The dreams of greatness of producer Samuel Bronston, under the sun of Franco’s Spain

By Isabelle Piquer

Posted today at 7:00 p.m.

In 1962, an American family shared an excellent dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Madrid. Around the table is film producer Samuel Bronston, his wife and daughter. At the end of the meal, in more than approximate Spanish, the father asks to see the cook to thank him. The waiter apologizes: “He’s not here, he’s been working on a film for weeks. ” These are the 55 Beijing Days, by Nicholas Ray, which requires many Chinese extras. A film produced by Samuel Bronston.

The anecdote is told by Andrea, the producer’s daughter. This beautiful sexagenarian with a red mane and an easy joke has been living in Madrid since the 1970s. She never wanted to leave a city she discovered when she was very young, embroiled in the dreams of glory of such a special father. Singer and actress, she proudly wears her name, well known in the profession in Spain, even if everything has not been easy, far from it. “I love to talk about the films produced by my father, I think it’s great that we still remember them, but I spend my life explaining that I am not rich, she said without bitterness. My brothers and I inherited nothing, because despite his mind-blowing career, he ultimately lost everything. “

Producer Samuel Bronston and actress Ava Gardner, on the set of Nicholas Ray's

Samuel Bronston (1908-1994) is a fascinating figure in the Hollywood saga in Spain. There he produced some of the most flamboyant films of the 1960s, and the most expensive too, rivaling historic murals made directly in Los Angeles. We owe him in quick succession The king of kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961), The Cid (Anthony Mann, 1961), Beijing 55 Days (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann, 1964) and The biggest circus in the world (Henry Hathaway 1964).

Beijing 55 Days, worn by actors Charlton Heston, David Niven and Ava Gardner, recounts the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, fomented by secret societies against both foreign occupation and the feudal power of the Manchu Qing Dynasty – it ends in a bloodbath. As usual in the Bronston films, everything is spectacular. The wall of the Forbidden City is reconstructed at the gates of Madrid, in the small town of Las Matas. “One of the most complex sets I have ever seen”, said Charlton Heston, however used to excess. The madness of grandeur goes to the extras: “As there weren’t enough Chinese in Madrid, we had to bring in from Lisbon and London, says Julio Sempere with a smile, then a young production assistant, who is still perky at 85 years old. For the scenes of riots, we put the Chinese in the foreground, then the Peruvians whom we had unearthed all over the country and made up to do the trick, and finally the Spaniards in the background. “

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