Rarely has a remake felt more contractually obligated than the 2015 version of Poltergeist.
"You name it, I played it," said Jerry Paris. "I was the co-pilot, the best friend, the roommate, the Army buddy. In three movies, I was second banana to Bonzo the monkey. Remember Bonzo? He was the number one monkey in Hollywood, bigger even than Cheetah the Chimp, until he was killed in a tragic fire. Let's see. I was in 'Bonzo Goes to College,' and in 'Monkey Business,' and another one. 'Monkey Business,' also had Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant, but as I recall Bonzo got equal billing.
"Bonzo had a trainer who started to talk as if he were the monkey. Hell, the monkey was making the money. One day the trainer tells me I have a part in Bonzo's next picture because Bonzo likes me. Can you imagine that? Getting the part because the monkey likes you?"
After playing small and medium-sized parts in 75 movies, including good performances in "Marty" and "The Caine Mutiny," Paris signed on as Dick Van Dyke's next door neighbor on TV.
"But after a year of that," he said, "Carl Reiner suggested that he write me out of the show and I could start directing it. Which I did. Altogether, I directed 130 Van Dyke shows. And now finally I'm doing this."
Directing movies, that is. He has made three: "How Sweet It Is!," which opens the first week of August at the State Lake; "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River," the new Jerry Lewis comedy opening Friday in neighborhood theaters, and a still-unreleased Disney feature.
"At last I can paint the whole canvas." He said. "How's that for a figure of speech, eh? When I was a character actor, I was painting only one color - blue or green, as it were. Now I can work on the whole movie.
"My trouble as an actor was twofold. I was too tall, and I wasn't handsome enough. Richard Widmark wanted me, in a couple of movies, and they told him I was too tall; I'd make him look short. Widmark said what the hell, we can dig a hole. And I remember I was Robert Taylor's roommate in 'D-Day,' and I had to sit down all the time.
"Yeah. I remember the scene where I was leaving, and I was supposed to bid him goodbye. The director told me to sit on the bed.
What's this? I said. I'm leaving, and I'm sitting on the bed? The director says, give him a can of beer or something. He can be drinking a can of beer, and then we cut to him outside the door."
Paris grinned. "You, ever see a picture called 'The Flying Missile?' I was in it, and Glenn Ford starred. We were on a submarine, and I was looking out of the periscope all the time. Only it would look bad if we had to lower the periscope for Ford after I finished looking out of it. So I spent the whole picture crouched over."
Paris has gained attention recently for his leadership of a campaign against violence in movies. He took an ad in Hollywood trade papers asking his fellow directors to join in a pledge against unnecessary violence.
"The response was very encouraging," he said. "It seemed like I heard from half the industry."
By unnecessary violence, Paris said, he doesn't mean violence that is an integral part of the movie. "There have been violent pictures that were masterpieces," he said. "I think of pictures like 'Gone With the Wind,' 'Bonnie and Clyde.' 'The Battle of Algiers' and 'All Quiet on the Western Front." These pictures knew how to employ violence. I took my kid to see 'Gone With the Wind,' and the scene where the street is filled with dying soldiers, she found tremendously moving. "But then she went to see 'Point Blank' - I wouldn't have let her, but somehow she went without me realizing what kind of movie it was - and here was all this brutality, shooting, torture. What does it mean in a context like that?"
As the title suggests, "How Sweet It Is!" is not a violent picture. "It stars Debbie Reynolds and James Garner as a couple that has been married 17 years and they're still in love," Paris said. "A story like that is possible, and yet how often do you see it on the screen? I really loved directing it. I'm learning. I'm learning things every day about what you can do with a camera, how you can make a scene funny. In this one, I try to keep the camera moving a lot. I think that helps the pace and energy of the film. It's a film about real people, like the movies Frank Capra used to direct. 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' for example. You start with the people of a town - plumbers, grocers. You can recognize them as people you know. Then, gradually, the picture gets funnier than life. But still you have recognizable people."
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