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Saturday, April 24, 2010

It's only a 'Paper Moon' (third in a series)

Today I heard more stars speak than a Dalmatian has spots. Fritz Lang. George Cukor. Jimmy Stewart. Orson Welles. “Hitch.”

Wait, that’s not quite true. They were all being channeled through the same mouth—that of Peter Bogdanovich. He sat down with critic Leonard Maltin for a conversation, and what a talk it was. Though Bogdanovich was one of the young rebels of 1970s filmmaking—along with Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and others—he also has the distinction of being one of the cinema’s most eminent historians. He has published widely, including portraits of Orson Welles and John Ford.

His history lessons go down easier than most because he is a talented mimic. And achingly funny. Maltin had the easy part. All he had to do was mention a well-known Hollywood name or film. Then Bogdanovich would say, “Can I tell a story?” At the end of the hour, with the audience hanging on every word, Bogdanovich was still asking that question, still spinning yarns.

From talk of Tatum O’Neal’s “lettuce cigarettes” (which she smoked at the tender age of eight) to describing the time that his house guest Orson Welles put a lit cigar in his robe and nearly started the entire mansion on fire, Bogdanovich had us in the palm of his hand. David McClurkin 74C and I had left a poolside table at the Roosevelt Hotel (above) to come to that conversation, but we didn’t want to go back for all the free appetizers in the world. We were tempted to lock the doors from the inside.

One of the best stories in Bogdanovich’s repertoire was about Hitch. Bogdanovich describes meeting Hitch and his wife at a New York hotel. After several frozen daiquiris, none of the parties was feeling any pain. They then were headed out to dinner, so they got in the elevator. The conversation had revolved around usual topics until the first time the doors opened and other guests got on. Hitch started talking (imagine the accent, of course): “It was an awful sight. The man was bleeding from his mouth and ears, limbs akimbo.” All other conversation ceased in the elevator. Each time the elevator stopped and new guests stepped in, he ratcheted up the crime scene in greater graphic detail. When they got to the lobby, no one wanted to get off. They knew it was Hitch.

Bogdanovich, who usually didn’t drink, was completely befuddled. As they walked out of the hotel, he asked, “Who was the man?” Hitch waved him off, saying, “You have heard of elevator speeches? Well, that was mine.”

Bogdanovich is not the only funny man whose company I had the pleasure of today. As David and I walked to the Roosevelt Friday morning, we came upon what clearly was some sort of media event associated with the festival. A growing crowd milled around. It eventually became clear that a new star was being dedicated on the Walk of Stars. With the delightful dry wit for which he is known, David said: “I’m pretty sure the star must be for Lindsay Lohan, honoring her for her life’s work.”

Peter, meet David.

Read part 6; Read part 5; Read part 4; Read part 2; Read part 1

-- Susan Carini 04G, executive director, Emory Creative Group

Photo by Jon Rou

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