theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Reblogged from the original R&V site in tribute to the film critic who died last night at the age of 83.
Have a Nice Day by the writer, film critic and broadcaster Barry Norman, is a jaunty visit to Hollywood by an English television crew, and it’s witty, with enough twists and turns in the plot, and some very good gags. You don’t need to put names to faces (or, more strictly, names to names!). The characters, whether or not based on real people, are certainly joyously recognizable as types that people in the business have met, loved or loathed. It’s good fun. As, in point of fact, is Barry Norman. Why write a novel? To which the embarrassing answer was that it is one of ten that he has had published.
“This was written twenty years ago, and some PR people from the time now publish for themselves and reckoned that they wanted to re-publish books that ‘hadn’t done well as they should’. And I thought I’ve nothing to lose. Yes, I’ve written several thrillers, a futuristic piece called End Product, a lot of comedies, and in a sense, this book is part of a trilogy — I wrote one about Fleet Street, this one about television, and another which begins and ends at a cricket match. In fact, I’m thinking I might have another go — I don’t do painting and decorating, I hate gardening, and because I love the English language, if I’ve time to spare, I enjoy sitting happily at home at a typewriter, bashing out words.
“Of course I cheat. I wasn’t looking around for real-life parallels. I was happy with what I was inventing. But you use what you know to a very large extent. You can’t write in a vacuum. The book’s about a TV crew making a documentary about an old movie star, which I know about. I knew about how you go about the process very well. There’s another old boy in it called Rex Angell, who is based on George Raft and Zeppo Marx, both of whom I interviewed and both of whom were randy as hell. Men in their eighties! Zeppo said to me ‘Old men are always horny’.
“I feel comfortable with actors — I was brought up with them [his father was the film director Leslie Norman] — they were always in and out of the house. I like actors — don’t like movie stars as much. In Hollywood, they lose contact with reality so fast — they employ teams of people to tell them how wonderful they are and forget they’re employing them. In the thirties and forties, the studio contracts kept them on a tight rein, but when the studios collapsed, and the actors got real power, whoosh, the egos soared.
“I find it harder to get started on a novel than anything else — you have to get an idea, and then develop it all the way. You see Hollywood movies where the idea runs out and so they put in car crashes and explosions. And you have to find the right mood.”
Has he ever written a screenplay? “No, and I wouldn’t want to, particularly. Economically, of course, it makes much more sense — you can be paid for one that’s never made. But if you write books, you can have a row on the shelf with your name on the dustjackets, and you can think I did that — right up to where it says The End. It’s all yours. With a screenplay, you never get that — other people pick about at it. There’s great pleasure in writing fiction — it takes you off in directions you hadn’t planned.”
And when you sell the film rights to Have a Nice Day, who’s going to direct it and star in it? Who will get the mood right? “I decided watching cricket one afternoon that my hero William looked like David Gower, and when I told David, he said, ‘What happens to him, then?’ I said, ‘He ends up with the prettiest girl in the book,’ to which David said, ‘That’s all right then’. I think Ewan McGregor, he’s the right age, good-looking, and one of our very good young actors.”
And Rex Angell? “We’ve got loads of bloody good elderly actors — oh, he’s American — well, they must have them over there too. James Caan isn’t old enough, but he’s got the right attitude.” And to direct? “Needs to be a good comedy director. I’m trying to think of somebody British — Billy Wilder would have been perfect. Woody Allen!! What a script he’d produce. Yes, Woody Allen would be my ideal.
“Oh, and there’s a middle-aged producer, who’s a drunk, who oddly enough gets a burst of religion, sits there resting on an empty Bourbon bottle while guzzling another, and when the taxi driver arrives, he thinks it’s Jesus coming to collect him. You could play that, Richard. You’d be fine.”
Thanks, Barry, we’ll talk about the money later.
Richard Syms © 2004
Originally published on R&V 31-07-04
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