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Back in the picture

First as a writer, then as a director, Peter Bogdanovich worked with most of the giants of cinema. He reminisces to Sam Delaney about the true movie stars

Saturday November 20, 2004
The Guardian

Peter Bogdanovich
Bogdanovich ... has seen star quality up close. Photo: AP
Consider how movie stars have changed over the years. Audrey Hepburn survived oppression and malnutrition under the Nazis, then became a Hollywood princess by virtue of her glamour, charm and beauty. Catherine Zeta-Jones studied tap in Swansea, starred in The Darling Buds Of May, then became a Hollywood princess by virtue of having it off with Michael Douglas. Cinema audiences used to break into rapturous applause the moment Humphrey Bogart appeared on screen. Ben Affleck inspires little more than guttural moans. They don't make them like they used to.

Peter Bogdanovich, veteran director, writer and Hollywood commentator, knows why. "The end of the studio system signalled the end of the great screen stars," he says. "They were the sort of actors who brought their own charismatic personas to each role they played. Audiences felt as if they knew them immediately every time they watched one of their movies." Film-makers, says Bogdanovich, no longer recognise or acknowledge "star quality". He, on the other hand, has seen it up close.

Marlon Brando

"Marlon Brando changed everything for actors. After him, everyone wanted to be Marlon. No one wanted to be a type: they all wanted to display versatility in every role. But the brilliance that Marlon had was that he had star personality that shone through in every role. By 1961 he was 37 years old and a superstar who could pick whatever role he wanted. He got involved with a Stanley Kubrick movie called One Eyed Jacks. Marlon turned up to a production meeting and informed everyone there - including the legendary director himself - that they only had three minutes each in which to speak. Kubrick told him to go fuck himself and, as a result, was fired as director. Brando took over but the movie spiralled over budget and over schedule. The whole movie ended in acrimony. In fact, the only reason he continued acting after that was through financial necessity - he had 14 kids to support."

John Wayne

"I met John Wayne in 1965 on the set of El Dorado. We chatted for an hour and when he was finally called away he told me how great it was to have spent some time talking about movies. 'All people ever want to talk about with me these days is politics and cancer,' he said. Wayne's rightwing politics had become notorious while his acting abilities were largely written off. He was considered for most of his career to be a one-trick pony. But he brought such strong personality to his roles and still tops polls of America's all-time favourite movie stars. Duke loved the process of acting. He couldn't get enough of it. On a movie set he was like a kid in a candy store. On the set of El Dorado I watched him spend hours playing with props, talking with the crew and watching it all happen. He'd never go to his trailer. He was too excited to be around the film-making process."

Humphrey Bogart

"Bogart initiated the original Holmby Hills Rat Pack which was basically a group of stars who professed to believe in little more than staying up late and drinking. But he also led a march to Washington in 1947 to protest the investigations of the Un-American Activities Committee and campaigned for [Democratic presidential candidate] Adlai Stevenson. Those weren't easy things to do back then. He was labelled a pinko. He was a man of contradictions. He hated pretence but he was passionate about his beliefs and was prepared to stand up for them. He was the same on screen: a tough guy with a heart. He displayed his versatility in films such as The Caine Mutiny and The African Queen. They weren't archetypal Bogart roles but they showed what a good actor he was. He had that quality of being hip without trying to be. He also represented a type of American that has since died out."

Cary Grant

"I knew Cary for 25 years. To give you an idea of what a star he was, President Kennedy once called him at home just to hear what his voice sounded like! He stole my girlfriend once. It was 1973 and we'd gone to see another president, this time Nixon, bestow a medal on the film-maker John Ford at a big ceremony. My date at the time was Cybill Shepherd, who I introduced to Cary when we bumped into him in the line. For the next 20 minutes, she was his. They talked, laughed and flirted. I could see she was captivated but I wasn't jealous. I mean, who could blame her? He was Cary Grant. It was only once Cary developed that trademark persona of sophisticated comic charm that his career really took off. It was on his 29th movie, The Awful Truth, that he stumbled upon it. The director, Leo McCarey, looked similar to Cary and encouraged him to imitate all of his mannerisms. It worked well on screen and Cary used the same routine in all his future films. McCarey never felt he got enough credit for inventing the Cary Grant we all got to know. It's a misconception about acting that it's a practise in pretending to be someone else. It's actually a practise in finding the character within yourself."

Marilyn Monroe

"I encountered Marilyn Monroe at an acting class in 1955. I was starting out in my career but she was at the peak of hers. She was nevertheless enthralled by the words of our teacher, Lee Strasberg. She wanted to learn about sophisticated methods of acting because she was so insecure about her own abilities. The reality was that she was a great, natural comedienne. She took superficial, cut-out roles and elevated them to whole new levels. But Marilyn never drew any confidence from this. She was very vulnerable when she arrived in Hollywood. Her father had died when she was three, her mother was in and out of mental hospitals and she'd been raped as a child. This left her riddled with insecurities. Howard Hawks told me how she would try and run from the set when it was her time to sing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When Fritz Lang directed her in Clash By Night he told me he lost his temper because she would insist on having her acting coach on set with her all the time. Hollywood did little to install her with confidence. She was passed around and treated with contempt. They thought she was pretentious. They threw her some bones but she was treated as a sex object by critics, film-makers and fans alike. Like so many actors she came to see herself entirely through other people's eyes."

Audrey Hepburn

"Most actors develop and hone their ability over a number of movies. Audrey Hepburn arrived in Hollywood from Europe and made an immediate impact. She won an Oscar for her first major role, in Roman Holiday. She was only 24 but it was as if she was already the finished article. She went on to star in some of the biggest movies of the early 1960s but effectively retired at the age of 37, at the peak of her career. She was very conscious of the immorality of Hollywood and didn't want it to affect the upbringing of her children. In 1979 I managed to convince her to make a comeback in my movie, They All Laughed, by agreeing to hire her son as an assistant. We had to shoot the bulk of the movie on the busy streets of Manhattan during the day, which wasn't easy. We had to use a couple of discreet cameras and Audrey had to hide out in shops waiting for us to roll. Once I gave her the hand signal she would walk into shot, deliver her lines and disappear into her hiding place before she got noticed by anyone. It was hardly the star treatment and trailers she was used to but she didn't complain. It worked out pretty well for her - every shop that she hid in would end up giving her a gift. She ended the shoot weighed down with free gloves and umbrellas!"

· Peter Bogdanovich hosts a season of classic movies on Sky Cinema from Thu 25-Nov 27. His new book Who The Hell's In It? (Faber & Faber, 20) is out now

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