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AFI Dallas: Behind the Scenes of The Last Picture Show


by Stephen Becker 3 Apr 2009

There might be someone out there who can talk movies better than Peter Bogdanovich. But after last night at the Nasher Sculpture Center, I’m having a hard time thinking of who that would be. The Nasher was the setting for a screening of Bogdanovich’s small-town Texas masterpiece The Last Picture Show, and with the director […]

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Cybill Shepherd in her star-making role.

Cybill Shepherd in her star-making role.

There might be someone out there who can talk movies better than Peter Bogdanovich. But after last night at the Nasher Sculpture Center, I’m having a hard time thinking of who that would be.

The Nasher was the setting for a screening of Bogdanovich’s small-town Texas masterpiece The Last Picture Show, and with the director attending a post-screening Q&A, the place was at near capacity. For half an hour or so, Bogdanovich answered questions from the crowd about his career and played to their Hollywood curiosities. He’s a notorious name dropper, mentioning conversations with everyone from Orson Welles to Cary Grant. But in this case, it didn’t feel egotistical – he knows that audiences eat that stuff up and, well, he did know those guys. So here’s some of the choice cuts from last night’s conversation:

  • The first time he saw Cybill Shepherd, who played Jaycee in The Last Picture Show and his girlfriend in real life, was on the cover of Glamour magazine. She was wearing a shirt that said “I Love You” all over it, and as Bogdanovich recalls, “Her smile belied the words on her shirt. I wasn’t sure if she loved me or not.” When he finally met her to discuss the part, he remembers her flicking at a rose that was in a vase on his hotel breakfast tray. It represented to him the exact way that Jaycee would tease her men. And it convinced him that she could do the part – he’d teach her to act along the way.
  • The hardest person to convince to do the movie was Ben Johnson, who played the pool hall owner Sam the Lion. Johnson turned Bogdanovich down four times, saying the movie was a “dirty picture,” that he had too many lines – really anything he could think of to get out of it. But Bogdanovich wasn’t taking no for an answer, and even went so far as to ask John Ford, who had directed Johnson in a slew of movies alongside John Wayne, to give his potential Sam a call. Johnson still took some convincing, and one of the things that helped seal the deal was Bogdanovich telling him, “If you do this part, I think you can win the Academy Award. You will win the Academy Award.” Johnson, of course, did go on to win that Academy Award. “To this day, I still don’t know if I meant it at the time,” Bogdanovich said Thursday night.
  • Johnson wasn’t the only actor to walk away from Last Picture Show with an Oscar. Cloris Leachman also won for playing Ruth, the wife of the high school basketball coach who Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) carries on an affair with. It turns out that Leachman (along with many other people on the set, according to Bogdanovich) didn’t care for Bottoms too much  – he had proven himself to be difficult to work with. In the final scene of the movie, when Sonny pays a visit to the heartbroken Ruth, Leachman didn’t even want to look at Bottoms. Instead, during her closeups, she was looking at her director just out of the shot, who was coaching her through the scene as the camera rolled. During editing, Bogdanovich’s words were stripped out, and the rest, as they say, is movie history.
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