Paulette Rubinstein has worked with everybody in the dubbing business from Ingmar Bergman to Godzilla. As one of Titra’s most respected directors, Ms. Rubinstein enjoyed a successful career dubbing all kinds of films from all over the world. While she is most proud of her work with cinematic heavyweights like Jan Troell, she also occasionally provided voice-acting for Japanese monster movies, including Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964) as the voice of one of the Shobijin. Ms. Rubinstein was also married to Titra voice actor Jack Curtis until his death in 1970. In 2006, Ms. Rubinstein kindly recounted her dubbing memories with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: First of all, just tell me a little bit about your background, where you were born, grew up, and went to school.
Paulette Rubinstein: I was born in Brooklyn. I went to the public schools there. My parents moved out to Long Island, so I lost more time getting out of school because I didn’t graduate in January. They only had end-year graduations. That was kind of boring. But I managed to keep busy. I got the lead in the senior high school play, and I won a scholarship to some drama school here in Manhattan — I forget the name of it. The guy who ran it was Herbert Berghoff. So I did that, and then I started making rounds and looking for work. Finally, I got into a summer stock company that Herbert Berghoff, with whom I had studied, put together. It was a non-Equity called The Greenbush Theatre, and Maureen Stapleton was in it and Sylvia Gassel — these are people who did a lot of professional work later. They stayed in the business. Who else was there? I don’t know; all sorts of people were there! (laughs)
It was fine, and it was just at that moment that we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. So I’ll never forget that because it was, well, it was a moment historically, and it’s a marker in your life when you’ve gone through something like that. It’s a point in your life you just don’t forget where you were when that happened. I was walking along the country road there — Greenbush Theatre was in the country — and I remember Sylvia Gassel up the road, waving at me. I wanted to know what was going on, and she yelled back, “They dropped the bomb! They dropped the bomb!” So that’s where I was — in my very first year of stock! (laughs)
Then a couple of years later, I got involved in a summer stock company, which arranged for its season to be done in Ithaca, New York. With that company, I started getting my Equity membership because that was a professional company, and I was promised as an apprentice that I would, at the end of the season, get my Equity card, which was a big deal because that always was Catch-22. It’s hard to get work unless you had an Equity card, but you couldn’t get an Equity card unless you put in X amount of time! (laughs) So we got past that hump, and I have an Equity card. To this day, I am very proud of the fact that Equity is my parent union. Relatively speaking, I have had a lot less respect for the other unions and their behavior through the years. I was always pleased and proud that I was an Equity member first.
So we got through that season. Zero Mostel came up and did a very weird putting-together of some Moliere plays, and I, as French was my second language, played the prologue and told everybody what was going on because, as I say, they put together two plays, The Doctor in Spite of Himself and something else. They combined it, and I was very disappointed because Sam Jaffe, who is such a wonderful actor, was supposed to have come up, but I guess he got something to do out on the coast, and he couldn’t make it. I was very disappointed — lovely man. Anyway, it was a lot of fun working with Zero. I enjoyed that, and I got my Equity card, which as I said, I was very proud of that, very pleased that that was my parent union.
What happened was, I went to Europe, and I had a small part in a play in Paris, and I remained in Europe for about four years, I guess. The Paris show closed, and then after that, I worked with Special Services, running around the (entertainment for Allied services) when Germany was still divided up into pieces at that time. I worked as a singer, and I wrote arrangements for the group that I was with. Then ultimately I came home.
When I came home, I got involved with a group called Current Stages, which was one of the very first Off-Broadway groups to have been formed, to the best of my knowledge. I was in a few of their productions, and I did the music for another one of their productions. While I was doing that, I auditioned for the Chicago company of The Seven Year Itch, and they asked me, rather than go to Chicago, would I mind taking over the role of the French dream girl from the girl who was in it because she got pregnant.
So, of course, I’d much rather have stayed in New York, so I was delighted with the opportunity. I ran in that for a year, and I moved on from that to a play called The Boy Friend. I really did not like traveling! (laughs) I left The Boy Friend. I got a few jobs in some stock companies where they book people in from outside — not part of the regular group. Then they called me, “Please come back to The Boy Friend,” because the girl was leaving. She didn’t want to go on. I wouldn’t have much traveling to do because they were going to stay in Chicago for a while. So I agreed to return because I hadn’t really been getting much work.
I went back with the show, and that took care of another year of my life, more or less. We did not do much traveling. We would play in St. Louis and a few other places. Then I got myself back to New York again, and I don’t know how I got involved with the dubbing. Somebody called me and said, “Do you want dub?” I said, “What, dubbing? What is that?” (laughs) “What is that?!” I said. But I auditioned for something or other, and I got it. That’s how come I wound up in some of those Japanese films that you were mentioning because after a while, I graduated to where they had asked me would I like to write some of the scripts. That was not a problem. That’s how I got involved. Now I never wrote and directed any one of the Japanese “crazy” movies — what I call them — the monster films.
I personally never got to do those. I mean, as a writer/director I didn’t. But I did a lot of acting at the time in the dubbing field, so I did get to work with Peter Fernandez on a couple of those monster movies. I remember vaguely playing somebody’s wife once, one of those Japanese films. Another time, I did something else, which is how I happened to have gotten into those movies in which you were somewhat more interested. Gradually, I started to write scripts and to direct the films, although, as I say, I didn’t get any of the Japanese science fiction movies to do. I got, eventually, to do some Ingmar Bergman movies and some of the Italian films that came out.
That was how and when I met my husband-to-be (voice actor Jack Curtis), and we had a little girl (actress Liane Curtis). Of course, I was going to travel even less. After that, I really wasn’t going to travel. (laughs) Then, unfortunately, my husband passed away, and I continued to do a lot of dubbing until there wasn’t very much more left. There were very few jobs, but I wound up continuing to dub a lot of the foreign films that were being done, and that kind of dropped off. That faded away. While I was doing, of course, the stuff I was doing, I got to work for and with Mr. Bergman a few times, which was great pleasure for me. I did some other Swedish films, The Emigrants and The New Land, which were Jan Troell films, really good.
But ultimately the dubbing thing came to an end. There was less and less of it being done, and I thought about going back to Broadway. But at that time, there wasn’t much Broadway left. I don’t consider there’s any Broadway left to speak of now. We used to have, maybe, 30 straight shows playing on Broadway, but now it’s all revivals, and most of it’s Off-Broadway. It was a different world. It was a little difficult to resume the acting thing because I didn’t have an agent, and I really had been out of it in a way for such a long time. So that’s where it all ended, and I discovered that I couldn’t get voice-over work because I’ve a young-sounding voice, but you can see that I’m a senior citizen.
PR: Unfortunately, a couple of agents said, “Well, I can’t send you over for this job.” I would say, “Why?” She’d say, “Well, they’re looking for somebody who’s in the 40-year-old range.” At that time, I was past that, but I said, “I can’t get work doing an old person because I’ve never smoked, and I don’t sound old, but no one’s going to see me!”
PR: I still consider it stupid. So I’ve been agitating for a long time for there to be blind auditions because for a voice-over. Nobody is going to see you, and you sound like what you sound like. What you look like should not impede getting the job if you sounded right for it. It’s very discriminatory, but the unions, in the years I’ve been agitating to try to see if I can do something out of the need to get some work, have always come up with one excuse or another, “Oh, no, we can’t do that.” The fact of the matter is that anybody who gets work wouldn’t want to have the additional competition. I know for a fact it has a negative impact on the conditions. Refusing to do any blind-auditioning has a negative impact on a lot of people because they don’t look like what they sound like.
There are black people and Hispanic people who haven’t the slightest trace of any kind of an accent, but you would think they had one given the discrimination that is practiced, and there is a lot of work that they don’t even get considered for because you can see they are black or Hispanic, and the idiots would say, “Well, we didn’t want somebody black or Hispanic.” So all in all, it has served the industry not well at all, to continue its policy of catering to not-very-nice and not-really-very-excusable clients. But needless to say, you’re never going to get help from the people who are getting most of the work, if not all of it. That’s been my battleground for the last few years.
Apart from that, my work’s been mostly onstage. Sometimes people come to the Screen Actors Guild and ask, “Would somebody be willing…?” They’ll look at your pictures and ask for your name and number and call you and say, “Would you be willing to do this student film?” I said, “Well, I really haven’t had much experience at all in film work, nor really in much TV, either.” So I agreed. I did a couple of student films which, as I said, are very interesting for me to do because I’ve had very little experience in that area. I did a student film which won a prize from the Goethe Society for being one of the best little student films, and I felt very proud of that because I got the lead in that. I was very pleased that something I had done work in had won a prize. So I was very, very pleased for the young lady.
I knew we didn’t get that because I sound younger than I am, and I look somewhat younger than I am. She said to me, “Well, this woman is supposed to be from a certain time.” She was a Nazi as a child, but she did whatever children were told to do back then, having no real political opinions of your own when you’re 10 years old. But she behaved badly, I guess, by our terms, and the Goethe Society ran this particular thing for the sake of reconciliation in a way. I thought that’s good because hatred that goes on and on only instigates further and further bad stuff. So I was glad to have been a party to it, and I’m very glad that it won the local prize as the best film on that subject. So I haven’t been totally inactive, but I certainly would love to have access to more work, and I feel annoyed at the lack of access.
BH: Describe what it is to dub a film. Just recount some of your experiences dubbing a film.
PR: Well, I think the basic thing about dubbing is, there’s one part of acting that you missed completely in a way. The person who’s done the role on the screen has played this or played that or made different choices. Once they are made, you can’t decide, “Gee, it would have been much better if he’d been a little bit angrier at that point.” If you sound angrier, and the actor on the screen was not angrier, it wouldn’t match. It would look stupid. So the really important thing with that kind of work is to understand that you have to confine yourself to what the actor who originally did it did. Not that that’s a hardship. If it’s something that Ingmar Bergman has directed, the likelihood is, you probably couldn’t have improved it very much, anyway. But that is the main thing to watch out for.
There was a wonderful actor who used to do a lot of dubbing with us. His name was Bernie Grant. Bernie was very funny. One day, when I was trying to get him to soften a little bit, I said, “Well, he’s just not that angry, so do a little less with it.” So the little sequence came around again for the couple of lines he had to say. The cue came, and it was still a little bit too much. So after about the third time, I said, “Bernie, bring it down even further. Do even less with it.” (laughs) All six-feet-whatever of him turns around, looks down at me, and says, “Hey, girlie, do I tell you how to direct?”
PR: He was wonderfully, wonderfully funny. I thought that was one of the funnier moments there in the studio. Had a very good laugh, needless to say. It was a world unto itself. People who were quicker at it did get more work than people not so quick. Then sometimes you got people who see sync, and they would be very fast, but they may not have been the best performers necessarily. So we were always on the lookout for new people, trying always to find people who were good actors and could cut the sync.
I worked with an actor who was very uncomfortable with trying to sync. He’d never done it before. He was such a wonderful actor. I remember I walked into the studio when he was doing his audition, and I thought, “Oh, my God. The voice is truth!” He was that good. So I went in and found out. I said, “Who is that? He’s very good.” He said, “You know, I’ve never done this.” His name was Michael Lombard. He’s a wonderful, wonderful actor. But he did a wonderful job for us, I thought, and if somebody is a little bit slower than someone else for whatever reason, I never minded that.
We had people who were writing and directing who were so synchronization-conscious that they have an actor do it again and again and again, and finally the freshness of it goes. So I didn’t believe in that. I would rather risk the sync, or you could fix the fact that he was a little bit later or a little early by putting a slug in to lengthen it a bit. If you knew those things, it was really the way to go in order not to drive a performer up.
Of course, it’s being a little bit snotty, I suppose, to put it in these terms, but in terms of more important movies — Bergman’s movies and stuff like that where you cared about a kind of quality in the acting — I don’t think those kinds of problems arose quite so much with Japanese science fiction-type movies. (laughs) But it was all a lot of fun, and the people involved in the work were wonderful people to work with, by and large. It was rather like a small community. So I was very glad that I got that work and that I could do it because it kept me in New York, and I didn’t have to worry about traveling, so that was very, very helpful.
BH: Well, you talked about Ingmar Bergman. Who were some of the other bigger-name people that you worked with, and share any stories that you may have about them with me.
PR: I used to love to use Don Scardino, who has been doing more directing these last few (years). He was very, very good. He was very, very good. Victor Garber was very quick and very, very good. Victor Garber is also a fabulous performer. Dick Latessa, who’s done Broadway shows and is off doing a movie someplace right now, used to come work for me. Hal Linden, who was popular for a while. He’s been not doing quite so much these last years. Hal said an interesting thing even after he started making lots and lots of money with commercials or in more important work. Hal said a wonderful thing one day when I asked, “Oh, please, could you come in? It’ll only take you a half a day. You’re fast. Please, would you do me the favor?” By that time, he had moved to the coast, and he said, “Paulette, you guys were there for me when I needed you, and I needed the work, so any time I’m in New York, you can count on me to be there for you” — doing it for scale. A lot of the people felt that way.
BH: Well, Hal Linden I know did a couple of Godzilla movies in his time at Titra.
PR: Yeah, he took a lot of work from us before he became Hal Linden! (laughs) Which is a way to put it, but he was very good, and I loved working with him. I loved working with all these people. They were steadies, as it were — real good people. A lot of them had been in theater.
BH: Did you ever work directly with Ingmar Bergman?
PR: He came to New York to do one of his movies (Autumn Sonata). Ingrid Bergman was in it. She was not well at that time. She came to New York, and he promised her that if she would please come to New York to do it into English, he promised that he would be here, that he would come to New York, too. He didn’t like traveling too much, either, I gather. So he came to New York, and he came to the studio. He didn’t really interfere much or say very much. I think he liked my work, which is why I did several of his films at that point. He said something very interesting. I personally am primarily aural. Most of the population of any country, to the best of my knowledge, is primarily visual. I’m primarily aural. I was myopic from birth, so that would explain why.
I guess I depend a lot on hearing, by sound, and he was sitting out in the control room. He came to me and said, “Ms. Rubinstein, you work the way I do.” I thought, “Oh, sure!” (laughs) “Thanks a lot! That’s very complimentary!” He said, “No, no, no.” He said, “Very often, when they are doing a scene, and we are shooting, I don’t look. I’m only listening. I know you have to look for the sync, but I noticed that you, very often, are listening. Primarily, you are listening.” I’m going, “That’s amazing that he picked that up.” I thought it was absolutely amazing. I was startled and complimented and very pleased that he should have noticed that.
I went to Europe. I went to Sweden a couple of times for the Jan Troell movies that I had done, The Emigrants and The New Land, so it gave me a chance to travel a little bit, seeing countries I probably never would have seen. I got to take my daughter along because her father had died not many years before that, and I didn’t feel I could leave her and go on a job because it was too close to losing her dad. I didn’t want to disappear from her view for very long. But they were very kind, Warner Bros., and allowed me to take her along. I arranged for a babysitter, a woman who looked after children in Sweden — very nice lady. She went there, and I dropped her off. I went onto the studio, and they speak English. That was not a problem. So I had a good life, as it were, doing some of that stuff. I still could work if I could just do voice, or if I got a part of an older woman, that would be fine.
I nearly didn’t get the job for that NYU student, who’s a very gifted woman, by the way. She talked to me. You have a conversation when you go in to audition, and she said to me, “Well, are you going to have a problem playing a woman so much older than yourself?” I looked at her, and I said, “No, that’s just an acting problem. That’s not really a problem.” I said, “Nor will I have a problem of any sort playing a woman who is only 70.” I don’t what age she was, but anyway, she was younger in fact than I am! (laughs) She said to me, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I’m older than that.”
She looked at me and said, “Oh, come on! You’re kidding!” I said, “No, no, no!” I said, “The trouble with older women is Hollywood has these stupid cliché standards where, unless you’re falling apart, you can’t be an old lady.” It’s not universally true, but it’s too frequent for comfort, I think. I didn’t have to, but I showed her my driver’s license. She said, “Gosh, I wouldn’t have believed it!” She said, “You’ll walk across the room one way. How do you walk across the room if you’re this woman, and you’re tired, and you’re more spent?” So I did. She said, “I see.” (laughs) It was really funny, but thank goodness she didn’t not hire me.
Now a lot of people would not have hired me because I didn’t “look old enough.” But this notion of old and how you look when you’re old is so distorted at this point in time. There are a lot of people who are in just as good shape as I am in. I’m in reasonably good shape here, and you can’t play the older person because you don’t look old enough, then you can’t play the younger person because they see that you’re a senior. They’re not going to see you, mind you. They’re just going to hear your voice. But that’s no good; that doesn’t cut it. There are so many idiocies. As I say, there isn’t much Broadway left. I haven’t really job-hunted in a while because, it seems to me, an exercise in futility. So I haven’t really bothered much anymore.
BH: Moving right along with our questions, describe some of the preparations that you would make for some of your dubbing roles. Would you make any character choices?
PR: You’ve got to do what the guy onscreen did. You don’t have much choice. You can alter very, very slightly, but you can’t really alter it because it’s there. The performance is there. What you have to do is catch that performance and do it, do that performance. You don’t have as much option to do anything. Now when I have written a script, the important thing for you to know really well is the language into which you’re going. That’s why, for instance, I don’t really speak Swedish, although after a while I was starting to understand an awful lot of it. I would ask always, “Please give me a literal script. If he’s saying in Swedish, ‘He gave him the black pen,’ but the way you’ve got it ordered in your language is, ‘He to him gave the pen black,’ that’s the way I’d like you to translate for me. Translate literally so I know which word is which.” That’s important.
There was an actor named George Voskovec who was Czech, and George was a very fine actor. He had done some Broadway shows — very fine actor. Anyway, the Czechs had put out strip drawings. It was really very clever — Stories of the Baron Munchausen. I had gotten, as I asked for, a very literal transcription of the script. I had gotten him to do Baron Munchausen. It was ideal since he knew the literature, and it was ideal for me to be able to get him. He was willing to do it, although he didn’t do much of this kind of work, but still I felt fortunate that he did me that favor.
He said, “But I don’t understand. There is such accuracy to the feel of the language, but you don’t speak Czech!” I said, “Well, in translation — and for this one, one really must have some kind of sensitivity — the aim is to evoke from the audience listening to whatever it is in English the same emotional response, the same response, that the Czech audience would have to it when it was being spoken in (Czech)” — whatever the original language is. The thing is to come very, very close to that. A lot of people who translate often don’t have the sensitivity, or they don’t really go into it.
Let me give you a very good example. A friend of mine had a friend who had gone back to Paris. He missed his friend very, very much. Knowing I could speak French, and I was a very good friend of this young man, knowing that French was my second language, he calls me up one day and says, “How can I say ’The winter is so bleak without you’?” I said, “Well, I would translate it, “Sans toi, l’hiver est si triste.” (Without you, it is a winter that is so sad.) He said, “Oh, but triste means sad.” I said, “Yes, but Un hiver si triste is sad winter. If I’m going to use the word literally, translate in emotional terms, it translates and arouses the sense of poignant sadness that the words “bleak winter“ pull up from your emotions in English.
So that’s why I would translate it that way. “Oh!” he said, “I see.” So then he wrote his letter, but it’s stuff like that that makes the difference between trying to do really good, sensitive work, especially when you’re doing literature. Yet so much stuff comes out into the marketplace where very clearly there was not that grasp of the meaning in a sense. So that’s what I always try to do, even with the dubbing, and even if it were not such a super work of art in the first place. I always try to be as accurate as I could about that aspect because it seemed to me that that was the most meaningful part of it all.
I’d like to give you the name of the girl who did the student film, who’s so gifted. I think we’ll be hearing from her at some point. She’s an older person. I think she’s going for her master’s at this point. She’s at NYU; she’s further along in studies. I thought she handled this thing I did for her very, very well. Her name is Kim Spurlock. As I say, I’m positive at some point we’ll be hearing from her.
BH: Why don’t you say a few words about working with Peter Fernandez, Corinne Orr, Terry Van Tell, and some of the other voice dubbers and directors.
PR: They were part of that whole dubbing crowd that I mentioned. We were doing most of the dubbing that was being done. As I say, they were all great people. Bernie Grant, whom I mentioned before, Peter, Terry Van Tell — the whole load of people that you may never have heard of because they haven’t gone to Hollywood, but it was a kind of inner group in a way. They were composed largely of the people who were very quick because it’s a matter of how long you’re going to spend in the studio — people who were very quick, people who knew the work, and people who could do the work and also could do it fast and well. So it was, as I say, it was just a special bunch. But for the most part, they were really great people, and I enjoyed working with them. We all had our little inside jokes about the business or one thing or another. A lot of laughs in the studio, had a lot of fun. And that was it. That was it.
BH: When you were directing movies and writing the scripts for a lot of these dubbed movies, did you have a lot of interaction with the client, and did you ever have disagreements about what should be included in these movies?
PR: Well, personally, I tried to avoid the clients like the plague because these people out on the coast would send somebody to supervise. Invariably, the people they sent to supervise didn’t know the first thing about what we were doing or how we could get the results we could get. Their ignorance stood in the way of there being any real help, and then made things worse by just not getting it. So instead of being helpful in the studio, they would wind up being — excuse me — a pain in the butt to have them around because they could slow you down to no purpose.
I could tell you a couple of stories which were so ridiculous on the face of it. Let me try to think of a good one. Sometimes you got somebody who had some sense of the business. In this case, I will not give you the name because, even though in one case, the guy is not with us anymore, I wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.
When I went to mix the film, what you’re doing is you’re combining the effects and the music and all that, which come from the original track. You’re combining that with the English-spoken track which you have just cut, which you’ve just worked on all those weeks. This guy thought he knew a lot more than he knew, and I questioned his taste, certainly. He came in and sat down next to the guy who mixed, and I was on the other side.
We run one screening just to make sure that all the sync is in place or that you don’t have to move something up or down a frame. Then after you have this run-through of the movie just for the English track by itself to make sure everything had been corrected, then the next thing would be to mix the cut, which you have already looked into.
Now, as I told you, you can only do as much as the actor onscreen is doing. There is no way you can change the performance because it’s there. You see it. So that’s an impossibility. Excuse me for saying this, but if you came into the studio, and you thought about it, and you watched for a while, you would understand that it’s impossible to change the performance. There’s just no way you can do it, or it would be terrible. It would look terrible, and it would sound terrible. There was a movie we were doing, and we had done that first thing of checking all the sync. We had worked on it, and it was fine. Now we were at the mix, and this guy shows up because he works for, I think, United (Artists).
Anyway, he comes in, and he sits next to the mixer. We’re on a scene, and somebody has a line. He says, “Wait a minute! Stop. Don’t you think that should be a little angrier?” Well, at this point in recording, now you can (not) only not change the original performance in terms of what you’re seeing, but you can’t change the sound in terms of what you’ve done with the English track. It’s in its spot. So I started to something like, “What, are you crazy? It’s locked in. Any button you push isn’t going to change a bloody thing.” But the mixer nudged me. He just gave me a quick nudge, so I realized I was to keep my mouth shut.
So he’s got this dead board, and he doesn’t understand that it’s a dead board. So he pushes buttons, and he’ll say, “See, that’s much better!” It’s exactly the same thing because it doesn’t make any difference. Now that is how dumb some of these people were that they would send to supervise us.
That is how totally idiotic it got sometimes. Of course all you could do is laugh … or cry. But that was it. So you could imagine we sometimes had to deal with people like that, and if you couldn’t help it, well, then you just did the best you could. That fortunately was my only experience in the studio mixing with somebody. I thought, “God, what an idiot.” But what are you going to do? Of course I thought to myself, “It’s Hollywood.” But fortunately not everybody was of that ilk. But it didn’t help anything, and you wondered why they sent these people. There is a wonderful book out. The book is about the people in Hollywood who are upstairs — the bigwigs who have all the say about everything.
This book dealt with the kind of notes when you were shooting a movie you’d get from the guys upstairs — the owners, the producers. There are some very intelligent and wonderful producers around — don’t get me wrong — but somebody compiled a bunch of notes, which were hilarious. For instance, I’ll give you the one, the one on which the title of the book is based. He would say, “You know, you’ve got this guy saying, ‘Da-da-da-da-da-da-da.'” “Yes?” “Well, you’ve gotta change that line. A Martian wouldn’t say that!”
PR: They call the book A Martian Wouldn’t Say That. It’s filled with all of these ridiculous things, of which I gave you my example. I don’t know where these people come from. I sometimes wonder how they got into the business — what they’re doing in the business. But when you’re just working for somebody, there’s nothing much you can say or do except hope that you run into as few of those as possible.
BH: Well, maybe they came from Mars, and they know how a Martian speaks. (laughs)
PR: Well, “A Martian wouldn’t say that.” You think about it; it’s an insane comment.
On another occasion, one of the things in the book that I simply howled at was, they kept looking for background music, and he kept saying, “Well, no, I don’t think that would be a good idea. We need somebody more like…” Let’s say he mentioned someone as well-known as Rimsky-Korsakov, a composer. So he mentions someone like this.
So the guy upstairs says, “Well, then get him!” Of course, the man’s been dead for years! So you want to throw your hands up in the air and shriek, finally. But as I say, it’s one of the things that happens. There’s nothing you can do about it. There are the smart people you’d like to work for, and there are the people you would just as soon never have to work for if you can avoid it.
But unfortunately, I think it’s worse in film than it ever was on Broadway because essentially, I’ve always felt that Broadway, stage, and all that was always a profession. When you’re dealing with Hollywood, you’re dealing with an industry. An industry doesn’t behave in the way that a profession does. It can’t, I suppose, if you’re thinking of profits, which can’t be ignored. So that may in part explain it. I really don’t know. Of course, even in the theater, it has been said, if the director is directing you, and he’s just not giving you anything you can use, you will be told at some point, “Well, take what you can use of what he’s saying to you. Take what you can use, and forget the rest of it.” But as I say, having to deal with these kinds of problems, I think, has been far less frequent in the theater, which as I say is inevitable.
BH: Just before we round it out, do you have any thoughts on the genre of science fiction, Japanese science fiction?
PR: I think it’s fun. My husband was very much into science fiction. He had all these paperbacks, paperbacks galore of science fiction. He made a movie which became a cult film. It was called The Flesh Eaters.
BH: Oh, yes.
PR: Well, he made that film. That my was Jack’s film. He had done that film before he and I were married. It predated our going together, our being together. It wasn’t entered in the Cannes Film Festival because it’s not the sort of film one would enter, but he took it in order to see if he could sell it to the industry, which is what people did or do. Jack was for movies; Jack was a movie person. He was not a theater person. I came from the theater. It’s very different. It isn’t that I didn’t like the specific film, but the genre was not one that I was into at all, unfortunately. So I could appreciate that it was a good movie in its genre, but it was certainly not a film I would normally ever go to see, except of course in this case. It was a film my husband had made. So of course I would go to see it.
But it’s a genre like any other. I’m not all about great literature and stuff like that. I enjoy crime films, whodunit films. I think the British do some wonderful stuff. Helen Mirren did a series called The Prime Suspect, which was absolutely brilliant. They also can do humor in a way that is marvelous. Of course, America buys a charming French film, really charming French film, and then they Americanize it, thereby losing any charm it had and not replacing it with anything it can use. So then it goes down the tubes, for the most part.
All in the Family was, I think, taken from an original British series, but that’s the only one I know of that was very successful in America being translated into a Queens family. You can reorganize it to suit your needs, obviously.
BH: So in other words, the science fiction genre is a genre like all others, so it has its purpose.
PR: As all kinds of things are. They were having some kind of convention today, I think, of romance films, romance novels, romance. I was rather startled. One girl said she got involved in it because when she was in her teens, I guess she started reading romance novels. I was astonished. I remember my father used to scream when he’d see me reading anything like that.
When I was nine or ten, he’d scream at seeing me because he considered it to be junk. I guess he’s got a right to feel that way, just like the people who read it and enjoy it feel however they feel about it. There’s room for a lot of stuff. There’s room for all kinds of tastes, and one just must tolerate. As I say, I’m very tolerant insofar as anybody can have any taste and be catered to. That’s his thing; that’s fine by me. Just don’t try to push it on me.