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TV movies with Katharine Hepburn


Stone Pillow: Working with Lucille Ball
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The first movie in that period was with Lucille Ball, this is 1985 now, and it was a film called Stone Pillow, which was Lucille Ball as a tramp... as a bag lady. It led to some thoughts, on my part, to compare that kind of subject, that kind of movie, with something like Cathy Come Home, quickly points to some very important differences. You could not make Cathy Come Home for American television. Impossible. If you want to make a movie about a bag lady and about people living in shelters and on the streets, and so on, you can only make it in a very theatrical manner, and with Lucille Ball as the star. If you wanted to make that as a semi-documentary, forget it. American television wouldn't finance it, no way, no way. And don't forget that on American television, well into the '80s, there were two documentary programmes a week. CBS has 60 Minutes, and then ABC copied it with 20/20. That was it. Until the many channels started, outside the ABC... outside the... what are they called? The cable channels. No, outside the cable channels. The original broadcasters, you know, CBC... CBS and ABC. The fixed broadcasters, outside of that, there wasn't anything in the documentary way.

Anyway, Lucille Ball is not to be compared with Katharine Hepburn. Katharine Hepburn is a lady, no more said. Lucille Ball... I'll just tell you a couple of things about Lucille Ball. She had a makeup lady, on that movie, who was called Katie Biehr, spelt B-i-e-h-r, it's a German name, Katie Biehr. And when Lucille saw this, she said, 'I can't go around shouting: Biehr, Biehr, I shall call you Baker!' Now why she can't call her Katie, God knows. Anyway, that's what Lucille Ball was like. And once she had a fainting spell in the middle of the... it was very, very hot. We shot in New York City in summer, and it was very, very hot, even at night. And on one take she fainted, and all hell broke loose, and ambulances were called and God knows what, and heart resuscitation, but she recovered very quickly. And then when she discovered that night's shooting had been cancelled, she was absolutely furious. You know, why the hell did you do that?

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: Stone Pillow, Cathy Come Home, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn

Duration: 2 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008