Fifty years ago, the Academy Awards ceremony was handing out its Oscars to a remarkable crop of films—including big winners such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Miracle Worker, and To Kill A Mockingbird. Although Hollywood’s big-name actors were noted for memorable performances, several 1962 Post articles also pointed out that they were showing a trend toward rebellious, temperamental, and selfish behavior.
Rising stars like Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, and Peter O’Toole were becoming increasingly hard to work with, and were threatening the survival of the studios.
For example, an article about Anthony Quinn often described the actor as “volatile, unpredictable,” alternately gracious or bitter. A director, who had recently worked with Quinn in the movie Requiem for a Heavyweight, said, “I found Tony has great selfishness as a performer. He thinks how each scene can best serve him. Of course, when he’s good, he’s brilliant. He just makes it hard as hell for everyone around him,” [“Anthony Quinn, Unsettled,” October 13, 1962].
An article about Peter O’Toole, star of Lawrence of Arabia, mentioned the rumors among actors that O’Toole was brash, irresponsible, a braggart, and a drinker. The producer of Lawrence of Arabia believed the rumors, O’Toole said. “It hardly helped matters when a fifth of whiskey tumbled from my pocket during our first meeting,” [“Oscar Winner,” March 9, 1963].
Fellow Brit Richard Burton was becoming well known for his wild rages. While filming The Robe, he deliberately ran his head into a wall after failing to perform a stunt called for by the script. The year before, while performing in the Shakespeare festival at Stratford, “he got so carried away during a fight scene that he lifted [Michael] Redgrave and hurled him against the scenery, nearly bringing the set crashing down,” [“Actor With Two Lives,” January 27, 1962].
Robert Mitchum, who had just finished Cape Fear with Gregory Peck, instinctively fought any type of authority. His impatience often led him to lose his temper. When a studio phone failed to work, he destroyed his dressing room and walked onto the set to announce, “If they treat me like an animal, I’ll behave like an animal,” [“The Many Moods of Robert Mitchum,” August 25, 1962].
Newcomer Warren Beatty had starred in only three movies by 1962, but he was already making demands on the studio. He insisted on complete silence on the set while he was acting. He also demanded, and was given, the best dressing room on the lot, normally reserved for Gregory Peck, [“Brash and Rumpled Star,” July 14, 1962].
But of all the troublesome actors, none was more difficult or demanding than Marlon Brando. Lewis Milestone, who had recently completed Mutiny On The Bounty, told Post contributor Bill Davidson that Brando’s attitude—argumentative, uncooperative, and easily offended—“cost the production at least $6 million and months of extra work.”
Co-star Trevor Howard said Brando’s behavior had been “unprofessional and absolutely ridiculous,” and Richard Harris said working with Brando had made “the whole picture a large dreadful nightmare.”
According to Milestone and other members of the cast, Brando rarely knew his lines and would fumble his way through as many as 30 takes of a single scene. He constantly used “idiot cards”—pieces of paper with his lines written on them—which he concealed on his person or somewhere on the set.
Says Director Milestone, “It wasn’t a movie production; it was a debating society. Brando would discuss for four hours, then we’d shoot for an hour to get in a two-minute scene because he’d be mumbling or blowing his lines. By now I wasn’t even directing Brando— just the other members of the cast. He was directing himself and ignoring everyone else.
“Did you ever hear of an actor who put plugs in his ears so he couldn’t listen to the director or the other actors? That’s what Brando did. … I’ve been in this business for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. … Whenever I’d try to direct him in a scene, he’d say, ‘Are you telling me, or are you asking my advice?’ [“The Mutiny of Marlon Brando,” June 16, 1962].
While Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hoped to recoup the cost overruns of Mutiny on the Bounty, Twentieth Century Fox was starting to see similar budget problems on its production of Cleopatra.
Robert Wise, an Academy Award-winning director, predicted Hollywood would have to change to survive. Hollywood, he said, had built up its stars in order to compete with television. In the process, it had created monsters. “Brando’s behavior has made us realize how far out of hand the situation has gotten. More and more of us are saying. ‘The hell with the star. I’ll make little black-and-white pictures with good scripts and unknown actors.’ We must do that to survive. A few more mutinies by stars and we’ll all be out of business.”
Yet the Post editors seemed to expect actors to be demanding, difficult, and hard to work with. Movie stars had to be bigger than life in everything they did. The stars of Hollywood’s golden era, like Gable and Bogart, were “exciting personalities … every gesture and mannerism set them apart from ordinary men, creating about them the aura of a star.
“Each of these old-time stars was a vibrant personality with his own distinctive style. He snarled, fumed, raged, stormed, fought, loved, bled and died with a gusto that today’s pallid actors cannot match.” The editors compared the “glittering greats” of the past with the young stars of that year and concluded, “much of the excitement has gone out of the movies.”