My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
...Paul Rosen, who worked tirelessly trying to find someone new for the MADIGAN role, called to tell me he had arranged for me to go to the Village to see a theater-in-the-round play titled EH! He said the play wasn't very good, but there was a young actor in it who was getting raves from the local critics who frequented these offbeat theaters. He was a 28-year-old actor playing a lead role that ran the gamut from youngster to octogenarian through the course of the play. Paul warned me particularly not to walk out after the first act, that I must stay to see this actor's performance as the 80-year-old...
The play was awful, but the leading man who was dominating that stage was an incredible performer. He was not handsome, though I hesitate to use the word ugly because he had a magnetism that precluded a description that would connote anything repulsive. He superseded his material, and he exerted a personal radiance that was impossible not to feel...
The actor's name was Dustin Hoffman...
I told Paul any deal made would have to included options for three additional films. I felt that if I were going to take the risk of introducing such an unorthodox actor, I should share in the rewards if any were forthcoming. Paul agreed and said he would be back to me as soon as possible...
It took several days before Paul got back to me. He said that while Dustin was not wild about either the script of the part, he was willing to go ahead with it in order to make his first trip to Europe and to get his feet wet in the world of motion pictures. His only previous film experience had been a walk-on role and a few TV appearances. I was delighted with the news, and I had Paul Rosen draw up a contract while Prager and Dustin got together on the script. Now it was time to discuss my new find with Dick Pack and get his approval of Dustin Hoffman as the lead.
I met with Dick and relayed my total certainty his immense talent would take him straight to the top. Stoically, Dick sat listening and then told me he didn't give a damn about how I felt about this unknown. The WBC contract required two "name" per picture, and to him Dustin was a nobody. He would accept George Raft as one of those names, but in order to get approval for Dustin, I would have to provide a name female co-star. Dick Pack finally had me in a corner; he knew that this would be almost impossible because of the rigid requirements of the Italian and Spanish coproduction laws. I had to get an Italian or Spanish leading lady acceptable to Westinghouse who would be available for the starting date we had already set for MADIGAN.
This time Pack went too far; I was mad as hell and I realized I could never have a peaceful, happy future with Westinghouse as long as Dick Pack was there. I had naively expected he would at least agree to take one flyer with me, given the strength of the pictures we had delivered and McGannon's expressed faith in us. Actually Dick faced no great risk, since Westinghouse had already demonstrated lack of interest in selling to anyone but its own stations.
I was hurt by Dick's unwillingness to accept my judgment, but even more by his new demonstration of the desire to play despot. He was hurting his own company. If I was right about Dustin, we would have three more pictures with a future superstar, and Westinghouse would enjoy the same fruits as we. Dick really had no right to take the position he did, and it was then and there I made my final decision to terminate the contract at the finish of RAGAN.
I wanted Dustin in the picture, so I was determined to find an actress acceptable to Westinghouse. I submitted a list of possible Italian leading ladies in our price range, but the only name Pack found acceptable was Elsa Martinelli. She had just finished THE INDIAN FIGHTER, a film with Kirk Douglas, and in the Pack book, that made her a name. Paul Rosen took it from there, but Elsa Martinelli was nowhere to be found.
Paul was ready to give up when I found the answer. My Italian agent friend, Ivy Bless, knew the whereabouts of every actor in Rome, so I took a chance and flew to Rome. Because of our personal friendship, Ivy disclosed that Elsa was in hiding somewhere in Paris. She was trying to escape the Italian paparazzi who were hounding her for the story of her latest flaming affair. It took three weeks to find her in Paris, but with Elsa, a deal was only a matter of money; she had no interest in scripts. So I paid her pound of flesh and returned to New York to sign the Hoffman contract.
While I was gone, Dustin was tested for a Warner Bros. movie and now refused to sign the three-picture option. His Warner deal never came through, but I had to give up those options in order to get him to do MADIGAN. I was furious, but he remained adamant. He would do the one picture, but with no commitment to anything beyond that. I wanted to drop him, but my instincts demanded I make a picture with the one actor I had ever seen with so much potential, so we signed.
The stupid ego of Dick Pack and his inability to see beyond his nose cost all of us a real fortune. The three options on Dustin that would have cost us $5,000 per week for the last option were almost like owning a platinum mine. After THE GRADUATE, Dustin received a staggering sum for his next picture. By the time our third option came around, his price was over one million dollars. I wonder how Dick Pack felt after the huge success of THE GRADUATE about his response of "Dustin who?" to my first recommendation of this actor.