Everybody concerned with the movie adaptation of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” had so much driving on its success. For star Elizabeth Taylor, this was maybe her first probability to show that she may act (definitely the middle-aged Martha was probably the most demanding function she had ever had). For first-time producer Ernest Lehman, the film may make or break him as he moved away from writing classics like “North by Northwest” and “Candy Odor of Success.” And for director Mike Nichols, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” his function movie directorial debut, would both burnish his rising repute as a boy genius after a number of smash Broadway hits or show that he was out of his depth.

The impetus to play issues protected will need to have been sturdy, and but not one of the movie’s main gamers shied away from selecting the riskier paths. Filming in black-and-white in 1966 was not the indicator of status that it’s now; the transfer was seen as archaic and arbitrary by Jack Warner, the top of Warner Bros. Nichols and Lehman battled him always throughout pre-production and even weeks into filming. And definitely Taylor and Nichols had been stunning decisions, however Lehman caught by them (a lot to the chagrin of Bette Davis, who desperately wished to play Martha).

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In some way everybody persevered, although tensions had been excessive and tempers fraught. Nichols routinely vented his frustrations to Lehman — normally pinning the blame on his producer. He obtained his means in virtually each occasion, but it surely was a battle over composer Alex North (“A Streetcar Named Want,” “Spartacus”) that led to Nichols being kicked off his first movie. Under, in an unique excerpt from the brand new making-of e book “Cocktails With George and Martha: Motion pictures, Marriage, and the Making of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’” author Philip Gelfter particulars the dramatic rush to complete the movie — and the behind-the-scenes energy performs.

Mike Nichols (seated) with Haskell Wexler, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor on the set of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, 1966
Mike Nichols (seated) with cinematographer Haskell Wexler and stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”Courtesy Everett Assortment

On January 5, 1966, Jack Warner despatched a memo to Lehman and Nichols detailing a rush-rush schedule to ship the ultimate reduce of the image out of the state by March 1—to beat the tax deadline. The memo additionally stated that Alex North, the composer—who had not but begun his rating for the movie—had agreed to this schedule, however when Lehman referred to as North, it was the primary he had heard of it. “It’s unfair to count on me to write down a rating for such an essential film in so quick a time,” North stated, balking. He had not seen any footage, nor had he even met with Nichols and Lehman to debate what they anticipated for the music.

Nichols went right into a rage in regards to the deadline, pitching a slot in Warner’s workplace, and convincing him to desert the March 1 transport date. Nonetheless on a rampage, he stormed into Lehman’s workplace to complain. Lehman requested him how he satisfied Warner to alter the deadline. “I informed him that if he tried to drive me to do the movie this manner or took it away from me,” Nichols replied, “I’d merely return to New York and provides out interviews within the newspapers telling them precisely what had occurred.” Nichols then turned his rage on Lehman, resurrecting his previous gripe about at all times having to battle the battles with Warner Brothers alone. Mike went even additional and unleashed a litany of Ernie’s short-comings, which Lehman sarcastically enumerated in his journal as if making a confession: “By which Mike claimed that first, I feel solely about my very own emotions, not in regards to the image; Two, I’m solely in getting publicity for myself and never involved in regards to the image; Three, all I ever do is complain about not being included in all the things, however really, I must be ensuring that I’m included though there are these attempting to exclude me [like Nichols]; 4, the higher Mike works and the simpler his work on the image, the extra responsible I make him really feel about me; and 5, he and I normally obtain the identical finish end in our dealings with individuals—he yells and screams with out giving a rattling what different individuals suppose and I do it by making different individuals really feel responsible. The latter approach, in line with Mike, is sneaky and dishonest.”

It’s uncanny how psychological projection operates between people who work so intently collectively. Each one in every of Nichols’s accusations about Lehman may have been stated about himself. On the finish of the recriminations, Mike walked over to Ernie’s desk and shook his hand, as if clearing the air following his verbal slap down. He left as in the event that they had been mates once more. Lehman maintained his equanimity, however the indignity was filed away.

The next day, North got here in to observe three reels of the movie with Lehman, Nichols, and O’Steen. After a wholesome dialog, all of them agreed to keep away from a full orchestra therapy; as a substitute, the music can be intimate however trendy, consisting of only a few devices. Mike proposed that the music ought to be as minimal as a single instrument. For the following month, Nichols and O’Steen toiled every day within the slicing room, periodically exhibiting North particular scenes that referred to as for musical therapy and discussing the thematic nuances of the rating. Their conferences had been fraught with battle. North was a Hollywood stalwart. He had composed the music for a variety of cinematic genres, from historic epics like “Spartacus” and “Cleopatra” to the movie variations of great performs resembling “A Streetcar Named Want” and “Loss of life of a Salesman.” By 1966, he had acquired 9 Academy Award nominations for Greatest Musical Rating and gained one Grammy. However regardless of North’s accomplishments, Mike insisted on listening to Alex play the varied musical themes he had in thoughts for “Virginia Woolf” on the piano earlier than he composed the rating, which left Alex indignant. North was adamant about sustaining his creative freedom, and hostility between them grew worse.

On February 8, Jack Warner notified Lehman and Nichols that the modifying needed to be accomplished by February 15 for North to satisfy his scoring and recording date the primary week in March. Believing that he was being rushed to accommodate the composer’s schedule, Nichols unilaterally fired North with out consulting Lehman. Then—behind Lehman’s again—he tried to persuade McEwen to rent André Previn. When Previn turned out to be unavailable, Nichols prompt Leonard Bernstein, one in every of his closest mates.

That is the way in which O’Steen remembered the next sequence of occasions: “Ernie had signed Alex North because the composer. He was thought of tops in Hollywood, however Mike didn’t need him; he wished Andre Previn. I stated, ‘Mike, they already signed him [North] and that’s cash, don’t battle with Warner, don’t push him right into a nook.’ However Mike didn’t give a shit; he wished Andre Previn. That’s what lastly did it. That was simply earlier than Warner threw him off the lot.”

Excerpted from “Cocktails with George and Martha: Motion pictures, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.” Used with the permission of the writer, Bloomsbury. Copyright © 2024 by Philip Gefter

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