Entry dated :: April 1,1970
New York City    
The Iliad :
The Premiere

          Some ten years have now passed since Susan Brockman and I departed for Greece to produce Homer's Iliad.  Now, after a span that nearly equals that of the Greeks in Troy, we are about to screen the results of this flight from reality in unbalanced technicolor for some 30 invitees in the plush Warner Bros screening room in Rockefeller Center.    This "premiere," will probably be the one and only showing. It was generously arranged by Daniel Stern, a writer and ad executive, who just became a vice president of Warner Bros.

     The only person here who had been actually involved in the Iliad project-- other than Susan and I-- is Mario Puzo, who wrote the shooting script for $400. Not only is his book the Godfather at the top of the best seller list, but, in what seems the final irony, the elusive Marlon Brando is going to star in the film version of it.   Given his enormous post-Iliad success, Puzo has invited us to a celebratory dinner at Elaine's after the screening.

        Most of the other guests-- including Renata Adler, Byron Dobell, Frank Conroy, Judy Daniels, Robin Fox, Jack Gelber, Penelope Gilliat, Emma Rothschild, Jonathan Schell, Ray Sokolov, and Lionel Tiger-- come from my own post-Iliad literary scene.   My professor from Harvard, Edward Banfield, for whom I am currently writing my Ph.D. thesis on Selections of Reality on Network Television, and my teaching colleague, Bruce Kovner, have come from Cambridge for the event.   The audience also includes Clay Felker, the founder of New York magazine, Aaron Asher, the editor of my first book, Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth,  Bob Bingham, my editor at the New Yorker, Sterling Lord, my agent,  Richard Wald, the vice president of NBC News. and Armand Erpf, a media financier.  What all these attendees have in common is that they had heard some part of my Iliad story-- and, expressing incredulity, asked to see it.

         The eight hours of footage-- mainly retakes-- has been reduced to 40 minutes.   The room darkens .  On the screen, in Cinemascope, Trojan soldiers, some stumbling on their giant shields, rush between two fiery ships.



        Since there is no sound, I narrate (without any lyre or other accompaniment) the battle.  Aside from the disaster scenes on camera,  I tell of the disasters off camera, including the out-of-control chariot, the burning of the region's telephone poles (and thousand-fold blackout it caused), the shipwrecked LST (for which I was later sued by the Greek General staff), the orangeade epidemic among the extras that drained my budget, the obsessive wait for Brando, and the multitude of other inconveniences I visited on the Greeks by following my muse. 

       When the lights come on, Dan Stern provides champagne, courtesy of Warner Bros, and we head for Elaine's.

         "It looked like you had great fun," Mario Puzo says in the cab uptown. 

          "It was more of a learning experience," I reply.  It was anything but fun.  Soon after Susan and I returned to New York in October 1961,  we went our separate ways.  She moved to East Hampton, where she established herself as an avant garde artist and became romantically involved with Wilhem DeKooning.   I went to Rome searching for an Italian producer willing to resuscitate the the Iliad.  I choose Rome because George St. George and Rudy Mate were there completing the postproduction work on their movie Lion of Sparta at Cinecitta, and Cinecitta was then the epicenter of sword-and-sandals epics.  Through their good offices, I met numerous producers but, unlike the Greeks, they required more than Lattimore's translation of the Iliad or the idea of Brando as Achilles; nor were they impressed with the footage.  They all required a script. 

      I came up with the idea of a movie in which the Iliad would be told from the prophetic point of view of Cassandra. It would be called Cassandra's Iliad.  I even found a possible Cassandra, Marie Devereux, who had been a body double for Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra . I met her on the set at Cinecitta and offered her the part (since she was more available than the elusive Marlon Brando.)  I then raised the prospect of writing Cassandra with Sloane Elliott.    Sloane had not only written the initial treatment for the Iliad, he invested in it.  He had also come to Greece in 1961 for the shooting of the battle scenes, where he met and married Drusilla Vasiliou, the daughter of the production designer.   Sloane, now happily residing in Kifisia with Drusilla, replied,

      "Haven't you spent enough time on the Iliad?"

       He was right.  So I went back to Cornell.




10 Years Earlier

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