Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writer Matthew Bradley - Kevin McCarthy R.I.P.

Snatch Me If You Can by Matthew Bradley

September 13, 2010 by bradleyonfilm

I was saddened to learn this morning that Kevin McCarthy had gone to that great Green Room in the sky—saddened but not shocked since he was, after all, 96 and had enjoyed, by any standard, what could conservatively be called a good run. His screen career stretched over more than sixty years, and got an early boost with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as Biff in Death of a Salesman (1951), which by a bizarre coincidence I just saw on stage with Christopher Lloyd. He also had the honor of starring in a genuine Classic of the Cinema, Don Siegel’s original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which led to my becoming acquainted with Kevin a few years ago.

Prior to that, my friend Gilbert Colon and I had been invited to contribute to “They’re Here…”: Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, edited by McCarthy and the redoubtable Ed Gorman, and published by Berkley Boulevard Books in 1999. I interviewed W.D. Richter, screenwriter of the 1978 version; Gil tackled Abel Ferrara, the director of Body Snatchers (1993); and Kevin was represented with a lengthy interview by my sometime mentor, John McCarty. When Ed planned a new and somewhat different version of the book, released by Stark House Press as Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute in 2006, I was again asked to contribute, and therein lies the tale.

Ed retained our Richter and Ferrara pieces, but wanted a new interview with Kevin, which was kinda cool because it meant that between us, Gil and I would speak with participants in all three versions made at that time (and if you’re listening, Nicole Kidman, I’m ready for our one-on-one to talk about 2007’s The Invasion). Naturally, I didn’t want to rehash what John had done in the first edition, so I tried to come up with a new angle. With Gil as my able research assistant, I interviewed Kevin regarding what we called his “second career as a genre icon,” particularly his work with Joe Dante in the likes of Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981), and InnerSpace (1987).

Of course, McCarthy figures in Richard Matheson on Screen for his role as Uncle Walt in “It’s a Good Life,” Dante’s segment of Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983), and he made another notable genre appearance in the original Zone episode “Long Live Walter Jameson.” No less impressive, his mainstream credits include John Huston’s The Misfits (1961), written as a vehicle for spouse Marilyn Monroe by Salesman playwright Arthur Miller, and Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976). But it is Dr. Miles J. Bennell in Body Snatchers, a role that he repeated in a cameo for Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version, for which Kevin will inevitably be best remembered.

Having known him, I can attest to the fact that there never was a man less like a pod person than Kevin, full of energy and enthusiasm well into his nineties, and when we did the interview it was not so much a question of interrogating him as simply of unleashing him to tell his anecdotes of Montgomery Clift and Stanley Kubrick. The hardest thing was to get him to stop tinkering with it and approve it for publication, so I finally just gave him the transcript and let him run with it. Siegel’s preferred title for Body Snatchers was Sleep No More, since the pods took people over while they were sleeping, but now, at last, Dr. Bennell can rest in peace; we’ll miss you, Kevin.

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