- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 Apr 1982, p. 421-440
- Yost, Elwy, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Autobiographical. Personal reminiscenses and anecdotes, including Hollywood personalities.
- Date of Original
- 29 Apr 1982
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- Full Text
- APRIL 29, 1982
Hollywood and the Movies
AN ADDRESS BY Elwy Yost, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TV ONTARIO
CHAIRMAN The President, Been. S.F. Andrunyk, O.M.M., C. D.
Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: During the course of this season we have had the pleasure of wel coming to this club twenty-six leaders in government, politics, business and other fields of endeavour who have spoken to us on the major issues of the day. Today we are privileged to welcome as our guest speaker a well known Canadian whose primary interest lies in the entertainment field.
A graduate of the University of Toronto with an honours Bachelor of Arts degree and the holder of a permanent high school teacher's certificate, Mr. Elwy Yost has had a varied and fascinating career in education, in public relations and in the entertainment world.
He is a man of many talents. He has taught English at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate. He has written, produced, directed and acted in film and on the stage. He has worked for the Toronto Star in promotion and publicity. He has worked as a human relations counsellor for Avro Aircraft. He has written a number of plays for CBC Radio. He has been a panelist on several TV shows and he has hosted several more. He was the executive director for the Metropolitan Educational Television Association of Toronto between 1964 and 1970. Since 1970 he has been with Tv Ontario where he now holds the position of Executive Producer. Currently he is the host of Saturday Night at the Movies for which he has been nominated as best host/TV interviewer for the eleventh annual ACTRA Awards for broadcasting. He also hosts Magic Shadows, Talking Film and Rough Cuts.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to invite Mr. Elwy Yost, Executive Producer Of TV Ontario, to share with us his love for the movies and to tell us about some of Hollywood's stars and directors whom he has interviewed.
Mr. President, distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen: My observations, during the past seven minutes, of the manner in which you conduct your annual meeting make me wish that none of you is around to move and second my court martial. The alacrity with which you perform that act of total democracy sweeps the hair from my head. Equally disconcerting, as I look at these volumes of Empire Club yearbooks before me, is to think that that is where I will wind up. I imagine that in a hundred years, when these bones will have long since passed to that great cathode-ray tube in the sky, these yearbooks will stretch from one end of the table to the other and somewhere in that row will be me. The way they wipe tapes at TV Ontario because of budget problems, it may be the only place I will be a hundred years from now.
People often ask me what it is like to be a celebrity. It's fun being asked that because I never think of myself as a celebrity. However, after about five thousand television programs, I guess I am. But I am not the celebrity Al Waxman (who sits at this head table) is. Let's make that very clear. He is known all across Canada wherever he goes. If I step outside of Windsor, forget it. A bit beyond Thunder Bay, it gets somewhat hazy. But in Toronto, Barrie, Orillia and such other glamorous places it's quite tremendous and one develops a certain feeling about it. I travel the subway all the time and it's quite exciting to have people recognize you and speak to you. That's not always so, however.
I'll never forget my experience a year or so ago when I was a panelist with my good friend Jack Livesley, of TV Ontario, who tells this story better than I. We were on a media panel in northern Ontario with some educators. The school auditorium was full. We were sitting on the stage conducting our business when a man came in late, moved right down and sat in the front row. He proceeded to stare at me and grin as if to say he knew me. He seized upon me with his curious glance and continued to grin, watch and study me. When the panel was finished he came roaring over, shook my hand and said, "I know you! I do! I do!"
I humbly looked down towards the floor. You have to appear a little embarrassed with all this fame.
"I do know you," he said. "You used to teach me at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate twenty years ago." He paused and then added, "What are you doing now?" Ah, ego!
Your President also noted in his introduction that I had the pleasure of teaching at Burnhamthorpe, which brings to mind a lesson I learned: "You must never take anything for granted." If you start doing that in life you might as well check out. You can't take anything for granted--not marriage, nor life, nor anything. We all should know that but I have taken a long time to learn it. I might have learned that the first week I started teaching in 1959.
I was determined to be a top teacher. I mean, the greatest! I was as ambitious then as I am now. I made very certain that I had memorized my schedule which Was complicated because I was all over the school in those days. I imagine that teachers are still moved with the same kind of ubiquitous momentum as they were then. I didn't have to look at my schedule. I had that kind of confidence. My, what confidence I had then! All I was waiting for was my first spare on a Friday at 10:30 in the morning, because then I could leave the classroom for the first time after four days of teaching, go down to the staff room, put my feet up, light up a cigarette and be one of the boys just as though I had been there twenty years. I can't tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the degree of confidence that coursed through my veins. It was an incredible feeling!
There was a rap on the door of the staff room and our principal, a marvellous man named Jim McNab, stuck his head in--a head with less hair than I have--and said, "Elwy, could you give me a hand?"
I was as anxious to get ahead then as today. I jumped right up and asked, "What can I do for you, sir?" "Just come along. It's a simple thing."
As we walked down the hall we chatted. "How do you like it here, Elwy?"
"It's great, sir, and it's great to be at your school. By the way, what do you want me to do?"
He replied, "There's a class upstairs unattended. Will you step in and look after the students until the next period?"
"I would be happy to."
As we were going up the stairs I asked, "By the way, Mr. McNab, whose class is it?"
"Yours," he replied.
I became a teacher and a broadcaster the same week. I had been at Avro, and you know what happened to Avro. I didn't know what to do in life. A friend suggested I become a teacher. Somebody else called up and said maybe I could audition for some panel shows. By the end of the summer in 1959 I became both a teacher by day and a broadcaster by night. Five years later somebody suggested I get into ETV and I did. That's the way my life has gone and it all wound up in the movies.
People wonder where movies came in and I have to go back to my dad. I guess he's the best pal I ever had except my wife today. He was a wonderful man. He died when he was only fifty-four and I was fifteen. In those young years in the 1920s and the 1930s we were terribly close. He was a pickle manufacturer operating a very small business. He was the president, the chief salesman and the bottler. He was the only man in it. He must have been the last of a whole breed of manufacturer and entrepreneur. We haven't seen his like for a long time. He would go to Brantford or Simcoe County every year and buy up his cucumbers. He would then process and bottle them and sell them to restaurants.
We were poor but we always had food for the table. However, dad never felt he could afford to go to the movies or anything like that. He could afford a cigar and a pulp magazine once a week but movies seemed to be out. But he was passionately in love with film. In earlier years when he had been a bit more prosperous and courting mother, he went all the time. He had his great heroes in Douglas Fairbanks Sr., William S. Hart, Tom Mix and Chaplin. He raised me on stories of the movies even though he could never afford to go by the time I had come along, which was during the depression.
As soon as I came home from a Saturday afternoon movie to which my dime gave me admittance he would sit me down, out would come a glass of cider which was another luxury, and he made me tell him the plots. He would ask me to tell him what Ken Maynard did that day or Hoot Gibson or whoever. He would listen very patiently. Sometimes those pictures would not be sixty minutes long but I would take two hours to tell him the plot. I promise to be more merciful on all of you today. It was a characteristic of my father that if we were interrupted by a neighbour he would stop my story and talk with the neighbour, but the next night he would ask me to finish it. It got so that I really went to movies to tell him the plots. It was more fun telling him the stories of films than it was seeing them. He cried, he laughed. He was just the greatest audience on the face of the earth.
My aunt, who departed a year or two ago at ninetytwo, always used to remind us of the time she and mother went shopping at Loblaws. It was back in 1933 on a Saturday afternoon in Weston. I came home bawling my eyes out. They got me into the car and took me shopping and tried to find out what was wrong. That was difficult, because I was totally incoherent. Finally they got it out of me--they extracted the truth.
I had seen a Tom Mix western and some bad guys had got Tom's horse Tony away from him. There's Tom, left in a desert without a compass or anything else. He has nothing--no water because his canteen is on the horse and Tony is gone. Tom is crawling over sand dunes for days until finally, in jubilation, Tom sees Tony on a dune. Tom crawls up the dune, and the sand is coming under his feet and his knees as fast as he can crawl. I am sitting there, at eight years of age, going right out of my skull watching him. He gets to Tony, puts his hand on the stirrup and pulls himself up. Thank goodness he has reached Tony! There's the canteen! He takes the stopper out and tilts the canteen to his lips! Water at last! Except nothing but pure sand pours out. The bad guys had taken care of that. I think my soul is still somewhere in the Weston Theatre in a delirium tremens way up by the ceiling. I started to bawl and continued to bawl even when Tom was rescued, even when he saved the ranch and restored the deed to the heroine. The second feature was a comedy with Wheeler and Woolsey. I cried all through that and all the way home.
But then to tell dad became a great thrill because maybe he would cry too. He did and I will never forget it. He was inconsolable.
My first visit to Hollywood took place in 1968. I had not yet started to work for TV Ontario at that time, but I had always wanted to go to Hollywood because of the stories of my father. There was one thing about that trip that still excites me and that was the trip to MGM. To me MGM had always been Oz. I had my wife Lila and two boys, Chris aged seven and Graham twelve, with me. We were given a special tour through MGM and it was a strange thing going through some of the factories there on the back lot. And that's what they were--factories. We would go into warehouses ten times the size of this room and see nothing but staircases--staircases from the Civil War, staircases for southern plantations, staircases for old haunted houses, staircases that presidents would ascend, staircases that Marie Antoinette would descend, staircases that a soldier would take climbing out of a trench--all made of plastic but like the real thing. There was every kind of staircase on earth. I had been living in this enchanted dream of art and culture called motion pictures for over forty years without realizing it was also a factory with carpenters and craftsmen and technicians of every kind.
During our tour that day, led by a lovely girl, I asked for an opportunity to see Johnny Weissmuller's jungle. "Are we going to see it?" I asked.
"Oh yes," she replied.
"I was raised on Saturday matinees in that jungle." "Out here?"
"No, no, back home in Canada. I saw all of Mr. Weissmuller's Tarzan pictures and I just loved the jungle."
"Well, you'll see it."
Two hours later there was still no jungle. We were walking along a set of false fronts of Spanish stores representing a street in some Spanish city.
"Well, sir, here you are," she said. "I don't quite get you."
"This is Mr. Weissmuller's jungle." "These are Spanish stores," I replied. "No, no," she said, "across the street."
I looked across the street. There was a grove of eucalyptus trees about forty feet wide and maybe a hundred feet long. That's all there was across the street.
"There you are, sir," she repeated.
"You must be mistaken," I said. "Mr. Weissmuller used to swing endless distances through the jungle. It was huge! "
"There you are."
"But that can't be the right jungle!"
"They used to run the camera along this street. It is very smooth here in front of the stores and gives a very good view of the jungle." "My dear girl, look at that house through the trees." "Oh, yes," she replied. "That's where Andy Hardy was raised."
"You can see it through the jungle!" "That's right."
"And over there?"
"That's where Mr. and Mrs. Miniver lived."
"What's Tarzan's jungle doing with Mr. and Mrs. Miniver and Andy Hardy?"
"Well sir, you must understand that the set decorators haven't been around here for a long time. If they were shooting a jungle picture today they would dress the jungle with their plants and their vines. It would look magnificent."
"But wait," I said. "Where are those villages the natives would take the poor explorers to and tie their arms and legs to two different palm trees that had been bent over and then cut the vines and let the trees spring apart?"
I don't want to seem indelicate, ladies and gentlemen. I loved those scenes as a child. I always loved violence.
I asked, "What about the scenes in those villages?" "Oh, they were done in the studio."
So she took us in and showed us a big empty studio. "I don't understand," I said. "Those villages had trees and flora and fauna."
"Oh," she said. "Come this way." And we went out to a nursery next door. "Every morning a man would be sent out with his car and trailers. He would give the gardener his order and the jungle would be loaded onto the long set of trailers and then he would haul the jungle into the studio. The whole floor was marked off in squares and numbers by the production designer who would put down all the trees, plants, grass and everything. He would roll down green canvas for the paths Johnny had to run along. That's how they created the jungle. Every night at five o'clock they had to strike the jungle and send it back outside to be watered for the next morning."
So much for Hollywood legend and Tarzan. Did it disillusion me? No. I think I fell in love with this disillusionment. It's kind of fun to be disillusioned.
My first trip for TV Ontario to Los Angeles was in 1975 and we are still going down there. Our seventh trip is coming up in just a few weeks time. We fly down and shoot for eleven days. It's not easy but it's fun. We shoot fifty interviews and we bring back nineteen hours of tape. That's another reason why some of the hair has been whisked from my head. But it's exciting to meet all the people.
By way of flashback, I guess the first home ever built in Beverly Hills was in 1907. Back around that time when Hollywood began, pioneers have told me that there was nothing but oil derricks. The whole place was a kind of frontier town with telegraph poles, eucalyptus trees, frame houses, lima bean farms, carnation fields and citrus fruit orchards. Hollywood itself was just a sleepy town with one hotel built in 1903. The first movie man to come there was Colonel Selig of the Selig Company of Chicago. He went out in 1907 to complete a movie called The Count of Monte Cristo. The sets were built in the rear of Sing Loo's Chinese laundry on Olive Street. I don't think Sing Loo's is still there but Olive Street is. The exteriors were shot on the beach off Santa Monica. Then he shot Heart of a Race Tout which was the first tenminute film ever shot in the Los Angeles area.
Movies were eleven years old in 1907. The first nickelodeon had appeared in Pittsburgh in 1905. By 1907 twenty-six million people went to nickelodeons all over America every week. Selig built a studio and in 1908-09-10 all of the others flooded out there including Biograph with David Ward Griffith. The main reason they went was because of the climate. It was not only good but reliable. For making movies you want a good sky every day and not just today. It had, as well, a good variety of locations from deserts to snow to lakes to oceans. More important the real estate was very, very cheap.
There had been a legend going around for years that the first people out to Hollywood were men who were trying to escape the clutches of the motion picture company in the east. They figured if they could make movies out in Los Angeles they would be close to the Mexican border. If any of the patent officials came around to ask why they were infringing on patent rights they could cross the border with all their equipment and hold out for a few days. That happened, but the real reasons were the nice climate, the variations in locales, and the cheap, cheap real estate.
Stars started to bloom, and the very first was a girl named Florence Lawrence. I have seen photos of her and, I think, she still is one of the most beautiful people I have ever looked at. Carl Laemmle who founded Universal thought it might be nice to get Florence and put her in some films of ten or twenty minutes duration. She had previously been making ten dollars a week and had got a raise to twenty-five. He liked her so much he thought he could pay her a thousand dollars a week, and he did. But then suddenly a newspaper report declared that while visiting St. Louis a trolley had run her down. She was dead! That news flash went all over America. I should point out here that actors didn't get credits in those days. Producers didn't want to give them for fear the stars would ask for more money. They were treated anonymously. So people knew stars as "that freckle-face girl" or "the girl with the up-turned nose" or "that red-headed boy." The people now knew that the beautiful girl was Florence Lawrence.
America mourned until a day later. Then her boss, Carl Laemmle, revealed in a newspaper article that she hadn't been killed. It had been put in the paper by a rival studio. She was alive and well and she would make a personal appearance. She did--in St. Louis--and she was almost mobbed! The world went insane and Laemmle knew he had a star. What the world didn't know was that he had invented all the stories I have just told you about. He created her death, brought her back to life, and printed the announcement that the rival studios had done it. He did the whole thing and America went insane over their first star. They have never stopped going insane over stars.
The big studios came along in those years through the teens and the twenties--MGM, Warner Brothers, Universal and Paramount. Great moguls arose--Louis B. Mayer and Jack and Harry Warner and the others. Jack and Harry were butchers when they started out. Louis was a scrap dealer and a rag picker. These were tough, hard men who ran tough empires but produced, I would suggest, the greatest pictures ever made.
There were big distributors like Loews and there were marriages between studios and the distribution chains in the growth of the great empires. But it was the major studios themselves that impressed me most. Warner's came along and developed a kind of low-key photography because its movies--its gangster pictures--were aimed at the lower class. That's how they got that low-key look in Warner pictures--it was the idea of Harry and Frank. MGM worked toward the middle class and so they had a kind of high-key lighting to go with Jeannette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy and others. Paramount, with Lubitch and others, aimed at a more sophisticated crowd and gave a fluorescent glow to their shots.
So much for background. Now for the stars I have seen in my job over the last seven years.
It's really not all that glamorous going out to Hollywood to shoot interviews. You work long hours--fifteen hours a day--but it is exciting when you run into someone like Gregory Peck. He comes into the room and you see General MacArthur standing there before you. I have always admired MacArthur, Teddy Roosevelt and a few other generals like them. In an actor like Peck you see a man who carries this kind of leadership with him. I sometimes wonder if that may be the key to a great actor. It isn't so much the part he plays, but what he puts into the part that counts. Maybe it is those qualities I saw in Peck that made his MacArthur on the screen so fascinating.
I interviewed Louise Fletcher, who was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, just after the picture was released. You may remember that she played nurse Ratchett.
My wife was with me when I saw the picture and she asked who was the actress playing Ratchett. I whispered to her, "That is no actress. Milos Forman has recruited people from the insane asylum where they shot the picture up north of San Francisco. He has used members of the staff. That lady, you can clearly tell, is no actress. She is a nurse and she has been at it for about thirty years. She looks like a nurse. There is lint on her uniform, and look at that face. That's no actress, Lila; she's a real nurse."
Louise Fletcher said it was the finest compliment she had ever received.
I remember a picture called Bang the Drum Slowly. There was a baseball player in it who chewed tobacco. My wife asked me, "Who is he?"
I replied, "That's not an actor. He's a baseball player. There's no style. He just chews tobacco." "But he's so good," she said.
"He is just playing himself." He was Robert De Nero.
I had a great time with Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. Buddy was married to Mary Pickford, of course, and Arlen has since gone. All they talked about was Wings with Clara Bow which was made in 1927 and a tall slim actor who said "Yup" all the time between takes. He appeared with Arlen for seventy seconds in a tent in a war scene, then went up and died in the air. It was the first part for Gary Cooper and Rogers and Arlen loved him dearly.
They were a wonderful pair. They never forgot the ending in which Richard Arlen, after being shot down over German lines, commandeers a German plane and while flying back to our side in World War I is shot down by his closest friend, Buddy Rogers. He didn't know it was Arlen. They loved the same girl, they were inseparable, and the one shoots the other down.
I saw the film a year ago with Horace Lapp at the piano at Gerald Pratley's Ontario Film Theatre. Frank Capra is eighty-five and we talked about Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I told him of my great love affair with Jean Arthur--at a respectable distance, of course.
"Well," he said, "Jean is getting on, you know. She won't grant interviews. She's up in Carmel."
"I have never seen an actress with greater self assurance," I replied.
"I don't want to seem indelicate here, but if I am I know you'll forgive me," said Capra. "But before almost every take, Mr. Yost, she would go away from the set and throw up."
"That can't be," I protested.
"Oh, yes. I have never met a more insecure and neurotically nervous person in my life than Jean Arthur."
"And yet," I said, "the love scenes with Gary and with Jimmy Stewart. . ."
"I know," he replied, "some of the greatest actresses I have ever worked with often got sick to their stomachs when they faced a big scene. Barbara Stanwyck was not too much different."
It was fascinating to find out such curious things about these people that I had revered as gods and goddesses. "Those scenes in Lost Horizon," I said. "Oh, you liked that film?"
"Yes, and I still think Ronald Colman is out there searching for Shangri-La. I'll never forget those scenes where Chang and his men came down through the blizzard and rescued the people from the crashed airplane and guided them along those incredible Tibetan gorges. I imagine you didn't go to Tibet to shoot those scenes. "
"What part of the rockies did you go to?" "We didn't go quite that far!"
"But, Mr. Capra, those scenes. Where ... ?"
"We rented an ice plant in downtown Los Angeles and shot them all there."
"A big ice plant?" I asked.
"About fifty feet wide and a hundred feet long. Not so big, but it's amazing what you can do in that space. We built the wrecked plane. I brought in great slabs of wood and built ledges out of hard rubber to act as cliffs so that the cast could cross along them. We had big propellers brought in. It really was something, wasn't it?"
It was David Niven who told me something that almost totally disillusioned me. I told him that I loved Wuthering Heights, and because of that film and Cathy and Heathcliff running over the moors, my wife and I were motivated into going to England many years later. He laughed and said those moor scenes where Cathy and Heathcliff roamed were made on Joel McCrea's ranch in Northern California.
One of my favourite shots in Shane is Jack Palance getting off a horse. He gets off his horse in a way that looks wierdly tense and strange. I asked William Hornbeck, the editor, about that, He told me that when George Stevens was editing that scene he couldn't find a good shot of Jack dismounting. And then he happened to roll in reverse some footage of Jack mounting a horse. That was it! That was the shot that went in.
Now for a quick London digression. Over there I met Jean Kent, Phyllis Calvert, Ann Todd, Anna Neagle and Margaret Lockwood. Fell in love with them all. What ladies!
Margaret Lockwood told me this story about Hitchcock. He had a strange habit when having tea every morning in the studio during the making of The Lady Vanishes. When he finished his tea he would throw the cup and saucer over his shoulder. They would land on the floor in the studio and break.
She also told me another very funny story about Hitchcock. He had an argument with one of his electricians about a number seven bus in London going down a certain street on Sunday mornings. The electrician argued that the bus did not run there on Sundays and Hitchcock said it did. Alfred Hitchcock had memorized every bus schedule in London. He knew every timetable of every ship and train in the world. He was a fanatic about timetables and he put this precision into his pictures. So to settle the argument with the electrician Hitchcock bet him ten pounds that if he came out of his house on Sunday at ten o'clock in the morning the bus would be there. The electrician was certain he would win the ten pounds. He got up on Sunday and the bus was there, all right. Hitchcock had hired the bus ... bribed the driver.
Hal Roach told me that Laurel and Hardy worked for ten years in separate movies. One day he had them in on some wage negotiation. When they left he watched them walking away together. Wouldn't it be funny if I put them in the same picture, he thought? And that was how Laurel and Hardy were born.
"Which one was the genius?" I asked. "Stan, the thin one."
"What about Hardy, the fat one?" "His genius was never arguing with Stan. He just listened, never argued and went along with him. The two of them were very different types, you know. They never saw each other after work. The only time they were together was on the set."
I cornered production manager Raymond Clune and asked him when he worked with Selznick on Gone With the Wind what it was like to burn Atlanta. He told me it was a great fire. That was the night Selznick found Scarlett O'Hara in Vivien Leigh.
"What did you burn?" I asked.
"Knowing you, you won't like this. We didn't have very much wood around the studio so we dragged out the set of The Garden of Allah, the whole monastery, and we burned it."
"But," I said, "there must have been some other wood that you used."
"Yes, and I am sorry to tell you this, old chap. The gates of King Kong went up too."
Vincent Minelli told me that to get Margaret O'Brien to do those big scenes where she cried because her mother was dying, he would literally tell her that something terrible had happened to her dog. He said he had to get those tears and Margaret really cried when she heard something awful happened to her dog.
Richard Donner told me that to get Brando for Superman was something he would never want to go through again. It took him four months to even see him. Then he and his lawyer were taken up by car to a big estate with great gates somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. There were even Russian wolfhounds that had to be taken away by gamekeepers. They were escorted into the house. Nobody was there. There were signs on the wall that said "no smoking" and "no drinking." Half an hour later a very large man in a kimona came along and gave them flowers from the south Pacific. It was Brando. After listening to them for an hour he said, "I'll do the part, but I'll only appear in a green suitcase."
"A green suitcase? "
"Yes," he said. "I think the part of Superman's father calls for my not appearing physically. I'll stand inside a very large green suitcase."
They argued with him for an hour and he finally reneged.
"All right," he said, "instead of the suitcase, I'll appear nude with a bagel hanging down in front." Richard Donner told me that for four months, while they were waiting to go to Pinewood in England to shoot the film, every time they dealt with Brando he said it had to be the bagel. They had to use Brando because without him there would be no bankroll for the picture. They had to use him. Brando kept on about the bagel until the very day they were doing the first shooting in England. He came to the studio and asked for his robe. Everything was all right from then on. It was just his way of pulling a practical joke.
One final story. The most impressive guest I have ever had was Henry Fonda. We came into the room in his Hollywood Hills home for the interview. His wife had instructed us where to set up. She's a pretty sharp cookie. She looked at us in a way to suggest we should be careful not to scratch any of the furniture. Fonda was not around.
We had the lights all set up and I was waiting for Fonda. Then he came in. It's strange to see a man coming towards you whom you have worshipped since The Grapes of Wrath. What I saw was not the warm face I had been raised to see in the movies but a face almost drained of blood. It was the coldest face I have ever seen. He sat down in a chair and just sat there--expressionless.
I was sitting opposite him. I am supposed to be able to warm people up, and I was getting a little anxious because after five minutes I was getting nowhere.
"Mr. Fonda," I said, "we met Henry King the other day.
"How's he doing? " he asked, after an interminable pause, not looking up.
"He's very well, Sir. He's ninety-two."
"Hmm. He directed me in my first two pictures, you know. What is he doing in his spare time? "
"He still flies his own plane," I replied. "Cripes. I wouldn't go up with him."
I thought I was getting somewhere with that" cripes" but there was dead silence again until finally my producer came along and said, "We are set to go."
The lights came on and I heard "action" and up came the face we all love. This man gave the interview of my life. He was telling me about John Ford and he cried at one point while he was talking. He even had me crying. It was incredible. As soon as the lights went off, his head would go down and he would go back to his expressionless stare. We did that twice and I started to lose my nerve. There were ten minute intervals between the rolls while the cameraman reloaded. I knew Fonda had had an operation but I had never met anyone who only lived when the lights went on. I thought I must get through to him between the rolls of film because we had so much more to do.
I got up and went over to a wall that had nothing but paintings on it and took my pipe out. He started to look up and eyed me the way Jimmy Stewart once did with a cagey, funny look and said, "Which paintings do you like there? "
Suddenly, ladies and gentlemen, it hit me! He paints and some of his paintings were on the wall.
I sort of gripped myself and imagined what his paintings would be like. All I could think of was Andrew Wyeth, the king of American magic realism. From all of Fonda's screen roles, I somehow imagined he would
be a little like Andrew Wyeth. "That, that and that," I replied. "Those three are mine."
Ladies and gentlemen, I'll never forget that moment! He got right up and put his arm around me. We talked painting for twenty minutes. He knew by the way I talked I was an expert on painting. I mean I sounded like it. I was even impressing myself. I don't know very much about painting, but I was really impressing him and he was enthused. I had won him over! "Shirley," he called, "bring in the one that's on the easel."
She brought in a long narrow canvas. There were six flower pots on it--three were in oil but the rest were in charcoal and pencil. I looked at the painting with an expert's eye and asked, "When will this painting be finished, Mr. Fonda? "
"It is," he replied.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
The thanks of the club were expressed to Mr. Yost by Brigadier General Reginald W. Lewis, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.