by Ernest Borgnine
I hadn't worn a toga in a while. I guess producer Dino De Laurentiis thought the world needed another dose of that when he phoned and asked me to appear in his biblical epic starring Tony Quinn as the criminal who was freed when Jesus was sent to the cross.
There wasn't much of a part for me. They already had Jack Palance as the bad-boy gladiator and Arthur Kennedy as Pontius Pilate. My then-wife Katy Jurado had been cast, and my old buddy Richard Fleischer was directing. Those were all good reasons to do the picture. I told Dino I'd consider it.
He said, "We'll give you $25,000."
That was damn good for what amounted to three-quarters of an hour's work. I could tell Dino really wanted me, and I decided to push it. I happened to be thumbing through a magazine that had pictures of Ferraris.
Man, I thought, that's a good-looking car.
I said, "I'll do it for $25,000 and a Ferrari."
I could hear Dino gulp over the phone two or three times. But, you know, it meant a lot to pictures in those days to have an all-star cast looking out from those big billboards like the one in Times Square. I was betting he'd bite. And he did.
He said, "Okay, and a Ferrari."
My American agent said to me later, "Jesus Christ. I think I'm going to have you as my agent!" Yeah, well - you know what I think of agents.
BARABBAS came out at the tail end of the biblical cycle, after BEN-HUR and KING OF KINGS had covered that territory in big, hugely popular style. There was no room for an epic but reverent, relatively subdued film about this tortured man who finally discovered Christianity. The movie was a box-office disappointment. I felt bad for Tony, who did some great work, and particularly for Katy, since a hit would have bumped her up a few notches in terms of popularity.
That's show business. Sometimes, even God can't help you.
After BARABBAS I stayed in Rome to do another Italian-language picture starring Vittorio Gassman, the Italian actor who was married to Shelley Winters. It was called I BRIGANTI ITALIANI (THE ITALIAN BRIGANDS was the American title).
Life imitates art - Katy played by wife in the picture. Our marriage was starting to disintegrate around this time. The pressures of trying to sustain a marriage when both of us were off working were taking their toll.
My most vivid memory, though, had nothing to do with us. One day I was doing this big scene, giving this impassioned speech to a bunch of people under a tree. Suddenly, I stopped.
The director, a pleasant man named Mario Camerini said, "Why did you stop?"
I said, "When he gets through picking his nose, I'll go ahead."
So help me Christ, Gassman was actually picking his nose on camera!