There is an old adage that ‘like attracts like’. It came to mind last Saturday when I saw a photograph of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in this newspaper.
He was being escorted into a police station in New York to be charged with rape. He was carrying three books. One of them was a biography of the Oscar-winning film director, Elia Kazan.
I was fascinated by this choice of reading material. Perhaps Weinstein admired Kazan — or might he even see a similarity to his own story?
Harvey Weinstein was being escorted into a police station in New York to be charged with rape. He was carrying three books. One of them was a biography of the Oscar-winning film director, Elia Kazan
Kazan died in 2003 but in his heyday he was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He won the Oscar for Best Director twice and was awarded a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999. He made stars of James Dean, Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando, among others.
Like Weinstein, he was a force to be reckoned with. His films were both box office successes and critically acclaimed. Everybody wanted to work with him.
I was first introduced to Kazan in 1975. He was in his mid-60s — I was 26.
Sam Spiegel [whose previous films included Bridge Over The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia] was producing a film adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, The Last Tycoon, an unfinished work about a Holly-wood producer. The screenplay was written by the playwright Harold Pinter.
Like many films, it had been through several incarnations: Mike Nichols was going to direct, Dustin Hoffman was to play the male lead (they had done The Graduate together), but both dropped out.
I met Spiegel in 1974 when I was invited by a London casting director to his offices to audition for the female lead.
Both Spiegel and Pinter were present and keen for me to be given the part, but nothing could be signed until the director was on board.
Some months later, I received a call at my London flat about three in the morning from Spiegel in Hollywood to tell me that Kazan had accepted the job.
Kazan was my hero. I was four years out of drama school. These names were like constellations from another planet. I was an innocent.
I was ambitious, but I was naive. I had yet to discover just how naive.
Kazan, whose nickname was ‘Gadge’, flew into London with Spiegel and I was summoned to meet them at the latter’s luxurious apartment in the Grosvenor House Hotel.
We, along with Pinter, sat in a room more capacious than my entire Kentish Town flat.
By this stage I had got to know both Spiegel and Pinter reasonably well because Sam had requested that Harold work with me on the script so that when Kazan got to town I would already be well-versed in the material. The role involved at least one long monologue.
It was a challenging part, but I was ideal for it and both Pinter and Spiegel wanted me. Even so, they said they would respect the decision of their director.
Kazan requested that he and I work together for a week on the script and then I was to be screen-tested, along with one other actress. By this stage, there were no other contenders.
As I remember it, and it is a long time ago, there was no one else at Spiegel’s Dover Street offices in Mayfair when I arrived bright and early on the Monday morning.
Kazan showed me through into a large room with desk and chairs. The windows faced the street. The curtains were drawn closed. I was nervous, of course.
This was my Big Break. My biggest movie role until then had been two lines as a nurse in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Hollywood was on the horizon. By this stage, Robert De Niro, the brightest star of the new boys on the Hollywood block, had been contracted for the principal male role. I was about to step into the cream of Hollywood Society, or so I had been led to believe.
However, Kazan had other ideas.
I stood in the centre of the room, gripping my much perused script.
‘You know the lines?’ Kazan barked at me.
I nodded. I knew them backwards.
What happened from hereon was repeated throughout the week.
Every day, I was called to that room. Every day I was alone for four to five hours with Kazan who bullied, threatened, harassed and attempted to have sex with me.
I was shoved up against the wall by Kazan who forced himself on me, kissing my neck, laying his hands over my body, shoving his erection hard against me while saying: ‘You want this role? You think you have the passion for it? Show me passion. I want passion. Come on, baby, give it to me.’
The first morning, I was lost, confused. This man and his films had won 21 Oscars.
He was famous for his ability to draw the truth out of the actors who filmed with him — using Method Acting [a technique in which actors aspire to complete emotional identification with a part] he learnt from the pioneer Lee Strasberg in New York.
I had studied for three years in London at Drama Centre, where the students were taught along very similar lines.
Was Kazan attempting to fire up my passion, my sexual energies, to draw a better performance out of me? Every day, going back into that room got harder.
Kazan died in 2003 but in his heyday he was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood
Looking back, in the light of all I know now about the Casting Couch, the recent #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, it seems unlikely that I could have been so naive.
But I was.
I spent that week attempting to rehearse with Kazan while he used his director’s position to bully and attempt to seduce me. The effect was I became closed, defensive, far less giving of myself.
I pushed him away, but did not fight with him because I remained uncertain about whether or not this was his working method. After those taxing rehearsals were over, we parted company to reconvene the following week at Pinewood Studios for the screen-test.
I received a message from Spiegel to say that as De Niro could not be in London, Harold Pinter would play the principal male role in the scenes we were to shoot for the screen-test. I was encouraged, having worked with him over the past months.
Alone in my dressing