#8. Singing in the Rain, Dancing in Blood
Gene Kelly was basically a tap dancing Don Draper. Having utterly conquered the Broadway scene, Kelly moved on to become a successful actor and, later, co-director of classics such as Singing in the Rain, in which he danced alongside the lovely Debbie Reynolds. It includes one of the most famous scenes in entertainment history:Of course, that shit comes at a price.
You don't get that good without being just a little bit crazy, and Gene Kelly fit the bill; he was a tireless workaholic who would constantly put in 16- to 18-hour days, and God help anyone who couldn't keep up. The fact that co-star Debbie Reynolds was just a 20-year-old with no dancing experience didn't stop Kelly from insulting her and making her work until her feet bled.
Fred Astaire found Reynolds in the studio one day, hiding under a piano and crying.
Fred Astaire wasn't involved in the movie, but he magically appears in situations that require an uplifting musical number.
Reynolds says she spent the shoot being terrified and crying, and later, Gene Kelly admitted he had been an asshole to her and said he was amazed that she even talked to him afterward. So, yeah, fix that in your mind and then go watch that classic clip again of him happily splashing around in the puddles.
That also makes you wonder how many of those kids on Glee would secretly love to beat the living crap out of Ryan Murphy.
They can probably take him if they band together.
#7. The Director of Casablanca Sends Extras to a Watery Grave
Hungarian-born director Michael Curtiz made 173 films in his lifetime (it is unclear how many he's directed since), but he's remembered for one: Casablanca. A timeless classic, Casablanca is such a genius film that it completely makes up for the fact that he made 172 others nobody cares about. It doesn't, however, make up for the fact that he should have been in jail at the time he made it.
He looks like a man who's earned jail time for a whole host of fascinating reasons.
Curtiz was known for being extremely prolific and efficient, often completing films ahead of schedule and under budget. That's how he managed to make 44 films in the 1930s alone, an impressive output for a director of movies where people keep their pants on. Of course, some of that superhuman efficiency came at the expense of basic safety. Early in his Hollywood career, Curtiz took over the filming of Noah's Ark and, determined to finish the film on time, cut a few incredibly crucial corners when it came to the flood scenes..
Well, it's not like it was the great deluge or anything ... wait.
For one, he failed to inform the actors that he would be spilling gallons of water on them. When cinematographer Hal Mohr asked him what would happen to all the extras, Curtiz replied: "Oh, they're going to have to take their chances." Mohr pointed out that they could do the exact same scene with miniatures and overlays and it would be just as realistic, but Curtiz insisted on doing it his way. Apparently, filming just isn't as rewarding for a director if there's no real death involved.
As a result, 15 cameramen and countless extras got knocked into the water and thrashed about for hours. The leading lady caught pneumonia, and one of the actors broke two ribs. According to one of the stuntmen on the scene, three extras drowned and one had to have a leg amputated (reports of that kind of thing kind of got swept under the rug back then).
Mohr later said about Curtiz: "The goddamned murderous bastard never should have permitted a thing like that to happen." But he did, and since this was before the Screen Actors Guild was formed (believe it or not, its original intent was to prevent this sort of thing), he got away scot free and was allowed to go on to direct one of the greatest movies in history.
And all it took were a few conveniently dog food-ed corpses.
By the way, one of the extras in the flood scene who didn't drown was a young John Wayne.
#6. The Director of Three Kings Basically Punches Everyone He Sees
Besides the Academy Award-nominated The Fighter, David O. Russell's impressive credits include the revolutionary Three Kings (basically, the blueprint for every war movie you've seen this century) and the mindblowing I Heart Huckabees. That's right: David O. Russell is almost singlehandedly responsible for the fact that people now respect Marky Mark as an actor. Also, he's crazy.
And he appears to be on Thorazine in all of his pictures.
The guy has a bit of a short temper, apparently. During the production of Three Kings, he verbally and physically abused his crew members, at one point kicking a young extra on the ground while yelling at him. When George Clooney told Russell to cut it out, the director reacted like any mature 14-year-old would: by calling Clooney a pussy and daring him to throw a punch. Russell then lunged at Clooney and grabbed him by the throat -- which proved to be a mistake. Clooney went nuts and proceeded to thoroughly kick the director's ass.
"I am, after all, technically Batman."
And then things got really bizarre.
For I Heart Huckabees, Russell plunged into full-on lunacy before the cameras even started rolling, tracking down Christopher Nolan at a party and putting him in a headlock when he heard that Jude Law would be abandoning the movie to appear in The Prestige. Law went back to Huckabees, but that didn't exactly quell the director's craziness. A New York Times set visit article claimed that Russell "rolls on the ground, dances, does push-ups," strips down to his boxers and is seen "rubbing his body up against the women and men on the set."
We're sorry for that mental image. Here's a pretty girl.
He also had a tendency to grope cast members (including Mark Wahlberg), all the while continuing to be abusive to them -- at one point Russell had an argument with actress Lily Tomlin that led to one of the most infamous temper tantrums recorded on a Hollywood set:
After throwing a bitch fit Russell left, yelling, "I never fucking yelled at you!" at Tomlin (seemingly unaware of the layers of irony) and locked himself in his office, refusing to come out.
"You! You beat me up next!"
#5. The Chariot Race From Ben Hur Looked Strangely Realistic ...
The 1925 version of Ben Hur was an early Hollywood blockbuster and the most expensive silent film ever made. The famous chariot-race scene looks epic even by today's standards; it's been recreated virtually everywhere, from the Charlton Heston remake to the pod-racing scene in The Phantom Menace.
The hats in all those movies paled by comparison.
Want to guess how you got a realistic-looking chariot kill-or-be-killed race back in 1925? You pretty much just held a kill-or-be-killed chariot race.
At least one guy died during the making of the chariot scene. But, undaunted, director Fred Niblo continued shooting the sequence later and noticed that the stunt drivers were driving much too carefully and responsibly, which didn't make for a good spectacle. So he decided to make matters more interesting by simply letting them race and offering $100 to the winner. The drivers went "Holy shit, that's like $1,200 here in 1925!" and proceeded to crash in a horrendous pileup where several horses died -- which a satisfied Niblo kept in the movie.
But the race wasn't even the most dangerous part of the shoot (and Snopes.com points out that there could have been more deaths that were covered up, which as we mentioned was apparently a common occurrence in Hollywood back then).
The plot of Ben Hur also involved a giant freaking sea battle, so naturally, the producer decided the simplest way to film it would be organizing a giant freaking sea battle and pointing some cameras at it. Since the scene was shot in Italy, the casting director capitalized on local tensions by dividing the extras up along political lines, intentionally pitting pro-fascists against anti-fascists. Also, apparently he gave them prop swords that had been sharpened for real -- why spend money on making the extras look all bloody and beaten when they can do that themselves?
"Yours is the only sharp one. Promise."
Since things clearly weren't insanely dangerous enough (or perhaps feeling encouraged by the general atmosphere of homicidal carelessness), the director Niblo tried to spice things up by setting one of the ships on fire. The fire blazed out of control, sending extras diving into the sea (some of them reappeared days later). Niblo, when told that the armored men were falling off and possibly drowning, reportedly answered, "I can't help it, those ships cost me $40,000 a piece" and kept filming.
Then he killed six kittens and made a hat out of them.