John Hersker of Flashback Cinema

Newsmaker Interviews
Monday, April 16th

John Hersker of Flashback Cinema shares with WILK's Sue Henry some interesting details on what it took to bring "The Godfather" to the screen. The film will be shown Friday at the F.M. Kirby Center.


Transcript - Not for consumer use. Robot overlords only. Will not be accurate.

And we're about to talk about the movies which is one of my favorite topics and one of my favorite movie people this year to talk about one of our favorite topics. John Hurst spear is here to talk about god father John that's right on this is so dead and very soon to a theater near all of us. When Friday gets here if we're all still here we might be blown into a way because we're not in Kansas anymore. If it's so good. To see all these movies on the big screen it you can talk a little bit about this theory is that for the Kirby was the Kirby in how you're involved in it. In case people missed you last time and they shouldn't have but. Tell him I'm not like enough to be on the board of the FM Kirby center and we've all been very excited about the fact that this year is the EU anniversary. Of the opening of the venue. Not as the Kirby center and as the calmer for teeter back in 1938. And of course most Wyoming Valley residents who were around in 50s60s. And seventies remember the Peter is the Paramount theater as it was later renamed. And of course has been the FM Kirby center for the performing arts. Since 1986 but we thought it would be fun to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the has of the theater. Has it to go back to the roots of the theater the cinematic Kreutz and to show movies that actually played at the theater when it was called the comfort and later the Paramount. And so we're doing out all your long and each month we show a classic films that played at that venue. And of course this month sentry is the godfather. We'll get to that and just one moment but in case people also mr. Baxter rate. You involved with the movies since since birth city first US earth that's. I was born into a movie heater owning family. My parents owned hearse procedure in west hazel in Pennsylvania which ties still operating under different ownership as the cinema draft house. And actually my grandfather and great grandfather had operated Peters prior to that in haseltine and then pots or mono city. And other places so I was born into the family grew up living next door to the theater and worked in the feeder basically every chance I got. And and loved it ten was a big part of my childhood and one of the movies we played her skirt when I was growing up was the godfathers of yeah what was what was that like for you from your recollection higher rumors have very thrilling we had to we had to fight very hard to get the picture. And those days they have something called competitive bidding where the theaters would bid for the right to play a movie and my mother took out a loan by the time my dad passed away my mom took out a loan from the local bank to put up the money. To play the godfather. And so it was a bit of risk forest but it's so all kinds of records completed ten weeks and it was a very very memorable part of my childhood. Now you stoppages working in the movie fear you move Don and you went out to work for Paramount and if I recall correctly. You found some documentation about this whole situation with the godfather and your family right. Yes I did and I. When I graduated now from MMI. High school in and in 1976. My mom sold the business and I went off to college but then later I went to work for Paramount Pictures and theatrical distribution. Department in their Philadelphia branch office. And oh re searched some of the history including with a competitive bids were. Against terror against that then for for the right to show the film and haseltine. And found a lot of good documentation including the grosses for when the movie played. In the and the Paramount fear amongst her. As I said before people thought this was a documentary. Well. There certainly are very realistic aspects of the god father may make it seem like a documentary and some people yes especially you live here this. Now I did god father also out. Was that won the last two movies in the Paramount before the fund. It was the last movie to show. Attack I. Indeed the EED movie that actually was on the marquee. In that there's a great photo and it's up on the Internet people confined at it is history tragic photo of downtown looks spear but several feet of water from hurricane Agnes in the movie on the marquis is a clockwork orange which was the movie that was scheduled to open. Today that the floodwaters. Poured into downtown Wilkes fear but the god father had opened in march of 1972. And played for what was and remains a record thirteen weeks at the theater in the longest running movie ever to play at the cover for slash Paramount slash Kirby Peter. And it ended just as the hurricane Agnes was making its way up the coast. What a cool story that is so let me at Paramount you've got to now. From some of the people. Responsible. For this movie Iran at least a guy who was instrumental and saying we want this. Need to be commander well yes and that was a thrill to me having been a kid who worked for Hearst the cedar west hazel some of the movie played to get to know Robert Evans. Who had been the for a head of production at Paramount Pictures. In the 1960s. And early 1970s and who really revived the studio Paramount. Went through real slump in the in the early to mid 1960s. And I its corporate owner glow from gulf and western was even contemplating selling off the studio. And Robert Evans became the head of the studio. And revived. The company with films like love story. And rose Mary's baby. And he was the one who early on acquired the rights of the godfather and so yes I got to meet him when I was working at the studio and he had wonderful stories about the movie many of which he's told publicly and entering his autobiography they can say is in the picture. So. He humor like the idea. I think this motion picture but a lot of people had to be convinced and there was lawn of back and forth about the movie itself the director and the casting my. Well he had dude yeah I contend with a lot of opposition even within his own company which is a little amazing because as I'm sure a lot of your listeners remember the godfather was a bestselling book. He did not acquire the rights to the god father as a bestselling book if it happened even earlier were Mary open so the book's author. Came to him and said I have a treatment for a book and and if Paramount would like to acquire the rights even before it's published. I'd be happy to sell those and so Robert Evans took an option on the book for the movie rights and then when it became huge best seller he thought he was holding. You know the golden ticket because he had the rights to the book that everybody in the country was treating. But he was not an easy thing to get the film made there was a lot of opposition. Within a gulf and western as I said the parent company headquartered in New York to making this movie. One of the reasons being that a number of recent movies about organized crime had failed at the box office. And so there was a thinking that perhaps the god father even that was a bestselling book would suffer the same thing. Was there any trepidation. Of making yet because as. The theme of organized crime in general and into you know we know what's not mentioned in the godfather vote for the people who just buy it. No we're not gonna we're not gonna poke the bear. Yes and that that came to light when Robert Evans. The head of Paramount is is trying to attract a an A list director and a number of very prominent directors turned down making a movie. And part of the again there was concern about movies better organized crime and not to a lot of business recently but there was also that concerns some people told Evans. You know this movie sort of glorifies. That world and we don't we don't really wanna be apart of it so he was desperate to find a director. And his corporate bosses in New York were urging him to sell the movie rights to Burt Lancaster because he wanted to make the movie and started as we don't currently down. And it almost came down to that in the last minute. Evans and his his number two guy in production Peter Bart came up with an idea. For who to direct the film that really saved the movie for parent. A rail talk about that will have a cliff hanger where music for a week and have that and will be back to that talk about the godfather which will be shown. This coming Friday April 20 at the FM Kirby center in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Showings at 1 PM and 730. The man is three dollars and the nighttime showing as a whopping. Five dollars. This is a great way to see these movies by the way. I caught just two of them already the mollen buyers which is great and then that casts a blogger which is an amazing story. So I saw that and they look so good job from the scandal talk about Ted getting had then that director they want it. And then some of the fighting over the casting. That it's just not gonna believe some of the people that were considered for this and highly sought and there was fighting buddy you'll say real. Are you sure but we'll talk about that talking about movies because our audience loves movies and I discovered that last time was when John was here that you facts. Yeah the thing for the movies the godfather will play. On Friday April 20 at the curb be capped at 1 o'clock. And 7:30 to 1 o'clock is 3 and the evening as five dollars us reasonably priced. Now. We wanted to talk about getting out the proper. Director for the smooth in how this all transpired Francis Ford Coppola. Seem like the proper director but at first it was not really that keen on Iran well Francis. Or COPEL was not a named director he had to had directed a couple of movies that flopped at the box office. He was is known for being a screenwriters for being a director he wrote the screenplay for patent which he actually won an Academy Award for. But has a director he had dot had a great deal of success but. The idea that proffered evidence that studio head of Paramount and his number two guy Peter Bart came up with. Was that these earlier gangster films that have been made in the sixties impairment just released one a couple of years earlier called the brotherhood with Kirk Douglas which did no business at all. And they decided that the reason these movies about organized crime Italian American organized crime families have not done businesses they weren't directed by Italians. And they sit here let's get a director and Francis for Coppola was. Became the obvious choice because it was Italian American Heritage who really give the film and authenticity as Evan said we wanna be able to smell the spaghetti. The only problem was Francis for Coppola and wanna make the movie. At first because he wasn't in pursuit and a movie that might glorify organized crime until he began to conceive of it not is really a crime movie. But as a family chronicle about the succession of power and that of course is is how the god father really became elevated to be more than Houston or near her routine organized crime beat. And so Coppola agreed to direct on that basis and so Evans was able to keep his bosses in New York from actually selling the rights to Burt Lancaster. So that he could make the film stars on you growing up. Where was the movie made in Nam the to it even when I was in production well it was made in the New York area and there was resistance from it's certain. The public figures in the New York area who as the press wood to describe them reputed. Mob figures. Because at the time there was a great deal of sensitivity. Two and the kind of the stereotype. Of Italian American families being involved in crime and a local figure by name of Joseph Colombo. And organized what he called the Italian American civil rights week that became very prominent in protest seeing what they perceived as. Discrimination. And and harassment by the FBI and the federal government and so on. And when they heard the news that the godfather is going to be filmed in New York they began sort of a public campaign against it on the grounds that he had to. Do you famed Italian Americans for portraying them as as organized crime figures and so that became a real issue for the studio because the production was being harassed. The gulf and western building which is the headquarters of Paramount's corporate parent. Was receiving bomb scares and so forth. And ultimately Robert Evans and his wife Allie McCraw the actress who start a love story who had a young child were themselves threatened. And so Robert Evans dispatched his producer Al ready to meet with Joseph Colombo and try to settle the issue. Then what happened. Settlers well they did settle and it began with Al Ruddy taking the script which had been written by Merriam who zone and Francis for Copeland saying look the script is. You know really find script tells a great story it doesn't to defame the Italian American people. And Colombo was not free and precision reading the script. But he was very concerned about the use of one word in particular. And that was the word mafia. Which. Was a word that had become very prominent in the press in the 1960s. And was one of those stereotype words that. People an Italian dissents sometimes present and he said I'll make a deal with you if you agree not to use the words mafia or Kos and know history in this film. He won't have any trouble from my people. And now already agreed on this body shook hands there was interestingly in the script only one reference to the mafia. And that was when Jack Walsh the studio head is telling Tom Hayden played a Robert Duvall or Johnny Fontaine will never get this picture. And they took the word mafia out and it appears nowhere in the guy in the film godfather the word mafia's nowhere in the film because that was the deal they made what show Colombo. And after that the production was not harassed in any way. And in fact a lot of wise guys keen to appreciate the film and started to you know visiting the set and so on. And actually became embraced by the community and that had previously been very worried about. Let's talk about the casting because there are certainly some interesting decisions that. We're considered and people may be surprised to find out who may have been in the running for some of the parts. Well as with everything about the making of the godfather. There are multiple sides of the story and have people have their different versions. But one thing that everybody who was associated with the film seems to agree on. Is that Marlon Brando. Was looked upon by the hierarchy of Paramount engulf western has to bigger risk for the role. Mary approves so says that when he wrote the book he could imagine no wonder Marlon Brando playing the role and in fact Francis Ford Coppola came the same conclusion himself. But they fought Robert Evans the head of the studio. And Shirley polluter in the head of gulf western who wanted no part of Brando because at that time while he had been a great star in the fifties. In early sixties. He had a reputation for being very temperamental he'd gained weight and the greatest sin in Hollywood of course is that he's appeared in number of flops. And so he was deemed too big a box office risk. And Coppola was adamant that he wanted to Marlon Brando and all sorts of other actors were offered up Laurence Olivier earnest for nine Anthony Quinn. Coppola dug in and so finally. The suits at Paramount said well. Will let him do the movie but he Brandon do the movie that he has to agree to very little salary. He has to put up a million dollar bond that if any of his antics on the set cause the pitcher to go over budget he'll be responsible. He has to do a screen test. And that was a big request for somebody who had been a star Brando's magnitude. And so Coppola basically tricked him into doing history text heavy for CNET. I'm not I'm dots actually seen the screen test that I've I've I've Rihanna what people have described about it and Coppola went out to praise him Brando's house to shoot it and has said he was Justine is she's some footage makeup test you know that sort of thing. And apparently what. It was shown on film was was transformative Brando who had a long blond here. Had tied it up from the back which shoe polish on his hair. And stuff Kleenex in his mouth and came in an instant became Don Vito Corleone. Deer and he told me because I did not know this Marlon Brando not Italian. That's right not Italian and I'll try. Well he's not the only non Italian of the major actors James Connelly plays Sonny is Jewish. And he actually. Was originally thought for the part of Michael. And was only cast as sunny. After Alpa chino got the part of Michael which again was a huge object of contention because the Studio One Robert Redford. That is amazing to me I mean I look at Robert Redford just as visually and he talked about Marlon Brando has blond hair and everything but still Robert Redford really well news. Robert Redford was an established star he was the right age. And they were game concerned. That even though the movie was a bestselling book was a best seller and they wanted to increase the movie's chances for success. And they had Marlon Brando who was somewhat perceived as has been so they thought they would stack the deck when Robert Redford and Coppola again was adamant he wanted to Alpa chino and Alpa chino is not famous he only made one movie which wasn't truly successful the panic in the park. And finally he convince Robert Evans let him cast Alpa chino but Evans city if you cast Alpa chino. And we want change con for sunny because the original actor cast aside he was an actor named Carmine parole and he who. Was very tall. And Evans is concerned that a six foot five actor next Alpa chino would make them look like much Jeff so. James Caan was cast and staff and that's often how these two casting decisions it's almost chance or serendipity that there are made it. Carmike crawled a gun and a consolation prize he was cast as wanted to resolve our Brothers and godfather to since he lost out on the part of some. Anybody else that it was considered that was so unusual and was left out. Well. That not so much who was left out I mentioned all the actors who have wanted to play Marlon Brando but one of the interest in casting choices. Was an unknown actor named John can Zale for the part afraid. And he was friends with Alpa chino they had acted together in New York Peter and John to sail was cassis trio. And John can Zale. Tragically died at the age of 42 he has leukemia. But John can Zale after making his film debut in the godfather. Start in the conversation. For transfer Coppola's the godfather two for France's her Copeland Dog Day Afternoon and deer hunter and those are the only five movies. He ever made. And every one of them received an Academy Award nomination for best picture. And three of them won best picture so John because sales three Fillmore receive free girl brief film logger fee is five Academy Award nominated films. Not too shabby who. John her spears here today to talk about the godfather and them. Flashbacks cinema which I. Misunderstood it was one of his other business ventures. This is what happens when you have too many jobs John so you have a flashbacks and map company that shows movies like the godfather and other classics around the country right. Yes that's right Earl earlier you had mentioned the dine in feeder aspect of that was another company Iran called movie tavern. Which I the CEO after leaving Paramount which we sold and then I started flashbacks cinema which is specifically dedicated to classic movies in theaters. Where can people see the flashback movies locally. Locally right now just at the curve al-Qaeda that's it turn out but it it's we have we have leaders throughout the country. How many theaters to have on this project we have a 130. Currently in the program and we're adding more all the time. Because people love the big screen yes no matter how many times you've seen these movies and I'm sure you have folks listening to say oh I love the godfather but I. You know I have on Blu-ray or I watch it when they do have marathons. Trust me when you see it on the big screen you'll be amazed. Still be something going on in the corner of the screen or off to the cider in the background that you say I just never really noticed that on the small screen. And there's nothing like seeing a picture I can't wait to see it Friday when you're playing that music I'm getting goosebumps I wanna write down the Kirby now on watch it will have a chance great and have popcorn right answer of course the Kirby always has. Which is good now we talked a little bit about the casting let's talk about the making of the film because the book is. It's along book and there were some concerns about the length of them to be very well yes. And here again that's a little bit even even the the truth of what actually happened has been disputed by Robert Evans and and Francis Ford Coppola. Who both acknowledged that they had a very contentious relationship all throughout the making of the movie. It ever Francis for Coppola was. A contract to buy Paramount to provide a finished cut of the film that was no longer than two hours. Because. He was there was always concern in those days particularly that. That movies that ran longer than that remember they played in single screen theatres are twins Peters wasn't like a megaplex now where you have all these screens work. He can start you know show every twenty or thirty minutes it was playing a single screen theater and the movie ran for a long time meant fewer shows. And Amanda less money at the box office so Paramount contractor for a two hour movie. And Coppola cut a two hour movie. And showed it Evans and other executives at the studio and Evans is account is that he was furious because he felt that the movie. Didn't live up to with the footage that Coppola had shot. And he wanted him to go back and make it longer which is a variant usually usually when a studio had disagrees with the director it's because he wants the movie to be short. And that the picture was scheduled to be released for Christmas of 1970 want. And it was actually pushed back to march of 1972. When it ultimately did open. So that Coppola would have more time to make the longer version which is the version we all know now. Which runs two hours and 45 minutes. But. EE into the longer running time was needed to really give it the the texture in the atmosphere. That the movie has which again help to elevated above routine crime ground and make it this sort of epic saga of a family. What surprises you about this movie and I naive Steve seen many movies would isn't what surprises you about it sucks ass or. A story about a these things on usual. Well I think what's really interesting his Hal. Again a movie to start out as a as a book abouts a crime family has freely. Captured the imagination of the whole culture and the movie is is so accessible to so many people who know nothing about. How organized crime and have no personal experience with that because it's so relatable near the in the movies really a tragedy. About two Michael Corleone and and for those. From your viewers who maybe haven't seen the movie I don't wanna spoil anything but it's about the succession of power who's going to take over as Marlon Brando the godfather. I'm gives up power. And day is kind of agree tragedy because Michael's the son who doesn't aspire to be in the family business but through a series of events. I takes up that obligation to do it and in fact those two. And those who have contended that the movie doesn't really glorify organized crime point to the fact that. Michael brings a lot of sadness into his life because of the decisions he makes but there's a lot about loyalty in the film there's a lot about. Courage and again qualities they're really transcend the subject matter and that's probably why it's captured the imagination and the course the casting is just so impeccable in the movie's starting with Marlon Brando. And downed the smallest detail on mama Corleone for example. The godfathers wife. Was played by more organic king will she had never appeared in a fail. But she was a very widely. Renowned jazz singer. And Francis Ford Coppola just saw her physical appearance and her ability to sing because momma cruelly on sings at the opening winning sequence. Somebody who would be great for their part. And at the casting of his own sister telling you Shire to play Connie Corleone. You know these just so many aspects of this movie the casting is just ten on an even Luka proxy. I was played by Lenny ma'am Montana. Who was. Paid shall we say a member of the organization back in New York. And there's into the great scene in the film which lovers of the film know at the wedding scene where Luka brought see who is the very tops Kyrie. Really brutal henchmen of the godfather is at the wedding and he sort of rehearsing what he's going to say. To Marlon Brando the god father when he meets them. That was the actor Lennie Montana rehearsing his lines because he's very nervous about forgetting is Heinz in Coppola. Just got an on film insanity we've keep it it's its greatest perfect for the characters so they're all these little. Perfect meal accidents that happened in connection with this movie that helped to make it. This beloved classic certainly did well Harris you indicated earlier factor elsewhere in the country loses toe it was a huge hit everywhere he was a it was a blockbuster it's surpassed what was then the highest grossing full time which was gone with the wind. Made its money back very very quickly and just began became part of the culture. How much did this help. Robert Evans and Paramount what did it mean to them because it seems like this may have cost a couple of bucks to do to grant. Well the movie was very cheaply made that that's again one of the great ironies in this film because. Paramount budget is 2.5 million which. Even allowing for inflation even back then was a pretty modest budget in the budget eventually. Was increased to six million. But the original idea was Paramount is gonna take a book. About a crime family and make it into a low budget crime movie. And they wanted to be original idea was the movie the story is set in the 1940s they were going to reset at the 1970s. Because it would be less expensive to fill. And that was one of several issues that Coppola fought them on and one. He wanted to keep it in the 1940s he wanted that sense of history about it he wanted to keep the time period close to the period where. Vito Corleone had come to this country as a young Italian immigrant. And but it was he was made rather cheaply and in part of the key is the idea of keeping a low budget. Involve the producer Al Albert Ruddy was a young producer he would only meet a couple of films but he had a reputation for making films inexpensively. And dad his biggest claim to fame was having made the TV series Hogan's Heroes so they did not you know higher. Really big name. Directors producers. Even stars. When you consider marlin were Marlon Brando was in his career. The whole idea of the movie was to make it inexpensively so they did not have the expectation that this would be the blockbuster became. And he conceded inexpensively enough Friday at the Kirby center. And the afternoon matinee is three dollars 1 PM 730 united goes all the way up to five dollars there's other films in the series and I I didn't. Genoa talk about the next film after the god file cause it is absolutely. It's a classic time flies when it's not about them is right. And that we're talking about the film series before the Kirby. Well that Kirby with John her skirt from flashback cinema he's so one of Austin and he went away and then he came back. So we're happy to have him Harry won a wrap up on the got other than most not about this little number from well hi. This one to publicly congratulate you on your excellent taste for being willing to see the film for the first time on welcome for Kirby he shamed me into an enthusiast I Anglia and I I envy you because you're going to see it for the first time on the big screen at the curve is so that's a great way to see it now I just went admission has talked about already earlier and I think our readies the producer of the godfather. Is a great example of how the movie was transformative for so many people who were involved with that as I said he had not. Done a whole lot of things when he got the opportunity to produce the godfather as a young man. But the godfather was just one of many great successes in his career because he not only won an Academy Award for producing it. He won a second Academy Award for producing Million Dollar Baby so. How one of many lives were touched and very positive way by this film. Excellent and on Friday may the 25. It is going to be from 1951. Of my favorite movies of all time Sunset Boulevard because I eat. It's so amazing I mean just beat it beat the expressions of Gloria Swanson and the script are great to and it's just. It there's a lot of little there's a lot of insider based on that money in RA. Oh yes yes he was and it was made by Paramount Pictures. And much of it was filmed at Paramount Pictures. Which may not sound remarkable because movies are filmed a steals all the time but Paramount Pictures is depicted in the movie. Billy Wilder directed the film and the movie was made in 1950 which was a period where. There'll still a lot of silent film stars living in Hollywood. And they hid they were still around to see how sort of the paraded past them by because of course sounded kind minimally 1920s. Have a lot of these older stars were. That had faded from public view but still retain these memories of of being issued stars. And that's was depicted in the film and Billy Rawlins Walter and I mailed diamond wrote the story. Expect she's been out I was diamond. Charles Brackett wrote the story. About. A faded to silent film star who who won't acknowledge that the parade is pastor binding Norma Desmond. And they cast Gloria Swanson who was herself a great film star in the silent era. And who was the queen of the Paramount Pictures lot back in the 1920s. And they castor in the role as Norma Desmond and so there's a lot of and the film that takes place on the lot Cecil B. DeMille plays himself. To William Holden stars in the museum screenwriter he's working on the Paramount lots of is a lot of sort of art imitating life in the movie who. And I Sunday we had today. Nice. John any any closing thoughts on the rest of these before the Kirby was the Kirby series well just as nice. And we're going to be doing and movie in new movie each month and after some simple or there's true grit in the sound of music and really great lineup of movies all year. And thank you see so much for your support this program because. It's. It's a great way for these wonderful movies to be experienced by local residents and there's nothing better than sitting on the big screen at the Kirby. And I am so glad that you're going to be there on Fridays to to correct this deficiency actor film education science you must actually experienced the godfather for the first time and that's very exciting so that I only have master's degree in film or something where you go back but it's it'll be good John thanks for coming and.