In the world of sports, the big story right now is “Deflate-Gate.” The strong probability that footballs were illegally deflated in an NFL playoff game at the behest of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots has now resulted in some stiff penalties, not to mention major embarrassment. Hollywood, by contrast, has never been accused of deflating anything. Instead, daily life in the movie capital can fairly be called “Inflate-Gate.” Many starlets, for one thing, still feel they’ll have a better chance of success if they buy themselves a bigger set of bazooms. And then there’s something that goes on daily, the constant scramble to give oneself sole credit for accomplishments that more fairly belong to a group.
In my Roger Corman years, I saw this tendency all around me. (Yes, the breast implants along with the insistence on taking credit where credit was not due.) Today Roger happily congratulates himself for adding the dark humor to the cult classic, Death Race 2000. Back in 1975, however, he fought hard to remove director Paul Bartel’s comic touches from the finished film. Yet Roger is not alone in taking a solo bow for the accomplishments of others. A fascinating 2008 documentary called Every Little Step is a behind-the-scenes look at the staging of a classic Broadway musical, A Chorus Line. Composer Marvin Hamlisch is shown discussing how the comic thrust of one of the show’s songs was lost on the audience until, during out-of-town tryouts, a key adjustment was made to its title. Hearing Hamlisch tell this amusing story, it’s easy to assume he wrote the song’s words as well as its music. Never once does he stop to acknowledge the show’s gifted lyricist, Edward Kleban.
Producer Robert Evans, the 1970s “boy wonder” of Paramount, has never been accused of false modesty. His rollicking memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, makes clear his contributions to such major hits as Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, and Chinatown. But part of Evans’ charm is that he owns up to his failings as readily as his triumphs. There’s one moment when he goes far out of his way to recognize the contribution of an underling. When principal photography on The Godfather was in the can, it was apparently discovered that the film had no real ending. That’s when “Peter Zinner, one of the film’s two editors, took the task upon himself. He choreographed mayhem with religion, intercut murder with the baptism of Michael Corleone’s newborn child. He saved the day—he saved our ass!” Evans clearly sees the irony: “Coppola went on to become the decade’s maestro, Evans its boy genius . . . but Peter Zinner—who? He silently disappeared, looking for a new gig—saving another producer’s or director’s ass.”
Despite the preening of many producers, directors, and stars, filmmaking is a collaborative effort, toward which everyone’s contribution counts. But, inevitably someone gets overlooked. In 1964 the late Paul Almond directed Seven Up, a documentary that intimately explored the lives of fourteen British schoolchildren. The Up series has continued into the present, returning at seven-year intervals to interview the same subjects. But though Almond conceived the concept, it is his successor, Michael Apted, who now gets the accolades.
Then there’s Sesame Street’s Big Bird. He’s long been a beloved icon, but how many know the name of Caroll Spinney, the man beneath the feathers? This oversight was rectified last year by a documentary called I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. And Spinney’s hilarious Birdman parody, a YouTube hit, helps give credit where credit is surely due.