Harold Robbins thoughts on King Creole
November 5, 2007
It had all started so promisingly. Hal Wallis envisaged Marlon Brando, fresh from his success in The Wild One, On The Waterfront, and Guys And Dolls, for the central role of Danny and enlisted the services of Michael Curtiz, the director famous for Casablanca, Mildred Pierce and White Christmas. Wallis passed Robbins's treatment on to scriptwriter and actor Michael Vincente Gazzo, who earned $10,000 for the job. But Curtiz found the script, which Gazzo delivered in May 1955, disappointing. In Curtiz's opinion it was important to remain faithful to the original novel, and he suggested opening the film with the first scene of the book, in which a little boy places a stone on his father's grave. The problem, as he saw it, was that 'Danny has been turned into a conventional, unreal, dead-end kid hero', he wrote to Hal Wallis, 'underpriviledged by his father and society...Thus we have an old-fashioned, unrealistic, abused hero, who does not create his own destiny'.
Central to both the book and the film, said Wallis, was Danny's relationship with his father, 'a small professional man who has done everything possible for his son and has big plans for him, but who is trapped in an economic upheaval; and a son so eager for a place in the world and so bewildered and desperate at ill fortune that he blames his father in haste. These are two human beings we can understand and feel for, and the situation is real because one of them created it, and the other responds in a real, human way'.
Wallis met with his co-producer Joseph Hazen and associate producer Paul Nathan to discuss the weaknesses of the script. Hazen thought it helpful to compare the psychological dynamic at the heart of A Stone For Danny Fisher to the dysfunctional father-son relationship in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 'It is this impenetrable wall -- this lack of communication and understanding between father and son -- which is a major contributing factor to the tragedy of Danny Fisher', Hazen wrote in a memo to Nathan. 'Had Danny been able to understand his father's point of view more completely and had Danny's father been more aware of and more sympathetic and understanding of Danny's problem, Danny would not have developed into a misanthrope'.
When Marlon Brando turned down the role, Wallis and his team were desparate to find another big star with the same kind of rebellious associations and capacity for brooding intensity. Naturally, at the top of their list was Elvis Presley, who had already made three films, Love Me Tender, Loving You, and Jailhouse Rock. Wallis knew the star -- who was paid nearly $72,000 for eight and and a half weeks' work -- was guaranteed box office, but one of the consequences of hiring him was that the script would now have to incorporate some songs. After all, what was the point of casting the essence of rock 'n' roll and not taking advantage of his performing skills? A number of songs were quickly written, including one called 'Sing, You Sinners', and by October 1956 Paul Nathan had persuaded the rest of the production team that they should construct the narrative of the film around the song. The source material was all but abandoned, and the project became a showcase of Elvis' talents.
The producers of the film -- which now went under the title Sing, You Sinners -- moved the action from New York to New Orleans, and Danny Fisher became the rebellious son of a minister. 'We changed the leading character from a prizefighter to a singer', said Wallis. Wallis then employed composer and writer Herbert Baker at the rate of $1,250 a week to polish the script. Finally, by the end of 1957 the team had something they felt they could shoot, and the screenplay was sent off to the office of the Production Code to ensure that it did not breach decency regulations.
Geoffrey Shurlock, the vice president and director of the official body, wrote to Hal Wallis with three pages of potential problems. Many of his comments were minor ones, for instance, requesting that expressions such as 'Jeez' be removed from the script. Others -- such an intimate scene in which Ronnie (Carolyn Jones) offers herself to Danny (Elvis Presley) -- necessitated a more drastic rewriting of the script.
'This sequence is unacceptable under the Code', wrote Shurlock '...Such lines as, 'Do you think you could take a day out of your life and give it to me?' and 'Then love me -- for today', together with the action of both of them lying together on the sand, must be revised in such a way as to keep their relationship a moral and clean one'.
The shooting of the film started in New Orleans on 20 January 1958. Presley's presence in the city resulted in hysteria. 'When we were on location in New Orleans, the crowds were so huge that we had to arrange for top security', said Wallis. 'When we shot on the streets, police and ropes were necessary to hold back the crowds'.
When the film opened that July, it was met with entusiastic reviews and became a box-office hit. But for Robbins the movie was nothing less than a travesty. Later in life he pretended to be nonchalant about it -- 'I got the check', he said, referring to the film -- but privately he always felt frustrated that his Danny Fisher, a story so close to his heart, had never made it onto the silver screen.
Buy King Creole CD David English who complied the King Creole photo pages found in our photo section had this to say about the book, 'I have the new King Creole book in my hands right now. It really is superb, most of the photo's I have never seen before'. 'The first section deals with the Recording Sessions, which puts my topic found in the picture section largely redundant. The second section has photo's by song alongside behind the scenes. The highlight has shots from the deleted number 'Danny'. Do yourself a favor, buy the King Creole Hardcover Book + Soundtrack CD.
Buy King Creole DVD
Buy King Creole Book + Soundtrack CD
Must Have Book
David English who complied the King Creole photo pages found in our photo section had this to say about the book, 'I have the new King Creole book in my hands right now. It really is superb, most of the photo's I have never seen before'. 'The first section deals with the Recording Sessions, which puts my topic found in the picture section largely redundant. The second section has photo's by song alongside behind the scenes.
The highlight has shots from the deleted number 'Danny'.
Do yourself a favor, buy the King Creole Hardcover Book + Soundtrack CD.
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