Call it fate, call it karma, call it kismet, whatever...
Here I was, beginning production on Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon"...a year in preproduction, a budget that had ballooned to over three million dollars, the fate of Columbia Pictures at stake, with me, Capra's only choice, in the lead...
I felt up to the challenge, and as we began shooting the opening sequence, the chaotic evacuation of Baskul, I was at my very best...
...I had reached the climax of the sequence, as my character, 'Robert Conway', prepares to empty the oil drums onto the ground, then ignite the oil, to provide light for the landing aircraft that will rescue the evacuees...
...and there, atop the oil drums, sat Jack Barrymore's love-struck monkey, CLEMMIE, winking and blowing kisses at me!
I was dumbfounded, but being the consummate professional I am, I completed the scene, rescuing Clemmie in the process...
Seething, I waited until Capra called "CUT! PRINT IT!", then charged to his side!
"FRANK!" I hissed, "What is that...that MONKEY doing here?"
"Gee, Ronnie," Capra replied, calmly, "Have you got something against monkeys?"
"With THAT one I do! That...simian...has a CRUSH on me!"
Capra stared at me, a moment, then burst into laughter! Wiping his eyes, he replied, "That's a joke, right? Look, I decided the scene needed more 'color', so I put out a casting call for monkeys...Clementine aced the reading, and, honestly, has a resume as long as your arm! How many actors could do a scene like this without a rehearsal?"
"I just did," I answered, drily.
Capra patted my arm, and said, with a smile, "And you were brilliant! But I wanted a spontaneous reaction from you, something 'natural', and Clementine provided it."
"Frank," I pleaded, "that monkey is dangerous! She tried to claim I was the father of her unborn child!"
Capra stared at Clemmie, who was nonchalantly sauntering by. "She doesn't look pregnant to me, Ronald."
"That's because I held a seance, and the baby disappeared!" I blurted, then realized how ridiculous that sounded!
"Uh-huh," Capra replied, slowly. "Have you been hitting the bottle, old man? I know there's a lot of pressure being a star..."
"Look," I said, taking a deep breath, "I'm sober, and I'm not crazy...Trust me, you DON'T want Clemmie in this picture!"
Capra looked at me, all 'business'. "Do you have first choice in choosing actors, or do I?" he asked, pointedly. His tone then softened. "Tell you what...let me review the dailies, and if I don't like what I see, I'll replace her. Fair enough?"
Sighing, I nodded, and left to join the other actors, having a break.
Sitting with Edward Everett Horton, Thomas Mitchell, and Isabel Jewell, I soon discovered Clemmie beside me...and she quickly began cooing and smothering me with kisses!
"Oh, dear!" Edward said, turning beet red. "REALLY, Ronald!"
"Colman," Mitchell muttered, "You really should take her to your trailer!"
"But I'm not..." I tried to explain.
"And I thought you had to sleep with casting agents to get ahead," Jewell remarked, sarcastically. "Silly me!"
"Get AWAY from me, Clemmie!!!" I hissed. The picture of rejected love, she slipped to the floor, and, shoulders bowed, waddled away...then she quickly turned, and stuck her tongue out at me!
The rest of the day's shoot had me praying for a miracle...and later, when Capra called to ask me to join him in the editing room, I thought my prayer had been answered!
My hopes were quickly dashed...
"She's BRILLIANT!" Capra exclaimed. "Practically stole the scene from you! I've worked with them all, Colbert, Stanwyck, Jean Arthur...and Clemmie has all the makings of a big, big star!"
I sighed. "Well, at least her scene is over, and she's finished on the picture," I replied.
Capra's eyebrows raised. "Finished?" he said. "Not at all! Talent like her's, you DON'T let slip away! I'm hiring her as a consultant, and she'll be coaching Jane Wyatt for your scenes together...I may even bring her in to play the 'High Lama', if Sam Jaffe doesn't work out!"
From the hallway outside the editing room, I swear I could hear simian laughter!
Karma, I swear!
The last two weeks have been, well, ghastly!
We all knew we were in trouble when Clemmie arrived on location as Frank Capra's new 'Consultant'...
Thomas Mitchell blinked, and said, "Oh, my God, it's Monkey B. DeMille!"
Clemmie gazed at him, haughtily, and slapped her riding crop against her Jodhpurs...then she glared at me (after finding her in my trailer, I'd slept in the crew tent, which wasn't what she'd planned for the evening!)
Any hopes we had of Frank coming to his senses were quickly dashed...
...I mean, the man was totally smitten by her! Soon, everything was being run her way...
"Frank," I pleaded, "We're going to be the laughingstock of Hollywood!"
"Not as long as Gable is making 'Parnell'," Capra replied, smugly. "Look, Colman, I know that real genius makes you uncomfortable, but Clemmie has some brilliant ideas, and has guaranteed me an Oscar!"
"They don't give Oscars for the 'Best Animal Act'," I said...and was rewarded by a kick in the shin by Clemmie!
"You better wise up, friend...Clemmie tells me Jack Barrymore could replace you in a heartbeat."
"You couldn't afford the liquor bill," I replied...and was kicked in the shin, again...
Filming continued, but now with the 'Clemmie Touch'...
Clemmie had a unique way of getting her point across, as I discovered to my displeasure...
...and if I complained too much, little 'surprises' would be waiting for me, during key scenes...
Of course, Clemmie's 'interpretation' of Shangri-La differed, somewhat, from James Hilton's...
"FRANK!!! What in God's name are Polynesian dancers doing in the HIMALAYAS???"
"Isn't it brilliant? Clemmie thought we needed to 'sex things up'...We're calling them 'Conway's Lusty Brides'!"
"'CONWAY'S LUSTY BRIDES'??!!! The Hays Office will shut us down!"
"Hmmm...you may have a point...What if we change the name to 'Conway's Lusty MISTRESSES'?"
But the real low point of the production came when Capra allowed Clemmie to rewrite the dialogue...here are some 'gems'...
I was, both on-screen and off, speechless!
I asked Capra how screenwriter Robert Riskin felt about Clemmie's changes. "Oh, he says he'll sue me," Capra said, nonchalantly, "and James Hilton is threatening to blow up the set...but they just aren't as visionary as Clemmie!"
"Visionary?" I snapped. "I've seen better dialogue on public restroom walls!"
"Remember, Ronald, Jack Barrymore..."
A few days later, Capra dropped another bombshell. "Y'know, Ronald, Clemmie has had an inspiration..."
I brightened up. "She's leaving?"
Capra laughed. "No, no! She has this great idea, where there was a monkey stowaway on your plane..."
"Played by Cheetah, I assume," I replied, sarcastically.
"No, silly, by HER!"
"Yeah," he continued, "Anyway, she'd sneak in, when you visit the High Lama..."
"...and it would be revealed that she is his illegitimate daughter, conceived when a circus was lost in the Himalayas!"
"Clemmie's very good with that concept," I said, drily.
"Yeah, and it gets even better...when the old boy kicks off, SHE becomes the new High Lama, with you as her royal Consort!"
Obviously proud of himself, Frank leaned back in his chair, and asked, "What do you think?"
"I need a drink," I replied, bluntly...
I haven't seen Clemmie's script for tomorrow, but I'm hearing rumors that it will include a nude scene for Jane Wyatt!
Needless to say, both Jane and I are facing it with trepidation!
Well, the day has arrived...Jane will be performing au natural in a scene with me, and with Clemmie writing the scene, God knows what will be expected of us!
"Oh, Ronald, I'm so frightened," Jane confided to me, as we walked to Capra's trailer to get our scripts. "I'm not prudish, or anything, but my parents will be seeing the film! They already think all actors are degenerates..."
"So they've met Barrymore?" We both laughed. "Jane, darling," I continued, "Actors are no better or worse than anyone else...we are simply players, as good as the scripts and direction we're given..."
"But a MONKEY wrote this script!"
"Hmm...Maybe we should be frightened!"
We entered the trailer, to find Capra and Clemmie waiting.
"Ronald! Jane!" Frank greeted us. "Today's going to make motion picture history!"
"Frank, Jane's worried about the nude scene..."
With a smile, Frank said, reassuringly, "There's nothing to be worried about...It's going to be a closed set, today...just the essential crewmembers, and actors on call...You posted the 'NO TRESPASSING' signs, right, Clemmie?"
With total innocence, Clemmie nodded her head...
Capra continued, "I'll even tell the press we used a body double for the long shots, and that you wore a skin-colored swimsuit for the close-ups...does that put your mind at ease, Jane?"
"I...I guess so."
"Good!" Frank lit his pipe, and motioned to Clemmie. "Our little wunderkind has the revised scripts...study them, but leave them here...these are 'Top Secret'!"
For the next fifteen minutes, we studied the simian's little 'masterpiece'...then I looked at Frank, and said, "This is TRIPE!"
"What do you mean, Colman?"
"This reeks, it smells, it STINKS! Sexual innuendo is one thing, but this belongs in a men's magazine!"
Jane was beet red. "I'm practically a hooker!" she exclaimed.
Frank was silent, for a moment, then replied, slowly, "That's one interpretation...but I don't see it that way...and we're doing this MY way!"
Clearly, there was no more to be said...so we motored out to the location, to say goodbye to our careers!
The scene opened with a scratchy recording of Sophie Tucker singing "A Good Man Nowadays Is Hard to Find", playing in the backround, and a long shot of Sandra (played by Jane), emerging from a nude swim...She hears Conway's approach, on the opposite shore, and dives back into the water to surprise him...
CONWAY: Where are you, my hot-blooded little chimp? (He sees Sandra's clothing hanging off the branches) Oh, ho, so you think your young, nubile body can be hidden by the greenery! Are you hiding in the trees? Come to your caveman! (Starts examining her clothing, provocatively) Ah, the scent of a woman!
SANDRA (in water): Like my lacy little underthings? You should try them on! Better yet, come on in, the water feels so good!
CONWAY: But I don't have a swimsuit...
SANDRA: Neither do I! Will you come in, or shall I come out?
CONWAY: Come out, so that I may feast my eyes, before I ravage you!
(SANDRA climbs out of the water, and CONWAY gives a wolf whistle. She replies by beating her chest and giving an ape yell, then they fall into a passionate embrace)
CONWAY: Sandra, my simian princess, I'm mad about you! I want you to experience hot monkey love!
SANDRA: But what about your wrinkled-up, piggy wife?
CONWAY: That old battleax? Forget her! We live for now, forever, together in timeless Shangri-La!
SANDRA: Oh, Robert! Oh, Robert...I'll never look at a banana the same way again!
I suddenly realized what I was doing, and I felt ill! I shouted, "Enough of this garbage!" and walked away!
"CUT!" Capra shouted. "Colman, what is UP with you? The scene was practically in the can!"
I took a deep breath. "Frank," I said, "I'm an actor, but above everything else, I'm a gentleman. A gentleman doesn't carry on like this! Clemmie wrote this just to hear me say the words I'll NEVER say to her, and to see me do things I'll NEVER do with her!"
Frank said, quietly, "Is that all you have to say?"
"Not quite...Perhaps the day will come when actors disrobing, and performing acts of passion on camera, will become commonplace in film...I sincerely hope not, but who's to say?...but as long as there is a breath left in me, I will fight for what I believe...that you don't have to be graphic to express love, that you needn't be vulgar to convey feelings! The world needs more kindness, more magic, if you will...to me, that's what Shangri-La is all about!"
The crew burst into applause, and Jane, now robed, ran up and kissed me on the cheek!
Frank waited until the pandemonium died down, then sighed, and said, "Clemmie, call Barrymore..."
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE???"
Before us, in a fury, was Columbia boss Harry Cohn!
"I just looked at the last three weeks' dailies, and they STINK!!! I want ANSWERS!!!"
"Uh, good afternoon, Mr. Cohn! Well, uh, you see, I discovered this brilliant new scriptwriter, Clemmie..."
"You have a MONKEY writing your SCRIPT???"
"She's more than a monkey, sir, she's an amazing talent, and..."
"I am NOT putting up THREE MILLION DOLLARS of my investors' money on a STAG FILM by an APE!!!"
I have to grant Clemmie one thing...she has guts! She leapt upon Cohn's shoulder and attempted to kiss him!
"Get OFF me!" he screamed. "If I want a hairy kiss, I'll go home to my WIFE!" She quickly jumped to the ground, sulking.
"That...CREATURE...is BANNED from the lot, PERMANENTLY!!! I want EVERY FOOT of film SHE had a paw in, DESTROYED!!! Get Riskin back here, and clean up the MESS she made of the script!" He glared down at Clemmie. "What are you still DOING here?" he screamed. "GET OUT!!!"
Clemmie turned, to leave, then made a final gesture to the Columbia boss...
"CAPRA! COLMAN! You have a movie to finish!"
"Yes, SIR," we both answered.
And so "Lost Horizon", the "Lost Horizon" that would become a Classic, was made. Riskin and Capra made up, James Hilton didn't blow up the set, and Frank, himself, soon apologized to me, admitting Clemmie had 'bewitched' him. I accepted his apology, and reassured him that the ape had had that effect on many (though, thankfully, not on me!)
Don't weep too much for Clemmie...she's now co-authoring a play called "Sextet" with Mae West...God help us all, what THAT will be like!
THE RONALD COLMAN SAGA
"The Dinner Party for Erich von Stroheim"
"The Misadventures of John Barrymore's Cheeky Monkey, Clementine"
"The All-Star Surprise Party for Laine"
"The Classic Hollywood Long Beach-Catalina Yacht Race"
"The Ronald Colman Seance"
"My "Lost Horizon" Surprise!"
"A Night at the Hollywood Canteen!"
"But I Thought You Were..."
"The People vs. Ronald Colman"
"The Epic Hearst Costume Party..."
"The Monkey on Ronald Colman's Back Saga" (A 9-Part Adventure):
"A MAN, A MONKEY, the MOB, and RONALD COLMAN!" (A 5-Part Adventure):
"Introduction: Broadway, 1920..."
"Chapter 1: A LONG Memory..."
"Chapter 2: Barrymore's Reply..."
"Chapter 3: Barrymore in Cement!"
"Chapter 4: A Desert Grave..."
"SURPRISE PARTY for RONALD COLMAN!"
"The RONALD COLMAN Banner Collection"
Finally, if you'd like to 'go to the source', with over 200 photos of Ronald Colman's life and career, please visit Myspace.com/Ronald Colman...the page that started it all!