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How A Clockwork Orange killed my friendship with Stanley Kubrick

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Playing chess with Stanley Kubrick
Jeremy Bernstein Scientist
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He went back to England and started filming 2001 and I was going to do this profile. I got the profile of him to do that and so we started playing chess. And the first game we played was in the Dorchester Hotel. The chessboard was set up. And he was a hustler. A real hustler. When you were trying to think, he would snap his fingers, look at his watch and all these hustler tricks. And one of his daughters came in and said, 'Why is Jeremy's face red?' she said. Kubrick said, 'Well, that's because he can't think of a decent move'. And so we played four games I lost, but the fifth game, I won. He said, 'Well, why did you win this game? You're a patzer. You can't win this game'. I said, 'Stanley, I was hustling you. I deliberately lost the first four games and won the fifth game'. He said, 'No, that's crazy, you're a patzer, you can't do anything'.

Then we played during the filming. Even when we didn't have a proper set, he would use coins. We'd set the thing up and about every fifth game… every fifth game, actually, I did something interesting, either won or drew or something. It was driving him crazy. Literally crazy. He said, 'I know you're no good, you're just this patzer'. So then we came to the 25th game. The 25th game will decide everything. And the 25th game we played in his house. He had a rented estate in, I think, Boreham Wood, and the windows were huge and were letting in the cold air and it was freezing. So to deal with this, he'd bought about 15 huge bathrobes. And so I think… either it was that time or another time when he said, 'Come out', he said, 'come out to the house for dinner'. So I said, 'All right, that's fine'. I thought, yes, and meet all these movie stars, that'd be great. That was another time. Come and have dinner, and movie stars, everything, wonderful. So on the way out, the chauffer… he sends in a car for me, the chauffer stops at a Tandoori chicken place and he picks up some chicken and puts it in a bag. I thought, God, this guy's having this nice dinner for himself. I come out there, Kubrick takes the bag of Tandoori chicken and gives it to me. That was the dinner. I said, 'Well, Jesus, this is dinner'. I said, 'God, is there any dessert or anything?' He said to the kid....he said to his daughter, he said, 'See if you can find Jeremy a dry cookie somewhere'. So anyway, we were in these bathrobes, playing this chess game. It was like something out of The Seventh Seal, you know, really weird. And I thought he'd made a blunder and without thinking about it, I started [sic]… and Kubrick said, 'Oh God, how could I do this? This is terrible, oh God.' And it was a trap and then he clobbered me. And he said, 'You see? You didn't know I could also act'. He was very pleased with himself.

Born in 1929, Jeremy Bernstein is an American physicist, educator and writer known for the clarity of his writing for the lay reader on the major issues of modern physics. After graduating from Harvard University, Bernstein worked at Harvard and at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. In 1962 he became an Associate Professor of Physics at New York University, and later a Professor of Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, a position he continues to hold. He was also on the staff of The New Yorker magazine.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: 2001: Space Odyssey, Hotel Dorchester, London, The Seventh Seal, Stanley Kubrick

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: 15th June 2011

Date story went live: 07 October 2011