PART TWO: In this 4-Part interview series actress Kim Darby talks with Justin Bozung for TV STORE ONLINE about her work in such movies as DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973), THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT (1970), THE ONE AND ONLY (1978), and THE GRISSOM GANG (1971).
TV STORE ONLINE: Can you tell me how you came to work with Robert Aldrich on THE GRISSOM GANG (1971)?
DARBY: Every actress in town had been up for it. Michelle Phillips, Barbara Hershey, and quite a few others had tested for it, but Mr. Aldrich didn't think any of them were right for "Barbara Blandish." My agent at the time, Bill Robinson, had asked me to go in and meet with Mr. Aldrich and his son [William Aldrich]. Mr. Aldrich was just the most wonderful man in the world, and it wasn't until after we had started shooting that he told me about something his son had said to him after I had left his office. He told me that his son had said, "You know Dad, I just don't think that she's right for this role." Wherein Mr. Aldrich preceded to say, "She may not be right, but she'll play the hell out of it." I really learned a lot from Mr. Aldrich during the shooting of THE GRISSOM GANG, and I think that it's a terrible picture. But working with Aldrich was the most enjoyable and funny time I ever had. There was nothing like it.
TV STORE ONLINE: I can't believe you just called THE GRISSOM GANG a terrible picture!
DARBY: Well, it's just a bit over-the-top. But Aldrich was a genius. He directed WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962), THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965). Not only was he a genius, he had his own studio. He kept feeding the same crew for almost thirty-years! His studio was the old Charlie Chaplin Studio.
TV STORE ONLINE: It's interesting that you feel that THE GRISSOM GANG is over-the-top as I've always thought that was Aldrich's intention.
DARBY: I guess that's what he intended it to be, but I think I pushed a lot in it.
TV STORE ONLINE: What kind of guy was Robert Aldrich?
DARBY: He had the best sense-of-humor. He always wore suspenders and a bow tie. He had a beautiful wife named Sibylle and she brought their Basset Hound to the set every day. He loved to drink Coca-Cola. The crew would hide it from him at the request of his wife because he would drink two or three cases of Coke every day. He was quite a large man. Sibylle adored Mr. Aldrich, and he adored her. When I first started work on the film, I went onto the sound stage and there were tables with green felt on them, the chairs had your name on the back and your script was in a leather binder. He was a class act. I also worked with Scott Wilson on THE GRISSOM GANG who is one of the greatest actors--
TV STORE ONLINE: Agreed!
DARBY: Scott is one of the kindest and sweetest gentlemen ever.
TV STORE ONLINE: He's so tender in THE GRISSOM GANG...
DARBY: That's how he is as a human being too. And so funny.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going into a scene in THE GRISSOM GANG...It's the scene that comes early in the film were Scott has your character captive and he comes into the room and offers her some cookies... Was Aldrich one for improvisation?
DARBY: Oh, yeah, he'd let you. In those first couple of scenes with Scott where my character gets angry---Mr. Aldrich had wanted more from me. I hadn't been able to connect with my anger yet at that time, so it took a lot out of me in those early scenes. I don't think my work is very good in them.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going in...Did you read the Chase book that the film was based on No Orchids For Miss Blandish?
DARBY: I didn't, and I was a wreck going into the shooting of the picture because Barbara Blandish was supposed to be glamorous.
TV STORE ONLINE: Which you pulled off well!
DARBY: Well, I had wished that I had better cleavage! (laughing) Do you remember the last scene of the picture between Scott Wilson and I in the hayloft?
TV STORE ONLINE: Of course.
DARBY: Mr. Aldrich was such a sensitive man. He shot us with two cameras for that, and in those days that just wasn't done. He did it because he knew it was a difficult scene. We had a tight medium and a close-up and he didn't want me to have to do it all over.
TV STORE ONLINE: He respected the actors.
DARBY: He did.
TV STORE ONLINE: There's something going on in the picture...Aldrich really wanted to heat it up with those 10K Arc lights--because all of you actors are sweating profusely!
DARBY: It was a huge distraction.
TV STORE ONLINE: I mean, you can feel the heat emanating off your television now if you're watching it at home on DVD! (laughing)
DARBY: Yeah. It could've been calmed down. Before we started shooting we had some rehearsals for that scene in the hayloft. And before he started rolling, Mr. Aldrich walked up to me and said, "How do you feel?" I told him that I was fine. So we did the first take and clearly he wasn't happy with what I was doing. He said, "Cut!" He walked up to me and slowly leaned in and whispered in my ear, "Kim, I don't believe you. " So we did one more take, and in the second take he believed me, and in doing that--it was the best thing that any director has ever done for me. That's the kind of man that Robert Aldrich was. Today, directors don't do that. They watch you on a monitor.
TV STORE ONLINE: In reading some of the press that you participated in at the time THE GRISSOM GANG was released... It seems like you, too, didn't feel that you were right for the part of Barbara Blandish just as Aldrich's son William felt...
DARBY: Yeah, because she was supposed to be this beautiful debutante. But I guess to Aldrich, that didn't matter. Because she didn't really have to be beautiful, she just had to be really really rich!
TV STORE ONLINE: There was the film NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH made in 1948. Barbara Blandish was played by [actress] Linden Travers in that version of the story.
DARBY: I never saw that!
TV STORE ONLINE: Some have suggested that THE GRISSOM GANG is a remake of that 1948 NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH...
DARBY: I don't think Mr. Aldrich ever even referenced the novel while we were shooting. At that time, I had thought that we were working off of an original screenplay.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did Barbara really love Slim or was it just pity because he was dim-witted?
DARBY: No, she loved him. It wasn't that she just didn't want to go home to her father. Going home, for her, was empty, awful and cruel.
TV STORE ONLINE: Was Barbara Blandish a tough character to find for you? It's a very expansive range of emotions that she has to move through..
DARBY: Mr. Aldrich wouldn't let me off the set for lunch. He made me sit there. He would buy me lunch, and it wasn't anything particularly good. He had a crew member pull a curtain around me so I couldn't see out. He was very smart and he knew how to get what he needed from you.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where do you think Barbara Blandish as a character, goes after the credits to THE GRISSOM GANG roll?
DARBY: I don't think she lives much longer. The GRISSOM GANG was a CBS picture, but Mr. Aldrich produced it through his company. So it was a Aldrich-CBS Production. But Mr. Aldrich hated CBS. I mean--hated them. He would do funny things to them. He would shoot two takes sometimes of certain scenes. He would shoot the normal take, and then he would do a take, where, if you were to watch it in the rushes you might say, "What the fuck is this?" Well, he'd do the two takes and then he would send CBS the "What the fuck is this?" take. (Laughing) Just to piss them off. He did stuff like that all the time. He was funny in that way. He was truly a joy.
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Kim Darby please visit her official website here.