Rich and Famous: The Making of George Cukor's Last Film–Part Three

Series of Nine Articles

Part Three: Cukor Arrives to Direct

 

But Cukor was thrilled to do “Rich and Famous.” It was the kind of material he was drawn to. Following the lives of two female writers, it was a stylish comedy about women's life choices. “It's about the comings and goings of friendship and its perils,” said Cukor, “The range is extraordinary–20 years–they fight, make up, and compete.”

 

“Rich and Famous” marked Cukor's 50th anniversary as a director and his 20th film for MGM, the studio with which he was closely associated.  After 50 years, one might expect Cukor's energy and enthusiasm to wane, but this was not the case.  

 

Cukor thoroughly enjoyed the whole process.  “He enjoyed the attention he was getting at this age,” Bisset said, “It gave him a reason to be out there.  He enjoyed having young people around him.”  Cukor denied that he wanted to do the film because it had two strong parts for women. “I wanted to direct it,” he said, “because it was one of the wittiest scripts I've read in a long time. I still find a witty, intelligent script irresistible.” “Of course,” he said wistfully, “the offers don't come fast and furious,” but he added mischievously, “I think they made a very intelligent choice.”  Bisset concurred, at least initially: “Candy and I are thrilled that George has agreed. His aesthetic sense will enhance the picture, as it's been doing for pictures for the past fifty years.” “It was wonderful to have worked with a director of that caliber,” Candice Bergen said, “he was one of the great mandarins, and it was an honor to have done a film with him, much less his last film.”

 

One afternoon, Ayres went to Cukor's house to discuss his script.  “Go ahead,” the director said, “let's hear what you have in mind.” Ayres explained that he came to hear Cukor, not to voice his ideas. But Cukor asked him to read the entire script loud. “He ended up correcting my performance,” Ayres recalled, “placing emphasis on the rhythm.” Cukor loved the script so dearly that not one line was changed.  “I stuck right to the text,” he noted, “I don't come each day with new lines of my own scribbled on the back of an envelope.”        

 

By the time Cukor came aboard, all the casting had been done. Initially, Cukor was pleased with his leading ladies.  “Jackie and Candy will bring beauty and simplicity back to the screen,” he said. Bergen and Cukor were not strangers. He had known her father, Edgar Bergen, the famed ventriloquist; she was like a little sister to Charlie McCarthy, the wise-cracking dummy. Bergen recalled: “I was someone he had a frame of reference for having grown up in Hollywood, from parents who were in show business, and with a father whose sense of humor and talent he respected.  We had a kind of common language, knowing a lot of the same people.”   

 

As for Bisset, Cukor had met her fifteen years earlier, when she was at Fox' talent school for young actors.  Cukor was assigned to find a scene for her to put on film.  They worked together at his office for several days, but then her agent sent her to do a test with another studio.  “I'm afraid there was a big brouhaha,” she said, “everyone got offended. George took heavy umbridge, and he was furious with me.”  Bisset didn't really know who Cukor was, or the extent of his fame in Hollywood: “I was young, and not very schooled in the American Cinema.” When they would meet socially, Cukor was polite, but slightly “standoffish.”  Bisset always felt he was offended that she didn't pay him the homage he expected.

 

“Rich and Famous” went back into production on November 10, 1980.  Cukor had last worked on the MGM lot as a director in             1957, on Les Girls.  In the intervening years, a great deal had changed, and a new generation of filmmakers was working at the studio.  As a joke, Cukor carried a list of his film credits with him–lest they forget who he was!