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60 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. But not as surprised as he would be on the twenty-fourth day when he drove to the studio expecting to work with the editor. “When I arrived on the Warner lot,” he says, shaking his head, “my parking place bore another name.” A further check let him know that his services were no longer required, and that the studio machine would take over. “I had to acknowledge,” he admits, “that Hollywood had mastered at least one aspect of human interaction: termination. At that point I felt that the movies were not for me.” That was the way Hollywood worked: the director directed, the editor edited, and the studio ruled. The policy frustrated Penn, who was, by any definition, a de facto editor. “I was doing live TV drama, which meant we were using sometimes three, four, five cameras,” he explains. “There was no tape. I was editing on the air between shots to tell the story and had every expectation that I would edit this film. I didn’t know that even big directors like Ford would have their films cut by contract editors, contract cutters. Cutting me off like that from my movie was stunning. I thought, ‘That’s the end of movies for me. I’ll never do this again.’” Kid’s Play 61 Flash back two years. The Left Handed Gun was originally a Philco Television Playhouse written by Gore Vidal and directed by Robert Mulligan under the title The Death of Billy the Kid.2 Its star was a relatively unknown Paul Newman, and it related the legend of the friendship between youthful outlaw William Bonney3 and Pat Garrett, the lawman who ultimately killed him. It had been Vidal’s intention to show how an iconoclast (Billy) is ultimately co-opted by the very forces he is rebelling against (society). “My decision,” Vidal told his biographer, Fred Kaplan, “was to show not so much Billy himself as the people who created the myth of Billy the Kid.”4 Newman and Vidal had tried setting up the project at Warner Bros. in 1956, but Jack Warner, aware of Newman’s contempt for his debut in the studio’s 1954 biblical epic The Silver Chalice ,5 was not about to agree. When Fred Coe offered to produce, Warner mellowed. Coe first offered it to Delbert Mann, who was otherwise committed, then to Robert Mulligan. When Mulligan departed (or was fired; sources disagree), Coe asked the loyal Penn to take the reins. “It was not a script that I was particularly fond of,” Penn says. “I said that I would do it, but that I would like to have the script considerably altered. Fred asked me who I would like to have work on it, and I said Leslie Stevens. He then took all those facts to Warner Bros., who acceded with several cutoff conditions . That is, they had to approve of the script, the cast, and the budget. All of those conditions were met and we made the picture.”6 The welcoming ritual to the studio included a tour of the lot by Jack L. Warner himself that Coe and Penn dutifully endured. “Naturally, he was very proud of the place,” Penn recalls. “There were four or five big pictures in the works. In the course of the walk-around—which was intimidating, to say the least—we went onto one stage where they were painting the world. The Old Man and the Sea was going to be a little boat in this vast sea—I think it was two stages put together to make it go on forever . It was extraordinary. Jack is going on in his charming English : everything is fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that. Then we go by 62 Arthur Penn a small office and he turned to us and said, ‘You guys are from television, right?’ “Fred said, ‘We are. That’s where we came from.’ “Warner said, “That’s my son-in-law. He’s got this goddamn television. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. You want to take that over?’” Coe and Penn waved off J...


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