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Old and New Hollywood


Signe Hasso's wrong present
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Grady would check in with us every couple of days to see everything was going right and we wrapped up the expensive, the fur coats for the Hepburn women and Spencer Tracy. And Grady came and retrieved those because Cukor was going to give these presents himself and that left everything else. And so Grady came up one day and said, 'Do you boys have a car?' 'Yes, sir.' We had a VW bus. 'Okay. Here are the addresses for all these presents. Go deliver them.' So we had a piece of paper that had names and addresses of all of the Hollywood people, short of the Hepburn's and the Tracy's. And for the next four, five days, we drove around Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Brentwood and all of these fancy neighbourhoods, knocking on doors and: 'Present from Mr Cukor!'

There was one bobble in the otherwise well-executed plan which was, I took the present to Signe Hasso, who was kind of an Ingrid Bergman next generation. She was slightly younger but in the mid-50s, she had a moment of stardom, and so this was 1965 and knocked on the door. A sort of Erich von Stroheim character opened the door, 'Yes?' I said, 'Well, here's a Christmas present for Miss Hasso from George Cukor.' 'Thank you very much.' Click. I went back to the VW bus. Who's next? And I picked up a present, Signe Hasso. So I had delivered the wrong present. So we did a U-turn. I went back, knocked on the door. Erich Von Stroheim answered and said… I said, 'I'm afraid this is Miss Hasso's present. I gave you the wrong present.' 'Oh. Just a minute.' Click. So five minutes later, the door opened up again and he handed me a package that looked like it had been attacked by a wildcat. So the Christmas wrapping had been ripped off and the box had been torn open and he said, 'I'm afraid you're going to have to rewrap this present.'

So this was about a week or so before Christmas but Miss Hasso was so anxious to see what George Cukor had given her for Christmas. Because of this pyramid, you could determine what your specific gravity was. If the gift was a certain kind of gift, George Cukor thought that you were high on the pyramid. If it was a cigarette lighter, then you were at the same level as the guards at the gates to the studios. So I hope, and I don't know, I hope that the present I gave, the second present to Miss Hasso was higher in the pyramid than the first present that I gave her.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

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: George Cukor, Signe Hasso, Erich von Stroheim

Duration: 3 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017