Friday, 1 March 2013

Mr. Towers of London: A Life in Show Business

Harry Alan Towers was a British-born, peripatetic film producer probably best known for the Fu Manchu series starring Christopher Lee and Tsai Chin, and his collaborations with director Jess Franco, these also often featuring Towers’ partner Maria Rohm. And, one would imagine, that is the main selling point for this autobiography.

The first thing that struck me, reading the back cover blurb, was a somewhat schizoid split: At the top, in larger sized letters there is the unattributed remark “Makes Jackie Collins look like Dr Seuss”. Underneath, in smaller type, there is a blurb by Tim Lucas, the editor of Video Watchdog. I can only assume that some of those who saw the book sight unseen would pick it up for the Collins quote and that some of them would then buy it, while those who know about Towers or recognise Lucas’s name would buy it sight unseen, as I did after seeing Lucas mention it on Facebook. Whatever the case, it’s a classic example of knowing how to exploit different markets that Towers himself would surely have been proud of.

There seem to have been two reasons why Towers waited until so late in his life to publish his memoirs. First, during the rest of the time he was just too busy wheeling and dealing and getting things done to write them; if he was writing it would be a script under his pen-name of Peter Welbeck. Second, Towers clearly knew a lot of things about a lot of important people that could have proven legally actionable were they or he still alive.

In this regard, the most important event in Towers’ life (besides meeting Rohm, to whom the book is dedicated) was the time he was arrested in the USA for his alleged involvement in a prostitition racket. Whether Towers was or was not -- he otherwise makes no secret of his knowledge of the vice trade at the time -- the scandal looked likely to ruin him. Moreover, by skipping bail he set up a Polanski-like situation of being unable to return to the country and thus the centre of the film industry (at least in the west).

Given this, it is no surprise that Towers ended up making films pretty much anywhere else in the world he could. In this regard his wanderings also present close parallels with two of the major figures in his memoirs, namely the aforementioned Franco and Orson Welles. This, in turn, helps us intuitively understand Franco’s enthusiasm for Welles, along with his being tasked with second unit work on Chimes at Midnight and subsequently reconstructing Welles’s Don Quixote. Equally, however, one also gets a sense of a key difference between the two men and thus Towers’ dealings with them: Whereas Welles was someone who had a tendency to abandon projects, leaving them in an unfinished state, Franco is someone who can be relied upon to complete a film, for better or worse.

Indeed, if anything, Towers suggests that Franco could sometimes be too efficient, noting an incident when, on a trip to Brazil, the director managed to finish work a week early -- no mean feat given what must have already been a tight shooting schedule -- and so spent the surplus time shooting some footage that became the basis for another film.

Elsewhere, Towers provides some commentary on the Salkinds’ Musketeers films, noting how their cleverly using the term project rather than film in their contracts enabled them to get two films out of a cast and crew who thought they had only been employed for one.

He also amusingly comments on how the services of Klaus Kinski were acquired for Justine and Count Dracula. In the former case, Kinski’s scenes as De Sade were shot in the one day that his per diem could be afforded, while in the latter Kinski, having initially announced that he would not appear in a Dracula film, was sent a copy of the script that concentrated upon his unnamed part and excised all references to Dracula, Renfield and so forth.

While my comments obviously concentrate on those aspects of Towers’ life and work that are particularly germane to my own interests and, presumably, most of those who read this blog, it is worth pointing out that they cover the whole of his life, including his earlier periods as a theatre, radio and television producer.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

It sounds like the sort of thing I should add to my shopping list.