Dino De Laurentiis
Dino was a real showman -- the Italian Mike Todd, only bigger. He loved film and finding people to use in film. He was the most dynamic producer I’ve ever known. He could sell one picture to three countries and three pictures to one country. He was an original. He wasn’t looking for the Academy Award; he was looking for the Bank of America award.
I met him in Rome when I was down there as an actor before I came to Paramount. He wanted me to be an actor — I forget what the picture was. He saw me at an opening. He didn’t know who I was, but his eye was always out.
I didn’t want to do it, but we became very good friends. He always lived lavishly. He had a beautiful place outside of Monte Carlo, and his offices at his studio outside of Rome were fabulous — I spent a lot of time there.
When you look back, it was terribly colorful. Compared to today, it was terribly colorful.
He also became friends with Charlie Bluhdorn [chairman of Gulf+Western, which owned Paramount]. They did a lot of co-production deals. They did Barbarella and several other films.
I worked with him a lot when I came to Paramount. I did Waterloo with him.
We were supposed to have Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, but we ended up with Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer. We bought the picture, and it opened in London and did very big business. But we didn’t buy it for France.
He said, “You should have bought it for everything.” But the truth is Wellington won for England; that’s why it was a big picture in England. In France, it was a disaster. But nothing bothered him. He was a very positive person.
For King Kong, we couldn’t find anybody to play the girl’s part. It was like four weeks before the picture was starting. He called in every model he could. Jessica Lange was sent over by Wilhelmina, the modeling agency. He tested her. We sat in the room -- Bluhdorn, myself and Dino -- and Dino said, “She is the girl who has the part.” He didn’t even know her name, but he had that good eye.
He beat me out at the time. I wanted to have Black Sunday open for Christmas, but he wanted to have King Kong. Black Sunday got great reviews, but King Kong got the great playdate and was a big hit. He did very well with King Kong.
He’d eat spaghetti for breakfast and dinner. He loved cooking. I had many spaghetti breakfasts where he lived in New York on Central Park South.
I’m a fan of his. He was a doer, not a talker. He never stopped. He won and lost, both, but he was always on the go.
-- As told to Gregg Kilday