Friday, November 7, 2014

Nephew and filmmaker K.C. Schulberg on WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)



 Filmmaker, nephew and son of Budd and Stuart Schulberg, K.C. Schulberg talks with Justin Bozung of TV STORE ONLINE about the critically polarizing and naturalist / existential WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)


TV STORE ONLINE:  I was recently on the official website for Collier County and I found a whole slew of amazing behind-the-scenes photos from the making of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Right, yeah.  I gave them all of those for the site.  I have all of the actual stills that document the making of the film.    There was a studio photographer who took photos on the set, and then there was another photographer that was hired to document the shoot by my Dad and my Uncle Budd.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   I just read Budd Schulberg's great book from the late '50s which has not only--the script for the film--but also his account of the making-of and how through his own sort of cosmic experiences in the Everglades--he was inspired to write the film...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Doesn't that book also talk about a guy named Bud Kirk down here?

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yes, it does.   Your uncle writes about how he first met him and how Bud Kirk ended up saving your uncle in a bar fight.

Budd Schulberg and Christopher Plummer
K.C. SCHULBERG:   Right, yeah.   That really happened.   I'm friends with Bud Kirk's son all of these years later still and he has re-told me that story quite a few times, and then of course, my Uncle Budd--also liked to re-tell that story over the years as well.    My Uncle Budd certainly could take care of himself pretty well.  At a point, he had been a boxer and he certainly wasn't a push over either.  He was a big guy, well built, but he also had a life-long stutter.  He wasn't a push over by any means.   In the bar that night--this big Indian guy came up to him and starting messing with him.   He saw Budd as a outsider who was in this Everglades backwater criminal bar.    Budd said, "Why don't you just mind your own business?"   But he started to stutter as he said it.   Well, Bud Kirk was sitting near and he overheard their conversation.   He thought that my uncle was scared because he had heard him stutter.  So Bud Kirk intervened, went over to my uncle's table and told the Indian guy to go back to his table and he did so as if he was a little school boy. 

Bud Kirk was a big and rugged guy as well, he has been a fighter in his youth--and he was well-respected in the area.   Bud and my uncle started talking with one another and it turned out that Bud Kirk was actually a well-read guy who had read all of these great writers and also my uncle's work and so the two hit it off and they remained friends their entire lives.   Bud Kirk, also had been at one point in his life an Audubon warden down in The Glades, so you can see that he was quite the inspiration for the character that Christopher Plummer would eventually play in the film. 

Director Nick Ray with Cory Osceola
TV STORE ONLINE:  WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was to be part of a two-picture deal that your Dad [Stuart Schulberg] and Budd Schulberg signed with Warner Brothers....The other film was to be called EIGHTH AVENUE and both were to be directed by Nicholas Ray...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  You know I'm not sure about that.  This is the first I've heard of such.    That's interesting though.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  There was a little article that was published in Variety that announced the deal a few months before the shooting of WIND started...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Nick Ray was a wild guy, and he brought a woman with him down to Florida to shoot the movie.  She didn't help the situation.  She was a Algerian woman. She was a manic depressive and suicidal.  Everyone was drinking heavily and some people were on drugs during the shoot.  Many of the people that worked on WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES went wild.   It was hard to keep everything under control.    WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was one of the first films to cast real Native Americans in actual Native American roles in the Florida area, so the Seminoles have a favorable memory of the shooting of the film.    There had been another film shot down here prior and instead of casting any of the actual Seminoles in the movie--the producers cast Anthony Quinn as the Chief.     My dad and my uncle Budd were part of that authentic school of filmmaking.   Budd, having come off of working with Elia Kazan on ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)--he had cast real boxers and longshoreman in some the roles in that film--and he wanted to do the same with WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES as well.

The chief of the Seminoles at the time that we shot WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was a gentleman named Cory Osceola.  He played "Billy One-Arm" in the film.     I'm shooting a film down here now and because of how fondly WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES is remembered by the Seminoles--it has really helped me to get my film done.  I also have a few Seminoles cast in roles in my film as well. 

It was not easy to shoot the film here on location in Southwest  Florida in 1956.  It was done very rudimentary.   In that era, everyone drank--and everyone would retire at night to the local Rod and Gun Club to go through that days work and they'd do that through multiple bottles of Scotch.   My dad and my Uncle Budd fired Nick Ray at a certain point and my uncle had to finish directing the film himself.  If there was a deal in place for Nick Ray to direct a second film with my dad and uncle it certainly went out the window at that point.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Right.  I have to wonder why your dad and uncle hired Nick Ray in the first place to direct the film...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Well, Nick Ray was a hot director at that time.  He was known for gritty realism.  My Uncle Budd had a lot of pull at that time too because he had just had success with ON THE WATERFRONT--so you'd think that he would have wanted Kazan to direct the film....

TV STORE ONLINE:  From what I've read in the handful of Nick Ray biographies that have come out over the years--is that your dad and Budd really gave Ray every opportunity to straighten up during the shooting of the film before they were forced to fire him...

K.C. SCHULBERG:   I've seen some letters that belonged to my dad where he writes about how the film was going over-budget.   Peter Falk also confirmed that as well when I got the opportunity to work with him on another film.  WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was Peter's first movie.  He plays this kind of wild degenerate poacher with a big beard.   He told me several  stories about the shooting of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES, and about how it went over schedule.  Originally--the shoot was supposed to finish up before Christmas in 1956 and then there were problems with Nick Ray not getting along with Christopher Plummer, and then there were bad storms that damaged the sets and they had to be re-built.      When the production took a break at Christmas time, Peter, with money in his pocket went to Havana, Cuba for his vacation.   This was before the revolution had happened there.

Peter told me about how he had been there for a few days--and he was having a great time living it up and gambling.   One night, on his way home, the Batista special police picked him up and put him in jail-accusing him of being a spy for Castro.   He said, "A spy?  I'm a actor from New York. I don't even speak Spanish..."  He had grown his beard for the shooting of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES."   They were convinced that he was a spy because in Cuba at the time the only people that had a beard were the revolutionaries who were living in the hills there.    They were called "The Barbosa" or the "Bearded-Ones".  

Christopher Plummer and Peter Falk
They told him, "If you're not a spy, shave your beard!"  He said, "I can't... I'll be in trouble with my boss."  They said, "There you go.  That's because your boss is Che Guevara..."  He said, "No, my boss is Stuart Schulberg, here is his number..."   It created a sort of diplomatic incident.   My dad had to get the American Ambassador on the phone to get him out of the jail there.  He came back to the shoot in Florida with his hair intact.    The film didn't wrap until in early 1957.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've read that Christopher Plummer wasn't the first choice for the role of "Walt Murdock "...

K.C. SCHULBERG:    Right, they wanted Ben Gazzara for the part but for some reason that didn't happen and Christopher Plummer sort of came on in the last minute.   At that time, Christopher Plummer wasn't a well known actor.  He had only done a couple Shakespeare plays I believe.   

 Christopher Plummer told me when I met him how he ended up first meeting my Uncle Budd.   He was in New York and at the time he was married to Tammy Grimes and they were expecting a child.   His wife was in a prolonged labor and he went down to a bar for a drink.  Budd was there at the bar for some reason, and they met and got into a conversation about drinking and writers.   He ended up staying with Budd for hours and in the end--missed the birth of his daughter.    Budd really liked Chris, and when the thing with Ben Gazzara didn't work out--it was my uncle Budd who suggested Chris for the role of Murdock.

It's quite an odd cast for a film when you think about it...  Gypsy Rose Lee, Burl Ives, Emmett Kelly, "Two-Ton Tony Galento...."

TV STORE ONLINE:   So many critics equate the film as being an awful film, but also Nick Ray's "worst" film...I see it as being a masterpiece, of pure Budd Schulberg--and I see it as being wholly existential...

K.C. SCHULBERG:    Absolutely...It's that battle between the men.  That drunken scene between Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives is quite remarkable.   You get a pretty good sense in the scene that they have this interesting respect and affection for one another.  That was something that my Uncle Budd really liked to do in his work.    That scene reminds us why the movie was made in the first place.    Warner Brothers put that documentary pastiche sequence at the beginning of the film against everyone's wishes because they felt that no-one would understand what was going on in the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:   This is very much a naturalist film.  It's set in a historical era where art was centered in the naturalist period.   Walt Murdoch could surely be modeled after Walt Whitman...   When Murdoch first goes into The Glades he is a conservationist--when he comes out he is a poet...

K.C. SCHULBERG:   Absolutely, and even Burl Ives at the end of the film says, "I guess I never looked at The Glades in that way..."    There's that great line: "They fire their shotguns up into the face of God!"   I think Budd, just as you mentioned at the start, had a transcendent experience when he first came down here to The Glades.  I think the film is very much a part of his initial experience down here.

Information on K.C. Schulberg's film A DREAM LAST NIGHT [2014] can be found here.

Interview Conducted by: Justin Bozung
All behind-the-scenes photos from WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES shot by Joseph Steinmetz are courtesy of Florida Memory.com  Please visit the site for more behind-the-scenes photos from the shooting of the film here.