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Hawks on Hawks

Joseph McBride

Publication Year: 2013

"I read Hawks on Hawks with passion. I am very happy that this book exists." -- Fran�ois Truffaut

Howard Hawks (1896--1977) is often credited as being the most versatile of all of the great American directors, having worked with equal ease in screwball comedies, westerns, gangster movies, musicals, and adventure films. He directed an impressive number of Hollywood's greatest stars -- including Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, and Marilyn Monroe -- and some of his most celebrated films include Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Rio Bravo (1959).

Hawks on Hawks draws on interviews that author Joseph McBride conducted with the director over the course of seven years, giving rare insight into Hawks's artistic philosophy, his relationships with the stars, and his position in an industry that was rapidly changing. In its new edition, this classic book is both an account of the film legend's life and work and a guidebook on how to make movies.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Screen Classics

Front Cover

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pp. 1-2


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p. 3-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5


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pp. 6-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-10

The distinctive signature of Howard Hawks appeared on several dozen of the most popular movies ever made in Hollywood. The most versatile of all great American directors, he worked with equal ease in screwball comedies, westerns, gangster movies, musicals, private-eye melodramas, and adventure films. ...

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1. Storytelling

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pp. 11-12

All I’m doing is telling a story. I don’t analyze or do a lot of thinking about it. I work on the fact that if I like somebody and think they’re attractive, I can make them attractive. If I think a thing’s funny, then people laugh at it. If I think a thing’s dramatic, the audience does. I’m very lucky that way. ...

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2. Beginnings

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pp. 13-17

We moved from Indiana to Neenah, Wisconsin, when I was about two years old. My father, my grandfather, and my uncle all had paper mills. Then due to my mother’s health we came to California when I was ten years old. We lived in Pasadena. My father was vice-president of a hotel company that owned a bunch of the big hotels up in San Francisco. ...

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3. Silent Films

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pp. 18-30

I started as a property man about the same time Jimmy Wong Howe started as an assistant cameraman. And the first thing he did—we all made our dissolves in the camera, you know, you started to dissolve at footage number 275, and you were out at 285—well, he erased all those numbers on a DeMille picture. ...

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4. Talking Pictures

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pp. 31-33

I think you’re pretty smart to recognize it, because Ford and I said, “They talk too much,” and we cut down the dialogue on every scene we made. We cut lines out because actors just loved it when they got a whole bunch of lines. And Ford and I didn’t think they were good. ...

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5. The Business of Movies

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pp. 34-37

I’ve been independent except for two or three pictures in the first couple years. It’s very easy to figure out that I didn’t have much to do with ’em. I’ve been independent ever since that time. And I started a lot of trouble by saying “Directed by Howard Hawks” and “Produced” afterward, making the direction more important. ...

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6. Working with Writers: I

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pp. 38-44

Most of them were well written. That’s why they last. I’ve always been blessed with great writers. As a matter of fact, I’m such a coward that unless I get a great writer, I don’t want to make a picture. But Hemingway, Faulkner, Hecht and MacArthur, Jules Furthman, all those people were damned good. ...

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7. Working with Actors

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pp. 45-52

Any time you get somebody who’s as good as Wayne and Mitchum, you’re going to make better scenes than there are in the script. Because they’re damn good, those two people are together. And it’s always easy to make a picture with Wayne if you’ve got somebody good for him to buck up against. ...

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8. Scarface and Howard Hughes

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pp. 53-63

Scarface is my favorite picture, even today, because we were completely alone, Hughes and I. Everybody was under contract to the studios. We couldn’t get a studio, and they wouldn’t loan us anybody, so we had to find a cast. They just didn’t want independent pictures made in Hollywood. ...

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9. Two Films with James Cagney

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pp. 64-68

Well, I used to race for several years, but about that time I began to get interested again in cars. And no one had done a real story of racing, beginning on the little dirt tracks and moving on up to the Ascot night races and then on up to Indianapolis. It was pretty easy, because we had six or seven Indianapolis winners driving in the picture. ...

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10. William Faulkner

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pp. 69-72

Bill and I were very good friends. We hunted and fished a lot. He worked with me on, oh, half a dozen pictures. If I wanted a scene or a story, I’d call up Bill and get it. He could write almost anything. Bill, like a lot of authors, didn’t make any money until paperbacks came in, and until France and other countries found him. ...

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11. MGM and Viva Villa!

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pp. 73-76

Metro was the best studio in the world for getting a script and handing it to a director with it all cast and the sets all built—they had the best set designers, and they had good writers—but I don’t think that an independent worked very well over there. I didn’t make much at Metro. I made the one with Joan Crawford, I told you, the Faulkner story which was messed up. ...

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12. Twentieth Century

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pp. 77-79

They wrote it for Gregory Ratoff’s wife, Eugenie Leontovich, who was a stylized Russian actress. I called them and asked them to do the script—there was good money in it for them—for Sadie Glutz instead of a Russian. They said that would be fine. They thought that would be much better. ...

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13. Comedy and Tragedy

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pp. 80-84

Well, would you rather see something dead serious or laugh at something? In the first place, true drama is awfully close to being comedy. The greatest drama in the world is really funny. A man who loses his pants out in front of a thousand people—he’s suffering the tortures of the damned, but he’s awfully funny doing it. ...

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14. Grant and Hepburn

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pp. 85-89

You take a professor, and you use the girl’s part to knock his dignity down—Katie Hepburn and Cary were a great combination [in Bringing Up Baby]. It’s pretty hard to think of anybody but Cary Grant in that type of stuff. He was so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him. ...

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15. Working with Writers: II

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pp. 90-96

In Only Angels Have Wings, I knew every character personally that was in that picture. I knew how they talked. And if they began to talk too much because the writer [Jules Furthman] put in too much, I’d just say “Cut it out,” then we’d get down to real lines. If you’ve seen the picture lately, you may remember Richard Barthelmess’s part. ...

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16. His Girl Friday

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pp. 97-99

We were having dinner one night at the house, six or eight people, and we were talking about dialogue. I said that the finest modern dialogue in the world came from Hecht and MacArthur. After dinner we went in, and I had two copies of their play The Front Page. ...

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17. Camerawork

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pp. 100-104

I try to tell my story as simply as possible, with the camera at eye level. I just imagine the way the story should be told, and I do it. If it’s a scene that I don’t want anybody to monkey with or cut, I don’t give them any way to cut it. If I think that it’s a little too long and the actors are dawdling and I want to cut some of it out, I make two angles so that I can cut it. ...

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18. Samuel Goldwyn

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pp. 105-108

Goldwyn really tried like hell to make good pictures, but we didn’t get along too well. He didn’t think a director should write. He was crazy about writers, and he really tried to get the finest authors he could get ahold of. He got Edna Ferber’s story because Edna Ferber was supposed to be a good writer, and there were a great many things that I didn’t like about the story. ...

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19. Sergeant York

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pp. 109-111

Hal Wallis [Warner Brothers’ head of production] gave me the script and said, “If you don’t do this, we’re gonna make a B-picture out of it.” I said, “That’s a great way to tell somebody . . .” When I read it, I said to tell him it’s about as bad as he indicated it was. And I went in to see Jesse Lasky [the producer], who needed a shave and had the shakes, ...

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20. Air Force

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pp. 112-115

I’ve been flying all my life. I made it because I knew [Major] General [Henry H.] Arnold, the head of the Air Force [actually, at that time, the Army Air Corps], since he was a captain. He asked me to make a film for him. Christ, he even made me a general for a week. ...

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21. Ernest Hemingway

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pp. 116-119

Well, I tell you, when you make a picture about real people, and their names are used, you have more trouble . . . in making Sergeant York we had to get twenty releases—every member of his squad in the Army, his lieutenant, his captain, his major, anybody that we mentioned we had to get releases. ...

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22. The Hawksian Woman

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pp. 120-126

I’ve been accused of promoting Women’s Lib, and I’ve denied it, emphatically. It just happens that kind of a woman is attractive to me. I merely am doing somebody that I like. And I’ve seen so many pictures where the hero gets in the moonlight and says silly things to a girl, I’d reverse it and let the girl do the chasing around, you know, and it works out pretty well. ...

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23. Bogart and The Big Sleep

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pp. 127-131

Bogie was one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. He was a far cry from the actors today, who are a little bit on the dilettante side. There was Bogie with a homely face and everything, and people adored him. When I started to work with him I said, “Why don’t you ever smile?” “Oh,” he said, “I got a bum lip.” ...

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24. Walter Brennan

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pp. 132-136

I firmly believe that the camera likes some people and the camera dislikes other people. Somebody that the camera likes has an awful time doing wrong. Somebody that the camera dislikes has not got a chance in the world. If you look at my career, you’ll find that I like actors less than I do personalities. ...

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25. John Ford

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pp. 137-140

Well, a great deal. He was a good director when I started, and I copied him every time I could. It’s just as if you were a writer, you would read Hemingway and Faulkner and John Dos Passos and Willa Cather and a lot of people like that. We were very good friends. I don’t think I’ve done nearly as good a job as Ford has on some things. ...

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26. The Western

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pp. 141-143

There are not very many stories that you can do about the West that are any good. You haven’t got an awful lot of choice. The western is the simplest form of drama—a gun, death—and they all fall, really, into two kinds. One is the history of the beginning of the West, the story of the pioneers, which was the story of Red River. ...

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27. John Wayne

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pp. 144-149

John Wayne represents more force, more power, than anybody else on the screen. And I think both Ford and I succeeded in making pretty good scenes with him. When Ford was dying, we used to discuss how tough it was to make a good western without Wayne. ...

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28. Red River

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pp. 150-154

He must have been drinking when he said this, because he’s so full of shit. That’s funny. Borden Chase is the kind of a writer that imagines an awful lot of things; he does quite a bit of drinking. I bought the story from him and asked him to work on it. I’d been working on a story of the King Ranch. ...

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29. Marilyn Monroe

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pp. 155-157

Marilyn Monroe was the most frightened little girl who had no confidence in her ability. She was afraid to come on the screen. Very strange girl. And yet she had this strange effect when she was photographed. Nobody dated her, nobody took her out, nobody paid any attention to her. ...

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30. Music

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pp. 158-162

We went through a phase of putting lousy music into pictures where inferior musicians copied great masters. It just became ridiculous, with about twenty violins and fifteen cellos and woodwinds and all of that stuff. I worked with [Dimitri] Tiomkin, whom I thought was a pretty good musician, but when we made Hatari!, I said to Dimi, “Look, I don’t want one violin. ...

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31. Themes and Variations: Three Westerns

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pp. 163-174

Rio Bravo was made because I didn’t like a picture called High Noon. I saw High Noon at about the same time I saw another western picture, and we were talking about western pictures, and they asked me if I liked it, and I said, “Not particularly.” I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, ...

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32. Hatari!

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pp. 175-181

Hatari! was about a hunting season. It started with the beginning, the planning, and finished with the windup of the thing. It had a form of simplicity. There was just a group of people who were hunting for circuses and making money. The Indian [Bruce Cabot] got hit by a rhino in the very first part of the thing. ...

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33. Critics

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pp. 182-183

Well, they had these big companies and they didn’t want us to get big because it cost them too much money. I like the French people. As a matter of fact, the French people are the first people who thought I was any good as a director, so naturally I would like them. Every time I go over to France I meet about thirty directors. ...

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34. Today's Actresses

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pp. 184-185

There’s no training for them. I don’t know where they’re gonna get ’em. You get a girl on a damn television series, and then they get cute. I had Barbara Feldon come over, and I said, “Look, I thought you were going to be one of the best that I’ve ever seen, and then you got cute. Here are two or three scenes. ...

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35. Today's Movies

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pp. 186-188

A number of them have a great deal of talent, but they’re telling pictures that are good for only France, Italy, and Germany. When I go over there I talk to them about it. I say, “Why don’t you fellows widen out, make a picture that is good for the world? You aren’t going to get enough money to work with unless you can get it out of universal entertainment.”...

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36. Late Projects

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pp. 189-193

To be truthful, about three years ago [1971], we had finished a first treatment of the story, and then all this crazy junk started. I said to Wayne, “I don’t know what to make nowadays except westerns.” So I dropped that oil story until I could figure out what people really liked and what they wanted, ...

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37. Advice to Young Directors

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pp. 194-196

[William] Friedkin was going around with my daughter [Kitty] in New York. He asked me how I liked his last picture, The Boys in the Band. I said, “If you’re going to be making pictures you’ll have to learn not to ask that. I thought it was lousy.” He said, “I’m interested in why.” I said, “It’s too bad that somebody who has the talent you have should waste his time on junk like that.” ...


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pp. 197-222

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 223-226


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pp. 227-236

Series Page

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pp. 248-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780813144313
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813142623

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Screen Classics