by Boots Hart, CAP

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saul David: My Father the Producer

When in the early 1990's my dad announced to me that he had no intention of going into the 21st century, that struck me strange. After all, he had made Logan's Run, the epic welcoming everyone to the 23rd century.

Right up to the moment when I started digging up clips and posters to write this, all I'd really remembered about Logan was how it had been so on the cutting edge of Special Effects (known in Hollywood abbreviationland as 'FX') - though only bits and pieces got into the movie, there was a whole effort to see maybe sections of the film could be done in holographic imagery. When dad died I found that test reel in his house. And like any dutiful daughter and handmaiden to the film industry, I delivered same to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for preservation - along with his personal copies of The Wizard of Oz and Behind the Green Door and much else.

But as I say...I'd mostly remembered Logan for its effects, it's wonderful color palate (dad was a trained artist, after all) and the Peter Ustinov character at the end of the movie. The character was that of an old man living outside the bustle and bliss of the controlled city environment, a man who though plainly freed by his exclusionary lifestyle was tinged with a haunting loneliness which...well, was very much my dad.

Strange too was how through total coincidence I ended up going to school with Ustinov's daughter Pavla for two years. No, we weren't friends. But at least we weren't enemies - and in an upper crust girl's boarding school/high school, that's saying a lot.

My thanks to Pavla, wherever she may be.

Besides Logan, dad was probably best known for Fantastic Voyage...

...the making of which was notable in my world for strange stories of effects experiments (many of which were simply total 'no go's), dad's continuing fights at the studio (particularly when over one weekend the crew from Lost in Space snuck on his brand new set to film without so much as asking 'may I?') and Raquel Welch's not infrequent visits to the house. 
Raquel was very kind to me, which in the pantheon of women in my life puts her way up near the top. When I wrote my 'early years memoir' nothing would do but to immortalize her encouraging words to me in a budding teen moment when I had just been humiliated by my parents. 

Dad really liked Raquel - and not just for the obvious. There was a begrudging respect in his voice when he talked about her at the dinner table, as if he was impressed that a woman that beautiful could also be intelligent and sensible.

Looking back, when I think of Fantastic Voyage the last thing I come to is how dad had doctors from nearby UCLA Medical Center come to the stage and 'approve' what he had built. Did it look like the real thing - the real human body? 

I gather these MDs had a great time wandering around a 'lung' which filled an entire mammoth sound stage. 'If only...' they probably said in their minds, never knowing microsurgery was soon to be in hand.

But one great truth about this movie never gets talked about - that in many ways its a tribute to my father's desperate fight to keep my sister alive. Debby had Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and from the time I was born my whole live revolved around his fight to keep her alive. That's why he knew those doctors from UCLA. 

Dad lost that fight when I was 14. He never quite got past it.


The Flint movies (there were two of them) were very fun. Dad didn't take a writing credit but he noodled with every line. As the original editor-in-chief who helped build Bantam Books, he had literature in his blood...not to mention the sharpest editing blue pencil on the block.
This being at the tail end of Studio System Hollywood, dad had a few perk cards to play. One of them allowed him to put his savvy artistic fingers (not to mention his twenty-five cents worth) into set design for the two flicks. Because of this, he had made and installed on...I think it was the first Flint set a very beautifully made reproduction of Rodan's Hand of God.
Yes, dad the artist at work.

Following the natural 'way of doing things' of the time, that statue ended up in our house after the picture was finished. I spent my early teen years dusting it once a week - and when dad passed away, that was the first thing I wrapped up ever so thoroughly to have brought to my home. 

Where yes, I continue to dust it once a week.

Dad's first picture was Von Ryan's Express...

...shades of Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Edward Mulhare and a host of talented others. Von Ryan provided me with my first trip overseas - to Rome - and four months of eating flan (otherwise known as creme caramel or caramel custard) for breakfast. Much in the famous mold of Bill Cosby's routine where he's been assigned breakfast 'dad duty' and figures 'hey, chocolate cake is made of wholesome things like eggs, milk and flour, right?', my sister made a brilliant case for 'crema caramella' (as it was known) as the perfect breakfast food, leading to Tony, a handsome, gracious and highly tolerant hotel maitre'd becoming a virtual flan pusher.

The big thing about Von Ryan was not just the elegance of its cast (it was a really good cast) or the great locations, but that 20th Century Fox needed a hit and dad supplied it, becoming - for a time - the studio 'golden boy' until his naturally rebellious nature wore that welcome out.

As I look back now, I get that Ryan was my dad's ode to his own WWII experiences, just as Flint was the embodiment of his personal alter ego - a citified, smart-ass James Bond who didn't just date all the girls but who kept a personal harem devoted only to him.

Oh, how those loyal acorns do fall close to their tree, too...

Dad made two others films, Ravagers...

... and Skullduggery...

...which few people seem to know about. Ravagers was his ode to 'what's happening to this world?' and Skullduggery a display of his endlessly restless intellectual bent - a quality I have inherited to the max, if not always to my benefit. There's a very interesting question dug into Skullduggery, namely: if you found the missing link, would it be man, and therefore entitled to the rights and privileges of humans - or would it be an animal, and therefore to be consigned to being treated as a beast or beast of burden?

There's a whole lot of personal history in that question which I won't go into here, but that would be obvious. Artists, be they writers, producers, painters, musicians - we all write from the well of personal history and internal qualm, quest, confusion or agony. That's just the way it works. If we were happy people, we probably wouldn't be artists - we'd be living in oopsie-poopsie town, USA and repainting our white picket fence once a year would be the highlight of our season.

All this brings me back to Logan's Run. Back when it was made (and dad was head of production at MGM, snarling about the insanities which come with movie studio life) I got that a good portion of Logan was about his own feelings of having been betrayed by society. When he was born, the world venerated the wisdom which only comes with age. So that's what he worked for and looked forward to - he wanted to be a venerated, wise elder in the tribe of mankind.

But somewhere along the way, the rules changed. Old and wise was out, young and naive if filled with promise came in. So if you ever see Logan, wonder not that dad made a film about everyone's life being over at thirty. Astrologically, thirty is just when we emerge from the end of the first Saturn round - the growing up cycle. Society has all sorts of markers about when we become adults: religious tradition puts this in ancient terms around age 12 (one Jupiter cycle being 11.86 years), schools and the military tend to pick 18 (one round of the societal lunar nodes being 18.6 years long) and there's the lingering but still popular notion of 21 - the first Chiron square (to its natal position) which is a clear indication that at 21 we have to figure out how to be adults whether we feel like we know how or not.

But it's really Saturn's 29.46 year-long cycle (and it's half cycle at 14.73...and it's plural cycles) which maps life's 'structure.' And that's  fitting, seeing as Saturn represents time, maturation, dedication, responsibility, earning and achievement and ultimately, the 'as far as we can go' thing. When we reach 29.46 years of age it dawns on us that we're not going to be young we marry. Or we get serious about a career. Or we settle down and buy a house. Or we do all that, plus the family thing. 

Being that dad was born in 1921, this (let's call it) thirty-year mark came in 1951, which is when my sister was born. That says so much which is so plaintive, so sad and so real about my father's life that I scarcely know how to express it. 

Released in 1976, Logan's Run was the first film to be made using Dolby Stereo and it won a bunch of awards, one of which is an interestingly odd 'goddess-robot' statue from the Science Fiction Award people which (no disrespect intended) I tend to think of as my household Buddah. What can I say...? I inherited my father's love of science-fiction and fantasy. I'm just not as good at getting business to listen to me as he was.

(Hello? Book publisher or literary agent needed for memoir and epic fantasy manuscripts. Anybody got one on tap?)

(Dad's probably chuckling. I can almost feel him patting me on my little coconut head.)

The astrological point here is that Logan's Run was made when my dad was 55 - almost at his second Saturn return. It was pretty much the culmination of his work - after that his career...and life...began a slow unraveling which ended with his death in 1996.

I hadn't looked at anything about Logan's Run in plural decades when I decided to write this piece. But as I watched the clips on youtube I was struck by how creepy the Carousel scenes actually are. When I was young, all I thought about was how cool it was to fly all those actors on wires - and how interesting it was that Stefan Wenta (former master of the Warsaw Ballet) was brought in to literally choreograph the scene.

Now all I can see is the haplessness and cruelty of any society which would throw its people away - and the sadness of the Peter Ustinov character who though freed of societal tyranny, did so at great cost to mortal self.

My dad was a very 'old style' guy who valued strong emotions over all else. He hardly was comfortable with love. From my family I learned longing, which finally blossomed not long ago when someone written about elsewhere on this blog finally took the patience of his time to gift me with the warmth of human which I finally learned to love.

The last solar return of dad's life (1995) pictures him having the exact Ascendant-Descendant line of my natal chart. Given that the Asc/Dsc is how we reach out in the world, our relationships to others and the legacy we ultimately leave, this is a perfect picture of his last-minute attempt to connect and make peace in a father/daughter relationship he had endlessly postponed and criticized relentlessly, treating the child on the other end of the stick (me) as possession, object and utterly less than perfect.

And when he reached out, I took his hand because for all the strain between us, my father had rescued me when life itself was at stake. So I would happily...if tearfully...stand with him in kind. Even if I was an 'also ran' to my sister - his pride and long-dead joy - he was someone I respected and yes, feared, but also someone I understood was someone who had undone and undermined himself.

As so many of us do, yes. At some level we are all Logan living in that city under threat of dying at thirty, we are all Logan running from vulnerability or inevitability, we are all in some way that old man living outside the knowing of anyone but ourselves.

And when any of those becomes all we are, that probably becomes our waste. So often what we really need is right there in our own back yard and yet we neglect it, throw it away or undervalue it in some misguided search for richer, newer pastures. It's so what Dorothy (of ruby slipper fame) learns at the end of The Wizard of Oz.

And maybe why dad owned a print of the film. I don't know. But it seems worth thinking about.

I miss my father. He was more than a bit of a tyrant, but I knew I loved him then and can...finally...feel myself loving him now.

So happy birthday dad. Your daughter of blood and soul and talent misses does the world, I'm sure.

Okay, so maybe not the studio heads. But the world? Yes indeed.

Or 'indeedie-do,' as you would say.


  1. Boots,

    One of your best installments and a true love letter to your Dad. Having met him only once, I can see and hear him in your writing. Your birthday tribute is thoughtful, playful and insightful into a very talented and complicated man.

    I love this particular quote from your blog so much that I am going to quote you again on my facebook page -- "At some level we are all Logan living in that city under threat of dying at thirty, we are all Logan running from vulnerability or inevitability, we are all in some way that old man living outside the knowing of anyone but ourselves."

    Well done !!


  2. Thank you, Charles -

    I'm glad you got to meet my father...just as I have been glad to share our now several decades of friendship.

    Thank you for thinking so much of my writing as to quote me - and for your appreciation of one of Hollywood's great artistic tigers.

    Grazi, indeed!

  3. This is a fragrant, lovely piece you've written here , Boots. You've sent me looking for your Dad's auto-biography "The Industry: Life in the Hollywood Fast Lane" . I'm pretty sure I still have it around here someplace , but I haven't read it in many a moon.

  4. Hi, David - thanks for the compliment. You might laugh to know that the original name of the book was supposed to be...


    Considering the moment (i.e., today and BP and the Gulf and all) ironic, right? At the time, the publisher simply said something like 'that won't fit on the book spine,' and thus it got shortened.