Rich and Famous: The Making of George Cukor's Last Film—Part Two

Series of Nine Articles

Part Two: How and Why Cukor Was Hired


At the end of August 1980, Cukor was contacted about taking over.  Visiting Cukor at his home to talk about the project, Allyn spent the whole afternoon looking at his remarkable collection of photographs. As irascible as ever, when the conversation came around to Cecil Beaton, Cukor remarked, “And you surely have heard about that cunt.” Fifteen years after “My Fair Lady,” Cukor still could not resist the opportunity to trash Beaton in public.


An announcement was made on October 10 that Cukor would replace Mulligan.  The official statement was that Mulligan would no longer be associated due to circumstances arising from the SAG strike, but insiders knew that Mulligan left because he didn't like Bisset.  Cukor had no qualms about taking over the picture. “I've replaced other directors and other directors have replaced me,” he said, “If I wasn't sure that I was still able and ready to direct a picture, I wouldn't have agreed to do it.”  Asked if he were nervous about tackling his first feature since “Travels with My Aunt,” nine years earlier, he noted: “Not one damn bit.  It's an awfully attractive project.  If it's no good, it's nobody's fault but my own.”


Cukor told his friends about the offer to do “Rich and Famous” in a typically self-derisive humor: “Allyn called me and said, 'George, you know, we have this film, and the director left.  How would you like to direct it?' I said to him, 'You must be really scraping the bottom of the barrel, you must be desperate.'”  There was a measure of irony in Cukor's quip, and few people knew that he needed to work for financial reasons.  Maintaining his house with its large staff and continuing his luxurious lifestyle were expensive propositions.


Ben Benjamin conceded that Cukor needed to work for the money. Cukor's business manager, Bill Hayes, would often call the agent and say, “Ben, is there anything in the offing for George, because he needs money?” But as a client, Cukor never made demands. “The only time he got upset,” Benjamin recalled, “was when I said, 'George, there's this picture to be done in England and this is all the money there is.  I'm embarrassed to even bring this to you, but it's a deal, and it's hundred thousand dollars.” 


Furious, Cukor exploded, “How dare you offer me anything for such a low amount of money.”  But two hours later, Cukor's secretary called and said, “That wasn't George who was talking to you.  He's just so full of medicine, and he's just so sick. I know he loves you and he would never talk to you in that manner.” The next day, things were back to normal, and “there was no longevity to the bitterness.”


Benjamin claimed that Cukor could not have made more TV movies, because he was used to making a picture in twenty weeks, but in the world of television, he had to get a picture out in several weeks.  Cukor made no suggestions about the kind of movies he would like to do.  “All he wanted was good scripts,” said the agent, “though he wouldn't do those youth-oriented movies.