1980-1988: Halfway to Hollywood Diaries

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Or just a jumble of different ideas and preconceptions? Is it comedy or adventure? Why should it have to be either?


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Wednesday, March 5th No brooding today. Up at eight. It seems one of the most hopeful transitions from white to black power. Thursday, March 6th Rain, most of the day. Neil [Innes] is staying there. He looks cheery and already his new life in the Suffolk countryside seems to have made him physically different.

As though the land has moulded our ex-Lewisham lad. His hair, arranged in a neat coronal around his bald pate, is much fuller and frizzier than I remember before. He looks…He looks rather like a Hulme Beaman1 creation. Terry J looks tired and harassed and throughout the day there are odd phone calls for him which give one the feeling that his life is a box which is far too full. Eric is being very friendly, warm and accommodating. GC is as avuncular and benign as ever.

And arrives easily last. Eric is trying to get GC to stop smoking his pipe so much. JC reads out an outrageously funny schoolmaster sex demonstration sketch. Eric has a chilling ending for the film, when the outbreak of nuclear war is announced. Friday, March 7th Tried to write a startlingly new and original, brilliantly funny and thought-provoking piece for Python. Did this by staring out of the window, playing with paper clips and shutting my eyes for long periods.

Monday, March 10th Pressing on. Endless days of writing.

They seem to have been going on forever and are stretching on forever. Not that I mind that much. I quite enjoy not having to drive across London, not having to go down rain-spattered motorways to locations, not having to make meetings and business lunches, not going out to dinners or buying clothes.

Paramount have agreed a distribution deal with Denis in the US and are seeing it as a new Wizard of Oz! However, they are very keen to get the hottest name in Hollywood — Gilda Radner — onto the credits too. She may do a great old lady, but Ruth Gordon is a great old lady, and would easily be my choice if we need names for the part. Wednesday, March 12th Schizophrenic weather. Today almost continuous rain — yesterday bright sunshine. Lists are made in the p.


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Quite good progress. Thursday, March 13th Revision of the railway script proceeds rather slowly. Also concerned about how funny to make the start. Run off my uncertainties at lunchtime.

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Back to a phone call from Denis. Saturday, March 15th: London and New York A dull morning, but no rain, fog or snow to threaten departure. Board the The pilot and co-pilot seem more anxious to ask me about Python than to tell me about Concorde, but I do ascertain that they use five tons of fuel every hour and that the fastest Atlantic crossing so far has been two hours 56 minutes. Arrive at NBC at four. Rehearse the moves cold. See Lorne,1 the cast, Belushi, who is back to do a special appearance.

Both points are understandable. After an hour of reacquainting myself with everybody and rehearsing in a darkened set, a dull, persistent headache has set in. So I take an hour off before the dress rehearsal, go back to the Berkshire Place and lie down. I have somehow to try and pace myself to perform live in front of the watching millions at what will be, for me, about 5. When The sketch went better than ever and I got a gratifying round of recognition applause when the audience saw me for the first time.

I also over-acted happily and shamelessly. John Cleese would have been proud of the way I killed the tarantula. Talk to one of the senior boys — wearing a gown. Will they still keep gowns in the comprehensive era?

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He was very well-spoken and presentable and surprised me by saying, quite undefensively, that he wanted to become an accountant. Tom is asked most of the questions. Tom answered quite unprecociously and at greater length than I expected. Mr Perry said that it was almost an accepted fact that children from Gospel Oak were more articulate than the norm. Main subject is whether or not we think J Cleese is right for the Evil Genius. Denis is keen, but both TG and I are unconvinced. Other names hang in the air. Ruth Gordon neither.

Denis is disappointed that John cannot be easily fitted in. The Light Entertainment Award is the first. Bruce Forsyth comes on to present it and does an annoyingly unnecessary and lengthy preamble, whilst Anna Ford, Edward Fox and Princess Anne watch lugubriously.

The boys come downstairs and stare at me. There were three Paramount people. A young, bright little man, with a combative heckling approach which settled down as one got to know him. He was called Jeffrey Katzenberg, was 29 years old and admitted that he was paid a lot because it was a very high-risk job — the turnover of Hollywood execs is spectacularly fast. His bluffer, less devious, funnier friend was also younger than TG or I and was called David. They joked heavily as we arrived. But these two were at pains to deny any close association with their colleagues.

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These two were interested purely in talent and were keen to know more about the Time Bandits. They particularly wanted to be reassured about the dwarves I mean, just how odd would they look? Wednesday, March 26th At my desk at 9. Leave for the airport at a quarter past three. Onto an airbus for Paris. Packed solid — must be two or three hundred people.

Most inspirational. In the air only briefly, but on the plane for over an hour. A rather dreadful evening at a Sofitel in the 15th Arrondissement. Up to a bleak room on the 16th floor of this French Holiday Inn, where we ate. No-one knew why we were here, or who all the guests were, but it turned out to be some sort of special viewing for Avis, who are renting us the cars for the three days.

Python spirit was high, despite this debacle, though, and much enjoyment was derived from trying to find how many things on the table we could assemble around John before he noticed. Huge numbers of plates, glasses, bread baskets and even an ornamental bowl of flowers were discreetly manoeuvred in front of him, but he never noticed.

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The more seriously I try to oblige, the more ridiculous the situation becomes. The interviews draw to a close by seven. Terry J and I go off to eat at La Coupole. I have ears and tail — and TJ is most impressed. We talk, for the first time, about the Time Bandits script, which TJ has half-read.

Saturday, March 29th: Paris and London Woken from a very deep sleep in the Hotel Lotti by the soft clinking of a breakfast tray. Terry had warned me that there was a man who very lasciviously enquired whether he wanted his shoes cleaned, and here he was, in my room, having caught me with literally everything, apart from my pants, down!

The door I never heard open. With virgin-like caution I extended my hand to his and he dropped two small bars of soap into it as if they were ripe grapes. Sunday, March 30th No work — for the first time in many weeks.

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The weather back in London is crisp, with high white clouds and breaks of sunshine — and the city looks a lot less grey than Paris. Gentle Sunday strolling in the heart of the city. We eat our lunch on the deckchairs, then improvise a quick game of cricket. Afterwards we drive on to the London Dungeon — William is doing the plague at school, so this can be called an educational visit.

Connery is as he seems on screen — big, physically powerful, humorous, relaxed and very attentive to women. He talks with the unaffected ease of a man who is used to having an audience.