Marlon Brando, ca. 1970
I. C. Rapoport
It was to be my first feature film. Edgar Scherick of Palomar
Pictures in New York had hired me to adapt an Algis Budrys short
story (it had appeared in the Saturday Evening Post) into a
screenplay. Chokeberry Bay was completed in the fall of 1969
and went through two directors. The first, an award winning Czech,
Jiri Weiss (90 Degrees in the Shade), under whose tutelage I
learned to write film was fired over the 4th of July weekend in 1970
because he didn’t know that William Holden was an actor. That was
the end of Jiri and the rewrite we worked on together. I was then
matched with a director whose name I have since committed to the
dead brain cells of the ganja-smoking ‘60s.
Chokeberry Bay was basically a three character show, the
antagonist a 60-ish retired, crippled U.S. Army Colonel who walked
around his beachfront compound with the assistance of aluminum
cuffed-crutches and two trained Dobermans that could open doors,
fetch packages, and keep intruders frozen in their frightened
tracks. The other two, a young married couple from the big city,
become his captives.
On a summer’s Sunday morning in 1970, while visiting my folks at
their lake house in Connecticut, I received a call from Edgar
telling me to meet him immediately at JFK to fly to “Hollywood” for
a quick meeting with Marlon Brando who was interested in our film
but required a face to face meeting.
I met Edgar with the clothes on my back: Levis, a pair of
rough-worn, steel-toed, bridge-builder work boots, a heavy work
shirt and a paper bag filled with a razor, a comb and a fresh pair
of boxers. Oh, and my shoulder length hair pulled back in a
ponytail. “Where’s your clothes?” Edgar asked. “Home,” I answered.
“I didn’t have a chance to get them.” “You’re going to L.A. like
that?” he snickered. “You’re going to meet Brando like that? You
look like street bum. No one’ll take you seriously.”
Edgar apologized to everyone for my appearance, telling them I
wasn’t with him. It was true, in 1979, no one traveled by air
wearing jeans and work boots, certainly not in First Class. At the
Bel Air Hotel, he apologized to the Desk Clerk for the way I was
dressed, handed me the keys to my cottage and told me that in the
morning we’d go down into Beverly Hills to buy me slacks and a
decent shirt and a pair of shoes.
We didn’t have the time to do that in the morning because Brando
had moved the noon meeting up to 10 AM. We joined the new director
and the production designer (they had been checking locations on the
West Coast) at the Bel Air’s pool. I was in the same clothing I wore
the day before. My freshly shampooed ponytail glistened in the
California sun. I was shocked to see the director dressed in a lime
green, zippered jump suit (jump suits were IN then) with matching
lime green, leather boots. With his enormous midsection and beard he
looked like Orson Welles dressed as a cough drop.
Edgar couldn’t wait to comment on my appearance to the director
and the designer and wondered if we’d pass a “five and dime” to get
me some pants and shoes. Later, I found the time to whisper to Edgar
and ask why he hadn’t commented on the green jump suit. No response.
He obviously approved. After all, directors are artists and
The four of us drove up to Mulholland Drive in a rented car and
through the gates to Brando’s compound. Marlon’s lawyer showed us
into the Brando living room where he asked if we wanted any coffee
or tea. Edgar said “No.” Like for all of us. But I was in the mood
and asked for some tea. I got a dagger stare from Edgar but it was
too late, the drink dam had burst and everyone ordered something.
Waiting ten minutes for Brando, his lawyer explained that Brando
owed “hundreds of thousands of dollars to his credit cards” and was
in need of a job, and for us to be prepared to pay dearly. This was
of course, just before The Godfather.
When Brando appeared, carrying a beautiful, silver tea service,
with lovely china cups, he was wearing work boots, blue jeans, a
work shirt, and his shoulder length hair was pulled back in what he
later explained was a “Tahitian knot.” Brando focused on me and
asked how I wanted my tea. It was marvelous the way, during our
meeting, he directed all of his comments to me even refusing to look
at the lime green jump-suited director.
What we discovered was Brando wanted to play the young married
guy, saying he couldn’t honestly play any younger than perhaps
forty-two. I told him that we wanted him for the Colonel and his
eyes glazed over. “Oh, you want me to play the Colonel…” he mumbled
in his Brando-ish way. “Okay. I can do that.” At which point, as he
walked around his living room, he proceeded to rewrite the script.
He saw the picture set in Ireland; he saw himself and an Irish
Colonel who commanded his dogs by playing the violin. He acted out
scenes as they came to him, playing all the parts, all of which had
me transfixed. In the car, driving out of the compound, Edgar’s only
comment was, “Okay, Brando’s out.”
Ultimately, the director fired me and rewrote the script, then
cast Alan Alda to play the part of the Colonel, demoting him to
Captain, and finally, asking the three principal actors, including a
young Blythe Danner, to improvise the movie. The experiment failed
and the final film, renamed To Kill a Clown was named to the
“Ten Worst Films of All Time,” an honor my friend Alan Alda and I
can laugh about—now.
Chuck Rapoport, ca. 1970
I.C. Rapoport has had two overlapping exciting careers. He
studied photography at Ohio University, then, after working as an
assistant to a famous Brides fashion photographer, struck out on his
own as a freelance photojournalist. His photos have appeared in
Life, Paris-Match, Saturday Evening Post, TIME, Newsweek, National
Geographic, Sports Illustrated and other national magazines. His
exclusive photographs of exercise guru Joseph Pilates are now famous
in the fitness arena.
As the picture magazines began to die out he made an almost
(emphasis on almost) seamless switch to writing scripts for
movies-of-the-week and then worked several years as a
Writer/Producer on hit series, "Law & Order," "Profiler" and "Veritas:
The Quest." Rapoport was on the staff of "Law & Order" when it won
the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series, he was nominated for a Writers
Guild Outstanding Dramatic Writing Award and he received the 1997
Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers Award. Rapoport—who, during a dry
period in his writing career, earned money as a Deputy Sheriff in
Fairfield County, Connecticut—now makes his home in Pacific
Palisades, California. When he is not working on his autobiography:
ONE MORE TIME: My Life as a Photojournalist, he is preparing
exhibitions of his photographs for galleries around the world.