From Forties Film Talk by Doug McClelland
McFarland & Company, Inc., North Carolina, 1992
Reprinted with kind permission of Doug McClelland who had this to say about Victor: "I have also enjoyed his work, as well, and feel that he was, and continues to be, very underrated. I even feel there were a couple of performances that merited Oscar consideration. He was far more than 'a [beautiful] hunk of man.'"
Kiss of Death and then Samson and Delilah were very important to my career. The success of Death, I'm sure, helped me to get Samson and Delilah, and Delilah led to many good roles in pictures like The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators.
Darryl Zanuck, our boss at 20th Century-Fox, had already okayed me for Kiss of Death when I went for my interview with the director, Henry Hathaway.
Henry said, "Nice meeting you, Vic. We've admired your work. Now there's something I want you to know about me when I work. I sometimes get very uptight and excited and every now and then I say something I don't really mean. If I explode with you, just ignore it."
I said, "Henry, here's something you should know about me: when someone around me explodes I react in exactly the same way. Why don't you get Cesar Romero for this part? I don't need the picture." But I was cast in it, and in the end I wasn't sorry, although Henry was true to his word.
Once, when we were filming in someone's house in New Jersey, the dialogue for the scene was changed about twenty minutes before we were to shoot.
Henry became furious, kicking boxes, pounding walls. When I saw this, I left the house and went out and sat in the car. Pretty soon, an assistant came out and said, "Henry's waiting for you."
I told him, "You go back in and tell him that goes for pantomime, too!"
In a few minutes Henry came out and put his arm around my shoulder, laughing, "You bas****!" Everything calmed down then - at least for that day.
Kiss of Death was Richard Widmark's first picture, and of course he made a sensation in it pushing the old lady down a flight of stairs. But he was a Broadway and radio veteran.
On the first day, I told him, "Don't take any of Henry's s***." The supporting players and extras in the film, which was shot in the East, were all Widmark's peers - theatre pros who, in some cases had even starred on Broadway. And right in front of them all, Henry started eating his a** out. Widmark just gave him the finger, then went and sat down.
When Henry came over, Widmark told him, "I'm a professional and I expect to be treated like a professional." After that Henry behaved with Widmark.
Cecil B. DeMille, the producer-director of Samson and Delilah, always saw all of Hollywood to find the best people for his spectaculars. So when I got the call, I wasn't all that anxious to come in for the interview from Laguna, where I was living then. I thought, "Well he's seeing everyone and now it's my turn."
Meeting him in his office at Paramount, I found that he had an extensive knowledge of my entire career - that's how thorough he was. When the interview lasted four hours, I knew I was in. While we were talking he mentioned that he was having difficulty casting another important role, the Saran of Gaza. After he described the character to me I said, "It's got to be George Sanders." And he not only signed me to play Samson, but George Sanders to play the Saran of Gaza. After the picture was finished, I received a wire from Sanders reading, "Where do I send the 10 percent?"
DeMille hired the best people in town for his films, and since we were all professionals he didn't feel he had to direct us too much. He figured we knew our jobs.
He'd say a few words to us, then shoot the scene. But he didn't miss a trick.
In a scene with 3,000 extras, if one guy in the back was picking his nose, Mr. DeMille would spot it and stop everything to chew him out.
One time he came up to me and said, "Victor, my boy. We're ready to do the scene where you fight the lion. We have a real lion, but he's very tame, a very sweet old lion. His name is Jackie. When you fight him, I'd like you to put your head in his mouth. Now don't worry; nothing can happen - Jackie has no teeth."
I said, "Mr. DeMille, I don't even want to be gummed!"
I did not do the stunt. No way! Not if there were six people holding Jackie by the tail!
Hedy Lamarr, who plays Delilah, was gorgeous - George Barnes, who photographed the picture, said to me, "You can shoot her from any angle. She has no bad angles." But I don't think she was well during the picture. Nothing chronic, she was just somehow out of sorts. Let me put it another way: she was not exactly a ball of fire - she just seemed to be loping along. But we got along okay, worked well together, and the camera picked up her beauty and mystique.
When Samson and Delilah came out, I received very flattering telegrams from Mr. DeMille and another pioneer filmmaker, Jesse L. Lasky, whose son, Jesse, Jr., had written the screenplay. I still have them.
Recently, I was asked to play Sylvester Stallone's father in a movie, so I gave them my price. It's been a few weeks now and I haven't heard, so it's probably not going to happen. But that's okay, I don't need the work. My father was rich and I took good care of my own money.
Elsewhere in Forties Film Talk, Victor relates: "There's nothing to be afraid of," Cecil B. DeMille assured me when I refused to do a stunt in Samson and Delilah. I told him, "I wouldn't walk up a wet step."