Sunday, July 12, 2009


by Kirk Douglas

The work in Rome was bedlam. During the filming, everybody spoke his own language - English, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish. No need to be quiet when you did a scene - it was all going to be dubbed later. I got used to playing intimate scenes with noise all around. And they were tough about paying people. The less you made, the tougher they were. They always held back. Every week, the set was clogged with extras clamoring for their money.
Two of the biggest female stars in Italy were in the movie. Rosanna Podesta played the Princess Nausicaa, who finds Ulysses washed up on the beach and decides to marry him after she sees him cleaned up. Silvana Mangano, Dino De Laurentiis's wife, who just had a huge hit with BITTER RICE, played the dual role of Circe, the witch who turns Ulysses' men into swine, and Penelope, the good wife who fends off ardent suitors, most notably Tony Quinn, while waiting ten years for Ulysses to return home...
In ULYSSES, we had monsters, ships, pigs, grapes, goats, and handled them all, but the most difficult scene was with a little dog. Ulysses comes home in disguise after years of war and wandering, and goes unrecognized by everyone except his faithful dog, now old. I tried to make friends with this dog weeks in advance. I gave him food, petted him, had him live with me at the villa. I like dogs. I've always had dogs. But this was an Italian dog, un cane Italiano, totally indifferent. We shot the scene where the long-lost Ulysses enters the courtyard and the dog runs up to him. I entered, the dog exited. Fifteen times we shot the scene. Fifteen times the dog walked away from me. I have never been so snubbed by a four-footed creature. Finally, we had to go on to something else. The next time we shot the scene, they drugged the dog, so at least it wouldn't run off. Now, it merely turned its head aside whenever the camera was on. We did get enough footage so the editors could cut something together...
I threw a big party at the end of the picture, when Sam Norton and his wife were visiting. It was a theme party at the restaurant Apuleius on the Ostia Antica: waiters in pre-Christian costumes; place-card replicas of Ulysses' ship, each an original work of art; a special feast with the menu in ancient Greek. I made a short speech in Italian; there was much singing and dancing. The director and I had been on the outs. He refused to come to the party, but the producers persuaded him to show up. I wanted to make up with him. I liked him. After the spectacular dessert - a huge ice cream sculpture of Ulysses' ship, complete with Ulysses and his men - I sang the old Italian favorite, "Mama." But I called it "Papa" and sang it to him on my knees, my hand over my heart. But when it came to the line Quanto ti voglio bene (How much I love you) I looked at Anne. The song did the trick all around. Everybody left happy - and tired. I needed a vacation.

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