Men Behind the Stars — Archie Mayo (1937) 🇺🇸

Archie Mayo |

January 15, 2022

Archie Mayo, on the set of “Call It A Day,” was talking to a visiting fireman about his diet. “Lost 55 pounds in two months,” Mayo said.

“How?” asked the visiting fireman, who was a trifle stout himself.

“Diet,” said Mr. Mayo. “Pineapple juice and cottage cheese, mostly. I’ll write it out for you. But that isn’t all. I wear a reducing belt.”

“A belt?” asked the visiting fireman.

“A belt,” said Mr. Mayo. “An elastic belt. It keeps the tummy in. You never saw anything like it. You have to order it from Chicago. Want to get one?” The visiting fireman nodded.

While this dialogue was going on assistant director Jack Sullivan, whose business it was to see that Mr. Mayo kept somewhere within hailing distance of the schedule, quietly went mad.

Director of “Call It A Day”

“Call It A Day” came in almost on schedule. If it had been wrapped up right on the dot, the bosses would have considered it a miracle. They expect Mr. Mayo to take longer than other directors. They also expect him to turn out something over the ordinary. So far he hasn’t failed them. He has never made a picture in schedule time — and he has never made a mediocre film.

“Keep them laughing,” is Mayo’s motto. That’s how he became a director.

Fifteen years ago he wandered around Hollywood selling custom-made shirts. He traded his gags for shirt orders and Lloyd Hamilton finally hired him as gag man. Before that he was a comedian in vaudeville and an extra in pictures and he never failed to “keep ‘em laughing.”

Mayo feels that if he keeps his company in high spirits, he gets better results. If you pin him down, he’ll point out the case of The Petrified Forest.

On a desert set for the picture the wind machines kicked up a terrific dust and the “grips” stood by the machines dumping fuller’s earth on the blades. The set wasn’t a pleasant place to be. The entire company wore masks. Between takes, the players wore them. But when the camera was rolling they had to eat dust and it got on their nerves. Even Leslie Howard, who doesn’t let life disturb him much, was on edge.

At that time, Mayo wasn’t dieting and carrying his extra poundage around was no fun. He had a terrific cold and the dust was driving him nuts. But his company didn’t know it. One practical joke followed another. After each take, Mayo delivered a monologue. “Beautiful,” he would say. “I never saw a finer piece of acting. We’re going to keep that for posterity and make another one for this picture.”

Mayo says there were times when the thought of another practical joke made him sick to his stomach; times when he wanted to walk off the set into the clean air and never come back. But he kept on clowning and wound up the production without one serious squabble. After it was all over. Miss Davis said she would have cut Howard’s and Bogart’s throats if it hadn’t been for Archie. Bogart also admits that it was Mayo who kept him from mayhem or murder.

The good-natured Mayo can be serious. He was serious about “Black Legion.” Once, however, when he was being desperately serious, he made a statement to an interviewer that had the whole lot laughing. He told of the message behind the film, of its great power. “There’s a picture I would have made for nothing,” he said. “They didn’t make me pull my punches. They let me tell the truth. It’s a terrific thing. I tell you, it’s the kind of a picture you’ll take your little boy or your little girl to see and they’ll come out and they’ll say, ‘Damn it, papa, did you ever see anything like it?’”

Mayo is a versatile director, as his record shows. He can do broad comedy better than anyone in Hollywood. But subtle comedy, as is found in “Call It A Day,” is also his meat. And he made this one right after he had finished “Black Legion,” which didn’t have a laugh in it.

It is an experience to watch Mayo direct a picture. One after another, he plays all the parts. “Call It A Day” was a little more difficult than most pictures. All the players, save for Olivia de Havilland, had English accents. Mayo wasn’t born in England and though he has been there his idea of how folks speak in Mayfair is a little strange. He seems to feel that English ladies and gentlemen drop H’s by the peck. Only when he was showing Elsa Buchanan how to play a cockney maid, was he at all in character.

This method gets results. Mayo’s delivery may not be perfect but he gives a rough idea of how he wants a scene played and it’s a pretty dumb actor who can’t follow him.

Mayo surprised Hollywood last year by moving out of the little house he had occupied for twelve years on a quiet street in West Los Angeles and moving into a new one in Beverly Hills. “I’m not going Hollywood,” he explained. “My wife wanted a new house so we built one.

“But,” he added. “I had my way about it. There is no swimming-pool and I’ve got one room all to myself. And we aren’t going to have a butler. Mrs. Mayo wanted one but I was firm. I told her I’d been opening the door for my friends for years and I wasn’t going to have someone do it for me at this late date.”

Mayo’s next assignment for Warner Bros., will be “A Gentleman After Midnight” starring Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland.

Director Mayo reads the script of “Call It A Day” to see if Ian Hunter, at his right, is up in his lines. The technical crew is listening in.

Doug Fairbanks and the Mrs. were among the celebrities at the recent opening of “Tovarich” in Hollywood.

Collection: Motion Picture Magazine, July 1937