Movies, Television and Broadway
I sat across a huge mahogany desk from a loud-mouthed, adorable man. His cigar was longer than he was, and he spoke on five phones at once. He was a five-foot-five concentration of human spark and his name was Mike Todd.
"Listen kid, I'm makin' this picture and Merle Oberon cain't do it. She's too old, and besides I want you to do it, to play a campy Hindu princess, okay?"
"A Hindu princess with red hair and freckles?"
"I said campy didn't I?"
On the way out I asked Mike Todd if he was certain he wanted a Scotch-Irish Hindu. His reply was:
"Well, the highest class Hindu's look like you and besides everybody's just people. You're married to a Scotch-Irish Jap aren't you? And if I come over to Japan, I'll be a joop. That's Japanese for Jew. Now, get over to Western Costume and have Irene dress you and dye your hair, you're due in Durango tonight to join the crew."
I arrived in Durango, Colorado, dressed in a sari with black hair and a bewildered look. Meeting me at the airport was the British aristocrat-actor, David Niven who almost died when he laid eyes on me, because his feelings were that princess Aouda should be authentic, not campy. We didn't get off to a good start. He didn't treat me very well because he thought that I was miscast. I didn't like David on that movie, he was snotty.
Cantinflas, the great Mexican actor/comic who played Passepartout was a terrific man. He not only was a great actor and comic but a humanitarian as well. He donated large sums of money and time to the many orphanages in Mexico for underprivileged children.
Bobby Newton, who played inspector Fix and used to stash all of his scotch in his walking stick, was adorable. But, none could top the producer, Mike Todd, in originality and craziness. Once we moved our location to San Diego. He would stand on the bridge of our ship tossing expensive anchovies and appetizers into the air and yelling, "where are my birds, my Siegels, my Jewish birds", as the sea gulls dived for the food.
Marlene Dietrich became my friend and mentor. She taught me many things about lighting myself on camera - key light low and camera high for us girls, with just the opposite for men. Marlene only wore wigs because she had thin hair. She owned a thin gold chain that was an instant face lift. Sidney Gillaroff, the great artist of hair, used to make real tight pin curls. Marlene's gold chain had a hook on it and Sidney would loop in a hairpin, taking one end of the chain and pull it real tight to the other side. The results were the tightening of the facial muscles and skin. That's why everyone thought she was one of the first to use cosmetic surgery - but, it was the gold chain. An au natural face lift. Of course, those of us who tried the gold chain, all had terrible headaches by lunch.
At 7:00 AM we would all arrive at the makeup trailer. Gene Simmons, Kathryn Crosby, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene and the rest of us all sitting there waiting for Sydney to do his magic. Elizabeth would normally be made up the night before, because she always slept late in the morning. She would sleep on one of those Japanese neck blocks to keep her hair in place, then come right to the set.
These were interesting times in the movies and on this picture there was never a dull moment. Mike Todd who was rooming with Evelyn Keys, moved Evelyn out and Marlene in. Pending labor strikes were averted at the last moment. On location in Japan a wave washed the key camera overboard.
The main reason I accepted this roll is because filming would take me to Japan and I would have the chance to spend cherished time with my husband, Steve, in the land that he lived in and loved. So, despite the little annoyances, a wonderful thing happened: I became pregnant.