In a lifetime you may know just a handful of individuals that are so unique and so incredible they remain indelible in your mind and your heart. Though I met Charles personally only on two occasions, I came to know him through many telephone conversations since 1993. When I was in Los Angeles in November of 2000 consulting with his sister, Maureen O'Hara, Charles entered while Maureen was going through a box of photos for the A & E Biography production people. Maureen retrieved a lovely picture of her and Charlie and he quipped, "For heavens sakes don't give them one with me. If I'm in it...they'll NEVER look at you!" With that remark and in true "sisterly" fashion, Maureen, obviously accustomed to his teasing, continued her search through the pictures. It's easy to see how she was able to stay grounded and makes the family joke of calling her "Maureen Sahara" (during all her desert flicks), most understandable.
DATE: 10-29-93 - 11:30 A.M.
Producer's Guild of America
Forward: Mr. FitzSimons graciously agreed to meet with me on October 29th, 1993 at his office. Mr. FitzSimons is Executive Director of the Producer's Guild, and brother of Maureen O'Hara. As a producer, Charles touched briefly on the complex movie industry to give us a bit better insight and perhaps clear up any delusions a fan or "buff" might have about the movie business. We also discussed Duke Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and one of my favorite films "The Deadly Companions"..and some other areas.
Mr. FitzSimons was an extremely articulate and knowledgeable individual. However, I feel his interview is diminished somewhat in the written word. With his classic Irish brogue, his excellent diction, and dramatic, humorous delivery, it's an interview that needs to be "heard" as well as "read."
My first question posed was about the many books written about John Ford and how some are so complicated:
Charles: So many try to analyze the professionals in the industry and there is a whole area in life that I call "movie buffism"...people who are in love with movies who think they know more about movies than people who make movies and they put all kinds of interpretations on people's work. In fact you saw the Ford Documentary and you saw a lot of the interviews with Ford on film and you saw how scathing and how cynical he was about all of this. As a matter of fact his partner, Marian C. Cooper who was the creator and producer and director of "King Kong", he used to comment that all over the world there were all of these books written by psychiatrists that were interpreting what he meant in "King Kong" and what the sexual overtones were, and he said all of these experts had written hundreds of thousands of words and he said it was all baloney; that all he was doing was making the story of beauty and the beast and that all of the things that they discovered was absolute nonsense (laughing)! So this is the true of most of the movie business. The buff or the fan,..especially the "buff"..the "fan" is different. They get a lot of self-fame, or self-induced fame on being an expert on these people. It suddenly turns - instead of it being John Ford's career, it is the brillance of this interpreter of John Ford. Beware of that!
June: I found that very disconcerting. Some I couldn't even understand.
Charles: Throw them away! Throw them away!
June: I like Lindsey Anderson's the best I think of all.
Charles: Everyone has different opinions and once somebody starts to become an expert you have to be awfully careful.
June: I'm very narrow, I like what I like..there's nothing wrong with that.
Charles: It's the only way to go. It's like the wine, - drink the wine with the flavor you like.
Here I told Charles about the 20 Maureen O'Hara fan club journals (from 1955 to 61) I acquired.
June: After reading the journals I was most impressed by the wonderful family you have. To see how much strength it must give someone in this business.
Charles: It's a typical Irish family. Irish families are very, very close and Irish people are very, very talented. There are an enormous number of Irish people in the motion picture industry. Almost an unfair quota...but Irish people tend to the dramatic arts and I think that's the reason for it. Irish families are close. It doesn't matter what one's religion is, if your born in Ireland, families are close, I mean much closer than in the United States of America and they stay close. I am very, very close to (my brother died in December) all of my sisters and very close to their spouses and their kids and you know, you create your own tribe. But that's not unique (laughing)!
June: I had planned to go to Ireland last summer but my back got worse and I was unable to do so. I did read "In the Footsteps of the Quiet Man" which did help me a little bit.
Charles: That's not bad because the guy who wrote it originally wrote an atrocious book and sent it to me and I made 9 pages of single spaced changes that I sent in the original book, so the final book is pretty good, there are one or two errors in the book in some of the photographs where he attributes names to people.
But the rest of the book is a fairly accurate description of the making of "The Quiet Man."...And very successful I understand. It's a British book....published in Scotland...it has been very successful over there.
June: I really have a lot of trouble with the Academy Awards concerning "The Quiet Man".
Charles: It won the Academy Award for Cinematography...and Ford!
June: It should have won so many more!
Charles: Oh, of course it should! but you've got to remember again, the
Academy Awards are all based on individual opinions, plus an awful lot of publicity. "The Quiet Man" did win - I think it got a nomination for Barry and McLaglen, and I think it won for one or the other of them, I can't remember. John Ford got an award for director, but the picture didn't get the award because that year there was a big circus thing, a DeMille picture.
Again, you can't go by Academy Awards, I'll give you an example. The copyright office in Washington in the last few years have been coming up with what they consider to be the 100 top American pictures and they've announced 25 every year. They've now announced 100. We here at the Guild, we have announced the first 25 that we think, and we're going to announce another 25 next March. They aren't the Academy Award winning pictures. So, with the test of time, and getting away from the popular reaction to a picture, when you go back over the history and you look at the movies and you see how they have survived and you see them in retrospect, decisions are totally different and decisions made within the industry are totally different, our decisions are all made by producers; so it is interesting to see that very often pictures have been selected that were not Academy Award winners and some have been selected that were.
Lee: Is the major consideration financial?
Charles: No!... We call it our Hall of Fame and we call it a Landmark Production. We pick out what are the Landmark productions in the motion picture industry. That goes into become a landmark, it involves everything; the story, everything. So, again, you can't go by Academy Awards.
Judy: How are the awards...
Charles: How are the awards worked out?
The Academy is divided into branches. You have an actor's branch, a director's branch, a producer's branch. The various branches nominate their own nominees and in many of the cases like best actor, best actress; also that particular branch votes who is the best. But when it comes down to the best picture, all branches vote, so you know, for instance.... if I make a picture for a major studio and the picture has been a good box office picture and the studio is anxious to push it and get some more box office out of it; they will spend a lot of money publicizing the actor or the actress and as a result of the publicity that they pour into it, that actor or actress may get a nomination for an Academy Award. Somebody else may have a picture that they are not pushing, and that hasn't been doing well and there might be a performance in it that's far superior, and that performance will be overlooked because publicity goes into it.
June: Everyone is doing a different interpretation. I saw reviews of "The Quiet Man" that the plot wasn't even right.
Charles: Some reviews said the picture was dreadful and there were some reviews that said it was wonderful. Actually, it was very good entertainment with enormous performances, wonderful work by Ford, wonderful work by Winton...it was flawed, like everything else is flawed.
June: I liked "Rio Grande."
Charles: "Rio Grande" was an interesting black and white picture; an interesting performance by Wayne. Wayne was a greatly under-estimated actor because he used to do it himself. He used to say to people, "I'm not an actor, I just react," which was baloney...he was a very very fine actor, and knew he was a very very fine (laughing) actor.
He always downplayed.
June: The chemistry he had with Maureen...
Charles: With Maureen was unique.... The chemistry was unique for two reasons; that Wayne is the "n-a-t-u-r-a-l-l-y" (and I want to use a word I don't like to use) "macho" man. In movies today you have these artificial (showing his muscles and clenching his fists) macho...they're so tough...so macho! Wayne didn't have to do that! Wayne was a big man; he was physically powerful; he had no qualms about his abilities as a man or his masculinity and it came across. He came across as a BELIEVABLE MALE!. Maureen was the female version of that. She didn't have to put on coquettish airs or she didn't have to try to be a sex pot. The same thing came through from her naturally as came through from Wayne naturally and when these two then inter-related you've got a fantastic situation, and that's why they were such an incredible team! Everything they did had that.
In real life...they were incredible friends! John Wayne used to say that Maureen was the "greatest guy" he knew. He didn't say "girl" he said "guy."
June: I read that he teased her a lot.
Charles: They teased each other a lot! They had a wonderful non-sexual male-female relationship with terrific respect for each other, wonderful sense of humor and had fun and playing games on each other and a terrific basic respect.
You know, Wayne used to go down when Charlie Blair was alive and Maureen and Charlie lived in the Virgin Islands; Wayne used to go down there to hide because that's where he could go and didn't have to put on the toupe‚ and didn't have to shave and he and Charlie Blair were great friends because Charlie Blair was again, in real life, everything that John Wayne ever played on the screen. Charlie Blair was an incredibly heroic man. So there was a great affinity between Wayne and Charlie Blair.
Charlie Blair was an incredible human being and like Wayne, he was tall, he was loose, he was attractive, he was all male and never had to try to impress you. He just sat there in the room and that was enough.
June: I saw the "All-Star Tribute to John Wayne" and the people, when she sang to him,- it was like who do you watch? Maureen and Duke, or the audience! They were so enraptured with them! I recall a quote from Duke saying he quit having any kind of a love relationship in films as he got older, and yet when Maureen came out (she must have been about 56), for them, it only got better! - it was like it was all being re-lived again. It was the most beautiful thing to see! Very nostalgic.
Charles: They were very, very close.
June: I'm surprised they didn't make more films together.
Lee: When you see your sister on the screen, can you divorce from your mind from the fact that she's your sister?... to me that would be hard to do.
Charles: No...no..you can never divorce yourself.
June: Can I talk about "Deadly Companions" for a minute?
Charles: Oh yes.
June: I have 41 of Maureen's films now...and have done a lot of montages because there is such a cross section of scenes to use. "The Deadly Companions" I acquired, and I read two of Peckinpah's books and read about the problems that supposedly occurred during the production.
It may be because I'm a bit of a feminist; I think this is a great movie!
Charles: It is a great movie...I produced it.
June: Well...you did a good job but I can't imagine!...here's a great film and it's buried somewhere?
Charles: There's a reason for that. I made the movie...first of all like the "The Quiet Man"...it's very hard to make a good movie. I tried everywhere, I first read the short treatment and I went to the agent and Marlon Brando had optioned it and I said to the agent that well if he ever drops his option, I'm interested. So the agents of the movie called and said that Brando had dropped his option and I said okay I'd like to meet the writer. So I met with Sid Fleishman and told him what I wanted to do with it, because it was only in a 30 page treatment, and he was so overwhelmed by what I want him to do that he said to his agent that he wanted me to have an option and I want him to have it free...on the condition that he will work with me on developing the screenplay. So we developed the screenplay and it's a morality play, it's not just a...the whole purpose of it is that the problem with revenge is when you catch up with...revenge is a moral problem...and that's what's the story is about that when the good man catches up with it...can he go through with revenge. and he can't!...it's the old "revenge is mine sayeth the Lord". So, it's a morality play and I tried everywhere to get this made, just like John Ford tried "The Quiet Man" everywhere, and I couldn't get it made.
So I finally said to Sid Fleishman who was a successful novelist, I said "Why don't you novelize it and with a novel I can go in because it's the insecurity in the industry"...with a novel they are able to say, "Well some editor somewhere decided this was good and published it." So with the novel I was able to raise the money independently from Path‚ Laboratories which is a lab and a group of theater owners and eventually make the movie, but I had to give the distribution of the movie domestically to Path‚ and they were not qualified to distribute it...so the picture died. You need a major...a 20th Century Fox, A Metro...a Columbia...you have to have somebody that's going to get behind the picture. Over seas it was distributed by Warner Brothers and had a better exposure but in the United States it had a very minimal exposure.
June: That's such a shame because I think it is an extraordinarily good picture.
Charles: Anybody that gets the feel of what it's about...it's an unusual film.
June: As a woman I really...
Charles: (laughing) and it's a woman's picture....and it was shot in Arizona. We shot the whole thing in and around Tucson...every bit of it. It was Peckinpah's first theatrical movie. He and I had a very bad relationship because I had no choice...I had to use him...I didn't want to use him. The first thing he wanted to do was make changes in the script which I told him was absolutely verboten...he would shoot it as it was written and then I discovered when we went on location that from my point of view he didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. He really did not understand drama...and he did not understand morality...so I had to stand behind him throughout the entire movie and I would say, "Okay, now you shot it your way...now shoot it my way!" Finally, when the picture was finished he had his right as a director to put it together his way, so when he put it together he said, "Aren't you going to leave it this way?." "Not one foot of it." When they wanted to talk to him about "The Deadly Companions" his response was, "I don't want to talk about that. The producer of that film was only interested in kicking me around."
Lee: Apparently he had a rather strong personality.
Charles: And Brian Keith and Maureen are a wonderful chemistry.
Brian Keith was the nearest thing to John Wayne that ever happened.
Brian is "wuuuunderfulll" I picked Brian because to me he was the closest thing to a John Wayne. I felt that the same strength was there without having to....and of course the other one I had in that I always thought was a great actor and yet died tragically..was Steve Cochran who played the kind of likeable villain...sexy villain. And Chill Wills was brilliant as the old crazy soldier.
Sad..I shot it...by the way...it was one of the first movies ever shot in full width Panavision. That picture was shot in an effect ratio in 2.35 in Panavision and the cinematographer was Bill Clothier who was also in my opinion one of the great cinematographers in the industry. But...you will never see it...that was the theatrical print...the television of the tape is just the cropped version of it so you're only seeing the middle of the screen...you're not seeing the scenery...was fantastic through the desert.
June: Just recently there was quite a bit of publicity about the release of "McLintock" and most of the John Wayne fans were very angry about that not being released for how many years?
Charles: It's a good lusty picture! It's fun.
June: Hey look liked they were having a helluva good time!
Charles: They were...they were having a terrific time in all the mud...
June: In my "reading" search my greatest discovery was Maureen's Broadway musical "Christine". I got a copy of that record.
Charles: Her voice is just magnificent!
Again, "Christine" is a great basic story...I would love to make a movie out of it; the original story by Pearl Buck. It's the story of a woman in middle life who is shocked to discover her teenage daughter has married and Indian doctor who is old enough to be her father and she goes to India in a fury to undo this dreadful event, and when she gets there the daughter has just died of a miscarriage. Now she really wants to kill this man and this is just ...like in the "King and I" and she gets as fascinated as her daughter did and she grows reluctantly to love this man that she has held responsible for her daughter's death and then she realizes that the doctor has got to re-marry and she realizes that just as the marriage with her daughter was wrong, a marriage with her would be wrong even though he is her age; that he should be married to somebody from India, somebody that is from his own cast, etc. And she helps with the arrangements of the arranged marriage and leaves. And it is a great love story! Make a marvelous movie!...particularly today with the ethnic thing...so the two, Fain and Webster...they wrote this marvelous score but the damned thing fell into the hands of the equivalent of a Sam Peckinpah so out on the road, you know, you take a musical out on the road to hone it...out on the road he changed it so much from what it was originally, injecting his ideas and taking out some fabulous numbers and putting in numbers that were wrong, so that by the time it hit New York it ran a week.
But there is a wonderful album of the score.
June: I found it at an out of print records store and the owner put it on a cassette for me, but he wouldn't part with the record.
I was used to hearing her sing in little bits and pieces in films like "Parent Trap", etc. but when I heard her in her professional voice..it was a total shock to me....and the Irish record. I just thought it was such a shame that she didn't go on.
Charlie: But she wanted to...it's again this industry...you must remember when she came to the United States she was a trained singer...a trained actor...a trained dancer...and they just took one look at her and said, "You're gorgeous!...Get up on the camel!"
June: The rest is history.
Charles: Every time she said, "Let me sing" she was under contract with Fox when they made "The King and I" and she should have played it. She said Please let me do the King and because she had exactly the same quality as Gertrude Lawrence who did the stage play and she could have sung the role. Instead they cast Debra Kerr (laughing) who couldn't sing and they had to have somebody dub the voice. But that's movies!
June: I always thought as I watch so many of her films (I have 41 at this point)...she simply blew everybody off the screen. She had to have someone like Fonda, or John Wayne...
Charles: Yes, she was great with a Wayne, or a Fonda, or Brian Keith.
That affected her career. There were a number of leading men that when it was proposed that Maureen would play their leading lady they backed away and said "absolutely no!" (laughing).
There were leading men which will be nameless that would not perform with her.
June: One of my favorite performances was the one she did in 1973...
Charles: "Red Pony" with Fonda
June: They were very good friends too. I always got the feeling when I saw her in Spencer's Mountain that he was very fond of her...the way he looked at her.
Charles: She and he were like she and Wayne, there was something bigger than male/female, as I said, Wayne said, "she's the greatest guy."
June: That reminds me of that line Keyes wrote for him in "The Allstar Tribute"...she's still the only one who can take me two out of three."
Charles: And it was the same with Fonda, Fonda and she were just...it's a total trust and a kind of "buddy" relationship and also as performers that unique communication that some performers get and some don't.
June: Maureen just won the British Film Institute fellowship. I actually got to tape it. I was flipping around on HBO there was a movie news blurp...and there was Clint Eastwood in a tuxedo...and they did show her getting the award.
Charles: Eastwood's a nice man, and a very talented man. There are very nice people in the industry.
June: I feel that Maureen does not get enough recognition for her contribution to the industry.
Charles: Just remember, in order to get what you would call "recognition" you have got to be willing to go out there and publicize themselves..and again our whole family is family oriented and we don't have movie people to our homes, and we don't go off to Palm Springs and we don't do any of those things. We do nothing to publicize ourselves because that's our choice and it has always been Maureen's choice. You can't imagine the number of people that call looking for interviews and the number of festivals all over the world that want her to go to their movie festivals...No...she's a private individual.
June: Well..it's a job...what's she's doing is a job.
Charles: Yes. The only time Maureen becomes involved with publicity or interviews or anything like that is in connection with the selling of a movie. In other words she feels she has a responsibility so if she makes a movie she will do an interview in connection with that movie. She will do a personal appearance in connection with that movie, but when it comes down to publicizing herself, she doesn't do this.
June: As they always say, "Get a life!" and obviously she has her own life.
Charles: That's right.
June: I think you need to respect that and I feel that even in the research I've done, I simply enjoy the films and I enjoy...
Charles: She has never looked for publicity, nor has she ever...let me tell you, in this industry if you want to be top of the heap you have either got to like publicity or you've got to submit yourself to it.
June: Do you think your philosophy...or way of life,...staying out of the public eye, etc. has that you think helped you endure better?
Charles: No...oh no....it's detrimental, but that's the way we like it. The thing that comes first is your personal life...that's number one...and your family...anything after that is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 27th. The industry is a means whereby most of the time you earn your living and on occasions it's also an opportunity to express yourself. I have produced over 300 hours of filmed entertainment. Of the 300 hours maybe 30 is stuff that I wanted to do. It's just like any other job, you get to clean sewers, you clean sewers...and you might find a sewer that has some violets growing in it.
You must remember that entertainment attracts the exhibitionists. We have talented exhibitionists and non-talented. But if you're an exhibitionist, that comes way ahead of your family, your wife, your kids, anybody because you're out there, you want to exhibit yourself, that's your drive...like being on cocaine.
June: Well, Maureen was one of John Ford's favorite actresses
Charles: She was his favorite actress...and John Wayne's
June: John Wayne's favorite actress and in several classics...it doesn't get much better than that....
Charles: The second 25 films that we (The Producer's Guild) picked out as Landmark films she starred in; one was Miracle on 34th St., one was How Green Was My Valley, and one was......(trying to recollect)....there were three...
June: The one movie that Ford made that I like much better now than I did originally. "Wings of Eagles" however...was so sad it made me cry.
June: Documentaries are coming out all the time..
Charles: Some of them are wonderful...now Marian Cooper who was John Ford's partner and the producer of "The Quiet Man" was also the creator, producer, and director of "King Kong" and when the Turner company was going to do a special issue of "King Kong" they contacted me and I must say they cooperated and they came up with an excellent documentary. They also did the same thing with "Casa Blanca" and they came up with an excellent documentary...so it can be done properly, or it can be done just to exploit the public...and the one done by Republic was just to exploit the public.
June: I see we have to get along here.
Charles: Yah...you've got to get out to Westlake.
June: I appreciate your seeing us. This has been so much fun. I found this little philosophy that said, "Do what you enjoy, and the rest will come."...and this has been to me just a great learning experience.
Charles: If you can afford to do what you enjoy, that's what you should do.
June: I love to write, and I love this era, I love the films...of the 40's, 50's, and 60's...it's been fun delving into it, it's been..
Charles: I'm glad you liked "Deadly Companions"...
June: Oh...I could stay another half-hour...
Charles: I'll tell you a funny story about that..
You remember the scene where Maureen is left with just the horse and she tries to put the bridle on the horse and the horse and horse takes off and she is dragged through the sand and the grass? Naturally I had to use a stuntman for the dragging scene, she played the whole thing and the fall...but the dragging through the brush I wasn't about to use Maureen. So...I had a stunt man dressed up in the dress and the red wig and everything else.
I was standing aside when they were lining this up to shoot in Arizona and a car drove up with two little old ladies who must have been in their 60's and they sat in the car, looked at what was going on and then one of them decided she was going to get out and she was going to walk up there. So, she got out and she walked up and looked at everything and then she came back to the car and the other woman said, "There's a whole lot of people standing around doing nothing!...You should see that Maureen O'Hara...she looks like an x-prize fighter!....but her brother is the producer and he has a young girl that does the close shots!"....She saw the stunt man!. (laughing)...
So that's the movie business.
June: Poor Maureen...no matter how much they dirty her up (like for that film) or mess up her hair...
Charles: She still looks wonderful.
June: Oh well, it's curse you have to bear.
Charles: That was one of my worries with "Only the Lonely"...was to deglamorize so that they would buy her in her 60's as the mother of John Candy, you know and not say this glamorous movie star...but it worked.
June: Well we saw her doing a pro-mo on it on the Johnny Carson show and my daughter said she looked so much different than she did in the film. She said, "Mother?....if she's 70 years old...she looks a lot better than you and your're 55?
And then there's Danny, my little 21 year old artist, when we got "McLintock" finally and he was watching it and Maureen was in a scene in the bed with Yvonne DeCarlo serving her breakfast. And he has heard all this stuff about Wayne saying Maureen was "just one of the guys" but anyway, and he was so sweet..and he said "Mother...if John Wayne thought of Maureen O'Hara as another guy...there was something really wrong with John Wayne!" I said, "Well, I least I know there's nothing wrong with you."
Charles: Another comment he had, he said to Maureen when they were both getting older, he said..."You know, you and I are like two old Rolls Royces. When they did that medal for him and she got Congress to put on the medal, "John Wayne - American".
June: It was a beautiful thing. The whole era was beautiful! I'm sorry that it's over. I would still like to see Maureen make a fabulous, fabulous, film...and knock 'um all on their ears.
Charles: So would I. We actually have some stories we would like to do but we can't always convince the town to do them or there's something...we do have some stories we would like to do.
June: John Wayne always said that people came to expect a certain thing from him and I think from Maureen.....it doesn't matter what role she plays, she brings with her this strength and reputation for vitality and they expect...when I saw the "Red Pony" and I saw her performance and I felt there was something even better...she was very good in that. Even though in "Only The Only" she said she liked to play "mean" for a change...I'd like to see her go back to doing...
When they started all this chauvinism stuff...these sensitive new age guys...I figure if O'Hara submitted in the end to John Wayne...it was her idea and when she decided when.....she was in control.
Charles: She was the original, if you want to call it "idealistic" woman's lib. She was feminine, she was attractive, she was all woman...but she was in control (laughing).
(interrupted by certified mail delivery)
June: My 21 year old son Danny, did a caricature of Forbes from "The Quiet Man" for you...
Charles: Is this a gift?
We then wound up the interview, as we had to travel to Westlake Village for the Paul Keyes interview which was at least a 40 minute drive. Since the fires were still raging on the fringe of that area, we were a bit apprehensive. We needn't have been. We arrived in ample time and found the fires to be at least 15 to 20 miles away. When we flew back to Phoenix on Saturday morning the things were supposedly calming down, only to resume with a fury in Malibu 3 or 4 days later.
My first meeting with Maureen in 1995. Charles drove to Encino,
picked up Maureen, and brought her to the airport in Burbank so I could meet her
before my flight back to Phoenix. Not many people would be quite that kind to a movie fan.