William Holden, Adolph Zukor, Gene Kelly and Milton Berle don’t have a whole lot in common. Even so, they all are captured in today’s blog via brief sketches written by one of our veteran Hollywood pals.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again to welcome literary snapshots from Hy Hollinger, who many moons ago worked as a junior publicist at Warner’s, as a market exec at Paramount, and — more recently — as a distinguished trade journalist at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
The beauty of these brief, off-the-cuff glimpses of four very different individuals is that they catch each one in a telling, unguarded moment. Nothing terrible, mind you, but not necessarily the way the four would have liked to present themselves.
Hy begins with the costar of 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, the Oscar winner of 1953’s Stalag 17, and the linchpin of director Sam Peckinpah’s seminal 1969 western, The Wild Bunch. (There he is in the photo above.)
“In 1962, as a Paramount marketing staffer, I arranged a cocktail reception in the Paramount building for William Holden, the star of the based-on-a-true-story spy thriller, The Counterfeit Traitor, directed by George Seaton.”
(The movie is based on a book by Alexander Klein, about an American businessman living in Sweden who is blackmailed into spying on Nazi Germany. Holden’s costar was Lilli Palmer. Little seen today, it is considered a unsung gem buried in the Paramount vault.)
“Eric Erickson, the Swedish industrialist on whom the movie was based, was also on hand. Super-agent Charles K. Feldman, who represented Holden, called me over to call attention to a tumbler full of vodka Holden was holding. ‘Get a waiter to stand next to him with a full glass of water,‘ Feldman requested. I gave the waiter $20.”
(It’s no secret that Holden had problems with alcohol. The actor died in November 1981, at 63. His body was found by the manager of the Santa Monica apartment building where Holden was living, alone. He had a two-inch gash in his forehead, which had bled profusely. His blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal driving limit. The Los Angeles county coroner determined that the actor, intoxicated, had tripped on a rug, hit his head on a bedside table, passed out and died from loss of blood.)
MOGUL ADOLPH ZUKOR: “(The studio’s ) founding father still maintained an office at Paramount with the title of chairman emeritus. One day his secretary asked me to accompany him to a Motion Picture Pioneers dinner. I picked Zukor up in a taxi. As I steered him to the dais, he said to me, ‘Pick me up early. I want to get home to catch a fight on the radio.’ The next day my boss summoned me to his office, and told me to pick up the other phone. It was Zukor. ‘Make sure that nice young man gets back the taxi fare,’ he said. At the time, the fair came to less than $2 round trip, including tip.”
GENE KELLY: “Ernest Lehman, one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters (North By Northwest, Sweet Smell of Success, among other titles) invited his friend Sid Garfield, a publicist and column planter for Warner Bros., to have lunch with him and Gene Kelly. Kelly and Garfield hit it off big at the lunch, based mainly on their knowledge of composers and lyricists of popular songs.
“The next day Garfield and Kelly were (separately) walking on Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue. They spied each other but seemed uncertain about the correct protocol on whom should make the first approach at saying ‘hello.’ Both walked on.
“The next day Lehman received calls from Kelly and Garfield, both in essence saying the same thing. “What’s with your friend? We had such a great time at lunch. The next day he passes me by without saying hello.” (Ah, the perils of proper star etiquette. See Hy’s next entry.)
MILTON BERLE: (Returning to New York from a business trip to Chicago, Hy ran into the comedian’s press agent.) “He offered me a ride from the airport in Berle’s limo. I sat in the jump seat near the door. When we crossed the 59th Street bridge (connecting Queens to Manhattan), I suggested that I could get out first since I lived nearby on 55th Street.
“Nobody gets out before me,” commanded Berle.