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Filming murder on a foggy day
on Middle Harbor
. Visiting U.S. film star Robert Lansing braves Sydney's shark peril (reluctantly) in the cause of art.
the American movie star with the primitive shaped skull that gives him brows that jut over his eyes like veranda eaves, has plenty to say,
and I like him.
Big deal? Not really-but it took such a long time on a dank winter day to get near enough to talk to him that it is quite a tribute.
Early one afternoon I started to try to get at Lans- ing. I used to go for him in 1966, when he was the general in TCN9's "Twelve O'Clock High," flying intrepid missions over Ger- many in World War II.
He was at Pickering Point, I was told, sheltering in a boatshed waiting for the weather to lift, so was free to talk to me. Half an hour later, after a plunge down a path made hazardous by rain, slippery patches of wet clay, and dripping scrub, I got down to the foreshore.
Lansing was there-but not free to talk to anyone.
He was well out into Syd- ney's Middle Harbor in a boat, busily drowning his wife over the side.
He is in Australia to make two episodes of the TV series "The Evil Touch," which, episode by episode, exploits man's basic evil instincts.
Lansing's particular "evil" had been roused by his desire for a new young wife, and his urgent need to get rid of his old one.
Anne Haddy, who plays his old TV wife, had been thrown overboard earlier.
I've never seen weather turn a beautiful landscape more sinister. It was rain- ing, foggy, closed in.
At Pickering Point, the wooded headlands plung« down into the water like th« Norwegian fiords. I coule just see the explosives shed: at Powderhulk Bay, crouchec low on the water's edge. Ii the brooding, grey landscape their dull red (that matche« Lansing's skivvy) was th
In the water, Christin Deacon, 24, standing in fo Anne Haddy, who hai another job, obligingly wer underwater into the drowr wig position.
_ She did her act umptet times. She was a goc struggler. Lansing kept pus]
ing her under, eventually "drowning" her, according to the script, and wrenching an engagement ring off her finger before she went down.
The grey water and the dull light made Middle Harbor look more sharky than ever, and I wondered
whether actors worried about such things. They certainly did, Lansing told me later.
Both he and Anne Haddy were unwilling to plunge into
the Harbor and wanted to do the scene inside the Pickering Point baths.
That was OK by everyone, but by the time the rain stopped the tide had gone
out so far there wasn't
enough water in the baths.
Director Mende Brown tried ro get a shark fisher- man 'to patrol, but there wasn't one available, so the open harbor was necessary -
it was all there was.
When it came to Lansing's turn to get in the water, he doffed his windjacket, had a
tentative feel with one desert-booted foot, then swooshed in. He had to
make the plunge, get far enough away from the boat to make it look real, and cry, "Help! Help!"
He did it all in one take, very professionally, and came out on to the rocks shaking himself like a big, wet dog.
When he got ashore, ward- robe assistants wrapped him in grey blankets, uncorked a bottle of brandy, and put it
in his hand.
A couple of warming gurgles later, Mende Brown introduced me to Lansing. It was nearing 5 p.m. and very gloomy.
Lansing shed his blanket and went off to a nearby house to get into dry clothes.
Technicians broke the set
and carted equipment away. I plunged up the side of the rocky hill, too, to the car and a backseat interview that never eventuated.
Lansing and his mates arrived some time later, dry,
and warmed inside and out
with hospitality, and we drove back to studio head- quarters in an aura of good fellowship.
When Lansing and I finally settled in a quiet studio corner, it was a real "Alone at last" job for me . . . But not for long. People
came and went or stayed around, ran films over our
heads on to a wall.
But it was worth it. Lan-
sing and I got on like a house on fire. He has per- sonality, is a sexy man, even in the purple pants and matching figured shirt pro- vided by wardrobe, which
He had people running, looking for his own clothes,
and he wanted his shoes and socks. He was barefooted, and his feet were cold.
Lansing, in his mid-forties, looks good - probably younger than his years. He is 6ft. tall, weighs around 14st. His jutting eyebrows are reddish and rather wild, his hair a more sombre brown
(worn very short back and sides), his eyes the color of the water at Pickering Point - slaty-grey.
He has plenty to say, especially about Australia (his second home, he says)
Last time he was here, in 1968, making "It Takes all Kinds," he took ten days off after he finished, hired a plane, and flew himself to Broken Hill, Lightning Ridge, and Canberra to have a look at the country.
Lansing reckons Aus- tralians are one of the few races who don't "dehumanise" actors.
"Most people in other countries meet you, and look at you, and don't see you. They just see you in your last role," he said.
"Australians see you as a man, and say, 'I'll buy you a drink, mate!' "
He really is hooked on Australians, says he has been that way ever since he met
them in World War II, when he was a Private First Class in the Occupation Army in Japan.
I was surprised to hear
he'd at least been on the
fringe of World War II, and
told him about someone
who'd recently told me they didn't know anything about the war, because they hadn't done Modern History.
- By -- NAN MUSGROVE
Lansing laughed. "I don't feel old enough to be part of Modern History," he said.
"Sometimes when I look in the bathroom mirror in
the early mornings now, I get à shock. The image I
think of as me doesn't correspond with what I see."
I asked him about his
thinking image of himself, and found that, like most people, he has his conceits,
but he is honest.
As an actor he thinks he is one of the better ones. As a man, he likes himself, and when I asked him what other
people thought of him he said he got along with people "fairly well."
His hero among actors is Marlon Brando. lansing says
Brando is the best living,
"As a man he is one of
the great, great people," he said. "Marlon is so sharp,
and so nice. He deals with
people in a way that I find quite stunning.
"And, talking about actors, don't let us forget George C. Scott. Now there's an actor, he's in a kind of differ- ent area to all the others."
"I have worked with him, but I don't like it. He makes
me feel uncomfortable. What
does it is this thing about George - he gives off an impression of restrained
violence. You feel it all the time, and its effect is to build up unbelievable ten- sion-and that I don't like."
I said maybe the tension building had spilled over into George's marriage with Colleen Dewhurst, and explained his two marriages to her, and their two divorces.
Lansing looked at me. "Look" he said, "George's tension doesn't carry over into his marriage. That restrained violence and ten- sion is George."
Lansing has been married
three times - first in his teens, second to actress Emily McLaughlin. They have a son, Robert, who is 14, "a beaut, guitar-playing hippie kid."
His third marriage was to Gan Hardy, from whom he was recently divorced. They have a daughter, only 18 months old, called Alyiki (Greek for Alice), which is Lansing's mother's name.
His third divorce is still a painful memory, not to be
Maybe Bob is like George C. Scott, not easy to live with. He says he is not easy to work with, hates "being bugged" with irrelevant detail just before he plunges into the day's work.
"Filming is a direct medium for an actor," he said. "You are trying to
involve the audience in a relationship you are trying
to establish with another
person who is working with you. You have to establish instant intimacy.
ROBERT LANSING, face grim, grabs a ring from his TV "wife's" finger as stand-in Christine Deacon "drowns." TOP: Every- thing's faked, as laughing Lansing shows in a break in filming.
"It is very hard, and it can't be achieved unless the person playing opposite you
makes himself available
to you. Anne Haddy did
"Being available'' means a lot to Lansing. He uses it as the highest praise, as a superlative. Speaking of Mende Brown, he said, "Mende is very available. He has good rules."
Bob was smoothing his hair, downing a drink, get- ting ready to take off for Sydney's Film Festival, still without shoes and socks - and inclined to raise his voice about them.
I asked him if he had
ever worn his hair longer. He said yes, but he felt it
didn't suit him.
"Marlon wears his hair
long, very long. It looks superb on him, but he's got the face, the picturesque look to go with it. He generally wears it tied back in a pony- tail. Marlon is stunning in
Every topic seemed to lead back to Brando, so I asked Lansing why he was so jealous of him.
Lansing was stilled. "Jealous?" he said.
"I don't think I'm jealous of Marlon, but I am jealous
of his roles.
"I'll tell you what makes me jealous. When I see an
actor I know I am better than, whom I know I could run circles round, getting better parts than me. Then I'm jealous, JEALOUS.
"Marlon is different. I ain't better than Marlon, so I'm not jealous of him."
I told him he was jealous, but he raised an eyebrow, gave an insouciant faro shuffle of the pack of cards he'd been manipulating all through the interview (he's a member of America's
Academy of Magic), and went off to the Film Festival.
Late as it was, I was sorry to see him go. To give him his own highest praise, I found him "very available."
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