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Twinkie: Richard Donner's obsessions


Twinkie: First film in the US and working with Charles Bronson
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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My first film experience in the United States was in 1969 on a film called Twinkie. That film had come about, my work on that film had come about because either Richard Donner or somebody else on that production had seen Joanna, and was rather impressed and wanted the same sort of style for Twinkie. Now, Twinkie was a story about an American ex-patriot writer, living in London, who falls in love with a schoolgirl just about to leave school. He marries her and takes her off to the United States. That was the story of Twinkie. And, Richard Donner, who became a very well-known director later, at that time he'd only made one other feature before, which was Salt and Pepper, starring Sammy Davis Junior.

Now, the star of Twinkie was Charlie Bronson, who's a very nice man, but like all stars, there are certain problems, and again, that was one of those films where the star and the director were supposed to have had some privileged relationship, either director control... what's it called? Director approval. Charlie had director approval, so he approved of Richard Donner, but then, like in all those cases, he wouldn't do anything that Richard Donner asked. So we spent the first two... The film Twinkie was shot half in London and half in New York, both times in apartments, flats, overlooking the river. The Thames in London and the East River in New York. And... and at the beginning of that film I had made my usual contract. Kate had been in there to do the contract, as she always did, and we started perfectly normally. And then we soon ran into problems because we started... I think it was, at eight and we were supposed to work from eight till six, with an hour for lunch, which is nine hours work, something like that. Very soon after the beginning, it became obvious that that isn't going to be adequate, because the first two hours of every day, from eight till ten, were spent with Richard and Charlie arguing as to whether he was going to do what he was asked to do. The answer was usually no, and then they'd spend an hour or two arguing. So, after a very few days, Kate was called into the office and they tried to change my working hours. They said, 'Well, we can't cope with... there's not enough hours, we've got to work eight till seven'. And I said, 'I'm not going to do that' and Kate, on my behalf, said, 'No, Walter isn't going to do that, you know, that's too many hours. On the other hand, Walter tells me that the first two hours are always spent with Charlie and Richard arguing, so, if you like, he'll come in at ten, then he can work till seven'. Because we never worked before 10 anyway because they were arguing. And they said, 'Hahaha, yes, not possible'. Then when Kate refused, she was recalled. At some point she was recalled and the producer, or the associate producer, he literally asked Kate again, on his hands and knees. He came crawling into the office on his hands and knees, and he said, 'Please, Miss. Campbell, you know, we've made all these contracts with everybody else's on an all-in deal'. She said, 'No, I'm very sorry, that's your problem'.

Anyway, we went on working eight till six and they had some kind of talking to, and it got less serious, but it didn't stop. It didn't stop. Right through the whole movie. Charles'... Charlie's first response to any request was always no. We're going to do so and so, and so and so. Nope. The climax of all this came towards... in the American section of the movie, where he's taken his bride to America and they finally arrive at Kennedy and his mother and father are waiting there to welcome them, and the director says, 'Right, now you come down the ramp here and your mother and father are waiting at the top... at the bottom', and the girl is not with them at that point, she's somewhere behind still, the bride, the child bride. Anyway, he says, 'You come down the ramp and you embrace your mother and you kiss her'. And Charlie said, 'Nope'. But that time we were sort of, why on earth not, for Christ's sake, you know. So we all stand there looking at him, and then Richard said, 'Well, why not?' And Charlie said, 'It's too sentimental; to kiss your mother after seven years abroad, you know, it's too sentimental'. Anyway, he did do it in the end.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: Twinkie, Salt and Pepper, Charles Bronson, Richard Donner

Duration: 4 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008