Spiegel:
The Man Behind
The Pictures

Andrew Sinclair
(Little, Brown)
He was certainly no one you wanted to be loaning money to, or taking home to meet your sister. He came to America in the 1920s, and left a trail of bad checks and lies: he fabricated the place of his birth, his family history, and his education. If he loved you, he could be kind but, at the same time, smothering. If he hated you, he was merciless.

Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954, he went on and on about "On the Waterfront" and "The African Queen," ignoring the earlier failed film on Dame Nellie Melba. Tiring of this, a Hollywood agent Kurt Frings shouted to a waiter, "Bring me some burnt toast! Melba!"

"The Bridge on the River Kwai" was shot in Ceylon because the real River Kwai was but a trickle. When reproached for building a railway bridge for $250,000 only to destroy it in half a minute, Spiegel said:

    the bridge acquires meaning only when it is destroyed. So you build the bridge to illustrate your point. The question of a quarter of a million dollars is only a number on your cost sheet.

His rages were the stuff of legend. He told Peter O'Toole that he would never be allowed to work for him, ever again, because during a screen test, O'Toole turned to face the camera and ad libbed, "It's all right, Mrs. Spiegel, your son will never play the violin again." (The producer could forgive when he had no choice: O'Toole ended up starring in the immensely successful "Lawrence of Arabia.")

"To be spiegeled" could mean many things, good or bad. Often it meant getting stuck with the check. When he was buying up the rights to Lawrence of Arabia,

    His opponents had been spiegeled, but not impoverished. As one of the paid biographers said to Spiegel, "I am glad that my hands are clean, but not empty."

Those who hung around him had to also hang around a great number of lovely young ladies who would work the casting couch each afternoon. One of these was Marilyn Monroe. (John Houston's wife met her and described her as "one more little blonde with the preferred size tits and a funny walk.")

Someone once asked O'Toole how Spiegel would perish. He said, "Spiegel will die in two inches of bathwater." He wasn't far from wrong --- the mogul collapsed in 1985, on New Year's Eve, from a heart attack, falling into the bath in his hotel room. Sinclair reports that

    Peter Ustinov was present while a young American doctor tried to revive the dead Spiegel by pummeling his great chest. "Give him the kiss of life," the doctor urged Ustinov, who demurred from doing the useless act. "Alive or dead," Ustinov said, "I would not kiss Sam Spiegel."

Critics have praised Spiegel but none of them have rightly proclaimed the breathtaking, garishly funny writing style of Andrew Sinclair (who has also written biographies of John Ford and Jack London.)

--- Ralph Doister


Rhinos:
Endangered Species
Malcolm Penny
(Facts on File)

Sometimes we think if they don't stop bitching about Endangered Species, we might become one ourselves. I mean, we might be able to work up a bit of passion for a couple of snail darters, or --- at the very least --- the least tern. But ungulate Black Rhinoceroses! My foot!

According to our Old & Reliable Etymologist (the Rev. W. W. Skeat), "rhinoceros" comes from the Greek word rhinokeros that means "nose-horn." Could you truly love a giant nose-horn --- much less weep over its demise? Be honest, now.

Your average black rhino weighs in at 8,000 pounds, belches and farts almost constantly, marks its territory by spreading its dung hither and yon, sprays its urine behind it like Black Flag insect repellent, and spends a full hour a day --- for two or three weeks --- in congress. And we ain't talkin' House of Representatives (with its own peculiar brand of very non-endangered rhinos).

The only one of the five rhino species we could get even a bit excited over would have to be the Sumatran Rhino. A little thing, cuter than a bug's ear, it weighs in at no more than 2,200 pounds. It has fur, little shaggy jowls, and a mouth good enough to kiss, if you are into bussing rhinos.

Still, as Pogo says --- we've been able to keep our passion for rhinos (black, white, Sumatran, one-horned, and Javan) well under control.


--- R. R. Doister
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