The “legends” interviewed by film historian and biographer McGilligan (Fritz Lang, 1997, etc.) are mostly directors whose careers date back to the silent movie days. His anthology brings together a dozen pieces published during the 1970s.
By the time McGilligan, often accompanied by a co-interviewer, caught up with the subjects, most were in their 80s. Never intrusive, the journalists asked just enough questions to kickstart reminiscences. Raoul Walsh recollects how Humphrey Bogart was cast in High Sierra only after George Raft turned it down because he superstitiously didn’t want to die in the end. Clarence Brown talks about Greta Garbo (he was her favorite director) and an 11-year-old actress named Elizabeth Taylor. The one connecting thread among them (and René Clair, George Stevens, actress-turned-director Ida Lupino, and William Wellman) is the happenstance that brought them to their profession. Joel McCrea provides an actor’s view of other legendary directors such as King Vidor and William Wyler. Sheridan Gibney and Dore Shary provide two of the livelier stories: Gibney, a screenwriter who thought of himself mainly as a playwright, became embroiled in the difficulties of the Screen Writers Guild during the 1940s, while Schary, who became a studio executive, recalls his screenwriting days as his happiest. As René Clair likens films to sparkling water to explain why a film can never affect audiences the same way years after it was produced, so McGilligan’s anthology is more archival than immediate. The filmography and introductory essay that introduce each section make for a pleasing format, although the overall style is sometimes distractingly inconsistent. The interview with Ronald Reagan during his 1976 primary campaign seems to belong in another book. The concluding interview with Alfred Hitchcock smacks of promotion for the author’s forthcoming biography.
This is an often fascinating slice of Hollywood history, although it is geared primarily to serious film buffs.