James B. Harris: When
Kubrick and I finished "Paths Of Glory," Marlon
Brando called us up and said I want to make pictures
with you guys. I've seen "The Killing"
and now "Paths Of Glory" and I think we should
be in business. Let's plan on doing a picture together.
So we started having meetings and we couldn't get to
any agreement with Marlon on what picture to make. Which
leads me to believe either that we had completely different
tastes or that he was angling all the time to get Stanley
to do "One-Eyed Jacks." He eventually sprung
that on us after many, many meetings of this sort. He
said, OK, I have this obligation at Paramount, so Jimmy
will continue looking for material but in the meantime
Stanley and I will do "One-Eyed Jacks." I
think what he wanted all the time was to get Stanley
to direct, and I think that developed into wanting to
direct the picture himself.
By the time I acquired the rights to "Lolita,"
Stanley had finished on "One-Eyed Jacks."
Marlon became very difficult for Stanley
to work with and Stanley had never worked with anything
except his own approval. We thought alike anyhow so
there was never anybody to account to. Now we were going
to get back to work on "Lolita," developing
the script. We no sooner get back to our own office
Stanley is no longer at Paramount working with
Marlon Brando when the phone rings and it's Kirk
Douglas saying he's having trouble with "Spartacus,"
can we make a deal to get Stanley to direct it. Douglas
fired Anthony Mann after three days shooting. Well,
my heart sunk in one way because I had been waiting
for Stanley to get done with Marlon. Luckily that deal
fell apart and Stanley left without doing the film and
we started developing the script of "Lolita"
and then this comes up, "Spartacus." We said,
well jeez, it can't hurt
for Stanley to get a big credit plus he'll be directing
three directors, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and
Laurence Olivier, and that could do a lot for us. So
we wound up lending Stanley to Kirk's company to direct
We had gone back to Calder Willingham
[writer on "Paths Of Glory" & "The
Graduate"] to do the first draft of "Lolita,"
and Stanley didn't like the draft. He was in Spain doing
the battle scenes for "Spartacus." I kind
of liked Calder's draft. I thought it was really good.
But we decided to go after Nabakov to write the screenplay.
Nabakov introduce the nested structure that begins with
the murder, travels back in time then works its way
back up to it?
That was my idea to do that. Stanley and I were discussing
the the script
and I said, you know, we've always said that this is
a bizarre love story. And we want to really engage an
audience into reversing what they perceived as a dirty
old man. By the time the picture ends they should really
feel sorry for him. If we end the picture with the killing
of Claire Quilty, I said we're leaving the audience
with a comedic scene and we won't really accomplish
what we want. Wouldn't it be better to do that scene
at the beginning and end the picture on Humbert's sadness
finding Lolita and begging her to come back and crying
and having his heart broken? And Stanley immediately
said, you're absolutely right, let's do it that way.
I thought it was a better way to leave the audience.
there mischievous intent in subverting the audience's
was a certain amount of craftiness, shrewdness,
about survival in our minds. First of all, to us the
story's most interesting part was it was a bizarre love
story, and the craftiness was: what do we have to gain
except censorship and defeat if we get into Humbert
Humbert's prediliction for little girls? Why bring that
in at all? Why not make this a love story? When he sees
this girl, this is the girl he falls in love with. Why
do we have to introduce the idea that he's been chasing
little girls his whole life? This is a major departure
from the book.
knew that there would be hell to pay with the critics
and anyone who thinks the book is a masterpiece, which
it was. But our position was, we're making our movie.
We are not obliged to anything except making the best
picture we can make in our view. So let's forget about
staying accurate with the book. Let's just dramatize
the story the way we think it really works. We wanted
to show the consequences of what happens when you're
that foolish and that much struck by somebody.
After the Calder screenplay didn't satisfy
Stanley we went and got Nabakov to come over from Switzerland
and write a script at a house in Mandeville Canyon but
we dropped it. I think he probably put in some predisposition
for little girls.
Calder did the first draft and Nabakov the second, and
the real draft, the one that we used to shoot, was done
by Stanley and myself up in the attic in England, where
we rewrote the whole thing, took the best of everything,
the book, the scripts, our own ideas. And when we finished
it, we said, well, who's name are we going to put on
this? And we decided there's only one name you can put
and that's Nabakov. If people are going to be really
hard-nosed about sticking to the book, when they see
the changes they'll kill us. So if we put Nabakov's
name on the script as sole screenwriter, how are they
going to complain about any departure from the book
when the author wrote the movie?
You know what happened? Nabakov got nominated
for an Academy Award. Isn't that beautiful?
the film was one thing, but getting to that point, raising
the money, that was the tough part. Nobody would have
the guts to finance the movie and run the risk of not
getting a code seal. At that time
if you didn't get a code seal from the MPAA most distributors
wouldn't touch the picture. And in addition to that,
you had the Catholic Legion of Decency. So nobody would
make a picture unless the script had been approved,
and even then the censors say we have to see the movie
because there are a lot of ways to shoot scenes. There
was a guy at the MPAA named Geoffrey Sherlock who handles
censorship. He said, just on general terms we would
not give a code seal to any picture that shows a relationship
between an adult and a 12 year-old child. That's Lolita's
age in the novel.
went back after I did this research and I said, Geoffrey,
let me ask you something: if something is legal, could
you really then say it's immoral? I mean you can't,
can you? He said, no, I guess not. I mean it's legal.
So I said, what we're going to have them do is get married.
Because in one of the states, possibly Southern, I don't
remember, it was legal to marry a girl as young as 12.
I said, now under those circumstances do you think we
can get a seal? And he said, yeah, I do. Provided there's
nothing explicit. Even between grown-ups in those days.
Warner Brothers had offered a million dollar deal if
we could get the code seal. Now I had the code seal
in my pocket.
The music, the cast, the cut, everything
has to be approved. So we actually walked away from
the deal. We felt it was so hard to get to that point,
and it's so hard, painful, compromising to make a good
film. We turned down a million dollars.
had in mind James Mason and Laurence Olivier, those
two. And when we had problems with them, David Niven
was a possibility.
All three at different times had agreed to do the picture.
James Mason we approached first. He said he was terribly
interested but he was committed to do a stage play and
was unavailable. Olivier agreed and then backed out
because of his agents. Funny part, they were our agents
as well. Maybe he was a bigger client. We had a deal
at lunch time and he said, all I have to do is tell
my agent, and at 4 o'clock the deal was off. We didn't
have Mason or Olivier now so we tried Niven. And he
loved the idea and agreed to do it. But his agent also
backed him out because of exposure from his contract
on the TV show "Four Star Playhouse" with
Dick Powell and Ida Lupino and Charles Boyer. They had
Now James Mason calls back and says the
play is not going to happen. Is that part still open?
He couldn't have come at a better time. We were down
in the dumps. We had nobody and we needed an attractive
Humbert and a female who would be attractive to any
male as a sex object so it would not seem disgusting,
repulsive or demented. Lolita was wise enough to know
the strength she has in her looks and the way men feel.
So it wasn't necessary to make her look like Patty McCormack
in "The Bad Seed," to make her look like a
Flynn came in on a casting call. He brought in a little
girlfriend he was hanging out with it was widely
publicized in hopes that he could play Humbert
and she could play Lolita. A letter came into the office
from her mother claiming she could play this part better
than anyone because she's been living the part. It was
Sue Lyon got by us. We interviewed her
and we kept going. And then one day Stanley came into
the office and said, you know, last night I saw an episode
of "The Loretta Young Show." Remember that
girl that was in here? Yeah, what about her? He says,
she's a terrific little actress. We gotta bring her
back here and read her. She was bright, she had a good
sense of humor. She saw the humor in it.
When we were working with Peter Sellers
on "Lolita" we had a terrific relationship.
And it was mostly for laughs, most of the stuff we thought
of was designed to make people laugh. The scene in the
balcony, the dancing scene, the scene where Humbert
bullies Dr. Zempf into letting Lolita do the school
play. No problems. Stanley said that when he did "Dr.
Strangelove" with him it was different. Sellers
used to get into these deep depressions by the afternoon.
shot 88 days on budget at $1.8 million. Today that's
lunch. That's the agent's commission (laughs). After
shooting I was relegated to working on the music. My
brother Bob [Harris] did the "Lolita" love
theme [and also composed the famous "Spiderman"
theme song for the '70s TV animation] and I made the
suggestion to use Nelson Riddle for the score. Riddle
came over to England, which was the place we thought
we could make the movie with the money we had available.
Stanley fell in love with England. He felt it was a
more civilized place to raise kids. Living in New
York he had a fear of sending his kids to school there.
Too much violence. He felt comfortable in England. He
spoke the language. And they had the facilities to make
films. He said, you can make films anywhere. It's where
you live with your children that's to care about. He
wasn't a big fan of California. He wasn't an outdoors
guy. Stanley wasn't one to go out and sit in the sun.
Listen, Kubrick is and was a regular guy.
What a lot of people don't know is how interested he
was in other people and the things that people do. He's
not an "I-Me, I-Me" guy. If he was conceited
he certainly never bragged. He must have known how talented
he was. I hate to use the word genius but he was one,
and like all those kind of people he had fear of failure,
and that's what makes you good. You know you can get
knocked out. A fighter who doesn't think he can get
knocked out gets KO'ed because he doesn't protect himself.
Stanley always made sure he never got knocked out. He
stayed away from scenes he knew didn't play. Kubrick
hates exposition. Everyone should.
were not daunted by the fact that "Lolita"
was infamous. Listen. Fools rush in. We were young and
we had done two films already. Starting from "The
Killing," I had never produced a picture before.
Stanley had never made any kind of a real movie. "Paths
Of Glory," they told us it was too down-beat, impossible,
no girls in the picture everything was against
it. So I was naive enough to believe that you can't
be stopped and if you try hard enough you'll get it
done. The only way you're going to have any kind of
success is to be absolutely undaunted. They throw you
out the front door, you come in the side door, through
the back door, through the window but keep comin'
at 'em. It's mostly in your youth. You're not daunted
by other people who have failed or by wiser people who
know all the pitfalls, who say you could lose a lot
of money here. We had nothing to lose.