Genius or bastard?

I was reading a very good article in the March issue of Vanity Fair about John Ford and the use of Monument Valley in his films by Buzz Bussinger. And learnt some things about the legend that was John Ford that I didn’t know but also on reflection didn’t seem that surprising it starts off with this descrption of him which describes his love haterelationship with his actors:

Harry Goulding saw firsthand the Jekyll and Hyde of Ford, particularly when someone made a mistake on the set or remotely questioned his authority.

His relationship with his actors, even those in the Stock Company, was a Freudian amalgam of love, loyalty, and withering laceration, often bringing out his sharpshooter’s scent for insecurity. Ford was egotistical, angry, and uncertain , and, according to Carey, nervous around women…

Then comes the killer anecdotal evidence of just how cruel he could be:

When Henry Fonda suggested to Ford that he was taking too many unnecessary liberties with the film version of Mister Roberts, in which Fonda had starred on Broadway, the director punched him in the jaw. When Ava Gardner questioned the quality of a take in Mogambo (also starring Clark Gable), Ford responded by saying, “You know so fucking much about directing. You’re a lousy actress, but now you’re a director. Well, why don’t you direct something? You go sit in my chair, and I’ll go and play your scene.” He once said of Dolores del Rio that she was comparable in beauty to Greta Garbo: “Then she opens her mouth and becomes Minnie Mouse.” He referred to Maureen O’Hara as “a greedy bitch” and even told off Helen Hayes.

It made me wonder is there a graet correlation between legend and bastard, auteur genius and control freak?  It seems to me that many great directors are, particualrly when it’s seen as such a masculine role and all the chauvinism and need to dominate that comes with that.

A viewing of BBC One’s documentary David Lean in Close-Up with Jonathan Ross  seemed to confirm this as it told of Lean’s harsh treatment towards actors such as Alec Guinness. Who on the set of Bridge Over The River Kwai he wouldn’t allow to kneel on a cushion while doing a scene even though it would be out of shot, to Lean it just wouldn’t be authentic enough if he was allowed to have comfort. While in Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor he made one of the lead actors nearly drown and caused him to get sand in his eye socket where his glass eye was.

And what about Hitchcock handcuffing Madeliene Carrol during filming of The 39 Steps or his cruel treatment of Tippi Hedren pelting live birds at her during The Birds and ensuringshe never worked in Hollywood again. Then there’s Scorese’s reputed fiery temper if things don’t go his way, according to Richard E. Grant in his excellent Withnails. While George Steven’s need to control everything meant James Dean was unable to make the improvisatons in Giant that would’ve gone a long way to developing his character.

But then there are also the guys who are geniuses and nice such as Robert Altman described as friendly, casual and unimposing in Withnails. Howard Hawks also seemed a nice calm and quiet man from what T’ve read. But maybe they’re the exception?  What do you guys think? Can you think of any other examples for or against?

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