Autumn 2010: Of Note

Walter Mirisch signing his book

Walter Mirisch

Daniel Weiss/The Emory Wheel

The Producer

Walter Mirisch shares some trade secrets

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By Paige P. Parvin 96G

Walter Mirisch—the legendary Hollywood producer of more than a hundred films, including Oscar winners The Apartment, West Side Story, and In the Heat of the Night—visited the campus in September, giving Emory students and film buffs a close-up view of studio-era moviemaking. Chair of the Department of Film Studies Matthew Bernstein, who consulted with Mirisch some years ago while working on a book on fellow producer Walter Wanger, had the chance to interview him again for an Emory audience. Mirisch is the author of the book I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History.

On producing: “They call the producer the man with the dream. A producer must be many things—idealist, pragmatist, diplomat, and disciplinarian. He must be both artist and businessman, but above all he must be a showman. He coordinates the work of many artists and craftsmen whose work must be harmonized and controlled if the final product is to match his original vision.”

On creativity: “To quote the Supreme Court justice, I can’t define creativity exactly, but I know it when I see it.”

On Marilyn Monroe: “She was very difficult. Although the end result was extraordinary. I believe that Some Like It Hot may be the best comedy ever made . . . so I forgive her.”

On favorite movies: “Anything Cary Grant did, I was crazy about, and Irene Dunn. I loved musicals—Singing in the Rain and Forty-Second Street. I loved all kinds of films and I made all kinds of films. It varies the diet and helps you love what you do.”

On the most difficult actor he ever knew: “Peter Sellers. I made four movies with him, all with great problems. But I believed then and now that he was one of the great comic talents of the twentieth century.”

On predicting the popularity of a movie: “I never was certain about anything. I believe that a great deal of this was, as we say, in your gut—and some of us have better educated guts than others.”

On success: “Somebody once told me that success or failure can be judged by the question, ‘What’s it about?’ It has to be about something people care about. No matter what the screen, people are and always will be interested in stories, in people’s relationships with one another. And when you do it honestly and effectively and right—that’s gangbusters.”

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