Archive for Eddie Fowlie

Quiver

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 31, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up John Brosnan’s book on special effects, Movie Magic, which seems to have been staring at me from various shelves for all my life, after finding it in a charity shop. Obviously, a book on VFX written before the advent of digital cinema wasn’t going to be selling at top prices.

It’s a fun, breezy read, though. Not too technical. The best stuff is the interview with jobbing films craftsmen. Brosnan’s prose is more serviceable than immortal (though still superior to that of Mike Evans in The Making of Raging Bull, another recent cheapo purchase, where potentially fascinating material is rendered practically unreadable) but when he hands the page over to doughty practitioners like Les Bowie, things get mordantly amusing:

‘We were working with these two American effects men on that picture [IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS] and they had […] all sorts of fancy gadgets, including these special mortars that were used to fire clumps of arrows through the air. These, along with their other equipment, had been flown out from Hollywood at great expense. One day one of these men told me to go and practice firing arrows out of this mortar. So I did, I carried one of these gadgets away from where we were based, set it up, put some arrows in it, fired it . . . and the arrows went about ten feet before dropping to the ground. I was rather upset about this because it meant I was going to have to tell the other fellow his gadget wasn’t working any more. In desperation I just grabbed a handful of arrows and flung them in the air . . . and they just flew and flew. After a few more tries I even worked out a way of throwing them so that they separated in mid-air and like a swarm of arrows would if they’d been fired by several bows. Anyway I went back and confessed to this bloke that his mortar wasn’t working, so he came back and checked it out and said it was working perfectly. “But it only propels them about ten feet,” I said, “do you know that you can throw them much further by hand?” And I demonstrated to him how far I could throw them. He was shocked. “For God’s sake,” he said, “don’t do that on the day of filming!” But when the day came an assistant and I were hidden in the woods, throwing the arrows out by hand. All that equipment shipped out at such a high cost and yet no one had tried just throwing the things!’

There’s more about this kind of UK-US rivalry and bickering on Disney locations in props man Eddie Fowlie’s account of making THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON in his memoir David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist, though Fowlie inexplicably omits to make any reference to being sent home early after seemingly injuring one of his opponents in a knife fight conducted over the affections of Janet Munro.

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Teddington Bare

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , on November 16, 2017 by dcairns

From David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist by ace props man Eddie Fowlie.

Though Eddie’s non-conformist, anti-authoritarian streak made him a true independent for most of his career, he started out as an employee of the props department at Warner Brothers’ Teddington Studios on the banks of the Thames ~

“There was everything from Chippendale to Sheridan, and even the odd kitchen sink. We bought furniture at auctions from great old houses that had been closed because of the war, including silverware, bronzes, pianos, harpsichords, full-dinner services, and quality carpets of every shape and description. It was a veritable treasure trove, and the wizard in charge of all of it was a cockney property master called Harry Hannay. We became good friends and spent most days out in a van, ‘totting’ or looking for the props we might need. Some things were bought and others rented. Whether the set was a suburban room, a hospital ward, a pretty garden or a hovel for tramps, my job was to dress it with suitable props, down to the last detail — and no detail was too small or insignificant. It could be a piece of paper in a typewriter, or a slipper tossed carelessly by a rumpled bed. It was all a question of using one’s own imagination. Much to my surprise I learned that black and white films were anything but. We applied a blue dye to cloth bed sheets and tea for the smaller surfaces, because anything truly ‘white’ did not show up on film. We introduced blotting paper between sheets to prevent them making a rustling sound and tipped a bit of lighter fluid on candles to help them light up instantly. These little details went unnoticed but they were just as important as the rest of the set.”

But, when Eddie returned from a location shoot with Burt Lancaster ~

“Shortly after returning to Teddington, however, I came back to earth with a bump. We were told Warner Brothers had sold the studio to a new commercial television company and that we would have to move out within two weeks. We didn’t have much time to dwell on the news. The prop room had huge amounts of stuff, worth many millions of pounds in today’s money, which took fleets of trucks to clear out. Other studios swooped down on Teddington like vultures to pick the bones, buying and loading up with as many props as they could. Rental houses came too, but as the deadline approached it was still not being loaded quickly enough, and we were faced with the thoroughly unpleasant task of having to destroy the rest. Windows were taken out on each floor, pushed out and burnt in piles along the river bank, including a unique collection of a room-full of rare posters on theatre, shipping, railways and commercial advertising. It was a sad end to what had been the country’s artistic heritage, but we did as we were told. If we had wanted anything I suppose we could have helped ourselves, but I took nothing, not even one of the century-old books. When Warner suggested I go to Elstree as their property manager, I declined […]”

George’s Hidden Talent

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2017 by dcairns

George Raft has a bath in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT.

Highly recommend the late Eddie Fowlie’s autobiography, David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist. It lives up to the title. Here’s one of the  milder anecdotes from the set of the 1951 Italian-shot B picture I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS, starring George Raft.

“George Raft had been a discrete presence for much of the shoot but one incident more than made up for it. One evening during a lull in filming a few of us, including Raft, got together for a few drinks and some banter. As the night wore on the laughter got louder and the boasts about sexual exploits more improbable, until George suddenly stood up and said, “I’m going to show you guys how I got to be a success,” whereupon he undid his trouser buttons and laid his ample member on the table. He was quite right — it was obvious why he had been a success. It also put a swift end to some of the unlikely claims which had peppered the conversation up to that point, most notably from the Italian bright sparks who shut up altogether upon witnessing George’s hidden talent.”

This surprised me because I’d heard the exact same story told about Burt Lancaster on the set of LOCAL HERO, the punchline being “And THAT’S how you survive in Hollywood,” the story passed down from one Scottish crew member to another until it reached me. So possibly it was a repurposed George Raft anecdote given a Scottish slant by overzealous nationalists. Or possibly both incidents really happened, independently, both Burt and George having the same impressive physical attributes and exhibitionist tendencies. Or just possibly, Eddie Fowlie told the story to Burt on the set of THE CRIMSON PIRATE, which happened to be his very next film. And Burt filed the story away for reenactment thirty years later, the meaty slap of dick on tabletop echoing through cinema history…