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Part Three: 1949 – 1959, Hollywood Studios
Rick Jason and Brian KeithSierra Baron by 20th Century Fox

Pictured right: Rick Jason and Brian Keith in Sierra Baron

When we got back to London, John Shepridge told me we had an offer for a film that would pay me $75,000, which I could take out of the country. My contract with Fox stated that they had to give me thirty days notice before the start of a picture. But the clause worked the other way, too. I had to give them notice, and they had thirty days to invoke their right to assign me a film.

That’s what Schreiber did — just to keep me from making the outside money.

We returned to the States, I was sent to Mexico to star with Brian Keith, Rita Gam, and Mala Powers in a western, Sierra Baron. We shot it outside of Mexico City in the National Park where a western town had been built for the film.

It was produced by two young men, Spiro Skouras, Jr. and his cousin, Charlie. At the time, they wanted to be producers. Robert Lippert, who had a production unit at 20th that made low-budget bread-and-butter pictures for the studio, was asked by Spiro Skouras, Sr. to "Keep an eye on the boys and see they don’t get into trouble with the movie."

An Offer to Appear in the Movie 'The Fly'

Lippert made weekly flights to Mexico City from Los Angeles and he and I spent a few pleasant evenings over dinner. Aria, who was never fond of Mexico, or the food, had gone back a week or so early. I boarded the flight home and was accompanied by Lippert. As we got into the air, he handed me a script.

"What’s this?" I asked.

"A picture we’d like you to do. Why not read it on the way back, then we can talk."

I ordered a drink and he took a nap while I read.

When he woke up he said, "What’d you think?"

"Yeah, the scientist reads well."

"Oh, Vincent Price is playing that part," he said, "didn’t I tell you?"

"No, you didn’t. So why did you ask me to read it?"

"To play the other part," he said.

"You’re kidding. The young scientist? He turns into a fly on page thirty-six and you never hear from him again. Forget it, Bob."

"You’re not going to do The Fly?" Lippert asked. I shook my head.

As soon as I got home, I packed a fly rod and reel and told Aria I was going up to the Sierras for three or four days of fishing. By the time I got back, Harry Bernson from my talent agency had called fifteen times.

Lew Schreiber demanded to see me. What the hell, it had only taken three years to get into his office.

I took a chair about ten feet away from his desk, off to the side. Harry sat facing him in the chair usually reserved for whomever he was going to talk to directly. Lew had almost no neck, which made it difficult for him to fully turn his head. Everytime he wanted to address me he had to turn his entire body or swivel his chair. Before the meeting, Harry had told me not to refuse to do the picture, but only to say I "preferred not to."

"You’re refusing to do The Fly," he said.

"I would prefer not to," I said.

"So you’re refusing to do it!"

"As I said, and my agent is here as a witness, I prefer —"

"I heard you the first time," he shouted. "You’re on suspension, so we don’t have to pay you for a picture this year."

I looked at Harry.

"Lew," Harry said, "you can’t put him on suspension. He’s not refusing."

"The picture starts in twenty-eight days," Lew said, pushing a piece of legal-sized paper toward the edge of the desk closest to me, "sign this."

Harry got up and walked over to the paper. "This is a four-day waiver," he said. "It’s a courtesy to the studio."

Besides the thirty-day notification, they had to allow two days for wardrobe fittings.

"Tell me something, Lew," I said. "Would you say the studio, and that includes you, have been courteous to me in the past two-and-a-half years?"

"Are you going to sign the waiver?" he asked, disregarding my question.

I got up to leave.

Lew was known, when angry, to turn a brilliant crimson. I watched as the color rose from his shirt collar up his stubby neck, filling his face, like the red dye in a rising thermometer, until it reached and covered the top of his bald head. It was truly a sight to behold. I couldn’t remember when I’d ever seen anything like it. He was standing and his belt didn’t show over the desk top. He had his hands spread out on the desk, knuckles down, and he leaned toward me as far as his height would allow.

"You sign this fucking waiver!" he demanded.

"I am truly offended by this man’s language" I said to Harry. I walked to the door and took hold of the handle, Harry had also gotten up. "Harry," I said, "I no longer wish to be in his presence." Lew’s face had taken on an almost purple color. His arms, extended as they were, began to quiver, he was so furious.

"Don’t give me any shit about my language, you sonofabitch," he waved a finger at me as he said it. "I’ll talk to you any goddam way I please."

I smiled. "And fuck you, too." I walked out of the office and left the door open for Harry, who followed directly after.

In the parking lot, Harry said to me, "You really made an enemy."

"He was an enemy long before I ever walked on the lot. He never forgave me for not being the Mexican actor he swore I was back in ‘53."

A nice fellow named Al Hedison played the part. The studio later changed his name to David Hedison (pictured left). Unfortunately, The Fly didn’t do any more for his career than it would have done for mine, though it became a cult film and was remade a few years ago as a big budget movie. Jeff Goldblum starred in it and his part, as the fly, was greatly expanded from the original script.

From occurrences such as the above, I gained a reputation in Hollywood as being difficult to work with.

I was difficult because I wouldn’t take bullshit from executives with whom I could fight back. I never took advantage, nor made things tough for anyone in the business who wasn’t in a position to protect himself.

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