BetteBack September 28, 1981: Knives Come Out On “Jinxed” Set

Winnipeg Free Press
September 28, 1981


HOLLYWOOD — Making movies on location is often rife with its own drama. Tension and conflict can abound, brought on by explosive combinations of egos and multimillion-dollar budgets.

Tempers flare then simmer, established careers are on the line, new ones are being built, big money and the potential of bigger payoffs are at stake, gossip is rampant.

Take, for instance, the movie Jinxed.

D Bette Midler had finished shooting her latest picture and was off on a vacation cruise to Alaska. She had left behind an emotional whirlwind.

D Director Don Siegel said, “This wasn’t one of my happiest films … In her mind she thinks she’s a much better director than I am.”

D Co-star Ken Wahl said, “It’s been miserable with her and took all my concentration to get up and go to work in the morning.”

D Producer Herb Jaffe, when asked if he would ever get involved in a film with Midler again, said, “I don’t think it would work out.”

Siegel and Jaffe spoke out publicly in trade paper articles about thejr difficulties with Midler. The actress declined to talk about it, but Anthea Sylbert, vice-president of production at United Artists, rose to Midler’s defence: “The dailies (footage shot on an individual day) were consistently wonderful, and one of the people responsible for them being wonderful was Bette Midler. She is obsessed with perfection.

Some people are troubled by that, but I’ve always admired it.’Sylbert said that the Midler-Siegel personality conflict may have stemmed from a male chauvinist attitude and a generation gap — Midler is 35, Siegel 69.

“We’re talking about a director who spent most of his career dealing with men (Siegel has directed Clint Eastwood and John Wayne),” Sylbert said.

“There may have been resentment for a woman having some kind of power.”

It all started as an interesting gathering of creative talent working together on the story of a blackjack dealer in Reno (WahJ) who plots to kill a gambler (Rip Torn) with the help of the gambler’s girlfriend (Midler). The plot is reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Midler is, of course, a striking stage performer and singer whose persona as the Divine Miss M combines poignancy and panache. She earned an Academy Award nomination in 1979 for her first picture, The Rose.

It grossed $55 million in the United States, is a large seller on videocassette, the title song was No. 1 and the album was a hit.

The second movie, the 1980 filmed concert Divine Madness, has been “a little disappointing,” said Ashley Boone, vice-president of distribution and marketing for the Ladd Co, It grossed about $8.5 million domestically and overseas.

Siegel, meanwhile, is a legendary figure who was handpicked by Midler from a list of directors. He guided the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 and such films as Dirty Harry(1972) with Eastwood and The Shootist (1976) With Wayne.

He has recently recovered from a form of blood cancer and said, “Chemotherapy totally cured me. I’m in tiptop shape.”

Siegel’s old pal Sam Peckinpah, 56, the director of The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs and himself a sort of mythical cinematic luminary, joined the company late in production to oversee certain sequences. Siegel had given Peckinpah his start years ago.

Peckinpah has recuperated from heart surgery and had not directed in more than three years, the last project being the poorly received Convoy.

Now he was lined up to do another picture for Jaffe and UA, Hang Tough which is in pre-production. This was a chance for Peckinpah to work out the kinks.

Wahl is a young actor (24) who made strong impressions in The Wanderers and Fort Apache, the Bronx.

“I’m riding a wave,” he said.

Overseeing it all was Jaffe (Who’ll Stop the Rain, The Wind and the Lion). A worrier (“I just learned I had a gastric ulcer”), Jaffe was pleased production was about over. “It’s been a long journey,” he said, noting the movie would finish two days under schedule and $125,000 below its reported budget of $13,443,000.

A few days back, the mood on location seemed high, partially in anticipation of shooting a spectacular action scene (a Peckinpah forte) and partially because the long production (which began May 5 in Lake Tahoe) was drawing to a close. It had been for some an exacting ordeal. Midler was at the centre of it all.

The crew had gathered on a hot afternoon in the Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest to film the moment when an Airstream trailer attached to the rear of a pickup truck crashes over the side of a cliff into a river bed.

It was set for dusk and a couple of hours before dusk actor Wahl was resting in his dressing trailer looking forward two days to the end of production; producer Jaffe was outdoors getting his brown loafers dusty and eating a cheese sandwich and drinking from a carton of milk; directors Siegel and Peckinpah were out of sight arranging logistics for the upcoming scene that had to be done in one take.

Midler, unneeded for this day’s work, was back in Los Angeles nestled in her hillside home.

“Bette can be difficult but it’s only because she wants certain things from the project,” said a hand who had been on the production from opening day.

“At any moment her creative input is enormous. If you have someone this strong on the set, you’ll have problems.

“But she’s not a malicious or evil person. She just wants to rehearse things that one more time. That’s
Bette, a compulsive worker. It’s her talent, remember, around which the picture is made.”

Later, Siegel, in a phone conversation, would call the film the worst experience of his career. “I liked my crew very much but there were certain other people I didn’t care for,” he said.

One of those was Midler. “It’s just obvious she’s insecure,” he said. “It’s equally obvious she has great talent. But from out of that enormous insecurity she trusted no one.”

Siegel said that Midler “was 100 per cent responsible for hiring me, 100 per cent responsible for hiring Ken Wahl and 100 per cent responsible for hiring (cinematographer) Vilmos Zsigmond and she hated all three of us.

“Zsigmond is one of the world’s greatest cameramen, Ken turned in a marvellous performance and I’ve been in the business enough years to know what I’m doing.

“She honestly does think she knows more about photography than Zsigmond and has the right to tell her co-star how to act and in her mind she’s a much better director than I am.”

Siegel said United Artists backed all of Midler’s demands and tolerated her actions. “They gave her anything and everything she wanted, which made it totally difficult for me,” he said.

“(Producer) Herb Jaffe was swept aside.

“1 wasn’t totally without rebuttal, however, and didn’t always give in to her. But, boy, I found it bloody awful to work with her and never will again.”

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