Academic journal article Post Script

Hawks on Faulkner: Excerpts from an Interview

Academic journal article Post Script

Hawks on Faulkner: Excerpts from an Interview

Article excerpt

Bruce Kawin

In Memory of Herbert Nusbaum

On May 24, 1976, I interviewed Howard Hawks at his home in Palm Springs, California. We talked for four hours; the tape recorder broke down after three. Thus I have no record of what he told me in that last hour, on and off the record, including a very important story about Orson Welles that is discussed at the end of this introduction. But I do have the record of that first three hours, in which a great man was generous with his time and spoke with an engaged seriousness about decades of work with Faulkner and other writers. There are a number of stories here that I have not found in other Hawks interviews or Faulkner biographies.

In many interviews Hawks told the same stories, whether or not they were entirely true, because they were good stories and perhaps because--as he got older--they were easy to remember and he remembered them the way he told them. I wanted to get past the stories Hawks told like a needle falling into a groove, so I cut him off when he started to talk about the dove hunt, said bright things like "Uh huh" to keep him talking in a certain direction, and brought Xeroxes of his old scripts to prompt his memory. I had copies of those scripts thanks to Herbert Nusbaum of MGM's Legal Department; he passed away during the spring of 2002, and this piece is published in his honor.

In 1977 I prepared two versions of the interview, one edited (presented here) and one complete; neither of them found a publisher. The tape was painstakingly transcribed by Aladeen Smith. The complete version is half again as long as what appears here, and it takes up and drops many stories and ideas in an order that is hard to follow. While I shortened and rearranged the material into roughly chronological order for this edited version, I did not shorten any specific discussion. And I did not clean up Hawks's language--not his swearing and not his grammar and not his calling the picture To Have and To Have Not. Much of the gist and excitement of this interview is that it is true to his voice.

This interview was essential to and partially quoted in three of my books--Faulkner and Film (Frederick Ungar, 1977), the Warner Screenplay Library edition of To Have and Have Not (University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), and Faulkner's MGM Screenplays (University of Tennessee Press, 1982). After he read Faulkner and Film in 1980, when I was researching the MGM screenplays every day at the studio, Samuel Marx took me aside and told me that Hawks had been "pulling my leg," at least in the story about the dove hunt in the Imperial Valley. A dove hunt, Sam explained, was a wild weekend with booze and women in a couple of rented bungalows in Beverly Hills.

Gable's son was not supposed to know about these weekends, Sam concluded. It seems clear that Hawks thought up the hunting-story frame to cover up the illicit element and make it possible to tell the rest of the story, the funny and revealing part, which may well have happened. Samuel Marx, author of Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-Believe Saints and A Gaudy Spree, knew everything about MGM, respected truth in writing, and had hired and fired Faulkner in the 1930s, On the other hand, there are stories that ring completely true--for example, Hawks's having read Soldiers' Pay (likely to have interested him as a story about a pilot blinded in the war) before anyone else in his circle had heard of Faulkner.

I have tried to check out every detail. To take only one paragraph on the first page, I can tell you that the "vampire story" Faulkner wrote was Dreadful Hollow (adapted by Faulkner from a vanity-press novel Hawks had bought outright in 1942--not a Faulkner original as Hawks remembers it), that the "ghost story" Faulkner wrote was War Birds (1932-33), an MGM property to which he was assigned, to which he apparently drew Hawks, and for which he wrote an almost completely original script based on his WWI stories of John and Bayard Sartoris; Faulkner's supernatural ending and ghosts-of-the-past frame were original elements not found in the Satoris stories nor in earlier writers' drafts of War Birds, and his own title for the script that may have been inspired by or figured out through an argument with Howard Hawks was A Ghost Story, and that the film Hawks and Faulkner saw cannot have been Secrets (right year, wrong genre and star) but must have been Smilin' Through (MGM, 1932, starring Norma Shearer in the doub le role of a young woman and a ghost). …

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