If he hadn't made it as a film director or actor, Peter Bogdanovich might have built a career around his ability to impersonate famous filmmakers and stars.
While sharing stories with film critic David Edelstein during the final 2013 Sarasota Film Festival Conversation program on Sunday, Bogdanovich peppered his recollections by mimicking the sound of some well-known personalities, from Jack Nicholson to John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock.
He told a story about preparing for a film with author Larry McMurtry that would years later become the Pulitzer Prize-winning book and mini-series "Lonesome Dove." The project began as a film that Bogdanovich was going to direct. Wayne was set to star with Jimmy Stewart, but he eventually dropped out, telling the director, "It's an end of the Western film Pete, and I'm not ready to hang up my spurs," Bogdanovich recalled with the familiar sound of Wayne's voice.
For a story about Orson Welles, he provides a bellowing sound, such as when he asked the renowned director what he thought about using the title "Paper Moon" for his third film, instead of "Addie Pray," which was the name of the book on which it was based. "That title is so good, you don't even need to make the picture," he remembers Welles telling him.
Edelstein led a richly detailed chat and after 90 minutes apologized to the audience that he had only reached the mid 1970s. He got Bogdanovich to talk about starting his acting career as a child, his four years studying with famed acting teacher Stella Adler, and how he accidentally launched his directing career by being at the right place at the right time, starting by working as an assistant to legendary director Roger Corman.
He admits he was "pretty good" as an actor, and was featured in 30-40 stage productions. "I was good in front of an audience."
When he finally got to start directing films, he put his acting skills to use to help his cast members give him what he wanted.
"Sometimes you show them what you want. Some actors don't like that," he said. Barbra Streisand was one of them, and she objected to his "line readings" during the filming of "What's Up, Doc?" She got so upset, that her agent called Bogdanovich to complain. She later admitted she had never really been directed on film, so every time he showed her what he wanted, he'd add, "It's directing."
He said good actors don't mind line reading. Director Ernst Lubitsch "would not only give line readings, he'd act out the whole part." He once asked comedian Jack Benny about working with Lubitsch "and he told me, 'Well, he's a little broad, but you got the idea'," he recalled, taking on Benny's voice.
He shared stories about helping 8-year-old Tatum O'Neal get through one crucial scene in "Paper Moon" in which she had a lot of lines and a lot of action. It was her first time acting and it took more than 40 takes to get it all in one shot "but she did it. I was really impressed."
"The Last Picture Show," his first big film, was a tumultuous experience, he said, which included him falling in love with his young star Cybill Shepherd. "Everybody was crazy about Cybill, but I beat out everyone. I even beat out Elvis," who he said proposed to her at one point.
He had the most fun in his career making "What's Up, Doc?" and takes some pride in casting Madeline Kahn in her first film. "At the table reading, Barbara didn't get one laugh, but Madeline would just say 'Howard' (in Kahn's voice, of course) and get all the laughs. Barbra didn't like that."
Bogdanovich was in Sarasota for the Conversation program and the world premiere of the film "Pasadena," in which he stars. The film had its debut screening on Saturday.