years have now passed since Susan Brockman and I departed
for Greece to produce Homer's Iliad. Now, after
a span that nearly equals that of the Greeks in Troy,
we are about to screen the results of this flight from
reality in unbalanced technicolor for some 30 invitees
in the plush Warner Bros screening room in Rockefeller
Center. This "premiere," will
probably be the one and only showing. It was generously
arranged by Daniel Stern, a writer and ad executive,
who just became a vice president of Warner Bros.
The only person here who had been actually involved
in the Iliad project-- other than Susan and I-- is Mario
Puzo, who wrote the shooting script for $400. Not
only is his book the Godfather at the top of
the best seller list, but, in what seems the final
irony, the elusive Marlon Brando is going to star in
the film version of it. Given his enormous
post-Iliad success, Puzo has invited us to
a celebratory dinner at Elaine's after the screening.
Most of the other guests-- including Renata
Adler, Byron Dobell, Frank Conroy, Judy Daniels, Robin
Fox, Jack Gelber, Penelope Gilliat, Emma Rothschild,
Jonathan Schell, Ray Sokolov, and Lionel Tiger-- come
from my own post-Iliad literary scene. My
professor from Harvard, Edward Banfield, for whom I
am currently writing my Ph.D. thesis on Selections
of Reality on Network Television, and my teaching
colleague, Bruce Kovner, have come from Cambridge for
the event. The audience also includes Clay Felker,
the founder of New York magazine, Aaron Asher,
the editor of my first book, Inquest: The Warren
Commission and the Establishment of Truth,
Bob Bingham, my editor at the New Yorker, Sterling
Lord, my agent, Richard Wald, the vice president
of NBC News. and Armand Erpf, a media financier.
What all these attendees have in common is that they
had heard some part of my Iliad story-- and, expressing
incredulity, asked to see it.
The eight hours of footage-- mainly retakes-- has been
reduced to 40 minutes. The room darkens .
On the screen, in Cinemascope, Trojan soldiers,
some stumbling on their giant shields, rush between
two fiery ships.
Since there is no sound,
I narrate (without any lyre or other accompaniment)
the battle. Aside from the disaster scenes on
camera, I tell of the disasters off camera, including
the out-of-control chariot, the burning of the region's
telephone poles (and thousand-fold blackout it caused),
the shipwrecked LST (for which I was later sued by the
Greek General staff), the orangeade epidemic among the
extras that drained my budget, the obsessive wait for
Brando, and the multitude of other inconveniences I
visited on the Greeks by following my muse.
When the lights come on, Dan
Stern provides champagne, courtesy of Warner Bros, and
we head for Elaine's.
like you had great fun," Mario Puzo says in the
was more of a learning experience," I reply. It
was anything but fun. Soon after Susan and I returned
to New York in October 1961, we went our separate
ways. She moved to East Hampton, where she established
herself as an avant garde artist and became romantically
involved with Wilhem DeKooning. I went to
Rome searching for an Italian producer willing to resuscitate
the the Iliad. I choose Rome because George St.
George and Rudy Mate were there completing the postproduction
work on their movie Lion of Sparta at Cinecitta,
and Cinecitta was then the epicenter of sword-and-sandals
epics. Through their good offices, I met numerous
producers but, unlike the Greeks, they required more
than Lattimore's translation of the Iliad or the idea
of Brando as Achilles; nor were they impressed with
the footage. They all required a script.
I came up with the idea of a movie
in which the Iliad would be told from the prophetic
point of view of Cassandra. It would be called Cassandra's
Iliad. I even found a possible Cassandra, Marie
Devereux, who had been a body double for Elizabeth Taylor
in Cleopatra . I met her on the set at Cinecitta
and offered her the part (since she was more available
than the elusive Marlon Brando.) I then raised
the prospect of writing Cassandra with Sloane Elliott.
Sloane had not only written the initial treatment for
the Iliad, he invested in it. He had
also come to Greece in 1961 for the shooting of the
battle scenes, where he met and married Drusilla Vasiliou,
the daughter of the production designer. Sloane,
now happily residing in Kifisia with Drusilla, replied,
"Haven't you spent enough time on the Iliad?"
He was right. So I went back to Cornell.