Payday Loans
(Joseph L Mankiewicz . 1961)



“I am Isis. I am worshipped by millions who believe it.”


Joseph L Mankiewicz . 1960

Financially strapped in 1958, the Fox studio rifled it shelves for a cheap re-tread winner. Theda Bara's Cleopatra  was chosen. They still had the 1917 script - just a few pages. Perfect for Dorothy Dandridge, who Lena Horne   called “our Marilyn Monroe.”

The real Marilyn would be suggested for the Egyptian queen before the end of the catastrophe...

By the sheerest of happenstances (?), , house producer Walter Wanger had also approached the studio about a pet  project about… “the quintessence of youthful femininity, of womanliness and strength.” He was quickly put in charge.  But  not  of  his  plan: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Olivier as Caesar, Richard Burton  for  Mark Antony. And Hitchcock directing!


“Who needs a Liz Taylor?”

grumbled Fox suit Joseph Moskowitz.

“Any $100-a-week girl can play Cleopatra.”

His studio would pay for those words...

The first $1m salary for an actress was just for starters.


Fox wanted a more modest, $5m, affair... Audrey Hepburn or Suzy Parker, with Cary Grant as Caesar, Burt Lancaster as Mark Antony.

Cleopatra .  Following her favourite Hollywood movie, Rally Round The Flag Boys, 1958, Joan Collins was put into training to talk the talk and walk the walk like an Egyptian queen...  in tests “opposite an actor who, though obviously chosen for his looks and virility, had as much acting talent as Minnie Mouse. Maybe less.”

Known as The Pouting Panther, Joanie was eager. Shaw's Cleopatra had been her entrance exam at London's RADA - the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. “It was a role perfectly suited to me.” However, head Fox Spyros Skouras, believed in “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - a fuck for a part,” and chased her around his desk for his cut. He kept saying her unwillingness was a career error. She knew what she had to do... Kick him in the balls and run out of the door,” advised Joan in the UK's Daily Express, September 2010.  “I have done that. That’s why I didn’t get Cleopatra... 

"Well, I didn’t do it literally. I just refused to go to bed with the head of the studio. I had tested for Cleopatra twice and was the front-runner. He took me into his office and said: ‘You really want this part?’ And I said: ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what. But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office. So I didn’t kick him in the balls but I should have done.”

Her next lessons were with stripper Candy Barr for Seven Thieves.

A year later, new lists were drawn up...

 Gina Lollobrigida and, no longer in her shade, her former spaghetti-rival, Sophia Loren - and a younger version of them both, the 1955 Helen of Troy, Rosanno Podesta -were contacted urgently. AsWanger talked with“Carlo’s wife”(Sophia), Skouras was dining with La Lollo at director Rouben Mamoulian’s home. (Lollo rejected Mamoulian the way, previously in her career, she elbowed Fellini and Visconti!) Loren lost out because she wanted to shoot in Italy.... where the film was eventually made, of course.

In LA, more calls went out to such unlikely Egyptian queens as Brigitte Bardot, Jennifer Jones, Shirley MacLaine, Dolores Michaels (anex-dancer with a Fox contract), Kim Novak, Millie Perkins, Barbara Steele, Joanne Woodward… and Marilyn. And always there inthe shadows, Wanger’s continual first reserve: Susan Hayward. 20th Century Panic!

Caesar .   Director Joe Mankiewicz wanted Trevor Howard.  Fox choices were:  Yul Brynner, Cary Grant, Curt Jurgens, Frederic March... and Noel Coward’s agent called!. Oh and Sir John Gielgud, who had also been up for Julius in Caesar and Cleopatra opposite  Vivien Leigh in 1945.  Plus - and this is difficult to swallow -  Peter Sellers!  His biographers insist, but I seriously doubt this idea. Hollywood wanted comedies only - better still, farces - from Sellers and stupidly gave him his head when he made them. And refused to finance or, indeed, release any of his “serious” films…  A Day At The Beach, Blockhouse, Never Let Go, etc.

Antony . While looking with his son Tom (future Bond and Superman scenarist)  at the rushes directed by the outsted Rouben Mamoulian in Pinewood, Joe  was delighted with Peter Fnch’s Caesar and intended to keep him  - bythe time  the flm  restarted, Finchy  was into The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Another  face popped up in the rushes. Whozat? “ Stephen Boyd,” said Tom. “He’s playing Mark Antony.”  “No, he’s not,” said Joe.  

Joe wanted his Antony, Having already selected him - triumphantly! - for Julius Caesar a decade earlier, Mankiewicz wanted Marlon Brando opposite Trevor Howard’s Caesar. Impossible, as Brando was already making life hell for both Howard and director Carol Reed during  gthe ill advised refloating Mutiny on the Bounty.   Neither Brit was keen on working with Brando again…  although Howard did share Morituri,  with him in 1964.

Next in line? Richard Basehart, Stephen Boyd, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Franciosa, Laurence Harvey, Richard Johnson, Peter O'Toole, Jason Robards Jr.

Octavian .  Keith Baxter was Octavian, the future Caesar Augustus, in Pinewood before Roddy McDowall took over in Cinecitta for a weekly $2,500.


By August 1959, both Audrey Hepburn and

Liz Taylor had agreed to the head Production #J01

They had the same agent.  Kurt Frings.


For Wanger, however, Liz was “the only woman who has the necessary youth, power and emotion... to play the most remarkable woman of all times.”

“She'll be too much trouble,” declared Skouras, who obviously had no more luck with chasing her around his desk than he had with Collins.

Wanger called Liz in the UK, where she was making Suddenly Last Summer, 1959.  “I'll do it for $1m.”

Liz was joking. Fox was serious.

The deal was set (and Liz took her own sweet time signing it, ten months until July 28, 1960, as Skouras kept pissing her off). The pay was $125,000 for 16 weeks work plus $50,000 a week after that.

She could have been cheaper if only Skouras had known who she was...

During a New York meet, he kept calling her Cleopatra.  Suddenly, she realised why: he didn’t know her name. “You’re paying me $1m,” said Liz, “and you don’t remember my name.”

That’s when she made an offer of considerable largesse. If he could say her name, she would give him back half her salary.  Distraught from memory-lapse and his studio’s need for $500,000, Skouras could only um and er, hem and haw, and stick to his hymn-sheet. “Er... you are Cleopatra.”

So she was.  And Mamoulian started shooting at the UK Pinewood Studios on September 28, 1960, with Peter Finch (Liz’s suggestion) and Stephen Boyd as Caesar and Marc Antony.


Finchey did one scene only

-  in eight months.


“I had to stamp into a room at the head of my legionnaires. There was a man with an eagle right behind me. I was petrified the bloody bird would whip off one of my ears.”

All that time Mamoulian was filming without a queen… After shooting ten minutes for $7m, he quit on January 18, 1961. Liz Taylor was as sick as (and of) the British weather from the start (coincidentally, during a battle with UK unions over her personal hairdresser) and then at death’s door, with staphyloococcus pneumonia, requiring an emergency tracheotomy on March 4, 1961.

As Liz fought for her life - “I was pronounced dead four times” - Susan Hayward was the first replacement choice of her mentor Wanger -inevitably, because he had rescued her career in the mid-40s with a personal contract leading to an Oscar. “I owe him everything. If Walter wants me, no matter what the picture is, I’ll do it.”

She knew she was as wrong for the part as was the suggested model Suzy Parker. At least, Hayward had played Bathesheba and Messalina, but as the budget grew, she withdrew telling Wanger he needed a super-draw, not just a star “as resilient as a trampoline.” (Wanger never gave up on Susan. At his 1968 death, he was preparing two movies for her).

Gina Lollobrigida - and, no longer in her shade, her former spaghetti-rival, Sophia Loren - were contacted urgently. In LA, more calls went out to such unlikely Egyptian queens as Shirley MacLaine, Kim Novak and...Marilyn.  20th Century Panic!

Having finished Esther and The King - exactly “the annual period schlock potboiler” she expected Cleopatra to be - Joan Collins was woken with a call from her agent. Could she be in London the same day?


“It’s Liz. They think she’s dying.

They want you to replace her.

They can’t afford to screw around anymore.”


Collins and her lover Warren Beatty agreed: “Shitty! Ghoulish.”

Next day, the agent called back: “You're off the hook. Liz is gonna to make it.” Meaning she would live, not merely make the film.

“They called me, too,” revealed Eartha Kitt in the 90s. "But they finally said Elizabeth Taylor would' have  to be dead in order for me to take her place. I could've saved that film, believe me." 

Mamoulian’s successsor at the helm wasan unwilling Joe Mankiewicz.


“Why would I want to make Cleopatra?

I wouldn’t even go to see Cleopatra.”


Liz had director approval and that meant Joe Mankiewicz or George Stevens. No one else.  She had  remained friends with  Mank since Suddenly Last Summer, one of her greatestg roles, and Stevens made Giant  with her. And  now whatever Taylor wanted, Taylor got.

Mank  was bribed -  well seduced -  into the job by the biggest  bucks his career had ever seen. Fox made him an offer that the Don Coreleone of the Mank family  (as as Tom called him)  couldn’t  refuse - $1m-plus plus full ownership of two of his film,  (The Barefoot Contessa  Contessa and I Want To Live; there’s been even a rumour of either one being re-made) . Fox also bought up his Figaro company.

Cleo was no ordinary Mank project, Not just big salaries bu ta big budget, big stars, big sets,  big headaches…and a big scandal.  Burton andf Taylor’s romance of the century!

It was all a stupendous physical ordeal for him. “He took so many drugs to get through it,” reported Tom. “For a year and a half, he was a half-assed junkie taking pills…. Humiliating for him… He was always a master of self-cpntrol.  His one vice was his pipe..”  Tom called him  one of the most brilliant, complex, intensely literate and conflicted human beings ever to inhabit the planet.  And a  serial philanderer:  Loretta Young, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and (like Tom)  Jean Simmons.

Joe started badly: his first choices, Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, were unavailable. - drowning with another trouble-strewn epic, Mutiny on the Bounty. Joe’s next targets were anathema to Skouras.   However, for $200,000 a week, Rex Harrison was allowed in as Ceasar (through the bedchamber curtains judging by the poster, when Fox finally decided to add him to it). And after promising him a playable part, $250,000 for three months work, $1,000 a week expenses, a villa and staff, plus $50,000 to spring him early from Broadway’s Camelot, Fox was able to sign Richard Burton to be Welshest Roman of ’em all.. (A lesser known Welsh actor, Michael David, had been the rank outsider in the first bunch of potential Antonys).

Before leaving New York for Rome (the shoot switched to Italy because Liz might actually show up work there), Burton was given good advice by Broadway king, Moss Hart. “You're rich now.  Don’t waste your gift. The next five years may decide whether or not you’ll become the leading actor of the English-speaking stage.” Indeed.

Joan Collins said she would never have fallen for Burton.  “Not only a womaniser but a scalp hunter.His skin left a lot to be desired.” She took great pleasure in refusing to be another scalp when he tried his luck during Sea Wife, 1957.

Marne Maitland became Euphranor, when Martin Landau was switched to Rufio, Hume Cronyn (Sosigenes) arrived in Rome with Burton on September 19, 1961; neither one worked until January 1962.  Carroll O’Connor’s 15-week contract (for Casca) lasted ten months, with him working just 17 days as the three-month second shoot from September 25, 1961, stretched to July 28, 1962. The budget hit a then record $37m - for 96 hours of film over 272 days - leading to a 4hr 28mns final cut swiftly cut to 4hr 3mns for previews and slashed to 2hr 30mn for release.


“They could cut it up

into guitar picks if they want.”


Mankiewicz famously said the epic had been “conceived in a state of emergency, shot in confusion and wound up ina blind panic.” His director’s cut “of the toughest three pictures I ever made” was never fully seen until a 1995 revival in Paris.

This was Hollywood at its most recklessly stupid, with all the Fox bigwigs cowering before every tantrum of an outrageous diva, no better talented for the role than most others seen about it. Having won time off for her period, Liz was soon having three/four periods a month. She always got her way, said her deposed husband, Eddie Fisher - simply by screaming.

Fox could only afford Liz and the $40m budget by selling its back lot (today’s Century City) for $43m. The film finally cost $44m (or $300m these days) and made only $39.8m.  Fox sued Liz, blaming the audience boycott on her  scandale  with Burton.   The globally headlined Liz-Burton affair was over before the shooting but just kept on re-igniting, despite him beating her and having other lovers on the side.

She counter-sued Fox. . Of course, she did. After finding that the studio’s creative book-keeping included $3m for “miscellaneous” and saying “I ate 12 chickens and 40lbs of bacon every day for breakfast.”

Everything was settled out of court... with the first $1m salary ending up as $7m.


When Walter Wanger had first approached

Liz Taylor in 1958, she was Mrs Mike Todd.

Next time, he called upon Mrs Eddie Fisher.

By the end of his tempestuous and final production,

she was Mrs Richard Burton...

Another remarkable woman.


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