excerpt | the art of screenwriting no 1 with billy wilder



one day, brackett and i were called in to see lubitsch. he told us he was thinking vaguely about doing an adaptation of a french play about a millionaire - a very straightforward law-abiding guy, who would never have an affair with a woman unless he was married to her. so he married seven times!

that would be gary cooper. claudette colbert was to be the woman who was in love with him, who’d insist "i will marry you, but only to be the final wife.” as the meeting was being adjourned, i said, i have a meet-cute for your story (a “meet-cute” was a staple of romantic comedies back then, where boy meets girl in a particular way, and sparks fly) let’s say your millionaire is an american who is very stingy. he goes to a department store in nice on the french riviera where he wants to buy a pajama top, but just the top, because he never wears the pants. she has come to the same counter to buy pajamas for her father, who as it happens only wears the pants. that broke the ice, and we were put to work on that picture, which became bluebeard's eighth wife.

lubitsch, of course, would always find a way to make something better. he put another twist on that meeting. brackett and i were at lubitsch's house working, when during a break he emerged from the bathroom and said, what if when gary cooper comes in to the store to buy the pajama top, the salesman gets the floor manager, and cooper again explains he only wants to buy the top. the floor manager says, absolutely not, but when he sees cooper will not be stopped, the floor manager says, maybe i could talk to the store manager. the store manager says, that's unheard of! but ends up calling the department store's owner, whom he disturbs in bed. we see the owner in a close shot go to get the phone. he says, it's an outrage! and as the owner goes back to his bed you see that he doesn't wear pajama pants either.

 

linville, j. (1996) "billy wilder, the art of screenwriting no.1", the paris review, no.138, spring

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