Q&A with Aubrey Malone, author of She Married the Boss

aubrey malone q&a

Q&A with Aubrey Malone, author of She Married the Boss

Q. Could you tell me a little about your new book She Married the Boss?
A. It’s a multi-biography of over twenty women who married directors. Sometimes they married more than one. And sometimes the directors in question married more than one woman.

Q. Sounds interesting. Why did you choose this theme?
A. Writers are always looking for original ideas for books, aren’t they? So many of them come out every year, this isn’t easy. Nearly everything has been covered. You have to discover “new wine in old bottles.”

Q. How did this particular new “wine” come to you?
A. I started it, believe it or not, as a biography of Jean Simmons. While doing a search of the internet one day I noticed nobody had ever written a biography of her. That’s almost unheard of these days as every star you care to mention, even the minor ones, seem to have had biographies written of them. Bear Manor Media is particularly good in this respect, covering people a bit further down the cast lists of movies than most publishers.

Q. I’m interested to know how a biography of Ms Simmons morphed into one of twenty different people.
A. Very soon into my research I realized I didn’t have enough material on Jean to do a book on her. I was reading the autobiography of her husband Stewart Granger at the time. I felt that I would be really writing about their relationship if I undertook the book – how they met and married and eventually broke up. I didn’t know where I could go for all the extra material I would need on her. I’d run into a similar problem some years before when I embarked on a biography of Elsa Lanchester. Pretty soon I realized it was turning into a book about Charles Laughton so I abandoned it. This is an occupational hazard of writing about someone who’s married to someone more famous than they are.

Q. Who else do you write about in your book?
A. Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, William Friedkin and Jeanne Moreau, Candice Bergen and Louis Malle, Frances McDormand and Joel Cohn, Louise Brooks and Edward Sutherland and so on. It covers many different decades.

Q. Are any of the directors involved less famous than the actresses?
A. In some ways all of them are, at least if we’re talking about people who are household names – or faces. By definition directors are behind the camera. That doesn’t mean they’re less famous – or rich – than the actress they’re directing. The situation gets more complicated with someone like Paul Newman, who both directed and acted with his wife. If we’re talking about, say, Federico Fellini, he’s much better known globally than Giulietta Masina. William Wyler wasn’t as famous as Margaret Sullavan when he directed her. Guy Ritchie was never going to have even a fraction of Madonna’s fame.

Q. Masina was Gelsomina in La Strada, right?
A. Yes. And in other films he directed as well.

Q. You still haven’t answered my question about how you decided on your theme.
A. This is how it happened. Even though I abandoned my idea of writing a biography of Jean Simmons, I was enjoying Stewart’s book so much I decided to continue reading it. For a while I considered doing a book on stars who’d acted together. Simmons and Granger did in the movie Adam and Evelyne. My mind went through all the obvious other ones – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, etc. Then I thought: That’s been done before too. I remembered James Robert Parish wrote a book called Hollywood’s Great Love Teams. I’m sure there are other books on the subject too.

Q. You still haven’t answered my question about –
A. I’m getting to it. About two-thirds of the way through Granger’s book he started writing about an argument he had with Jean. She was filming Elmer Gantry at the time. The movie’s director, Richard Brooks, was running out of money. He asked her to work for free on the last few scenes and she agreed. When she told Granger this he flew off the handle. His attitude was, “They’re exploiting you – don’t do it.” She was so excited about the movie she hung up on him. A few minutes later she rang him back and said, “I want a divorce.” They hadn’t been getting along at the time. The argument was like an accident waiting to happen. Their relationship had started as a kind of father/daughter one – he was older than her and very protective of her – but then her career took off and he became insecure so the goalposts shifted. It was almost as if she was the mother figure now and he the son.

Q. I think I know what’s coming.
A. You probably do. She now gravitated towards Brooks. After a frosty relationship with him at the beginning of Elme Gantry she later started to realize that behind his tough exterior he had a soft side and they fell in love. Then she married him.

Q. So that’s how you got your book.
A. A lightbulb went off in my mind. I decided to scrap the husband and wife idea and embark on a new one – actresses who married directors. When I looked into it further I found there were dozens. Some I knew about – the aforementioned Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and people like Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim – Vadim had earlier married Brigitte Bardot – but there were loads of others as well. I was on my way and never looked back.

Q. Do you have a favourite chapter in the book?
A. Hmm. That’s a hard one. Every writer probably likes and dislikes aspects of every page of their books, never mind every chapter. I think my favorite is the one featuring Margaret Sullavan and William Wyler.

Q. Why so?
A. She was half mad but entertainingly so. Who else would ride a motorbike into a living room? The relationship began frostily just like the one between Jean Simmons and Richard Brooks but then they started dating.

Q. How did dating turn into marriage?
A. Shortly after they started seeing one another, Wyler said to her, “Is there a law against a director marrying an actress?” She said, “I don’t know.” The next day she arrived on the set and said, “I looked it up. There isn’t.” I love anecdotes like that for the light they throw on people’s personalities.

Q. Okay, so that’s your favorite chapter. Have you a least favorite one?
A. (Pause). If you pushed me I’d probably say the William Friedkin/Jeanne Moreau one. I expected this to be one of the best chapters in the book, especially when I learned that both of them had written autobiographies. Imagine my shock when I learned that Friedkin didn’t even mention Jeanne in his book. Isn’t that the ultimate insult?

Q. Probably. Was it out of malice?
A. I don’t think so. It was more likely a reflection on how little there was between them. She gave up everything to be with him, including her country. After they broke up she wanted to go back to her old apartment in France but it was gone. She regretted that a lot.

Q. If there wasn’t much between them, how did you fill the chapter?
A. I’m afraid I cheated a bit here by mentioning other directors she was involved with but didn’t marry.

Q. Did your research throw up any more surprises than this pair?
A. Many. I was amazed to learn that Isabella Rossellini married Martin Scorsese, for instance. I hadn’t known that, probably because their marriage didn’t last long.

Q. Why was that?
A. Again I don’t think there was much going on between them. Scorsese was fascinated by Isabella because of her father, Roberto. He loved his films. After they split up he made a very hurtful comment about her.

Q. Which was?
A. He said in an interview, “I always thought I should marry Roberto Rossellini’s daughter.” She was very upset by that. It was as if she was a trophy to him rather than anything else.

Q. Didn’t she live with David Lynch afterwards?
A. Yes, but they didn’t marry.

Q. Like Jeanne Moreau and the other directors you mentioned a moment ago.
A. Exactly. I go into this a bit in the epilogue of the book – directors who lived with actresses but didn’t marry them, like Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman, etc. It might be a theme some other writer could tackle in a different book.

Q. What other couples does your book feature?
A. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth – they’re on the cover – John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray and Gloria Grahame – she also married his son! – Hayley Mills and Roy Boulting, Helen Mirren and Taylor Hackford, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, John Huston and Evelyn Keyes, Charlie Chaplin and various women, including Paulette Goddard. Steven Spielberg married two actresses, Amy Irving and Cate Capshaw. You’ll have to buy the book to find out about them all.

Q. I’ll look forward to doing that. Before we finish, have you drawn any conclusions from your research about marriages between actresses and directors.
A. From what point of view?

Q. I mean is it a good idea?
A. I can’t say for sure. In a way isn’t that the beauty of life? Every relationship is different. Some of the couples flourished from working together, some got on one another’s nerves and some just went on as they were. As I say, every couple was different – just like in life. And that’s one of the things I enjoyed most about researching the book: I never knew what I was going to find. So many things impact on relationships - jealousy, rivalry, money, different attitudes to scripts, you name it.

Q. Finally I’d like to ask you if you have any tips for any actresses out there contemplating a marriage with their director.
A. Just one – look before you leap!

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