by Melville Shavelson
It was in Italy that I first decided to combine a pleasant European vacation at Paramount Pictures' expense with the leisurely shooting of a technicolor bonbon entitled (by someone who insisted on remaining anonymous) IT STARTED IN NAPLES.
The scene: Ext. Naples Railway Station, Day. Characters: Clark Gable, Vittorio De Sica. CAMERA PULLS BACK ahead of them as they cross through the throng outside the station, uttering brilliant dialogue by Jack Rose and your humble servant. BANG. CRASH. THUMP. A huge crane with a tremendous iron ball at the end of a steel cable is destroying the railway station immediately behind the camera where I am attempting to direct the actors. It seems that, almost twenty years after the end of World War II, the station has been declared unsafe because of bomb damage and is to be torn down. Today. CRASH. SMASH. THUD.
Of course, the workmen will stop the destruction while we shoot the scene - for a consideration in the neighborhood of half a million lire. As the iron ball swings closer and closer, I roughly calculate the dialogue remaining to be shot, the possibility of getting it in one take, the proximity of the steel ball, and the fact that my life insurance has lapsed. To Gable and De Sica I suggest they pick up the tempo just a bit - we don't want it to drag, do we? - and as the camera starts to roll, the Naples railway terminal disintegrates behind us, faster and faster, until the shot is completed in just under fifty seconds, everyone leaps out of the way, and we leave for our next location - and more tsouris - on the island of Capri.
One month later, returning from Capri, I visited the station again. The iron ball was still suspended in mid-air. Not one stone of the building had been touched since the moment I shouted, "Cut!" and ran for cover. For all I know the Naples railway station still stands, waiting shakily for World War III, intact except for a collapsed portion reaching from forty feet behind the camera position to the point where The King had uttered the last line of the brilliant dialogue.
[As I didn't know what it meant, I looked up "tsouris" and found it to be a Yiddish word for "trouble" or "distress". Younger readers who have grown up with "The King" meaning Elvis Presley ("The King of Rock 'n' Roll") may not know that Clark Gable was known as "The King of Hollywood".]