Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Series: Screen Classics
Title Page, Copyright Page
In the middle of Arthur Penn’s magnifico Four Friends there arrives the now justly immortalized, cosmically American moment where we find ourselves with an American family playing outside with their adopted Vietnamese child,...
Arthur Penn was a contradiction among American filmmakers. He was a founding father of the “Movie Generation” of the 1960s and ’70s that produced Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola, and George Lucas, yet he neither hung out with their crowd nor was he seduced by the Hollywood system they rose to dominate. ...
Prologue: The Micturating Mogul
Jack L. Warner had to pee. He didn’t know he was watching the movie that would change movies. He just had to pee.
The picture was taking forever and it was only the first reel. It was in his private projection room, in his mansion, in his town that his vision and his tenacity had helped build. ...
1. A Boy of Two Cities
Sonia Greenberg and Harry Penn had little in common before they got married and less by the time their sons were born.
Sonia had arrived as a teenager in New York with her older brother, Joseph, during the great wave of pogrom-inspired eastern European immigration early in the second decade of the twentieth century. ...
2. The Theater of War
By the time he was drafted, Arthur Penn had decided that theater would be his future if Hitler allowed him to have one. World War II held everything at bay. America’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” which scrambled to arm itself after Pearl Harbor, was far from victory when twenty-year-old Private Penn reported for...
3. The Teachable Moment
Unlike mainstream colleges, the GI Bill of Rights recognized the experimental curricula that John Andrew Rice and Theodore Dreier established at Black Mountain College, fifteen miles east of Asheville, North Carolina, on Black Mountain, and paid for Arthur Penn to go there. ...
4. Up at Eight, Off at Nine
When he stepped off the elevator at 30 Rock in the spring of 1950, Arthur Penn wasn’t looking for a career, just a job. “I came back thinking, ‘What do I know how to do?’” he mulls. “I can fake reading Dante and I can stage manage. ...
5. The Edge of Chaos
It will come as a shock to those who wax nostalgic about the golden age of television to learn that the golden age of television was never meant to last. It was a marketing ploy, a loss leader contrived by television networks to first, entice people to buy TV sets and second, to confer prestige upon the new medium. ...
6. Built for Television
Hollywood hated television. At first the studios simply closed their eyes and wished the glowing new toy would go away. Then it was “It’s only a fad,” as they had said of the talkies. At mini- mum, the Founding Moguls agreed that they would never allow their precious product on the tube. ...
7. Kid’s Play
“I’m the most creative editor in Hollywood, and I’m going to edit your movie,” the stranger announced, extending his hand. “My name is Folmar Blangsted.”1
The pronouncement took Penn by surprise as he was pushing to finish his first feature film within its twenty-three-day shooting schedule and minimal $400,000 budget. ...
8. Four for the Seesaw
William Gibson was twenty when he realized he’d married the wrong woman. It was 1934, he had dropped out of City College of New York, and he was trying to be a writer. Instead, he’d gotten married. “I was headlong, maddeningly in love with her,” he admits, “but a year or so later I just wanted to get out of it.” ...
9. Three Miracles
“Whenever I get into this story,” says the author of The Miracle Worker, “I feel I’m in the presence of something supernatural.” For half a century William Gibson’s play has been celebrated as a timeless tale of love, devotion, and understanding. ...
10. The King of Broadway
In 1960 Arthur Penn had the kind of year that people sell their souls for. Between February 25 and November 30 he scored five hit plays, one film, and a brush with American political history. Best of all, none of it had anything to do with Hollywood. ...
11. The Little Play That Could
When James Rufus Agee was seven, in 1916, his father died in a car accident. In 1955, when he was forty-six, Agee himself died in the back of a taxicab. On his desk lay an unfinished semiautobiographical manuscript about his father that he had titled A Death in the Family. ...
12. Train Wrecks
When Penn returned to Hollywood, Hollywood was dying. The Founding Moguls were buried, retired, or forgotten, and their decades-old studios were poised to be absorbed into conglomerates that saw them as “leisure time activities” rather than entertainment kingdoms. ...
Jane Fonda stopped in the middle of her close-up and told Marlon Brando, who was feeding her lines from offscreen, “You’re just the best fucking actor in the world.” Directing them, Arthur Penn nodded his head in agreement. ...
14. Foggy Mountain Breakthrough
Bonnie and Clyde was no accident. It was the result of actor-producer Warren Beatty’s single-minded plan to generate his own screen material and guide it through the Hollywood gauntlet, and director Arthur Penn’s ability to apply the vision he’d been honing his entire career. ...
15. Golden Boys
The collaboration between Arthur Penn and William Gibson is one of the most fruitful in American theater. While its public milestones are Two for the Seesaw, The Miracle Worker, Golden Boy, Golda, and Monday After the Miracle, the partnership also includes their families and fifty years of shared lives. ...
With one Broadway hit after another in the 1960s, Arthur Penn was at the top of every producer’s list. “I was offered everything,” he reports. “I can’t say it quite that broadly, but there were a lot of plays.” ...
17. Hippie Sunset
History may not exactly be bunk, as Henry Ford famously pro- claimed,1 but it is generally written, as Alex Haley noted, by the winners. Motion pictures have an unusual ability to contort history because they exist in time-present even when they are set in...
18. Little Big Mensch
Despite being able to film Alice in their backyard, the Penns were not rolling in money. UA deemed the project too American to expect wide foreign success (they were wrong), so they held Penn and Elkins to a budget that wouldn’t make anybody rich unless...
19. A State of Great Disorder
“No civilization in history ever survived by turning over its reins to the young,” insisted writer-director John Milius, one of the young filmmakers to whom Hollywood turned over its reins in the 1970s. Milius was in the forefront of the “film generation” that resuscitated—though some say homogenized—American...
20. Sly Foxes
When Sly Fox opened on Broadway on December 14, 1976, its director was 54, its author was 48, and the play was 370. Based on Ben Jonson’s 1606 Elizabethan drama Volpone, with influence from a 1924 German adaptation by Stefan Zweig,...
21. The Studio
The building was not much to look at, but, like what was taught to those who studied there, the important thing was what went on inside. The address 432 West Forty-fourth Street in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City had been the Old Labor Stage until 1947, when Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, and Robert...
22. A Sea of Mud
The story has been told so often that it has entered the Hollywood apocrypha: a Seasoned Director pitches his project to a powerful but very young studio executive. Depending on the telling, the Old Master is variously Fred Zinnemann, John Huston, George Stevens, Frank Capra, or William Wyler. ...
23. Back to Basics
Like the proverbial bad penny, television reenters Arthur Penn’s life at the strangest times. In July 1967, with his salary from Bonnie and Clyde spent and the film facing a profitless studio write-off, he was so strapped for cash that he took on a project that reminded him how far the once-mighty medium had fallen. ...
They say that the artist himself is least able to judge his own work, but that rejects the very nature of the creative process. An artist deconstructs before he constructs, and often destroys in order to discover. On May 20, 1968, Arthur Penn delivered these remarks at a symposium at Dartmouth College. ...
Appendix: Arthur Penn Credits