Friday, July 31, 2009

The Importance of BARABBAS

From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

I could be a capricious bastard on a motion picture set. If I did not get what I wanted, when I wanted it, there was no telling what I might do. For all my grousing over temperamental creatures like Yul Brynner and Anna Magnani, I was no better. In some ways I was worse, and yet I indulged myself in this because it kept life interesting.
And why not? It was not in my character to acquiensce to a producer, even in matters of little consequence. Where was the sport in merely avoiding all friction, accepting what was given? The true measure of an actor's stature lay in his ability to make trouble. If they tolerated your tantrums, it meant you were a big star.
They tolerated mine, I made sure of it. I had a winner on the BARABBAS set, and it was out of this nonsense that my future was spun. At issue was whether I was entitled to a dresser, someone to see me in and out of my costume changes and handle my wardrobe. What the hell did I need with a dresser? What did anyone need with a dresser? It had always seemed to me an unnecessary extravagance, and yet I was humiliated to learn that my costar and friend, the Italian matinee idol Vittorio Gassman, had a dresser at his disposal.
I learned this at an inopportune time, at least as far as Dino De Laurentiis and director Richard Fleischer were concerned. I was preparing to play a key confrontation with Jack Palance, in front of an arena crowded with extras. I was having some trouble with my robes, and needed an additional few minutes to meet my call. One of the production assistants suggested a dresser might be able to help. "Mr. Gassman's dresser is just finishing with him," he said innocently. "She can come in and dress you when she's through."
I fumed: "What? Mr. Gassman has a dresser and I don't? What the fuck is that?" At the time, the inequity struck me as intolerable - and just cause for a star turn.
"We weren't told you required a dresser," the boy very reasonably replied.
"What the hell. If Gassman's got a dresser, then I'll have a dresser. How the hell can I not have a dresser if he's got one?"
To this, the assistant had no reply. It was difficult to reason with a testy artist rattling off his demands. Actors are sometimes referred to on a motion picture set as "the talent" - as in, "The talent is causing some trouble" - and I always felt a certain condescension in the phrase. Here, I could tell, the poor boy was thinking of me in just these terms, and he looked at me as yet another in a string of petty annoyances sent to muddy his otherwise pleasant day.
Just then, I spotted a beautiful blond girl across the way, absentmindedly looking at the other actors' tunics. She moved with such grace and surety that I was drawn to her. (Or perhaps it was just that she pulled into my sightlines with good timing.) I pointed in her direction. "That girl," I proclaimed, "she will dress me. Go and make the arrangements."
The assistant was in over his head, unable to help the temperamental talent or himself. "Mr. Quinn," he stammered. "I'm afraid I can do no such thing. She's one of the costume designers."
"I don't give a shit what she is," I bellowed. "She's gonna dress me!"
There were five thousand people milling about the arena, waiting to be put to work. They had been waiting all morning, and each minute was costing a fortune. Word of the delay traveled up the chain of command, and soon De Laurentiis himself was knocking on my door, wanting to know what the matter was. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Tony, it's eleven o'clock and we haven't done a shot!"
"Fuck you, Dino," I shouted, from the other side of the door. (I would not let him in.) "Who the hell do you think I am, offering me Gassman's dresser? I don't want his fucking hand-me-down. I want my own dresser. I've already picked her out."
"Tony," he pleaded, "they've told me about the girl. She can't dress you, she's a costume designer."
"She'll dress me, or I'm going home," I said. "You decide." Being a star meant you could sometimes get away with an ultimatum like this; it remained to be seen if this was one of those times.
De Laurentiis went to talk to the girl. She would not dress me. She wanted to do the work she was hired to do, and she wanted credit for it. The experience was one thing, she reasoned, but the credit would help her land her next job. He offered to give her a full designer's credit on the picture, and a salary bonus, if she would help him out, just this once.
Still, she could not decide. After about an hour, she came to see me. "Why do you want me to dress you?" she asked. "I don't understand." She did not speak English, and my Italian was lousy, so we settled on French.
"Because Gassman has a dresser and I don't," I explained. "What's to understand?"
The poor girl did not know what to make of my reasoning, and went to see her boss, the production designer, for advice.
"Well, my dear, what can you expect?" her boss said. "Signor Quinn, he's a diva. He has chosen you. He is the diva so he gets what he wants. That's the way it is in pictures. Maybe it is not a bad thing, that he has chosen you. He has beautiful legs. It should not be such a chore to dress him."
The girl came back to see me. "I need a better reason to come and dress you," she said. "So Signor Gassman has a dresser and you do not? What concern is that of mine? I am a costume designer, not a dresser."
"You are absolutely right," I agreed, not wanting to put the girl through any more anguish than I already had. I figured a little civility might help my case. "I have put you in a terrible position, and for that I am sorry. I did not know what to do. But now I'm in so deep, they'll eat me alive if I give in. Please, you must help me. I'll pay you anything you want."
The girl finally agreed. She would not accept my money, but took the job, she said, for the good of the picture. Her name was Iolanda Addolori, and she was lovely. She was from Venice, and her familiarity with the region was an immediate benefit to me and my family. She introduced us to wonderful restaurants, and occupied Katherine and the children with grand adventures while I worked.
(Iolanda would become Quinn's personal assistant on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and would later give birth to his son Francesco on March 22, 1963. On April 16, 1964, she gave birth to Daniele Antonio. Quinn and his first wife, Cecil B. DeMille's daughter Katherine, divorced in Juarez, Mexico in January 1965. Iolanda finally married Quinn on January 2, 1966 - while she was pregnant with Lorenzo Alexander, who was born on May 7, 1966. Quinn and Iolanda divorced on August 19, 1997.)

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