restricted access Prologue: The Micturating Mogul

From: Arthur Penn

The University Press of Kentucky colophon
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1 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. The filmmakers were sitting there with him, not that he cared. He just had to pee. He’d warned everyone before the lights went down that if he had to leave for the bathroom during the screening, the picture was, as he branded it, “lousy.” Over at Columbia, Warner’s rival Harry Cohn used to say his ass was his barometer (“If I squirm in my seat . . .”). But Cohn and his ass had died nine years ago, and Jack Warner’s bladder, at seventy-five, was still going strong. Too bad the picture wasn’t; the boy was just meeting the girl and the bladder was already calling time-out. Several rows behind the legendary mogul, the film’s director and producer sank into their seats, strategically avoiding his line of sight. A few of Warner’s executives were also there in case he needed somebody to say Yes. The picture began with two strikes against it. One, Warner didn’t much care for the actor who played the male lead, even though he had already starred him in two films. The kid was a pain in the ass. Talented, bright, and handsome, sure, but he was one of those Method types who wanted to discuss everything. 2 Arthur Penn Plus, he was also the film’s producer; J. L. hated producers almost as much as he hated actors, and this kid was both. Then there was the actress who played the girl. She was stunning , but her first two films had flopped, and nobody had ever heard of her anyway. Not only that, their “meet cute” scene wasn’t cute at all; it was some kind of artsy-fartsy symbolism where the girl was in heat and the boy came on to her by showing her a handgun like it was his dick. Warner—who could be blindingly vulgar in person —didn’t want that kind of filth on the screen. Warner would never have stood for this if he were still running his studio. But he wasn’t. Oh, his name may have remained on the water tower that overlooked the Burbank lot, but Warner himself was now an echo. This screening was only a courtesy . Eight months earlier—in November of 1966—he had sold the place lock, stock, and water tower to Seven Arts Productions , a TV company—the enemy—after covert machinations contrived to cut his surviving brother, Albert, out of the deal. It brought J. L. $32 million from the sale of stock alone, not counting capital gains. But it also earned him the sickening status of “former mogul” and, with it, the stench of tolerance that Hollywood grants those whom it sees only in its rearview mirror. From the moment he signed the sale papers, Warner knew that he would be—as he groused to his son-in-law, Milton Sperling— “just another rich Jew.” His star-making days were over. No longer would he inspire fear, only nauseating respect. The filmmakers sweating in J. L.’s screening room showed their respect by bringing him the finished picture. Finished, as in rendering Warner superfluous, even though he was the one who had green-lighted it a year ago. He went to the can three times before the picture ended. When the lights finally came up, the group retired to the library, where Warner wheeled on the filmmakers and asked, with his customary subtlety, “What the fuck was that?” The director blanched and deferred to the producer, who turned up his actorly charm. “You see, Jack,” he said, pretending to search for words he had carefully prepared, “you know what Prologue 3 this really is? You know all those great gangster pictures that you and your brothers made in the past?” Warner listened cautiously. “Well, this is a kind of an homage to your body of work, to all those gangster pictures that were so extraordinary.” Warner weighed the compliment, then snarled, “What the fuck is an homage?” The producer, Warren Beatty, smiled and left the room with studio operations manager Walter MacEwan, head of distribution Benny Kalmenson, and the other...


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Subject Headings

  • Penn, Arthur, 1922-2010.
  • Motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Biography.
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