One excerpt from the Mitchum biography had me shaking my head and laughing for days. I don’t mean to condone drunken behavior here, but this could be my favorite example of Hollywood bad boy drunken behavior I’ve ever read. For sure, it’s a good thing TMZ was not around circa 1955 when Producer/Director Stanley Kramer was filming the medical soap opera drama “Not as a Stranger”. Taken directly from Server’s book, I hope you enjoy it.
But Mitchum and his colleagues were not quite ready to take the Hippocratic Oath, as they proved soon after the hospital training period ended and filming of Not as a Stranger began. Kramer has unwittingly loaded the picture with a number of Hollywood’s most ferocious drinkers. “Mitchum, Sinatra, Brod Crawford, Lee Marvin – every one a teetotaler!” said Ed Anhalt, gleefully recalling the well-lubricated cast. “Myron McCormick? Broadway actor played the anesthesiologist in the picture? He’d fall asleep during a take, wake up screaming, and fall off the set! I’m very fond of Stanley, but he was a good boy, didn’t drink, and…Stanley had no idea what he was getting into with this mob.”
“It wasn’t a cast so much as a brewery,” said Robert Mitchum. The tipping would begin early, and by late afternoon the sets at the California Studios would become a full-blown bacchanal. Fights with fists and food, erupted at a moment’s notice. One day the gang toppled a trailer. On another occasion they broke through the side of a dressing room. Telephones were ripped from the walls. It reminded Stanley Kramer of that picture he had produced about the motorcycle gang taking over the town, only that time the gang was working from a script and he could count on a happy ending.
One day Broderick Crawford went berserk. The scrawny but fearless Frank Sinatra enjoyed needling the huge, powerful Crawford, likening the actor to the retarded character, Lenny, in Of Mice and Men. “He could be mean, Sinatra,” said Anhalt. “Why he was so mean to Brod, I don’t know. And you didn’t want to make Brod lose his temper if you had any sense.” Crawford – Mitchum called him “the Crawdad” – took all the needling her could stand one day and attacked Sinatra, holding him down, tearing off his hairpiece and…eating it. Someone screamed, “My God, Crawford’s eaten Sinatra’s wig!”
“Mitchum tried to pull them apart,” said Anhalt. “He liked Brod, and he liked Sinatra, too. And like the Good Samaritan he ended up getting socked for his troubles. And Sinatra took off, disappeared, having instigated the whole thing. So Mitchum’s fighting with Brod, and Brod throws him through the window onto the balcony outside. Mitchum was big and strong, but Brod was even bigger.”
The Academy Award-winning Crawford began choking on the fake hair he had ingested. Someone ran in with technical adviser Dr. Maxwell, and they attempted to make Crawford vomit the hair clump up. Anhalt said, “I don’t know whether they were trying to save him or save the hairpiece, because it was the only one they had. Anyway, it was mangled and they couldn’t use it, so filming had to be postponed for I don’t know how long, until Sinatra could be fitted for a new toup.”
At the end of one exhausting day – blissfully without incident – Kramer dismissed the cast with a polite request: “Tomorrow morning we shoot one of the most difficult scenes in the picture and I want you all clear-eyed and no hangovers. Please…everybody promise me you’ll go straight home now and get a good night’s sleep.” They promised. Kramer stayed late working with the film editor, then wearily got into his car and headed for home. He stopped at a red light on a seedy corner not far from the LaBrea studio and saw a violent commotion outside a bar. He blinked a few times before he realized what he was looking at. It was three, no, four members of his cast, one of them lying sprawled on the asphalt, two in a ferocious fistfight. The light turned green and so did Kramer, cursing to himself and laughing mirthlessly; he drove on and didn’t look back.
I hope to have another blog up before my participation in the James Cagney blogathon, hosted by the inimitable R.D Finch over at the Movie Projector. You can visit his site at http://themovieprojector.blogspot.com/ for a list of dates and films to be covered. On April 10, I’ll be writing about the first two films in the famed James Cagney and Pat O’Brien screen partnership “Here Comes the Navy” (1934) and “Devil Dogs of the Air” (1935). There will also be an opportunity for a lucky person to win a copy of the special edition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), featuring Cagney in his Academy Award-winning portrayal of George M. Cohan. It looks to be a great blogathon toasting one of Hollywood’s greatest legends and I’m honored to be a part of it.