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Happy Mothers Day, Love George: The mixed crew


Happy Mother's Day, Love George: The filming
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The following year, 1972, I made a film in Canada which had the peculiar title at the end, of Happy Mother's Day, Love George. That's almost as ridiculous a title as Hullabaloo over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures, which is one of the movies I made for Merchant Ivory. Anyway, this was directed... this movie was directed by Darren McGavin, who was a very well-known actor originally, in America, and it was set on the East Coast. We actually filmed it in a town, a little town called Lunenburg, which many years previously had been quite an important sea port, which is, I don't know, some 40-50 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The story was about a young boy, played by Ron Howard, who later became a famous director, who discovers one day... he's been brought up by adoptive parents and he discovers, one day, some letters in a loft, which give a clue as to who his real mother might be. And he sets off on a journey across the continent to... this all happens in LA or somewhere on the West Coast and he goes across to the East Coast and so on. He goes in search of his real mother, which he finds.

There are certain peculiarities about this story. I couldn't understand, for instance, why all the surrounding characters in that village, in that little town, had Italian names. Eventually it transpired that in the original story, the journey had been made in the opposite direction. In other words, he's living on the East Coast and he goes to the West Coast to discover where his mother might be. And, of course, in Sausalito and around the San Francisco area a lot of people have Italian names, and they were never changed. So it's a bit strange, all these people walking around with Italian names.

The director told me once how he had met the producer... how the money had been raised for this film. He'd met some rich guy, a banker I think, on a beach in the Bahamas somewhere, and they'd come up with this very, very simple scheme, that... he'd done some research, this is the banker, and he'd found that one in six movies pays off. So they then drew the conclusion that all you have to do, if you want to make money, is you have to make at least six movies, and then one of them will pay for all the failures. Which, of course, is slightly flawed logic. But they literally set off with that idea, and this was the first movie to be made under that particular idea, with that particular idea in mind. The lovely Patricia Neal played either the mother or the mother's sister, I can't remember. There was Cloris Leachman whom I knew from the Bogdanovich film, Last Picture Show, and there was Patrica Neal with whom I'd worked in '63 on Psyche, '59-'63. By that time she'd had a stroke and she mastered that beautifully, but she had to have a lot of title cards around the set, because she couldn't remember much dialogue. Just a line of dialogue or so, and then she had to... but she did that again. She'd learned to do that beautifully and it doesn't show in the least in the movie.

But the other sad thing about that movie is that somebody in the upper echelons of the production department had decided, in their wisdom, that the original story wasn't good enough. It wasn't gripping enough so they gave this young guy a homicidal sister, which leads to some scenes that really... it's like suddenly you've gone onto the wrong reel, you know. Are we in the same movie? All these murders are taking place. While he's looking for his mother, his real mother, there's a serial killer around in the village, or in the little town, which turns out to be his sister, and that's all ludicrous and completely unnecessary. But sometimes you find conditions like that where somebody has decided that the story's too simple and it doesn't hold, they have to have something more gripping, like a homicidal sister, who was played by Tessa Dahl, who's Patricia's daughter. She played the sister, because Patricia is married to Roald Dahl, the author. But we had a very nice happy... It was a fairly happy shoot. And Lunenburg is quite an interesting town. It's a little backwater, very interesting houses. I took a whole series of colour photographs, as I usually do when I'm filming. Alongside I have my little stills camera and I take colour transparencies which I've collected over the years. There's now some 3,500 of them, and they've had a new lease of life recently, because I've been having some exhibitions with them here in Chania.

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: Hullabaloo over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures, Happy Mothers Day, Love George, Last Picture Show, Psyche, Darren McGavin, Ron Howard, Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman, Roald Dahl

Duration: 5 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008