Preserving Our Cultural Heritage:
“The African Queen,” screenplay by James Agee and John Huston, directed by John Huston
“Embracing Chaos: The Making of ‘The African Queen,’” produced by Nicholas Meyer, directed by Eric Young.
What: Expanding on the mission of No Meaner Place, sometimes passion projects gestate for years but finally are born. You may be attacked from different creative, legal and financial fronts, but sometimes…just sometimes, you succeed, even when you don’t get everything you wanted. “The African Queen” has finally been restored to its full Technicolor glory and it was a long time coming.
No Meaner Place: “The African Queen,” first a book by C.S. Forester in 1935 and then a film by John Huston in 1951, is deservedly famous on a number of different levels – the script by the poet and genius of literary criticism, James Agee; the on-location Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff of “Red Shoes” fame; the Academy Award-winning performance of a mature Humphrey Bogart; the pairing of Bogart and Katharine Hepburn for the first and only time; and the brilliance of John Huston’s direction as well as his infamous on-location adventures.
“The African Queen,” filmed in the Belgium Congo (now Zaire) and the part of British East Africa now known as Uganda, is the unlikely love story of spinster missionary Rose and gin-guzzling riverboat captain Charlie, forced to live together within the claustrophobic confines of the 30 foot scow lovingly dubbed “The African Queen” when Charlie rescues her from her mission in German East Africa after the Germans burn the village to the ground at the start of World War I. Almost more remarkable than the film is the story of how it got made; and then how it got saved before the original print turned to dust.
“The African Queen” was reputedly the only film on AFI’s list of “The One Hundred Greatest American Films” that had never been released on DVD in the United States, let alone on Blu-Ray. Originally produced by Sam Spiegel and Romulus Films, a British entity comprised of the two Woolf brothers, John and James, and distributed by United Artists, the rights eventually fell to Paramount where they languished. Embarking on a passionate crusade six years ago, Nicholas Meyer began a letter writing campaign aimed at getting Paramount to restore the film to its original glory and release it on DVD. This is the story of that crusade and the resultant documentary entitled “Embracing Chaos: The Making of ‘The African Queen’.”
Life Lessons: “I don’t try to guess what a million people will like, it’s hard enough to know what I like.” – John Huston
Neely: Nick, I have to say, prior to seeing the restored version of the film and the excellent documentary this past weekend at a special screening at USC, I had never been that much of a fan. Now that I’ve seen it again, I can’t even imagine why I felt that way in the first place. It’s really just two people in a boat – but what two people and what a boat! I don’t think that at any time do you realize that it’s just two people talking, arguing, connecting – and the sexual tension is so palpable. What is it that drew you to this film in the first place?
Nick: I think I fell in love with the film before I ever saw it, from listening to my father tell me about it. His own infatuation was contagious and for reasons not too hard to fathom, I still associate his affection with it. I know it occurred to me how pleased he'd be to learn the thing was so wonderfully brought back from the dead and that I played some part in its resurrection. (Of course, he died in '88 and didn't even realize what DVDs were, let alone that “AQ” wasn't on one!)
Neely: Where did you see it the first time and what stayed in your mind after the first time you saw the film?
Nick: I can’t really remember. I’m betting that the first time I saw “The African Queen” was not in a theater but on television. Whereas I can remember “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” “Oklahoma,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Spartacus,” “Lawrence of Arabia” – I can tell you all of those and even “Casablanca” which I did see on a big screen the first time, but when you see something for the first time on TV it may be more problematic to remember. When I asked Marty Scorsese in the documentary if he remembered when he first saw “The African Queen,” he had absolutely no hesitation: “Yes, it was at the Loew’s on 6th St. and 2nd Avenue…my father took me” (a father again) “and it was a full house and the audience loved it.” But I don’t have that. It’s the same thing with “The Wizard of Oz.” I first saw it on television and I can’t even remember if the television I first saw it on even had any color.
It’s interesting when you think of seeing movies on television or under less than ideal circumstances and what it is when you see them properly, projected on a big screen. My Dad said watching movies on television is like being kissed over the telephone.
Neely: My first experience with most classic films of the 30s, 40s and 50s, with the exception of “Gone with the Wind”, was on television and I don’t think you know the difference until the first time you see them on the big screen. If you loved it on TV you’re not going to lose that love when you see it at the movies, it’s only going to enhance the experience. I’d seen and laughed at “A Night at the Opera” many times on TV before I ever saw it in a theater, but when I saw it in a theater, I laughed til tears rolled down my cheeks.
Nick: This is the next point I was going to make. It’s true that you can discover them on a little black and white TV. They’re really so good that they exert a grip of iron on your imagination and never lets go – cut up, panned and scanned, with commercials slotted in…it just doesn’t matter. But what a revelation seeing these movies properly projected and, if necessary, restored can be.
We’re calling these films “classics”, but growing up they were never in any categories for me – no highbrow distinctions. What did Mark Twain say? “A classic is a book that everyone knows, but no one has read.” No one had to break it down and tell me I had to watch something because it was a classic. For me, it was much more self indulgent – it was “Where’s the popcorn?”
Neely: When did you become aware that “The African Queen” hadn’t been released on DVD?
Nick: It started as something much more elementary because for many years I didn’t even know what DVDs were. I had a VCR and thought that was enough and I wasn’t going to start another collection. Then one year my brother-in-law, Roger Spottiswoode, gave me a machine for Christmas. Someone, in years previous, had given me a DVD of “Fizcaraldo,” so finally I opened the disc and watched it and was so stunned by how different it was from VHS. And although I had no inclination to start a new collection, serendipitously I got a call from Lynn O’Leary at Paramount. She explained that she produced the DVDs at Paramount and wanted to know if I might consider being interviewed for the DVD of “Fatal Attraction.” This was the beginning of my education about these fascinating “extras” they put on the discs. I have no idea how “Extras” got started - maybe they just discovered they had lots of extra space to fill. I don’t know, but it got increasingly more interesting for me when I started doing these DVD commentaries on films, some of which I had worked on and some of which I hadn’t. There was no payment, but in exchange I would get DVDs; and that was how my collection was built. Soon I started making lists of DVDs I’d like for my collection.
Deviating just a bit, I’ve got an aside on the history of “extras.” I was interviewed for the DVD of “Star Trek II” and I told, without embellishment or self censorship, the story of how the screenplay came to be written (you can read about it in my book, A View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood). But then I got a call from Lynn (O’Leary) saying that their lawyers had told her they couldn’t use any of my interview. The end result and outcome of my “banned” interview is that now there’s always a title card that says “the views and opinions expressed on this DVD are solely those of the person saying them and do not have anything to do with __________ (fill in the studio) or any of its affiliates…blah blah”. And what that ingenious little rule did was open the flood gates of oral histories that were not puff pieces. While DVDs were enjoying their heyday, there was a tremendous amount of oral scholarship, for lack of a better phrase, that was incorporated into them.
Anyway, as I said, I started making lists of DVDs I wanted and of course those lists included “The African Queen.” I’m not sure how long it took me before I realized that there was no “African Queen” DVD. When you come down to it, my participation was prompted by nothing more complicated than me wanting to have a DVD of “The African Queen” for my collection. And the more time went by, the more obsessive I became and the more crown jewel-like aura the film gained.
Neely: Do you remember when you became aware that it wasn’t available?
Nick: I think it was sometime around 2003 or 2004 that my serious campaign began because this was about a 6 year process, start to finish. I asked Lynn why there wasn’t an “AQ” DVD and she replied “Good question.” So I started nudging her and she told me that she thought that Paramount was in the process of trying to come to an agreement with Romulus Films which controlled the negative to license it in order to do it; but they hadn’t quite gotten around to doing it and… It didn’t preoccupy all of my time, but about every six weeks I’d wake up and go “Where are we with this thing, anyway?” And then I’d write Lynn a letter. One time Lynn showed me a piece of test footage that they had done where they were trying to get rid of the green screen phosphorescence behind Katharine Hepburn and the rapids – and that was very exciting. But then another year went by – I should have been chronicling this whole thing - and finally they had a deal but they had to get their hands on the negative. Then we found out that Romulus wouldn’t let us get our hands on the negative.
Neely: What do you think were the biggest issues – technical, licensing, legal, expense?
Nick: All of the above? My entire affiliation with this thing was really ex-officio. I just worked with Lynn trying to figure out how to get this done. I never met with the people to whom Lynn reported; news would just trickle down. She was great at keeping me patient and encouraged me even when she was discouraged. And there were times when it just looked like it was never going to happen at all.
I think that the restoration itself was still less onerous than the legal and contractual labyrinth that had to be navigated. Ultimately, because Romulus refused to let the negative out of the UK, we had to become more inventive, crossing a technological boundary that had never before been breached that led to something pretty ingenious. We actually had to scan the negative and then email it on a secure server to Ron Smith at the Warner Brothers Motion Picture Imaging Facility on the Warner Brothers lot; and at the end of the day you can’t tell the difference.
Neely: I’m intrigued by the scanning process. How do you email a print?
Nick: Well you have to upload it onto something that has a hell of a lot of memory. Remember, I don’t think they emailed it all at once – they would have done it a reel at a time. I wasn’t there at the time, but you might want to interview Ron Smith about that. He’s very knowledgeable.
You have to understand that the actual restoration of the negative involved the restoration of three negatives because Technicolor is comprised of three pieces of film that run through the camera simultaneously. Those negatives were not in great shape so they had to be scanned, reel by reel. It was a 6 or 8 month process. They’d finish a reel and then email it over and it would be looked at and Ron would say okay; and then on to the next reel. It was like Chinese water torture…drip…drip…drip. Then when it was time to go to work on the negative there were three aspects – one had to do with cleaning up the negative, taking off the scratches and the dirt and god knows what else from the images; the second part is lining it up with the other two negatives – something computers can do much more precisely now than originally. For some movies this can be better or worse. For “The African Queen,” this was definitely better, the more detail revealed in a realistic (i.e., location-based) film, the better! And finally, color correction (I’m putting sound off to one side). Ron Smith and those guys working on the Warner's lot were very very fortunate because when Jack Cardiff, the cinematographer, was quite elderly he watched a print of “The African Queen” and he went scene by scene and described what the color was supposed to look like. Ron and his team had already started on color correcting the way they thought it should be when this tape of Cardiff was unearthed and they had to begin again, working from Cardiff’s notes.
We have great clips of Cardiff in the documentary that came from a documentary that had been made about him by Craig McCall, a filmmaker in the UK. You could see what a charming and articulate guy he was. I always found it interesting how he downplays his contribution to “The African Queen” compared to “The Red Shoes” and “Black Narcissus” because he had brought only two lamps on location as supplementary lighting. He calls it “a perfectly ordinary piece of photography”; but if you watch the movie, it’s anything but ordinary.
Neely: But why use Technicolor in Africa? Filming in Technicolor made this very unwieldy, (the camera rig weighed five hundred pounds!) what with the huge camera necessary for the 3 strips of film. Was there another process they could have used?
Nick: There was. As a matter of fact there was another color film that was shot in Africa before “The African Queen.” “King Solomon’s Mines” was shot in 2-strip color, which involved a much smaller, comparatively speaking, rig; but the color wasn’t as lush.
Despite all the difficulties in cleaning up the 3 strip negative, it’s a shame Cardiff did not live to see this fully aligned. I’ve often said that it’s not always great to see a film fully aligned. You take some older movies and line them up and suddenly you see that Judy Garland has acne in “The Wizard of Oz” when she sings “Over the Rainbow.” It’s in sepia but it’s still three pieces of film. They could have compensated for this on the restoration because the technology exists, developed for just such problems, but for some reason they didn’t.
Neely: How long did it take between the time they got the scanned print and the final restoration?
Nick: A long, long time because the elements that you could hold in your hands were not in good shape. The colors had faded, the film had shrunk, trying to align the film was almost impossible because of the shrinkage, so this went on month after month, frame by frame. Have you seen the restoration segment that we posted on YouTube?
Neely: Yes I have; here’s the link to the 8 minute short produced by Eric Young:
Nick: Eric Young did that. When we finally saw the restoration we thought we really ought to do a piece on the restoration, but by that time there was no more money and there was no space left on the disc. My recollection is that Eric did it for free. It was a total labor of love. He just got his equipment and went in to interview these people who typically are not in front of a camera. And he asked, “How does this work? What does this do?” and then he designed some visuals to illustrate it. It’s a terrific piece and really deserved to be on the DVD.
Neely: How much of the process were you involved in?
Nick: Not in the technical process, but I certainly immersed myself in what was going on. During the restoration, it occurred to me that we should make a documentary to go along with this, something to put in context the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the creation of this masterpiece.
Neely: “Embracing Chaos: The Making of “The African Queen.” You produced it, Eric Young directed it; the interviews are excellent and the quality of the documentary is first rate. Finding the people who were still alive and able to talk about it must have been difficult.
Nick: Well that was an interesting proposition. Huston is dead, Bogie and Hepburn are dead, Lauren Bacall didn’t want to talk to us. The script supervisor, Angela Allen is still alive; also Guy Hamilton…
Neely: Didn’t he do the early James Bond films?
Nick: Yes. He was the first Assistant Director on the film. Several of the crew went on to directing careers themselves. With so many people gone, we had to turn our weakness into our strength somehow and get interviews from other places that had already been done, then pull them together to make something new. A lot of folks, including Hepburn, wrote memoirs about the experience, and screenwriter Peter Viertel (who came in towards the end), turned it into his best novel, White Hunter, Black Heart.
Neely: What did you learn about John Huston? Much has been said and written of Huston’s penchant for “off road” adventure. How true do you think it was that he decided to shoot this film in Africa because he wanted to go big game hunting?
Nick: There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s true, but it wasn’t big game hunting, it was shooting an elephant. Now whether he made the movie in order to shoot an elephant, which by the way, he never did, is somewhat debatable. But at one point in the documentary, his biographer, Lawrence Grobel, said “this is a man who refused to be bored.” Toward the end of movies, he’d get bored; he’d start thinking about the next film. He’d leave things unfinished. I think that the fact he was in Africa prevented a lot of that from happening.
Neely: Well according to the documentary, he left every morning to go hunting.
Nick: Yes, but it was rumored that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. He was a guy who was very preoccupied with sartorial matters. He was very obsessed with clothes and armaments, his gun collection- going to Purdy’s, the renowned London gun and rifle maker, etc., before leaving and buying the very best, something that was very important to him. He was an outdoorsman, that’s for sure; and he was a superb horseman. He had ridden in his youth with the Mexican cavalry; he was a boxer, the lightweight champion of California at one point. But I don’t think he was a marksman.
Neely: Which may account for his inability to shoot an elephant, using the broad side of a barn analogy. But perhaps something else was going on; perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to kill such a beautiful beast.
Nick: Viertel quotes Huston in his book, and Huston’s son Tony confirms in the documentary, that to kill an elephant is worse than a crime, it’s a sin. Huston wanted to experience sin.
Neely: Many of the screenplays you’ve written have been book adaptations, including an adaptation of your own novel, The Seven Percent Solution. Had you ever read the Forester novel? What liberties did Agee and Huston take in order to bring it to the screen?
Nick: I had read the novel quite some time ago, but read it again when we were working on this. There were two things about the book that were significant. In the UK edition of the book, Rosie and Charlie drowned trying to sink the Königin Louise. The American publisher asked for a nicer ending, so Forster made them live and they get to shore, something like that – it felt very pasted on. It’s like two pages where you can hear Forster saying – okay, this is what they want so here it is.
Neely: That’s in the book?
Nick: In the American edition of “The African Queen.” The other change, in a way, is more interesting…a stylistic change, you might say, because it ultimately compelled a different ending for the film.
I don’t think anybody who went to Africa to shoot this movie really understood that it was a comedy. Maybe on paper it wasn’t, but when you put Bogart and Katharine Hepburn together on this boat and had this interplay with them – which is all the movie is really about, two people on a boat talking - Huston must have looked at it and said to himself: “I’m going to kill these people at the end? People are going to throw things at the screen.”
Neely: Do you think Agee based his ending on the English version of the book?
Nick: Well I don’t think Agee even wrote an ending. I mean he may have written some version of the ending but the biggest thing is not that Rosie and Charlie survive; Forster himself wrote a version of that, but that they succeed in sinking the Königin Louise. This was a major alteration, and I’m guessing here, but I think this was largely supplied by Peter Viertel. I think Huston left for Africa knowing that the script was not finished, that they were sort of in limbo about what they were going to do about it. And I think that it remained in limbo until Huston started watching what was going on between his stars. Viertel, who came to Africa to work on this with Huston, a relationship he chronicled in the previously mentioned White Hunter, Black Heart about a “fictional” director who wants to shoot an elephant while he’s filming in Africa (Eastwood made and starred in this film in 1990).
We talked about endings a bit in your class last week. What are the dynamics of drama as opposed to the dynamics of literature? In literature you don’t have to sink the ship, but in the movie, even though you want to preserve the theme, (if there is one), you want to have your cake and eat it too. The idea of sending someone on a mission and they don’t fulfill the mission? In a book, perhaps, but not in a film. You’ve got to find a way, no matter how convoluted it turns out to be, that they fulfill it. I think that’s what Huston and Viertel were figuring out. “We’re sending these people all the way down this river to blow up this ship, and they ain’t gonna blow up the ship?” Maybe they get into a storm and their boat sinks…that’s not only in the book, but it’s good stuff. So how, HOW are they going to make this happen? Well, there’s this marvelous cut where you see the African Queen, sunk in the tempest, now floating back to the surface, upside down with these two torpedoes sticking out and the “Louisa” (as Charlie calls her), heading right for it. It might have been completely fanciful, but I don’t think people complained too deeply about it.
Neely: So Paramount funded the documentary? What did you do – present it in a pitch and they said they’d go for it?
Nick: Yeah, pretty much. The way I tried to sell it was to point out that this was the 60th anniversary restoration and DVD premiere of this famous never-seen-on-DVD movie. “Don’t you want to blow the trumpet and bang the drum on this?” And they did! Until it was all done and they decided that DVDs were now finished as a format; so they weren’t going to make it the kind of event that happened around the restoration of “The Red Shoes” 6 or 8 month earlier. They played “The Red Shoes” in New York in a theater – we were going to play “The African Queen” in theaters and then the plug just got pulled on it.
Neely: This seemed to have been a collaboration between Paramount and Warner Brothers restoration department. The UCLA film archive department is very actively involved in so many restorations, in conjunction with Martin Scorsese, but this doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Nick: I should point out that Paramount was the last of the studios to get into DVDs. They came very late to the party and finally they decided to make their own archives. This was fairly recent, maybe the past three or four years. They decided they wanted to have archives that rivaled Criterion. A man named Chris Carey is in charge of that. Ron Smith and his team work on the Warners lot but are Paramount employees. Before “The African Queen”, they restored “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan”, also for Paramount. They’re doing “The Ten Commandments” now.
Neely: I see you rolling your eyes, but this was a Spectacle with a capital S.
Nick: You’re right…it is a spectacle; and this isn’t CGI. They actually did go to Egypt. In any case, they’re also doing this for Paramount.
Neely: What about marketing? Other than a few isolated reviews of the remastered DVD, I haven’t seen any advertising announcing the release; with the exception of a short article you wrote that appeared on “The Wrap” - "The African Queen makes its restored debut at long last". Here they spent a fortune for the restoration and making this marvelous documentary and now there’s no money for the marketing. They’ve just sent everything into the wind – how is that possible?
Nick: Well…they allowed themselves to be pushed into a corner. As I understand it, Romulus Films wanted to unveil the restoration of “The African Queen” at the Cannes Film Festival in May. May, according to the DVD people with whom I have spoken, is the worst month to sell a DVD.
Neely: Who are these people?
Nick: …people who sell DVDs? So Paramount said they weren’t waiting for May; and plans were made for putting the film in theaters in America for a week and make a big fuss. The Romulus people took issue with this, as in “you’re going to be stealing our thunder and we don’t want you to do that.” It’s not clear to me why Paramount had to knuckle under but they did. So instead, they held little screenings for 25 people at a time, journalists who had little else to do that afternoon; and thus they turned what should have been a major outing into a non-event.
Here was this movie, the only film on the AFI 100 that hadn’t been on DVD, a movie that was adored and someone at Paramount just pulled the plug saying they didn’t need to spend the money to make back the kind of money they thought DVDs, at this point, were capable of making.
Neely: But they were passing up an priceless opportunity to present themselves as a purveyor of taste and savior of some of our heritage – this would have been invaluable. This was an incredible chance for them to promote themselves with very little outlay.
Nick: You’d think.
Neely: The documentary is actually a great stand-alone piece. So once again…that’s it???
Nick: We tried to get TCM interested in it. I wrote to Robert Osborne but I never heard back from him.
Neely: I just don’t understand any of this. There’s going to be a TCM Classic Film Festival as part of this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival and ironically the Huston family legacy is going to be honored. How could it not occur to anyone at TCM that the 60th anniversary and restoration of “The African Queen” as well as the documentary was a perfect fit for a festival that was honoring the Huston family? What am I missing??
Nick: I didn’t know anything about that. I just don’t know. I don’t even think Brad Grey (CEO of Paramount Motion Picture Group) knows about this documentary.
Neely: Consider the historical context of Huston and Bogart. This was the third film on which Bogart and Huston worked together, and each was responsible for the other’s break out in the business as “The Maltese Falcon” was the first film Huston directed, having previously worked as a screenwriter on “Juarez,” “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet” (one of my all time Eddie G favorites in which he plays the future Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Ehrlich) and “High Sierra,” Bogie’s first true star turn, which was then followed by “The Maltese Falcon,” where he solidified his star status. Huston directed Bogie to his only Oscar; but he also directed Claire Trevor (in “Key Largo”), and both his father, Walter (in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) and daughter, Angelica (in “Prizzi’s Honor”) to Oscars.
There must be a way for this documentary to be presented as a stand alone film. Maybe on the festival circuit? Would either you or Eric have the time to do that?
Nick: I would definitely love to have it done that way, but I have no idea of how to go about it. I have never done anything like that in my life. Eric probably knows how to do that. We’re having lunch next week, so we’ll probably lick our wounds and talk about it.
Neely: Obviously there’s very little, if any, financial market for a short film, but it’s certainly one way to drum up some publicity for the film. It just seems that entry into some of the more prestigious festivals like Sundance and Telluride would be in Paramount’s best interest to support. As you say, people’s best interest is so subjective; they didn’t see the enhanced value to themselves. They could see the enhanced value of “extras” on a DVD, perhaps in financial terms as an inducement to buy the disc, but not the enhanced value to Paramount, the company, of a quality product.
Nick: I think I may have said this to you when you went to the screening at USC, but half the movies ever made no longer exist. This is about preserving our history, preserving our culture, or simply preserving things that are just so wonderful, memorable. What really makes me sad is that when you get up to a certain period of time, people are no longer in the movie business – they’re just in the money business. It used to be that movies were made for two reasons – to make movies, and to make money. Now we’re only interested in the money. So, from a corporate standpoint, these things might as well be cat food. And the idea that they are “old” they cannot therefore be good or wonderful or memorable or fun or sensational or fantastic. It’s a shame.
What was very interesting to me the night of that USC screening was the age of the people there. These were young people. For them, for whatever reason, the movie played like gangbusters. It’s not that people don’t like older movies, they just can’t be cajoled or corralled into seeing them. But if you get them there… I was talking to someone the other day who said she had never seen Charlie Chaplin; so I showed her one of his films and she sat there and was completely floored. It was like discovering the Bach B minor Mass, (only played for laughs). It’s a part of our civilization – we did this, we achieved this, there were geniuses, and the work of geniuses should not be allowed to disappear. All great art has one thing in common – the “great” part. The idea that “The African Queen” should have vanished, as it was on the point of doing, is criminal.
Neely: I couldn’t agree with you more. Movies have been an extremely important part of my life since an early age.
Nick: They imprint us when we behold them young, like a duck with its mother.
Neely: What should be the next Paramount restoration project and will you be involved?
Nick: My partner in the documentary, Eric Young, has been working on Paramount to do other restorations. Have you seen that collection, “John Ford at Fox”? Well we’d like to do “Wilder at Paramount.” The problem is that Paramount sold part of its library to Universal so we’d have to license it back under conditions that would just be about this Box Set. As always, it’s complicated.
Neely: I’d love to see Paramount do a Mae West collection.
Nick: We’ll add Mae West to our hopper. Did you know she was Wilder’s original choice for Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard?” But she wanted to write her own dialogue and Wilder said no. I always use this as a great example that sometimes you’re lucky not to get your first choice.