A Wedding


“I got married in Las Vegas once. To Gloria Grahame. I didn’t like her very much. I was infatuated with her, but I didn’t like her very much.

“There was something vindictive about me that made me stay at the crap tables while she was waiting out the last few days before her divorce became final. I wanted to be absolutely broke. I didn’t want this dame, who later proved to be as shrewd as she had begun to threaten to be, to have anything of mine. I didn’t want her to have any money at all. I was in the middle of making IN A LONELY PLACE. I lost a bundle.”

~ Nicholas Ray in I Was Interrupted, Nicholas Ray on Making Movies.

I wonder if Ray really lost all his money quite as deliberately as that.  If he did, it annoys me somewhat — I’d rather he gave the money to a good cause. He seems to have had a gambling addiction, of the kind that gets satisfaction from losing rather than winning.

Witnesses who saw Phil Silvers at the roulette wheel or craps table reported the same thing — his body would relax totally once he had lost his last dollar. Some kind of relief was achieved.

In his collected diaries, Charlton Heston reports asking a friend about Ray before embarking upon the colossal misadventure that was 55 DAYS AT PEKING. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but the friend said something like, “Oh, he’s a good director. Good sense of story and good with actors. Great visual style. Intelligent. But Chuck, I’ve played poker with him. And Chuck, he’s a loser.”

In the U.S. the word “loser” seems to have a greater power than elsewhere, like it’s the worst thing you can call somebody. I think in Scotland we’d just shrug that one off. “Yeah, so what?” But Heston’s friend is using the word in a more precise and meaningful way — a loser is someone who sets out to lose.

When William Goldman and Rob Reiner were preparing to do MISERY, they talked to Warren Beatty about possibly playing the lead role. Beatty told them that if they kept the script like Stephen King’s novel, where the character has his foot chopped off by the crazed fan, “He’s a loser.” Having his bones broken was a way to make the injury recoverable, so that the ending is happier. The hero can win back what he lost.

This is kind of weird and repugnant to me. The idea that a person who loses a foot is a different KIND of person — a loser — from a person who just has his bones broken, then gets better, is a basically false view of the world, a place where shit happens.

Anyway, returning to Ray, whose loserishness I find appealing and attractive — that marriage to Gloria Grahame ended, and then she married Ray’s son. That didn’t last either. When I mention this in lectures, there’s a sort of shudder of revulsion, as if an act of incest were involved. But it’s not! O.K., marrying your ex’s offspring might be sort of unusual, but really, there’s nothing actually wrong with it per se. Tony Ray was probably closer to G.G.’s age than Nick, and if not, who cares?

G.G.’s last love affair is commemorated in a fine book, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.


14 Responses to “A Wedding”

  1. Warren Beatty may not have wanted to lose a foot but in nearly all his major roles he loses his life. In fact in Heaven Can Wait he’s already dead.

    Ray’s claim of disinterest in Gloria Grahame is coutnered by In a Lonely Place — one of his very greatest works. Grahame was as much “a piece of work” as Ray, being that she was a masochist who liked to provoke men into hitting her. Love her to teeny little pieces as as actress particularly in In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat, Oklahoma! and The Cobweb.

    Tony Ray appeared most memorably in Cassavetes’ Shadows as the would-be boyfriend of Lelia Goldoni who drops her when he finds out she’s black.

  2. Ray goes on to say in that piece that he and GG were pleased and proud that they managed to make a film while completing their break-up without anyone suspecting or being inconvenienced and embarrassed during the process, particularly Bogart. And both of them did outstanding work under the circumstances (in a set modelled on Ray’s own apartment building.)

    Bogart’s supposed dislike of In a lonely Place, surely his deepest film, must have to do with his own violent first marriage, and a feeling that the film reveals a side of him he’d rather not admit to.

    Peter Lorre used to get a kick out of how easily Mr. and Mrs. Bogart could be made to fight. He would drop a simple phrase like “General McCarthur” into the conversation, and within moments she would be trying to claw her husband’s face of while he assailed her head with a whisky glass.

    (I think that story comes from The Decline and Fall of Hollywood.)

  3. “The Battling Bogarts” (Bogie and Mayo Methot) were infamous in Hollywood. You’re right that In a Lonely Place may well have put Bogie in touch with his dark side.

  4. It’s funny that you should mention Scottish attitudes and the word “loser,” since Scottish comic Craig Ferguson did a whole riff on that word in his show last night.

    I was dozing off at that point, so I’ll have to take the word of my Scots/Irish “husband” (raised in Boston).

    Mention of Indiana Jones in the opening mnologue led to talk about composer John Williams, which then prompted Ferguson to launch into fake theme-songs based on the familiar musical themes.

    For “Raiders,” he sang “I’m an adventurer, you’re a loser …”
    For “Star Wars,” he sang “I’m a space-man, you’re a loser …”
    And for “Jaws,” he simply sang “LOS-er … LOS-er, LOS-er …”

  5. Heh!
    I quite like Craig Fergusson. Back in his boozing days he had an alter-ego stand-up act called Bing Hitler. It’s so nice he made it big.

  6. K Connolly Says:


    I hate (auto) biographies. But I guess I’m going to have to read that one now. You’re comments on the “loser” are just right. I think of Tyrone Power’s line at the end of Nightmare Alley (was he ever that good again, anywhere else?) when he becomes the circus geek he was so terrified by in the early scenes. Something about being “born for” the role. It must be like that with gamblers. The “optimist’s vice,” they call it — but it’s ALL about losing, as you point out. It’s about losing even when they’re winning. A gloomy sort of predestination — like they deserve it, the hard way.

  7. Nick Ray actually says in the book that most film biographies are bores. There are only a few pages of autobiography in that book, it’s a mixed bag of reminiscences, film classes and musings. Well worthwhile.

    Nightmare Alley — what a beautiful film.

    Martin Amis said he gave up gambling when he realised the bookie’s was full of poor people getting poorer rather than rich people getting richer…

  8. Beatty may die in his films but he always dies complete! And as you say as the winner of the situation and the film entire. The ending of Butch Cassiday is a prime example – the end is inevitable but we are left with the glorious, heroic freeze frame and the knowledge that it took a huge number of waves of bullets to cut our protagonists down (no quick and easy single bullet to the head to immediately knock Beatty off!)

    And in Heaven Can Wait he even manages to cheat death without breaking a sweat!

    While I do like Rob Reiner’s film I still feel Misery was handicapped, so to speak, by changing the amputation to hobbling. It still works as a nasty scene but I think it loses the idea of Annie making a permanent physical mark on Paul to make sure not only that he doesn’t leave but that he forever has a reminder of his number one fan to match the impact his writing has had on her – a covenant between them and also using the escape as a pretext to subjugating the psychically power Paul has over her through his writing through showing who is in charge in the physical world? (In that way it manages to justify the final battle between the pair as more than just action for action’s sake as Paul has to physically destroy Annie to reclaim both his authorial integrity and his life)

    It feels as if Misery is tackling the question of writers not fully understanding the impact they have on their readers, how their worldview imposes over their audience’s own and in extreme cases leads to obsession. It takes a disturbed person to go to Annie’s extremes but a lot of fandom is about wanting to get closer to the people who produce things that touch us deeply and we have nothing to offer our idols except our scary neediness! In that sense it doesn’t really matter if we love Misery Chastain novels and Pop Idol or Bergman and Tarkovsky, the feelings could be considered the same even if we love things for different reasons! What is reallly important is not smothering creativity, either by stalking actors because we’re in love with a character they played or by keeping artists in the same rut without letting them try anything new. The best way to show appreciation would seem to be acting as facilitators to let your idols create without getting so hands on with them! The great tragedy of Annie is that she does try to do what she thinks is best for Paul but unfortunately does it in a twisted and controlling way and she takes the, in a way understandable, flippant killing off of Misery by Paul completely personally. (I guess Misery is the closest thing to characters from a novel coming to life and haranguing the author without moving totally into fantasy!)

    The American use of the word ‘loser’ seems less to be about losing but about telling somebody, and everyone around them, that a particular person is a failure. It is a nasty comment – as you say, everyone has failed at something – because it is a voicing of something that no one wants to be told they are, but at the same time is done in such general terms that it is universally applicable. Everyone feels like a loser sometimes, even the people who seem to have been blessed with all the luck in the world. Perhaps even more so in their case as feelings of inadequacy can spur them on to want to achieve more (I’m reminded of that Stephen Fry documentary about manic depression where obviously successful people, not least Fry himself, go through terrible low periods of feeling worthless).

    Personally I feel that as long as you are relatively happy with yourself then you can weather any comments, but if you continually look for other people to make you feel like you have some worth or value then you of course run the risk of being completely devastated when you run into someone who hates you, or makes a cruel personal comment. The trick is to not allow yourself to be polarised into living in a self enclosed bubble of thinking “how great I am!” and to be open to other people’s comments but also not to take them too much to heart. I get the (of course, just generalising here) impression that America (and really Britain or any other country) is very much polarised between one extreme or another, classifying those who have value or have none. There are complicated links to consumerism here as well. This isn’t helped by television and sometimes films either, creating these arbitrary divisions (“you don’t wear Gucci? Then get out of my way, scum!”) and I keep getting the impression that the world would be a lot happier if we could all learn to live somewhere in the middle ground between vanity and worthlessness, the haves and have nots, between the ‘losers’ and ‘winners’.

    Anyway I need a positive response to this comment so I know that “you like me, you realllllly like me!” :-D

  9. You know that’s not Warren Beatty in Butch Cassidy, right? But everything you say is correct otherwise.

    Preston Sturges has Mr. Waterberry make a good case for moderate success in Christmas in July — “If you can make a living and feed your family and look the world in the eye then you’re a success,” but then, being Sturges, he presents a psalm for excessive success in the rest of the film. But there is something in American culture that sees failure of any kind as shameful and unacceptable, and likes to divide humanity into winners and losers, as if circumstances never have anything to do with it. This can have unfortunate consequences politically.

    Your gospel of moderation seems very sensible.

  10. Whoops! No idea how I confused him with Robert Redford and/or Paul Newman! :)

    I’ll have to do some revision on my 60s and 70s Hollywood hunks!

  11. Margaret Alston-Prince Says:

    The fact that the step-mother had sex with a 13-year old made her a rapist and a predator. I can’t imagine how she avoided jail-time but less than 10-years later, she followed up her initial crimes with marriage to the then 23-year old who was half-brother to her and the elder Ray’s youngest son. The twisted couple then had two children who became half-brothers and nephews to one Ray child and half-brother and step-son to other. Toss in the fact that Ray elder was grandparent to his younger son’s half-brothers by his own son who was married to his former step-mother. Imagine those happy holiday get-to-gathers, not!

  12. I guess lot of families live with some kind of weirdness. Can’t imagine Ray was around for much of it.

    If she abused her step-son (possibly under the guise of “initiation”) that is indeed disturbing and wrong.

  13. The Gloria Grahame-Tony Ray tryst, when Ray was only 13, is not proven “fact.” She avoided jail time because there were never any charges filed. The only person who ever went public was Tony’s father Nicholas Ray (who was then unhappily married to Grahame), and his words were supposedly whispered to just a few confidantes.

    If it did indeed happen, I guess you could call it “statutory rape,” although the law in 1950 may have been different. And she didn’t exactly “prey;” the story goes that he showed up at her front door while dad was out of town. I find the whole thing less “disturbing and wrong” as yet another curious example of HollyWeird.

  14. I don’t necessarily know how seriously to take anything Ray said. So this becomes another case of “I am absolutely SHOCKED that this MAY have happened…”

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