The Worst of Times: 'They said I was still the wrong sex' - Ray Connolly talks to Danny Danziger

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I HAD an incredibly lucky start in that my first film, That'll Be The Day, and then Stardust a year later, were very successful. Then in 1974 I wrote a novel called Trick or Treat. It was about an affair between two lesbians who wanted to have a baby, a kind of tragic story which I imagined as a Chabrol-type film, erotic, European, sexually ambivalent.

I wrote the screenplay and I thought it was all right, but it was hard to find the money for it. And it was difficult to find the right leads. We wanted someone like Isabelle Adjani or Charlotte Rampling, but we couldn't get them. Then one day we were talking to a casting director, and mentioned we wanted 'someone like Bianca Jagger', that sort of image, and he said: 'Well, why not Bianca?' The story was she had spent her whole life getting ready for an entrance.

So we met her. Playboy was involved in making films at that time, and when they heard the name Bianca Jagger, they said: 'Right, we are in, as long as she is . . .' So, from being a very vague idea, Bianca became essential to this film being made, which is a different thing altogether.

Bianca was screen-tested, she was all right . . . some of us think that was the best thing she ever did in the film.

We went to the United States and found a girl to play the other part, she was a flaky Californian girl called Jan Smithers. She came to England clutching a huge suitcase full of vitamin pills.

The girls began to say they didn't like the script, so I started rewriting. I did endless rewrites. I never got the script right. I began to talk to psychiatrists about whether or not I could actually write the parts.

After a while the girls began saying, well, Ray is a man, he can't write about women. So although I had a contract that said I would be the only writer, I said OK, we will get a woman, and we got in this woman to do some rewrites, who may have been the worst writer in . . . Well, I didn't think she was a very good writer. And Bianca hated the rewrites more than anything I had written, so she was thrown out.

Then the other girl, the wacky one, suddenly launched an extraordinary attack upon me saying it was miserable having me around, and I was depressing her - and I was still the wrong sex.

I was very depressed. My hair began to fall out, I was counting the hairs in the bath, and if I was over nine stone it was a miracle. And I couldn't sleep.

Eventually we all went off to Rome to start shooting, although we were still undecided about what to do with the script. It seemed the best thing was to work on some kind of improvisational technique and edit as we were going along. That turned out to be absolutely hopeless, because improv can be nonsense: it's repetitive, and takes about 10 times longer than scripted dialogue.

The first day, as the first clapper went down, 'take one' - there was a huge sheet of lightning and the heavens opened. Then Bianca got ill, and a doctor was called. I think she had flu.

The second week Bianca discovered that Elsa Martinelli, who was a big star in Italy and had a small part in our film, had a bigger caravan than she did. Bianca stormed back to her hotel. I went in to see her. She was sitting on the bed holding a riding crop and a copy of her contract. 'It says here . . .' More delay.

We had scheduled a huge banquet scene that day with food, piles of it, but when we finally got her back to the set the light was going, and the food was off. The whole day's shooting was abandoned.

I feel more sympathetic towards Bianca now. I suspect the real problem was she was terrified. She wasn't an actress and she knew she wasn't an actress.

The other girl, the wacky one, was all the time in tears. She said she had been greedy coming to Europe, God was punishing her, she should have stayed in California. I wish she had stayed in California.

We shot about 10 days in Rome, and every day was worse than the last. Time was going on, money pouring out, and what little got shot was terrible - it looked great, it was beautifully filmed, but endless improv rubbish.

Eventually the director, Michael Apted, who was and is still a good friend, said: 'Look, Raymond, you and I can't make this film together. One of us will have to go.' That was a shock at the time. But what he was saying was that the film would never work with me there.

I got on a plane and it was immediately fogbound for about three hours, and I remember sitting in the fog, thinking my whole career had gone. And when I walked through the front door of my home I just cried. For months I didn't go out, all through Christmas I didn't want to go anywhere.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Tynan was employed to rewrite my screenplay, the seventh draft it was, but the girls refused to do it, and the film was finally scrapped early in the New Year.

When my agent rang and said they had pulled the plug on it I thought, I am glad, really glad, and relieved that's behind me. My hair stopped falling out immediately.

The day after, the phone rang about one in the morning. I remember my wife, Plum, saying to me: 'It's that woman - don't answer the phone.'

But I did and it was. I said: 'I am sorry, Bianca, I can't really talk to you about this.'

In a way it was the best thing that could have happened. At the time it was terrible, but had the film been made and been a success, I can imagine being seduced away to Hollywood. As it was, I was left with my family and that was terrific, really. Suddenly you are thrown back upon what is most important, and it lies in your children. And I have been at home virtually ever since. The best time of my life was when the children were small, I couldn't improve on that time.

I have made films since, but I have never got involved emotionally.

I met Bianca only once again, and that was at Blackbush when Bob Dylan was there. She said: 'Hello darling, are you still crying?' I never saw the American girl again.

Ray Connolly's latest novel is 'Sunday Morning', published by Bantam.

(Photograph omitted)

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