Friday, May 10, 2024

Remembering the Wives: Eleanor Coppola and Samantha Davis

In Hollywood, as in the rest of life, wives sometimes get overlooked. But two recent deaths have reminded me of how complicated (though rewarding) it can be to unite in marriage with a major showbiz figure. Eleanor Neil met Francis Ford Coppola in Ireland, where he was shooting his first professional film, a Roger Corman cheapie called, Dementia 13. (She was serving as assistant art director on the project. It came about because Corman had shot The Young Racers in the Emerald Isle, and figured that cast and crew could quickly crank out one more film before they all went home. ) The Coppolas wed in 1963, produced three children, and stayed married for the rest of their lives, despite a good deal of turbulence, as he moved from the glory years of the Godfather films into more complicated territory. In 1976 Eleanor was present in the Philippines, with very young kids in tow, as Coppola shot his Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now (released in 1979). The chaos of that experience (including Martin Sheen’s nervous breakdown and a typhoon that destroyed an expensive set) was captured in her diaries, which she shaped into a pull-no-punches 1979 book, The Making of Apocalypse Now. It’s been years since I read it, but I recommend it as a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the emotional toll that’s taken when a movie crew moves to a distant land to shoot a difficult film.

 So warmly was Eleanor Coppola’s book received that she helped turn it into a documentary film, which she co-directed with Fax Bahr and my old friend George Hickenlooper. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse appeared in 1991, and quickly picked up awards, including an Emmy for "Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming – Directing.” Thereafter, Eleanor tried her hand at feature filmmaking, directing the 2016 romantic comedy, Paris Can Wait as well as 2020’s Love is Love is Love. She also published a second book, Notes on a Life, which chronicled the doings of her famous family, including the death of her first-born son Gian-Carlo at the age of 22 and her husband’s much-maligned decision to cast daughter Sofia in a key role in The Godfather, Part III. Nor did Eleanor give up documentary filmmaking, chronicling the making of Sofia’s 2006 feature, Marie Antoinette. 

 Eleanor passed away on April 12 of this year, at the age of 87 in Rutherford, California, seat of the family’s well-known winery There’s little question that hers was a remarkably productive life.

 Far less well-known was Samantha Davis, who died on March 24 at the age of 53. She was the longtime wife of Warwick Davis, who starred in George Lucas and Ron  Howard’s Willow.. In this 1988 fantasy film, the still-teenaged Davis (all of three foot six inches tall) played a hero who saves a kingdom from evil usurpers. Part of the drama takes place in the village of the Nelwyns (supposedly a race of tiny people all under four feet tall). For these scenes, little people were recruited from around the globe, and they joyously bonded with one another, leading director Howard to say, “To see them interacting, performing, working hard, laughing, playing, carrying on . . . that was to me I think maybe the greatest experience in the movie.”

 On set Warwick first got to know Samantha, and they married soon thereafter. Though in Willow she was simply a villager, she did rack up several other acting credits, including a role in one of the Harry Potter films. Together they founded a charitable organization, Little People U.K.  His tributes to her memory are deeply moving.



No comments:

Post a Comment