Cover image for The Men who made the movies : interviews with Frank Capra, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minnelli, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, and William A. Wellman
The Men who made the movies : interviews with Frank Capra, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minnelli, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, and William A. Wellman
Capra, Frank, 1897-1991.
Publication Information:
Chicago, IL : I.R. Dee, 2001.

Physical Description:
x, 308 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Atheneum, 1975.

Edited versions of interviews originally conducted for the television series The men who made the movies.

Includes index.
Format :


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PN1998.2 .M45 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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One of our most thoughtful film critics here takes on eight of Hollywood's finest directors in conversation, reminiscing about their working lives which spanned the most intriguing decades of American filmmaking. The directors are Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, William A. Wellman, King Vidor, and Raoul Walsh. Speaking with them, Mr. Schickel found in these men a special quality: "They felt in their bones the character and quality of a vanished America." There was something valuable to be learned from them, not merely about the cinema but about the conduct of life. Each of these directors created a canon of work that even today sustains critical analysis without sacrificing popular appeal. Each maintained his artistic integrity while working in an atmosphere generally credited with ruining rather than nurturing talent. Their attitudes, Mr. Schickel writes in his introduction, were "composed of a toughness that was never harsh, a pride in achievement that was never boastful, a self-reliance and an acceptance of the difficulties under which they had labored which contained neither self-pity nor a desire to blame others for the things that had gone wrong." Rich in behind-the-scenes stories about such modern classics as It Happened One Night, Dawn Patrol, The Champ, Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, and Shadow of a Doubt, as well as in anecdotes about the men and women of Hollywood, this book is an enduring tribute to the men who made the movies. With 33 black-and-white photographs. "Immensely readable and richly provides a real education in just how movies are made.... One of the best introductions to the cinema that one could ask for."--Library Journal.

Author Notes

Richard Warren Schickel was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 10, 1933. He received a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1955. He became a noted film critic, Hollywood historian, and prolific author and documentarian. He reviewed films for Life magazine from 1965 until it closed in 1972, then wrote for Time until 2010 and later for the blog He wrote 37 books on movies and filmmakers and wrote or directed more than 30 documentaries including The Men Who Made the Movies. He wrote biographies of Woody Allen, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Lena Horne, and Elia Kazan. He also wrote a memoir entitled Good Morning, Mr. Zip Zip Zip: Movies, Memory, and World War II. He died from complications of dementia on February 19, 2017 at the age of 84.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

First published in 1975, this is a who's who of great film directors. The book offers interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, King Vidor, and Raoul Walsh, all of whom were among the Hollywood elite who just about invented what we know as "the movies." Each interview covers numerous subjects and is accompanied by photos. Essential for film collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One RAOUL WALSH I have known Raoul Walsh longer than any of the other directors included here. He was, in fact, among the first of the older generation of directors I met. I had asked to interview him when I was doing research on D. W. Griffith. He invited me out to his ranch in the Simi Valley. His house was a comfortable, rambling affair, nestled beneath a ridge, with a small orange grove surrounding the swimming pool. In a pasture nearby, horses and beef cattle grazed (Raoul was raising quarter horses for fun and profit, but he has since sold most of them). He greeted me on his front lawn, dressed in jeans, western shirt, a Levi jacket and the cowboy boots I have since learned he always wears, no matter what the rest of his costume.     He was leaner than he is now, and still riding his spread regularly, though he was over eighty. In the last couple of years he has lost most of the sight in the one eye that remained to him after an accident in 1930 cost him his right eye. This has slowed him down physically and, from time to time, makes him feel quite depressed. A few years ago, however, his vigor was astonishing. He conducted me through the house to poolside chairs, plucked some oranges from his trees and had his wife, Mary, convert them into the best orange juice I've ever tasted. He talked acutely of Griffith, and amusingly about the life around Griffith's studio in the period before, during and just after the making of The Birth of a Nation . Then we drifted into more general reminiscences and he asked me to stay to lunch, which I did. I lingered too long, and that forced me to undertake a lunatic race across the valley and most of Los Angeles in order to catch a plane for New York. But I scarcely noticed the drive, so strangely moved was I by our conversation, which had followed similar talks with John Ford and Allan Dwan, who also had worked for Griffith.     What they had to say about the early history of the movies was interesting, but what fascinated me was that Raoul and his contemporaries had so obviously lived --in the richest sense--before they came to the movies. I believe they would have lived adventurous lives, even if the movies had not been invented and they had been forced to employ their toughness, energy and humor elsewhere. Raoul, for instance, might well have been a full-time rancher instead of a director--and no loss to him or to the annals of anecdote, since I can't imagine Raoul not turning any experience into a yarn of some sort. Moreover, the fact that Raoul and his contemporaries had done something other than movie-making, had lived hand-to-mouth doing rather humble work, gave them an edge in their work. For one thing, it was impossible for a mogul to frighten them. Since they had survived and apparently even relished living on the margins of society, they could always turn away from the big dough and the glamorous life of Hollywood and go back to the life they had known before. More important, they had a direct connection with the way of life that formed the content of many of their pictures. Raoul, who was raised on a ranch and worked as a cowboy and came into the movies because he was an expert rider, knew something about the West that a later generation of directors could not know. That authenticity distinguishes his films, just as it did those of John Ford, who had also done his first movie work as a rider. In Raoul's case, there is a special feeling for lower-class Irish life ( The Bowery, The Strawberry Blonde, Gentleman Jim ) that is a product of the drifting days of his youth, when he gravitated toward this group. The rough humor and sentimentality, the sheer vitality of it, he was able to translate to the screen with a vigor and liveliness that I find more engaging most of the time than Ford's treatment of the same material, which is often softer, verging occasionally on the bathetic.     If Raoul had any hopes for his movies, they were that each film would tell a good story briskly and would entertain the largest possible audience. He did not make them in order to define himself. He already knew who he was. Maybe he hoped that he could, with his enormous technical skill and his amazing working speed, help the writers and actors to define more clearly whatever it was that they thought they were doing. But that was the end of the matter.     In the seminar that we photographed for our documentary, one of the students asked, "Mr. Walsh, where did you get most of your ideas?" "From the script," he replied briefly, and he wasn't being funny or evasive. Raoul never found it necessary to inquir what he was doing or why he was doing it. He did whatever came naturally to him, and it was sufficient for him that his actors do the same. He says in this interview that he didn't like actresses who came in and "posed" for the camera. Robert Mitchum remembers Raoul directing him in a picture neither of them much cared for. Raoul set up the camera for one scene, said "Turn 'em" and walked away, listening to the dialogue but not watching it. When the scene was finished, he yelled, "Cut" and then inquired of Mitchum how it had gone. "Well, I knocked over the lamp," the actor said, trying to get a rise out of him. "You pick it up? Did it look natural? Fine. Print it."     Two years ago Raoul came to a seminar in film history that I was conducting at Yale. As usual, he told long, hilarious stories about the good old days. Toward the end, one of the girls said, "Mr. Walsh, you've told us a lot about the details of making movies, but I was wondering, did you love movies?" There was a long, puzzled pause. "What's that again, sweetheart?" he asked.     That question I believe he did think was stupid. And I don't think he'd ever asked himself anything so abstract. Obviously, he'd loved doing what he did. If he hadn't, he would have quit and done something different, because that's the kind of man he's always been.     The material which follows differs somewhat from the rest of this volume because less of it was gathered in a single interview. Raoul was the guest of honor at the U.S.A. film festival, held at Southern Methodist University in the spring of 1973, and we decided to shoot most of our footage on him at the festival. Therefore the remarks that follow were made in a variety of contexts--as he responded to questions after a screening of one of his films, as he participated in a seminar with SMU students, even as he engaged in a dialogue with a local television interviewer. This material was supplemented by a more formal interview conducted at his ranch. A brief illness forced Raoul to cancel an interview I had scheduled with him, and a tight budget prevented my remaining on the coast until he was well or making a separate later trip. This interview was done by Robert Bookman, a mutual friend, whose contribution both to the program and to this book I herewith gratefully acknowledge. Because Raoul's words were drawn from diverse occasions, I have arranged them here in an order that seems to me coherent; I have not wished to impede the flow of the text by indicating in precisely which context he took up the many themes he dealt with while we were filming. "THOSE WERE THE DAYS ..." ( Raoul Walsh was born in New York City, but as a young man be sailed for Cuba as a hand on a ship captained by his uncle. From there he went to Mexico, then worked his way to Texas. He began his reminiscences for us there .)     Things were pretty rough in those days. We had a low, rambling ranch house, weatherbeaten, roof leaked. We had a couple of houses outside for the cowboys, corrals for the horses and cattle, no hot or cold running water. And it was a rough life compared to where I am now, [but] I'd like to go back. Men were men in those days. [When I was a young man,] I drifted up into Montana, a place called Butte. That was a wild town. There was plenty of shootings, plenty of hangings. I went to work for a doctor up there, Dr. Raoul Ansenell. He was a Frenchman. He had lung trouble. He thought the nice clear air up in Montana would kind of cure him up. I used to drive him out to the mines when there'd be shootings out there, explosions, people were hurt. And then finally I used to work with him in his office. I remember one time he was operating on a fellow there and he kept telling me to give him more chloroform. He'd say "Encore, Monsieur Raoul, encore." I'd pour the chloroform into the cone. He'd start working and say, "Encore, Monsieur Raoul, encore, encore." This happened three or four times and then he stopped and looked at me and said, "Monsieur Raoul, you have killed him." I said, "Killed him, hell! You told me `Encore, encore, encore!" "Shhhh! He had no chance anyhow." DISCOVERING THE MOVIES So I went with a theatrical company, The Clansmen . I joined them in San Antonio. They had a scene of a man on a horse being taken across stage on a treadmill. He had disappeared and they needed somebody, and I was sitting on the porch there. I had my knee badly damaged and this fellow said, "Cowboy, do you want a job?" I said, "I sure do." And he says, "Come down to the theater at seven o'clock." So I went down to the theater at seven o'clock and he said, "You'll have to get on a horse and you'll get on that treadmill and they'll pull you across." And he said the pay is $30 a week. I said, "Sign me up." So I watched the first act that night. I heard the musicians and stuff and the applause and the hissing and the people emoting. I said, "Oh, gee, this is great. This is great. No more cowboys for me."     [In time] this fellow asked me to go to New York and he introduced me to some agents. One agent by the name of Bill Gregory wasn't there that day, but his secretary said, "Mr. Walsh, do you ride a horse?" I said, "That's the only thing I can do." But this fellow who was with me, he said, "This is an actor of no mean ability. This fellow played such-and-such a part in The Clansmen "--and he named all the parts that I played and I never played any of them. Girl was there with her eyes open, and she kind of looked at me and then she said, "Would you object to working in moving pictures?" I said, "No, I'd love it. Where are they?" See, the Broadway actors didn't want to go into motion pictures at all. So she sent me across on the ferry to Pathe Brothers in Union City, New Jersey.     I met the two Pathe brothers, and they had an interpreter, and the first thing they say, "You ride the horse?" I said, "Yes, I ride the horse." And the two of them started talking in French. "Come, we find a horse." All right. We walked up to a livery stable. The brothers wanted to see if I could ride because in those days nobody could ride. Well, I rode the horse down to these two brothers, spun him around, got off and then made a flying mount and took him off again. "Ah, bravo, bravo, bravo ... magnifique ... magnifique ... Come sign the contract, three pictures."     Well, the first picture they gave me a call and I went down there and I didn't see any horses. Saw this stage and stuff. So they gave me a part to read--"This is what you do, you come in here ..." It was a thing called The Banker's Daughter and I was a young clerk in the bank and I was in love with the banker's daughter, big ex-burlesque dame; and the banker, who was a big guy, he was loaded all the time, acting. We had a big scene in the bank. The police come. The girl protests my innocence. The banker said, "He's a crook." All that kind of stuff. All kinds of titles on the damned thing, you know. And I stood there like a wooden Indian. I figure, What the hell, this is the end of my acting career 'cause he's throwing things and acting all over, you know what I mean. And finally the end--the French director [said], "Dolly, run over there, kiss, kiss, kiss ... good kiss for the man." Girl came tearing over, threw her arms around me and put her tongue down my throat about a mile. I said, "Jesus, this is acting technique."     The second one, I was a prisoner in jail, waiting for a horse. I was in there I don't know for how long. But I finally dug my way out and the cops chased me. And a peculiar thing happened. They were taking a scene at the big meadow in Fort Lee and the Frenchman told me, "You run across that field like a devil after you. And then these fellows come up there, the guards will shoot. When you hear the shoot, you fall." All right. So I got up there in the fields, up in the woods there, and ran across this big field and guards came running after me and shot and I fell down. All of a sudden, somebody was turning me over and saying prayers. It was a priest. He was sitting on his church steps and he thought it was real. I didn't remember that [there was anything like that in] the scene, you know, this guy talking. The Frenchman came tearing. "It's magnifique--Father, you stay there, we take shot of you." So I remind them. I said, "Give the guy some money." He gave him five dollars.     Then came the big opportunity. "Tomorrow you ride the horse. We have story for you ... great story ... you will play great, famous American jockey, Paul Revere." I never knew Paul Revere was a jockey. So they dressed me up as Paul Revere. I picked a good horse that could jump and stuff. They ran me over hill and dale, up and down roads, past old houses, past old cannons that were used in the early days, over stone walls. I took them over picket fences and then, finally, he says, "We have good shot for last scene in picture." There was a big cemetery there and he says, "You will come from over there and jump over every stone, jump over every stone fast as you go. We take." All right. I went up there with the horse, through the cemetery, over the stones. And we were arrested. It cost them $25 to restore some of the stones and this, that and the other thing, you know.     But some of Griffith's people were up there and they saw me ride the horse and I got the job with Griffith. I played in about five or six or seven one- and two-reelers they were making at Biograph. I played in two with Mary Pickford. And talking about stage actors not wanting to work in movies, I remember Lionel Barrymore coming down the alley to the studio and coming in the back way. He didn't want anybody to see him. Then Mr. Griffith decided to make his move to California and he left Biograph, and he had a habit of calling people by their last name. "Mr. Walsh, would you like to go to California?" I said, "When do we start?" So he took me to California with him.     We came to Hollywood at its birth. We had a rough time getting any fellows that could ride in those days. The fellows that applied for jobs were mostly drugstore cowboys. They'd fall off horses and get hurt, and finally Mr. Griffith said, "Mr. Walsh, you've had experience with cowboys. Would you try and find some for me?" About the only place to go would be the stockyards. There were lots of cattle being shipped in from Arizona and New Mexico and Utah, and the cowboys that would bring them in would loll around for a day or two and get drunk and stuff. Then I'd round them up, got them in, gave them a speech about getting into motion pictures and finally got them all settled at a place called Edendale. They all lived in a big barn there. That's how we got the good riders into the motion-picture business then. WORKING WITH GRIFFITH Mr. Griffith was a fine man to work for. I learned all my trade from him. He was a great master of pantomime; he was a gentle man, a kind man, but he was a lonesome man. Mr. Griffith would like to play a pantomime scene and then cut to something with some action, keep it moving, keep the picture moving. In most of his pictures he used the run to the rescue, which was very, very commercial in those days--and still is today. That was his technique and I followed it. Griffith very seldom used notes. He knew what the story was and he would invent things on the set and sometimes he would have a little rehearsal the day before he was going to shoot. And he would watch the people and just tell them what to do and how to look and little pieces of business. Very quiet, calm man. ( In California, Raoul virtually ceased acting and served as an assistant director almost exclusively. Some years ago he told me that among other duties he had to round up the cowboys in Edendale at two or three in the morning after a night of revelry, and somehow get them atop their horses and heading over the mountains into the San Fernando Valley, where Griffith shot most of his action sequences. Of a Sunday, he recalled, Griffith, who never learned to drive, would ask Raoul to chauffeur him around Los Angeles, looking for new and interesting faces which he might be able to use in his films. Finally, in 1914, when his generally acknowledged position as the nation's great director was challenged by the arrival of feature-length spectacles from abroad, Griffith turned to the huge project he had been nurturing for some time, the adaptation of The Clansmen, released the following year as The Birth of a Nation. Raoul was among the several assistant directors who worked with Griffith on it--but he also had a more public role to play .)     They'd been looking for a John Wilkes Booth for a couple of weeks; casting director brought at least twenty to thirty men in for Mr. Griffith and Mr. Woods to see, but they weren't pleased with any of them. And Mr. Woods told me later on that Mr. Griffith [looked out his window one day and] said, "We don't need to look any further. There's John Wilkes Booth over there talking to those pretty girls." That's how I got the part. They built a huge replica of Ford's Theatre, a very expensive set. And I think he filled the orchestra and the balcony with about four hundred, five hundred extras. Then came the time for me to walk into the theater, cross over to the stairway that led to President Lincoln's box. And he would call--in those days there was no sound, so he'd yell at me. He said, "All right. Go up the stairs, take it slowly ... All right ... Work your way up there now. Now you've come to the door of the President. Take your derringer out ... open the door ... go in ... and shoot! Now jump!" And I jumped about eighteen to twenty feet to the stage, banged my knee up pretty bad, hobbled to the center of the stage and yelled out, "Sic semper tyrannis," and then I hobbled off the stage. Mr. Griffith came back and found out that I had hurt my knee and he insisted that I go to the hospital to have it taken care of. I said, "No, it's all right. Have you got to retake?" He said, "No, that was perfect." So they insisted; they took me down to St. Vincent's Hospital and they kept me there a day. I remember that night I was in bed there. I [had] picked up an Apache Indian called Crazy Wolf. I let him camp out in back of my house. He was the first one to do the fall off a horse and I brought him out to the studio and he showed Mr. Griffith what he could do and they signed him up. He was very grateful to me, this Indian. So I was in the hospital bed there that night and all of a sudden I saw his face come up to the window there. There was a fire escape outside the old-fashioned hospital. He had a huge armful of flowers. And I waved him in, he came in, and I said, "Crazy Wolf, you didn't need to spend a lot of money on those flowers." He said, "Me like, me like." I said, "All right, put them down there." He put the flowers on the table, sat down and talked a little while, then he left and I went to sleep. In the morning a big fat nurse came in, she saw the flowers. She said, "Ahhh, now we know where the flowers on the lawn have gone." The Indian had picked the flowers down on the lawn. She called me to the window to look down. There were just two or three flowers stuck around this whole lawn. VILLA RIDES, RAOUL RIDES ( Not long after Birth was completed, Griffith offered Raoul another sort of opportunity .)     Griffith said, "Raoul, we're going to let you direct." I said, "Fair enough." So he gave me a piece of paper that was the script: Joe meets Jenny, Jenny's mother don't like 'im, the father is a drunk, you know what I mean--and they gave me $75 to go out and shoot it. Go out to the park, you know. If you needed a baby in a carriage, you saw somebody there and you say, "Would you like to make two dollars and be in pictures? You can be a big star someday." "Yes." The woman with the baby would see somebody else. The policeman was always glad to get a fiver. And different types, you know, you'd pick up and go through with the thing. And you'd see a house and you'd go give somebody two dollars to use the front of their house and the side of the house.     In Mr. Griffith's company there were three units--the Majestic, the Reliance and the Mutual. And most of the Reliance and Majestic pictures were what we made at the Fine Arts studio. If the picture was good, it was released on Majestic. If it wasn't any good, it was a Reliance, and the Mutual was the weekly. The weekly made a deal with Pancho Villa to go through his revolution and photograph the battles and photograph him--$500 a month. They sent a fellow down there and a cameraman with the check for $500 and they never saw them again--the cameraman, the $500 or the guide. So they hired some detective agents to find out what the hell happened and they found out that [Villa's people would only accept gold]. Griffith called me in and he said, "You've been in Mexico, you understand a little bit the customs of these people, would you like to go down and photograph the General?" I said, "I sure would." I took off that night, and he said, "By the way, we're going to make a story [using your footage], so you'd better think of some story to tell him when you get down there." I took the Southern Pacific train, got off at El Paso, the Mutual representative met me, took me to the hotel and told me the setup. And they had $500 in gold this time. Ortega, that was Villa's contact man, was there. A very nice fellow. I made great friends with him, Ortega. (Continues...) Excerpted from THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES by RICHARD SCHICKEL. Copyright © 1975 by The Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Raoul Walshp. 15
Frank Caprap. 57
Howard Hawksp. 95
King Vidorp. 131
George Cukorp. 163
William A. Wellmanp. 191
Vincente Minnellip. 243
Alfred Hitchcockp. 271