Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Only One Hollywood Film?

As an American fan of Catherine Spaak's work, one of the things that I would most like to discuss with Catherine is her time in the U.S. filming Hotel.  It seems like it would have been the realization of a life-long dream for her.  After having been inspired by seeing Gina Lollobrigida and Marilyn Monroe on-screen,  young Catherine entertained her friends by talking of being a movie star and offering to sign autographs for them.  She was so inspired by Audrey Hepburn that she named her first child Sabrina, after Hepburn's famed movie character.  Even after getting married and being pressured by the Capucci family and religious advisers to settle down, she rebelled by taking the role of Cecilia in The Empty Canvas, because she said that "This can make me an actress on an international scale."  One report in 1966 even indicated that Catherine had signed a deal with Warner Bros. for a film a year for five years.  So, all of that begs the question:  Why only one Hollywood film?

Catherine was clearly a talented actress with movie-star looks, an engaging screen presence, and proven international box office appeal. Therefore, in trying to answer the question at hand, one might initially wonder:  Did something go wrong?  Was Catherine too difficult?  As far as I have been able to ascertain, the answer to both of those questions is "No."  First, Hotel turned out to be a first-class film.  Even if it was not a huge hit, it was generally well-received by critics (as was Catherine's performance), and I would find it hard to believe that the film did not make money for Warner Bros.  Regardless, if the film was considered an "under-performer" by the studio, that could hardly be pinned on Catherine.  There were too many other well-known, key actors in the film for any significant blame to be placed on her.  I see nothing about Hotel that should or would have poisoned Catherine's U.S. box office potential.  As for working with Catherine, Variety reported that Hotel director Richard Quine hoped to have her star in his next film, describing her as a combination of Audrey Hepburn and Virna Lisi.  Clearly, he did not find her difficult to work with, and I have never read anything to indicate that anyone in Hollywood found her to be difficult.

The answer, then, is actually quite simple.  Catherine DID NOT WANT TO make any more films in Hollywood after Hotel, because she did not like living in California and working in Hollywood.  She felt lonely, working in a strange place, in a new environment (where she had to speak her lines in English for direct sound while the cameras rolled).  She was a young, strong-willed, free-spirited, European woman (toughened from being on her own at an early age) that missed her familiar surroundings and friends in Rome, was happier working in Rome, and had all the fulfillment and financial security that she desired through her work there.  Apparently, she had reached a point in her life where being "an actress on an international scale" no longer held the same appeal that it once had, assuming that meant working in Hollywood.  Furthermore, by 1968, Catherine was working with and influenced by her future husband, Johnny Dorelli.  Once she married Dorelli, who did not like for her to work so much, and had another child, Catherine was even less inclined to pursue work in Hollywood.  Finally, (though she apparently "dated" in Italy) it's interesting to me that Catherine would have been considered "man-shy" while in the U.S., since she apparently did not "date" while working on Hotel, given the fact that she technically was not divorced from Fabrizio Capucci (because of the difficult nature of divorce in Italy at that time, though some articles refer to her "divorce" rather than what I presume was considered a separation in Italy). 

What a loss for Hollywood and American film fans.  Much of Catherine's Italian work, as good as it is, has largely been inaccessible through the years to film fans who only speak English.  Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but Hotel marked a significant turning point in Catherine's film career.  In my opinion, none of Catherine's film work after Hotel was as good as her best work before Hotel.  That's not to say that she didn't do good work after Hotel or that none of the films were good, because she did, and some were.  However, I do not think that any of her films after Hotel rise to the level of being labeled as "classic Spaak."  Put another way, if I made a list of 10 Catherine Spaak movies that all retro film lovers should watch, none of her films after Hotel would make my list.

The following items support my conclusion:

1.  Perhaps the single most insightful source in support of my conclusion is Rex Reed's profile of Catherine in the June 12, 1966 N.Y. Times.  The article, called I Am - How You Say? - A Smart Kid, says in part:  

"[In reference to her first scene for Hotel, shot in New Orleans with Rod Taylor] It wasn't much of a scene, but for Catherine Spaak, it was important.  After a dozen European films and a reputation as the ye-ye queen of the Italian cinema, that simple stroll marked her first appearance before an American camera, and the girl was nervous. ... Pretty classy company for a 21-year-old girl who speaks very little English, but Catherine Spaak is holding her own ground.  Half kittycat go-go girl, half petulant defiance, she is like a sexy lollipop...The girl of the hour, but well-bred.
But the girl has a mind of her own.  'My family never sees my films, and I never see my family,' she pouts.  She left home as a sings folk songs, plays the guitar, eats fried oysters and buttermilk, hangs out in places like Rome's Piper Club and loves to shock people by saying things like, 'I acted with Bette Davis in 'The Empty Canvas.' Everyone in Rome was terrified of her.  I said only one thing to her:  'Hello.' I am afraid of no one, nothing.  The world does not frighten me.'

'I was quite afraid to come here, because I don't want them to make me over into a Hollywood star.  My character and temperament are too wild.  You can't impose things on me.  The most difficult thing is making intelligent answers.  It is harder to think in English than to talk in English.  It takes me three days to learn one line for the screen.  In Italy, while you act everyone screams at you...It drives me mad.  Here, the camera rolls and the sound track works at the same time.  You don't have to dub it all later.  In Italy, we work long hours, until people are fainting.  Americans are less explosive, more reserved, but they put me at ease.'

'Two Americans influenced my life.  Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.  The first actresses I ever saw who were beautiful and also feminine.  Most actresses are like men.  Tough.  Beautiful women in Italy are usually aggressive.  They could cut your heart out with a fork.  People call me a jet setter.  I don't want to be classified as anything, not even as an actress.  I love the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and do the twist in public bars, but I am also very serious.  I run my own life.  I've taught myself everything.  I compose my own music and make records.  I also play sluts, but please remember I once played a nun.  I'm just now reaching the point where good Italian writers make scripts for me.  I am-how you say?-a smart kid.  I let nobody know about my private life, my divorce, my little son [that's what it said, not daughter].  I have to guard myself night and day.  The American are not as bad as the paparazzi, they don't follow you into the bathroom, but they are still nosy.  I think you respect actors more in America.  In Italy, an actor is still someone you can pick up today and have recite tomorrow...Here it is more serious, I think.'

...'If I were in Rome tonight, I would take you to my favorite bar, called Purgatory, and buy you an Irish coffee.  Do you think I am - yes, I am - homesick'."

2.  An interesting article appeared in a Detroit newspaper in June of 1967.  It was called "A Lady In Show Business - Catherine Spaak" (I found it glued to the back of a press photo).  The article stated:

"Miss Catherine Spaak has just emerged from her first American movie in the high-voltage star-spangled climate of Hollywood and she is still tingling with shock.

If this is what it takes, she seems to be thinking, she may say, 'No thanks.  Arrivederci,' and return to her cozy apartment on the Piazza di Espana in Rome.

The leggy Parisian-born Belgian beauty doesn't put it so bluntly but there are glints of determination smoldering in the lustrous brown eyes when she talks about her life and her ambitions.

'I know what I want.  I want to be myself.  I don't want to be a thing that people push around and make do things I don't want to do.  I don't want to be used...I hate scandals.  I do not like bad publicity.  I do not like to go places to be seen.'

'For me being an actress is being just another woman who works.  I have the problems and dreams of a woman-that's all.  Money cannot buy anything I want.  To be happy, to be in good shape, that is all that is important'."

3.  The Warner Bros. snipe on the back of one of the promotional stills for Hotel says:

"MAN-SHY--Catherine Spaak, 21-year-old European star, proved to be man-shy, at least of Hollywood men, when she came to Warner Bros. to play in 'Hotel.' Actress didn't date during her Hollywood stay."

4.  A 1966 article in the Spanish magazine Hola! states (thanks to googletranslate):

"After her triumphs in Italian cinema, Catherine Spaak has signed a contract for her first film in America, Hotel. For the shoot, the actress has rented a house in Los Angeles, where she spends her days writing her family. Catherine, who sacrificed her marriage for fame, thanks to this agreement sees her future brighter than ever

Catherine said that she's happy with her new home, but sad not to see the city for lack of time. But, having installed a telescope in the garden, she can see it from there, and it looks wonderful. The actress believes that the most pleasant moments in her new home are those playing guitar, her only luggage on this trip."

 5.  Finally, to round things out are some telling excerpts from the pressbook for 1975's Take a Hard Ride:

Catherine is quoted as saying, "I have had the opportunity to be bigger than I am, to be more internationally known, but I have consciously stepped aside from it.  If I had set my heart on being first, I might have achieved it, but only at the expense of things far more dear to me-home and family and leisure interests.  I worked hard for ten years, film after film in Italy and France, and I saw what happens to people who become career obsessed.  Today, I have a happy marriage, children, a full life.  I like to paint and read and sing.  I'm the sort of person who likes not to work - and I'm lucky enough not to have to work all of the time.  My career takes up a third of my life; the rest is for my home and marriage and private interests."  After noting her frank acknowledgement that she did not enjoy her time in California making "Hotel,"  the pressbook quotes Catherine as saying "I am essentially a European."


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Catherine Spaak Album - U.S. Release - 1967

Here is the track list:

Side 1

1.  Mes ami, mes copains
2.  Prima di te, dopo di te
3.  L'ete dernier
4.  Noi due
5.  Riapre la scuola
6.  Ieri

Side 2

1.  Quelli della mia eta
2.  Tu ridi di me
3.  J'aime le matin
4.  Ho scherzato con il cuore
5.  Quando ti vedo
6.  Tu e io

The back cover says in part:

"The leggy, moody and starkly modern Miss Spaak has been in many French and Italian motion pictures and has created an international reputation through her many photographs in the world's leading magazines.

A complete stranger to Hollywood and the Hollywood way, she established residence in a Beverly Hills hotel and immediately became an exciting new personality.  She is a stylish dresser, has a jet set temperament and a penetrating talent as both an actress and a singer.
Catherine, who writes songs and is an accomplished guitarist, performs all the selections contained in this album in French...and seemingly manifests her total talents for your listening enjoyment."

Dischi Ricordi, Catherine's record label in Milan, Italy, had contracted with the Mira label in the U.S. in January 1966 for the release of Catherine's recordings in America.  There were plans to release a pop album and a classical album, but the pop album is the only one that was ever released (in both a Stereo and a Mono version), in March of 1967, to capitalize on the publicity for Catherine with the release of Hotel in January of that year.

Mira Records was a small label formed in 1965 and had an office at 9028 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.  If you are interested, here is a link to a nice write-up that tells more about the history of the Mira label:

Mira Records 

Generally, Catherine has a rather soft, quiet singing voice to which it is pleasant to listen, even if I don't understand the language.  She was capable of singing catchy, upbeat tunes, but her soft style, I think, was most effective delivering ballads in a haunting manner. In subsequent years, she appeared to grow more confident, or learned how to better project her voice, perhaps due to doing more stage work from the late 1960's onward.  I am not a musician, nor do I know much about her guitar-playing on these recordings, so I am not going to try to comment on her musicianship.

On Side 1, I particularly like Primo di te, dopo di te (an upbeat, catchy tune) and Noi due (more of a haunting-type ballad).  Ieri, Catherine's cover of The Beatles' Yesterday, is nice.

On Side 2,  I think that J'aime le matin and Quando ti vedo are effective ballads.  Quelli della mia eta was Catherine's first hit record and is nice. Tu e io is the only song on the album that I thought sounded weak and should not have been included.

In retrospect, my suggestion to strengthen the album would have been to replace Tu e io and another song with Non i niente (this song is PERFECT in La calda vita) and L'esercito del surf.

I do not know how the album performed in the U.S. market, but I suspect that it did not perform particularly well.  It's hard for me to envision that there was much of a market for this type of foreign language recording in the U.S. in 1967.  It would have had to have been a very niche market.  I will update this post in the future, if more information becomes available.

Here is correspondence between Dischi Ricordi and Mira, which will give you a sense of what was happening in regard to the U.S. release of Catherine's recordings.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Catherine Spaak: The Year in Review - 1966

1966 Japanese Pinup

Catherine was featured on the cover of the January 28, 1966 edition of Life:

Mademigella di maupin opened well in Italy in January or February, prompting producer Silvio Clementelli to schedule another film with Catherine (what would become Non faccio la guerra, faccio l'amore, filmed in the Fall).
  • The February 16, 1966 Variety (with a February 8, Rome date-line), has an article, "Catherine Spaak's Next."  The article says:  "Success in Italo keys of latest Catherine Spaak starrer, 'Mademoiselle de Maupin,' produced by Silvio Clementelli for Jolly Films, has prompted Clementelli to a rapid followup.  Next on Miss Spaak's slate is 'La Sirena' (The Siren), to be directed by Franco Rossi, with Clementelli producing.  It likely will be via an Italo-Yank pre-production deal which the producer is currently mulling."
In early March, Catherine vacationed with Sabrina at a resort near Turin.  This press photo is dated March 3, 1966:

Here are additional photos from that trip that ran in the March edition of Hola.

By April, Catherine had signed on for her first Hollywood film, Hotel, to be shot in New Orleans and on the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood.  Catherine arrived in America in the last week of April, and filming began in New Orleans on May 10, with a week of location shooting there, before returning to the Warner Brothers lot for the remainder of the film, which was completed by late June.  Rex Reed came to New Orleans and interviewed Catherine for a profile called "I Am - How You Say? - A Smart Kid" that ran in the N.Y. Times on June 12, 1966.  Reed described Catherine as "Half kittycat go-go girl, half petulant defiance, she is like a sexy lollipop: soft hair the color of maple syrup, man's shirt rolled up to the elbows, lavender-yellow-black op art belt, fuschia-orange-black op art hip-huggers, Indian moccasins and a man's wrist watch." While in California, Catherine lived in a rental home in the hills overlooking L.A.  Catherine also posed for photographs with John Derek while there.  I have never seen any photos attributed to that session.  I wonder whether the modeling/glamour publicity photos used by Warner Brothers for Hotel were photos taken by Derek.  By the end of June, the film was complete, and Catherine returned to Rome with Non faccio la guerra, faccio l'amore as her next scheduled project.  There was at least one report that Warner Brothers had signed Catherine to do a film a year for five years.
  • The April 6, 1966 Variety reported that Catherine had signed for Hotel with Warner Brothers.
  • The April 11, 1966 Variety reported:  "[Hotel] rolls in mid-May, with sked calling for a week of New Orleans location lensing."
  • The April 22, 1966 Variety reported:  "Catherine Spaak due from Europe Monday to check into Warner Bros. 'Hotel.'"
  • The May 6, 1966 Variety reported:  "Rod Taylor and Catherine Spaak to New Orleans tomorrow to start location filming of Warners' 'Hotel.'"
  • Several issues of Variety reported that Hotel started filming on May 10.
  • The May 27, 1966 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak, at WB for 'Hotel,' says her next pic (Italian) translates as 'How To Make A Baby,' but undoubtedly gained something in the translation."
  • The June 3, 1966 Variety reported:  "Italo 'Baby' for Spaak - Catherine Spaak, currently working in 'Hotel' at Warners, yesterday was signed for 'Do You Know How to Make a Baby?' which Franco Rossi will direct in Rome and Yugoslavia."
  • The June 6, 1966 Variety reported:  "Dick Quine clipped off an entire day's 'Hotel' lensing in one take Friday - giving the company plenty of time to ready the lavish $300,000 hotel set for a bash which intro'd fourth estaters to New Orleans' treats such as - sazeracs...Other 'Hotel' treats on hand included co-star Catherine Spaak whom Quine hopes to also star in his next.  He describes her as a combination Audrey Hepburn and Virna Lisi.  Howzat for a combination?"
  • The June 9, 1966 Variety reported:  "John Derek lensed Catherine Spaak - not for Playboy as he did ex-wife Ursula Andress - but purely portrait."
  • I have seen a press photo associated with Hotel, dated June 11, 1966, which states in the caption that Catherine Spaak "has been signed by Warner Brothers for a film a year for five years."  I have not seen that reported anywhere else.
  • The June 22, 1966 Variety reported:  "Actress Catherine Spaak, niece of former Belgian premier Paul-Henri Spaak, claims she has ties with three different countries, so she played hostess on the set of Warners' 'Hotel' last week to the consuls-general of Belgium, France, and Italy."
  • The June 28, 1966 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak back to Rome after winding part in WB's 'Hotel,' to begin Italian pic, 'Do You Enow How To Make A Baby?'"
  • The July 6, 1966 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak returned to Rome after winding role in WB's 'Hotel.'" 
Here are some pictures of Catherine at her rental home in Los Angeles (from an article in the Spanish magazine Hola):

Here is part of an article about Catherine's work in America:

Based on the above pictures, it appears that these two pictures are of Catherine while in California working:

On a personal sidenote, it's interesting to me that my future favorite actress arrived in America to make her one and only Hollywood film during the week that I was born, and within days she started filming in the same region of the U.S. in which I was born.

Weekend at Dunkirk had its U.S. premiere in New York City on May 18, 1966.

Catherine's father, Charles Spaak remarried a much younger woman in August.  Catherine did not attend the wedding, but the excuse of being in Hollywood making a film doesn't seem to hold water, based on the reporting noted above.
  • The August 22, 1966 Variety reported on the marriage of Catherine's father:   "Vet screenwriter Charles Spaak, 63, married a non-pro Janine Couet, 28. His daughter, Catherine, 21, missed the wedding since she is in Hollywood making a film."
I'm not positive, but I think that this may be a picture of the happy couple:

 By the end of the summer, Catherine appeared at the Venice Film Festival, and she spent September and October working on Non faccio la guerra, faccio l'amore along the coast of Spain and in Yugoslavia.
  • The August 31, 1966 Variety reported that Catherine was among the roster of stars scheduled to appear at the Venice Film Festival.
  • The September 14, 1966 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak working on boat for Franco Rosi and his pic, 'I Make Love, Not War'."
  • The October 5, 1966 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak, Philipe Leroy to Yugoslavia for windup work on 'I Make Love, Not War'." 
  • The November 16, 1966 Variety reported:  Frank Wolff wound feature role in 'Make Love, Not War' opposite Catherine Spaak, hiked to Nice and Madrid locations for 'Please Don't Shoot the Cannon' with Rosella Como and Gerard Landry." 
Catherine was scheduled to appear in Dino Risi's Il tigre with Vittorio Gassman, but apparently that fell through for some reason.  The film was released in 1967 with Ann-Margret as the leading lady.  Perhaps she was considered a better draw for American audiences.
  • The October 24, 1966 Variety reported:  "Tiger' Role For Spaak. Catherine Spaak has been cast in 'The Tiger,' joining Vittorio Gassman in film to be directed by Dino Risi." 
The December 21, 1966 Variety reported on going rates for actors and directors in Italy.  Catherine was reported to command $100,000 per picture (compared to Virna Lisi and Claudia Cardinale at $300,000 and Gina Lollobrigida and Monica Vitti at $200,000).  Back in 1963, press reports speculated that Catherine was fetching $250,000 per film, so I don't know if that higher amount was just press smoke or whether Catherine's rate had dropped by 1966.  It does not seem likely that her rate would have dropped that much, considering how her films had been performing, so it would seem that the $250,000 figure may have been inflated.

At some point during 1966, Ricordi released Ieri/Vent'anni o poco piu as a single.  Ieri is Catherine's version of The Beatles' Yesterday.  Here are the only images that I have been able to find for that record:

I have not been able to find out the story behind this appearance, but here is a youtube clip of Catherine performing Vent'anni o poco piu on television in 1966:

Here are some pictures/clippings for which I do not have an exact date, but they appear to be from around 1966:

Japanese clippings/pinups from 1966:

An odd poster from 1966:

Japanese clippings that look to be from around 1966:

A Japanese clipping from 1967, but the picture looks to be from 1966:

Magazines from 1966: