LB: Peter Bogdanovich Regrets…

by Larry Brody

Bogdanovich & Boris Karloff back when Bogdanovich began his ascent

…Just about everything he’s ever done, judging from some quotes I saw yesterday. But then, it often seems to me that showbiz brings out two character traits in most of the people who “make it:” Self-aggrandizement as they hit it big. And self-pity as the big gets smaller.

On his blog, Screenwriting From Iowa, which you all should read, btw, Scott W. Smith has two very interesting posts. The first is called The Making of Peter Bogdanovich,in which Smith gives us the following timeline:

1) Born in Kingston, New York in 1939 & raised in Manhattan.
2) His father took him to see silent films at revival house theaters in New York City. (Developed an early appreciate of visual storytelling.)
3) “At the age of 10 I remember my favorite films were She Wore a Yellow RibbonRed River, and The Ghost Goes West.”
4) “I started keeping a card file of everything I saw from the age of twelve, twelve and a half.” (He did that for 18 years and had between 5,000—6,000 cards.)
6) At age 15 he got his first job with a professional theater company in Traverse City, Michigan. “That was a great experience, we did 10 plays in 10 weeks.”)
7) At age 16 started studying acting with Stella Adler. (Continued for 4 years.)
8) At age 19 he got the rights to a Clifford Odets play and took 9 months raising $15,000. to direct The Big Knife. (The play was not a financial success.)
9) When he was 20 he met New York Times film critics Andrew Sarris and Eugene Archer. “They would come over to my apartment in Manhattan and talk movies into the wee hours. I learned a great deal from both of them.”
10) Started writing about plays and films for newspapers to earn some money.”It was a way of getting on screening lists and seeing movies for nothing. And getting books and seeing plays for nothing. It was totally motivated by not wanting to spend my own money because I didn’t have any.”
11) At 24, he did a retrospect on Orson Welles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for $50.
12) Started writing freelance articles on film for Esquire magazine.
13) Had his second theatrical flop in New York and moved to LA with his wifePolly Platt to try to get into the movies.
14) “A little less than a year after we’d gotten to Hollywood I met Roger Corman by accident…he said, ‘you’re a writer, I read your stuff in Esquire. Would you like to write a movie?’ Yeah, I’d like to write a movie.”
15) He did a rewrite on one of Corman’s scripts for $300 and no credit. “The Wild Angels (1966) as it was known as— it was the most successful film of [Corman’s] career.”
16) Bogdanovich also found most of the locations and shot second unit on The Wild Angels. And suggested Peter Fonda for the lead.
17) Just before turning 30 he directed and co-wrote a feature film for Corman called Targets starring Boris Karloff.
18) His next film was The Last Picture Show (1971) which he directed, edited and co-wrote. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and comparisons were made between a young Bogdanovich and Orson Welles after he made Citizen Kane.

These were Bogdanovich’s good years, obviously. His rise in terms of craft, art, fame, and fortune. His ecstasy. It didn’t happen overnight, and it gives everyone who’s struggling to make it the thing they (I suppose it would be more honest to say “we”) need most of all: Hope. (Well, actually we all think we need money, no? But certain things are hopeless…sigh.)

Smith’s second post on the director, The Breaking of Peter Bogdanovich, takes us past this point in his subject’s life, to what clearly is (sorry, kids) the agony, and includes the following remarks from a director who once, metaphorically at least, “owned” the town:

“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”

“I’m not bitter. I ask for it myself. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”

”[Hollywood’s] an easy place to get fooled. There are no real seasons and you’re not aware of time going. Orson had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.”

Whatever Peter Bogdanovich’s personal problems – and brain chemistry and hard luck – it’s clear here that he forgot to follow one of the basic precepts of the Biz, which, according to our LB, our boss, LB first heard from Bogdanovich’s early mentor, Roger Corman:

“If the phone stopped ringing for Orson Welles, you can bet that one day it’ll stop ringing for you.”

We all have regrets about our lives, and most of the time we know what we should do in various situations even though we don’t do it. We’re all going to screw up, or get screwed, one way or another, but the most important thing I’ve learned is not to lose hope. Mock it by calling it “magical thinking” if you must. But without hope we have nothing but the frustrations of the present (no matter who we are, damn it, just ask Buddha or Kafka, et al), and what all humans need to get through their eternally current darkness is the bright beauty that says, regardless of whether or not some people construe it as a lie: “Tomorrow can be better. We just have to try.”

How do I reconcile my hope with my regrets? It’s simple. I’m shallow. I think of something Colonel Tom Parker is reported to have said:

“Why should I be nice on the way up? Elvis is never coming down.”

And I dream and I plan and I work because I find genuine joy in the illuminating act of doing all you can to make the impossible tomorrow real today.

Uh-oh, maybe that’s just me and my brain chemistry.

Hope not.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.