The McCarey Treatment

Why is it that Peter Bogdanovich’s interview with Leo McCarey, published in his indispensable book Who the Devil Made It?, contains passages that are basically identical to those in Serge Daney & Louis Skorecki’s interview that appeared previously in the February 1965 edition of Cahiers du Cinema? I don’t know, but I can offer theories.

Anything’s possible: maybe Bogdanovich asked similar questions to the Cahiers critics in the same order and the director, well into his anecdotage, repeated tried-and-true stories in the precise same words he’d used with earlier interviewers.

But Bogdanovich himself provides a clue to another possible answer. He reports that McCarey was seriously ill with emphysema, his memory impaired by oxygen starvation and his loquacity seriously hampered by breathlessness and painkillers. He admits that, “of course, I didn’t know him — I never really met Leo McCarey.” The Bogdanovich interview alternates between exchanges where McCarey is frustratingly brief, giving one-word answers, and much longer passages where he is voluble and articulate and tells long, amusing tales. These tend to be the bits that also appeared in Cahiers.

So I’m afraid that Bogdanovich augmented the slender pickings he was able to extract from the dying auteur with sections culled from Daney & Skorecki’s piece. Maybe he got their permission, but he certainly doesn’t give them credit anywhere I can see.

I really like Bogdanovich’s books, and his films. Why bring up this apparent lapse? Well, as Seymour Skinner once said, “I’m a small man in many ways. A small, petty man.”

2 Responses to “The McCarey Treatment”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Plagiarism is serous stuff. And it’s unfortunate that even talented writers and artists do it, have done it, in the past. So I think you can accept that Bogdanovich is a talented guy and that he dropped the ball here, allegedly.

    Directors do tend to repeat answers in interviews though. And repetition of answers is one clue in gauging how serious people are about their opinions. If it’s only McCarey’s answers that’s fine, but if it’s prose then it’s an issue. The other question is does Bogdanovich know French or did someone translate for him? Or did McCarey give authorization to Bogdanovich without consulting Cahiers to use their material to supplement his stuff.

  2. McCarey’s permission wouldn’t be sufficient, ethically.

    Nevertheless, I can somewhat sympathize with the impulse here. Bogdanovich wanted McCarey to give a better interview than he was physically capable of, and so he augmented the answers with earlier ones. He could have rewritten the text (I think it may have been reprinted in Cahiers’ English edition) to make it less recognizable, but then he would have been putting words in the old man’s mouth, so he left it unchanged.

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