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Stephen Schochet

 

 

 

Tales Of Hollywood and the Bible

by Stephen Schochet

 

As the filmmakers who worked on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) found out, Biblical Movies can often have a profound effect on their participants. During the production of The King Of Kings (1927) actor HB Warner who was playing Jesus one day walked out of his tent in full costume. While waiting to shoot his scene he sat in a chair with a racing form, a bottle of booze and then lit up a cigarette. Director Cecil B. De Mille watched in dismay as a visiting photographer snapped an unflattering picture of his Messiah. "Come back here you!" De Mille gave chase but was unable to catch the shutterbug. Waving his riding crop angrily he turned to face Warner. "We can't have any bad publicity on this film HB. You need to behave yourself, damn you!" When the actor rose out of his chair he had transformed into his screen character. With proud dignity he asked," Do you realize who you are talking to Mr. De Mille?"

De Mille saw himself as a cultivated, gentile man and brushed of his critics claims that his Biblical epics allowed him to moralize while at the same time put unhealthy doses of sex and violence up on the screen. Often he was unaware of his ferocious temper. On the set of Sampson and Delilah (1949) De Mille clashed with star Victor Mature about Sampson wrestling lions. "They have no teeth," the Director insisted. "I don't want to get gummed to death." replied Mature. Cecil allowed him to wrestle a lion skin, but still needed a shot of some real lions running up a ramp. When the docile animals refused to cooperate, the angry De Mille frightened the beasts into obeying with a stream of foul language and threatening waves of his riding crop. The next day when the film was developed De Mille watched with his assistants and said seriously,"We'll have to do some editing. Can someone tell me who that foul mouthed bald fellow is?"

De Mille's final film was the remake of his own The Ten Commandments in 1956 (he had filmed the silent version of The Ten Commandments in 1923). The 220 minute epic involved logistical nightmares from changing Anne Baxter's character from Nefertiti to Nefertiri (De Mille fretted the original name would lead to breast jokes) to attempting to have Charlton Heston as Moses carry actual stone tablets carved out of the real Mount Sinai. On the first take former high school football player Heston's knees buckled and he was injured, unable to film for several days. Later he completed the scene with lighter wooden tablets. Undaunted, the determined De Mille who suffered a heart attack during filming, decided to focus on the children of Israel frolicking at the base of Mount Sinai after giving up hope that Moses would ever return to them. The young, virile, scantily clad cast tackled their assignment with great enthusiasm but after a few days the orgy became tiring. One exhausted beauty asked an assistant director," Hey Charlie, who do I sleep with to get off this picture?"

Not every director gets as worked up as De Mille. While filming The Bible (1965), John Huston dealt with a myriad of problems. There was The Tower of Babel scene where by order of the Egyptian Government the film extras were not allowed water with their allotted bread leading to riots in the streets. The movie's Abraham, George. C Scott, was drunk much of the time, violently threatening his leading lady and lover Ava Gardener, which lead to the actor being locked up in a funny farm during filming. Despite the chaos Huston seemed disengaged and was often found calmly doing crossword puzzles on the set.

One legendary tale about a Bible movie involved John Wayne as a Roman centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). The Duke's line was,"Truly, there goes the son of God!" After the first take Director George Stevens said," Hey John, put some awe into it." Wayne nodded then delivered the line," Awww, truly there goes the son of God." The same story was told about Loretta Young in The Crusades (1935).

Now matter how serious a Bible based movie is, there is always some time for levity. On the set of The Passion of the Christ (2004) Mass was held every morning. Several members of the cast and crew converted to Christianity. Actress Maia Morgenstern, the real-life daughter of a Holocaust survivor who played Mary, surprised Director Mel Gibson by announcing she was pregnant. Despite the heavy atmosphere practical joker Mel often barked out orders while wearing a clown nose. And even the actor who played Jesus, Jim Caviezel kept his humor despite separating his shoulder, suffering from hypothermia and really being whipped. "I'm not Jesus, I'm an actor playing Jesus," the former college basketball player kept telling the extras bowing before him. At one point while on the Cross he was actually struck by lightning. The people on the ground scattered for cover, while Jim Caviezel looked up to the sky and said," What, you didn't like that take?"

 

 

 

Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book

Hollywood Stories: Short Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies. He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks

Tales of Hollywood: Hear the Origins of Hollywood!

and

Fascinating Walt Disney: Hear How Walt Disney's Dreams Came True!

These entertaining gift items are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1-800-431-1579 or wherever books are sold.

View samples at www.hollywoodstories.com

 

 

 

 

 

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