"I read Hawks on Hawks with passion. I am very happy that this book exists." -- Fran�ois Truffaut
Howard Hawks (1896--1977) is often credited as being the most versatile of all of the great American directors, having worked with equal ease in screwball comedies, westerns, gangster movies, musicals, and adventure films. He directed an impressive number of Hollywood's greatest stars -- including Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, and Marilyn Monroe -- and some of his most celebrated films include Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Rio Bravo (1959).
Hawks on Hawks draws on interviews that author Joseph McBride conducted with the director over the course of seven years, giving rare insight into Hawks's artistic philosophy, his relationships with the stars, and his position in an industry that was rapidly changing. In its new edition, this classic book is both an account of the film legend's life and work and a guidebook on how to make movies.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. [i]-[vi])
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. [vii]-[viii])
[Illustration][Illustration] (pp. [ix]-[x])
IntroductionIntroduction (pp. 1-10)
The distinctive signature of Howard Hawks appeared on several dozen of the most popular movies ever made in Hollywood. The most versatile of all great American directors, he worked with equal ease in screwball comedies, westerns, gangster movies, musicals, private-eye melodramas, and adventure films. He made some of the best movies of such male stars as John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and Gary Cooper, and his portrayals of tough, sexy, sophisticated women such as Lauren Bacall, Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, and Angie Dickinson were far ahead of their time. He collaborated with a remarkable array of first-rate writers, including...
1 Storytelling1 Storytelling (pp. 11-12)
All I’m doing is telling a story. I don’t analyze or do a lot of thinking about it. I work on the fact that if I like somebody and think they’re attractive, I can make them attractive. If I think a thing’s funny, then people laugh at it. If I think a thing’s dramatic, the audience does. I’m very lucky that way. I don’t stop to analyze it. We just made scenes that were fun to do. I think our job is to make entertainment.
You say that you are an entertainer, but critics in the last few years have...
2 Beginnings2 Beginnings (pp. 13-17)
Could you tell me about your family and your early years?
We moved from Indiana to Neenah, Wisconsin, when I was about two years old. My father, my grandfather, and my uncle all had paper mills. Then due to my mother’s health we came to California when I was ten years old. We lived in Pasadena. My father was vice-president of a hotel company that owned a bunch of the big hotels up in San Francisco. And then we had an orange grove in Glendora. I went to some high school in Glendora and to a fine school in Pasadena...
3 Silent Films3 Silent Films (pp. 18-30)
I started as a property man about the same time Jimmy Wong Howe started as an assistant cameraman. And the first thing he did—we all made our dissolves in the camera, you know, you started to dissolve at footage number 275, and you were out at 285—well, he erased all those numbers on a DeMille picture. I was property man for Cecil DeMille, and I was supposed to jump on top of a conference table when a bomb in the war hit the chateau, and I was supposed to drop plaster on everything. They set off the bomb,...
4 Talking Pictures4 Talking Pictures (pp. 31-33)
How did you feel about sound films when you started making them?
I thought it was so easy.
I have a feeling you were one of the few directors who probably welcomed the transition. You and John Ford really set the style of acting in films in the sound era because the two of you quickly grasped the idea that broad stage acting would never work for sound.
I think you’re pretty smart to recognize it, because Ford and I said, “They talk too much,” and we cut down the dialogue on every scene we made. We cut lines out...
5 The Business of Movies5 The Business of Movies (pp. 34-37)
You have a reputation as one of the most astute businessmen of all directors. You’ve never been tied for a long time to any studio, and you’ve always maintained a high degree of control over your work. The producing aspect of your career is very important because you only exercise creative control by controlling the money.
I’ve been independent except for two or three pictures in the first couple years. It’s very easy to figure out that I didn’t have much to do with ’em. I’ve been independent ever since that time. And I started a lot of trouble by...
6 Working with Writers: I6 Working with Writers: I (pp. 38-44)
Most of your movies, even the oldest ones, look very fresh and modern today. Why do you think that is?
Most of them were well written. That’s why they last. I’ve always been blessed with great writers. As a matter of fact, I’m such a coward that unless I get a great writer, I don’t want to make a picture. But Hemingway, Faulkner, Hecht and MacArthur, Jules Furthman, all those people were damned good. The only time I tried to take somebody that I didn’t know was good, why, I had to do it over again. So I’ve been very...
7 Working with Actors7 Working with Actors (pp. 45-52)
What I love most about your films is the feeling you get of people behaving spontaneously toward each other. And it’s maybe the theme of your work, the importance of relationships. It comes across in the sense you get of actors working on the set together. For example, there’s a scene at the end of El Dorado when Wayne puts the crutch under his arm, and Mitchum says, “You’ve got it under the wrong arm!” And Wayne says, “How would you know? You’ve been using it first under this arm and then the other!” I assume that was a joke...
8 Scarface and Howard Hughes8 Scarface and Howard Hughes (pp. 53-63)
Scarface is my favorite picture, even today, because we were completely alone, Hughes and I. Everybody was under contract to the studios. We couldn’t get a studio, and they wouldn’t loan us anybody, so we had to find a cast. They just didn’t want independent pictures made in Hollywood. So we rented a little cobwebbed studio and opened it up and made the picture. It turned out to be the big picture of the year. We didn’t get any help from anybody. And that’s why I think I liked it best.
It was made in 1930 but not released until...
9 Two Films with James Cagney9 Two Films with James Cagney (pp. 64-68)
How did you get involved in two films at Warners with James Cagney, The Crowd Roars and Ceiling Zero?
When was The Crowd Roars made?
Well, I used to race for several years, but about that time I began to get interested again in cars. And no one had done a real story of racing, beginning on the little dirt tracks and moving on up to the Ascot night races and then on up to Indianapolis. It was pretty easy, because we had six or seven Indianapolis winners driving in the picture. They were very glad to do...
10 William Faulkner10 William Faulkner (pp. 69-72)
Bill and I were very good friends. We hunted and fished a lot. He worked with me on, oh, half a dozen pictures. If I wanted a scene or a story, I’d call up Bill and get it. He could write almost anything. Bill, like a lot of authors, didn’t make any money until paperbacks came in, and until France and other countries found him. He was too hard to read. So he needed money, and very often he’d let me know, and I’d see that he’d do a scene. Like the death scene of the pilot in Air Force;...
11 MGM and Viva Villa!11 MGM and Viva Villa! (pp. 73-76)
Metro was the best studio in the world for getting a script and handing it to a director with it all cast and the sets all built—they had the best set designers, and they had good writers—but I don’t think that an independent worked very well over there. I didn’t make much at Metro. I made the one with Joan Crawford, I told you, the Faulkner story which was messed up. And I made Viva Villa!, which was messed up [Hawks was fired during the shooting and replaced by Jack Conway], so I was glad to get out...
12 Twentieth Century12 Twentieth Century (pp. 77-79)
I went from Metro over to Harry Cohn [president of Columbia], who told me any time that I wanted to make a picture, just come in and tell him what it was, and I could start on it. I told him I wanted to do Twentieth Century.
It was based on a play by Hecht and MacArthur.
They wrote it for Gregory Ratoff’s wife, Eugenie Leontovich, who was a stylized Russian actress. I called them and asked them to do the script—there was good money in it for them—for Sadie Glutz instead of a Russian. They said that...
13 Comedy and Tragedy13 Comedy and Tragedy (pp. 80-84)
Your attitude is basically comic, even in a tragic situation. For instance, Al Capone is not really a funny story, but you made a comedy out of it.
Well, would you rather see something dead serious or laugh at something? In the first place, true drama is awfully close to being comedy. The greatest drama in the world is really funny. A man who loses his pants out in front of a thousand people—he’s suffering the tortures of the damned, but he’s awfully funny doing it. I had a damn good teacher, Chaplin. Probably our greatest comic. And everything...
14 Grant and Hepburn14 Grant and Hepburn (pp. 85-89)
In your comedies, you always have the woman pursuing a very shy man. It’s unusual on the screen to have men be so shy and women be so aggressive. Yet you were doing it in the 1920s and 1930s before that kind of thing was seen much in comedies.
You take a professor, and you use the girl’s part to knock his dignity down—Katie Hepburn and Cary were a great combination [in Bringing Up Baby]. It’s pretty hard to think of anybody but Cary Grant in that type of stuff. He was so far the best that there isn’t...
15 Working with Writers: II15 Working with Writers: II (pp. 90-96)
In Only Angels Have Wings, I knew every character personally that was in that picture. I knew how they talked. And if they began to talk too much because the writer [Jules Furthman] put in too much, I’d just say “Cut it out,” then we’d get down to real lines. If you’ve seen the picture lately, you may remember Richard Barthelmess’s part. I knew the fellow that jumped out of an airplane and left somebody behind to get killed. He spent the rest of his life trying to make up for that, and he got killed, finally, trying to make...
16 His Girl Friday16 His Girl Friday (pp. 97-99)
How did you get the idea to change the sex of the Hildy Johnson character when you adapted The Front Page into His Girl Friday?
We were having dinner one night at the house, six or eight people, and we were talking about dialogue. I said that the finest modern dialogue in the world came from Hecht and MacArthur. After dinner we went in, and I had two copies of their play The Front Page. There was a girl there who was pretty good, and I said, “Read the reporter’s part, and I’ll read the editor’s part.” And in the...
17 Camerawork17 Camerawork (pp. 100-104)
I try to tell my story as simply as possible, with the camera at eye level. I just imagine the way the story should be told, and I do it. If it’s a scene that I don’t want anybody to monkey with or cut, I don’t give them any way to cut it. If I think that it’s a little too long and the actors are dawdling and I want to cut some of it out, I make two angles so that I can cut it. That’s about all I can say about it. I like to tell it with...
18 Samuel Goldwyn18 Samuel Goldwyn (pp. 105-108)
One mystery which has never been explained is why William Wyler replaced you as director on the Samuel Goldwyn film Come and Get It.
Goldwyn really tried like hell to make good pictures, but we didn’t get along too well. He didn’t think a director should write. He was crazy about writers, and he really tried to get the finest authors he could get ahold of. He got Edna Ferber’s story because Edna Ferber was supposed to be a good writer, and there were a great many things that I didn’t like about the story. Goldwyn was going to the...
19 Sergeant York19 Sergeant York (pp. 109-111)
Hal Wallis [Warner Brothers’ head of production] gave me the script and said, “If you don’t do this, we’re gonna make a B-picture out of it.” I said, “That’s a great way to tell somebody …” When I read it, I said to tell him it’s about as bad as he indicated it was. And I went in to see Jesse Lasky [the producer], who needed a shave and had the shakes, and I said, “Look, close your door, and tell the secretary no calls, and tell me why the hell you bought this story.” He gave me my first...
20 Air Force20 Air Force (pp. 112-115)
Air Force is a film which hasn’t been talked about much by critics or, for some reason, in your interviews, but it’s a fine film, very authentic-looking.
I’ve been flying all my life. I made it because I knew [Major] General [Henry H.] Arnold, the head of the Air Force [actually, at that time, the Army Air Corps], since he was a captain. He asked me to make a film for him. Christ, he even made me a general for a week. I was doing a bunch of things for him, and the first general with a higher rank that...
21 Ernest Hemingway21 Ernest Hemingway (pp. 116-119)
A couple of years ago you were going to direct a film about the friendship of Hemingway and Robert Capa, the news photographer. Are you still working on that?
Well, I tell you, when you make a picture about real people, and their names are used, you have more trouble … in making Sergeant York we had to get twenty releases—every member of his squad in the Army, his lieutenant, his captain, his major, anybody that we mentioned we had to get releases. I think the story of getting the releases, where we found the various people and how...
22 The Hawksian Woman22 The Hawksian Woman (pp. 120-126)
I’ve been accused of promoting Women’s Lib, and I’ve denied it, emphatically. It just happens that kind of a woman is attractive to me. I merely am doing somebody that I like. And I’ve seen so many pictures where the hero gets in the moonlight and says silly things to a girl, I’d reverse it and let the girl do the chasing around, you know, and it works out pretty well. Anyway, I know that a little better than I do that other stuff. I’d much rather work with a character like that than with some little Puritan violet. I...
23 Bogart and The Big Sleep23 Bogart and The Big Sleep (pp. 127-131)
Bogie was one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. He was a far cry from the actors today, who are a little bit on the dilettante side. There was Bogie with a homely face and everything, and people adored him. When I started to work with him I said, “Why don’t you ever smile?” “Oh,” he said, “I got a bum lip.” He had a lip that was badly cut up, and I think the nerves were cut. And I said, “Well, the other night when we got drunk you certainly were smiling and laughing a lot.” He...
24 Walter Brennan24 Walter Brennan (pp. 132-136)
I firmly believe that the camera likes some people and the camera dislikes other people. Somebody that the camera likes has an awful time doing wrong. Somebody that the camera dislikes has not got a chance in the world. If you look at my career, you’ll find that I like actors less than I do personalities. Bogart was a great actor, but he was also a hell of a personality. Muni was a great actor but not a real personality; he interpreted things, he did them the way the writer wrote them. Eddie Robinson wasn’t half as good an actor...
25 John Ford25 John Ford (pp. 137-140)
What do you think you have in common with John Ford?
Well, a great deal. He was a good director when I started, and I copied him every time I could. It’s just as if you were a writer, you would read Hemingway and Faulkner and John Dos Passos and Willa Cather and a lot of people like that. We were very good friends. I don’t think I’ve done nearly as good a job as Ford has on some things. I think he’s got the greatest vision for a tableau, a long shot, of any man. One of my favorite...
26 The Western26 The Western (pp. 141-143)
There are not very many stories that you can do about the West that are any good. You haven’t got an awful lot of choice. The western is the simplest form of drama—a gun, death—and they all fall, really, into two kinds. One is the history of the beginning of the West, the story of the pioneers, which was the story of Red River. Then there’s the phase when law and order comes. You’ve got a sheriff—sometimes you had a bad sheriff; sometimes you had a good one. There are only a few forms. But every time...
27 John Wayne27 John Wayne (pp. 144-149)
John Wayne represents more force, more power, than anybody else on the screen. And I think both Ford and I succeeded in making pretty good scenes with him. When Ford was dying, we used to discuss how tough it was to make a good western without Wayne. Now, that’s just our two viewpoints about it, but maybe you can tell me somebody who’s made westerns as good as Wayne has. Cary Grant and I have been talking about him doing a western playing a consumptive dentist. He’d like very much to play it. We’ve already mapped out the best scenes....
28 Red River28 Red River (pp. 150-154)
I brought along a magazine, Film Comment, because I want to show you something Borden Chase [co-writer of Red River and author of the original story] said about you. They never gave you a chance to reply, so I thought in all fairness you should be given a chance to go on the record with a response. [Hawks spent about five minutes reading Chase’s remarks on Red River from an interview with Jim Kitses in the “Hollywood Screenwriter” issue of Film Comment, Winter 1970–71. Briefly, Chase attacked Hawks for changing parts of his script, for historical inaccuracies, and for...
29 Marilyn Monroe29 Marilyn Monroe (pp. 155-157)
Marilyn Monroe was the most frightened little girl who had no confidence in her ability. She was afraid to come on the screen. Very strange girl. And yet she had this strange effect when she was photographed. Nobody dated her, nobody took her out, nobody paid any attention to her. She’d sit on the set with practically nothing on, and a pretty extra girl would walk by and everybody’d whistle. But she got out in front of the camera, and the camera liked her, and all of a sudden she was a great sex symbol. Fortunately, I had her in...
30 Music30 Music (pp. 158-162)
We went through a phase of putting lousy music into pictures where inferior musicians copied great masters. It just became ridiculous, with about twenty violins and fifteen cellos and woodwinds and all of that stuff. I worked with [Dimitri] Tiomkin, whom I thought was a pretty good musician, but when we made Hatari!, I said to Dimi, “Look, I don’t want one violin. I don’t want one cello. I don’t want any woodwind. I want native instruments or something else that you can think of.” He said, “That’s a great idea, boss.” Then he called me the next day and...
31 Themes and Variations: Three westerns31 Themes and Variations: Three westerns (pp. 163-174)
Rio Bravo was made because I didn’t like a picture called High Noon. I saw High Noon at about the same time I saw another western picture, and we were talking about western pictures, and they asked me if I liked it, and I said, “Not particularly.” I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him. That isn’t my idea of a good western sheriff. I said that a good sheriff would turn around and say, “How...
32 Hatari!32 Hatari! (pp. 175-181)
Hatari! was about a hunting season. It started with the beginning, the planning, and finished with the windup of the thing. It had a form of simplicity. There was just a group of people who were hunting for circuses and making money. The Indian [Bruce Cabot] got hit by a rhino in the very first part of the thing. That’s a trick I use all the time. To make a business dangerous, you hurt somebody in the beginning. Flying, racing, anything, I always start with as much of a smash as I can. So it introduced people, and then you...
33 Critics33 Critics (pp. 182-183)
Why do you think it took so long for you and other directors to be appreciated in America?
Well, they had these big companies and they didn’t want us to get big because it cost them too much money. I like the French people. As a matter of fact, the French people are the first people who thought I was any good as a director, so naturally I would like them. Every time I go over to France I meet about thirty directors. We have a few drinks and talk. The last time I was over there, I said, “You...
34 Today’s Actresses34 Today’s Actresses (pp. 184-185)
There aren’t as many good actresses today as there used to be.
You can count ’em on your fingers if you’re down to one finger.
There are a lot of models around but not a lot of strong actresses.
There’s no training for them. I don’t know where they’re gonna get’em. You get a girl on a damn television series, and then they get cute. I had Barbara Feldon come over, and I said, “Look, I thought you were going to be one of the best that I’ve ever seen, and then you got cute. Here are two or three...
35 Today’s Movies35 Today’s Movies (pp. 186-188)
You’re quite an inspiration for a lot of young European directors. What do you think of their work?
A number of them have a great deal of talent, but they’re telling pictures that are good for only France, Italy, and Germany. When I go over there I talk to them about it. I say, “Why don’t you fellows widen out, make a picture that is good for the world? You aren’t going to get enough money to work with unless you can get it out of universal entertainment.” And I think that they’re beginning to work on that. A couple...
36 Late Projects36 Late Projects (pp. 189-193)
What’s your next picture?
Well, I’ve got a couple of ’em. One’s a crazy, wild comedy [When It’s Hot Play It Cool] that goes over about six countries. It’s about the oil business.
Isn’t it actually a remake of A Girl in Every Port?
Not a remake, but I don’t want to be sued or have some judge ask me where did I get my idea for the story, because I’d have to say from Girl in Every Port. So I bought it to make sure it would be OK.
What stage are you in the writing?
To be truthful,...
37 Advice to Young Directors37 Advice to Young Directors (pp. 194-196)
When young directors ask you for advice, what do you tell them?
[William] Friedkin was going around with my daughter [Kitty] in New York. He asked me how I liked his last picture, The Boys in the Band. I said, “If you’re going to be making pictures you’ll have to learn not to ask that. I thought it was lousy.” He said, “I’m interested in why.” I said, “It’s too bad that somebody who has the talent you have should waste his time on junk like that.” He took it all very, very well. I said, “You made another lousy...
FilmographyFilmography (pp. 197-222)
Selected BibliographySelected Bibliography (pp. 223-226)
IndexIndex (pp. 227-236)
Back MatterBack Matter (pp. 237-238)