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Alan Smithee, Scent of a Woman airline version Alan Smithee, Scent of a Woman airline version


Alan Smithee, the most important director in Hollywood



The question isn’t so much “Who is Alan Smithee?” but rather “Who isn’t Alan Smithee?

Smithee is, in many ways, the ultimate filmmaker—John Frankenheimer, David Lynch, Dennis Hopper, Martin Brest, and Motion Picture Academy President Arthur Hiller all in one. Though his name (which is sometimes spelled Allen Smithee) makes him out to be a gin-martini-drinking Brit with a downturned mouth and a cowlick, Smithee is actually just a pseudonym—a name adopted by directors who want to take their name off a film.

The Directors Guild of America invented Smithee in 1969, when neither Robert Totten nor Don Siegel wanted the directing credit for Death of a Gunfighter, and he’s been used as a scapegoat ever since. While legend has it that Alan Smithee is an anagram for “The Alias Men,” the DGA claims to have chosen the name because it seemed at once anonymous and uncommon.

Funnily enough, it’s no easy task becoming Alan Smithee: the DGA requires hard evidence of the bastardization of a director’s work before they’ll allow the pseudonym to be used. And the director is thereafter strongly discouraged from divulging to the press his (there seem to be no female Alan Smithees, by the way) reasons for becoming Smithee. These rules may seem exacting, but they protect the DGA from the sort of embarrassment the Writers Guild encountered when dissatisfied screenwriter Robert Towne credited his Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan script to his pooch, P.H. Vazak—who was later nominated for an Oscar. Today, over 40 years after his directorial debut, Smithee has become a fixture in Hollywood’s collective imagination.

Thunderheart an Alan Smithee film


The Work of Alan Smithee

Though Smithee has worked his magic on lots of feature and television films, we thought we’d give you a sampling of his higher-profile projects and the reasons for which he was so urgently called to duty.

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1998) Arthur Hiller (Love Story) – The film’s first director, Milcho Manchevski (Before the Rain), quit, so Hiller was signed. After disastrous test screenings, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas bypassed Hiller and cut twenty-two minutes from the film. Life imitates art.

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) Kevin Yagher (Tales From the Crypt) – Distributor Miramax insisted on cuts and reshoots right before the release, causing Yagher to quit and Miramax to hire a replacement.

The O.J. Simpson Story (1995) Jerrold Freedman (Kansas City Bomber) – Freedman removed his name when Fox cut a long, brutal scene reenacting the 1989 New Year’s Day incident in which Simpson beat his wife Nicole.

Thunderheart (TV version) (1992) – Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter) – Apted was in delicate negotiations with Native American tribes during filming. He made promises that were broken when Fox re-cut the film for TV.

Scent of a Woman (airline version) (1992) – Martin Brest (Midnight Run) When the airline version was severely cut by censors, Brest took his name off of it. And when an even shorter version was aired on TV in 1996, he did the same.

Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991) Dean Tschetter (Fright Night Part II) – Doesn’t the title say it all?

Backtrack (European version) (1989) Dennis Hopper – The shorter European release of the film was titled Catchfire and was disowned by Hopper. His original 116-minute version (which has been disowned by its star, Jodie Foster) is available on video.

Dune (TV version) (1984) David Lynch – Fifty minutes longer than the original, this version features outtakes, including one scene in which the blue is missing from the Fremen’s eyes—indicating that it was originally cut before the special effects were added.

Death of a Gunfighter (1969) Robert Totten (TV’s Mission: Impossible) and Don Siegel (Dirty Harry)
Star Richard Widmark had TV director Totten fired. Though Siegel finished filming, he felt Totten should get the directing credit—but Totten didn’t want it. The directors are jointly credited as Smithee.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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