Tales Of The Broke And FamousWritten by Stephen Schochet
"Beverly Hills is a place where you spend a lot of money you don't have to impress a lot of people you don't like!"- - Anonymous Hollywood Producer
If rumors are true that Michael Jackson's lavish life style has left him broke, he would not be first famous celebrity in financial straights. John Wayne found himself in hock after 150 movies. Three wives, seven children, investing his own money in box office troubled The Alamo (1960) combined with an exceedingly generous nature left Duke completely wiped out. He would often walk into bars and shout,"Drinks for everybody on me!" He would get fan letters full of wild pleas for money, from people who had tax problems to mothers who asked for help to pay for their daughter's braces. Wayne would agonize over them but send financial aid if he thought requester was really needy. One time his second wife Chata, with whom he was about to divorce hired a private detective to get goods on him. Down in Mexico near where Wayne was filming western Hondo (1953) investigator forgot his identification one day and got locked up in a Chihuahua jail. Not knowing anyone in a foreign land desperate P.I. called Wayne himself. The Cowboy Star arrived with his buddy and frequent co-star, a disbelieving Ward Bond. "Duke, this guy is trying to ruin you! Let him rot!" Wayne reached into his pocket and pulled out necessary coin to pay bail. "Ah come on Ward, poor man was only doing his job."
Stars can find themselves in money trouble before they know it. While performing in Las Vegas with Dean Martin at Flamingo hotel in 1953, twenty-seven-year old Jerry Lewis ran up $137,000 dollars in gambling debts. The mobsters who ran casino confronted him to ask how he planned to pay it off. The nervy Lewis told them it was their fault for letting a kid run up such a large tab. How irresponsible! The gangsters, a bit bewildered, agreed, then repeated their question. Realizing that these nice gentlemen could whack him, Jerry asked them what they suggested. After a hasty conference they told him he would work it off. The gambling addicted Lewis asked if he could win it back at card table instead, he was told a firm no. The debt took a year and half for comedian eliminate. He would have retired it quicker but card games continued during train rides with former Blackjack Dealer Martin, who kept putting volatile clown further in red.
Another star who suffered through money trouble in fifties was Marilyn Monroe. Tired of playing dumb blondes, she bolted from her studio Twentieth Century Fox to start Marilyn Monroe Productions. Actors are often advised not to use their own name in their personal ventures, it makes other ego-driven stars less willing to work with them. Marilyn's film output slowed down and by 1959 her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, was telling her she should accept dumb blonde role in Some Like It Hot, they needed money. "I can't see through Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag? Oh my God, I've been dumb before but never that dumb." She went to her well renowned acting teacher, revered Lee Strasberg to ask how she could make audience believe her character. Strasberg suggested that Marilyn, always a man's woman, play part as someone so desperate for female friendship, she simply didn't pay attention to her co-star's masculine features. She took his advice and result was a comedy classic.
Walt Disney's Psychedelic MovieWritten by Stephen Schochet
Chasen's restaurant in old Hollywood was a legendary hangout were movie stars expected to dine in peaceful private booths on barbecued chili without putting up with celebrity gawkers. There were occasional breaks in quiet. Jimmy Stewart's bachelor party was thrown there complete with midgets clad only in diapers jumping out of cakes. Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre got drunk one night and stole restaurant's safe, carrying it out onto street until they were caught. WC Fields once caused his girlfriend Carlotta Monti great anguish by dining at Chasens with another woman. She called up nearby Cedar Sinai Hospital and told them that comedian was having a heart attack, resulting in an ambulance coming to fetch him in middle of dinner. And in 1938 conductor of Philadelphia Orchestra, long haired, flamboyant Leopold Stokowski, in town to carry on a discreet love affair with Greta Garbo, had his dinner interrupted by a note from a waiter saying that Walt Disney wanted to meet him.
The cartoon maker and maestro were surprised that both were fans of each other. As always Walt saw meetings with talent as an opportunity to push creative envelope. In fifteen years of running his animation studio, Disney had used music to supplement gags and stories, now he wanted to reverse formula. While recently attending a symphony at Hollywood Bowl he had been enthralled listening to The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas. What if it were combined with a state of art, twenty minute animated cartoon? It could raise animation to a higher art form and introduce new audiences to classical music who had never appreciated it before. Stokowski loved idea so much he volunteered to conduct it for free. He also suggested several other pieces that could be presented with animation as well. And so Fantasia (1940) was born.
Disney's other reason to make Sorcerer was to save career of Mickey Mouse. A superstitious man, who like many in Hollywood consulted fortune tellers, he felt that if Mickey died, his whole organization would go down with him. The problem was that Mickey like many stars was now type cast. He had gone from being mischievous to bland. It had gotten to point where Walt would get letters of complaint every time little guy would misbehave on screen. He had been surpassed in popularity by mean-spirited but more versatile Donald Duck. Walt also felt that high pitched voice that he himself provided for mouse was not exciting for audiences to hear, his role in Fantasia would be silent. Disney remained Mickey's strongest advocate, despite his artist's suggestions four foot rodent was a dumb character who should be replaced in film by Dopey. Their disdain lead to phrase,"A Mickey Mouse Operation" used to describe things that are second rate.
At that time, flush with huge success of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937) 37-year-old Walt Disney was at height of his creative powers. Visitors to studio were amazed by his boundless energy, they would have more surprised to find out he had suffered a nervous breakdown eight years earlier. His anything is possible attitude carried over to many of his artists who were zany characters to begin with. Working on Fantasia with highbrow types like Stokowski and music critic Deems Taylor, Walt would sometimes feel embarrassed by their immature behavior. Don't be, he was told, Your cartoonists are like elves in Santa's workshop.