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Actors' demands on the set of Voyage of the Damned


Orson Welles' make-up on Voyage of the Damned
Billy Williams Film-maker
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The next picture was Voyage of the Damned, another true story. In 1938 an ocean liner called the St Louis left Hamburg with about three or four hundred Jews fleeing the Nazis, bound for America to seek sanctuary. When they got to Florida the coastguard turned them away and they went to Cuba, to Havana, where they were allowed to drop anchor for a while and a few people, including some children, were allowed off, but no more. They were then ordered to leave. They went back to Hamburg and very few people survived the war, the Holocaust. That's a true story. The ship was called the St Louis and the original title of the film was Voyage of the St Louis, it was changed to Voyage of the Damned. It was directed by an American called Stuart Rosenberg. It had the biggest cast list I've ever worked with. The captain of the ship was played by Max von Sydow. His cabin boy was Malcolm McDowell. Among the passenger list was Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Lee Grant, Lynne Frederick, Sam Wanamaker, Wendy Hiller, Maria Schell. In Cuba we had James Mason, Fernando Rey and Orson Welles. Now we'd been shooting for a few weeks and everybody was sort of waiting with some expectation for the arrival of Mr Welles. We were in Barcelona at the time. ‘Cause he had three big scenes to do, and I remember he arrived and there was a restaurant just opp... opposite the hotel where we used to have dinner and I... I sat at one end of the... of the... the restaurant with my camera crew, and at the other end, was Orson Welles with the director and some of the other actors. You could hear every word that Orson Welles said at the other end of the restaurant his voice had such resonance and projection. Everyone called him Mr Welles except the director.

So we come to his first scene, which is an interior, and he turns up on set with an incredible amount of make-up on. I mean like the old Technicolor make-up, very thick and heavy and dark... reddy-brown. So I called the make-up man and I said, ‘What's happened with the make-up?’ He said, ‘Ooh, Mr Welles did his own make-up’. So I went to the director and I said, ’Look, you know, we've got a problem with this make-up, it looks so theatrical’. And the director got a... he said, ‘Ohh’ he says, ’I can’t... I can’t... we've.... we’ve got to shoot’, he said, ’We can't do anything about it, he's ready, we've got to shoot’. And so, we had to shoot. So we did the day's work. Now, they had... the three scenes that he had were quite separated in the script, so I thought: well, I've got to do something about this. So at the end of the day I very politely went up to Mr Welles and I said, well, you know, ‘Excuse me Mr. Welles, but do you think tomorrow you could wear a little less makeup?’ and he gave a great big belly laugh and he said, ’Listen son, if I... if I don't wear all this makeup’ he said, ‘I look terrible, pale and washed out, I look dreadful’. I thought, that's it, you know, I've been put in my place. The next day we come to... to the second scene, he comes on set and the makeup is perfect. He'd done it himself and it was perfect. So, nothing said, we shoot and we're shooting on exteriors and we get to about five o'clock and we're in a courtyard in Barcelona and the... the light was dropping and I was actually wide open. And at that point, he looked at me and he said, ’Are you okay for light?’ And I said... I said, ’Yes, we can... we can just get this scene’. He said, ’Ok, ok, as long as your happy’. I thought that was... that was nice, that he understood my problem and he was giving me a little bit of backing up, you know, and there were no hard feelings kind of thing. And then the third day, his makeup was perfect again.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 5 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008