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Working with Joe Mankiewicz on Sleuth

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The Owl and the Pussycat
Ken Adam Artist
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The Owl and the Pussycat was made in New York with Barbra Streisand and... and George Segus or Segal, whatever – and Herb [Herbert] Ross directed it – and it was amazing because Barbra was, by this time, the biggest star in the world, and she never felt safe in Los Angeles because she was mobbed the moment she was seen anywhere, but New York was her hometown, and she felt much more relaxed, and so we didn't have any problems with her and her performance until one day the actor – because she plays a hooker too, you know, a prostitute, who is supposed to pick her up in the car – didn't turn up or was ill, and she had insisted that I play this part, and this was transmitted to me by Ray Stark who was a producer, and I said, ‘Ray, come on, you know I'm not an actor’.

He said ‘But you'll only… it's a minute. You'll be sitting in the car picking her up’. I said ‘Yes...’ and the camera is here, quite close up, and like ‘No way’, but at that time he wasn't willing to pay my union initiation fee in New York, so I thought it's a little business I can do with him and I said ‘Okay, I will only do it if you pay the fee at a local...’, and... and his hands were tied.

 

Then I talked to Herb Ross, who was the director, and I said ‘Herb, now, come on, you know, I'm not an actor’ and the scene is that I'm undressing her while she's in bed, you know, and all that, so the first thing I said, ‘I've... I've got to talk to Letitzia about it’. It was an understandable term, and I rang Letitzia and I said, ‘You know, I may have to go with… to bed with Barbra Streisand’, and she said ‘What underwear are you wearing?’ was her first question, and so we had to send a car to change my underwear and my socks, all sorts of things, and then of course, fortunately, I never went to bed with her, but she did, you know, while I'm there, she… and she was so nervous and she actually has a… has a great figure, but the stage was cleared. They couldn't clear me, but… and she was so… I mean, somebody who is so talented, that she was so insecure was incredible.

And then that scene I don't think is in the film any longer, but the scene when I pick her up, and we... you talk about snow here, in New York, I mean, it was… and... and we had fire engines to create the rain, but I mean, the moment the water left the hoses it started freezing, you see.

So… but we had a lot of fun and it was… I mean, it was a nice experience and so on, and I think she enjoyed it even though we shot for three nights or something like that, so that was my only major acting experience, and it was a fun film, you know, and I liked working in New York and... and later on did several other films in New York.

Sir Kenneth Adam (1921-2016), OBE, born Klaus Hugo Adam, was a production designer famous for his set designs for the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, he trained as an architect in London, but in October 1943, he became one of only two German-born fighter pilots to fly with the RAF in wartime. He joined 609 Squadron where he flew the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber. After the war, he entered the film industry, initially as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman. His portfolio of work includes Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George; he won an Oscar for both films. Having a close relationship with Stanley Kubrick, he also designed the set for the iconic war room in Dr Strangelove. Sir Ken Adam was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.

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: New York, Los Angeles, Barbra Streisand, George Segal, Herbert Ross, Ray Stark, Letizia Adam

Duration: 4 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2010 and January 2011

Date story went live: 11 November 2011