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Friday, June 09, 2006


Billy Wilder Talks Too Much


Billy Wilder had a Christmas present for exhibitors in December 1961. During a freewheeling press club talk, Wilder said theatre men were "completely uninterested" in the films they’re programming. Furthermore, they’d failed to maintain their theatres in a way so as to attract business. This was just the opening salvo. Wilder flatly accused exhibition of "being here to steal." Rebel trade reporter Pete Harrison called the director on his incendiary statements and the war was on. Harrison’s Reports lambasted other trade publications as well. Their cozy arrangement with ad-purchasing distributors made them back down from controversies like this, so once again, as was often the case, Pete’s was the voice in the wilderness. Harrison subscribers did get up in arms however, and Wilder was obliged to issue a half-hearted retraction several weeks later. Exhibitors weren’t all thieves, he said, just "certain types" of them. Billy’s latest comedy, One, Two, Three, was by then making the rounds. Pete Harrison ridiculed Wilder for placing himself front and center for the poster art, ignoring star James Cagney. "The Man With The Three Balloons" was how Pete referred to the director. Did the rift between Wilder and exhibition ever heal? Maybe not --- after one more major hit, Irma La Douce (the biggest of Wilder’s career), those balloons began their slow deflation. Kiss, Me Stupid, The Fortune Cookie, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes --- as far as showmen were concerned, the Wilder touch had become untouchable.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Griff said...

I get the feeling that the ascerbic Mr. Wilder, asking after his profit participation in his two consecutive big hits, may have been advised by his studio: "It's not our accounting, Billy -- it's those damn theatres! They're holding back!" The sage director should have known better than to bite the exhibition end of the business.

That said, why an illustration of the picture's ensemble cast wasn't used as advertsing key art remains a mystery. Wilder was a famous director, and an important aspect of the film's promotion -- but, still. [More to the point, how the considerable assets of Lilo Pulver went unexploited on a one-sheet for a 1961 movie is a total mystery.]

I guess it's worth noting that no key art for ONE! TWO! THREE! has ever nailed the film's spiky satire and nasty charm -- and the cover for a widely circulated MGM video release of the movie actually ruined the picture's hilarious curtain gag.

9:41 PM  

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