Experienced moviegoers know what to expect when Hollywood tries to get serious with the subject of football. In the stark, brutal, devastating opening scene, Coach Goldie Nails, who is tough as nails but has a heart of gold, prepares for State's big game against Normal by sweeping through a tap-dance routine in the campus malt shop. Everything is uphill after that. Goldie staggers out of his tap dance to make a woeful discovery. His star fullback, Crew Slammer, has been caught cheating on an exam. Goldie, of course, discovers the big, rugged, good-natured Crew has been framed and that the person who framed him—since Hollywood has always been harsh on intellectuals in football movies—is the scrawny, squeak-voiced bookworm, Fitzhugh Clarence, who is jealous over the affections of (choose one) Bonita Granville, Ann Rutherford, Priscilla Lane. Fitzhugh is soon tortured into a confession by a group of teasing coeds who play keep away with his skull cap. But it is too late. Crew Slammer, having grown despondent, has disappeared: gone back to log-rolling country. The burden of beating Normal falls directly onto the shoulders of the cocky sophomore, Brick Thompson, a triple threat who can run, pass and sing. The trouble with Brick is he has been kidnaped by gamblers. Happily, all ends well for State. With a minute to play and the score tied. Brick Thompson suddenly appears on the field, squats down, says "hup," takes the snap and, amid some mysterious film clips of Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch dashing through the San Francisco 49ers, wins the game, the girl and the last production number.
Hollywood has made this movie a lot of times, in varying forms, and called it Saturday's Hero, College Coach, The College Widow, Pigskin Parade, One Minute to Play, The Forward Pass, The Big Game, The Drop Kick, The All American, Brown of Harvard, Spirit of West Point, Harmon of Michigan, The Spirit of Stanford, Touchdown Army!, Crazylegs, Knute Rockne—All American and several other big, rugged, good-natured things. Rarely has the film intended to be humorous, but just as rarely has it ever been anything else.
The best thing about Hollywood's football movies is that with precious little aging they soon become classics of whimsy and satire on late-evening television. But it is precisely because of this unedited, if unwanted, success, that the formula may be changing. Last spring a few Hollywood types got together with the very novel idea of going straight on a football theme—not really straight, of course, but at least their movie is supposed to be funny. It would try to prove nothing more realistic than the fact that Shirley MacLaine (see cover) is as cute in football headgear and shoulder pads as she is in a harem costume and, in any case, that she is a loon.
The movie is finished now, and it must prove something. A few concrete things can be said about it. As a starter, it bears the insane title of John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! and is about Notre Dame. It has Shirley MacLaine as a cheerleader who scores a winning touchdown in a game played in the desert. It has a cast that includes Peter Ustinov as an Arab king who drives a golf cart, Richard Crenna as a lost U-2 pilot named John Goldfarb, Scott Brady as the Notre Dame coach, and 10 camels, eight harem wives, 50 tribesmen, four football officials, 20 sheiks, 36 Bedouin warriors, a black bear, four Nubian slaves, 16 musicians, seven Tangier dancers, eight cheerleaders, 22 Arabian football players, 22 Notre Dame football players, four camel riders and a monkey.
July 19, 1964
The parties responsible for bringing about this unlikely assembly are Coproducers Steve Parker, who is married to Shirley MacLaine and J. Lee Thompson, who directs Shirley MacLaine, and Screen Writer William Peter Blatty, who writes for Shirley MacLaine. The plot that brought them all together, along with the camels, harem girls and Notre Dame players, is—as one might suspect—not very firmly grounded in South Bend history. Briefly, it deals with the king of a land called Fawzia and his efforts to schedule Notre Dame for a postseason game on his own Arabic field against Fawz U.; with the efforts of a girl reporter from Strife magazine to get a dead-level story on a harem while remaining upright herself; with the efforts of a bumbling U.S. Government to see that Notre Dame both plays and loses (better for foreign relations); and with the efforts of a U-2 pilot to coach an Arabian football team that believes the best way to bat down a pass is with a rifle.
"The plot," says Blatty, "was basically inspired by Francis Gary Powers." There were a few other considerations. Shirley MacLaine wanted to do a comedy, Shirley MacLaine's husband wanted to produce one, Blatty wanted to write one and 20th Century-Fox wanted to release one. And everyone thought that it might make money. Right?
"They're playing my song," says Blatty, a dark, solemn-faced man. "We were sitting around one night at Steve and Shirley's talking about the Powers thing. I said wouldn't it be a funny movie if you like did something crazy with it. Steve said write it, he'd produce it and Shirley would play it. First, I thought make the guy Jewish and the Arabs get him. Then I'm watching one of those old football movies on TV one night and I thought make him a football coach. Being a fan of the poor L.A. Rams, I think about football a lot anyhow."
As everyone concerned might well have guessed from the start, the making of Goldfarb was destined to become an athletic event in itself. The interior scenes were routine enough, with the exception of Notre Dame's pregame meal, which involved harem girls and dancing. Then, for the game sequences, the company moved from the Fox lot to a secluded area in the Mojave Desert called Rosamond Dry Lake. Rosamond is a flat, bleak stretch of sand near Edwards Air Force Base. Twelve miles from Lancaster, Calif. and 90 miles from Los Angeles, the site was selected because it looked like Fawzia ought to look—a flimsily disguised Saudi Arabia with Peter Ustinov. And it was complete with mirages.
"Who won the regatta today?" Shirley MacLaine asked, after getting her first look at Rosamond Dry Lake. To which Richard Crenna replied, "I don't know. The flamingos obstructed my view."
Even in a football motion picture that is designed to be humorous there must be traces of realism. Therefore Fox spent $12,000 building an actual field in the middle of the desert. Workmen spread two inches of soil over the sand, then laid down six-by-eight-foot strips of Kentucky blue-grass that had been trucked in from a Tehachapi turf farm. To keep the grass alive, the studio brought in more trucks, equipped with sprinkler systems to shower 10,000 gallons of water a day on the playing field. Around the field it erected a grandstand, complete with a king's throne, ornate goalposts, minarets, a scoreboard straight out of Bagdad, a phony palace facade propped up with two-by-fours and some studio palm trees—the only trees anywhere near Rosamond Dry Lake.
"Those trees," explained Studio Publicity Man Don Prince, who wore a burnoose and identified himself to everybody as Florence of Arabia, "are the same ones we shipped to Hawaii for South Pacific so we could place them where we wanted them and not have God's palms dictate our camera angles."
The workmen and special-effects crew had one more small task to perform before Notre Dame could meet Hollywood in the Fawz Bowl. The script called for oil gushers to spout up regularly during the game. This was accomplished by having pipes laid underground from a tank to strategic locations around the handmade field. A black and greasy liquid would spray forth. The gushers did not look exactly like Spindletop, but they looked real enough and made an impressive enough mess when turned on.
With the set completed and everyone on hand—stars, extras, technicians—an outsider unused to the ways of Hollywood might with good reason have guessed that the subject was not football but war (which might have been appropriate since Director Thompson had done Guns of Navarone and Director of Photography Leon Shamroy had done—Fox should excuse the word—Cleopatra). Loosely clustered around the desert were tents, trailers, buses, tractors, trucks, cranes, camera booms, automobiles, jeeps, camels and brigades of bronzed, bemuscled young men.
If a program had been printed listing the starting lineups for the Notre Dames and the Fawzians, it would have been both impressive and funny. Notre Dame, for example, fielded a team usually consisting of Craig Chudy, 6 feet 3, 220, ex-UCLA, ex-Steeler, ex-49er but certainly not ex-tough, playing at left end: Bruce Underhill, 6 feet 2, 250, ex-UCLA, at left tackle: Kent McWhirter, 6 feet 2, 230, ex-Utah, at left guard: Robert West, 6 feet 1, 210, ex-Jones County Junior College, at center: Jim Martin, 6 feet 2, 238, ex-Notre Dame All-America, ex-Detroit Lion All-Pro, current Baltimore Colt kicking specialist, at right guard; Kent Miller, 6 feet 5, 220, ex-UCLA basketball, at right tackle: Glenn Wilder, 6 feet 1, 200, ex-USC, at right end; Jim Dawson, 6 feet 1, 200, ex-UCLA, at quarterback; Ron Brown, 6 feet, 185, ex-USC, at halfback; Jim Steffen, 6 feet, 200, ex-UCLA, current Washington Redskin, at halfback; and Jerry Okuneff, 5 feet 11, 210, ex-UCLA, at fullback.
The Fawz team had individual credentials of a more singular nature. Its lineup read Jack (Ding-a-ling) Bellin, general contractor, at left end; Sam (Muffler) Midas, garbage collector, at left tackle; Ron Dawson, actor, at left guard; Ted Grossman, policeman and comedian, at center; George Sheffield, actor, at right guard; Bill (Peanuts) Weiss, former national weight-lifting champion and stuntman, at right tackle; Irving Koszewski, former Mr. Universe runner-up, at right end; Lou Elias, stunt man, at quarterback: Guy Way, actor, at halfback; Garry Downey, actor and world traveler, at halfback; and Dick Sweet, muscleman, extra and freelance karate practitioner, at fullback.
The man responsible for, or rather, guilty of, naming the lineups was Jim Dawson, tackle and captain of UCLA's 1957 team, who was talent chief for the Oakland Raiders last year and is now a scout for the Los Angeles Rams. Dawson probably would like to become an actor. He was hired for Goldfarb as technical adviser. In that capacity he advised about the purchase of $3,000 worth of authentic Notre Dame uniforms. And being an ex-lineman, he also advised that he play in the backfield.
Not even Jim Dawson knew how much technical advising he was going to have to do, but when Director Thompson got started shooting the game scenes where Notre Dame builds a 21-16 lead, it became clear that the monkey or the bear knew as much about football as the director.
One of the first questions Thompson, a Briton who had never seen a game of American football, asked Dawson was, "Jim, exactly in what manner should the umpire toss his hanky?"
The shooting began believably enough with Notre Dame scoring a touchdown on its first play, an end run where people like Jim Martin, Craig Chudy, Jim Steffen and Glenn Wilder caught a lot of Arabs from the blind sides and took some excruciating advantage of them.
"This is really great," said Dawson later. "You get to do all kinds of things here that you never got to do enough of in college. Really cream a guy."
Somewhat ghoulishly, Dawson insisted on brief rehearsals between Notre Dame tacklers and Fawzian ballcarriers before a scene was filmed. In one particularly awesome run-through, the entire Notre Dame line got in ready position, someone pitched a ball to an unsuspecting Fawzian—"Like he's getting ready to fair catch a punt," Dawson said in a voice that was gleefully sad—and then the Notre Dame onrushers buried the Fawzians in the Kentucky bluegrass.
As the game sequences continued, the plot got crazier, the players more bewildered and Thompson paid less attention to whatever semblance of football realism there had ever been.
"This is some deal," said Martin, who fills out a uniform the way a harem girl fits into a costume she can keep in her purse. He was strolling back to the sideline after a take. "Did you see what that silly script had us do? We're on the one-yard line and they had me kick a field goal. Top of that, Thompson lets the Fawzies climb up on their shoulders and block it! Some football."
Another time, Fawz kicked off to Notre Dame, and Thompson promptly gave the ball to Fawz. Dawson objected. He explained the rules. Thompson calmly listened and then said, "Well, that's a horrid rule."
Off to one side, Blatty, the writer, said, "Jim doesn't understand that it'll all come out O.K. in the editing. Anyhow, maybe the secret to making a funny movie about football is to have a director who doesn't know a thing about the game. J. Lee does come up with some great ones. What's offsides? What do you mean, a quarter? What does it mean when the king says, 'Win one for the Gipper?' Why is it funny that the Fawz line is known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom? Things like that."
"It's nutty," said Jim Dawson. "That's show biz, Tootsie," said Blatty.
Thompson, a tiny lean bundle of energy in enormous dark glasses whose idea of after-work entertainment was to eat five bowls of hot sauce at a Mexican restaurant, had his own conclusions. "The only thing I've found out for myself around here about football is that a good British Rugby team could beat Notre Dame any day," he said. "People say I don't know the game. Of course I know it. Look here. The only real difference between the American game and ours is that you pass the ball forward and we pass it backward. And in that respect our game is much more artistic."
Moviemaking is a painfully tedious business, mainly because directors insist on shooting every scene from every conceivable camera angle. During the long, drowsy pauses in the desert sun the players spilled across the field in shorts to sunbathe, rolled under trailers and sound trucks to sleep or read, sat around crates and boxes to play cards and drink beer, played lazy games of touch football and sometimes, in more energetic moments, romped off across the sand in pursuit of a harem girl.
One afternoon near the completion of the picture, everyone seemed a little perkier than usual. Several busloads of people from Hollywood trade papers, agencies and newspapers roamed the premises. The men, columnists included, removed their shirts, and the women stared hypnotically at the ponderous athletes. A helicopter landed and unloaded Steve Parker, who had flown in from Tokyo. He took off his shirt. Publicity Man Don Prince drove up with a trailer full of beer. A camel groaned. And the stars wandered around like just plain folks.
Scott Brady, a husky Irishman who claimed he was a true Notre Dame fan and a former member of New York's subway alumni, playfully assembled some members of his team and said, "I only got me one rule on this squad. No beer before 10 in the morning." And he went for a beer.
Returning, Brady said, "Know my name in this movie? Clip Sakalakis. You know something else? It's easier to pronounce than Ara Parseghian."
Richard Crenna, who wore Levi's and a white T shirt that said I WILL NOT on the front, explained that he knew a lot about sports—plays golf, roots for USC, portrayed Daffy Dean in The Pride of St. Louis. A dancer named Teri or Lori or Micki or Sandi injected a note of gossip when she said, "Did you hear that Bill Eckhardt [the unit manager] fired the slaves? They wanted to take a shower."
Following the laughter, Crenna said with a twang, "I been afearin' a range war. The sheepmen tore down our fence. It don't look good at all."
Peter Ustinov wore a yellow terry-cloth robe and a large sombrero. He chatted with columnists, drew caricatures of cast members on scratch paper, talked of his favorite sport, tennis, and sports car racing, his second favorite. "I've only seen American football on television," he said. "But I have the feeling it isn't as rugged a sport as Rugby. They don't wear so much protective padding in the British Isles. In fact, I believe they've discovered it's one way to hold down the population."
Presently the population on the sidelines was increased by the appearance of a slow-moving, shapely female figure in snug dungarees, coolie hat, yellow silk blouse, sandals, sunglasses and beer can.
As the young woman approached, a prostrate Notre Dame player held up his hand from the grass and said, "May I?"
"May you what?"
"Kiss you, of course," said the player.
"Have you got that much time?" said Shirley MacLaine, gliding past to take up residence in a patch of shade by a trailer.
There, she flopped down and talked with a stand-in, showing as much interest as she did when talking to an important, shirtless columnist about a variety of subjects that included Vietnam, football, travel, booze, politics, Mexican food, Barbra Streisand, the ballet and herself.
For one of Hollywood's superstars, Shirley MacLaine seemed to be a refreshing betrayal of the Sunset Boulevard legends. Around her there were no ego builders, pamperers or flunkeys, and she fetched her own beer. She was unashamed to expose herself without makeup, thereby revealing some freckles. "I'm just thankful I'm photogenic," she said, licking her upper lip, which she is fond of doing.
Being a star, Shirley did not have to stay in a motel in Lancaster during the last days of Goldfarb. The studio would gladly have transported her to and from the desert if she had wanted to stay home in Encino, a suburb of L.A. "Being on time and getting a movie over with is part of being a pro," she said. "Besides, I got other things to do, like travel." Shirley therefore chose to stay in Lancaster at The Desert Inn and to do her relaxing in the motel bar—The Rogue Room—before strangers who may have been startled by her language, which was correctly described by The New York Times not long ago as briny.
Now in the shade of the trailer, preparing for makeup and wardrobe and watching the workmen build a track down the middle of the field for a camera truck, Shirley was just as lively as she was in The Rogue Room in the evenings, where her conversation had taken care of just about every ill known to man, including The Desert Inn's habit of serving orange sherbet on the same plate with steak and onion rings.
"Sure I know a lot about football," she said. "I was a damn cheerleader in high school [Washington-Lee in Arlington, Va.] for three years. That was a big deal, too." Licking her lip and considering the crucial scene she was about to do, she smiled. "What a movie. A dumb broad runs through the whole Notre Dame team."
While Shirley disappeared to put on her Fawzian football gear, which consisted of a helmet emblazoned with dancing girls, low-quarter football shoes, shoulder pads (size large) and a long red robe, the Notre Dame and Arab players began rehearsing their parts on the field. They threw side body blocks, leg whips and two-on-ones. They did roll-unders. They practiced diving headlong through the air and stumbling in pursuit of a ballcarrier that they dared not bruise.
Soon Thompson, by now recovered from his hot sauce of the night before, announced that he was ready for the big run. At this point Choreographer Paul Godkin, wearing a flowered sports shirt, bathing suit and white moccasins, called for all of the harem girls, cheerleaders, drum majorettes and tumblers to move across the field and get ready to supply the background noise and action for the scene. Three girls sleepily got up off the grass and carried their beer cans with them toward the grandstand.
Thompson said, "Now I want broad cheering [and some of the broads were certainly worth cheering] for this shot as Shirley makes her...uh...her touchright."
There was a small conference on the field involving Thompson, Director of Photography Shamroy, Dawson and a young man clad only in a bathing suit. He was Loren James, Shirley's stunt double. Quickly, the players took their positions, and James ran through the scene, helping Shamroy and Thompson spot the best angles for cutbacks and missed tackles. Shirley arrived with a pink face, red lips, eyelashes as long as any of the camels' and fingernails like Fawzian scimitars. She followed her double through the run, trotting, while Dawson shouted at the Notre Dame defenders to fall down, stumble and collide. Scott Brady came up and told Shirley, "If you make this touchdown. Baby, you'll be awarded the game ball."
It was never made clear whether the run was being made on a punt, kickoff or direct pass from the center. But that is incidental. Shirley stood on her own goal, somebody gave her a ball, the players scattered everywhere and she started running.
"Yeeeii!" said Shirley, as Glenn Wilder dived past her, crumpling to earth.
"Whoops!" she said, as Craig Chudy rolled under her, forcing her to take a slight hurdle.
"Oh, God!" she yelled, as Jim Martin thundered past, carefully stumbling and outgroaning a camel.
All over the field for the full 100 yards, on camera and off, Arabs and Fighting Irish barged together, and Shirley emerged into the clear to sprint the last few yards.
"Great," said Director Thompson. "Now we'll do it again." And again. And again. With each take, Halfback MacLaine's broken-field ability got better and Halfback MacLaine got braver.
"Come at me faster," she told Dawson. "I coulda outrun you easy that last time."
To the hulking Martin, she shouted, "Make it scary!"
If Shirley had been making the last few runs for Darrell Royal, the University of Texas coach could not have been more pleased. Each run grew faster, each leap over a falling tackier more aggressive, each sidestep or cutback through the green jerseys more adept. With every improvement, the Notre Dame players took more dangerous shots at the runner than before.
At the end of the sequence Shirley had run about 2,000 yards and still had not scored. That was because William Peter Blatty's script prevented it. Shirley scores the winning touchdown in Goldfarb only after Scott Brady comes off the Notre Dame bench in wretched anger and tackles her on the one-foot line. Shirley believes she has failed. But it is Brady who fails. Shirley suddenly gets blown over the goal when another Fawzian gusher comes in, courtesy of the special-effects crew, and a dye-covered double—who is hoisted by a wire, Peter Pan style—goes up and into the end zone.
But long before this finally happened, Halfback Shirley MacLaine had scored with the cast and crew, who were as amazed at her stamina as they were by her stiff-arms.
"I'll guarantee you I'll be in shape when I go to the Redskins' camp," said a puffing Jim Steffen.
"You should've had 17 years of ballet to get ready for this," said Shirley. "And a couple of Bloody Marys."
"The Rams need you," said Dawson.
"Not to put down the whole smear," said Richard Crenna, interrupting, "but the Rams could probably use all of us."
In the end there was still one thing about Goldfarb that bothered Jim Martin, the best nontackler Halfback MacLaine would ever see.
"I played four years for Notre Dame, from '46 through '49, and we never lost a game," he said. "This is the first one we ever blew." That's show biz.