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The real Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jones. The real Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jones.

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When Stars Walk Off The Set

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Joan Crawford, who starred with Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, rivaled Davis in temperament. When they were matched again in Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the stars clashed over the size of their roles, the Pepsi cooler Crawford placed on the set (Crawford’s husband was chairman of Pepsi) and the temperature of the studio’s air conditioning.

Crawford developed what her doctor said was “an upper-respiratory viral infection.” She checked into the hospital, where she would only eat meals catered by the Brown Derby.

It was “an indefinite kind of illness,” Davis later wrote, and finally she was replaced with Olivia De Havilland.

With some walk-offs, though, it was hard to tell if the actor walked away or got shoved. Rosebud was such a case. This chaotic 1974 United Artists production was one of legendary autocrat Otto Preminger’s last films. Robert Mitchum had agreed to do it on a whim, telling director Preminger, “Why not?”

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During production in Europe, however, Mitchum’s drinking and Preminger’s temper produced a series of screaming matches. The last one ended with Mitchum saying, “That’s it! That’s fine! Okay! Goodbye! Bon voyage!” Peter O’Toole finished the picture, which turned out to be a colossal flop.

When Judy Garland walked off films, it wasn’t a power play, it was emotional instability. Unwilling or unable to perform because of her drug addictions, she sabotaged her own career at MGM.

In 1948, Garland got a doctor’s note to excuse her walk-off from The Barkleys of Broadway during rehearsals: “Having to report every morning would cause such a mental disturbance within her,” her doctor wrote, that MGM should get someone else to star with Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers, maybe.

The following year, Garland gobbled so many Nembutals and amphetamines, she needed shock treatment while preparing Annie Get Your Gun. Production of the film moved at a snail’s pace because of her chronic lateness and clashes with the director, Busby Berkeley.

When the studio sent her a letter complaining about “infractions of your obligations,” she went into a rage, screaming, “Make those sons of bitches treat me like they do Greer Garson.” She went into her dressing room, and Betty Hutton wound up finishing the movie.

Marilyn Monroe, also drug dependent, made a habit of walking off. After telling husband-to-be Arthur Miller, “I can’t work this way,” she interrupted Bus Stop for two weeks of rehab, because of what the studio politely termed “viral infection, exhaustion, overwork and acute bronchitis.”

After splitting with Miller during shooting of The Misfits, Monroe took 10 days off in a Los Angeles hospital because of “acute exhaustion.” When she argued with Prince and the Showgirl costar and director Laurence Olivier, Monroe absented herself from the set for a week because of “colitis.”

As often as she indulged in tactical walk-offs, Monroe also knew how to make the strategy work. After she finished The Seven-Year Itch in 1954, she refused demands from 20th Century Fox that she make How to Be Very, Very Popular.

She left Hollywood and went to New York, where she called a press conference and announced, “I’m tired of sex roles. I’m going to broaden my scope.”

Fox, of course, put her on suspension. But when Itch opened very, very big, and Sheree North in How to Be Very, Very Popular opened very, very small, the studio came crawling back with a new contract that gave her greater choice and more money. A few years later, the studio fired her from her never-completed last picture, Something’s Got to Give.

Money can be a handy excuse when an actor wishes to avoid making a film. In 1975, Roman Polanski thought he had Jack Nicholson’s agreement to star in Pirates. The film was set at Paramount but “they grew tired of the way Jack Nicholson kept upping his fee,” Polanski says. “The fact that we had a deal didn’t mean that negotiations were concluded.”

Nicholson’s salary demand rose from $1 million to $1.5 million while Polanski tried to shop the project to other studios. Asked what he really wanted, “Nicholson said, ‘I want more.’ ” Pirates walked the plank–though it did resurface in 1986, only to sink like a stone with Walter Matthau in the Nicholson role.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando was a two-time loser at the walk-off. Right after he made On the Waterfront, he owed Fox a picture, and the studio tried to force him into The Egyptian. He went to Hollywood for rehearsals but quickly returned to New York after arguing with director Michael Curtiz.

Fox replaced Brando with Edmund Purdom and sued him for $2 million. Under that duress, Brando agreed to play Napoleon in Desiree. Desiree was the first of Brando’s many commercial films in which he wasted his talents, but it did have the distinction of out-grossing On the Waterfront.

By 1968, Brando had made 10 consecutive flops, and the best job he could get was making Burn! for Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo. After shooting 40 takes in the blazing Colombia sun, Brando, suffering from a tropical facial rash, began accusing Pontecorvo of exploiting the natives and left for the airport. He pleaded illness.

The production shut down while the lawyers dickered. Several months later, Brando returned and finished the film, but he needn’t have bothered. When it came out, Burn! beame his 11th consecutive flop.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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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

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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.

Tragedy?
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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Features

Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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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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