While filming his new movie, "The Savage is Loose" in the Mexican jungles, the outspoken film star talked about the good and bad sides of acting, his home life, child actors, and the "utter nonsense of Oscars.
November 17, 1974
By Norma lee Browning
I was trudging up and down mountain paths in the Mexican jungles with the unit publicist (press agent on location) for “The Savage is Loose”, in search of George C. Scott.
We met a barefoot, bronze-chested old man in tattered Levi’s with long straggly gray hair pulled back in a ponytail; he stopped to speak with the unit man, then shook hands with me and asked “How are you?” I was preoccupied with the jungle, mainly wondering how to cope with a python should I meet one, and not particularly concerned with the old man, whom I took to be one of the natives or a Hollywood facsimile thereof ‑ until he looked at me sharply and said loudly, "I asked you, how are you?"
That, one day last summer, was my introduction to George C. Scott. I might not have recognized him even without his "Savage" wig and makeup; true, in my nearly nine years of covering Hollywood, I had never seen him in person for the simple reason that loathes the place.
An awkward moment; but it passed, and soon we were sitting on a couple of rickety canvas chairs outside a rickety thatched hut around which crewmen were wrapping great coils of hemp soaked in gasoline. "That’s for the big bonfire were shooting today. We burn the whole place down in the end,” Scott said. Behind and above us were the mountain jungles, and below were miles of white sandy beach and the ocean's angry waves crashing in. To one side, against a rockpile was the black hulk of a wrecked ship. “The Savage Is Loose" is the story of a scientist (played by Scott), his wife (Trish Van Devere, his real wife) struggling to stay alive after being shipwrecked on an island thousands of miles from civilization.
Scott not only stars in “Savage”; he is the producer, director, distributor. He has more than a million dollars of his own money in the film. Perhaps that's why he was willing, even eager, to speak at length on such subjects as:
"Acting is dichotomous, paradoxical… It isn’t all one clean straight road. By and large, I get along very well. There are those who will tell you I don’t, but they are in a small minority. I admire actors very much. I know what they suffer. There are few actors I've grown up with who haven't been unhappy about their situation one way or another. If it isn't personal problems, it’s the medium, the technical problems involved, the s.o.b. who hired you and puts you under contract for seven years.
S many of us waste years struggling back and forth resisting the medium, hating the fact that we have to do 72 hours of work in 10 seconds flat, which is totally inhuman and opposed to acting, against all reason. Acting is a process that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
“That’s why the stage acting is a great boon. When I’m asked for advice by young actors or those trying to become actors, I always start off by saying, “I’m going to tell you not to do it, and you’re not going to listen to me.” There is no way to dissuade anyone at any age. If a kid says this is what I want to do, that’s it, and there are some talented ones coming up all the time. To them, I’d say “Go work on the stage if you possibly can so that you can learn to act before a paying audience,' which is very important, I think. I was in stock for seven years. I acted in a lot of plays, and I learned how to act. I didn’t learn in a test-tube atmosphere. I didn't learn in a school - which means nothing. I didn't learn in front of some God-head like Lee Strasberg who would have either beat me with one hand or stroked me with the other. Nonsense. Harmful.
"Television in some ways has been a great help to young actors. I like television because of its incredible contact with the people. Its power is stunning. But it has yet to be fully heard from.
"If you must go and work in front of the camera,’ I would say to an actor, ‘(a) do not be frightened by this medium, (b) do not be antagonistic toward it, and (c) learn as much as possible about the technology of it.’ In that medium there is no such thing as continuity of acting; there is on the stage. And there are enormous technical pressures. Many people either break under the pressure or become so antagonistic toward it they are unable to survive.
“Most of the people we work with on a day-to-day basis are craftsmen, most of them belong where they are and have earned the right to be there –the cameramen, the technicians. I’m talking about 90 percent of the people in the business. But it’s that other -----ing 10 percent, the ones who are in command, that you have to watch. They’re your enemies. They’re the odious one, the guys who pull the strings, the son-of-a-bitches.”
The casual George and Trish –on the grounds of their Connecticut home.
Then why are you in another picture. “The Hindenburg?”
“To help me pay for this one. It is called selling your soul –no: It is a good part, and I think it will be quite a nice movie, and Bob Wise (the director) is a nice man to work for. So it’s not as if I’m doing a piece of trash. I’m not. I don’t think I have a reputation fro doing trashy things…”
And as for acting in the future?
“I’ve done it for 25 years, and that is a long time. I’m tired of it. I’m going to do other things, like produce and direct and write. But you need the time and the persuasion and the persistence to sit down and do it.
“I hope The Hindenburg will be my last role. “I’ve been saying that about one film or another for a couple of years, and I haven’t cut the cord yet. But this picture (“Savage”) may enable me to do it. I sincerely hope so. I think it is necessary to move on. I’ve never been crazy about the peripheral things in the business, thought the acting itself has been a matter of self-satisfaction and gratification. It gave me a very good living after a number of very lean years so I have no kick. But I do think it is time to get off the ferris wheel.”
“We are different kind of people, obviously, and different kind of performers. Naturally there have been problems. We have solved most of them, but it hasn’t been easy. Trish thinks that I’m somewhat inconsiderate of her as an actress. I think that she wastes time on things that aren’t important, that she should do her homework and be prepared, and not stand around with all this ----ing talk about it all the time. I don’t like that kind of actor. This is what has caused a considerable amount of friction between us.
“I’d say we’ve gone thru a couple of very bad weeks, but now we’re doing fine. As I’ve told her, ‘I didn’t promise you a rose garden.’”
Do you want Trish to continue her acting career?
“No way to stop her. I think she should continue. She needs it, and she’s a fine actress.”
Would you want your children to become actors?
“I have six children. Unfortunately, one is about to go into television –my youngest daughter, Devon Scott, who is 14. She is signed for Alan Alda’s new series. She didn’t ask for my permission; no one would even tell me she had done the pilot. They were scared to tell me. Earlier, when I heard that she’d done a couple of commercials, I hit the roof. So on this one they figured than tell the old man, just go ahead, and there’s nothing he can do about it. And there isn’t anything I can do about it –except encourage her, and I don’t intend to do that.
“She told me about the TV series after she’d already signed. I told her I totally disapprove, not of the TV series per se but of her being an actress. And she said, ‘But daddy, I have to.’ And I said, ‘OK, but you’re not going to get any help from me. No phone calls to anybody from daddy. If you make it on your own, that’s your problem, and if you fall on your face that’s yours as well.’
“I would not encourage any kid to become an actor. I think it is monstrous to put a child in this business, absolutely monstrous. And then to LIVE off it which most stage parents do! When a child is trying to grow and learn, trying to become a human being, but at the same time living in this incredible fantasy world, it has got to be damaging. The kid would need the psyche of a Bismarck not to be hurt by it. For any parent to put his child in this business and then, by God, take his paycheck in the bargain –I think it's criminal. I HATE stage mothers and stage fathers. I think they should all be locked up. "I think acting is a beastly life, a very hard life, very destructive in many ways. I wouldn't wish it on anybody; certainly not someone you love and care about.”
But you're married to an actress…
“I married several of them. And I think acting has caused me not to be a very good husband from time to time. Aside from my own failings and faults, which I would have even if I were a plumber, it certainly doesn’t help any to be in this business. This is a true admission. I don’t feel good about wrecked marriages and broken homes, you'd have to be a fool to think placidly about that. What you can do and think about is making amends –and trying to keep some contact with the children you have lost to a certain degree. (Scott has been married five times, twice to actress Colleen Dewhurst. His first two wives were Carolyn Hughes, an amateur actress, and Patricia Reed, professional singer and actress.)
The savage George and Trish –in a scene from “The Savage is Loose.”
Accepting an Oscar
"No, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't go to the ceremonies.”(Scott refused to show up to accept his best-actor Oscar for “Patton" in 1971.) It is a great deal of folderol about really nothing. We've become a nation of award‑givers. We give awards to traveling salesmen or anyone else. We love to give awards. I think it is utter nonsense; there is no way to measure the quality of a man's work. The only measurement that counts is the gratification in choosing a project and in doing the work. Anything after that is nonessential. I don't look for any rewards ‑ except financial rewards. I'm very interested in that. My feeling about the Academy Awards is nothing personal against the Academy. It goes for everything else. I don't want to win the Golden Lion at Cannes, either. I couldn't care less. There is such a brouhaha about it. I think it is childish."
Would Trish attend the award ceremonies if she were nominated?
“Probably. Yes, I think she would go."
Have you two discussed the subject?
"Oh yes. We discuss practically everything. And we seldom agree. ‘Old R and I,' she calls me‑ Rigid and Inflexible. But that’s just one of the names she has for me; you should hear some of the others. She is a fine woman, though.”
Comments from Trish on acting and marriage
Trish Van Devere has a long-time devotion to acting. She graduated in 1960 from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in speech and drama, then joined a summer-stock company in Sturbridge, Mass. Her devotion to George C. Scott is more recent. They were married in 1972 after meeting a year-and-a-half earlier on the set of “The Last Run.”
On the set of “The Savage Is Loose,” in which she costars with producer-director-distributor-actor-husband Scott, she had this to say:
Scott's planned retirement
"I don't know why George gets up on a soapbox about acting. I say, if he doesn’t like it, don’t do it. Every business and every enterprise has certain evils and pitfalls, petty arguments and backbiting. Maybe this business is a little bit worse than some. But I look at it more positively: Your ideas can be used to do some good. It is an exquisite means of communication, a marvelous way to bring about social change and reform or make a statement on human conditions. Both theater and film have been so abused, but it’s not the artists, the actors who do this. It’s the commercialization, the exploitation part of the business that is bad.
Her career and home life
"Being both an actress and a wife is a costly thing. For me, acting takes an enormous amount of concentration. I have to be all keyed up to play a role as truthfully as possible, and sometimes I may be withdrawn and slightly distracted for two or three days for scene ‑for just a few minutes on screen. This in itself is a contradiction to a so-called normal life‑ you are forcing yourself to do something you wouldn't be doing if you were not an actress. And at certain times this might wreck 48 hours of your life. But I really have to do honest work.
Life with George C. Scott
"George is the most marvelous husband I can imagine. You know something, I really don’t understand all this about George and his public image. I think his public image has been distorted and exaggerated‑and I don’t think he’s done anything to deserve it… I don’t really like that public image.”