Of revolution, Fantastic Voyage, and weddings

April 26, 2015

Protesters in Baltimore calling for revolution bring to mind my late friend Saul David, the movie producer whose credits included Our Man Flint, Von Ryan’s Express, and Fantastic Voyage. We met in the 1980s when I was researching my Rod Serling biography and trying to interview as many of his friends as possible, Saul among them. At the time, he had already been forced into retirement, essentially run out of Hollywood, he freely admitted, “by my own big mouth.”

What sparked our friendship, I think, was the story I told him about the elderly woman behind me at Grauman’s Chinese Theater during a showing of Fantastic Voyage, his movie about miniaturized scientists traveling in a miniaturized submarine through a human’s bloodstream. “Honey,” she whispered too loudly, “when do they get to the ocean?”

Saul may have been the smartest man I’ve ever gotten to know well, and not just because he was learned, though he was that, too. Until his death in 1996, he remained an acute and unsentimental observer of human nature whose predictions about the world and its inhabitants were invariably proven correct by subsequent events.

No wonder. All romanticism about the human race had been stripped out of him by his rough childhood during the Depression, six years fighting in World War II (he joined Canada’s forces when Hitler invaded Poland, then reenlisted here after Pearl Harbor), his stint covering the Israeli war of independence as a newspaper correspondent, and the effort to make his mark first as a book editor (becoming editor-in-chief of Bantam Books) and then as a movie producer—two professions in which fish are eaten by small sharks that are in turn devoured by bigger ones.

One story he passed on was about shooting Logan’s Run in Jamaica, where the studio had hired a local man to serve as his factotum/assistant. Every day at least once, Saul said, the guy would mutter, “When the revolution come, mon…”

Not till the last day of shooting did Saul bother to ask what followed the ellipsis. He said to the man, “I know I’m going to regret this, but what is going to happen after the revolution?”

“When the revolution come, mon,” the man said, “I be sitting there”—meaning Saul’s producer’s chair—“and you be sitting here.”

I laughed, as did Saul, remembering the moment. But he’d passed along the story not for what it said about Jamaica or Jamaicans but because it illustrated the gulf separating what people want to believe from what’s true.

Not so many years before, Saul’s father had fled Russia to ply his trade as a tailor in this country, walking from town to town in the Northeast with a heavy sewing machine on his back while never feeling less than grateful for the opportunity. So Saul knew a little something about the difference between liberty and tyranny, and the distinction between the right to pursue happiness and the impossibility of guaranteeing it.

Revolutions are like weddings. Even the most glorious of them doesn’t necessarily produce a happy marriage.

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