The great Clu Gulager turned 88 years-old on November 16th. In honor of that auspicious event, I chose a never-before-seen excerpt from my interview with him back in January, 1997. It took place on a frosty morning at the Farmer’s Market and he could not have been nicer nor more forthcoming.
Having worked with Lee Marvin in 1964’s The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, Clu Gulager’s input was invaluable to my research to LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK. One of the many stories he imparted that I could not fit into the final version of the book had to do with a scene in the film between Marvin, Gulager and future president, Ronald Reagan in his last acting role. Throughout most of the movie, Gulager and Marvin’s characters had been bullying people to get information. When they get to Reagan, the script called for a secretary in Reagan’s outer office to try and stop them before they get to Reagan. Marvin believed it would be a waste of screen time as the audience would’ve already seen them do it previously in the film. Reagan disagreed as it would be taking lines away from a fellow actor, in this case, the secretary. Director Siegel came up with a compromise in which the actress is shown trying to stop them as they barrel through into Reagan’s office. Gulager had told me that version as seen below. However, when he spoke at Santa Monica’s Aero Theater after a screening of the film, he told a much more colorful version of the same story, adding that actress in question was actually Reagan’s paramour (!)
Dwayne Epstein: OK, on The Killers…
Clu Gulager: Let me tell you about that. We came in to do our thing. Where we had to go into the offices of Reagan. I knew nothing of what Don said in his book about this- the lady being Reagan’s sweetheart. I knew nothing about that. Obviously, it had occurred. I think maybe that ticked off Lee because he was pissed off about something. I know they stopped us. It didn’t make any sense to stop us there with the secretary. She said something and then came on. We would have just swept right in there. We wouldn’t let anyone get in out way, apparently.
Dwayne: Which was Lee’s idea. He just wanted to rush right into the office.
Clu: Which is the best way. (mimes Lee) “Watch what I’m going to do here”. Lee would rehearse it. We rehearsed it once. Reagan sat behind his desk and Lee did it a certain way in the first rehearsal. Reagan acted a certain way. We rehearsed it again for lights and so forth, so Lee did it another way. He did another interpretation. Mr. Reagan did exactly the same thing he did in the first take. No matter what Lee would do, he would do exactly the same reactions. He had it all planned in his mind. So, we did it a third time, a very complex shot that needed a third rehearsal with the lights and sound, actors up to par, dress rehearsal. Lee did it another way and Reagan did exactly the same thing. Lee said of Reagan at the time, “That guy couldn’t act worth shit. He couldn’t act his way out of a fucking paper bag.” In other words what Lee was saying to me was that you really ride with the situation of the scene. It’s not all preplanned. You have to kind of give and take a little to make it more of a …he was saying that Mr. Reagan didn’t have the ability and so forth. I happened to think, my observation, I loved what Ron did in the scene. I loved what he did in the film. They may have cut out a lot of shit, I don’t know. Whatever they left in, I thought worked for Reagan. Anyway, he was really adamantly against it, Mr, Reagan. I never understood why until I read Don’s book.
Dwayne: Siegel’s book comments on the same incident. I got the sense from other people that Lee’s dislike of Reagan happened even before the movie started. I think they may have worked before together in TV.
Clu: Oh, a lot. What makes me think this is maybe Lee was, I mean Don was stretching it a bit. I don’t believe at that point, Reagan fooled around on his wife. I do not believe that he did. That’s my recollection. I knew him a little bit and I knew her. They were very much in love and I do not believe he had a girl out there who was his paramour and so forth. I didn’t believe it. I don’t believe that Reagan would have stopped the scene and said “Don, I stopped this and I’ll walk off unless….”. I don’t believe it.
Dwayne: Unless I misinterpreted, I remember it as being Reagan, having been SAG president, was very big that every actor gets their line and the woman had several lines. The way Lee wanted to do it, just walk right through. Siegel had said he thought Reagan got on a soapbox; “I’ve never seen such as thing where an actor takes lines out of another actor’s mouth”, etc.
Clu: It happens all the time and it should happen. We know what’s best. Actors are very instinctive.