THE BECK/SMITH VAULT: George Segal Tells It Like It Is

George Segal

George Segal

“…I might get drummed out of the business because of the article, but, damn it, write it!  Let ’em know exactly how I feel…”

Sept. 28, 1974

George Segal Offers An Opinion on His New Movie

By Marilyn Beck

“Be sure and write it!” said George Segal as he dashed out of the Burbank Studios commissary and back to the set where “The Black Bird (… Or the Maltese Falcon Flies Again!)” was shooting.

“I might get drummed out of the business because of the article, but, damn it, write it!  Let ’em know exactly how I feel.”

The interview had commenced exactly one hour earlier, and for a solid 60 minutes the actor, who’s one of the hottest box office draws in the business, had engaged in a blistering – often disjointed – attack on the industry and some of its most illustrious leaders.

He was wrapping up production of the cinema comedy based on the character Humphrey Bogart made famous as Sam Spade.  And the moment Segal joined me for lunch, he asked, “You want to know what I think of the pictures?  It’s a turkey!  We’re just trying to struggle through.”

A wild, piercing laugh punctuated his statement.  And then, suddenly sober again, he said, “Sure, I know what I’m supposed to say, what actors always say:  The production is proceeding marvelously, the company is enjoying the experiences of working together tremendously, and the completed film will be a classic.”

“Right!  Puff interviews we’re supposed to give… ‘George Segal slipped on a turd during production of ‘Black Bird’ and said, “I’m having a marvelous time.’

“Well, I’m tired of puff.  Besides, it’s good for me to make a turkey once in a while.”

The words gushed forth as if they were being exercised form his soul – a furious avalanche of statements that frequently had no connecting thread.

“You know, I haven’t given an interview in months, and when I do it’s never for lunch.  So I decided it’s different for Marilyn Beck – and as long as we’re talking I might as well really tell it like it is.

“Hell, I know the way the game is supposed to be played.  You start out in this business and the first thing you’re taught is how to conduct a say-nothing interview.  I did it at the Cannes Film Festival last year.  Warner bros. picked up the tab so I let myself be their robot, telling one writer after the other the same thing: ‘Blume in Love,‘ marvelous, enjoyed making it tremendously, Paul Mazursky is a fine fellow, tremendous director.’

“And all the time I knew Paul Mazursky was across the room, talking about Paul Mazursky, making sure the world knew Paul Mazursky should get all the credit for ‘Blume in Love.’

“No one touches Mazursky for ego.  He’s a gifted filmmaker, but impossible to be around, pompous as all hell.

“Hell, he never wanted me for the picture in the first place.  He wanted Warren Beatty….”  He giggled, as if the statement he had just concluded was a marvelous joke.  Then said, “That’s the way casting goes.  Thank God Robert Redford has said ‘no’ so often.  I landed ‘Virginia Woolf‘ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ because Redford turned them down.

Unexpectedly his discourse took a detour.  “I’m as bad as anyone in this business.  We all gotta hang on.  Why?  All of us are going to die anyway.  If we’re not dead already.  Ever watched a family watching TV – could be a scene from a wax museum.

“I’m like everyone else in this town:  putting up with the phony rituals, eating up the attention.  ‘You should see what a movie set is like by the time production is ending.  Everyone has got himself completely psyched out that he’s involved with a tremendous piece of art.  Well, most of the time it’s a piece of  _____!”

“Black Bird” director/screenwriter, David Giler, was going to join us for lunch as soon as he viewed rough prints of that morning’s filming Segal informed me.

“And watch, he’ll come in here swearing that the dailies were the finest footage he’s ever seen.  He’ll tell me they’re fabulous!”

Segal gets credit on the Columbia production as executive producer, but claimed, “I don’t know what’s going on.  And that’s nothing compared to Ray Stark, who’s the ‘executive/coexecutive’ producer – in such an elevated position that he doesn’t even have his name connected to the film. Like hell!

“The trouble with Stark is that he still suffers from the delusion he’s making pictures for 12-year-old minds.  But even a 12-year-old could figure out what in the _____ Rastar Productions stand for.  If he doesn’t want to be connected with this turkey, then he should think up a name that a common idiot couldn’t figure out.”

In one rare moment of calm, he explained that he had taken the title of “Black Bird” executive producer, “Because I loved the script so much.  My three favorite scripts were ‘Where’s Poppa,’  ‘Born to Win’ — which turned out to be a real loser.  And ‘Black Bird’ – and remember you heard it here first, a turkey of a film.

Once more a roar of laughter turned every head in the crowded commissary in our direction.  And then Segal was off on the attack of Columbia Pictures.

“I wanted to make ‘Black Bird’ in a civilized way – with the 12:30 p.m. to seven o’clock shooting schedule they use in France.  This hour-for-hour lunch routine we have over here is barbaric.  And that’s if you’re an actor!  The crew gets 42 minutes to gobble down a sandwich.  A lousy 42 minutes.  You call that civilized?”

George called Columbia’s turndown of his more costly afternoon shooting schedule, “Proof that the studio is comprised of a bunch of penny ante card players.  The lot’s falling on its butt, and they won’t give you an extra penny for budget – unless you’re Barbra Streisand.”

“You know what’s wrong with this business?  Everyone’s afraid, scared to death he’ll lose his job.  So everyone puts up with the _____, acting like robots, being treated like slaves, telling everyone else all the puff they think they’re supposed to say, instead of anything bordering on the truth.

His words were cut off by the arrival of “Black Bird” director/screenwriter David Giler who rushed over to the table to assure his star, “George, I just saw the dailies and they were fabulous.  I mean fabulous!”

Suddenly George Segal wasn’t laughing.  He looked like a man on the verge of tears.