Interview:

Michael Hoey

author of the new book:

Elvis' Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog

EIN first talked to accomplished Hollywood film editor, script writer, producer and director, Michael Hoey, in 2008, following the release of his great book: Elvis, Sherlock & Me.

In 2014 Michael released his latest fascinating book taking readers behind the scenes in Hollywood: Elvis' Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog.

Michael recently spoke to EIN about his new book shedding light on a range of interesting subjects including:

  • Elvis as an actor
  • the 'Elvis formula' film
  • were Elvis films 'B' films?
  • what Elvis thought of his "more adult image" in his final narrative films
  • Elvis' relationship with the Colonel
  • how Hollywood has changed since its Golden Era
  • the use and impact of CGI in contemporary films
  • producer Hal Wallis
  • and of course "Elvis' Favorite Director" Norman Taurog

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Interview

EIN: Michael, in your introduction to Elvis’ Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog you note that while Taurog was not a director in the manner of a Hitchcock, Ford or Wilder, he was a top craftsman in his field.   What were some of the personal traits and (film) style that made Norman Taurog different to those other directors, but still such an effective director?

MH:  Taurog relied heavily on comedy, much of it physical comedy, but he had the ability to find the heart in his characters, whether they were in comedies, dramas, or musicals. He brought out the humanity in them and never used them for ridicule. He was known for being able to always bring his films in on schedule, without sacrificing quality.

EIN: After his involvement in making ‘silent’ movies, Taurog’s Hollywood output was high profile and very successful. By the end of his career he was making what many regard as ‘B’ films.  Why do you think his career progressed as it did?

MH: Hollywood had changed and Taurog had aged. It is a credit to him that he was still working after directors like Michael Curtiz and many others had left the stage. Once he had successfully directed Elvis in G.I. Blues he was tagged to direct Blue Hawaii and after that both Elvis and the Colonel called him again and again. He never considered these films to be ‘B’ FILMS, AND THEIR BUDGETS NEVER REFLECTED THAT THEY WERE.

EIN:  Most directors are necessarily very demanding of their cast and behind the camera crew.  In this context, what was it like to work with Norman Taurog? 

MH: He was easy going. He liked a relaxed set, so long as Elvis and his boys behaved themselves. The  crew liked him and worked hard to keep him happy.

Softcover edition ..............................................................Kindle edition

EIN: In Elvis’ Favorite Director the detail and minutiae of information you have researched is very impressive.  How did you go about the research task?

MH: I spent a great deal of time at the USC Library going over production reports and schedules , and at the Academy Library reading correspondence and production reports. I also went on the internet and I had a researcher in New Orleans who collected reams of newspaper articles and interviews with Taurog and others. I also personally interviewed a number of people who had worked with Taurog.

EIN: Who were some of the people you interviewed?

MH: Bob Baker, Edward Faulkner, Earl Hamner, Jr., Jimmy Hawkins, Roger Mayer, Gene Reynolds.

EIN: You provide details of Elvis’ salary and profit cut for some of his films.  This is an area often subject to fanciful figures.  How did you determine the amount Elvis received for the films?

MH: From production reports and correspondence.

EIN: How many interviews did you do in researching Elvis’ Favorite Director?

MH: Not as many as I’d have liked, but so many had died. I had help from books (see bibliography) and from several fellow writers (Tom Weaver and Bill Bram) who had interviews they shared with me.

Michael Hoey, director Norman Taurog, Nancy Sinatra and Elvis on the set of Speedway

EIN: You capture much of the Golden Age of Hollywood in the book and conjure romantic images of a time of glamour, living the fun, high life and the incessant flashing of camera light bulbs.  Why did Hollywood change (if it in fact has) and how is it different today?

MH: The old studio heads are gone. Decisions are now made by committees.  Hollywood is now run by conglomerates. It is a business that has to answer to Boards of Directors and stock holders.

EIN: How do directors today compare to directors from the Golden Age of Hollywood?

MH:  They are more independent than the directors of the past, who were under term contracts to the studios and took assignments rather than selecting their own projects. This allows them more creative freedom.

EIN: Today’s directors – who impresses you the most?

MH: David O. Russell, Jean-Marc Vallee, Clint Eastwood.

EIN: You have worked with many big stars in Hollywood.  Who are the stars who have particularly impressed you and what was it about them that had this effect?

MH: First of all, I would have to say Elvis, who had a charm about him that won you over as soon as you got to know him. Also Jane Wyman, whom I adored, and was the epitome of a professional on the set. Others I worked with had qualities that I admired, but I can’t think of any that I would single out.

EIN: And among contemporary actors, whose performances do you particularly like?

MH: Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mathew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett.

EIN: In your opinion, has the advent of CGI been a positive, negative or mixed innovation in the making of films?

MH: It’s a mixed bag. The huge action films couldn’t have been made without CGI, but the major studios have given up on making small films. As this year’s Academy Awards have shown, small films still appeal to audiences.

EIN: What are some of your favourite films which have been released in recent years?

MH: Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle.

The cast of American Hustle: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

EIN: The 1950s and 60s were a special time in Hollywood history. The advent and growth of youth culture and youth affluence facilitated demand for (sub) genres such as the Elvis film and beach movies.  What is it about society and Hollywood today that we don’t see similar film genres?

MH: The world has grown more cynical, and for goad reason.  We’ve gone through two wars and a depression.  Hollywood films, as far as the big action films are concerned, are the new form of escapism.  Comedies are either “Buddy films” or female oriented comedies. Men in films and television shows are portrayed as wimps.

EIN:  In Elvis’ Favorite Director you comment that the script for Spinout went through several revisions.  While that is not an unusual occurrence do you feel it affected the final film?

MH: Well, it started out as a straight race car film. Certainly the changes pulled it into the typical Elvis formula.

EIN:  “Certainly the changes pulled it into the typical Elvis formula” – was this a reflection of Hollywood politics at play? 

MH: It was a reflection of the studio’s succumbing to the same old formula for Elvis films.

EIN: Double Trouble.  How should this film be remembered (I ask as it is the one Elvis film I have never been able to watch more than a third of the way through!)?

MH: That’s your opinion. Apart from the music and perhaps the Wiere Brothers material and some of Annette Day’s performance, I think the film holds interest.

Record cover featuring Elvis' character in Double Trouble:

EIN: Please tell our readers your view on Elvis an actor?

MH: He was an excellent light comedian. I think he had the ability to be a good dramatic actor in the right roles.

EIN: What elements would have characterised the ‘right roles’ for Elvis to develop as a dramatic actor?

MH: Serious conflicts and relationships with well defined characters.

EIN: What were some of the funniest moments you encountered while involved with Elvis’ movies?

MH: Working with George Kirgo on the final rewrite for Spinout. He was the funniest man I ever met.

EIN: The final few years of Elvis’ film career were a reasonable attempt to move it from the ‘Presley travelogue’ format to one that was more contemporary and adult.  From the slapstick comedy of Stay Away, Joe and spaghetti western feel of Charro, to the period piece resonance of The Trouble With Girls and gritty social drama of Change of Habit, Elvis’ last few films were decidedly different in character to his preceding films.  You were involved in two of those films, Stay Away, Joe and Live A Little, Love A Little

In our interview with you in 2008 you commented on criticisms of Stay Away, Joe.  This time can we consider Live A Little, Love A Little.   The first (and only) time viewers would see Elvis share a bed with his leading lady and a script and direction which veered it toward being, if not a screwball comedy, certainly a sex farce.  With quirky characters and a nice sexual tension between Elvis and Michele Carey, there was a lot going for this film, yet it failed to connect with a wide audience.   As screenwriter for the film, how would you characterise Live A Little, Love A Little, and were you disappointed that it didn’t connect with more cinema goers?

MH: Obviously I was disappointed, but it was too late. Audiences had already turned away from Elvis films. As I pointed out in my book, the Colonel was squeezing the last drop from his star’s box-office appeal. Between 1960 and 1967 Elvis made 17 films, and some of them were released within months of each other. I thought that we captured a different Elvis in Live A Little, Love A Little and tried to bring him up to the hip 60s.

Michael Hoey, Michele Carey and Elvis on the set of Live A Little, Love A Little

EIN: Do you know what Elvis thought about his “new, more adult” image or had he simply “switched off’ from Hollywood?

MH: He was very happy with both scripts for Stay Away, Joe and Live a Little.

EIN: How would you rate Elvis’ (full) film career – should it have been better than it was, and if yes, in what way?

MH: The big mistake was Hal Wallis and the Colonel’s decision to turn away from dramatic subjects like King Creole. Elvis should have continued to make dramatic films along with his musicals. It was a huge shame that he didn’t make A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand.

EIN: You mentioned a theme which resonates among fans – that Colonel Parker was to blame for the deterioration in quality of Elvis films. You knew Elvis.  Why didn’t he take a stand on the issue and insist on better material including occasional serious roles?

MH: It just wasn’t in his nature to stand up to Parker.

EIN: What is next for Michael Hoey?

MH: A book titled The Drury Lane Mystery. It’s actually a collaboration with my late father, who in 1946 wrote an original screen treatment for a Sherlock Holmes film. Unfortunately his timing was off as that was just at the time that Basil Rathbone decided he didn’t want to make anymore Holmes films. I’ve taken the treatment and added material on my father’s life and career, the Holmes films, and the history of the Royal Theatre Drury Lane and  its many ghosts. It should be out in September. 

EIN: Michael, it was been great to talk with you again!  Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to us and providing our readers with interesting and illuminating insight into Elvis and his films.

Softcover edition................................................................Kindle edition

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