Unreal Characters From Real Life

In a couple of previous bloggeries, I spoke of finding ideas, and how many thousands of ideas need to be accumulated to create a story. Ideas for characters — both believable and unbelievable — can come from real life. And not necessarily your own life.

In the 1973 book Cecil B. DeMille by Charles Higham, Higham talks about DeMille’s problems with Victor Mature while filming Samson and Delilah.  DeMille, who chose Victor Mature to be Samson because of his role in Kiss of Death, was horrified when he first saw Mature at a costume test. He was badly out of condition, with fatty, flabby muscles. DeMille sent him to a gym for weeks of severe training until he lost thirty pounds. But that’s not the interesting bit.

Once shooting began that fall, Mature turned out to be even more problematica. He was a victim of numerous phobias: fear of water, fear of lions, fear of swords, and practically everything else as well. His genial, charming personality was far too weak for DeMille’s severe and stoical taste. When  Mature appeared in the battle of the jawbone in which a great wind swept through the studio, he took fright at a particularly violent, machine-made gust, and fled, hiding in terror in his dressing room. DeMille had him brought back like a naughty boy who had run away from school. He picked up his megaphone, and in a voice icy with disgust, shouted in full hearing of the immense cast and crew: “I have met a few men in my time. Soem have been afraid of heights, some have been afraid of water, some have been afraid of fire, some have been afraid of closed spaces. Some have even been afraid of open spaces — or themselves. But in all my thirty-five years of picture-making experience, Mr. Mature, I have not until now met a man who was 100 percent yellow.”

A few notes about John Wayne from the same book: John Wayne hated horses. He was a good chess player. He got straight “A”s toward the end of high school. The sand in the batch of cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater where John Wayne put his prints came from Iwo Jima. Also, John Wayne only had to read his lines one to memorize them. He was a voracious reader. 

These are the kind of ideas I like, the ones that make us think of characters in a different light: the hero who is afraid of everything; the big, physical man who is a great reader.

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