Heaven can wait on Arte: the howls of the director against his actress

A look back at the tensions and altercations that arose on the set of “Heaven Can Wait” between actress Gene Tierney and director Ernst Lubitsch.

We are in 1943, the Second World War is raging, but in Hollywood, the film industry continues to march. Ernst Lubitsch, an American filmmaker of German origin, arrived in the United States in 1922 and produced Dangerous Games, aka To Be or Not to Be, a comedy parodying the conflict and making fun of Hitler.

The public able to see the film (because in Europe for example, it will be released years later) shuns the project, and judges that it is too early to laugh at the situation.

For her part, actress Gene Tierney comes out of two badly received and shunned: China Girl by Henry Hathaway (1942) and Rings on Her Fingers by Rouben Mamoulian as well as Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air (1942), of which she is the star but whose public will especially salute the aerial prowess staged by William A. Wellman.

Twentieth Century Fox

Gene Tierney

After being hired by Fox to shoot Heaven Can Wait, Lubitsch will be intractable on the set, shouting at the top of his voice, as Gene Tierney remembers in his memoirs:

Lubitsch was a tyrant (…), the most demanding director. After a scene that had taken from noon to 5 p.m. to put in a box, I was almost in tears to hear him shout at me.

But the actress did not disassemble and the next day, went to see her director to talk about the situation once and for all:

“I went up to him to look him in the eye and say, ‘Mr. Lubitsch, I’m ready to do my best, but I just can’t keep working on this movie if you keep yelling at me.’ .” The filmmaker’s response was unequivocal:

I get paid to yell at you.

To which, without disassembling, the 23-year-old actress replied:

Twentieth Century Fox

Gene Tierney versus Don Ameche

“It’s true, and I’m paid to cash it, but not enough.”

Lubitsch laughed and from then on, Tierney and him finished the shooting in the best conditions. For the anecdote, the actress will discover that she is pregnant with her first child, Daria, on the set of Heaven can wait. The feature film will be nominated for three Oscars, including Best Director.

For the record, there is another film titled Heaven Can Wait / Le Ciel peut attend, with Warren Beatty released in 1978, and which has nothing to do since it is the remake not of Lubitsch’s film but of the recalcitrant Defunt, 1941 movie.

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