Hollywood Studio Magazine (November 1972)

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‘This isn’t worth making...’ “...But my brother, Carl Willat - we always called him Doc — was one of the leaders of Technicolor, and he wanted me to make a picture in color. At that time, Technicolor had not yet made a picture for a major firm; the motion picture business is particularly shy of anything new. Well, Doc came to me, and he said: “‘Do you think you can get Mr. Lasky to make your picture in color? We can’t seem to find anyone who’s inteijested in taking a chance.’ “Enthusiastically, I said, ‘Yes, I think I can seil it to him; but I want it und^rstood that if we make the first one that we get an Option for a one-year exclusive to the Technicolor process for six pictures.’ “So, Doc went into consultation with himself, and agreed. He went back to the Technicolor plant in Boston and told Herbert Kalmus, who had the business end (my brother had the production and technical end). They were both tickled to death.” Carl Alfred “Doc” Willat was one of the true pioneers of the picture business. One of the first motion picture exhibitors, he was also a wizard of production technique, building the first modern laboratory, and one of the very first glass stages for shooting motion pictures — providing the economy of daylight illumination with the control of artificial lighting. After selling his Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey to fledgeling producer, William Fox, Willat was looking for a new investment when George Eastman suggested he join forces with Kalmus, Comstock, and Westcott in the new Technicolor Motion Picture Company. Technicolor needed someone of Willat’s technical ability and Doc supervised the production of several films produced by Technicolor to promote their process. And now, the last major obstacle had been overcome. After ten years of research, hundreds of thousands of dollars in Capital outlay, and countless tries at interesting a major producer in the process, Doc Willat could envision a day not too far in the future when all pictures would be photographed in natural color. His gamble was finally going to pay off. The real selling of the idea, however, feil to Doc’s brother, Irvin. The younger Willat had risen from lab technician to cameraman to Supervisor of all the production departments at the Thomas H. Ince studio. Irvin’s ability to save unreleasable pictures in the cutting room led Ince to give him a picture to direct, and over the last eight years Irvin Willat had made a reputation as a director of stylish melodramas like “Below the Surface” and “Behind the Door.” “I think I like melodramas because most of them are so bad” says Willat, “and there’s no reason for a melodrama to be unbelievable. See, I wasn’t from the stage; when I was given stage actors to work with they’d say, ‘Who the hell is he? He’s never been on Broadway.’ Well, I was just a boy with a little common sense.” Paramount was committed to make “Wanderer of the Wasteland,” so Irvin was able to apply some slight pressure, saying to Jesse Lasky that he would make the picture if the studio would let him do it in Technicolor. When Lasky was convinced that the cost would not be prohibitive, he agreed; and Irvin Willat went to work. “There were about four stories in the book, and we could choose anyone we wanted to; so I chose the one I thought would have the most scenery — but not necessarily the best story. I fixed up my box of paints and brushes, and dragged them along with me wherever we went. I was more concerned with showing color and presenting it for my brother than I was in making a success for myself - and it proved to be both. “When the script was O.K.’d and handed out, Bebe Daniels was scheduled to play the part of Ruth, the only girl in the story. Bebe read the script I’d prepared; and the next day, in she comes, and says: ‘“Irvin, I am not going to play that girl...’ “Well, when the picture opened in New York, I went up to see Adolph Zukor - the President of Paramount - and asked, ‘Have you seen the picture yet?’ “He said, ‘Yes, I liked it.’ “And I reminded him, ‘Mr. Zukor, we have an agreement for the making of six pictures in Technicolor over the next year; do you want to pick up the Option?’ “‘Well,’ he said, ‘you can’t make them all — and, PU teil you, Mr. Willat, I don’t even know what makes pictures move now — if you’re going to put them in color, it’s beyond me. I don’t want to be responsible for Billie Dove and Irvin’s assistant director, Otto Brower, on location for WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND. A sight no longer seen: The director cutting his own picture.