cared. 

Watch me pass that Chewy. 

You the one that keeps us 
goln'. Ma. I ain't no good 
_^ any more, an' I know it. 
Seems like I spen' all my 
time these days a-thinkin' 
how it use'ta be - thinkin' 
of home - an' I ain't never 
gonna see it no more. 

Ma places her hand on one of Pa's and pats it. 

^67 ' li}8. 

264 (Cont.) 

Woman can change better'n a 
man. Man lives In jerks - 
baby born, or somebody else 
dies, that's a jerk - gets a 
farm, or loses one, an' that's a 
jerk. V/ith a vjoman it's all one 
flow, like a stream, little ed- 
dies, little v;aterfalls, but the 
river it goes right on. V/oman 
looks at it like that. 


(at the jalopy ahead) 
Look at that ol' coffeepot 


(thinking of 

what Ma says) 
Maybe, out v;e shore takin' a 
beatin' . 

I know. I'laybe that makes us 
tough. Rich fellas come up an' 
they die, an' their kids ain't 
no good, an' they die out. But 
v:e keep a-comin' . We're the 
people that live. Can't nobody 
wipe us out. Can't nobody lick 
us. We'll go on forever. Pa. 
We're the people. 

She says this with a simple, unaffected conviction. 

265 TRUCK 

Steaming and rattling and churning, it passes the 
Chevrolet and Al leans out of the window and waves 
a Jeering hand at it. As the Joad truck pulls in 
front, v;e see Ruthie and V/lnfield laughing with 
excitement over the triumph. Even Uncle John shares 
the general satisfaction. Grinning, he waves. As 
the truck moves av/ay along the road, all three are 
beaming and waving toward CAMERA. Dov;n the road the 
truck passes a sign on the side of the road. It 


m u p TT M n 


[Films indicated by an asterisk (*) vrere seen by the 
interviewer prior to the interview.] 

1927 FOR LOVE OF MIKE, First National 
1933 A BEDTIME STORY, Paramount 


ROMAN SCANDALS, United Artists (uncredited) 
193^ MOULIN ROUGE, Twentieth Century-United Artists 

HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD, Twentieth Century-United Artists 

United Artists 

KID MILLIONS, United Artists 

1935 CARDINAL RICHELIEU, Twentieth Century-United Artists 

(uncredited by Johnson's request) 


THANKS A MILLION, Twentieth Century-Fox 

BABY FACE HARRINGTON, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 

[all remaining titles for Twentieth Century-Fox unless 
otherv/ise noted] 














19l|Il *CASANOVA BROWN, Radio-Kelth-Orpheum 


1945 *ALONG CAME JONES, RKO-International 
19^16 *THE DARK MIRROR, Universal-International 

1947 THE SENATOR WAS INDISCREET, Universal-International 

1948 *MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID, Universal-International 



1951 *THE LONG DARK HALL, Eagle Lion Classics 







1957 *0H MEN! OK WOMEN! 

i960 *THE ANGEL WORE RED, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 



196^ »THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, United Artists 
1965 *DEAR BRIGITTE (uncredited by request) 
1967 *THE DIRTY DOZEN, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 



I ^xt 


, -^>^MIKIVFRf/>, 

•kI i xtrri i:^m i 



.\\\iW\\ ' 





iS^j % 




^V:lOSANCElfj>^ <evlllBRARYG^ <>^ILIBBARY(5^ 



_^ ^-'-^'^ 






S iudi 


=3 C3 

<rii]9NVS0i- -'^ "^Aai 

v\ir T' i\ rDf,^ 


=rii^i ? 




-J i] JiX> -■su I 



s^N;\tlIBRA2V,v/ ^;^^t•llBliARYf 

/i. .^ 

Wf^i iifpc 

^tllBRARYOx^ *>^tllBRARY(9/c^ 

s! ^■3AiW 



^ 3 

O li. 

.;;0FCA11F0% ^OFCAllFOff^ ^^\^EUNIVER% ^lOSANCEliT^ 

^OAdvaaiiiv^ ^OAMvaaiiiv^ ^Tii^oNvsoi^ 












^(JAuvaan-i^ <rji]'jN\'soi^' 







£ ;^ 




5 i(- "^1 



^lllBRARYO/r^ ^t-llBRARYQ^ 

'^iOJIlVDJO''^ ^.i/OJIlVDJO't^ 






. ^^lOSANCELfj-^ 


^^.OF■CALIF0% ,j,OFCAllF0% 

'^^omimw^ "^OAuvaaii-^' 



^OfCALIfO% ^OF-CAlli 








<;^lllBRARYGf ^^^lllERARYl9/r 

%0JnVDJO>' '^aOJIlVDJO^ 




1. i^. ^—^ '^ 


^\\EU(JIVERS//, .vlOSANCElfXp, 


^.OFCAilFOff^ ^OFCA1IFO%. 

^>&A!ivaaii-^'^ "^^CAavaan-^^ 


, . J, o 




■^Aa3AlNll '.,>' 


<:j;,riii'.tiAii xu/-, ^^t-llBRARYO/: 


^OAavaain^ ^OAavaaii^^ 







^OfCAUFOfti^ ^ 


yAavaani^"^ ^<?Aava8n-^'^ 




<rjl30NVS01^ %a3AINft]ViV 











^.OFCAllFOMj^ ^^yEUNIVER% ^vlOSANCElfj-^ 


l\©i 1^1 tel i\©i to 

•5MEU(JIVERy//, ^vvlOSAMCElfj> 


nn F\ II I — ■ 

t^i irrri