FILMED APRIL 2013
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way; a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.
Why do I bring this up? Because my life has been haunted by serendipitous occurrences, and more specifically because this production of THE RIGHT REGRETS was definitely loaded with serendipitous events. Two and a half years ago Marlyn Mason sent me a screenplay she had just completed. It was the first draft of THE RIGHT REGRETS and was the first of the three versions she would write. I won’t go into the changes she made in each of those versions; the one constant was that she wrote the main character of Charles with Anthony Hopkins as her template. Starting last fall attempts were made to get the script to Hopkins, but without success. I was not involved at that time beyond being a friendly consultant. (My eventual involvement was another incident of serendipity, which I will not go into at this time.) After the first of this year, because of budgetary considerations, Marlyn changed her plans and decided to film on the west coast rather than the east coast. Since there had been no response from Hopkins’ agents, she decided it was time to move on in her search for a Charles. She consulted an old friend, Jeanette O’Connor, who had a Cast Breakdown service in Hollywood. Jeanette suggested David Ogden Stiers. Marlyn was determined that the role be played by an Englishman, but when she was told that Stiers was very adept at portraying a bloke from across the waters, she sent a script to his agents. For a couple of days there seemed to be genuine interest on his part, but he eventually graciously declined. Marlyn next sent the script to Richard Chamberlain’s agents. Marlyn had known Richard long before his Dr. Kildare days. Richard too read and declined. Marlyn has a writer friend, Mel, in New York, who in a phone conversation said he was wavering on whether he should attend an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the film, CABARET. Marlyn urged him to go, telling him to relay her greetings to Bob Osborne, whom she knew was going to be there. She then jokingly suggested that, should he have the opportunity, he should tell Michael York about her film. Mel called her from the festivities to tell her that Bob Osborne had been thrilled to hear from her, and he added that when he had told Michael York about THE RIGHT REGRETS, York had given him his e-mail address and asked to have Marlyn send him the script. By this time I was aboard to direct, and needless to say, we were both intrigued and delighted at the prospect of working with Michael York. I have long believed that his performance in CABARET provides the heart of that film. For the next ten days we were in constant e-mail communication with Michael. He liked the script and offered some very subtle and meaningful recommendations for changes in dialogue. As I told him, those recommendations spurred me to make additional changes, changes that substantially altered the character of Charles. No longer was he a predator; he became a much more sympathetic person, but a person with a mysterious secret. At the end of ten days, Michael had still not committed to the project. Marlyn, with a start date to begin filming fast approaching, finally had to request a decision from him. His reply was charming. He said he was turning it down, but he hoped that in the future he would have the right regrets. At this point I suggested a fine American actor who was the right age (70’s) for the role, and who I was sure could do an acceptable English accent. To my surprise and at the time disappointment, he declined, saying he felt he was totally wrong for the role. Things were looking grim. Marlyn then contacted Cast Breakdown Jeanette again, and this time Jeanette added the role of Charles to the breakdown she distributed
I had known Budd Moss since 1962, when as an agent he represented Carolyn Jones when we signed her to guest star in the DR. KILDARE episode, THE MASK MAKERS. The following year he represented Ruth Roman when she guest starred on a ROUTE 66 I directed. Our paths crossed many times in the ensuing years, but that was then, this was now. I had been away from Hollywood for over twenty years. Budd, now with his own management firm, read Jeanette’s breakdown and saw Marlyn’s name and my name connected with THE RIGHT REGRETS. He said it was like two old friends rising from out of the past. He immediately contacted us to renew the friendships from so long ago, and being an actor’s representative he submitted one of his clients, Maxwell Caulfield, for the role of Charles. Maxwell is not 70 years old; he is 53 years old. Marlyn and I immediately reacted by thinking that would add a new dimension to the project. And it has. Having completed photography a week ago, I cannot imagine having filmed the show we have in the can with any of the other actors we sought. But the series of serendipitous events is not concluded. Marlyn and I had no intention of telling Maxwell of what had transpired regarding casting prior to his involvement. But one day late in preproduction, he asked a question regarding the casting that had Marlyn and me looking at each other. Should he be told or not? She decided to be forthright and told him everything that had happened, just as I have presented it. When she completed her story, relating in detail about our contacts with Michael York, Maxwell told us he had seen Michael just a week ago. His connection to Michael York goes even deeper. In 1967 Maxwell’s mother worked for playwright Harold Pinter when he was involved in the filming of ACCIDENT, a movie starring Dirk Bogarde. There were two roles in the film for children, and director Joseph Losey did not want to cast professional child actors. Eight-year old Maxwell was the right age, and when he was brought in to meet Losey, he was approved. ACCIDENT was Maxwell Caulfield’s first film appearance. Michael York also appeared in that film; It was his third film appearance, but his first feature film, and that all happened 46 years ago.
Most of the film that I had seen of Maxwell was of his earlier work. I did see an interview he did in London two years ago when he and his wife, Juliette Mills, were appearing in a stage production. His appearance on that interview intrigued me; that was the image I had for our Charles. A few days before Maxwell came to Carmel for two days of rehearsal with Marlyn, he told me he now had a beard, but if I disapproved, he would be willing to shave. I must admit, I was not thrilled by that announcement, but I decided I would give myself time to get accustomed to it before making a decision. At the end of the first day of rehearsal I was negative; I felt the beard was a little unkempt and unattractive, but Maxwell told me he had grown it for an upcoming role in a television film. He said he would do a little trimming on it, which he did. The next day I was less resistant, and by the completion of filming, I had decided Maxwell should never shave if off.
It took weeks before we got the required permit to film at the Point Sur Lighthouse in Big Sur, but from photographs I had seen on the internet of the lighthouses in the area, that was the one I insisted should be our lighthouse.
I also wanted the lighthouse to be the location we filmed on our first day. I knew it would be difficult to film, but working with a new and very young crew, I instinctively felt, as an old Phoenix rising from the ashes, I needed to put my best foot forward as quickly as possible, but taking that first step was impeded very early the morning of April 2nd. Because of the parking situation at the lighthouse it was decided to limit the number of cars driving to the location. Cast and crew were told to meet at the Crossroads shopping center in Carmel at 6:00 am, and some cars would be left there as bodies were piled into as few vehicles as necessary for the company to travel 25 minutes down the coast to our destination. However our southward trek was delayed, because our star, Maxwell Caulfield, was not present. A member of the production staff was to have picked him up at his lodgings, but we discovered that driver, living in Santa Cruz, had overslept and was still in his home 40 miles north of Carmel. I don’t remember whether we dispatched someone from the Crossroads to get Maxwell or whether he was given direction and drove to our meeting place, but he soon arrived and, sans the errant Santa Cruzan, the company in caravan finally took off.
Beside the lighthouse being a magnificent structure that greatly enhanced the sequence I was to film, the stairways leading to the lighthouse provided a wonderful visual setting for staging.
Once the two actors were out of their make-up chairs and into their wardrobe, filming began. By our lunch break I had the 13 set-ups I needed for the sequence, and I had a recurrence of a feeling similar to one I had had fifty-two and a half years earlier on my first day ever of filming, when on the set at MGM of DR. KILDARE — JOHNNY TEMPLE — I felt as if I had been doing it forever. As I ascended that long stairway the 26 years since I had last directed film vanished. It seemed like BLUE SKIES (that last film) had been just the day before.